As regular CFZ-watchers will know, for some time Corinna has been doing a column for Animals & Men and a regular segment on On The Track... particularly about out-of-place birds and rare vagrants. There seem to be more and more bird stories from all over the world hitting the news these days so, to make room for them all - and to give them all equal and worthy coverage - she has set up this new blog to cover all things feathery and Fortean.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Two Barbados bird species enter the select club of string-pullers

August 17, 2016

Lesser antillean bird3.jpg
Barbados bullfinch
The Barbados bullfinch and Carib grackle can pass the popular animal cognition test of string-pulling, but this ability may be unrelated to performance on six other cognitive tests, according a study published August 17, 2016 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Jean-Nicolas Audet from McGill University, Canada, and colleagues.

String-pulling is considered one of the most complex problem-solving tasks for animals. While many birds, including several corvids and parrots, are capable of string pulling, the association between string-pulling and cognitive traits has not been fully explored, and most previous studies were carried out using captive birds.

Carib grackle
Audet and colleagues tested the string-pulling ability of wild-caught Carib grackles and Barbados bullfinches by suspending food in a cylindrical container that was attached to a perch using string, which could be reached by a series of coordinated actions. To determine if individual variation in performance could be predicted by results on other tasks, the authors compared the birds' performance on string-pulling to six other behavioral measures, including problem solving, temperament, and learning.

World's biggest offshore wind farm approved despite RSPB warning over 'unnecessary' bird deaths

Emily Gosden, energy editor 
16 AUGUST 2016 • 2:24PM

A£6bn project to build the world's largest offshore wind farm off the coast of Yorkshire has been granted planning consent, despite warnings from the RSPB that it would kill hundreds of seabirds.

The Hornsea Two wind farm would see up to 300 turbines built 55 miles offshore and could generate up to 1.8 gigawatts of power, enough to power about 1.6m homes. 

The project could be up and running by the mid-2020s but will first need to secure a subsidy contract from the Government to guarantee Danish developer Dong Energy billions of pounds in financial support from UK energy bill-payers.

It would be built adjacent to Dong Energy's 174-turbine Hornsea One wind farm, which is itself due to be the world's biggest to date when completed in 2020 and has already secured a contract for an estimated £4.2bn in subsidies.

The RSPB said the planning approval for Hornsea Two was "devastating" as the turbines would be directly in the flight path of gannets and kittiwakes that nest in protected wildlife areas between Flamborough Head and Filey Cliffs, resulting in the "unnecessary death" of hundreds of birds. 

Rare bird spotted in Herefordshire

2 days ago / Sally Boyce

A RARE bird sighted in Herefordshire could well cause some twitter among spotters.

The robin-sized black redstart, photographed by a reader in the Golden Valley, is a “very rare” sight in the county, according to Herefordshire Wildlife Trust.

With fewer than 100 breeding pairs in the UK, the black redstart is on the the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds’ endangered red list.

A continental bird, in this country the black redstart has adapted to living in industrial and urban areas. Its name comes from the plumage of the male, a grey-black colour with a red tail. Their decline has put them on the official red list of birds of conservation concern.

“Seeing a black redstart here in Herefordshire is exciting,” said HWT expert, John Clark. “They are very rare, the only places they tend to breed are on building sites in London.

“They tend to prefer upland areas and dry, rocky habitats.”

The location of the county sighting was an area of uncultivated pastureland.

John advised the reader to record spotting the black redstart as an official sighting for the county with the British Trust for Ornithology.

“It is important to record such sightings of birds not commonly found in Herefordshire,” he said.

Texas Researchers Find Existence Of Ostrich Ancestors In North America From 50 Million Years Ago

Substantive fossil research work leading to the discovery began at the University of Texas at Austin.

By Tony Cantu (Patch Staff) - August 14, 2016 6:59 pm ET 

AUSTIN, TX -- Ostriches in other parts of the world looking to chart their family trees can now date their relatives to North America from millions of years ago, as fossil evidence discovered in part by University of Texas at Austin researchers has found.

Exceedingly well-preserved bird fossil specimens dating back 50 million years represent a species of a previously unknown relative of the modern-dayostrich, according to new research from Virginia Tech and The University of Texas at Austin published in the July issue of the Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History, university officials said.

Like the ostrich itself, this is big. The find could help us determine, with growing specificity, the variety of avian life in North American from eons ago.

“This spectacular specimen could be a ‘keystone’ that helps interpret much of the sparse fossil (record) of birds that once lived in North America millions of years ago,” said lead author Sterling Nesbitt of Virginia Tech’s Department of Geosciences and the Global Change Center, in a prepared statement.

While the significance of the find is just now coming to light, the bird fossils actually were found more than a decade ago -- "...completely intact with bones, feathers and soft tissues in a former lake bed in Wyoming," researchers noted. This new species was named Calciavis grandei – with “calci” meaning “hard/stone,” “avis” from the Latin for bird, and “grandei” in honor of famed paleontologist Lance Grande.

