* Last week a photo of our common Fall migrant, the White-throated Sparrow, was inexplicably labeled a White-throated Warbler. An investigation into the source of this mistake is being vigorously pursued.
1. Of all the vertebrates on Earth – that is, animals with backbones – birds are the only ones that lay colourful eggs. Scientists are still unsure why, but new research brings us a step closer to finding out. In a study published today in the journal Evolution, my colleagues and I reveal how the colours of songbird eggs diversified alongside the evolution of “open cup” nests, more than 40 million years ago. Current theories fall into two main categories. The first is that colour helps protect the eggs from environmental factors such as extreme cold or rain. The second theory is that colour provides a survival advantage, either by camouflaging the eggs from predators or parasites, or by signaling the female’s reproductive fitness to potential partners. (via The Conversation)
2. Wildness is life lived on whim. It is the unpredictable spur-of-the-moment change or the chain of unlikely events fallen upon birds and beasts without restraint or barriers to keep them “safe” and under some semblance of control. If wildness were a mood (which I believe isn’t too much to ask), it would be the ficklest: joyous one moment in the American Goldfinch’s late-summer, song-spangled, bounding flight; melancholy lovesick blue in a Wood Thrush deep-woods solo; and then bare-tree sullen in the Barred Owl’s dim-lit winter bottomland bawl. (via All About Birds)
3. In a dry year in the West, when the world turns crispy and cracked, rivers and streams with their green, lush banks become a lifesaving yet limited resource. New research from the University of Utah and the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (UDWR) finds that in dry years, birds funnel into the relative greenness of riparian (adjacent to river) environments. That increased diversity is accompanied by overcrowding that may cause increased competition for habitat and resources, the study finds, and an overall decrease in populations of birds who call the river home. (via Phys Org)
4. The first thing to know about crows is that a group of them is called a murder. In America, crows count as a Halloween decoration, like skeletons and mini-gravestones. Homeowners perch plastic ones in their trees to instill fear in passersby. People in many cultures consider the crow to be an omen, a harbinger of war and death. Can we give crows a break? Kevin McGowan, an ornithologist at the Cornell Lab in New York, told me that the crow’s spooky reputation is pretty unwarranted. Their bad rap started in northern Europe, where there are no vultures, so ravens and crows were always the first to show up to snack on animal carcasses. When Europeans came to North America, they brought their crow prejudice with them. “That whole combination of being near death, not having a very pretty song, that was all a big negative stigma for these guys to overcome.” He also wishes The Birds had never been made. (via The Atlantic)
5. On climate: Wildlife research scientist Paul Smith is a lot like the birds he studies: every spring, when the ice recedes, he migrates north to the Arctic. But while he's been able to adapt to the changing climate, the nesting birds have not been so lucky in the face of new threats. Historically, in Cape Dorset, Nunavut, when migratory birds would sit on their nests in June and July to incubate their eggs, polar bears were still out on the ice eating seals. These days, Smith has witnessed an earlier ice melt that leads to bears coming to shore sooner. That means the birds' breeding ground becomes a snack bar. "The bears are swimming onto islands where there are nesting colonies of birds, and gobbling up thousands of eggs," said Smith, who works for the National Wildlife Research Centre at Environment and Climate Change Canada. (via CBC News)
6. Perhaps no other pair of eyes in the animal kingdom is as recognizable as those of the chameleon. Not only do their big, protruding orbs rotate in all directions, but each eye can also independently scope its surroundings for food and predators, seeing two separate objects at the same time—a talent thought to be the chameleon’s alone. But, as it turns out, Great-tailed Grackles might also have this skill. In a study published this past spring in Experimental Brain Research, scientists found that grackles were able to look simultaneously through each eye at different images. To test whether the Great-tailed Grackles could look at different objects, researchers flashed images of human faces two at a time, with each image on a different monitor placed around the birds. (via Audubon)
7. But you have to get there: When it comes to bird life, Colombia is the undisputed world champion. Not only is this stunning South American nation home to roughly 1,900 different avian species—the highest number out of any country on earth—it also came in first place during eBird’s 2021 October Big Day, with over 1,300 species spotted across Colombia in just one day. The entire nation is chock-full of birds, but it’s the country’s southeastern reaches that offer a truly fascinating array of native species to discover. While the Colombian Amazon is certainly an incredible destination for birding, first-time visitors may need a little help getting around this remote region. Fortunately, Colombia-based adventure group Manakin Nature Tours is perfectly equipped to guide birders through the deepest, most tangled reaches of the rainforest. (via Forbes)
