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.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Many hands make light work and improve health, researchers have found

Date: November 18, 2015
Source: University of Exeter

Getting help with baby care could keep families healthier and extend their lives, according to a new study into bird behaviour.

Research into weaver birds in South Africa, carried out at the University of Exeter and published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, found that a heavy breeding workload led to increased free radical damage to cells, which can be associated with aging and ill health. However, where birds were in larger groups and the workload was shared, no increase in cell damage was found.

The team studied cooperative white-browed sparrow weaver birds in the Kalahari Desert during their breeding season and compared groups of birds that were not breeding with others that were raising chicks.

In the three weeks after hatching, adult birds work feverishly to bring chicks food and as a result they grow to 40 times their original size. Meanwhile, non-breeding birds live a life of relative leisure, with no hungry mouths to feed.

"We investigated oxidative stress, which occurs when free-radicals cause damage to cells. Antioxidants usually prevent this damage, but during hard work, free-radicals can overwhelm antioxidant protection," said lead researcher Dominic Cram, who is now based at the University of Cambridge.

"We found that the birds that were feeding nestlings often had weaker antioxidant defences and suffered from oxidative stress. However, in large groups where many birds assist with nestling care, the birds showed stronger antioxidants and lower free radical damage. So in larger groups many hands appear to have made light work."

Rome enlists Texan falcons to tackle problem of starling droppings

Cars, streets and the odd pedestrian have been showered with faeces

Rome is hoping five Texan falcons will be able scare away the thousands of starlings that are showering cars, streets, and the odd pedestrian with their droppings.

Along the banks of the River Tiber, in particular, where the huge flocks congregate in the trees, stationary cars and bikes are often covered in their faeces. Roads are left slippery and treacherous.

So serious is the problem that the city’s authorities are resorting to the falcons to deter the starlings from massing in the city, to which they are attracted as a safe place to roost. 

Sabrina Alfonsi, president of Rome’s central municipality, said a three-day trial of the birds of prey proved successful, so she is now looking to continue with the deterrent.

For the birds: Whether you're territorial, a girlfriend stealer or a cross dresser, it's in your genes

Date: November 16, 2015
Source: University of Sheffield

Whether you're territorial, a girlfriend stealer, or a cross dresser -- when it comes to finding a partner, scientists have discovered that for some birds it's all in the genes.

Individual animals usually exhibit flexibility in their behaviour, but some behaviours are genetically determined.

Using genome sequencing, researchers from the University of Sheffield have now identified the genes that determine the striking mating behaviour of the males of a wading bird known as the ruff.

The ruff has a 'lek' mating system, which means males of the species gather together and invest all of their energy into attracting females to mate with them, and none into parental care.

Within this specific mating system three distinct breeding behaviour types are easily identifiable.

• Territorial breeding males have spectacular plumes around their neck (which is why these birds are called ruffs) and head, and vary enormously in colouration so that each male is distinguishable.
• Nonterritorial so-called 'satellite' males, which are distinguishable by their white feathers, concentrate on stealing mates from the territorial displaying males.
• A third type of male, which is thought of as a 'cross-dresser', mimics females. They are able to hide from other males in the lek, so avoiding territorial aggression, and succeed by effectively stealing mates from the resident males.

The new study, by an international team including researchers from the University of Sheffield, Simon Fraser University (Canada), and the University of Edinburgh, published in Nature Genetics, shows that the three distinct breeding behaviour types are encoded by a 'supergene' -- a section of a chromosome containing a hundred or more genes.

Climate change sends wildlife north, giving UK a species boost

Climate change is generally viewed as bad news. But, as Philip Bowern reports, the RSPB have shown this week that it is bringing new species to the UK.

No conservation body is welcoming changes to our climate through global warming. The RSPB, which yesterday released an important new report “The nature of climate change” is no exception. It warns in the introduction that climate change is one of the greatest long term threats to the nature we love and that it is putting out wildlife at risk.

But it also reports how wildlife is responding to climate change across Europe – and how species once thought of as rare or even unheard of in the UK are colonising our shores.

The RSPB scientists report: “Species are rapidly colonising new areas, as we would expect under climate change. Since 1900, at least 120 species have colonised the UK. Small red-eyed damselflies, first recorded in 1999, have spread through much of England; and spectacular birds like black-winged stilts and cattle egrets have bred in the UK”.

