“THIS CROW CAN TALK! LIKE A HUMAN!!!”

Crows Perform Yet Another Skill Once Thought Distinctively Human

Crows Perform Yet Another Skill Once Thought Distinctively Human
Credit: Jenny Soups/500px/Getty Images

www.scientificamerican.com

Diana Kwon

Scientists demonstrate that crows are capable of recursion—a key feature in grammar. Not everyone is convinced

Crows are some of the smartest creatures in the animal kingdom. They are capable of making rule-guided decisions and of creating and using tools. They also appear to show an innate sense of what numbers are. Researchers now report that these clever birds are able to understand recursion—the process of embedding structures in other, similar structures—which was long thought to be a uniquely human ability.

Recursion is a key feature of language. It enables us to build elaborate sentences from simple ones. Take the sentence “The mouse the cat chased ran.” Here the clause “the cat chased” is enclosed within the clause “the mouse ran.” For decades, psychologists thought that recursion was a trait of humans alone. Some considered it the key feature that set human language apart from other forms of communication between animals. But questions about that assumption persisted. “There’s always been interest in whether or not nonhuman animals can also grasp recursive sequences,” says Diana Liao, a postdoctoral researcher at the lab of Andreas Nieder, a professor of animal physiology at the University of Tübingen in Germany.

In a study of monkeys and human adults and children published in 2020, a group of researchers reported that the ability to produce recursive sequences may not actually be unique to our species after all. Both humans and monkeys were shown a display with two pairs of bracket symbols that appeared in a random order. The subjects were trained to touch them in the order of a “center-embedded” recursive sequence such as { ( ) } or ( { } ). After giving the right answer, humans received verbal feedback, and monkeys were given a small amount of food or juice as a reward. Afterward the researchers presented their subjects with a completely new set of brackets and observed how often they arranged them in a recursive manner. Two of the three monkeys in the experiment generated recursive sequences more often than nonrecursive sequences such as { ( } ), although they needed an additional training session to do so. One of the animals generated recursive sequences in around half of the trials. Three- to four-year-old children, by comparison, formed recursive sequences in approximately 40 percent of the trials.

This paper prompted Liao and her colleagues to investigate whether crows, with their renowned cognitive skills, might possess the capacity for recursion as well. Adapting the protocol used in the 2020 paper, the team trained two crows to peck pairs of brackets in a center-embedded recursive sequence. The researchers then tested the birds’ ability to spontaneously generate such recursive sequences on a new set of symbols. The crows also performed on par with children. The birds produced the recursive sequences in around 40 percent of trials—but without the extra training that the monkeys required. The results were published today in Science Advances.

The discovery that crows can grasp center-embedded structures and that they are better at doing so than monkeys “is fascinating,” says Giorgio Vallortigara, a professor of neuroscience at the University of Trento in Italy, who was not involved in the work. These findings raise the question of what non-human animals might use this ability for, he adds. “They do not seem to possess anything similar to human language, thus recursion is possibly relevant to other cognitive functions,” he says. One speculation is that animals might use recursion to represent relationships within their social groups.

When the 2020 study on recursive capacities in humans and monkeys was published, some experts remained unconvinced that the monkeys understood recursion. Instead, some argued, the animals chose the recursive sequences by learning the order in which the brackets were displayed. For example, if the training sequence was [ ( ) ], and the monkeys were later shown a different pairing, such as ( ) and { }, they would first pick a bracket they recognized from training, then pick the new bracket pair they had never seen before. Finally, they would pick the matching bracket from the training session at the end of the sequence (because they had learned that the matching bracket comes at the end).

To address this limitation, Liao and her colleagues extended the sequences from two pairs to three pairs—such as { [ ( ) ] }. With three pairs of symbols, the probability of producing the sequences without grasping the underlying concept of recursion becomes much lower, Liao says. Here, too, the researchers found that the birds were most likely to choose center-embedded responses.

Some scientists remain skeptical. Arnaud Rey, a senior researcher in psychology at the French National Center for Scientific Research, says the findings can still be interpreted from a simple associative learning standpoint—in which an animal learns to link one symbol to the next, such as connecting an open bracket with a closed one. A key reason, he explains, lies in a feature of the study design: the researchers placed a border around the closed brackets in their sets—which the authors note was required to help the animals define the order of the brackets. (The same bordered layout was used in the 2020 study.) For Rey, this is a crucial limitation of the study because the animals could have grasped that bordered symbols—which would always end up toward the end of a recursive sequence—were the ones rewarded, thus aiding them in simply learning the order in which open and closed brackets were displayed.

In Rey’s view, the notion of “recursive processing” as a unique form of cognition is in itself flawed. Even in humans, he says, this capacity can most likely be explained simply through associative learning mechanisms—which is something he and his colleagues proposed in a 2012 study of baboons—and to date, there have been no satisfactory explanations of how the ability to recognize and manipulate such sequences would be coded in the human brain. According to Rey, researchers currently fall largely into two camps: one that believes that human language is built on unique capacities such as the ability to understand recursion and another that believes it emerged from much simpler processes such as associative learning.

But Liao notes that even with the help of the borders, the crows still had to figure out the center-embedded order where open and closed brackets were paired from the outside in. In other words, if the birds only learned that open brackets were at the beginning of the sequence and closed ones were at the end, you would expect an equal proportion of ( { ) } mismatched and correct responses. But, she says, her and her colleagues found that the crows chose more of the latter than the former, even with the more complex sequences of three pairs of brackets.

For Liao, seeing that birds whose ancestors long ago diverged from those of primates on the branching evolutionary tree of life—also appear to be able to parse and generate recursive sequences implies that this capacity is “evolutionary ancient” or that it developed independently as a product of what is known as convergent evolution. Because birds’ brain lacks the layered neocortex of primates, this observation, Liao adds, suggests that the latter brain architecture may not be necessary for displaying this cognitive ability.

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For Mathias Osvath, an associate professor of cognitive science at Lund University in Sweden, who was not involved in the new paper, its findings fit into a long line of studies indicating that birds possess many of the same cognitive skills as primates. “To me, this just adds to the catalog of amazing data showing that birds have been completely misunderstood,” Osvath says. “Saying that mammals took over the world cognitively is just simply wrong.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S)

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Diana Kwon is a freelance journalist who covers health and the life sciences. She is based in Berlin. Follow Kwon on Twitter @DianaMKwon Credit: Nick Higgins

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/crows-perform-yet-another-skill-once-thought-distinctively-human/?utm_source=pocket-newtab-android

“American Woodcock shows off dance moves”

PETITION UPDATE: No Justice For Sea Gulls Intentionally Run Over And Killed in Prince George’s County

ladyfreethinker.org

Lady Freethinker

Eleven seagulls cruelly and fatally run over in Prince George’s County, Maryland, received no justice from the Upper Marlboro District Court or the State Attorney’s Office, which prosecuted the case.

Nathaniel Thompson, whom Laurel Police charged with animal cruelty and aggravated cruelty, took an “Other” plea and opted to be placed on the state’s STET Docket for one year— meaning he’ll face no jail time, no fines, no restitution, and no probation unless he reoffends.

All record of the fatal and intentional animal cruelty also will be expunged after that one-year period.

The State Attorney’s Office told Lady Freethinker that the office was “unable to move forward with the prosecution of this case due to witness unavailability, including the State’s essential witness.”

“On the trial date, the State requested a continuance to allow the essential witness to travel back to the area,” a spokesperson said. “However, the court denied the request.”

That statement does not tell the full story – including that the reason the witnesses weren’t available was because the prosecutor had first contacted them a week before the trial, despite more than two years of court continuances.

The cruelty case inspired significant media coverage when first breaking in January 2020, with reports that someone had intentionally lured a group of seagulls with popcorn near the Dollar Tree in the Laurel Shopping Plaza and then run them over.

The police incident report from the time notes the responding officer found ten sea gull corpses, with popcorn visible in their ruptured intestines, when arriving on scene, and that the birds’ injuries included “broken necks, broken wings, broken legs, and some of the seagulls’ bodies were flattened.” The officer transported an eleventh sea gull, found nearby with a severely broken wing, to a wildlife sanctuary, but the bird also perished despite treatment, with a compound fracture and “excessive blood loss” identified as the cause of death, according to public records documents.

According to the police log, accessed via public records request, Laurel police officers preserved that dead seagull as evidence, assiduously tracked down surveillance footage from local businesses and street cameras to identify the individual responsible, and provided witness contact information to the prosecutor to help obtain justice for the birds.

The case was scheduled for multiple hearings in 2021, with delays attributed to COVID-19, and its first – and only – hearing finally happening on Feb. 23, 2022 — more than two years after news first reported the crime.

