Wednesday, December 30, 2009

5 tips for bird photography

Interested in taking bird photos during winter? Cornell Lab of Ornithology created a 4-minute video with photographer Marie (MAR-ee) Read.

Read offers many details, and the main tips include:
1. Plan ahead.
2. Go for the action shot.
3. Use a high shutter speed.
4. Set the exposure manually.
5. Know your subjects.

At the video's end, Read says "patience" isn't the right word for bird photography. She describes her photographic efforts as tenacious and stubborn. Do you feel the same way about bird photography?

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

$19.2M federal dollars for coastal conservation

More than 20 conservation projects in 11 states will receive almost $20 million to buy and repair coastal wetlands and adjacent uplands, said the U.S. Fish & Wildlife today. The federal funds -- plus almost $26 million from private landowners, state and local governments, and conservation groups -- will affect more than 6,100 acres and the myriad wildlife that live on them.

The 11 states range from the Pacific Northwest to New England -- Washington, Oregon, California, Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Massachusetts and Maine -- and include two Great Lakes states: Illinois and Wisconsin. As part of the 2010 National Coastal Wetlands Conservation Grant Program, the funds come from Sport Fish Restoration Act revenue generated by an excise tax on fishing equipment and motorboat and small engine fuels.

Descriptions of the conservation projects appear here. An example in Massachusetts:
Madsen-Ridge Conservation Easement Great Marsh Estuary: The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, partnering with the Great Marsh Land Protection Team, was awarded $353,500 to permanently protect 177 acres of coastal salt marsh and associated upland buffer through the purchase of a conservation easement. The property is located south of Plum Island Sound and the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge. The Great Marsh is the largest salt marsh in New England covering 25,000 acres. It functions as a major shellfish and fin fish nursery and is a critically important foraging and resting area for migrating birds along the Atlantic Flyway.
A question: The fishing community pays an excise tax that goes toward habitat conservation -- and benefits birds. The hunting community pays annually for Duck Stamps that conserve habitat -- and aid birds.

Will the birding community pay directly -- in equal numbers -- for habitat conservation?

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Monday, December 28, 2009

Birds might show how humans learn speech

From The University of Chicago:

Researchers at the University of Chicago are studying communication in animals to improve their understanding of how language develops in humans and how they use it.

“We find compelling evidence that language is a phenomenon of evolutionary biology and within the reach of biological investigation,” write biologist Daniel Margoliash and psychologist Howard Nusbaum in “Language: The Perspective from Organismal Biology,” an opinion piece in the current issue of the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences.

The two researchers challenge the position held by other scholars, including language theorist Noam Chomsky, that the way people develop language is uniquely human and unrelated to communication systems in other animals. In that theory, the ability to speak is contained in a “black box” in the brain and can be opened by informal contact as a baby begins recognizing sounds or a toddler begins speaking.

Recent research, including studies at the University on songbirds, questions that position and argues for inclusion of evolutionary biology as a means of learning more about how language develops. Songbirds also show a human-like capacity to learn complex vocal patterns, the researchers have found.
Margoliash and Nusbaum's research worked with European Starlings. Perhaps that decreases some of the EUST hatred that so many birders hold?

Photo courtesy of South Dakota Birds and Birding

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BBC Wildlife Finder

Even though North American birders can't watch the videos on BBC's Wildlife Finder, they can enjoy the photos and soundfiles culled from 30 years of natural history content. For instance, take a peek at European Robin (Erithacus rubecula). You'll find a nice action photo, a 2:30-minute recording of its spring song, a breakdown of its scientific classification, a range map with the species' preferred habitats, a visual depiction of its conservation status, links to other resources, and a bit of text from a Wikipedia entry.

Aside from animals, Wildlife Finder offers comprehensive info about habitats in which animals live and splits them into terrestrial, freshwater and marine. Within the terrestrial habitats, the broadleaf forest page includes two sound recordings, lots of videos that we Yanks can't watch, a habitat map and then links galore to amphibians, birds, insects, mammals and reptiles that live in the habitat.