Adjectives to describe the momentous discovery's impact are soaring (unlike the hapless ostrich) to new heights -- with Nesbitt categorizing the fossils as a "once-in-a-lifetime" discovery for paleontologists.

“This is among one of the earliest well represented bird species after the age of large dinosaurs,” he said.

Formerly a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Texas, Nesbitt was hardly burying his head in the sand while studying here. Nay, this is when Nesbitt began studying the fossil in 2009, university officials said. He studied in Austin under the direction of Professor Julia Clarke -- a co-author on the research -- in the Department of Geological Sciences, officials added.

Mate choices of barn swallows tied to diverging appearances

Trait differences in closely related populations driven by female choice

Date: August 15, 2016
Source: University of Colorado at Boulder

If you are a male barn swallow in the United States or the Mediterranean with dark red breast feathers, you're apt to wow potential mates. But if you have long outer tail feathers in the United States, or short ones in the Mediterranean, the females may not be so impressed.
A new study led by the University of Colorado Boulder shows for the first time that differences in mate-choice decisions by female bird species among closely related populations can lead to the evolution of different physical traits. Such changes, the linchpin of evolution, often lead to speciation, or the formation of two or more different species from one, said Associate Professor Rebecca Safran, lead study author.

"The new twist here is we now have experimental evidence that the evolution of trait differences in closely related populations is being driven by female choice," said Safran of CU Boulder's Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

The study involved capturing barn swallows in Colorado and Israel with large nets and using non-toxic markers, clippers and feathers to alter the color of the breast feathers and either lengthen or shorten the outer tail feathers, called streamers. Individual males were each treated with one of five different combinations of breast color and/or streamer length. A control group of males were left unaltered in appearance.

Colorado barn swallows and those across America are characterized by darker breast plumage and shorter streamers, while the Israel swallows have lighter breast feathers and longer streamers. "We essentially gave the male barn swallows new outfits that mimicked the natural variation in color and streamer length in each population and asked how females responded," she said.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Reintroducing the Black-fronted Piping-guan in Brazil

By Alice Reisfeld, SAVE Brasil, 14 Aug 2016

A routine check-up in 2010 revealed that only one Black-fronted Piping-guan was left in the mountain range of Sierra do Mar, São Paulo. Wasting no time, the team of SAVE Brasil built a huge enclosure camouflaged in the Atlantic Forest to start a reintroduction programme. Six years later, the situation is being reverted: the birds are adapting and the locals are making sure their homes stay intact.

Aburria jacutinga -Parque das Aves-8.jpgThe Black-fronted Piping-guan Pipile jacutinga is a globally threatened species endemic to the Atlantic Forest of South America. As a consequence of poaching and habitat loss, this species is now locally extinct in big part of its original distribution, such as the Brazilian states of Rio de Janeiro, Espírito Santo and Bahia. Originally, it was found from South Bahia to Rio Grande do Sul, Northern Argentina and Paraguay.

There are many programmes that have been successful in breeding this species in captivity, representing an opportunity for its reintroduction and population reinforcement.  Considering the significant threat that the Black-fronted Piping-guan has been suffering throughout the years with substantial population declines, SAVE Brasil (BirdLife Partner)initiated its program “Conservation of Game Birds in the Brazilian Atlantic Forest: Reintroduction and Monitoring of the Black-fronted Piping-guan” in 2010.

The project aims to implement a reintroduction and monitoring programme for Black-fronted Piping-guans, increasing the species’ population through captive management and release of individuals, thus raising the species conservation status. 

Projeto Jacutinga began in 2010 when a census was conducted in Serra do Mar, in the state of São Paulo, focusing on two bird families: Cracidae (chachalacas, guans and curassows) and Tinamidae (tinamous and nothuras). Along 160 km of transects covered during 1 year, only one single Black-fronted Piping-guan individual was recorded. This was worrying, as this bird has an important ecological role, since it swallows whole fruits and disperses seeds that can help the re-growth of forests. 

All-Women 'Army' Protecting Rare Bird in India

A conservation brigade of 70 villagers has created a safe haven for the endangered greater adjutant stork.

By Moushumi Basu


DADARA, INDIA On a cloudy day in July, in a remote village in northeastern India, Charu Das excitedly imitates the awkward movements of a stork with her hands.

In a few months, the greater adjutant stork—called hargilla, which means "swallower of bones" in Sanskrit—will descend on this hamlet, situated in Assam's Brahmaputra Valley, to breed in large numbers.

"You will soon catch sight of this dark, quirky-looking bird, with large, thick bills, stalking over the beds of these wetlands or on the rain-soaked paddy fields in its typical military gait," Das says.

Dadara and two nearby villages, Pasariya, and Singimari, are flanked by food-rich wetlands and brimming with tall trees perfect for nesting. The region has become a major stronghold for this homely creature: Due mostly to deforestation and widespread development of wetlands, only between 800 and 1,200 greater adjutant storks remain in India and Cambodia, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.