To learn more about the lack of accountability for such a truly heinous crime once the case hit the court system, Lady Freethinker ordered the court transcript from Thompson’s scheduled trial hearing on Feb. 23, 2022.

The 5-minute audio we received, spread across two short clips, details that State Attorney’s Office Prosecutor Jason Fields agreed to the STET Docket terms after his request for a later hearing date was denied. 

The audio also indicates that presiding District Court Judge Katina Steuart denied the requested continuance because Fields had not given key witnesses adequate time to to testify at the trial — instead reaching out a mere week before the scheduled trial date.

During the Feb. 23 hearing, the State’s Attorney’s Office’s Fields acknowledged that the case was more than two years old but asked for an additional delay to allow for key witnesses – one of whom had moved to Georgia, and one who had a doctor’s appointment – to be present. 

The judge then asked Fields when he had reached out to witnesses to check their availability. 

He responded, “That was Wednesday of last week, your Honor.”

Thompson’s defense attorney objected to the request, saying that Thompson was 78 years old and that “having this case hanging over him has caused considerable stress” and that “the additional anxiety and stress of this case has continued to not help his health.”

Fields then reminded the judge that the intentional cruelty of the case had garnered “a lot of attention.”

“It is a highly concerning case for the community,” he said.

Steuart then asked Fields why he hadn’t reached out to witnesses sooner.

“With that being said, wouldn’t it have been prudent for the State to maybe have reached out to the witnesses prior to last week to determine their availability for trial?” she said. 

“Everybody knew about the trial date as of December 2,” she continued. “I’m sympathetic to the fact that these witnesses do want to go forward. I think it’s obviously pretty difficult if you live in another state to say, ‘Yes, I can be in Maryland for a trial date that very next week,’ and I understand why they might not be able to make it. 

“But the problem is, it is an old case,” Steuart continued. “There have been some delays due to COVID obviously, but Mr. Thompson is here, he has counsel, he’s ready, so to delay this any further because there was not adequate notice given to the State’s witnesses by the State would not serve the interest of justice.”

Steuart then denied the prosecutor’s request for a continuance, and the provided audio cuts out. A second audio clip, also provided via public records request, picks up with the court acknowledging the parties had reached a “resolution” of Thompson going on the STET docket for a year.

People who don’t want the stress or anxiety of criminal court proceedings shouldn’t intentionally and fatally kill animals.

There is absolutely no excuse for someone who commits an act of fatal and intentional violence to not be held accountable for that conscious act.

There’s also no excuse for contacting witnesses a week before a scheduled trial starts, when the case has been ongoing for more than a year, with other public records documents showing that the State Attorney’s Office repeatedly reached out to connect with law enforcement mere days before the scheduled trial dates.

We are extremely disappointed that this case involving multiple defenseless birds — and severe, fatal, and intentional violence — wasn’t taken seriously. 

Prince George’s County State Attorney’s Office could have – and  should have – done better by these birds. We hope that prosecutors, moving forward, will treat animal cruelty cases with the severity they deserve.

We thank the more than 25,000 people who signed our petition for these innocent sea gulls. We’ll continue to do all we can to hold animal abusers accountable — and also to call out agencies who give them a free pass.

https://ladyfreethinker.org/petition-update-no-justice-for-sea-gulls-intentionally-run-over-and-killed-in-prince-georges-county/?utm_source=Newsletter&utm_medium=Email

“Why is Harpy Eagle Named After Legendary Harpies?”

Tiny But Mighty

Avian flu suspected to be responsible for thousands of dead seabirds washed up on Canada’s Eastern Shore

Migrant birds suspected of carrying the avian flu are seen here washed up on the shores of Point Lance, Newfoundland, Canada, on July 25, 2022.

Migrant birds suspected of carrying the avian flu are seen here washed up on the shores of Point Lance, Newfoundland, Canada, on July 25, 2022. (Reuters/Greg Locke)

www.foxnews.com

The carcasses of thousands of migrant seabirds have washed up on the shores of eastern Canada this week and preliminary findings showed that the birds died of avian flu.

Since May 2022, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has confirmed 13 positive cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza in the eastern Canadian province of Newfoundland.

Environment and Climate Change Canada is conducting more investigations to confirm that the seabirds deaths are linked to avian flu, Peter Thomas, wildlife biologist for the center said.

Dead herring gulls, Iceland gulls, common ravens, and American crows are the among the most affected by the influenza, Thomas added.

According to the Canadian Wildlife Service, the avian influenza virus is contagious and can affect domestic and wild birds throughout the world.

ZOOS IN US RESPOND TO BIRD FLU OUTBREAK AS INFECTION RATES MOUNT

Canadian Wildlife Service is working closely with the provincial government of Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative to contain the spread.

The highly pathogenic avian influenza has also been spreading rapidly in Vancouver Island, the British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said, infecting birds like great horned owls, bald eagles, great blue herons, ducks and geese, and even crows.

Migrant gannets nesting at Cape St. Mary's Ecological Reserve, Newfoundland, Canada July 25, 2022.

Migrant gannets nesting at Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve, Newfoundland, Canada July 25, 2022. (REUTERS/Greg Locke)

“Every day I receive phone calls saying 10 are dead,” Elizabeth Melnick, of Elizabeth’s Wildlife Center, BC, said.

“Wildlife centers in the country usually choose to save the dying ones as dead ones are picked up by the city,” she said.

COLORADO REPORTS FIRST HUMAN CASE OF H5 BIRD FLU IN US IN POULTRY WORKER

According to the World Organisation for Animal Health, avian influenza is a respiratory pathogen that causes a high degree of mortality and becomes a serious threat to the poultry industry. It is naturally spread among wild aquatic birds worldwide and can infect domestic poultry and other bird and animal species.

According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, pet birds can be infected by avian influenza and spread the disease to humans, so wild birds should not be handled when they are sick or dead.

https://www.foxnews.com/health/avian-flu-suspected-responcible-thousands-dead-seabirds-washed-canadas-eastern-shore?intcmp=tw_fnc

The tailorbird’s nest-making has to be seen to be believed

Image credit: Photowork by Sijanto/Getty

www.australiangeographic.com.au

By Bec Crew

If social distancing has inspired you to take up wholesome new hobbies like knitting and needlecraft, this clever bird might serve as the inspiration you need.

TO CONSTRUCT ITS nest, the common tailorbird (Orthotomus sutorius) uses its delicate beak to stitch together leaves in exactly the same way we humans would if given a needle and thread.

Found throughout South and Southeast Asia, including in Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam, this little songbird gathers plant fibres and spider’s web, which it threads through perfectly placed holes in the edges of large leaves.

It pulls these threads tight to create a deep cradle, and inside that, it packs in a cosy nest of grass and down. If you’re a fan of the Jungle Book, you’ll remember Darzee was a tailorbird.

Here’s ornithologist John Gould’s illustration of the nest:

The tailorbird is so good at what it does, it knows to create the tiniest of holes in the edges of the leaves so it doesn’t wither and brown. This is important, because keeping its cradle looking the same as all the leaves around it is how the tailorbird camouflages itself and its young.

Watch it in action here, it’s kind of mind-boggling:

The common tailorbird belongs to the tailorbird genus, which includes 13 species, many of which have ruddy crowns and pretty green or yellow plumage.

One of the most recently identified species is the Cambodian tailorbird (Orthotomus chaktomuk), which was discovered in 2009 during routine checks for avian flu in Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh.

If we take this full circle and back to your new quarantine hobbies, you could knit nests of your own for rescue birds, particularly those in areas that have been affected by bushfires.

Here’s a video showing you how to do it, but make sure you contact Wires first to see where the nests are most needed:

https://www.australiangeographic.com.au/blogs/creatura-blog/2020/04/the-tailorbirds-nest-making-has-to-be-seen-to-be-believed/

Court rules federal agency wrongly withdrew bi-state sage grouse protections

wildearthguardians.org

Matthew Koehler

SAN FRANCISCO—A federal court has ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service illegally withdrew its proposal to list the bi-state sage grouse as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

U.S. District Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley on Monday vacated the agency’s 2020 withdrawal of the bird from the proposed listing, reinstated the 2013 proposal to list the birds as threatened and ordered the Fish and Wildlife Service to issue a new final listing decision.

“These rare dancing birds have a shot at survival thanks to this court decision,” said Ileene Anderson, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’ve watched for more than a decade as these sage grouse have continued to decline. Without the Endangered Species Act’s legal protection, multiple threats will just keep pushing these grouse toward extinction.”

The bi-state sage grouse is a geographically isolated, genetically distinct population of greater sage grouse, which are famous for their showy plumage and mating dances, during which the males make popping sounds with large, inflated air sacs. They live only in an area along the California-Nevada border and face multiple threats. Population declines are particularly acute at the northern and southern ends of the birds’ range.

