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.

Friday, 9 October 2015

Ravens cooperate, but not with just anyone

Ravens detect cheaters in cooperation

Date:October 7, 2015

Source:University of Vienna

Several recent studies have already revealed that ravens are among the most intelligent species of birds and even species in general. The cognitive biologists from the University of Vienna now add cooperation the ravens' already impressive resume. "From the wild, it was already known that ravens are able to cooperate when, for example, mobbing predators. But using an experimental set-up working with captive ravens now allowed us to investigate, how exactly they do so," says lead-author Jorg Massen.

In the experiment two ravens had to simultaneously pull the two ends of one rope to slide a platform with two pieces of cheese into reach. If, however, only one individual would pull, the rope would slip through the loops on the platform and the birds were left with the rope and without cheese. Without any training the ravens spontaneously solved this task and cooperated successfully. However, it turned out that they didn't do equally well with everybody, and that they rather work together with friends than with enemies.

Bass Rock: Visiting the Scottish island on the front line battling a declining sea bird population

Bass Island enjoys special EU protections which have helped the gannet population to thrive, but the water around it does not - that may be about to change

Tom bawden Environment Editor 
Tuesday 29 September 2015 18:32 BST

On a giant lump of volcanic rock off the east coast of Scotland a dozen fledgling gannets prepare to walk the plank.

They are trapped behind the ruined castle battlements on Bass Rock - home to 150,000 gannets – and find themselves in a life-or-death situation.

They won’t be able to survive for much more than a day without food and the clock is ticking for them to fly over the battlement to the sea 200ft below and go fishing.

But they have never flown and even under less pressing conditions one in twenty fledglings die from their first flight.

Conservationists have helped them out by providing a plank laid from the foot of the battlement to the top. “Walking up the gangplank seems somehow appropriate,” says John Hunt, of the Scottish Sea Bird centre..

But while these hardy gannets will hopefully thrive, other Scottish seabirds will need more than a plank of wood if they are to have a future.

Scotland’s sea bird population has halved since 2000, with much greater declines among some species. Over the past two decades, Arctic terns have declined by 72 per cent, Arctic Skuas are down by 80 per cent and kittiwakes by 68 per cent. Puffins, razor bills and guillemots are also under pressure.

Approaching the island – the world’s largest gannet population - by boat, however, Scotland’s seabird population seems anything but precarious.

There are gannets everywhere. Male birds swoop past with seaweed in their mouths, taking it back to refurbish the nest, while others dive for fish.

And on the gannet-covered island tens of thousands of birds engage in a range of activities in a seemingly endless wave of motion.

Some are beak-fencing – mates playfully swordfighting as a bonding activity – while others are performing a territorial display involving bowing, dipping their heads and spreading their wings out backwards.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Ozzie the bald eagle: How a webcam celebrity to millions died fighting for his love

His and Harriet’s nest has attracted 40 million views, but in the end Ozzie lost his life, and love, to a younger eagle
Thursday 1 October 2015 13:00 BST

Within an hour of Ozzie's death, over 600 people has posted comment to CROW's Facebook CROW - Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife

For over twenty years, Ozzie and Harriet lived in marital bliss.

It was clear from the start that they were made for each other. She, a striking creature with a large beak and black-speckled tail; he, smaller but no less distinguished, with sprinkles of white interspersed on his right shoulder.

After a residential stint elsewhere in North Fort Myers, Fla., the bald eagle pair made their nest on the sprawling property of Dick Pritchett Real Estate, where they flew freely among the pine trees. The year was 2006, and Ozzie and Harriet had yet to become national darlings.

Little is known about the couple’s life during this quiet period. Presumably, they engaged in conventional eagle activities: eating fish, tending to a nest, gliding majestically.

Ozzie’s life came to an abrupt end Tuesday evening in a manner ripe for Shakespearean tragedy. The Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW), where the eagle was being treated this weekend, announced his passing on their Facebook page.

Maltese falcon makes a comeback

Ornithologists say three pairs of the peregrine falcon are known to be breeding in the archipelago for the first time since the 1980s
Adam Alexander, Valletta

Tuesday 6 October 2015 12.09 BSTLast modified on Wednesday 7 October 201500.01 BST

The return of the peregrine falcon to Malta, known to some as the “Maltese falcon”, has excited hopes that the iconic bird is making a comeback.

At least one breeding pair was caught on film last week by a German-based NGO, Campaign Against Bird Slaughter (CABS), and according to local experts there may now be as many as three pairs of breeding peregrine falcons on the Maltese archipelago for the first time since the 1980s.

