Wildlife

Climate change leaves birds hungry

Warmer springs due to climate change are leaving chicks in UK woodlands hungry, according to new research.

As springs get warmer earlier, caterpillar numbers spike too soon meaning by the time many birds’ eggs have hatched later in the season, there is not enough food to go around.

The study adds to mounting evidence that the changing climate is playing havoc with the seasons and causing problems for animals and plants whose actions are calibrated to annual rhythms.

“With spring coming earlier due to climate change, leaves and caterpillars emerge earlier and birds need to breed earlier to avoid being mismatched. We found that the earlier the spring, the less able birds are to do this.”

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Wildlife

Winged Contagion

Bird lovers are being warned that their garden feeders could contribute to the spread of serious disease among wild birds unless they are cleaned regularly.

A new British study found that contaminated feeders could be causing rare bird illnesses to become epidemics.

Experts recommend using feed from accredited suppliers and leaving it out in moderation so the feeders are emptied every day or two, allowing them to be cleaned more often.

They also suggest rotating the feeding sites to avoid accumulation of waste food and bird droppings that could carry disease.

Wildlife

Sleep Singing Finches

Argentine researchers have found that zebra finches seem to be practicing their songs while they sleep without actually making a sound.

It’s long been known that the birds’ brains spontaneously reproduce the same patterns in their sleep that they use when singing during the day. But scientists from the University of Buenos Aires have found that the finches’ vocal muscles are also moving during their avian slumber.

The only thing keeping the tiny birds from actually singing while sleeping is the absence of an air flow through their throats. Scientists think the sleep “singing” may be how the birds learn new songs or keep their existing tunes stable.

Primates in Peril

Roughly half of the orangutans living on Borneo have disappeared over the past 16 years due to hunting and vast destruction of their habit.

Researchers say much of the loss of 100,000 of the island’s orangutans is due to logging operations that clear the land to make way for palm plantations and mining.

Field researcher Serge Wich says targeted killings and other direct conflicts between the orangutans and humans are pushing the primates beyond their well-known ability to adapt to a changing landscape.

Wildlife

Elephant Raiders

A northern Namibian village was raided by a herd of 28 elephants that wrecked 18 homes, uprooted trees and destroyed the village borehole well.

Residents of Otjorute say the animals frequently arrive from a nearby conservation area during harvest time, but this month’s raids are unprecedented.

The villagers say the pachyderms arrived early one morning in mid-January amid much noise and chaos, leaving a trail of uprooted or damaged trees.

The New Era daily reports at least one elephant followed people’s footprints until it got into their houses.

Avian PTSD

The cacophony of manmade sounds in the modern world may be causing symptoms in birds similar to what humans experience when suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Researchers from the Florida Museum of Natural History studied birds exposed to the constant noise of natural-gas compressors and found skewed stress hormone levels, possibly due to increased anxiety, distraction and hypervigilance.

Report co-author Rob Guralnick believes the noise could act as an “acoustic blanket,” muffling the sound clues birds rely on to detect predators, competitors for food and their own species.

“They’re perpetually stressed because they can’t figure out what’s going on,” said Guralnick.

Wildlife

California birds nesting earlier to try to survive global warming

The early bird not only gets the worm, but may stand a better chance of riding out global warming.

A new study finds that birds in California are breeding up to 12 days earlier than they did a century ago, an apparent effort to maintain their optimal nesting temperatures as the planet warms.

The study of 202 species of California birds found that by nesting five to 12 days earlier in the year, birds are breeding at the same temperatures they did 75 to 100 years ago. Although other researchers have noted earlier nesting times, they theorized that birds were making the changes to when food was available — and that with spring coming earlier, insects and seeds were in greater supply earlier.

The study concludes that birds are moving up their nesting schedules to time the births of chicks with the temperatures they need to survive.

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Wildlife

Hippo Trade

Africa’s threatened hippo populations are now being ravaged by a growing trade in their teeth, which are becoming increasingly popular as carved items similar to those made of ivory.

Hong Kong imports about 90 percent of the trade, which mainly originates in Tanzania and Uganda.