The court found that the Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2020 decision to withdraw the bird’s proposed listing failed to consider the small overall population of the bi-state sage grouse and the significance of the potential loss of subpopulations most at risk of being wiped out.

“These unique sage grouse populations in the Eastern Sierra are heading toward extinction from numerous threats, including livestock grazing, cheatgrass invasions, raven predation and extreme droughts,” said Laura Cunningham, California director at Western Watersheds Project. “They deserve a chance to thrive with legal protection.”

The birds were originally proposed for listing as threatened in 2013, but the Fish and Wildlife Service abandoned the proposal in 2015. In 2018 a federal court found the Service had wrongly denied Endangered Species Act protection to the bi-state sage grouse and required the agency to re-evaluate the bird’s situation. The bird was again proposed for protection, but in March 2020 the Trump administration withdrew the proposal.

“The court’s decision is a win for the bi-state sage grouse, which deserve Endangered Species Act protections,” said Joe Bushyhead, endangered species attorney with WildEarth Guardians. “The Fish and Wildlife Service must address the threats to these birds and their habitat, as well as the failure of existing efforts to halt their decline.”

Sage grouse populations in California and Nevada are isolated from other sage grouse by unsuitable habitats and former habitat that has been heavily developed. The bi-state sage grouse populations together are estimated to be no more than 3,305 birds, far below the 5,000-bird threshold that scientists consider the minimum viable population.

“The decision reinforces important legal principles for endangered species: that agencies must base their decisions on the best available science, fully explain their decisions, and carefully consider the status of an imperiled species, especially segments that are small and vulnerable,” said Daniel Ahrens, a law student with the Stanford Environmental Law Clinic, which represented the conservation groups in court.

Stanford law student Zach Rego, who also represented the conservation groups, said the court was right to hold that the Service “must do more to show that conservation measures, like the removal of invasive cheatgrass, will be effective in preventing the bi-state sage grouse’s extinction.”

Efforts to protect the birds, including placing markers on barbed-wire fencing in cattle and sheep operations to reduce collision deaths and vegetation treatments, have failed to stem their decline. Federal scientists predict localized extinctions in the north and south ends of the range. Scientists also estimate occupied habitat has decreased by more than 136,000 acres over the past 11 years.

Bi-state sage grouse are found on lands originally inhabited by the Washoe and Paiute peoples.

The conservation groups that successfully challenged the withdrawal include Desert Survivors, the Center for Biological Diversity, Western Watersheds Project and WildEarth Guardians. The groups are represented by attorneys from the Center and the Stanford Law Clinic.

bi state sage grouse usfws flickr wildearth guardians

The bi-state sage grouse lives only in an area along the California-Nevada border and faces multiple threats, including grazing, mining and habitat loss. Photo by USFWS.

https://wildearthguardians.org/press-releases/court-rules-federal-agency-wrongly-withdrew-bi-state-sage-grouse-protections/

“Young man noticed a strange stump and decided to get closer to it! What happened next made him gasp!”

“Preventing Bird Window Collisions”

With Plenty Of Room For The Kids

Onlookers “Tag Along” with Southbound Swallow-tailed Kites

abcbirds.org

Media Contact: Jordan Rutter, Director of Public Relations| jerutter@abcbirds.org | @JERutter

American Bird Conservancy (ABC) and partners are following the migratory journeys of three Swallow-tailed Kites to gather data that will help inform conservation measures across this bird’s range, to help assure a brighter future for the kites and their southeastern forest habitats. Photo by David Spates

(Washington, D.C., September 17, 2021) Swallow-tailed kite is one of North America’s most beautiful birds of prey, with distinctive black-and-white plumage, narrow wings spanning four feet, and a forked, elongated tail. Although the U.S. population of this migratory raptor is considered stable, it is much-reduced from numbers of the past. American Bird Conservancy (ABC) and partners are following the migratory journeys of three Swallow-tailed Kites to gather data that will help inform conservation measures across this bird’s range, to help assure a brighter future for the kites and their southeastern forest habitats.

ABC collaborated in June with International Paper and the Avian Research and Conservation Institute (ARCI) to successfully capture, tag, and release the three  kites near Georgetown, South Carolina. Other partners included Resource Management Service, Forest Investment Associates, and White Oak Forest Management.

Each bird was fitted with a GPS transmitter that will track its movements throughout the year. Swallow-tailed Kites are long-distance migratory birds, spending their spring and summer months in the southeastern U.S. and wintering in Central and South America.

“Since early spring, these kites were roosting, feeding, and nesting within the same working forest landscape where International Paper and other forest companies produce and procure the wood fiber that goes into many of the products we use every day,” says Emily Jo Williams, ABC’s Vice President for the Southeast Region.

“The data these birds provide will help us ensure that these sustainable working forest landscapes provide society with renewable forest products and critical habitat for Swallow-tailed Kites and a host of other wildlife species,” Williams says. ”We look forward to what the kites can tell us about their wintering grounds over the next few months, and to learn more when they return to the southeastern U.S. in spring 2022.”

A map of the tracked flight paths for three Swallow-tailed Kites that were successfully captured, tagged, and released through ABC’s collaboration with International Paper, Avian Research and Conservation Institute, Resource Management Service, Forest Investment Associates, and White Oak Forest Management.

Over the past two months, the team has been “watching” the three tagged birds, each carrying the name of its nesting location along with its GPS transmitter. As of September 2, all three kites departed breeding areas in South Carolina, traveled through Florida, and successfully crossed the Gulf of Mexico.

According to ARCI, the timing and tracks across the Gulf for these Swallow-tailed Kites are shaped by the prevailing winds of hurricanes and tropical storms that were active in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico at the time. These birds apparently can sense related changes in the atmosphere and respond by using favorable tailwinds to cross the open water as fast as possible.

“Despite all the tropical storm activity in late August and early September,” says Williams, “we have witnessed ‘textbook’ migration pathways used by our tagged Swallow-tailed Kites that have carried them across the Yucatán Channel and western Caribbean.”

The bird known as Carver’s Bay left Florida on August 13, crossed the Gulf for an astounding 41 hours before landing in southern Belize, and last checked in from Honduras on September 5. Big Branch left Florida on August 17, stopped over in Mexico, and is currently also in Honduras. Peters Creek was the last to leave South Carolina on August 30, traveling over Naples and the southern tip of Florida, stopping for a night in western Cuba, and then crossing to the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico, where he arrived on September 2 and remains for now. As the birds continue into South America, they will have to traverse the Andes Mountains to finish their journey to wintering areas in Brazil and Bolivia.

You can follow along and keep track of these Swallow-tailed Kites at ARCI’s blog or on their Facebook page.

Read more about ABC’s and partners’ work with Swallow-tailed Kites here.

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American Bird Conservancy is a nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving wild birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. With an emphasis on achieving results and working in partnership, we take on the greatest problems facing birds today, innovating and building on rapid advancements in science to halt extinctions, protect habitats, eliminate threats, and build capacity for bird conservation. Find us on abcbirds.org, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter (@ABCbirds).

https://abcbirds.org/article/onlookers-tag-along-with-southbound-swallow-tailed-kites/

New Search for Lost Birds Aims to Find Some of the Rarest Birds on Earth – American Bird Conservancy

Worldwide effort will support expeditions to find 10 birds that haven’t had a confirmed sighting in a decade or more

Media Contact: Jordan Rutter, Director of Public Relations| jerutter@abcbirds.org | @JERutter

Pictured above are the top ten most wanted lost bird species, as designated by the collaboration that aims to find them. The Top 10 most wanted lost bird species, listed by row from left to right. Top: Himalayan Quail, Negros Fruit-Dove, Itwombwe Nightjar, Santa Marta Sabrewing. Middle: Vilcabamba Brushfinch, Siau Scops-Owl. Bottom: Jerdon’s Courser, Cuban Kite, Dusky Tetraka, South Island Kōkako. Illustrations © Lynx Edicions

(Washington, D.C., December 17, 2021) A new global search effort is calling on researchers, conservationists, and the global birdwatching community to help find 10 rare bird species that have been lost to science. The Search for Lost Birds is a collaboration of Re:wild, American Bird Conservancy (ABC), and BirdLife International, with data support from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and its eBird platform used by birders around the world. It’s an extension of Re:wild’s Search for Lost Species program, which launched in 2017 and has since rediscovered eight of its top 25 most wanted lost plant and animal species. As its name suggests, however, the Search for Lost Birds focuses exclusively on rediscovering enigmas in ornithology.

