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Bird News Items
1. Let’s begin with Joanna Thompson's fascinating article connecting human memory, learning function and birdwatchers: As recently as three decades ago, most neuroscientists theorized that humans’ keen ability to distinguish between similar faces was somehow special. They even suspected our brains had a particular area dedicated to face processing. But when Isabel Gauthier, then a young cognitive neuroscientist at Yale University and now at Vanderbilt University, went looking for this fabled region in the late 1990s, she quickly discovered that this “face area” of the brain was actually several sectors involved in recognition.
By scanning brains of experienced birders using a recently invented functional MRI machine, she and colleagues found that these areas weren’t dedicated to sorting facial information alone: A bird and a friendly face could activate the same brain regions. “Faces aren’t special,” Gauthier says. “They’re a case of expertise.” As it turns out, people can fine-tune their ability to distinguish among any similar-looking objects, from faces and cars to skin conditions and birds. All it takes is exposure and practice. (via Audubon)
2. Spring migration is upon us and over a billion birds are undertaking perilous journeys - it is a “most dangerous time of year”: Every spring and fall billions of birds fly thousands of miles to reach their breeding and wintering grounds, yet some of the most basic details of these astonishing avian pilgrimages remain murky. In two studies published today in Movement Ecology, Nathan Cooper, research ecologist for the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, and co-authors reveal new information about when migratory songbirds begin their long-distance journeys. “These two findings significantly advance our knowledge of the decision-making process that songbirds use at the beginning of migration,” Cooper said. “We now know these feathered travelers begin their long-distance journey during the darkest stages of twilight and, just like mini-meteorologists, songbirds track atmospheric pressure to ensure safe and efficient flights.” (via Smithsonian)
3. How China Saved the Crested Ibis From Near Extinction (worth reading in full): In May 1981, a team of researchers led by Liu Yinzeng trekked along a ridge deep in the mountains in Northwest China, on the hunt for a bird that had once been abundant across East Asia. The crested ibis, typically about 70 centimeters (27.6 inches) long with a prominent black beak and color shifting plumage, had started to disappear from the region in the middle of the 20th century. In 1963, it was declared extinct in Russia. By 1979, it had vanished from the Korean Peninsula. In the first two years of the 1980s, conservationists in Japan had captured the last five wild members of the species in the country for a captive-breeding program. Liu’s team was hoping to do the same — provided they could find one in China. Guided by information from local residents, they hiked into the remote vastness of Yang county in Shaanxi province until, out of nowhere, they heard birdsong. “It happened in a flash, but we saw (the bird) very clearly,” said Liu, a researcher whose team was established by the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ (CAS) Institute of Zoology. (via Caixin Global)
4. Meet the greatest bird artist you’ve likely never heard of: On a gray day in March, Rex Brasher’s apartment looks a little deserted. The farmhouse is empty and the small concrete block shop looks run down. But leaders at the Rex Brasher Association, who have gathered to show off the location, see only opportunities for the 116-acre property. They want to preserve this wooded patch of the Taconic Range, add modern studios for artist and naturalist residencies, renovate the main house and cottage, and build a small museum in the old shop. They hope to revive the legacy and reputation of a man many people feel painted birds by as well or better than John James Audubon. (via USA Today)
5. A lovely excerpt from ‘The Living Air: The Pleasures of Birds and Birdwatching’ by Aasheesh Pittie: You will see him often in the Indian countryside, though he frequents city gardens too. He is the glossy, black bird with the forked tail and a white spot in the corner of his beak. We call him the Black Drongo or by one of his evocative native names, depending on which part of this ancient land we dwell in. For the drongo peoples the length and breadth of the Indian subcontinent in three races. Hyderabadis know him as Zulfikar because his tail is shaped like the sword of the Prophet and perhaps also in recognition of the protection he provides “weaker” birds when he is nesting! North Indians call him kotwal, for he is the farmer’s knight in black shining armour. And since the drongo is so much more well mannered than a crow, he has been honoured with the title of King Crow. (via Scroll.in)
6. Latest in unusual sightings -this from NYC: For two weeks, a strange bird has perched in Brooklyn over the treetops of one of the Three Sisters Islands in Prospect Park Lake. It shows no signs of heading back to the place it most likely came from in the South. Meet the anhinga, a large water bird with a snaky neck that has joined other high-profile vagrant birds in recent years by making a rare appearance outside of its typical migration range. The bird’s name comes from the Tupi Indian language of Brazil and means “devil bird.” And according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, it’s not from around here: Anhingas in the United States generally range from the Southern states along the gulf coast to Texas, stretching into the Carolinas in the summer. The Prospect Park anhinga is the first devil bird observed in Kings County, and only the second sighting in New York City since 1992. When Radka Osickova first spotted it with the Brooklyn Bird Club, she couldn’t believe her eyes. (via The New York Times)
7. Lake Michigan Piping Plovers have an almost cult following - it’s wonderful: More piping plovers have joined the party at Montrose Beach. Imani, the baby of famed Great Lakes piping plovers Monty and Rose, was spotted Tuesday at the beach. He was joined Wednesday by an unbanded male, with fans quickly dubbing them the “Montrose Beach bachelors.” But they’re not alone. An unbanded female has joined the boys, bird watchers tweeted early Thursday. (via Block Club Chicago)
