Saturday, June 30, 2007

Win a trip to a birding hotspot!

If you reply to one of two questions in each issue of WildBird, you could become eligible for a trip to a birding hotspot. What a deal!

Two departments -- Birder's Back Yard and The Lister's Forum -- each pose a question for readers to answer. Well-written responses appear in a future issue, and two respondents receive kudos as Backyard Birder and Forum Birder. They receive certificates suitable for framing, Swarovski squall jackets and copies of Pete Dunne's Essential Field Guide Companion and The Shorebird Guide from Houghton Mifflin.

Those winners then become eligible for the Birder of the Year contest, where readers vote for the birder who most worked for the benefit of birds or other birders. Previous Birders of the Year received optics and trips to southwest Florida, Cape May and south Texas. I accompanied Leigh Johnson, the 2005 Birder of the Year, to south Texas in April 2006.

The 2007 Birder of the Year will receive a Swarovski 8x32 EL and might visit a hotspot south of the border. Could it be you? Turn to Birder's Back Yard and The Lister's Forum in each issue, and send a reply by the deadline.

Good luck!

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Friday, June 29, 2007

I and the Bird!

Don't miss this week's bird-blogging carnival, hosted by The Wandering Tattler. Here's your host:

Now go see who else makes an appearance in the delightful roundup!

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You be the judge

The annual photo contest elicits hundreds of prints, slides and digital images. In fact, last year's contest drew more than 1,360 entries. Hoo-wee!

With a grand prize and three winners for each of the five categories, we can reward up to 16 photographers for their skill and patience in creating bird photographs. That unfortunately means many images do not meet the judges' criteria for focus, composition, action, lighting or other elements.

Want to sit in the judge's seat? Consider how this image could be better. Think "constructive criticism." (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Caption contest

The annual photo contest yields hundreds of entries, although only 16 images yield prizes for the photographers. Despite the humorous situation, this image did not make it to the second round of judging.

In a departure from WildBird's "no anthropomorphism" rule, what words would you ascribe to the bird or to the cats?


Bald Eagle no longer endangered

WASHINGTON, D.C – Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne today announced the removal of the bald eagle from the list of threatened and endangered species at a ceremony at the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C. After nearly disappearing from most of the United States decades ago, the bald eagle is now flourishing across the nation and no longer needs the protection of the Endangered Species Act.

“Today I am proud to announce: the eagle has returned,” said Secretary Kempthorne. “In 1963, the lower 48 states were home to barely 400 nesting pairs of bald eagles. Today, after decades of conservation effort, they are home to some 10,000 nesting pairs, a 25-fold increase in the last 40 years. Based on its dramatic recovery, it is my honor to announce the Department of the Interior’s decision to remove the American Bald Eagle from the Endangered Species List.”

Kempthorne emphasized the ongoing commitment of the Interior Department and the entire federal government to the eagle’s continued success, noting that bald eagles will continue to be protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Both federal laws prohibit “taking” – killing, selling or otherwise harming eagles, their nests or eggs.
For details about the species' recovery, the post-delisting monitoring plan and children's activities to celebrate the eagle's recovery, click here.

How will you celebrate the national symbol's recovery? I'll raise a toast at next Wednesday's Fourth of July festivities!

UPDATE: According to Google News, more than 500 articles about the delisting have appeared online at 9:35 a.m. PST. Granted, most of them are regurgitations of the Associated Press wire story, but still -- that's a lot of coverage, all over the world. Very nice to see the topic receive so many press.

Photo courtesy of Donna Dewhurst/USFWS

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

First Friday deadline: July 4

Put your writing skills to work, and earn two recently published books! If your 500-word story about birds, birders or birding wins the First Friday contest, then you get your pick of reading material from the WildBird bookshelves. Maybe you'd like to see Why Don't Woodpeckers Get Headaches? by Mike O'Connor, National Geographic Field Guide to Birds: Arizona & New Mexico or Wetland Birds of North America by Scott Leslie in your mailbox.