“During the past five years, since we launched the Search for Lost Species, our list of species that could be considered lost has grown to more than 2,000,” said Barney Long, Director for Conservation Strategies for Re:wild. “We never planned to look for all of them alone, but to encourage others to search and develop partnerships to help. Through this new partnership we’ll be able to get more targeted expeditions in the field. If we can find these lost birds, conservationists can better protect them from the threats they face.”

The Search for Lost Birds is hoping to harness the collective power of the global birdwatching community to help search for species on the top 10 most wanted lost birds list. Cornell’s eBird platform provides an example of what the global birding community can accomplish: eBird currently has more than 700,000 registered users who have collectively submitted more than 1 billion sightings of birds from around the world. However, none of those observations have included any of the top 10 most wanted lost birds.

None of the top 10 most wanted birds have had a documented sighting in the wild in at least 10 years, but they are not classified as “extinct” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The reasons behind their disappearances range from habitat destruction to invasive species. In a few cases, species may have gone missing simply because scientists don’t know where or how to look for them, or don’t have access to their habitats, which may be remote or in places that currently have travel restrictions. Many of the lost birds are native to areas that are rich in biodiversity, but also urgently need conservation efforts to protect their biodiversity.

“By working with partners and collaborators from around the world, the Search for Lost Birds hopes to engage the knowledge and expertise of the global birdwatching community to solve these conservation challenges,” said John C. Mittermeier, Director of Threatened Species Outreach at ABC. “By directly reporting sightings and information through eBird, birdwatchers and citizen scientists from anywhere in the world can help us find and learn more about these lost species.”

The 10 birds span five continents and a variety of groups of species, from hummingbirds to raptors. Some have recently been lost to science, while others have been lost for more than a century. Two species, the Siau Scops-Owl and the Negros Fruit-Dove, have only ever been documented once, when they were originally described in the mid-1800s and in 1953, respectively.

The top 10 most wanted lost birds are:

  • Dusky Tetraka, last documented in 1999 in Madagascar
  • South Island Kōkako, last seen in 2007 in New Zealand
  • Jerdon’s Courser, last seen in 2009 in India
  • Itwombwe Nightjar (or Prigogine’s Nightjar), last seen in 1955 in Democratic Republic of Congo
  • Cuban Kite, last seen in 2010 in Cuba
  • Negros Fruit-Dove, last seen in 1953 in the Philippines
  • Santa Marta Sabrewing, last seen in 2010 in Colombia
  • Vilcabamba Brushfinch, last seen in 1968 in Peru
  • Himalayan Quail, last seen in 1877 in India
  • Siau Scops-Owl, last seen in 1866 in Indonesia

Two expeditions, led by local and national partners and funded under the Search for Lost Birds partnership, are preparing to head into the field during the next year. The expeditions will focus on the Siau Scops-Owl in Indonesia and the Dusky Tetraka in Madagascar. Expeditions for other species are expected to be underway in the coming year as well.

The Siau Scops-Owl was last seen 155 years ago, when it was first described by science, but there have been unconfirmed reported sightings and calls of a bird that potentially matches the description of the owl during the past 20 years. Much of the forest where it was originally discovered has been destroyed, but given how challenging it can be to detect small forest owls, conservationists believe that there is a chance that a small and as-yet-overlooked population may still survive.

The Dusky Tetraka was last definitely seen in Madagascar 22 years ago; before that, there had been very few confirmed sightings of the species in the humid understory of the forests of eastern Madagascar.

One species on the list, the South Island Kōkako, has already been the focus of an on-going search. The South Island Kōkako Charitable Trust has been leading a community-driven search for the bird for the past 11 years, following up on possible sightings and reports of people hearing what sounds like the bird’s haunting call. They launched a public search campaign in 2017 that has drawn nearly 300 reports of possible encounters with a South Island Kōkako, which, in addition to historic reports, they have rated and mapped.

“We are optimistic that the Search for Lost Birds will lead to exciting rediscoveries, but ultimately it’s about conservation,” said Roger Safford, Senior Program Manager for Preventing Extinctions at BirdLife International. “We know that with good conservation efforts, species can be rescued from the brink of extinction, but only if we know where the last populations are. We hope these expeditions will capture people’s imaginations and catalyze conservation.”

ABC supports field expeditions to search for these species and works with partners to conserve rediscovered birds. For example, ABC is supporting Brazilian partners’ efforts to recover the population of the Blue-eyed Ground-Dove, rediscovered in Brazil in 2015.

Other recent rediscoveries of bird species have fueled hope that expeditions for the top 10 most wanted lost birds will be successful. An expedition in Colombia in March 2021 seeking the Sinú Parakeet, one of Re:wild’s top 25 most wanted lost species, didn’t find the parakeet, but did document dozens of species that had never before been recorded in Cordóba Department. In Indonesia, the Black-browed Babbler, a bird that had only had one documented sighting, was rediscovered after 170 years in February 2021. The data that expeditions for the Search for Lost Birds collect will be shared with eBird.

The Search for Lost Birds may also help bring to light previously overlooked records of some of the birds on the top 10 most wanted list that have not been fully documented or confirmed. The Search for Lost Birds will work to follow up on records that may have remained in biologists’ field notebooks and memories, and attempt to collect photographic confirmation that the species still exist. If those sightings can be confirmed, it could help conservation efforts for those species.

The rediscoveries of other lost birds have also led to conservation efforts that helped them recover from threats to their survival. The Madagascar Pochard in Madagascar is another example of a lost species that was once lost, but is now increasing in population thanks to conservation efforts following its rediscovery.

ABC would like to thank the Constable Foundation and the estate of Phyllis Brissenden for their support of the Lost Birds program.

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American Bird Conservancy is a nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving wild birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. With an emphasis on achieving results and working in partnership, we take on the greatest problems facing birds today, innovating and building on rapid advancements in science to halt extinctions, protect habitats, eliminate threats, and build capacity for bird conservation. Find us on abcbirds.org, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter (@ABCbirds).

BirdLife International is the world’s largest nature conservation Partnership: a global family of over 115 national NGOs covering all continents, landscapes and seascapes. BirdLife is driven by its belief that local people, working for nature in their own places but connected nationally and internationally through the global Partnership, are the key to sustaining all life on this planet. This unique local-to-global approach delivers high impact and long-term conservation for the benefit of nature and people.

Re:wild protects and restores the wild. We have a singular and powerful focus: the wild as the most effective solution to the interconnected climate, biodiversity and pandemic crises. Founded by a group of renowned conservation scientists together with Leonardo DiCaprio, Re:wild is a force multiplier that brings together Indigenous peoples, local communities, influential leaders, nongovernmental organizations, governments, companies and the public to protect and rewild at the scale and speed we need. Re:wild launched in 2021 combining more than three decades of conservation impact by Leonardo DiCaprio and Global Wildlife Conservation, leveraging expertise, partnerships and platforms to bring new attention, energy and voices together. Our vital work has protected and conserved over 12 million acres benefitting more than 16,000 species in the world’s most irreplaceable places for biodiversity. We don’t need to reinvent the planet. We just need to rewild it—for all wildkind. Learn more at rewild.org.

Copyright 2021 © American Bird Conservancy. All Rights Reserved. American Bird Conservancy is a 501(c)(3) organization. EIN: 52-1501259

https://abcbirds.org/article/top-10-most-wanted-lost-birds-2021/

Agami Heron – American Bird Conservancy

Agami Heron range map, NatureServe

abcbirds.org

The colorful, reclusive Agami Heron is a coveted sighting for birders visiting flooded lowland forests and slow-moving waterways of Central and South America. This long-billed, medium-sized heron is so distinctive that it occupies its own genus, Agamia. Its species name, “Agami,” comes from a Cayenne Indian word for a forest bird.

In Brazil, the Agami is sometimes called Soco beija-flor, “hummingbird heron,” for its vivid plumage. It’s also commonly known as the Chestnut-bellied Heron.

Threats to Agami Heron are poorly understood, but habitat loss is probably one of the most significant factors affecting this heron and other birds that share its lowland habitat, including Mangrove Hummingbird, Great Curassow, and Harpy Eagle.

The Agami Heron’s retiring nature and preference for dense vegetation makes the species difficult to study, and its total population is still unknown. Although resident throughout its range, it moves seasonally, abandoning nesting areas for deeper forest after the breeding season.

Undercover Fisherman

This heron specializes in fishing from river banks or branches overhanging the water. Its long neck and dagger-like bill — the longest of any New World heron’s — gives the Agami a significant striking range, while proportionally short legs confine the bird to shallow water. Agami Herons rarely wade in the open, preferring to forage for small fish, snails, and insects while stalking along under dense cover.

