1. Some penguins match the vocal calls of fellow penguins to their faces or other aspects of their physical appearance, making them the first birds besides crows known to have this double-sense recognition ability. African penguins (Spheniscus demersus) – which have unique, individualised spotted markings on their chests and which are found in southern Africa – may have evolved this voice-plus-image recognition ability in order to improve communication in their rocky and windswept coastal setting, says Luigi Baciadonna at the University of Turin. (via New Scientist)
2. When a bat is apparently a bird: New Zealand’s bird of the year competition has been hit with a flurry of controversy, after a species of native bat was granted entry into the polls. Candidates for the beloved annual election released today included shock newcomer the long-tailed bat, or pekapeka-tou-roa. It is the first time a New Zealand native land mammal has been included in the competition, which has been running for 16 years. A spokesperson from conservation organisation Forest & Bird, Laura Keown, said allowing bats to enter was not a public-relations rehabilitation job after the winged mammals were implicated in creating a global pandemic. The announcement caused some consternation among New Zealanders online. (via The Guardian)
3. Juan Negro crouched in the shadows just outside a cave, wearing his headlamp. For a brief moment, he wasn’t an ornithologist at the Spanish National Research Council’s Doñana Biological Station in Seville. He was a Neandertal, intent on catching dinner. As he waited in the cold, dark hours of the night, crowlike birds called choughs entered the cave. The “Neandertal” then stealthily snuck in and began the hunt. This idea to role-play started with butchered bird bones. Piles of ancient tool- and tooth-nicked choughs bones have been found in the same caves that Neandertals frequented, evidence suggesting that the ancient hominids chowed down on the birds. But catching choughs is tricky. (via Science News)
4. And while we are going back in time: Sixty-six million years ago, an asteroid shut the door on the dinosaurs. But it opened a window for other creatures to flourish, like mammals and birds, but also snakes. Snakes essentially exploded in their ecological diversity. As for that diversity, the study also dares to suggest that this post-dinosaur era that we are living in today - the Cenozoic Era - might need a new nickname. The Cenozoic is often referred to as the age of mammals because it's the time period in which mammals diversify at a really high rate. But the authors of this study point out, we could just as easily call the Cenozoic the Age of Snakes because almost all the same things happen. I'm going to start referring to it as the Age of Snakes.(via National Public Radio)
5. Sweet tooth: Anyone who’s seen an oriole lapping up grape jelly knows that some birds have a sweet tooth. But the dinosaur ancestors of modern birds lost the sweet receptors in their taste buds millions of years ago. So why do some birds seek a sugar fix? Research published in the journal Science in July 2021 shows that evolution retooled the umami receptors of songbirds to taste sweet stuff. The study builds on prior research that showed hummingbirds also have sweet taste sensory perception. “This study fundamentally changes the way we think about the sensory perception of nearly half the world’s birds,” says study coauthor Eliot Miller, the Macaulay Library collections development manager at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Songbirds account for nearly 40% of the world’s bird species. (via All About Birds)
6. Noisy miners are familiar to many of us on Australia’s east coast as plucky grey birds relentlessly harassing other birds, dive-bombing dogs and people – even expertly opening sugar packets at your local café. Since colonisation their populations have boomed, and they’re now so abundant they pose a threat to other native birds in our cities, farmland and bush, such as robins, thornbills and other honeyeaters. Culling noisy miners is often touted as a way to deal with the problem, but given the birds are native, it’s a controversial proposition. To help land managers assess whether culls are likely to be effective and justified, new research sought to understand how, and in what situations, culling helps small birds, such as the iconic superb fairy-wren, return to a site. (via The Conversation)
7. Good news from the Finger Lakes: It was the early weeks of COVID’s sweep across the United States, in March 2020, and I sought respite on walks along Taughannock’s ice-chocked creek, passing that familiar trailhead sign as I went. Taughannock’s walls—with the slanting sun revealing their rugged contours and myriad ledges—practically begged for those cliff-dwellers from a photograph was taken at Taughannock Falls in the 1930s by renowned Cornell University ornithologist and Cornell Lab of Ornithology founder Arthur Allen. And then on one brisk afternoon walk, craning to peer up at the looming gorge overhead, I saw Peregrine Falcons again. (via All About Birds)