The details:
* 500-word limit
* fictional story with four elements: a setting, a character or characters, a conflict and a resolution
* deals with birds, birders and/or birding
* no anthropomorphism of birds

Send your tale to me on July 4 in an e-mail or as a Word attachment. With two or more entries, we've got the makings of a contest!

See who's won previous First Fridays:
Claire Kines (twice!)
Jody Hildreth
Beverly Robertson (twice!)
Tai Haku

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Want to see a "smiling" bird?

From American Bird Conservancy:
Wildlife researchers have photographed two rare bird species, the Recurve-billed Bushbird and the Perija Parakeet for the first time in the wild. The Recurve-billed Bushbird was photographed in Norte de Santander, Colombia by Adriana Tovar and Luis Eduardo Uruena of Fundación ProAves, American Bird Conservancy’s (ABC) Colombian conservation partner.

The species remained undetected between 1965 and 2004 due to its small range and the remoteness of its habitats, until it was rediscovered recently in Venezuela and in a region of northeastern Colombia where this photo was taken.

During an expedition into this little explored region, Thomas Donegan and Blanca Huertas of ProAves discovered a relict forest around a holy sanctuary near the city of Ocaña. In 1709, the image of the Virgin Mary was seen in a tree root that had been cut down.

The event was declared a miracle by the Vatican. A small area of forest known as the Torcoroma Holy Sanctuary has been protected by Church authorities ever since and a beautiful chapel which still houses the divine image was constructed on the site.

The surviving humid forest patch is dominated by bamboo and supports a treasure chest of threatened and little-known species. The site was declared an Important Bird Area in 2005, leading to visits by ornithologists and birdwatchers. Oscar Laverde from Colombia’s National University discovered a population of the endangered Recurve-billed Bushbird there that year.

In late 2006, ProAves established the 250-acre Hormiguero de Torcoroma Bird Reserve adjacent to the Torcoroma Holy Sanctuary to protect the Recurve-billed Bushbird and other endemics.


Penguin fossils discovered in South America

From CNN:

Picture this: A giant penguin with a long, peculiar beak, lounging in the warm sun.

It could be a promotion for the next animated Hollywood movie.

But this big bird is the real thing, its recently discovered fossils providing researchers with several scientific oddities. Not only are the birds extra large by modern standards, they thrived in one of the warmest periods in the past 65 million years.

"We have this ingrained notion of a penguin on an iceberg in a cool sea. But for most of their long history, penguins were in situations of no ice, with maybe crocodiles near them," said Julia Clarke, assistant professor of marine, earth and atmospheric sciences at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Clarke, who studies the biodiversity of living birds, and colleagues in Peru and Argentina have described two species of extinct penguins that lived tens of millions of years ago. It was during a time when Earth was a lot warmer than it is today. The fossils were found in Peru in 2005.
I'm pleased to see this quote from Clarke, as I agree with her opinion:
So what does a vertebrate paleontologist think about all the attention penguins are now getting with pop culture hits like "March of the Penguins" and "Happy Feet"?

"Anytime people are motivated to engage and become emotionally connected to the natural world is a good thing for conservation concerns," said Clarke.


Endangered Hawaiian bird thrives

From KHNL:
HILO, Hawaii - The smallest chick ever hatched in captivity is doing well three weeks after coming into the world at the Keauhou Bird Conservation Center on the Big Island.

The tiny endangered akepa weighed about as much as two Q-tips at hatch. The bird's weight has since grown more than sevenfold as it has been eating cricket guts, papaya, worm meal and nectar, along with vitamin and mineral supplements.

A Conservation Center official says the challenge with such a small chick is getting the food in its mouth and down the right hole so it doesn't choke. It's also a challenge to the proper liquids balance.