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Equal Opportunity Courtship

Unusual for birds, both male and female Agami Herons flaunt colorful courtship plumage during the breeding season. Both sexes also show heightened color in the lores (the fleshy area between the base of the bill and front of the eyes), which turn an intense red during displays.

The Agami’s spectacular courtship display begins when a male chooses a display site, then starts to “dance” with shaking plumes, rocking movements, and bill-snapping. An interested female will approach the site and perform similar displays until the male accepts her presence. This process may go on for several days, as the male may aggressively repel the female at first. After some persistence on the female’s part, the birds form a pair-bond, mate, and begin to build a nest.

Agami Heron, Kyle C. Moon

Agami Heron in its swanky breeding plumage. Photo by Kyle C. Moon

Recent fieldwork has found that Agami Heron, like Reddish Egret and many other waterbirds, nest in colonies. The birds hide their nests, a loose platform of sticks, within the forest canopy.

Conserving Agami Herons in Costa Rica

The Agami Heron is listed as Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, based on predictions of future habitat loss in lowland forests, particularly throughout the Amazon region.

ABC partner Osa Conservation protects several conservation properties in Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula where this shy, spectacular heron can be seen, along with more than 450 other species of other birds, including the endangered Black-cheeked Ant-Tanager and Yellow-billed Cotinga.

In 2016, ABC celebrated the 10th anniversary of its sustainable tourism program, which is designed to prevent the extinction of some of the Americas’ rarest bird species. ABC’s reserve network now includes more than 70 tropical reserves, including Costa Rica’s Yellow-billed Cotinga Sanctuary, and spans close to one million acres. Find out more about visiting the Osa here.

https://abcbirds.org/bird/agami-heron/

Rise and Shine

Bald eagles dying ‘senseless deaths,’ Pennsylvania wildlife center says. Here’s why

news.yahoo.com

Julia Marnin

Bald eagles — America’s symbolic bird — are dying “senseless deaths,” a wildlife center in Pennsylvania is warning.

These birds of prey are dying from lead poisoning and have been for years.

“This was a rough year with lead toxicity in our adult bald eagles,” Centre Wildlife Care, a rescue service in Port Matilda in Centre County, wrote in a Dec. 6 Facebook post.

In 2021 alone, eight bald eagles were brought to the center suffering lead poisoning, and seven died.

This problem isn’t exclusive to Pennsylvania; millions of birds are affected each year, including bald eagles, by lead toxicity that is a “leading concern” for many species, according to the American Eagle Foundation.

Poisoning is brought on after birds of prey eat animal carcasses shot with lead ammo by hunters.

“All scavengers and humans are at risk of lead toxicity when consuming meat shot with lead ammo (bullets or pellets) especially the avian scavengers such as eagles, hawks and vultures,” Robyn Graboski, a spokesperson and wildlife rehabilitator for the center, told McClatchy News via email.

“We ask all hunters to use non-lead alternatives when hunting because hunters are our first conservationists.”

One bald eagle brought to the center died on Dec. 5 after it was caught in a leg trap for 10 days, the center said in the news release.

“Sadly, the infection caused by the trap injury complicated by lead poisoning was just too great to overcome. These losses hurt.”

“Simple acts like switching from lead ammo to copper and properly covering traps from aerial view can prevent these senseless deaths,” the center urged.

The bald eagle that recently died “was flying around at least 10 days with a leg hold trap attached to its foot,” Graboski said. “It was caught when it was too weak to fly.”

This eagle died on Dec. 5 after suffering from lead poisoning and infection.
This eagle died on Dec. 5 after suffering from lead poisoning and infection.

“When it arrived, it was thin, weak, dehydrated, anemic, exhausted, lost a toe, had a bacterial infection,” alongside “suffering from lead toxicity,” they added.

Lead poisoning causes a slow death that could last weeks for birds if it goes untreated, the center explains online.

Birds of prey “get lead poisoning through leftover gut piles, un-retrieved carcasses and varmint carcasses left in the field,” according to the center, as fragments of lead ammo “left in the tissue of carcasses” get ingested.

Additionally, the winged creatures can be poisoned from “lead tackle left behind in fish,” the center warns.

“When the lead hits the bird’s acidic stomach, it gets broken down and absorbed into their bloodstream where it can be distributed to tissues throughout their body,” according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

If a bird appears “weak, emaciated, and uncoordinated” and is having trouble walking, flying or moving at all, those are likely signs of lead poisoning, the commission said.

The birds also might suffer seizures, appear blind and refuse to eat anything.

“Bald eagles with lead poisoning often do not respond at all when approached,” the commission added.

It advises hunters to bury an animal’s carcass or gut pile if lead ammo is used.

“If the carcass or gut pile it too large to be removed from the environment, it can be buried or covered with debris to prevent scavengers from accessing the carcass and lead fragments,” according to the commission.

In 2014, Ed Clark, the president and co-founder of the Wildlife Center of Virginia, said in a news release by the American Bird Conservancy that lead poisoning in bald eagles “is not a new problem.”

“The question is not whether or not lead is causing the deaths of eagles and other wild animals; the real question is, what are we going to do about it?”

https://news.yahoo.com/bald-eagles-dying-senseless-deaths-200837291.html?soc_src=social-sh&soc_trk=tw&tsrc=twtr

Black-footed Albatross – American Bird Conservancy

abcbirds.org
Black-footed Albatross


Black-footed Albatross map, NatureServeThe Black-footed Albatross is the only one of its kind commonly seen off the North American coastline. It’s rather small as albatrosses go, but still impressive, with a six-foot wingspan. Its species name, nigripes, derives from two Latin words, niger meaning “black,” and pes meaning “foot.”

Although drift nets and longline fisheries remain constant threats, the Black-footed Albatross faces a gauntlet of newer challenges: invasive predators and introduced plants on nesting islands, ingestion of plastics, and climate change.

More than 95 percent of the world’s population of Black-footed Albatross nests in the remote Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, with the largest colonies on Midway Atoll and Laysan Island. (Laysan is also home to the recently introduced Millerbird.) Although these islands are protected, they are vulnerable to the effects of sea-level rise and increased storm intensity.

 


Life over the Ocean

Black-footed Albatrosses are beautifully adapted for a life at sea and can remain airborne for hours, landing only on the water to rest or feed. Their specialized tubular noses (found among many seabirds, including Hawaiian Petrel and Newell’s Shearwater) filter salt, allowing the birds to drink seawater and giving them an excellent sense of smell.

This keen sense helps the albatross locate its prey over vast expanses of ocean. Favored foods include flying fish (both eggs and adults), squid, crustaceans, and offal thrown from ships.


They forage by seizing prey at the surface, up-ending to reach underwater, or diving short distances with wings partly spread.

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Faithful Partners, Devoted Parents

Like other albatross species, including Laysan and Waved, this bird is slow to mature, not breeding for until five years or older. It also has a low reproductive rate and mates for life.

Males are the first to arrive on the breeding grounds, where they re-claim the nest site that the bird and its partner may have used for many years. The strong pair bond shared by these birds is established and maintained through elaborate displays, including bowing, mutual preening, and head-bobbing.

The Black-footed Albatrosses’ nest, rebuilt each year, is a simple scrape in the sand, usually at or above the high-tide line in an open or sparsely vegetated area. Both birds build the nest and take turns incubating their single egg. If this egg is lost—whether to a predator or some other threat—the birds will not attempt to breed again until the following year.

Black-footed Albatross, Greg Lavaty

Black-footed Albatross in flight, showing its impressive six-foot wingspan. Photo by Greg Lavaty

For about 18 to 20 days after hatching, one parent broods and guards the nestling while other forages for food, switching off every day or two. The chick is fed by regurgitation by both parents until it fledges, at four to five months old.
Advocating for Black-footed Albatross

The Black-footed Albatross is included on the Watch List in the State of North America’s Birds 2016 report, which highlights species most in need of immediate conservation action.

ABC continues to advocate for Black-footed Albatross and other seabirds impacted by commercial fisheries. We also support legislation to ratify the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP) by the United States. And we recently launched an interactive web-based tool to help fisheries avoid accidentally catching seabirds: fisheryandseabird.info.

ABC has also collaborated with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and other partners to secure predator-free breeding habitat for seabirds on islands in Hawaii.

Donate to support ABC’s conservation mission!

Our weekly bird profiles provide an inside look at captivating species with video, birds calls, and fast facts dashboards.

https://abcbirds.org/bird/black-footed-albatross/

Tell Congress to Save Birds from Plastic Waste

act.abcbirds.org

Tell Congress to Save Birds from Plastic Waste

Every year, 17 billion pounds of plastic enter the marine environment. Despite efforts to promote recycling, less than nine percent of plastics in the U.S. are actually recycled.