The site also showcases adaptations and groups them into behavioural patterns (There's an extra u in that word!), communication and senses, development, ecosystem role, feeding habits, locomotion, morphology, predation, reproduction and social behaviour. While North Americans miss out on the videos, we still can enjoy the Wikipedia text and the links to species that share a particular adaptation.

One more section, Ecozones, divides the Earth into Oceania, Nearctic, Neotropical, Afrotropics, Palearctic, Indo-Malay, Australasia and Antarctica.

What an incredible treasure trove! If only the video player didn't say "Not available in your area."


Saturday, December 26, 2009

Corpus Christi nature center extends hours

On Jan. 1, 2010, birders -- as well as photographers and other nature enthusiasts -- can enjoy more of South Texas Botanical Gardens & Nature Center in Corpus Christi. The grounds will open at 7:30 a.m. and remain accessible until 5:30 p.m. The new hours allow 90 more minutes for birding, photography and appreciation.

"Birders long have been telling us early mornings bring out the best in birds and birders,” said Executive Director Dr. Michael Womack. “And of course, we want to attract more birders to 'America’s Birdiest City’,” he added. Many professional as well as excellent amateur photographers also requested the earlier and later hours, both for best lighting and lighter winds.
The 180-acre center includes 11 major floral exhibits as well as trails, birding overlooks and boardwalk through protected natural wetland and native habitat. It also is a Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail site.

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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Free coloring book for young birders

Know a 7- or 8-year-old child who enjoys nature and coloring books? The National Wildlife Refuge System wants to share a coloring book of different wildlife -- such as eagles and bears -- and their habitats. The free book can be downloaded here and then printed. You also can purchase copies of the book by calling 800-344-WILD (9453).

The book seeks to connect children to the natural world and foster a new generation of conservationists, as well as introduce them to the National Wildlife Refuge System. “If we’re serious about environmental protection and protecting the many wild creatures that depend on wild places, then we have to teach youngsters to make that special connection to nature,” said Sam Hamilton, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “A coloring book is a good first step. But nothing replaces the real thing — getting outdoors and visiting a National Wildlife Refuge.”
As a student at Art Institute of Washington, D.C., Katie R. Schipp illustrated the book. “I’ve always loved animals and drawing," she said, "so you will see there are animals in a lot of my drawings.

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Hummingbirds: Magic in the Air

Mark Jan. 10 on your 2010 calendar for a new PBS Nature program all about those flashy little Napoleons, hummingbirds. Even nonbirders enjoy seeing these diminutive birds, so consider sharing the news with friends and relatives who don't own bird field guides.

For now, feast your eyes on this incredible video! The dramatic slow-motion sequences reveal some of these birds' awesomeness.

From PBS:

Because hummingbirds live their lives in fast forward, much of their fascinating world is typically lost to human perception. But using cameras able to capture over 500 images a second, the hummingbirds’ magical world can finally be seen and appreciated. Amazing footage shows these little powerhouses are far more than delicate nectar gatherers — they are also deadly predators. And watch as the birds display their elaborate mating rituals, showing off with nose dives that subject them to over ten G’s of force — enough to cause an experienced fighter pilot to black out!
Anyone else tempted to host a viewing party with sugar water on the menu?

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Nature Conservancy finally notices tech-savvy birders

From The Nature Conservancy:

Adrianna Zito, an intern for The Nature Conservancy, was unsure of what to expect when she accepted a seasonal position at New Jersey’s Cape May Migratory Bird Refuge [also known as The Meadows -akh].

“I didn’t have much experience with birds or birders. My mental image of birders consisted of people with British accents sporting tweed hats, matching khaki outfits, tattered field guides and binoculars!”
Spare me from the outdated stereotypes. Fortunately, the article improves.

View Larger Map

“So imagine my surprise” continues Zito “when a group of birders rushed the gates waving around Apple iPhones instead of the tattered, dog-eared field guides and notebooks I was expecting!”