From a research associate's blog:
We slowly add several mineral and vitamin supplements along the way, items like calcium, vitamin B1, bone meal, and a special tonic. We’ll be feeding this chick until it is about 50 days old, slowly decreasing our feeding schedule as the chick learns to feed on his own. His (her?) adult diet will soon be mostly nectar and insects.
Read more about the Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation program here.

Photo courtesy of San Diego Zoo

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Monday, June 25, 2007

Two more Kirtland's nests in Wisconsin

From the Associated Press:

Three nests of the rare Kirtland's warbler have been discovered in Wisconsin.

Officials say this marks the first time nests have been found outside Michigan since the 1940s, when nests were discovered in Ontario.

Wildlife authorities say this shows recovery efforts for the endangered species are working.

About two weeks ago, a bird watcher in central Wisconsin reported seeing a nest, indicating that a breeding pair now calls the state home.

Since then, federal officials say that two more nests have been found.

The bird typically makes its home in the northern part of lower Michigan.
Photo courtesy of Lou George/U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

N.J. tries to accommodate birds and homeowners

From the Philadelpha Inquirer:

About 20 pairs of night herons - big, regal-looking birds with a threatened population and a fondness for shellfish - bombarded this suburban enclave of well-tended older homes this spring.

But in recent weeks - before fed-up humans could resort to foul play - New Jersey environmental officials stepped in to broker what they hope is a truce, allowing the removal of some offending nests.

"I know that some people are going to take issue with the fact that we are charged with protecting endangered and threatened species and this, on the surface, seems to be in conflict with that mission," said Christina Kisiel, a biologist with the Division of Fish and Wildlife's endangered and non-game species program, which is part of the state Department of Environmental Protection.

"But I would argue the opposite. In this case, we have a species of conservation concern whose nesting habits are causing property damage to a homeowner," Kisiel said. "Instead of just saying to the homeowner, 'Too bad, deal with it,' we've tried to come up with a solution that doesn't harm the bird and helps the homeowner cope with the situation."
What do you think of the solution?

Wyoming birds on exhibit

In northcentral Wyoming, birds benefit from a conservation easement on more than 11,000 acres of Ucross Ranch. On the property, a conservation program run by Ucross Foundation and the Wyoming chapter of The Nature Conservancy aims "to promote the idea that commerce, aesthetic beauty and the environment are mutually compatible."

Photographer Ernesto Scott focused on the ranch's aesthetic beauty and birds, and his work now appears in an exhibit until Sept. 14 at Ucross Foundation Art Gallery at 30 Big Red Lane in Clearmont.

Sandhill Crane courtesy of RedStart Images

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

In the mail: a First Friday entry!

Woo hoo! A writer submitted an entry for the July 6 edition of the contest. If I receive another entry, we'll have an actual competition on our hands.

The details:
* 500-word limit
* fictional story with four elements: a setting, a character or characters, a conflict and a resolution
* deals with birds, birders and/or birding
* no anthropomorphism of birds

The prize: two recently published books currently on the WildBird bookshelves. Perhaps you'd like to win Songbird Journeys by Miyoko Chu, Silence of the Songbirds by Bridget Stutchbury or Atlas of Bird Migration by Jonathan Elphick, among other choices.

The deadline: July 4.

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Monday, June 18, 2007

Birdsong study could help human stutterers

Researchers at the Methodist Neurological Institute (NI) in Houston and Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City used functional MRI to determine that songbirds have a pronounced right-brain response to the sound of songs, establishing a foundational study for future research on songbird models of speech disorders such as stuttering, as reported today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences U.S.A.

This is the first functional MRI study to determine how vocal sounds are represented within the brain of an awake zebra finch, a well-studied animal model of vocal learning. Because of many similarities between birdsong and human speech, this research could lead to a better understanding of the cause of stuttering and other speech problems.
Zebra Finch courtesy of Geoffrey Dab/Canberra Ornithologists Group


Fossils of feathered dinosaurs now in Miami

The Miami Science Museum recently opened an exhibit of 120-million-year-old fossils from northeastern China. This is the first appearance of many of the fossils in the United States, and a national tour of "Dinosaurs of China" might follow their May 2008 departure from Miami. The exhibit includes the remains from feathered dinosaurs that supported hypotheses about the origins of birds.

