Aug 6, 2009 | 1
As users—and even occasional makers—of tools, rooks in captivity have been documented bending wire and dropping rocks to access treats put just out of their reach by researchers. Most recently, a team at the University of Cambridge has discovered some truth to one of Aesop’s fables, "The Crow and the Pitcher," in which a thirsty crow drops rocks into a pitcher to raise the water level so he can reach it.
Trading water for a worm, researchers observed rooks—avian cousins of New Caledonian crows, which use tools in the wild—doing just the same thing in a lab experiment. The findings were published today in Current Biology.
Aug 5, 2009 | 2
ALBUQUERQUE—Cellulosic biofuels extracted from native switchgrass could lend a helping hand to imperiled birds that depend on vanishing prairies in the Midwest.
With palm oil plantations overrunning Indonesian rainforests and corn-based ethanol in the U.S. spurring new deforestation abroad, it may seem like biofuels and biodiversity don't mix. That's why ecologist Bruce Robertson at Michigan State University's W. K. Kellogg Biological Station and his colleagues wanted to know how birds and bugs would fare if the U.S. switches from corn-based ethanol production to cellulosic biofuels based on grasses. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is pushing these biofuels to help achieve further reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Switchgrass has been singled out for biofuel production because of its low water requirements and high nutrient efficiency, along with the fact that it is native to the U.S.
Jul 8, 2009
Swans, ducks and fish have been dying in droves at a popular Irish wildlife sanctuary, reports ProMed Mail (which keeps tabs on mass animal deaths as a means to provide an alert for possible human health threats). Officials in Cork, where the sanctuary called the Lough—is located, have not announced a cause, but observers and experts are positing everything from a foreign virus to lead poisoning.
“Some swans I have seen are in a terrible state,” local resident Annie Hoey told the Irish Times. Symptoms seem to suggest that something is attacking the birds’ central nervous system.
The Cork City Council’s chief veterinary officer told the Irish Examiner that avian flu isn’t to blame for the birds’ deaths. Others are noting that the bird and fish deaths might have different causes.
Jun 10, 2009
To win the favor of females, male Anna's hummingbirds (Calypte anna) dive at record speeds of 385 body lengths per second—and pull some extreme in-flight maneuvers—reports a new study in the U.K. journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
Using high-speed video cameras, study author Christopher Clark, a doctoral researcher at the University of California, Berkeley's Animal Flight Laboratory, was able to capture the birds' courtship dive, which, he writes, resembles the shape of "a tilted 'J'."
After plunging at a velocity of up to 89.6 feet (27.3 meters) per second, the tiny bird throws out its wings and pulls suddenly up, a move that would expose the little guy to nine times standard gravity. To put that in context, human fighter pilots usually black out at around seven g's.
May 26, 2009 | 1
Crows are known for their above-birdbrain intelligence, and New Caledonian crows have been observed using tools in their day-to-day lives. Other members of the crow family, however—such as rooks—don't seem to have this tool-using tendency in their natural habitats. But researchers at U.K. universities Cambridge and Queen Mary have shown that in a lab setting, hand-raised rooks quickly began using tools when faced with a challenge.
The findings, published earlier this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, point to the notion that when food is plentiful, the birds can flourish without tools. In instances of controlled scarcity, however, they were perfectly able to start using—and even creating—tools.
May 19, 2009 | 10
People may have a tough time telling one squawking bird from another. Mockingbirds, on the other hand, quickly learn which humans to watch.
"Mockingbirds certainly do not view all humans as equal," Doug Levey, lead author of a study of published this week in Proceedings of the National of Sciences, said in a statement.
How quickly can Northern Mockingbirds (Mimus polyglottos) start recognizing specific people? It only takes two 30-second exposures over a couple of days.
In Levey’s experiment, student volunteers touched birds' nests on the busy UF campus once a day for four days. After the second day, birds began alarm calls and attack flights sooner and sooner, even swooping down Hitchcock-style to graze the heads of intruders. On the fifth day, however, a different human approached the nests, and the birds' response was back to square one.
Apr 2, 2009
Officials in coastal states are worried that the high upkeep of boats in the depressed economy has mariners literally abandoning their ships in droves — a practice that could threaten the environment.
There's no official tally of cast-off boats, but an unusually high number are reportedly being dumped in waters off the coasts of Florida, South Carolina and Washington State; California is mulling a measure that would let owners surrender their vessels to the state, according to the New York Times. Other media reported last summer that more than 200 boats had been left in New York's Jamaica Bay. "Our waters have become dumping grounds," Major Paul Ouellette of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission told the Times. "It's got to the point where something has to be done."
Feb 20, 2009 | 1
A mystery came to Monterey Bay in 2007: Hundreds of seabirds washed ashore looking and even smelling as though they'd run into an oil spill. The slimy substance that covered the struggling and dead birds smelled "like linseed oil," says Raphael Kudela, an associate professor of ocean sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
But after water testing, the researchers found no indication of excess oil, pesticides, acids or commercial products that might have caused the foam and gooey coating on the birds. All told, 207 birds were found dead and 550 were stranded.
Then the slime disappeared.
Now, the "mystery spill" has been solved. It wasn't the Cosco Busan oil spill in nearby San Francisco Bay or a controversial aerial pesticide spraying along the Central Coast. It was harmless-looking foam from an ordinarily nontoxic algal bloom churned up by November waves, according to a study coming out in PLoS ONE on Monday.
Feb 10, 2009
North American birds are moving north and inland to escape climes that have heated up with global warming, according to a report released today that warns that some species risk being wiped out if climate change makes their natural habitats unlivable.
One-hundred-seventy-seven of the continent's 305 most common birds shifted their range farther north over the past four decades than in previous years, according to the Audobon Society's Christmas Bird Count. The annual survey is based on reports from 50,000 "citizen scientists" on birds they spot at more than 2,000 locations in the Americas over the last two weeks in December. It's been conducted for the past 109 years.
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