One of the birders hurriedly explained to Adrianna that he had just received a tweet that an elusive black rail was spotted about 50 feet into the main trail. With that, the birders disappeared down the trail. Sure, some wore khaki, all had binoculars, and one even wore the obligatory tweed cap. But these are not your parent’s birders.
Birders definitely range in their age, attire and adoption of technology. Gobs of birders adopted the World Wide Web years ago and eagerly embrace new high-tech gadgets and software that might make identifying and finding birds easier and more enjoyable.

The article also includes words of advice from Don Freiday, who writes the Backyard Safari articles in each issue of WildBird:

“I’d like to think that increased access to bird reports will inspire more people to go out birding more often, and get away from technology for a while! However, there is a tendency for people in any activity to behave like sheep and follow the herd — meaning, follow someone else’s discoveries rather than make their own.

“So yes, go see a bird you’ve heard about, but enjoy the whole experience of birding, too — it’s about the bird in front of you, what it’s doing, where it’s going and how to identify it the next time you see the same species.”


Thursday, December 17, 2009

I and the Bird #115

Do you revel in winter, Henry David Thoreau, nature and birds? Then you don't want to miss the latest edition of I and the Bird, hosted by Jason at Xenogere. He's crafted a wonderful presentation of 20-plus blog posts.

The crackling fire spits and pops. We nestle against its warmth. Outside, the season’s cold rests upon the night. The first snow fell this morning. And just as we have done every first snow these past four decades, Henry David Thoreau and I settle into familiar places around the hearth, warm biscuits and steaming cups of tea plated nearby, heavy woolen throws laying comfortably across our laps.

To my mind nothing speaks more beautifully of the year’s transition than the tapestries he weaves with simple words placed in expert patterns. Our fireside visits embrace the season, welcome it, give it a nod and a smile and a warm handshake. Many an hour have we spent sitting together on evenings such as this, hearing wind rattle windows, watching flames dance warmly, losing ourselves in comfortable thoughts of nature.
Aren't you tempted to settle into a comfortable chair and read I and the Bird? Perhaps you'd like to contribute to the next edition? Send your submission by Jan. 5, 2010, to Listening Earth Blog (but I couldn't find an e-mail address to which you can send your submission; perhaps you'll have better luck).

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Breeding Bird Surveys + satellite images

At an American Geophysical Union meeting today, a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison said comparing satellite images with results from an annual survey of breeding birds might provide "a quick, easy way to identify areas with high biodiversity."

Patrick Culbert, a Ph.D. student in the university's department of forestry and wildlife ecology, used Landsat images of parts of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and Missouri. The images covered more than 580 Bird Breeding Survey routes, where citizen scientists cover approximately 25 miles and record singing or visible birds during breeding season (usually June).

From the university's press release:
Culbert compared the number of bird species along the routes with measures of "habitat complexity," which is how wildlife ecologists describe the range of niches within a particular location. A forest with many levels of vegetation or an area with a mixture of wetlands and forest are two examples of complex habitat that, in repeated studies, tend to support higher biodiversity.

To explore the same relationship on a larger scale, Culbert says he focused on variation among the pixels in satellite images. "Some areas have a richer texture in the pattern of pixels than others. In an agricultural field, all the pixels are very similar, but in an old growth forest, we see lots of gaps, with a much more varied texture."
Associate professor Volker Radeloff, who is Culbert's adviser, said the goal is a "plug-and-play" system that uses remote sensing for a more realistic approach to land-use decisions. He said, "The traditional data-gathering approach of wildlife ecology is too slow to advise local governments about land use.

"If somebody says, 'We want to develop this land,' and you ask for five years to do a survey to get the answers, you will no longer be asked. For land managers, this could be a huge step forward."

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Twitter can curate bird photos

Are you familiar with Twitter, the 140-character communication tool that's becoming more popular? (I still feel silly referring to "tweets," the micro-blogging messages.) Many birders have adopted it, and I haven't regretted signing up last year.