The rarest of finds, and the ones expected to draw scientists from around the country, are in one relatively small room. They are set into chunks of rock, accompanied by life-size models — tiny when compared with the giant dinosaurs nearby — though Lamanna said their understated presentation had no correlation to their importance.

"In terms of evolutionary significance, every single one of those fossils in there is, I'd say, 10 times more important than the giant dinosaurs," he said.

Caudipteryx dinosaur courtesy of Associated Press

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Certified Green Guide Program

A Florida county operates an ecotourism institute and a certified guide program that "aims to recruit those who have a natural talent for providing outstanding nature-based tour-guide services."

The goal of the Green Guide Program is to see the natural beauty of Wakulla County preserved and enjoyed in a way that can economically benefit the residents of the area. A prime example of how enjoying nature in a non-consumptive way can benefit the area's economy is birding. In Florida, non-consumptive bird use generates $477 million annually in retail sales and supports more than 19,000 jobs. In fact, the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, located in southwest Florida, had an economic impact of $9.4 million on its local communities, according to a 1994 study.
Does your community operate a certified guide program? Do local decision-makers know about the economic benefits of birding in your area? What can you do to educate them?

Great Egret courtesy of U.S Fish & Wildlife Service


Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Birdlike dinosaur fossil receives name

BEIJING, China (Reuters) -- China has uncovered the skeletal remains of a gigantic, surprisingly bird-like dinosaur, which has been classed as a new species.

Eight meters (26 feet) long and standing at twice the height of a man at the shoulder, the fossil of the feathered but flightless Gigantoraptor erlianensis was found in the Erlian basin in Inner Mongolia, researchers wrote in the latest issue of Nature.

The researchers said the dinosaur, discovered in April 2005, weighed about 1.4 tonnes and lived some 85 million years ago.

According to lines of arrested growth detected on its bones, it died as a young adult in its 11th year of life.

What was particularly surprising was its sheer size and weight because most theories point to carnivorous dinosaurs getting smaller as they got more bird-like.
Illustration courtesy of

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Bird/bat deaths at N.Y. wind farm

Lowville, NY, June 11, 2007 -- The Maple Ridge Wind Farm and its owners, PPM Energy and Horizon Wind Energy, released a post-construction avian and bat mortality study. The study, "Annual Report for the Maple Ridge Wind Power Project, Post-construction Bird and Bat Fatality Study -- 2006," concluded that "bird and bat fatalities found at the Maple Ridge turbines were within the range of fatalities found during late summer and fall migration at turbines in the United States." The study was prepared by the consulting firm Curry and Kerlinger.

Because the project itself was not operational until mid-2006, the report did not cover portions of the spring bird migration, and thus definitive estimates of bird mortality are not yet available. However, the bird carcasses that were found during the study included no species listed in state or federal endangered species lists, though one raptor, an American kestrel, was found, the study said. The study went on to say "the number of fatalities of night migrants was fairly low at the Maple Ridge facility."
Birders might recognize the name "Kerlinger" -- as in Paul Kerlinger, author and former director of New Jersey Audubon Society's Cape May Bird Observatory.

A little levity

Want to peek into the sex life of birds and consider the parallels to humans? A 2003 book called A Tiger in the Bedroom: Lessons from Mother Nature's Sex Shop provides a window -- and some chuckles during long workdays. Written by Katherine Gould, the book includes a bibliography of sources to reassure readers that Gould didn't make up the info.

