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Posts Tagged ‘birds’

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Photos: Greg Davis/OPB
Oregon State University doctoral student Hankyu Kim sets up a decoy of a hermit warbler. Songbird populations have been declining, and rising temperatures are one reason.

Nearly all birds are “canaries in the coal mine,” in the sense that when they’re in trouble from habitat destruction, rising temperatures, pollutants, and so on, they’re heralding trouble for all species, including the human one. For that reason, among many others, I love to hear of efforts to protect even one kind of bird.

Consider this story by reporter Jes Burns at National Public Radio (NPR).

“Each spring, songbirds migrate thousands of miles to breed in Oregon’s Cascade Mountains. Deep in a forest, Oregon State University researcher Hankyu Kim feels he has gotten inside the head of one species, the hermit warbler.

” ‘These birds are territorial in the breeding ground, they set up their territories, and they fight with each other to defend it,’ he says.

“Armed with this knowledge, a nearly invisible net strung between two repurposed fishing poles, a lifelike plastic warbler decoy and a looped recording of birdcalls, Kim’s trap is set. …

” ‘We have these long-term population monitoring routes across the Northwest. And a surprising number of species are declining,’ says Oregon State professor Matt Betts. ‘Actually, more than about half of the species that live in a forest like this are in decline.’

“Rising temperatures can shrink where some birds can live and where they can find food. For the hermit warbler, those declines are up to 4 percent each year.

“Research by Oregon State’s Betts and Sarah Frey found warblers declined in areas with young forests, including those replanted after clear-cut logging. But hermit warblers are doing better in other areas.

” ‘In landscapes that had more older forest, their population declines were lowered, or even reversed, even though the climate has been warming,’ Frey says.

“The Pacific Northwest has had a decades-long push to preserve its old-growth forests, and the warblers thrived in them. That suggests these forests somehow shielded them from the ill effects of rising temperatures. The question is why, and that is where this new study comes in.

“Kim and fellow Oregon State researcher Adam Hadley move the trapped hermit warbler’s feathers aside and attach a tiny radio tag to its back using nontoxic glue (the kind used for fake eyelashes). Then they release the bird, and it flies away. …

“They walk down a drainage though a 50-year-old tree plantation, a remnant of the logging past at the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest. Then they cross into a grove of much older trees, some close to 300 years old.

“Hadley explains that the temperatures can be different at various heights of a tree. ‘It’s possible that when it’s warmer, [songbirds] may be only using the bottom and more shady parts of the trees,’ he says. He guesses they may move up higher when it becomes cooler.

“He says the complex layers and sheer biomass of old-growth keeps the temperature in these forests up to 5 degrees lower. But the researchers can’t fully understand what’s going on without knowing more about how the birds use the forests. …

“Hadley waves the antenna through the air trying to pinpoint the warbler’s location. … He and the others will compare the hermit warblers’ movements with temperature data they’ve also been gathering. They hope to get another step closer to understanding how this native songbird species might cope with the warming climate.”

More. This seems like an extra reason to protect old-growth forests, not just replant after logging. But how long will five degrees cooler be enough?

Kim, do you know about this? And are you seeing these warblers at your banding station?

Oregon State scientists are tagging and tracking hermit warblers in hopes of learning why their numbers have stabilized in places with old-growth forests, despite declines in other areas.

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Photo: Tom Banse/Northwest News Network
This laser unit is one of six that repel thieving birds from the blueberry fields of Meduri Farms near Jefferson, Oregon.

Are you familiar with the arch-criminal Moriarity, featured in Sherlock Holmes stories? “Moriarity” is what my husband called every devious catbird that got through his garden defenses last summer, eating many of the best berries. No sooner had my husband patched a piece of netting that the birds had sneaked through than they collaborated with one another to extend some tiny opening. And then they would get all tangled up and have to be rescued. (As Kim says, “Catbirds have such disorganized feathers.”)

Suzanne suggested the Scare-Eye Bird Chaser she had seen at a Rhode Island farm, but New Shoreham is too windy for a balloon defense.

A plastic hawk interested the grandchildren, but Moriarity was bored.

Next year it might be necessary to think about lasers.