“This is really good news and it probably shows that some of the young from earlier broods have returned to breed,” said Natalino Fenech, one of the local ornithologists who first discovered the birds. “The return and successful breeding of the peregrine is a good omen indeed, because it is the apex predator in our natural environment.”

According to experts from CABS, the falcons were filmed acting jointly to defend their territory from a harrier – a behaviour seen as the strongest evidence yet that the peregrine falcon is once again living and breeding here.

The bird of prey - which has a typical wingspan of three and a half feet and can drop into a steep, swift dive that can top 200mph - is synonymous with Malta because of the deed signed by Charles V of Spain when the Knights of St John were granted the Maltese islands in fief, and had to pay a nominal rent of a falcon on All Saints’ day each year.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Magnetic contraption tricks migrating songbirds into changing direction

Date:October 5, 2015

Source:Cell Press

When researchers captured Eurasian reed warblers along the Russian coast during their spring migrations and flew them 1,000 kilometers east to Zvenigorod, the birds weren't fazed; they simply re-oriented themselves toward their original destination. Now, the researchers who first demonstrated the birds' navigational skill in the Cell Press journal Current Biology several years ago are back with new evidence that reed warblers rely on a geomagnetic map to point them in the right direction.

In fact, the researchers show in Current Biology on October 5 that the birds will respond as though they've been sent to Zvenigorod when they are captured and exposed to a geomagnetic field that matches that location.

"The most amazing part of our finding is that the same birds sitting on the same dune of Courish Spit on the Baltic coast shifted their orientation from their normal migratory direction--northeast--to the northwest after we slightly turned current control knobs on our power supplies," says Dmitry Kishkinev of Queen's University Belfast. "All the other sensory cues remained the same for the birds."

Tiny ancient fossil from Spain shows birds flew over the heads of dinosaurs

Exceptional 125-million-year-old bird discovered

Date:October 6, 2015

Source:Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

Birds have an enormously long evolutionary history: The earliest of them, the famed Archaeopteryx, lived 150 million years ago in what is today southern Germany. However, whether these early birds were capable of flying -- and if so, how well -- has remained shrouded in scientific controversy. A new discovery published in the journal Scientific Reports documents the intricate arrangement of the muscles and ligaments that controlled the main feathers of the wing of an ancient bird, supporting the notion that at least some of the most ancient birds performed aerodynamic feats in a fashion similar to those of many living birds.

An international team of Spanish paleontologists and NHM's Director of the Dinosaur Institute, Dr. Luis M. Chiappe, studied the exceptionally preserved wing of a 125-million-year-old bird from central Spain. Beyond the bones preserved in the fossil, the tiny wing of this ancient bird reveals details of a complex network of muscles that in modern birds controls the fine adjustments of the wing's main feathers, allowing birds to master the sky.

"The anatomical match between the muscle network preserved in the fossil and those that characterize the wings of living birds strongly indicates that some of the earliest birds were capable of aerodynamic prowess like many present-day birds," said Chiappe, the investigation's senior scientist.

"It is very surprising that despite being skeletally quite different from their modern counterparts, these primitive birds show striking similarities in their soft anatomy," said Guillermo Navalón, a doctorate candidate at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom and lead author of the report.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Love thy enemy's enemy: why hummingbirds nest near hawks

Hummingbird eggs and babies are a favourite snack for nest-robbing jays, so what’s a mother to do to protect her family? According to a new study, it’s best to build her nest near or under a hawk nest

Wednesday 30 September 2015 09.09 BST
Last modified on Thursday 1 October 201507.42 BST

Tiny hummingbird eggs and babies are a favourite snack for nest-robbing jays, so what’s a mother hummingbird to do to protect her family? According to a study published recently in the journal, Science Advances, the hummingbird cleverly builds her nest near or under a hawk nest. The reason for this seemingly risky behaviour? When hawks are nesting nearby, jays forage higher above the ground to avoid being attacked from above by the hungry hawk parents. This elevation in the jays’ foraging height creates a cone-shaped jay-free safe area under the hawk nests where mother hummingbirds, their babies and nests, dramatically increased survival rates.

Predator-prey relationships are subtle and multi-faceted. For example, predators at one level in a food web are often are prey at the next level. The position in a food web or food chain that an organism occupies is referred to as its trophic level. Predictably, prey animals tend to avoid their predators, even when doing so restricts the prey species’ access to valuable resources, such as food, water or habitat (doi:10.1007/s10531-008-9324-5). Thus, the presence of just a few top predators has numerous effects – direct and indirect – that cascade down the trophic levels within an ecosystem. This is known as a trophic cascade.