Birds are particularly vulnerable to plastic pollution. Many seabirds, like Laysan Albatross, are seriously injured or killed when they ingest or become entangled with plastic trash.

To address the plastic pollution crisis, Congress has introduced the Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act of 2021 (S.984/H.R.2238). This bill would put the onus on manufacturers to take care of the plastic waste that they produce, ultimately reducing the amount of plastic that gets into our oceans and the toll it takes on birds.

Take action today: Contact your U.S. Representative and Senators and ask them to pass the Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act. Read More

https://act.abcbirds.org/a/take-action-plastics?ms=social

Piping Plover

Piping Plover map, NatureServe

abcbirds.org

The small, sand-colored Piping Plover, named for its melodic, plaintive whistle, is a bird of beaches and barrier islands, sharing this habitat with Least Terns, Black Skimmers, and Wilson’s Plovers.

Beaches are also popular with people, and their impacts have caused serious declines in Piping Plover populations. Shoreline development and stabilization projects, free-roaming cats and other predators, poorly sited wind turbines, gas/oil industry operations, and global warming are some of the biggest threats to this species.

Beach Sprites

Piping Plovers resemble wind-up toys as they dart along the beach in search of food, taking a wide variety of insects, marine worms, and crustaceans. They nest in small depressions in the sand called scrapes and often nest in the same area with Least Terns.

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Like many other plover species, adult Piping Plovers employ a “broken wing display” when threatened to draw attention to themselves and away from their chicks and nest.

Piping Plover chick, Venu Challa

Piping Plover chick by Venu Challa

Saving the Piping Plover

The Piping Plover is federally listed as Endangered in the Great Lakes region and Threatened in the remainder of its U.S. breeding range; it’s also listed as Endangered in Canada. The Great Lakes population is on the 2014 State of the Birds Watch List.

Critical Piping Plover nesting habitats are now protected to help the species during its breeding season. Populations have seen significant increases since the protection programs began, but the species remains in danger. For example, at popular Jones Beach near New York City, nesting Piping Plovers are threatened by a colony of feral cats. ABC is urging authorities to remove the cats for the safety of this federally protected species.

ABC is also leading a Gulf Coast conservation effort that is working to identify and implement protective measures for vulnerable beach-nesting birds and other birds, such as the Piping Plover, that winter there. Strategies include preservation of plover habitats; public education; limiting off-road vehicle (ORV) traffic; and limiting predation of free-roaming cats and dogs.

Donate to support ABC’s conservation mission!

https://abcbirds.org/bird/piping-plover/

Hawaiian Common Gallinule (‘Alae ‘Ula)

abcbirds.org

Like the ‘Io (Hawaiian Hawk) and ‘Ua‘u (Hawaiian Petrel), the Alae ‘Ula, or Hawaiian Common Gallinule, is revered in folklore. According to legend, this bird brought fire from the gods to the people, burning its white forehead red in the process. In fact, its Hawaiian name, Alae ‘Ula, means “burnt forehead!”

The ‘Alae ‘Ula is one of 12 subspecies of Common Gallinule, which is found worldwide. (It differs slightly from the more familiar Common Gallinule in having a reddish blush on the front of its legs and a more extensive facial shield.)

The Hawaiian Common Gallinule was once found throughout the Hawaiian archipelago, but now occurs only on the islands of Kaua‘i and O‘ahu—mainly due to loss of habitat and invasive species such as domestic cats.

Hawaiian Common Gullinule map, ABC
Surveying a Subspecies

‘Alae ‘Ula are territorial and defend an area of wetland ranging from a quarter-acre to a half-acre. Although not as secretive as other members of the rail family, such as the elusive Black Rail, this gallinule’s preferred habitat—dense aquatic vegetation—can complicate efforts to accurately estimate its population size.

Both sexes appear similar, although males are larger, and both give voice to chicken-like cackles and croaks. The birds cannot fly for about 25 days each year during their molting period, usually from June-September, which increases their vulnerability to predation.


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Feeding Behind a Shield

The ‘Alae ‘Ula’s striking red frontal shield is thought to protect its face as the bird forages through dense vegetation for grasses, seeds, mollusks, and aquatic insects and their larvae. The shield may also be used in courtship display and territorial defense.

‘Alae ‘Ula are opportunistic feeders. They may take food from the water’s surface, dip or dive underwater, or turn over aquatic vegetation as they seek prey.

Platform Nesting

‘Alae ‘Ula can nest year-round, but the majority of nesting occurs from March to August and may depend on suitable water levels. This bird’s platform-style nest is built from twigs, stems, and leaves, with the male collecting materials and the female arranging them at the nest site. The parents frequently incorporate a ramp on one side to allow chicks to easily clamber in and out.

Hawaiian Common Gallinule, Michael Walther

Hawaiian Common Gallinule by Michael Walther

Female gallinules lay a clutch of around five eggs, which hatch after two to three weeks of incubation by both sexes. Like Wilson’s Plover and Piping Plover chicks, ‘Alae ‘Ula hatchlings are precocial: They can walk and swim within a few hours of hatching. However, they depend on their parents for protection and food for several more weeks.

Rekindling the Fire-bringer

The Hawaiian Common Gallinule was listed as Endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1967; it’s also listed as endangered at the state level. The filling, dredging, and draining of wetlands in Hawai’i has greatly reduced the amount of habitat available for the gallinule, limiting their distribution and abundance.

Introduced predators such as cats, mongooses, bullfrogs, and turtles are another problem for the ground-feeding birds. And climate change, particularly rising sea level, threatens the  species’ low-lying coastal habitat.

ABC recently joined with several partner groups to ask Congress to support a new conservation effort in Hawai‘i that would provide increased funding for endangered endemic birds. Together with our partners, we’re undertaking many other conservation efforts to help prevent extinction of Hawaiian birds.


https://abcbirds.org/bird/hawaiian-common-gallinule/

King Vulture

abcbirds.org

King Vulture range map by ABC

King Vulture range map by ABC

The King Vulture is a clownish-looking bird with a serious mission: In most of its extensive tropical range, this species is the largest scavenging bird. The King’s smaller, more plentiful relations, including Black and Turkey Vultures, depend upon this heavy-billed bird to tear into larger carcasses first. The King only plays second fiddle to the Andean Condor in a few areas, such as northern Peru, where both species live side by side.

At 6.5 feet, the King Vulture’s wingspan is certainly impressive, but it doesn’t match up to those of the condors: The Andean Condor, wingtip to wingtip, can reach 10.5 feet; the California Condor is only slightly smaller.

Top of Their Line

Despite having larger cousins, the King deserves its royal moniker for at least three reasons: As mentioned before, it outranks other vultures of the Americas in size in most of the remote lowland forest and environs where it occurs. And its size, including its hefty bill, puts it at the top of the “picking order” — able to muscle its way into feeding frenzies and dig deeper into carcasses than other species sharing its habitats.

The King Vulture also wins the “beauty” prize for most colorful vulture. Adults sport multicolored, featherless heads that are a hodge-podge of peach-orange, yellow, red, and pink, all framed nicely by a charcoal feather neck ruff. Another eye-catching accent: the bird’s piercing white eyes, which are outlined by cherry-red orbital rings. These birds are striking in flight as well: Adult King Vultures can be easily identified from great distances, thanks to gleaming white backs, underparts, and underwing coverts fringed by black flight feathers. (At a distance, soaring Wood Storks are the birds most likely to cause confusion.)

Widespread but Generally Scarce

King Vultures occur from southern Mexico to northern Argentina and northern Uruguay. This range includes most of Brazil. In Central America, distribution is now spotty, with this majestic bird most frequent in remaining wilderness areas. For example, in Costa Rica, King Vultures are most reliably found in the remote Osa Peninsula in the south and the San Carlos River region near the border with Nicaragua.

King Vultures are mostly found in forested lowlands, but in the southern Andes they can occur at elevations up to 6,000 feet. The species is thought to be nonmigratory, but individuals travel long distances in search of food. While most frequently encountered in or over humid and semi-humid forest habitats, the King Vulture also occurs in regions with dry forest, usually where large areas of habitat remain. Although associated with forest, these birds also soar over and forage in open areas.

King Vultures have been documented emitting at least a half dozen harsh vocalizations at nest sites. Most are from nestlings and some by adults attending the young. These include growls, groans, screeches, and a noise like a cutting saw. Otherwise, while out and about, this bird is not known to vocalize.