8. “There’s something really confusing about the condor data.” Those weren’t the words Oliver Ryder wanted to hear as he walked to his car after a long day’s work trying to save California condors, one of the most endangered animals on the planet. When his colleague Leona Chemnick explained what she was seeing, his dread quickly changed to fascination. For decades, scientists have been trying to coax the California condor back from the edge of extinction. That’s how, as the scientists took a closer at genetic data, they discovered that two male birds—known only by their studbook numbers, SB260 and SB517—showed no genetic contribution from the birds that should have been their fathers. In other words, the birds came into the world by facultative parthenogenesis—or virgin birth. (via National Geographic)
9. Newly hatched birds might seem like delicate, feeble creatures, but some chicks burst out of their eggshells ready to brawl. These little fighters exercise in their eggs before hatching to build up the strength needed to maim and murder their nestmates, a new study suggests. The baby birds are part of a group of species known as brood parasites, whose moms lay their eggs in other birds' nests, leaving them for other bird parents to raise. For example, the brown-headed cowbird (Molothrus ater) lays eggs that resemble those of its various hosts, while greater honeyguide (Indicator indicator) moms take the more aggressive approach of puncturing many of their hosts' eggs, thus killing the hosts' chicks and leaving their own offspring with less competition. (via Live Science)
10. Some folks might find this surprising, but not birders: Adrian Benepe has spent much of his life promoting the outdoors in New York City, from serving as a park ranger in the 1970s to becoming the parks commissioner some 30 years later. Still, he is stunned at what he has seen around town lately. “I grew up in the parks,” said Mr. Benepe, now the president of Brooklyn Botanic Garden. “There were never red-tailed hawks or Peregrine falcons or bald eagles. You didn’t even see raccoons; there were pigeons and rats and squirrels, that was it. Now there are bald eagles all over the city. This winter they were in places you haven’t seen them in generations, and they were hunting in Prospect Park.” Raptors are the tip of the iceberg. (via The New York Times)
11. Smart birds: Birds have been found to have a taste for truffles – fungi fruiting bodies that were assumed to be eaten only by mammals. The discovery, in the Patagonian region of South America, suggests that birds in this area have an important ecological role in the dispersal of truffle spores. Matthew Smith at the University of Florida and his colleagues collected 169 bird faecal samples mainly belonging to two bird species, the chucao tapaculo (Scelorchilus rubecula) and the black-throated huet-huet (Pteroptochos tarnii). They found the spores of ectomycorrhizal fungi, a type of fungi that grow symbiotically with plants and includes truffles, in 95 per cent of chucao tapaculo faecal samples and 82 per cent of black-throated huet-huet faecal samples. (via New Scientist)
12. This from the UK: Migratory birds are spending longer in Europe, which raises questions over whether some will stop winter migration altogether. A study by Durham University found a number of trans-Saharan flyers are spending up to 60 days a year more in European breeding grounds than before, possibly due to climate change. The scientists studied 50 years of data from The Gambia and Gibraltar. Breeds affected include nightingales, willow warblers and several wagtails. Whilst previously it had been thought that birds timed migration based on day length, a university spokesman said the study's findings suggest that birds are also making "more nuanced decisions", responding to factors such as "changes in climate and available vegetation". (via BBC)
13. Some thoughts on birdwatching: In the early months of the pandemic, usage of Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s eBird app to record bird sightings soared. Not only did watching birds prove particularly well-suited to social-distancing protocols but it also provided much-needed solace and a welcome escape from the chaos that engulfed the rest of our lives. Along with the increase in casual birders came a surge in backyard bird paraphernalia sales—from seed to feeders, and even to luxurious bird baths. And yet, the birds we’ve come to love are in serious trouble. Since 1970, wild bird populations in North America have declined 30 percent, and we’ve lost more than 2.9 billion birds. Put differently, the alarming waves of avian losses mean that birds need us more than ever. The answer might lie in making birding more accessible to people of all skill levels. Let’s be honest—birding can be an intimidating enterprise. (via Sierra Club)
Bird Photo of the Week
Photo by Rick Bunting, Northern Saw-whet Owl.
Bird Videos of the Week
By WATOP, “This is What Happens to Birds of Prey When they Refuse to Kill”.
Cornell Live Bird Cam - American Kestrel Highlights.
Cornell Live Bird Cam - Owl Family Meal.