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Posts Tagged ‘bird’

Photo: Rafael Bessa
The Blue-eyed Ground-Dove was rediscovered in Brazil in 2015 after a 74-year absence from the scientific record. It was rediscovered more than 600 miles away from where it had last been seen in 1941.

Our birder friend Gene laughed at me when I told him that a woman I knew had spotted a Carolina Parakeet in New Shoreham. “Believe me,” he said. “She didn’t see a Carolina Parakeet. It’s extinct.”

Well, I suppose he was right, but I’ve always wanted to see a bird thought to be extinct — the Dodo, say, or the Ivory-billed Woodpecker.

It turns out, hope is possible.

Sarah Gilman reported the story for Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Living Bird.

“The song was a surprise: A succession of coos like water drops, both monotonous and musical. They sounded sleepy, familiar, and yet just foreign enough to catch ornithologist Rafael Bessa’s attention.

“It was a brilliant June afternoon in 2015, and the song fluted from some rock outcroppings near the verdant palms of a vereda, or oasis, in an expanse of shrubby grasslands in southern Brazil.

“The country’s Amazon rainforest has long captured conservation headlines, but the cerrado — as this mixed savanna of grass, brush, and dry forest is called — covers 20 percent of the country’s landmass, and is more threatened.

“Bessa himself was there in the state of Minas Gerais to conduct an environmental assessment for a proposed agricultural operation. He had stumbled on the vereda while driving from his hotel to a distant survey site. There was no time to investigate the plaintive call, but the ‘woo-up … woo-up … woo-up’ sounded a bit faster and deeper than the Ruddy Ground-Doves that occur in abundance in the area. Bessa decided to return.

“The next day, he managed to record the mysterious call and summon its maker into a nearby bush with the playback. He aimed his camera and took a series of photographs, then zoomed in on the images.

“It was indeed a small dove — not necessarily the sort of quarry birders get twisted up over. Its back was an unspectacular greenish-brown, and its head, tail, and breast were a muted ruddy orange, blending to a creamy belly and a set of bony pink feet. But its eyes were arresting pools of spectacular cobalt blue, echoed by little half moons of the same dabbed across its wings.

“Bessa’s hands began to shake. ‘I had no doubt that I found something really special,’ he says.

“Seeking confirmation, he texted his friend Luciano Lima, the technical coordinator at the Observatório de Aves of the Instituto Butantan, São Paulo’s biological and health research center. Lima had done his master’s degree in a museum with an extensive specimen collection, and agreed to drive to his office to pull up the photos on his computer and see if he could identify the mystery dove.

“ ‘I was in my car,’ Lima recalls, ‘and he suddenly sent me one of the pictures, and I almost crashed!’ ”

Read more of this real-life detective story here. It contains a bonus in the form of new vocabulary words:

Just as there is a recently coined term for the last individual of a species — an endling — so too is there a much older phrase for those that reemerge — a Lazarus taxon.”

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Recently, Kara Baskin wrote for the Boston Globe about a couple of young environmental philanthropists.

Arlington (Mass.) siblings Will Gladstone (age 12) and Matthew (age 9) “run the Blue Feet Foundation, which manufactures bright blue socks with bird logos to support the endangered blue-footed booby, a threatened species found in the Galapagos Islands.

“Proceeds benefit the Galapagos Conservancy, and the brothers have raised $18,000 since launching a few months ago.

“The idea began in science class at the Fessenden School in West Newton last year. …

“The brothers started a logo contest among pals. Dad Peter Gladstone helped the pair create a final design on logo site 99designs.com and located a manufacturer to to produce the cotton footwear. …

” ‘We put a thank you card in each package, write out the label, and talk about what this will go to. We ask for photos of them wearing the socks,’ Will says. …

“Will also plans to expand his business a bit, perhaps shifting to red socks for Valentine’s Day. (Yes, there is also a red-footed booby.) …

” ‘My brother says, “If we go out of business, I hope it’s because we save the birds.” ‘ ”

Read more at the Blue Feet Foundation, here. There’s a cute photo of three generations of one family wearing the blue socks in memory of their trip to the Galapagos Islands.

6/21/17. I have to add this this heavenly surreal animation I just saw, Mr Blue-Footed Booby: https://slipperyedge.com/2017/06/08/mr-blue-footed-booby/.

Photo: chutupandtakemykarma
The Galapagos bird the blue-footed booby is endangered

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Here’s something fun from the bird kingdom: a mating dance that looks like Michael Jackson’s moonwalk and a researcher who posits an aesthetic sensibility in animals.

WNYC radio in New York has the story.

Richard Prum is an ornithologist at Yale University … Some of Prum’s latest work is on the philosophy of aesthetics. It stems from his earliest research, as a young scientist, studying small South American birds called manakins. Manakins are known for outlandish mating displays. The males perform an elaborate dance, including moves that look a lot like moonwalking.

“To Prum’s eye, the diversity and complexity of these dances could only be explained as an appeal to the birds’ aesthetic preferences — in other words, it’s art. ‘My hypothesis is that ornament in manakins evolves merely because it’s beautiful,’ Prum says.