One of the recent additions to the free service is the ability to create Lists where we can group together similar "tweeters" based on topic, region or any criteria of your choice. I created a birding list and really enjoy being able to read, respond to and "retweet" birders' posts more efficiently. The list also includes organizations that are not birding-specific but deal with nature and conservation.

Today, the value of the list crystallized again after seeing three tweets in quick succession with the phrase or "hashtag" Wordless Wednesday. Some bloggesr and tweeters who take bird photos like to share their photos via Twitter with that hashtag (which serves as a hyperlinked search tool of similar tweets).

Here are the three tweets:
LadyWoodpecker: New blog post: Wordless Wednesday

blobbybirdman: Blobbybirdman's Peregrinations: Wordless Wednesday

LRockwellatty: Today's Wings on Wednesday #wordlesswednesday

If you've resisted Twitter as one of those silly online time-sinks, perhaps you'll reconsider after enjoying the constant supply of bird photos and news provided by other birders and nature-minded tweeters.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Will you become Birder of the Year?

In every issue of WildBird, we pose a question in the Lister's Forum and Birder's Back Yard departments. Readers who provide timely responses might see their replies in a future issue, and they might be named Forum Birder or Backyard Birder in that issue. Those birders receive certificates and prizes from sponsors, such as Swarovski Optik North America and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

In the November/December issue, the six Forum Birders and six Backyard Birders become eligible for the Birder of the Year title and more prizes. WildBird readers vote to award the title and prizes.

This year's Forum Birders and Backyard Birders are eligible for books donated by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt as well as a Swarovski Optik gift pack (above) including a cleaning kit, pocket keyring knife, hat and car window decal. The Birder of the Year will receive a Swarovski 8x32 EL binocular and a five-day guided birding trip with Swarovski Optik and WildBird hosts.

Sound appealing? Then answer the questions in Lister's Forum and Birder's Back Yard before the deadline!

The current deadline is Dec. 18, this Friday, so look today at pages 15 and 27 in the January/February issue. As little as 250 words could earn you the trip of a lifetime!

The 2008 Birder of the Year -- Connie Kogler of Loveland, Colo. -- received a Swarovski 8x32 EL and a guided trip to Costa Rica, courtesy of Swarovski Optik North America. Her report appeared in the September/October 2009 issue on page 4 and online.

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Friday, December 11, 2009

College students to study effects on climate change on birds

NASA provided more than $445,000 to University of Georgia so undergraduate students can attend classroom instruction and field classes that look into the effects of climate change on birds and their migration, the university announced this week. The grant subsidizes a year of classes that will begin with the fall 2010 semester and will cover global climate change models, research methods and ways to design field experiments. Students will conduct their experiments during the summer period.

Jeffrey Hepinstall-Cymerman, assistant professor of landscape ecology in the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, said students will use NASA data, models, spatial analysis, statistics and field methods. Hepinstall-Cymerman will work with two professors in the Warnell School -- Robert Cooper and Michael Conroy -- as well as Marshall Shepherd, professor in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences.

The effect of climate change on birds is sometimes overlooked when the controversial subject is debated, but Conroy notes that if springs continue to get warmer, then it affects when the primary food source for birds—insects—emerge. If birds don’t adjust to that change, he said, newly-hatched birds won’t have enough food. ...

Although the NASA grant primarily funds instruction activities, the summer undergraduate research will offer undergraduate students the type of field research experience generally found only at the graduate level and will tie in with work Cooper is doing on breeding bird productivity along an elevational gradient at Coweeta.

“The mountainside is a surrogate for climate change,” said Cooper, “and leafout and insect emergence will be later at higher elevations. Migrating birds that arrive in the spring to breed may be right on time to hit peak insect numbers at higher elevations, but not at lower sites, a phenomenon that is likely to be even more extreme with increasing global temperatures.”

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Remove some birds to save threatened birds?

Yesterday, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service requested public input on the potential effects of removing Barred Owls from three areas in Oregon and Washington to control their predation on northern Spotted Owls, a threatened subspecies (Strix occidentalis caurina) on the federal Endangered Species List.