For instance, Chapter 8 -- Exhibitionist Flamingos or Transvestites, hermaphrodites and other alternative lifestyles -- includes this revelation:

Three, or four, or six is company
If you want to keep more than one mate, the important thing to remember is to treat everyone equally. The Galapagos hawk is an excellent example of this. The female Galapagos hawk lives with two (or three or four or five) males. She is careful not to play favorites. Whenever she does the rumpy-bumpy with one male, she does it with all of them.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Two more Peregrines in Cleveland

Erie and Treasure -- this year's Peregrine Falcon fledglings from the 12th-floor nest on Cleveland's Terminal Tower on Huron Road -- have learned to fly amid the city's skyscrapers! To see updates about their parents, SW and Buckeye, during the nesting season, click on Raptors in the City.

Photo courtesy of Scott Wright

It's photo contest time...

which means that the blog will feature examples of what not to do. For last year's tips and outtakes, look in the right-hand column of the homepage for the "Annual photo contest" section.

The 16 winning images will appear in the September/October issue. To find those 16, I need to evaluate almost 30 crates of entries. Many thanks to all the participants!

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Friday, June 08, 2007

A little levity

Want to peek into the sex life of birds and consider the parallels to humans? A 2003 book called A Tiger in the Bedroom: Lessons from Mother Nature's Sex Shop provides a window -- and some chuckles during long workdays. Written by Katherine Gould, the book includes a bibliography of sources to reassure readers that Gould didn't make up the info.

For instance, Chapter 4 -- The Dolphin's Naughty Bits or Disturbing behaviors -- includes this tidbit:

Welcome the neighbors
Purple martins are popular birds for backyard birdhouses. It's fun to watch the cute little ocuples building their nests and raising their chicks, especially in those birdhouses with lots of little rooms.

But there's a seedy side to purple martin life. A male will typically arrive at a birdhouse and claim it as hiw own, chasing off other males until he has chosen his mate. Then, his own mate secured, he wlecomes other males into the expansive condo complex. "Come on in," he says. "Tons of space." "Won't your family be happy here," he says. Then when the other males aren't looking, he visits all their wives. So it might behoove you to be wary of generous offers to share a vacation home.

Photo courtesy of US Fish & Wildlife Service

Pigeon breeders charged with killing raptors

Have you heard of these pigeons and clubs before?

Federal authorities have charged three Oregon men with unlawfully attempting to take, capture, and kill red-tailed and Cooper's hawks, and/or peregrine falcons, in violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The defendants, all leaders of “roller pigeon” clubs, were arraigned in the Portland, Oregon, United States District Court on June 8. The charges are part of a larger investigation across the United States — Operation High Roller — that targets roller pigeon owners who kill hawks and falcons, despite their protected status under federal law

In southern California seven arrests were made. The investigation determined that leaders and members of the National Birmingham Roller Club (NBRC) and other enthusiast organizations in the Los Angeles metropolitan area are responsible for killing 1,000 to 2,000 raptors annually.

The arrests and charges are the result of a 14-month investigation of roller pigeon hobbyists and clubs in California, Oregon, Washington, New Mexico, Texas and other states by law enforcement agents of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.

The criminal complaints filed in Oregon allege that the defendants shot birds, and used traps baited with pigeons to collect and kill raptors. These activities are alleged to have occurred at the defendants’ residences where they raise and fly roller pigeons. The defendants are all affiliated with clubs that promote and compete roller pigeons - also known as Birmingham rollers - which are native to England and have a genetic defect that causes them to flip backwards while in flight. Enthusiasts breed the pigeons with an eye toward having a group of the birds roll simultaneously, then recover before hitting the ground. Raptors are attracted by the pigeons’ unusual flipping, interpreting the behavior as that of a sick or weakened bird, and thus easy prey.
You'll find the national club's response in the link above.

