Bird News Items
1. Good news: In a victory for the northern spotted owl, the Biden administration has struck down a Trump-era plan that would have removed more than 3.4m acres of critical habitat for the imperiled bird and opened the old-growth forests where it lives to logging. The population of the small chocolate-brown owl, which lives in forested areas in Washington, Oregon and northern California, has been in decline for decades and has already lost roughly 70% of its habitat. A controversial decision made by Trump’s interior secretary just five days before leaving office was widely viewed as a parting gift to the timber industry. The Fish and Wildlife Service has since found that there was “insufficient rationale and justification” to reduce the threatened owl’s habitat. (via The Guardian, OFWO)
2. More coverage on North America’s most prominent visitor: Geographically speaking, it would be almost impossible for this bird to get any more lost. A rogue eagle popped up on Wednesday in eastern Canada — about 4,700 miles away from home. For months, the Steller’s sea eagle has been tantalizing North American birders with its odd eastward trek. “It’s almost as far away from your origin as you can be,” said Andrew Farnsworth, a senior researcher at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Their native range is typically China, Japan and Korea and the east coast of Russia. While some have flown as far east as western Alaska, none have ever been known to appear near the Atlantic Ocean. (via The New York Times)
3. Also lost: Meet Pingu! This little Adelie penguin has been found roaming a beach in New Zealand - over 3,000 kilometers from his home in Antarctica! It is thought the penguin, who the locals have named Pingu, must have made the tricky journey across the ocean by accident. "First I thought it (was) a soft toy, suddenly the penguin moved his head, so I realized it was real," said Harry Singh, the local resident who found him on the beach at Birdlings Flat, a settlement south of the city of Christchurch. It is extremely rare for these birds to make this journey, and it is said to be only the third time an Adelie penguin has reached the shores of New Zealand. (via BBC)
4. As the chill of autumn encroaches on Siberia’s grasslands, Richard’s pipits usually begin their southward trek to warmer latitudes. But a growing number of the slender, larklike songbirds seem to be heading west instead, possibly establishing a new migratory route for the species. This would be the first new route known to emerge on an east-west axis in a long-distance migratory bird, researchers report October 22 in Current Biology. The finding could have implications for how scientists understand the evolution of bird migration routes over time and how the animals adapt to a shifting climate. (via Science News)
5. The “Ringo Star” of birds: Australia’s largest parrot, the palm cockatoo, is justifiably famous as the only non-human animal to craft tools for sound. They create drumsticks to make a rhythmic beat. Sadly, the “Ringo Starr” of the bird world is now threatened with extinction – just as many other parrots are around the world. This week, the Queensland government moved this species – also known as the goliath cockatoo – onto the endangered list, due to our research on palm cockatoo populations over more than 20 years. Our analysis predicts a severe decline from 47% to as high as 95% over the next half-century. Given the current population is estimated at just 3,000 birds, it is likely to drop to as low as 150 birds. They could all but disappear from Australia in our lifetimes. Is it too late? Not yet. (via The Conversation)
For more on this bird see Jennifer Ackerman’s delightful book, The Bird Way.
6. How about this: After persuading his parents to bring home a bird feeder from his relatives' hardware store, Kevin Burns became captivated by watching his avian visitors. He would flip through pages in a bulky encyclopedia to know which kind of bird was flitting about. Now an ornithologist and professor of biology at San Diego State University, Burns's childhood fascination led him and his collaborators to identify a new bird, Heliothraupis oneilli, not previously described in any field guide. The bird's common name, the Inti tanager, is named after the word for sun in Quechua, the Indigenous language of the tropical mountainous area it inhabits, befitting of its vivid yellow feathers and tendency to sing during midday. (via Phys Org)
7. Ángel Gonzalez stopped hunting birds because of his daughter. One night, the farmer arrived at his home in the mountains of eastern Colombia with an Andean Guan under his arm and his rifle slung over his shoulder. Outraged, his then six-year-old daughter called him a criminal, and asked him what the chicken-like bird had done to cause him to take its life. Shocked, Gonzalez told her that there was no meat in the house. She stubbornly replied that they would eat chicken eggs, or something else. Gonzalez took her concern to heart. From that day on, he began to view wild birds differently—and he no longer hunted them. The farmer is now a birding guide in Gámbita, in the department of Santander, and one of many guardians of the birds we have encountered during more than 10 months we’ve been traveling across Colombia, tallying as many birds as we can in 2021. So far, we've recorded 1,417 species. (via Audubon)
8. The generations of grassland birds living in the Champlain Valley of Vermont and western New York have been through a lot. Through the 19th and 20th centuries, farmers and developers razed their native grassland homes. Though most of their habitat was destroyed, some songbirds such as Bobolinks and Savannah Sparrows managed to stick it out in pockets of replacement habitat: actively farmed agricultural fields. In nesting season, birds raise their babies in hayfields located on dairy farms. But life in the hay has its drawbacks. Most grassland songbirds build nests on the ground directly in the path of farm machinery like mowers and hay balers. If the young haven’t fledged before hay harvest, farmers inadvertently destroy the nests and kill the chicks. Now the birds' agricultural habitat is changing again due to climate change. (via Audubon)
9. Can’t find your keys?: For the first time, researchers have shown that there is a genetic component underlying the amazing spatial memories of mountain chickadees. These energetic half-ounce birds hide thousands of food items every fall and rely on these hidden stores to get through harsh winters in the mountains of the West. To find these caches, chickadees use highly specialized spatial memory abilities. Although the genetic basis for spatial memory has been shown for humans and other mammals, direct evidence of that connection has never before been identified in birds. Their research, “The Genetic Basis of Spatial Cognitive Variation in a Food-Caching Bird,” published Nov. 3 in the journal Current Biology. (via Cornell Chronicle)
10. Backyard birders take note: Many people have turned to Project FeederWatch as an antidote to troubling times and long winter months. Participation in this citizen-science project surged 33% during the last season and, despite the name, it’s not even necessary to have a feeder. FeederWatch data are used to detect shifts in the numbers and distributions of winter birds in the United States and Canada. At the same time, participants gain new insight into bird activity in their own yard. The 35th season of FeederWatch begins Saturday, November 13. "The observations we get about feeder birds have been our bread and butter for decades. We want that flow of information to keep coming because we’ve learned so much," says FeederWatch leader Emma Greig at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. (via Newswise)
Bird Photo of the Week
Photo by Hap Ellis, Northern Fulmar.
Bird Videos of the Week
By The Guardian, “Counting Australia’s Waterbirds”.
Cornell Live Bird Cam - Bermuda Petrels.
Cornell Live Bird Cam - Crow Watch.