U.S. FWS specifically asks: What are the biological, social, economic and environmental effects that should be studied before the agency decides whether to conduct the experiments?

Information and comments must be identified with "barred owl EIS" and arrive no later than Jan. 11, addressed to Field Supervisor, Oregon Fish and Wildlife Office, 2600 S.E. 98th Ave. Suite 100, Portland OR 97266 or faxed to 503-231-6195.

“We will decide whether to conduct experimental removal of barred owls only after this open, transparent review of the effects those experiments might have,” said Paul Henson, the Fish and Wildlife Service supervisor in Oregon. “Removing individuals of a common species to benefit a species in peril is something the Fish and Wildlife Service does when necessary, but we will not proceed with this experimental removal until we better understand – and document – the environmental effects of doing it.”

“Further,” he said, “we want to be very clear that this environmental review and decision process only applies to scientific experiments on the effects of removal. If we learn enough from the experiments we will begin another decision process, complete with additional public review and input, before we would decide whether to control barred owls as a management strategy.”
The U.S. FWS press release points out that northern Spotted Owl lives in forests from British Columbia to western Washington, Oregon and northern California. Compare the subspecies' limited range with that of Barred Owl (using the link in the first paragraph).

Barred Owls cover much more of the continent than northern Spotted Owls do. Does that make it easier to consider removing Barreds from the northerns' range??

Spotted Owl courtesy of L.A. Times

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Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Bird-friendly coffee gains in sales, Smithsonian says

The National Zoo’s Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center announced yesterday that sales of organic, shade-grown coffee grown to the center's Bird Friendly standards increased to almost $3.5 million in 2008. Robert Rice, a geographer at SMBC, wrote "The Global Market for Bird Friendly Coffee: 2008" and reported that most of the Bird Friendly coffee roasted was consumed in the United States (61 percent), followed by Japan (36 percent) and Canada (3 percent).

“Consumers increasingly want to know that the food they eat and coffee they drink are grown and processed in ways that are healthy for farmers and the environment,” said Rice, who coordinates the Bird Friendly certification program at the SMBC.
Bird Friendly standards offer certification to organic coffee produced on farms with a shade cover, which provides habitat for migratory and resident birds in tropical landscapes. According to SMBC, "the Bird Friendly criteria are the world’s most stringent standards for shade-grown coffee production."


Birding with blind & visually impaired birders

A recent BEN Bulletin from Bird Education Network highlighted a "Birding for the Blind" program at Maryland's Patuxent Research Refuge and credited Steve Bouffard, former refuge manager at Minidoka National Wildlife Refuge in Idaho, for creating programs like this.

The bulletin's article said:

A tram tour allowed participants to travel through different habitats of the Refuge to get a real-life opportunity to hear different bird species. After the tram tour, Refuge staff and volunteers led participants through different education stations highlighting bird species found on the Refuge; one station included live Wood Duck chicks which could be touched and handled.

In preparation for the public program, the Refuge staff developed several additional partnerships. They included the Maryland State Library for the Blind & Physically Handicapped and the Maryland School for the Blind located in Baltimore. A professional physical therapist also visited Patuxent beforehand to give staff essential pointers on working with the blind.

The bulletin brought to mind the Great Texas Birding Classic, a birding competition with different categories. The event introduced the Outta-Sight Song Birder division a few years ago and encouraged visually impaired and blind residents to learn birdsong and participate in outings with birding guides. In the 2006 Classic, three teams -- Conroe's Palomas, The Tweety Birds and Caracaras Face to Face with Nature -- identified 35 to 39 species during their one-day event.

Does a festival or refuge in your area host programs for visually impaired and blind birders?

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Tuesday, December 08, 2009

New bird species ranks among Time's Top 10 of 2009 released today its "The Top 10 of Everything in 2009." Among the topics: Top 10 New Species. The last item on that list, Himalayan Hoard, featured a photo of an Asian Babbler (courtesy of Ramana Athreya/WWF Nepal).

According to WWF, formerly known as World Wildlife Fund: The species, Liocichla bugunorum, lives in open-canopied hill forests with dense shrubs and small trees, and so far is known to be restricted to 2 sq km at an altitude of between 2,000m and 2,350m.

