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.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Booming year for bitterns

More likely to be heard than seen, the bittern has been found in record numbers in England thanks to its loud call

Bitterns, which were once extinct in the UK, have been found to be at their highest levels ever recorded in England.

As a shy, secretive bird with plumage that perfectly camouflages it against its reed bed habitat, the bittern (Botaurus stellaris) can be easily overlooked.

However, the male’s booming mating call, created by pumping air through their throats and able to be heard from several kilometres away, gives its presence away and it is this distinctive call that has helped researchers count them.

The breeding population has just been discovered to be in the most rudest of health since the 1800s.

Show us how you play and it may tell us who you are

December 15, 2014

University of Vienna

The way in which toys are handled and combined with one another during object play can tell use a lot about the cognitive underpinnings of the actors. An international team of scientists studied parrot species, as well as crow species, with the same set of toys and found out that the birds willingly brought objects into complex spatial relationships: behaviors that occur in only a few species of primates.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

EU under pressure to ban diclofenac to protect Europe's vultures

Veterinary drug for cattle that led to collapse of vulture populations of Asia is a risk to 55,000 birds, says European Medicines Agency 

Monday 15 December 2014 17.52 GMT

Pressure is mounting on Europe to immediately ban a drug used by vets which has been linked to the poisoning of vultures and other birds which feed on the corpses of cows treated with it.

The use of veterinary diclofenac, a pain-killing anti-inflammatory medecine given to livestock led to the unintentional but almost complete collapse of many vulture populations in Asia in 1990s and early 2000s. But a loophole in Europe allows it to be legally used in Spain and Italy where nearly all Europe’s estimated 55,000 vultures live. 

Now, following an investigation of the death of a Spanish vulture in 2012, theEuropean Medicines Agency has confirmed that vultures and other carrion-eating birds are at risk. The European commission asked the agency, which is responsible for the scientific evaluation of all medicines developed by EU drug companies, to consider the risks it posed to birds after scientists and ornithologists protested when Spain authorised use of the drug on cattle last year. A dose of just 0.1–0.2 mg/kg body weight can cause rapid, lethal kidney failure.

Countless crows, droppings rankle Ohio residents

By LISA CORNWELLDecember 11, 2014 1:18 PM

Thousands of crows roosting at night in a western Ohio city's downtown have some residents comparing the landscape with the Alfred Hitchcock movie "The Birds" as they work to drive them away.

The crows troubling Springfield aren't aggressive, as birds in Hitchcock's 1963 thriller were portrayed. But their overwhelming presence on trees and buildings causes concern over damage and potential health hazards from droppings, said Roger Sherrock, CEO of the Clark County Historical Society.

The society operates the Heritage Center of Clark County, one of the buildings favored by the federally protected crows.

"It can be unnerving to walk outside and see thousands of crows on trees, buildings and everywhere, especially if you're familiar with Hitchcock's movie," Sherrock said.

He estimates as many as 50,000 crows gather downtown after scavenging for food by day in fields surrounding the city of around 60,000, some 80 miles northeast of Cincinnati. State wildlife officials say there has been a roost in the area for decades, but Sherrock says crows began roosting downtown in huge numbers about three years ago.

No one is sure what draws the crows to downtown Springfield. Some experts say thermal heat from cities provides more warmth than rural areas in winter months when roosting occurs and loss of habitat to urbanization is probably a factor. The lack of predators in urban areas may also play a role, said Jim McCormac, an aviation education specialist with the state's Division of Wildlife.

"Crows are very smart and probably have learned they are safer in urban areas," he said.

Monday, 15 December 2014

How birds get by without external ears

December 11, 2014

Technische Universitaet Muenchen

Unlike mammals, birds have no external ears. The outer ears have an important function: they help the animal identify sounds coming from different elevations. But birds are also able to perceive whether the source of a sound is above them, below them, or at the same level. Now a research team has discovered that birds are able to localize these sounds by utilizing their entire head.

New method helps map species' genetic heritage

December 11, 2014

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Where did the songbird get its song? What branch of the bird family tree is closer to the flamingo -- the heron or the sparrow? These questions seem simple, but are actually difficult for geneticists to answer. A new, sophisticated technique called statistical binning can help researchers construct more accurate species trees detailing the lineage of genes and the relationships between species.

'Big Bang' of bird evolution mapped: Genes reveal deep histories of bird origins, feathers, flight and song

December 11, 2014

Duke University

The first findings of the Avian Phylogenomics Consortium are being reported nearly simultaneously in 29 papers -- eight papers in a Dec. 12 special issue of Science and 21 more in Genome Biology, GigaScience and other journals. The analyses suggest some remarkable new ideas about bird evolution, including insights into vocal learning and the brain, colored plumage, sex chromosomes and the birds' relationship to dinosaurs and crocodiles.