Friday, October 22News That Matters

Tag: Birds

A Dispatch From an Endangered Bird’s ‘Garden of Eden’

A Dispatch From an Endangered Bird’s ‘Garden of Eden’

Technology, World
By the end of 2019, I was ready for a change of scenery. Working as a natural history photographer, I’d spent the previous two years tracking snow leopards in the Himalayas. Then, one snowy afternoon, I received a brief call from Dr. Rohit Naniwadekar, a bird biologist with the Nature Conservation Foundation. He asked me to get to a small volcanic island in the northern Andaman Sea as quickly as I possibly could.Within a week, I had swapped the seemingly endless landlocked mountains for a tiny speck of land at the edge of the world.Narcondam Island, a designated wildlife sanctuary where Dr. Naniwadekar planned to conduct his research, gives new meaning to the word “remote.” Situated about 80 miles to the east of the main spine of the Andaman Islands and totaling only about 2.6 square miles...

The Marvelous Physics of Swarming Midges

Technology
On early autumn afternoons across the temperate world, the midges are now gathering to swarm: clouds of tiny flies, wings lit by the sun like so many sparks, swirling in patterns too quick and complicated for the eye to follow but leaving a mental afterimage of order. Not a perfect order, but something more than chaos.That impression of order is accurate, according to scientists who study such swarms: In the movements of midges, one can find the mathematical signatures of properties beyond what one would expect from a cloud of bugs. As a group, they behave like liquids or gases, and even exhibit the characteristics of “criticality,” that uncanny stage of matter at which radical transformation from one state to another occurs in a blink.“Collective correlation can emancipate the system from...

Biden Administration Restores Bird Protections, Repealing Trump Rule

Technology, World
WASHINGTON — The Biden administration on Wednesday restored protections for migratory birds that were loosened under former President Donald J. Trump, a move celebrated by conservationists but expected to exacerbate tensions between the administration and the oil and gas industry.The move comes as some bird species have been disappearing from the planet. North America has lost almost three billion birds in the past 50 years, scientists said. In addition to suffering from habitat loss and climate change, they are killed by collisions with buildings, power lines and communication towers. They die in oil waste pits and oil spills.Deb Haaland, the secretary of the Department of Interior, said the agency will formally revoke a rule enacted in the waning days of the Trump presidency that shielde...

Protected Too Late: U.S. Officials Report More Than 20 Extinctions

Technology, World
Freshwater mussels are among the most imperiled groups in North America, but scientists don’t know enough about the eight species on the list to say for sure why they disappeared. The extinctions are likely connected to the reservoirs that humans built over the last 100 years, federal biologists said, essentially turning the mussels’ rivers into lakes.Did the change in habitat affect some aspect of their carefully choreographed life cycle? Were the filter feeders also injured by sediment or pollution in the water?Freshwater mussels rely on adaptations developed over untold years of evolution. Females lure in fish with an appendage that looks like a minnow, crayfish, snail, insect or worm, depending on the species. The mussels then squirt out their larvae, which attach to the fish, forcing ...

World’s Most Dangerous Birds Were Raised by People 18,000 Years Ago

Technology
The southern cassowary is often called the world’s most dangerous bird.While shy and secretive in the forests of its native New Guinea and Northern Australia, it can be aggressive in captivity. In 2019, kicks from a captive cassowary mortally wounded a Florida man. They don’t take kindly to attempts to hunt them, either: In 1926, a cassowary attacked by an Australian teenager kicked him in the neck with its four-inch, velociraptor-like talons, slitting his throat.Not a bird it’s advisable to spend too much time in close quarters with, in other words. But as early as 18,000 years ago, people in New Guinea may have reared cassowary chicks to near-adulthood — potentially the earliest known example of humans managing avian breeding.“This is thousands of years before domestication of the chicke...
Searching for Bird Life in a Former ‘Ocean of Forest’

Searching for Bird Life in a Former ‘Ocean of Forest’