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Monday, December 07, 2009

Hummingbirds receive spotlight at fluid dynamics meeting

Three scientists recently revealed their findings on hummingbird tongue research at the annual meeting of American Physical Society's Division of Fluid Dynamics in Minneapolis. John W.M. Bush and Francois Peaudecerf of Massachusetts Institute of Technology worked with David Quere of the City of Paris Industrial Physics and Chemistry Higher Educational Institution.

The abstract for their 13-minute talk says:

We present the results of a combined experimental and theoretical investigation of the drinking technique of the hummingbird. Its long, thin tongue is dipped into nectar approximately 20 times per second. With each insertion, fluid rises along the length of the tongue through capillary action.

While the tongue is open in cross-section, resembling a sliced straw, experiments demonstrate that surface tension serves to close it, with the tongue's zipping front corresponding to the rising meniscus. Supporting theoretical and analogue experimental models of this novel, natural example of capillary origami are developed and explored.
The New York Times explains further:

For the latest research, Dr. Bush and his co-workers found that when a hummingbird stuck its tongue into a flower, the tongue, about three-quarters of an inch long, curled up into a cylinder just one twenty-fifth of an inch in diameter because of surface tension.

“The hummingbird’s tongue looks like a straw with a slot cut in it,” Dr. Bush said.

Also because of the surface tension, the slot in the cylindrical tongue zips closed, beginning from the tip. The nectar is drawn upward, and the cylinder fills.
Illustration courtesy of New York Times/Chris Gash


Friday, December 04, 2009

Drawing the Motmot exhibit in Okla. museum

Until Jan. 18, birders can visit Sam Noble Museum in Norman, Okla., and see "Drawing the Motmot: An Artist's View of Tropical Nature." The exhibit features the art and commentary of nature artist Debby Kaspari, and it focuses on tropical forests in Central and South America.

Kaspari first began drawing and painting the rainforest in Trinidad in the late 1980s. She fell in love with the lush exotic landscape and made many subsequent trips to the tropics, including sites in Panama and Costa Rica. Last winter, a grant from the Don and Virginia Eckelberry Endowment allowed her to make a trip up the Amazon River to work at a research station deep in the rainforest of Peru. There she was able to draw the flora and fauna of the rainforest canopy thanks to an elevated walkway linking 14 trees through a system of platforms and rope bridges.

For the past four years, Kaspari has been working with the museum to develop an exhibit that would give visitors the same sense of peace, beauty and wonder she herself experienced in the field.

“I wanted this to be more than just an art exhibit,” Kaspari explained. “I wanted to share the environment as I see and feel it. I wanted to bring a visitor into the rainforest and give them the chance to connect with it the way I do, through artwork and media.”
Kaspari maintains a blog, a Facebook profile and a Twitter account, so opportunities to enjoy the artist and her work abound. Although the exhibit will leave the museum in six weeks, you can continue to enjoy Kaspari's talent via the links above.

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Thursday, December 03, 2009

Female birds prefer males with higher-pitched calls?

When some bird species search for a mate, they don't use their eyes but their ears. A study of Ocellated Antbirds in Central America suggests that female antbirds prefer males that hit the highest notes -- and for good reason.

From Purdue University:

Andrew DeWoody, a Purdue University professor of genetics, found that the higher the pitch of a male bird's song, the more genetic diversity that bird has, making him a better mate for breeding. His study was published Wednesday (Dec. 2) in the early online edition of PLoS One. ...

The antbirds have several calls, some to let fellow antbirds know where the army ants are heading, others to attract mates and still others that are defensive or aggressive to protect turf. DeWoody's research involved recording those calls and matching them to DNA samples of the birds. The results suggest that genetic diversity in antbirds affects their physical abilities to produce certain sounds.
DeWoody said females might choose the males with higher-pitched calls because of potentially greater genetic diversity in their offspring. You can listen to Ocellated Antbird calls and see photos at