Photo of raptor trap courtesy of US FWS

Swamp stamp

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Postal Service issued the Okefenokee Swamp, Georgia/Florida 69-cent International Canada and Mexico letter rate stamp today. The stamp features a photograph of a pond in the Okefenokee Swamp, taken by José Azel of Lovell, Maine. Text on the stamp reads, “Okefenokee Swamp, Georgia/Florida.” Available nationwide today, the self-adhesive stamp is available in panes of 20.

The Okefenokee Swamp encompasses nearly 700 square miles in southeastern Georgia and a small portion of northern Florida. The swamp serves as the headwaters for the Suwannee and St. Mary's Rivers and is home to a wide range of animal and plant life, from alligators, cranes, and black bears to cypress trees and carnivorous plants. This area derives its name from a Native American term meaning “land of the trembling earth.”
Birders might recognize the swamp as the site of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge offers a downloadable bird checklist here.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

SF bans parrot-feeding

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (KCBS) - San Francisco has banned the feeding of the city's famed wild parrots. But, as KCBS' Margie Shafer reports, some bird feeders are prepared to face a fine to enjoy the uniquely San Francisco experience.

Gathering at Ferry Park and feeding the flock of wild green and red parrots is a daily ritual for Jerrad Kelly. He knows these birds who sit on his head and shoulders and eat out of his hand. ...

"I actually support the ban," said former bird feeder Bill Widnall. He told KCBS the birds are simply becoming too tame.

"You shake your arm, the bird stays. And this is really, I just think it's gone too far," explained Widnall.

He fears tame birds could easily be stolen, and worries that the parrots are being overfed. The birds attract nature photographers and tourists, too.
What's your take? To the best of my understanding, these birds are the subject of the movie "Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill." How wild are they if they apparently act so tame?

Photo courtesy of

A little levity

Want to peek into the sex life of birds and consider the parallels to humans? A 2003 book called A Tiger in the Bedroom: Lessons from Mother Nature's Sex Shop provides a window -- and some chuckles during long workdays. Written by Katherine Gould, the book includes a bibliography of sources to reassure readers that Gould didn't make up the info.

For instance, Chapter 1 -- Lower Your Standards or Strategies for getting a date -- includes this advice:

Don't Pry
Looking beautiful can be hard work, and sometimes the process isn't pretty. The Egyptian vulture is a very beautiful bird with fluffy white feathers on its head and shoulders, and a bright yellow face. It's the yellow face that other Egyptian vultures consider sexy -- the yellower the better. But how does a vulture get such a striking face? By eating the dung of cows, goats, and sheep, that's how.

Do yourself a favor; admire your date's good looks, but don't ask too many questions about her beauty routine.


Bald Eagle habitat at risk?

Do you think the concerns are warranted? If so, what facts lead you to that conclusion?
(CNN) -- The bald eagle is officially about to become a "conservation success story" for the U.S. government, which has worked for more than three decades to help the national symbol recover from habitat destruction, illegal shooting and contamination of its food source.

By June 29, the government is expected to take bald eagles off the Endangered Species Act's "threatened" list. The birds then would be protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

But Kieran Suckling of the Center for Biological Diversity conservation group said this victory comes at a price -- loss of eagle habitat protection.

The bird's nesting grounds were protected as long as the bald eagle was considered a "threatened" species. But the less restrictive eagle protection act does not put eagle habitats off-limits.

Suckling said he worries that without habitat protection, developers will move into critical bald eagle areas, push the birds out and reduce their numbers.

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Stop feeding the birds!

So says the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife:

OLYMPIA, Wash. - After reports of sick or dead birds at backyard feeders in Washington, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife has recommended that people temporarily discontinue bird feeding or take extra steps to keep their feeders clean.

Veterinarian Kristin Mansfield advised for people to stop backyard bird feeding for at least a few weeks, if not for the remainder of the summer, to encourage birds to disperse and forage naturally.

She says laboratory analysis of bird carcasses has confirmed salmonellosis, a common and usually fatal bird disease caused by the salmonella bacteria.

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