Late to the “Party”

King Vultures cover large areas and tend to occur in low numbers, especially compared to some of their smaller relatives. But they have a special “seat at the table” at carcasses. For a study published in 1987 in the journal The Auk, researchers observed the goings-on at 217 animal carcasses in northern Peru, where five scavenging bird species vied for the spoils. These feeding assemblages might seem chaotic, but the study revealed a certain order that likely helps explain how these species coexist: Turkey Vultures, which likely have among the best olfactory senses in the family, often showed up first at carrion, holding sway over arriving, smaller Black Vultures, unless their numbers exceeded dozens. The Crested Caracara, not a vulture but an opportunistic follower, cautiously skirted the edges of the frenzies, visiting for leftovers after the main feeding. Arriving last were the largest birds — the King Vulture (which may not have a good sense of smell) and the even-larger Andean Condor. These birds brought their superior cutting equipment — their heavy bills — which allowed them to tear open large carcasses the other birds could not. For these larger meals, the smaller early arrivals had to wait on the sidelines until the giants had their fill.

King Vulture in flight by Ondrej Prosicky, Shutterstock

King Vulture in flight by Ondrej Prosicky, Shutterstock

Although King Vultures are best known as scavengers supreme, feasting on a wide variety of dead creatures from fish to monkeys to livestock, they have also been seen eating maggots, and also palm fruits. In addition, there are reports that these birds sometimes kill small lizards, wounded animals, and newborn livestock.

One-Shot Wonder

King Vulture pairs, like those of the Laysan Albatross, put all their energy into a single egg. Incubation and feeding duties are taken on by both female and male. King Vulture breeding remains rather poorly understood, in good part because the birds are stealthy nesters often in remote areas. The egg is laid in a secluded spot. Locations have included a simple scrape on the ground, a rotting stump or tangle, a large tree hole, a cliff ledge, and even in Mayan ruins. Parents incubate the egg for almost two months, and then the hatchling remains at the nest site until it fledges, after between two to three months, or longer.

Not only do King Vultures have only one shot at success — it takes them a long time to reach breeding age. Female Kings don’t reach adulthood for four to five years; males take longer, at five to six.

Saving Room for the King

Although still found in 20-plus countries and ranked as “Least Concern” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List, the King Vulture is declining in many parts of its range. Causes of decline likely include habitat loss and persecution, including unregulated shooting, capture, and poisoning. Along Mexico’s Pacific and Gulf coasts, the northern extent of this species’ range shrank dramatically over recent decades, and it has become scarce in many other regions with extensive forest clearing, including western Ecuador and southeastern Brazil.

ABC’s BirdScapes approach to bird conservation helps to protect habitats throughout the Americas, including forests harboring King Vultures as well as Neotropical migrant birds such as the Wood Thrush, Hooded Warbler, and Yellow-billed Cuckoo.

The King Vulture can be found at a number of reserves in ABC’s Latin American Bird Reserve Network, including Barba Azul in Bolivia and El Dorado in Colombia.

https://abcbirds.org/bird/king-vulture/

Senate Drops Rider Exempting Greater Sage-Grouse from Endangered Species Act – American Bird Conservancy

Bald Eagle, Agustin Esmoris, Shutterstock

Media Contact: Jordan Rutter, Director of Public Relations| jerutter@abcbirds.org | @JERutter

Today, the Senate approved removal of a rider that had stifled conservation efforts for rapidly declining Greater Sage-Grouse. Photo by Vivek Khanzode

(Washington, D.C., October 18, 2021) The Senate FY 22 Interior Appropriations bill released today excludes a provision exempting protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) for the once-abundant but now rapidly declining Greater Sage-Grouse. The House of Representatives has already passed an Interior bill without the rider. Conservation groups are urging that the rider remain out of the final spending agreement.

“Our thanks to Senators Jeff Merkley and Patrick Leahy for showing exemplary conservation leadership by excluding the sage-grouse rider from the Interior bill,” said Steve Holmer, Vice President of Policy for American Bird Conservancy (ABC). “This exemption has been in place for nearly seven years. It’s time to once again give the grouse the possibility of ESA protection and the safety net it deserves.”

The Greater Sage-Grouse is the keystone species of sagebrush habitat in the American West. Conserving the grouse also supports 350 other species of conservation concern, including the Pronghorn, Pygmy Rabbit, Mule Deer, native trout, and nearly 200 migratory and western bird species.

As many as 16 million Greater Sage-Grouse once occurred across 297 million acres of sagebrush grasslands in the West. Today, the sagebrush biome and grouse populations continue to decline. Sage-grouse habitat is less than half of what it once was, diminished by invasive species, roads, overgrazing, mining, energy development, agricultural conversion, and fires. The grouse’s populations have declined 80 percent range-wide since 1965 and nearly 40 percent since 2002.

“A recent U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) study provides an excellent resource to understand the magnitude of Greater Sage-Grouse loss, as well as the likelihood that grouse populations will continue to decline,” said Holmer. “It also shows that the species’ range will continue to contract absent substantial new conservation measures.”

The USGS report indicates that current management plans and other regulatory mechanisms are not sufficient to arrest the grouse’s ongoing decline, and that additional conservation measures are needed to stabilize the population.

“Efforts to revive the National Greater Sage-Grouse Planning Strategy can best be accomplished, and will have a greater chance of success, if the Endangered Species Act listing moratorium is ended,” said Holmer.

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American Bird Conservancy is a nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving wild birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. With an emphasis on achieving results and working in partnership, we take on the greatest problems facing birds today, innovating and building on rapid advancements in science to halt extinctions, protect habitats, eliminate threats, and build capacity for bird conservation. Find us on abcbirds.org, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter (@ABCbirds).

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Copyright 2021 © American Bird Conservancy. All Rights Reserved. American Bird Conservancy is a 501(c)(3) organization. EIN: 52-1501259

https://abcbirds.org/article/sage-grouse-rider-dropped-by-senate/

Eleven U.S. Bird Species Soon to be Declared Extinct, Including Eight Hawaiian Birds

The Kiwikiu is one of several critically endangered bird species at risk of extinction in Hawai’i. Photo by Zach Pezzillo (MFBRP, 2019).

abcbirds.org

Media Contact: Jordan Rutter, Director of Public Relations| jerutter@abcbirds.org | @JERutter

(Washington, D.C., September 29, 2021) Eleven U.S. bird species are on their way to being declared extinct — and “eight of them are in Hawai’i,” noted Mike Parr, President of American Bird Conservancy (ABC), commenting on news announced today by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Many news stories about this announcement have focused on the demise of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, an iconic bird of the southeastern U.S. “The loss of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker is tragic,” said Parr, “and could have been prevented if action to conserve its habitat was taken sooner. We at ABC are focused on the place where the next round of  imminent bird extinctions is likely to happen — Hawai’i — and taking action to prevent losing those birds.”

Hawai’i is the bird extinction capital of the world. It’s home to several bird species that are found nowhere else and are teetering on the edge of oblivion, including the Kiwikiu

“I still have hope that we can prevent the extinction of the Kiwikiu and other Hawaiian birds,” said Parr. “If we act now, and decisively, we can ensure a different outcome.”

“The number one-threat to Hawaiian birds is avian malaria, transmitted by non-native mosquitoes,” said Brad Keitt, ABC’s Oceans and Islands Director. “This threat is exacerbated by warming temperatures associated with climate change, which allow mosquitoes and the lethal diseases they carry to move into higher elevations — the last refuges of the remaining Hawaiian forest birds.”

ABC is helping to coordinate the design and implementation of a strategy that will disrupt the mosquitoes’ breeding cycle. Under the plan, a secure lab is rearing male mosquitoes containing a strain of naturally occurring Wolbachia bacteria that will make them unable to successfully reproduce with wild females in Hawai‘i.

“We’re working urgently with our partners in Hawai’i to deploy this solution and prevent the tragedy of future Hawaiian bird extinctions,” said Keitt.

The eight Hawaiian bird species presumed already extinct — including the Kauaʻi ʻōʻō and the Large Kauai thrush — are joined in today’s USFWS announcement by 15 other species, including fish and mussels. The total of 23 species listed in the announcement will be removed from the Endangered Species Act due to extinction.

“Sadly, the majority of these species were listed under the Endangered Species Act too late,” said Steve Holmer, Vice President of Policy for ABC. “The longer conservation efforts continue, the better the results. The Kirtland’s Warbler, delisted in 2019, is an excellent example of a species recovering, slowly but surely, over decades. It is essential that species be listed for protection under the ESA before they are in crisis — and that the ESA remain strong to guard against future extinctions.”

American Bird Conservancy is a nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving wild birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. With an emphasis on achieving results and working in partnership, we take on the greatest problems facing birds today, innovating and building on rapid advancements in science to halt extinctions, protect habitats, eliminate threats, and build capacity for bird conservation. Find us on abcbirds.org, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter (@ABCbirds).

https://abcbirds.org/article/eleven-bird-species-extinction

Identify Raptors in Flight

www.audubon.org

By Alisa Opar

Raptors are on the move. Now is a great time to get out and see the birds of prey as they migrate south for the winter (click here for a list of 10 awesome places to watch the spectacle).