“This idea clashes with the view of most evolutionary biologists, who see displays like these as signs of evolutionary fitness. They think the male manakin’s dance signals to females that he is healthy and will sire strong offspring. …

“Prum says that Charles Darwin was on his side. ‘That was Darwin’s original idea about mate choice — it’s about the aesthetic faculty’ …

“Doesn’t this idea about animals having aesthetic preferences anthropomorphize them? ‘I think that we don’t anthropomorphize birds enough!’ Prum says. ‘We’re afraid of talking about their subjective experiences, because we can’t measure it. But in fact, what they experience is desire, the subjective experience of beauty, of being attracted to something.’ ” More here.

Video: NatGeoWild

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Sy Montgomery had a lovely story in the Boston Globe about studies investigating  animals’ dreams. I zeroed in on the beautiful little zebra finch.

“What do birds dream about?” Montgomery asks.

“Singing.

“University of Chicago professor Daniel Margoliash conducted experiments on zebra finches. Like all birds, zebra finches aren’t born knowing their songs; they learn them, and young birds spend much of their days learning and rehearsing the song of their species. …

“The researcher was able to determine the individual notes based on the firing pattern of the neurons. While the birds were asleep, their neurons fired in the same order — as if they were singing in their dreams.”

At American Scientist, Michael Szpir titles a related article “To Sleep, Perchance to Sing.”

“It turns out that single neurons in the forebrain song system of the sleeping birds display a pattern of activity that’s only seen in the waking bird when it sings. [Amish S.] Dave and Margoliash think that this neuronal activity is part of the learning process — the birds are rehearsing in their sleep by dreaming about singing.

“Since the awake male zebra finch will sing when a female is presented, it seems natural to ask whether the male finch has an image in mind when he sings in his sleep. Margoliash won’t speculate, but if human males are any indication we might imagine they dream of fetching female finches. It’s either that or bird seed.

“You can hear the song of the awake zebra finch at: http://www.williams.edu:803/Biology/ZFinch/zfsong.html.” More.

Read what other critters dream about at the Globe, here.

Photo: Nigel Mann

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An old, falling-apart film of a heath hen has been unearthed.

Why is that thrilling? The heath hen is extinct.

Writes Carolyn Y. Johnson in the Boston Globe, “The bird stamps its feet on the ground, taking mincing dance steps through the corn stubble. Neck feathers flare like a headdress, and the male puffs out his neck, making a hollow, hooting call that has been lost to history.

“These courtship antics are captured on a silent, black-and-white film that is believed to be the only footage of something not seen for nearly a century: the extinct heath hen.

“The film, circa 1918, is the birding equivalent of an Elvis sighting, said Wayne Petersen of Mass Audubon — mind-blowing and transfixing to people who care. It will premier Saturday [March 8] at a birding conference in Waltham.

“Massachusetts officials commissioned the film nearly a century ago as part of an effort to preserve and study the game bird, once abundant from Southern New Hampshire to Northern Virginia. Then, like the heath hen, the film was largely forgotten.

“Martha’s Vineyard is where the last known heath hens lived, protected in a state preserve. But the last one vanished by 1932. …

“Jim Cardoza, a retired wildlife biologist who worked for the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, said that for him, the film holds lessons about how conservation efforts have evolved.

“ ‘The thing that is striking to me is the habitat of the animal — it looks like they’re out in corn fields and open areas and things like that,’ Cardoza said. ‘That isn’t what the birds really inhabited — they were a scrub-land species.’ Conservationists at the time, he said, ‘didn’t know what the habitat requirements of the species even was.’  ”

Read the rest of the article and watch the film here.

I love the idea of a long-rumored, valuable film finally being found. It’s a great story. It’s also an argument for better filing systems.

State of Massachusetts woodcut, 1912. The fancier heath hens are males.

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I was in a meeting on the 31st floor a month or so ago, when I saw a bird swoop past the window. That could never be a pigeon up this high, I thought. Could it be a … ?

This week a colleague sent me photos. It turns out that a pair of peregrine falcons had nested several years ago on the 32nd floor outside our president’s office and, after a sojourn at the Custom House, decided to come back this year. The babies have just been tagged, and the tagger took pictures.

I have been reading a novel about Bedouins translated from Arabic. It has numerous passages on Bedouins’ fondness for falcons as hunting birds, so this feels like a coincidence. But the main thing is, they are really cool birds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Heather Murphy reviews a cool-sounding book about birds as architects in Slate.

“Birds are exceptionally skilled architects. And, unlike humans, they do not require expensive schooling to obtain their skills. Nor do they covet their neighbors’ homes, explains Peter Goodfellow, author of Avian Architecture: How Birds Design, Engineer and Build. The innate ability to create sturdy and beautiful nests is written in their DNA. Goodfellow, a retired English teacher, has been studying birds since the 1970s. His new book documents the process of nest design and construction in extensive detail.” Read the article and check out the terrific slide show at Slate.

To see a bird building one of nature’s most complex nests, watch this BBC video of about 4 minutes, showing a weaver bird learning to master the skill.

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Another new writer focuses on Feathers.

Amazon posts the book description: “Feathers are an evolutionary marvel: aerodynamic, insulating, beguiling. They date back more than 100 million years. [Biologist] Thor Hanson details a sweeping natural history, as feathers have been used to fly, protect, attract, and adorn … . Engineers call feathers the most efficient insulating material ever discovered … . They silence the flight of owls and keep penguins dry below the ice.”

John has been reading Feathers, which he interrupts occasionally to tell us some little-known evolutionary fact or to praise the author’s writing style. John and Meran are really good birders, and it’s looking like their son is a birdwatcher in the making.

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