Tom Banse writes at NPR, “During every berry-picking season in the Pacific Northwest, blueberry and raspberry growers fight to prevent birds from gobbling up the crop before harvest. This year, some farmers are trying something new to scare away the thieving birds: lasers.

“Justin Meduri manages a large blueberry farm and cherry orchard outside Jefferson, Ore. Birds like both fruits.

” ‘Flocks can move in of up to 2,000 to 3,000 starling birds,’ Meduri says. The starlings gorge themselves and knock down berries right as the crop is ready to pick. When he didn’t take countermeasures, Meduri says the damage was ‘inconceivable, huge. We had almost a 20 to 25 percent, maybe even 30 percent damage loss.’

“Meduri says he previously hired a falconer to protect his fields. But the falcons were expensive, temperamental and sometimes flew away. Then last year, he became one of the first farmers in the U.S. to install automated lasers. … Meduri is thrilled with the results.

” ‘[The lasers are] running right now as we speak. You’re out here in over 175 acres of blueberries,’ he says, punctuating the observation with a staccato of hand claps. ‘There’s not one bird that you see flying around.’ Meduri says that had any birds been in the bushes, the clapping would have made them come out. …

“[Laser maker] Bird Control Group started out in Europe, for the most part using lasers to shoo pesky birds away from industrial sites and airports. In the U.S. market, the agricultural industry appears to be the most promising.

“[Director of North American business development is Wayne] Ackermann says some of his initial sales have come from farmers trying to appease neighbors. …

“The silent lasers proved a friendlier — and sometimes better — bird repellent than traditional tools such as propane cannons or squawk boxes. The lasers are also friendlier than using poison or a 12-gauge shotgun.”

On second thought, the price is prohibitive for a backyard gardener, and not enough is known about whether the lasers are harmful to the birds. Researchers at Purdue University are studying that very question. So stay tuned for that — and for more on the misadventures of Moriarity.

The story is originally from the Northwest News Network. You can read the rest of it here.

Photo: Scare-Eye Bird Chaser
Another possible bird-control option if you don’t live in a windy region.

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Sometimes when I’m trying to cross a city street in traffic that’s coming from all directions, I think about how people who don’t visit cities much — Inuit people, say, or rural tribesmen in Africa  — would cope. Probably about as well as I would cope dealing with the habits of lions or polar bears. We all develop the survival skills we need most.

Birds do, too. According to Scientific American, urban birds develop skills that let them outwit their country cousins on certain tests.

Christopher Intagliata reports,”While visiting Barbados, McGill University neurobiologist Jean-Nicolas Audet noticed that local bullfinches were accomplished thieves.

” ‘They were always trying to steal our food. And we can see those birds entering in supermarkets, trying to steal food there.’

“And that gave him an idea. ‘Since this bird species is able to solve amazing problems in cities, and they’re also present in rural areas, we were wondering’ are the rural birds also good problem-solvers, and they just don’t take advantage of their abilities? …

“So Audet and his McGill colleagues captured Barbados bullfinches, both in the island’s towns and out in the countryside. They then administered the bird equivalent of personality and IQ tests: assessing traits like boldness and fear, or timing how quickly the finches could open a puzzle box full of seeds.

“And it turns out the city birds really could solve puzzles faster. They were bolder, too, except when it came to dealing with new objects—perhaps assuming, unlike their more naive country cousins, that new things can either mean reward … or danger.

“The study is in the journal Behavioral Ecology [Jean-Nicolas Audet et al, The town bird and the country bird].”

More here.

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There’s always something fun over at PRI’s environmental radio show Living on Earth. Here’s a story that ran in March about the unique bird species isolated in Northeastern Australian rainforests.

Bob Sundstrom wrote up the audio report of BirdNote‘s Mary McCann: “The Eastern Whipbird hangs out in the dense understory. It’s dark, crested … nearly a foot long and emerald-green with white spots. … The large, pigeon-like Wompoo Fruit-Dove … feathered in a stunning combination of green, purple, and yellow, [is] clearly named for its voice.