8. Not so good news from Maine: Maine’s beloved puffins suffered one of their worst years for reproduction in decades this summer due to a lack of the small fish they eat. Puffins are seabirds with colorful beaks that nest on four small islands off the coast of Maine. There are about 1,500 breeding pairs in the state and they are dependent on fish such as herring and sand lance to be able to feed their young. Only about a quarter of the birds were able to raise chicks this summer, said Don Lyons, director of conservation science for the National Audubon Society’s Seabird Institute in Bremen, Maine. The birds had a poor year because of warm ocean temperatures this summer that reduced the availability of the fish the chicks need to survive. (via The Washington Post)
9. The captivating Bar-tailed Godwit story rocks on: On September 28, one small bird completed a very long flight. An adult, male Bar-tailed Godwit, known by its tag number 4BBRW, touched down in New South Wales, Australia, after more than 8,100 miles in transit from Alaska —flapping its wings for 239 hours without rest, and setting the world record for the longest continual flight by any land bird by distance. Although 4BBRW’s feat is astounding, it may not be particularly surprising. Bar-tailed Godwits are incredible migrants: Individuals have broken the “longest, non-stop, migration” record more than once since satellite tracking began in 2007 and regularly make continuous flights of more than 7,000 miles. Unlike albatross or other long-flying seabirds, godwits are active flyers, not gliders—their wings are moving the whole time. (via Audubon)
10. Not so lucky migrants: Two birds that nested this summer in Alaska, where they were banded with lightweight GPS trackers, are now in the area of an oil spill off the coast of California. And while it’s unclear if the oil has impacted either of those specific two birds — a Lesser Yellowlegs and a Short-billed Dowitcher — the wildlife biologists tracking them are concerned because they represent many other birds threatened by the spill. One of those biologists is Jim Johnson, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Johnson told Alaska Public Media’s Casey Grove that there’s added worry about the Lesser Yellowlegs and Short-billed Dowitcher because their numbers have already been declining for decades. (via Alaska Public Radio)
11. Strange but true: On a mid-December day in 1919, a travel-weary stranger stepped off the train in St. Marks, a forlorn fishing village along Apalachee Bay in northwestern Florida. He was there to find a man named John Williams. Everyone in town knew Williams: the postmaster who shipped off Williams’s delicately crated bird skins and eggs. Though Williams had lived in St. Marks for less than a decade, the entire community was at least decently acquainted with the slightly cross-eyed, middle-aged, avian-loving eccentric. The stranger most likely found Williams at Linton’s, one of several ramshackle canneries teetering on the bank of the St. Marks River where he kept the books. The two men immediately recognized each other, according to accounts. Williams invited his visitor back to his home, a three-room shack by the ruins of a Spanish colonial fort. Neighbors were not privy to what unfolded inside, but by the next morning, John Williams was gone, leaving the people of St. Marks to wonder if they had ever even known him at all. (via Audubon Magazine)
12. “Vesper flights”: Every year, from about mid-September to the first week in October, small, cigar-shaped, dusky gray birds called chimney swifts pass through Maryland as part of a remarkable migration that starts in the Northern Hemisphere and ends in the upper reaches of the Amazon Basin, taking them as many as 10,000 miles on their journey to Peru, Ecuador, Chile and Brazil. In the Mid-Atlantic, their numbers peak around the fall equinox — and swift lovers have their favorite haunts to watch them gather in the hundreds and sometimes thousands at dusk and gaze in wonder as the swirling vortex of birds gathers, circles and begins diving — gradually at first, and then quite suddenly — into old industrial chimneys that have become their favored roosts. (via The Washington Post)
Fun interview about pesky Australian magpies: Getting swooped by an Australian magpie is a bit of a rite of passage. In the spring, these normally friendly and tuneful birds turn into terrors in the sky, swooping anything on legs or wheels. Now the Japanese Ambassador to Australia, Shingo Yamagami has shared his encounters with the magpies of Canberra. He tells ABC News’ Richard Glover, his wife may have come up with a diplomatic approach to avoid being swooped. (via ABC News)
Bird Photo of the Week
Photo by Hap Ellis, Great Blue Heron.
Bird Video of the Week
Video By Silversea, “Discovering Scotland’s Atlantic Puffins”.
Cornell Live Bird Cam - Great Horned Owl.
Cornell Live Bird Cam - Squirrel Strike!