8. The Great Texas Birding Classic – 12 hours birding in a 50’ radius: Sherrie Roden will never forget the one that got away – a Hudsonian Godwit, whose spring migratory path from South America to Canada and Alaska only passes through Southeast Texas. Roden was birding in Winnie when she spotted the large sandpiper. She approached it slowly, her camera ready to record the find when a car came down the small country road. “Whoosh, and it was gone,” Roden told fellow birder Denise Kelley as they joined nearly a dozen other members of the Golden Triangle Audubon Society in the annual “Big Sit” Tuesday in Cattail Marsh. The event is a 12-hour marathon of birding from sun up to sun down as Audubon Society chapters from across the state join in the annual Great Texas Birding Classic. (via Beaumont Enterprise)
9. Cool video of a magnificent vulture: A magnificent griffon vulture shows its beauty when released back into the wild.. (via Twitter)
10. A look at Drexel University’s Academy of Natural Sciences, home to 250,000 birds: David Peet, retired physician and volunteer, was removing the innards of a dead Sharp-shinned Hawk that had been brought recently to the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University in Philadelphia, where one-quarter million perished birds are stored. An eyeball that poked from the hawk’s stomach seemed to stare unnervingly back at Peet as he sliced. Feathers were still tangled in the hawk’s talons. Nate Rice, collections manager of the ornithology department at the academy, observed that the shredded plumage was from a robin, whose eye remained undigested when the hawk died, probably after striking a building or vehicle in the city. (via Philadelphia Inquirer)
11. This week’s avian flu concern: In 2021, avian influenza evolved into a new form—a new and remarkably lethal variant first found in Europe. Bird flu is usually most dangerous to birds kept in close quarters, such as chicken farms. But as it spread around the world, the highly pathogenic HPAI A(H5N1) variant began killing millions and millions of wild birds too. Seabird colonies in the UK have been decimated. The virus can kill up to half of the birds it infects. It has also spread into sea lions and seals. Luckily, it doesn't spread easily in humans. More than 50 million birds have already been culled over 37 countries in a bid to slow the spread. Australia's birds have so far dodged this bullet. Our isolation has kept us safe for now. (via Phys Org)
12. Breaking reflections one building at a time – read on: Since summer 2022 – when two recently fledged hawks on campus were injured and a third died after flying into windows – a group of Cornell staff, alumni, students and volunteers has worked to retrofit windows on a few buildings so birds can recognize and avoid them, with plans to address the issue on more around the Ithaca campus “Birds hit glass when they’re fooled by trees or skies reflected there, so the trick is to break up reflections,” said Miyoko Chu, senior director of science communications at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, who is leading the window retrofitting initiative. (via Cornell Chronicle)
13. Passing through - Minnesota’s migratory birds: World Migratory Bird Day is celebrated annually on the second Saturday in May and October to raise awareness of migratory birds and their habitats. This year’s first observance is May 13. Avian Ecologist Steve Kolbe with the Natural Resources Research Institute (NRRI) at the University of Minnesota Duluth answers questions about migratory bird populations in Minnesota, their migration routes and patterns, and the condition of their habitats. (via University of Minnesota)
14. All those bluebird boxes worked!: Eastern bluebirds today are commonplace in the country and even in our parks and yards, but there was a time when these bright little birds were an increasingly rare sight across their range, which covers the eastern United States. The story of the eastern bluebird is not exactly unique. Many other birds have been saved from the brink of extinction thanks to successful conservation efforts — the bald eagle and the great egret to name just two well-known examples. The plight of the eastern bluebird is different, though, because of how a perfect storm of conditions put these birds at the precipice. (via Reconnect with Nature)
15. A swirling storm of Red Phalaropes? Read on: Though, as usual, I didn’t have any actual birding plans, my weekend somehow ended up a triumphant birding success. On Saturday, while retrieving something from the car, I heard a suspicious chip note from the yard of my neighbor across the street. She often gets better warblers than I see in my yard, and I suspected this was a rare southern species I’d never seen in our neighborhood. Indeed, when I tracked it down, it was a spectacular male Hooded Warbler, the only one of its kind on Cape Cod this weekend, and a really satisfying tick for my neighborhood list. But this special visitor was soon to be forgotten in the wake of a massive and likely unprecedented ornithological event that began on Sunday morning, instantly drawing the attention of every local birder. (via WCAI News)
16. Travel tip from Forbes: Bird watching is a popular activity among nature enthusiasts when exploring the remote corners of the world, and Aurora Expeditions offers the opportunity to witness a variety of bird species that can only be found in Arctic and Antarctic, as well as Costa Rica and Panama, among other regions. As World Migratory Bird Day (May 13, 2023) approaches there’s never been a better time to take a look at the diverse range of bird species travelers can observe during a trek with Aurora Expeditions. The company has dedicated birdlife experts on board to ensure trekkers do not miss any fascinating sightings. Here’s a closer look at some of the remarkable birds travelers may encounter during their expedition. (via Forbes)
17. Finally, a highly recommended new book – “A Wing and a Prayer”, by Anders and Beverly Gyllenhaal: In 1953, ornithologist and educator Roger Tory Peterson and a friend took a 100-day trip around the United States to explore birds and the places they seek shelter. Peterson, known for his many birding guidebooks, recounted the trip in the book "Wild America." Nearly 70 years later, retired journalists Anders and Beverly Gyllenhaal packed their lives into a 23-foot Airstream trailer and set out on a similar journey. They weren't taking an ordinary birding trip. Instead, they wanted to report on the how changes in us and our country have affected birds. The country they traveled would have twice as many people and billions fewer birds than the one Peterson explored. Their journey also resulted in a book, "A Wing and a Prayer: A Race to Save Our Vanishing Birds.” A plea to help echoes through every page. (via Star Tribune)
Bird Photo of the Week
Photo by Hap Ellis, Dickcissel – Ellis County, TX.
Bird Videos of the Week
By NPR, “Life Kit: A Field Guide for Fledgling Birders”.
Cornell Live Bird Cam - Palm Tanager
Cornell Live Bird Cam - Thick-billed Euphonia.
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