“Pig-like grunting on the forest floor tells us we’re in the company of the largest bird on the continent – the Southern Cassowary. On average, the female weighs 130 pounds and stands around 5 feet tall, looking like a giant, lush, black hairpiece on thick legs. A helmet called a casque makes it look as much like a dinosaur as any living bird.” Five feet tall? I think I know a one-year-old who would like to try riding it.

The bird sounds on the radio show were provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Hear them all here, where you can also enjoy the equally far-out pictures.

Photo: Jan Anne
Southern Cassowary

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I love thinking about sunlight and shadow. Dickens uses them a lot for Richard and Ada’s story in Bleak House — maybe my favorite book of all time.

“So young, so beautiful, so full of hope and promise, they went on lightly through the sunlight … So they passed away into the shadow, and were gone.”

Many of you know what the decades-long case of Jarndyce vs Jarndyce did to Richard and Ada’s bright hopes. I’ve come to think that it was not so much Richard’s fevered expectations of an inheritance that brought the most sorrow, but his need to fix blame. Blame is corrosive.

When I interviewed a formerly homeless Marine last week and he started telling me about how upset he was that something bad had just happened with his benefits, I was touched by how he kept reminding himself how to cope, saying, “I believe in fixing the problem — not the blame.” Words to live by.

The first three photos were taken early Saturday morning, when the effects of sunlight and shadow were especially breathtaking. (I can never resist that old graveyard. You’ve seen it here in all weathers.)

The next three were taken at the playground near John’s house. Every few months, new creatures appear on that tall tree stump. (You’ve seen previous creature photos, too, on this blog.)

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Photo: PA/Owen Humphries
Murmuration of starlings over Gretna, Scotland

Starlings swarm in flash mobs over Scotland every November and February, and they don’t even need social media to remind them it’s time.

According to an article at the BBC, “Tens of thousands of the birds are regularly seen around this time of year near the Dumfries and Galloway town. It is one of the most famous locations for the natural spectacle, the reason for which is not definitively known.

“A survey of the birds across the UK is currently under way with members of the public urged to record sightings. The poll, conducted by the University of Gloucestershire and the Society of Biology, is the first of its kind and has already received more than 600 reports from Cornwall to John O’Groats.

“Dr Anne Goodenough, reader in applied ecology at Gloucestershire University, said: ‘One of the theories behind the murmurations is that it means they are safer from predators such as hawks and falcons.

” ‘Another theory could be they are signalling a large roost and it could be a way of attracting other birds to that area to build up a big flock as it would be warmer. It’s much warmer to roost as a big group rather than a smaller one and the murmurations can be as big as 100,000 birds.’ ”

More here. Don’t miss the other amazing photos at the BBC site.

YouTube video: DylanWinter@virgin.net

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When I lived in Minneapolis (1997-2000), I liked to walk in Loring Park. It was a lovely oasis located right downtown. The only problem was you really had to watch your step. Canada Geese frequented its pond and besmirched the grass and sidewalks.

Then one year, the city had an idea. It planted tall grasses around the perimeter of the pond. Before you knew it, no more geese! At the time, I was told that geese didn’t like the way the grasses feel on their feet when they come out of the water. But an article yesterday about the use of tall grasses at an Ohio airport said birds like geese fear long grasses because they could be hiding predators.

Whatever works.

Scott Mayerowitz reported the story for the Associated Press. “One Ohio airport is now experimenting with a new, gentler way to avoid bird strikes: planting tall prairie grass. …

“Says Terrence G. Slaybaugh, director of Dayton’s airport. ‘If we are going to protect the long term use of airports in an increasingly populated area, we need to be less intrusive and find ways to contribute in a positive way to our surroundings.’

“The thick grass has other benefits: preventing water runoff, taking carbon dioxide out of the air and requiring only one mowing every three years. Bird lovers are also excited about the use of non-lethal methods to keep birds away from the airport. The airport’s neighbor, the Aullwood Audubon Center and Farm, has been working closely with aviation officials on the tall grass project.

” ‘It’s a watershed moment. Our airport is embracing it,’ says Charity Krueger, executive director of the center.’ ” More here.

Photo: Chris Gregorson 
Loring Park, Minneapolis. Note the tall grasses around the pond.

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