Technology
Andrea Morales Rozo, who teaches biology at the Universidad de los Llanos in central Colombia, guided the team at the nets, from which she skillfully extricated birds unharmed. Ms. Morales Rozo has been studying the blackpoll warbler, a species that migrates between the Amazon and Canada; she was part of a group that recently compared museum specimens and field-caught birds and learned that the warbler’s northward range had shifted by nearly 400 miles in 45 years.Dr. Cuervo, the expedition leader, offered calm, fatherly support to those at the processing table. It’s not always obvious how best to describe a bird’s colors, for example, and second opinions were often requested. Was a wing “verde café,” greenish brown? Or was it “verde olivazo,” olive green? Was a female bird’s brood patch, t...
‘Totally Surprising and Rather Horrifying’: Giant Tortoises Eat Baby Birds

‘Totally Surprising and Rather Horrifying’: Giant Tortoises Eat Baby Birds

Technology
It may be time to retire the phrase “gentle giant.”Researchers in the Seychelles have filmed a giant tortoise hunting and devouring a tern chick in a single gulp. The scientists involved in the discovery say it is the first time such an act has been caught on camera. Even they are shaken up.“It’s totally surprising and rather horrifying,” said Justin Gerlach, an island ecologist at Peterhouse, Cambridge in England. “The tortoise is deliberately pursuing this bird and kills it, and then eats it. So yeah, it’s hunting.”Giant tortoises, now found only in the Seychelles and the Galápagos Islands, were believed to be herbivorous. In fact, their vegetarian diets are thought to have shaped their ecosystems, similar to elephants or bison. But in a paper published on Monday in the journal Current B...
Sneaky Thieves Steal Hair From Foxes, Raccoons, Dogs, Even You

Sneaky Thieves Steal Hair From Foxes, Raccoons, Dogs, Even You

Technology
As anyone who has ever tried to eat french fries on a beach will attest, stealing is not an uncommon behavior among birds. In fact, many birds are quite skilled at bold and brazen theft.Scientists have documented several species of birds, including magpies, bowerbirds, and black kites, looting everything from discarded plastic to expensive jewelry to decorate their nests. And then there are birds who want hair, and will go to great lengths to get their beaks on it.Hair from dogs, raccoons and even humans has been found in the nests of birds, which scientists believe makes the nests better insulated. For a long time, scientists assumed that birds had to collect hair that had been shed or scavenge it from mammal carcasses. However, a new study, published last week in the journal Ecology, sho...
What Animals See in the Stars, and What They Stand to Lose

What Animals See in the Stars, and What They Stand to Lose

Technology
Nick, a harbor seal, entered the annals of astronomical history when Guido Dehnhardt, a marine biologist now at the University of Rostock, was studying how marine mammals orient themselves. If seals could discern stars, Dr. Dehnhardt and his colleague Björn Mauck hypothesized, that might help explain how the animals are able to complete long swims across otherwise featureless seas.To test a seal’s astronomical skills, Dr. Mauck devised what must be two of scientific history’s most wide-eyed, wonder-infused experiments.First the team constructed their seal-o-scope — a tube with no lens, through which Nick was given a tour of the night sky. He consistently pressed his paddle when bright points like Venus, Sirius and Polaris came into view; he could not see as many faint stars as humans can, ...
Trash Parrots Invent New Skill in Australian Suburbs

Trash Parrots Invent New Skill in Australian Suburbs

Technology
You’ve heard of trash pandas: Raccoons raiding the garbage. How about trash parrots?Sulfur-crested cockatoos, which may sound exotic to Americans and Europeans, are everywhere in suburban areas of Sydney. They have adapted to the human environment, and since they are known to be clever at manipulating objects it’s not entirely surprising that they went after a rich food source. But you might say that the spread of their latest trick, to open trash cans, blows the lid off social learning and cultural evolution in animals.Not only do the birds acquire the skill by imitating others, which is social learning. But the details of technique evolve to differ in different groups as the innovation spreads, a mark of animal culture.Barbara C. Klump, a behavioral ecologist at the Max Planck Institute ...