But it is not all good news, the report warns. “Wildlife is moving northwards and uphill due to climate change,” it says. “As the climate changes, wildlife tracks suitable conditions. In Finland, 48 species of butterfly have moved 37 miles (60 km) north between 1992 and 2004. Yet wildlife will only be able to track suitable climate if there is enough suitable habitat available. One third of Europe’s bumblebees could lose 80% of their range by 2100.”

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

One very brainy bird

Study finds pigeons uncommonly good at distinguishing cancerous from normal breast tissue

Date: November 18, 2015
Source: University of Iowa

If pigeons went to medical school and specialized in pathology or radiology, they'd be pretty good at distinguishing digitized microscope slides and mammograms of normal from cancerous breast tissue, according to a new study from the University of Iowa and the University of California, Davis.

With some training and selective food reinforcement, pigeons performed as well as humans in categorizing digitized slides and mammograms of benign and malignant human breast tissue, the researchers found. The pigeons were able to generalize what they had learned, so that when the researchers showed them a completely new set of normal and cancerous digitized slides, they correctly identified them. Their accuracy, like that of humans, was modestly affected by the presence or absence of color in the images, as well as by degrees of image compression. The pigeons also learned to correctly identify cancer-relevant micro calcifications on mammograms, but they had a tougher time classifying suspicious masses on mammograms -- a task considered difficult even for skilled human observers, the authors noted in the paper, published online on Wednesday in the journal PLOS One.

"These results go a long way toward establishing a profound link between humans and our animal kin," said Edward Wasserman, professor of psychological and brain sciences at the UI and study co-author. "Even distant relatives -- like people and pigeons -- are adept at perceiving and categorizing the complex visual patterns that are presented in pathology and radiology images, surely a task for which nature has not specifically prepared us."

New Taipei Wild bird midway house releases 3 crested serpent eagles

2015/11/17 14:12:48

Spilornis cheela (Bandipur, 2008).jpgNew Taipei, Nov. 17 (CNA) Three crested serpent eagles have been released into the wild by the Midway House of Wild Birds of New Taipei City after being treated and rehabilitated by veterinarians for nearly a month, a New Taipei agricultural official said Tuesday.

New Taipei Agriculture Department Commissioner Li Wen (李玟) said the three injured birds of prey were rescued by people from mountainous parts of Sindian and Sansia in October.

After being treated by veterinarians in the Agriculture Department's animal protection office, the birds were sent to the wild birds midway house for flight and hunting training.

Set up by the animal protection office, the Midway House of Wild Birds has four large cages for wild birds and five for raptors on a 600-square-meter property.

Li invited Liang Chieh-te (梁皆得), director of the documentary "The Phantom of the Forest -- the Black Eagle," to witness the release of the three raptors, and took the opportunity to recommend the 43-minute documentary, which will premiere on Nov. 20.

Bird Notes: Peregrine numbers down across Wales

14:00, 17 NOV 2015
UPDATED 14:17, 17 NOV 2015

Provisional results of the latest nest survey last week find the birds numbers were down 12% since 2002

Peregrines are a flagship success for bird conservation.

Numbers crashed in the 1950s, principally because organochlorine pesticides in their food chain resulted in thinner eggshells and thus many nests failed.

A pesticide ban and increased nest protection helped Peregrine numbers to increase, but even by the early 1970s, there were just a handful of pairs on Anglesey and none at all nested in northeast Wales.

Over the next 40 years, they spread along sea cliffs and started to nest on built structures, such as Wrexham police station.

Last week the provisional results of the latest nest survey were published, finding Peregrine numbers were down 12% in Wales since 2002, to fewer than 250 pairs - reduced food supply is thought to be the main driver of the change.

High winds have pushed seabirds inshore: Little Gulls were off Bardsey and the Glaslyn estuary, a late Leach’s Petrel was at Criccieth and a Sooty Shearwater off Bardsey.

Two Great Northern Divers sought shelter in Holyhead Bay, nine were off Porth Ysgaden and another two off the Little Orme. Whooper Swans at RSPB Conwy and on Llanrwstfloodwater and a Common Scoter on Abergele’s Pentre Mawr lake were all unusual.

A Scaup remains on Parc Eirias boating lake, not deterred by last week’s fireworks, and the Great Grey Shrike continues its stay at Llyn Du near Porthmadog.