Seeing the birds on the wing is thrilling—particularly when there are large numbers of them—but it can also be frustrating to try and identify them at various angles and distances.

The challenge: Identify and age these common raptors. Some species appear more than once. Scroll down for a list of all of the species shown, and keep going for the answers.

HINT: Below are all of the species pictured.

American Kestrel

Bald Eagle

Broad-winged Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk

Merlin

Northern Harrier

Osprey

Peregrine Falcon

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Turkey Vulture

SCROLL DOWN FOR ANSWERS

ANSWERS​

1. Sharp-shinned Hawk, immature: Note short, stocky wings and body, long slim tail that is short for an accipiter, and small head. Plumage is difficult to see on distant birds, but 1st-years lack a rufous tone underneath.

2. Bald EagleVery distinct white heads and tails and dark overall. Very large with long, broad wings and yellow legs and bill.

3. American Kestrel: Note pale underside with orangey chest, black spots on belly two black “sideburns” on head, and blue upperwing coverts, orange tail with black tip.

4. Northern Harrier: Very distinct brilliant white underside with a black border on flight feathers. Note long, slim wings and tail, and small head.

5. American Kestrel: Note pale underside with orangey chest, black spots on belly two black “sideburns” on head, and blue upperwing coverts, orange tail with black tip.

6. Turkey Vulture: Blackish overall; reddish head can be difficult to see at a distance but white bill usually glows. Note long, broad, squared-off wings, broad tail, and modified dihedral when gliding.

7. Sharp-shinned Hawk, adult: Note short, stocky wings and body, long slim tail that is short for an accipiter, and small head.

8. Broad-winged Hawk, immature: Stocky pointed wings, large head, and short, narrow tail. Pale underside with dark streaking on sides of breast, and indistinct tail pattern with darker tip denote 1st-year. Some (like this bird) have streaks on belly similar to red-tailed.

9. Red-shouldered Hawk, adult: Note somewhat stocky squared-off wings with translucent “commas” along the primaries. Adults have bold black and white bands on wings and tail and a warm reddish underside.

10. Red-shouldered Hawk, immature: Note somewhat stocky squared-off wings with translucent “commas” along the primaries. Pale underside with buffy underwing coverts, and dark, evenly spaced streaking on body denote 1st-year.

11. Northern Harrier: Very distinct brilliant white underside with a black border on flight feathers. Note long, slim wings and tail, and small head.

12. Merlin, adult: Merlin has stockier, more sharply pointed wings, broader, shorter tail, and is “chesty” compared with kestrel. Juvenile and adult female are pale below with heavy, dark streaking, heavily “checkered” underwings, and distinct tail bands. 

13. Northern Harrier, immature: Pale underneath mostly brown flight feathers. Note long, narrow wings and tail (showing bands when spread). Head is small with owl-like facial disc.

14. Red-tailed Hawk: Quintessential broad-winged, short-tailed buteo shape. Plumage is pale underneath with dark patagial bars and bellyband. 

15. Cooper’s Hawk, immature: Pale underneath with dark streaks throughout underbody, and brown head denote 1st-year. Note long wings for an accipiter, large head, and long tail with white tip.

16. Cooper’s Hawk, immature: Pale underneath with dark streaks throughout underbody, and brown head denote 1st-year. Note long wings for an accipiter, large head, and long tail with white tip.

17. Peregrine Falcon, adult: Pale underneath with heavily streaked body, heavily “checkered” underwings, and dark head. Note very long, pointed wings, heavy body, and broad tail and head. Wingtips are less sharply pointed in a full soar.

18. Osprey: Note the dark stripe through the eye, long, dark brown wings, white underside, and a black bill with sharp hook.

19. Sharp-shinned Hawk, adult: Note short, stocky wings and body, long slim tail that is short for an accipiter, and small head.

https://www.audubon.org/news/identify-raptors-flight?ms=digital-eng-email-ea-newsletter-engagement_20210915_eng-kids-newsletter_raptors&utm_source=ea&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=engagement_20210915_eng-kids-newsletter&utm_content=raptors&emci=d6c26761-2b16-ec11-981f-501ac57ba3ed&emdi=6679296b-3116-ec11-981f-501ac57ba3ed&ceid=89005

“Potoos of Costa Rica”

Petition: Save Songbirds From Deadly Epidemic

animalpetitions.org

Tiffany White

Target: Vanessa Kauffman,  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Specialist for National Wildlife Refuge System, Migratory Birds, Endangered Species Act, Public Lands, and Wolves

Goal: Investigate cause of unknown affliction sickening and killing songbirds.

The bird world is dealing with its own deadly outbreak. The U.S. Geological Survey has warned of an alarming rise of wild bird deaths attributed to a mystery illness. Afflicted birds exhibit symptoms such as swollen, crusty eyes, disorientation, an inability to fly, and eventual death. Presently, scientists can only try to mitigate the disease’s spread. In a nod to social distancing, they are encouraging people in mid-Atlantic states (where the clusters of deaths are centered) to take down bird feeders, bird baths, or any other devices that attract large groups of birds.

Several potential causes have been suggested, including infectious disease, pesticide poisoning, the lingering effects of an avian salmonella outbreak, and even the emergence of cicadas that may carry a dangerous fungus. No definitive answers have been discovered, however. In the meantime, blue jays, European starlings, and other wild songbirds continue to fall victim across Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and possibly more states.

Various state wildlife services have begun investigations. Sign the petition below to urge the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to launch a similar comprehensive initiative that seeks a cause and, more importantly, a solution to this ongoing threat.

PETITION LETTER:

Dear Ms. Kauffman,

The avian population recently dealt with a serious salmonella outbreak, and this dangerous illness eventually killed seven humans as well. This incident, as well as the public health turmoil currently engulfing the globe, demonstrates in full that we cannot ignore grave threats to the living beings with whom we share this planet. We are all interconnected.

Therefore, the even more alarming epidemic taking place within mid-Atlantic songbirds should be of urgent concern not just to conservation groups in the affected states but to the country as a whole. Scientists studying the often-fatal condition that renders birds immobile and potentially blind are at a loss. They could use the expertise and abundant resources of this federal agency in solving a perplexing mystery. The stakes are high for these birds and potentially far beyond.

Please focus the agency’s efforts on this developing crisis as soon as possible.

Photo Credit: Pixabay

https://animalpetitions.org/1006858/save-songbirds-from-deadly-epidemic/

Take bird feeders down in D.C., nearby states, experts say – BirdWatching

www.birdwatchingdaily.com

By Matt Mendenhall

Illustration by Dzm1try/Shutterstock

Wildlife experts in Washington, D.C., and nearby states say they have not identified the cause of recent deaths of many birds in the region, but they are encouraging the public to temporarily cease feeding birds to avoid the potential spread of disease at feeders.

In late May, wildlife managers and rehabbers in Washington D.C., Virginia, Maryland, and West Virginia began receiving reports of sick and dying birds with eye swelling and crusty discharge, as well as neurological signs.

The District of Columbia Department of Energy and Environment, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources, and National Park Service are continuing to work with diagnostic laboratories to investigate the cause of mortality. Those laboratories include the USGS National Wildlife Health Center, the University of Georgia Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study, and the University of Pennsylvania Wildlife Futures Program.

A report on the National Wildlife Health Center’s WHISPers site, which summarizes incidents of wildlife illnesses and mortality nationwide, shows 37 dead or sick birds — Common Grackles, Blue Jays, American Robins, and European Starlings — from several counties in Virginia on May 20. 

Birds congregating at feeders and baths can transmit disease to one another. Therefore, the state and district agencies recommend that the public in the outbreak area:Advertisement

  • Cease feeding birds until this wildlife mortality event has concluded;
  • Clean feeders and bird baths with a 10% bleach solution;
  • Avoid handling birds, but wear disposable gloves if handling is necessary; and
  • Keep pets away from sick or dead birds as a standard precaution.

If you encounter sick or dead birds, please contact your state or district wildlife conservation agency. If you must remove dead birds, place them in a sealable plastic bag to dispose with household trash. Additional information will be shared as diagnostic results are received.

Thanks to the U.S. Geological Survey for providing this news.

https://www.birdwatchingdaily.com/news/birdwatching/take-bird-feeders-down-in-d-c-nearby-states-experts-say/?amp&__twitter_impression=true

Update on birds dying in DC

Clean bird feeders thoroughly, keep your pets away don’t touch sick birds