“If authorities do not more diligently monitor the international trade in threatened species, those species could be exposed to unmanageable exploitation levels, which could lead to extinction,” said Alexandra Andersson from the University of Hong Kong’s School of Biological Sciences.

Australia’s Felines Massacre Birds

Australia’s pet and feral cats are killing more than 1 million birds on average across the country every day, according to a new study.

Researchers from Charles Darwin University say the savage slaughter “is likely to be driving the ongoing decline of many species.” Wild cats kill 316 million birds annually, while pets kill about 61 million.

The scientists say they also found evidence of the non-native cats killing 338 types of birds — nearly half of all the native feathered species in the country.

Wildlife

Global Warming Affecting Migratory Birds

The arrival of migratory birds at northern breeding grounds typically coincides with the growth of spring plants. A team of researchers from several universities studied data collected by citizen scientists and satellites between 2001 to 2012 in an attempt to see how climate change is affecting the birds’ ability to accurately time their arrival at these breeding grounds. Their research has been published in Scientific Reports.

Of the 48 North American songbird species that migrate north, the researchers found that nine — almost 20 percent — didn’t reach the grounds by the deadline critical for mating and breeding the next generation of birds. On average, the gap stretched by more than half a day each year across all species, for a total of five days per decade. However, the change for some species was far more drastic — double or triple that pace.

This delay was due to the effect of warmer temperatures on the growth cycles of plants. The birds leave their southern homes at the same time every year, basing their departure on the amount of daylight, which remains unaffected by climate change. However, climate change is altering when plants put out new leaves, with plants in eastern North America “greening up” sooner than normal, while plants in the western part of the continent are undergoing the process later.

This means birds are arriving either too soon and being met with frigid temperatures or too late and missing out on the insect boom that coincides with the new plant growth. Either condition means the birds have a much lower chance of surviving and reproducing, so the nine species identified in the study are therefore in danger of dwindling numbers.5

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Wildlife

Winged Tragedy

Nearly 400 migratory birds died after they smashed into a Galveston, Texas, office tower during a storm, falling onto the sidewalk below. Three surviving birds were taken to a wildlife centre.

Most of the victims were Nashville warblers or Blackburnian warblers that were flying northward from Central and South America.

The fierce storm probably forced the birds to fly low and strike the American National Building, Galveston’s tallest.

Wildlife

Winged Invaders

A colourful bird native to South America is steadily colonising Madrid and other Spanish cities, raising complaints that the interlopers are disturbing the peace with their shrill squawks, and disrupting the local ecology.

Monk parakeets, also known as quaker parrots, first arrived in Spain as pets. But since escaping their cages, their numbers have exploded to around 20,000.

Wildlife

WWF: Global wildlife populations could drop two-thirds by 2020

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Thursday warned in a new report that global wildlife could drop two-thirds by 2020 as a result of human activities.

The WWF’s biennial flagship report, titled “Living Planet Report 2016”, measured trends in 14,152 monitored populations of 3,706 vertebrate species.

According to the report, global populations of fish, birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles have already declined by 58 percent between 1970 and 2012. This places the world on a trajectory of a potential two-thirds decline within a span of the half-century ending in 2020.

The report identified top threats to species are directly linked to human activities, including habitat loss, degradation and overexploitation of wildlife.

For example, African elephants are severely threatened by overexploitation, habitat loss and fragmentation. New data shows that their numbers have fallen by around 111,000 since 2006, to a total of about 415,000 today.

Biodiversity forms the foundation of healthy forests, rivers and oceans. Take away species, and these ecosystems will collapse along with the clean air, water, food and climate services that they provide us.

By providing an overview of the state of the natural world, human impacts and potential solutions, the WWF aims to support governments, communities, businesses and organizations to make informed decisions on using and protecting the planet’s resources.

Massive Bird Kill

Tanzanian officials say they successfully killed about 5.6 million red-billed quelea birds that had threatened to ravage thousands of acres of crops in the shadow of the country’s famed Mount Kilimanjaro.

The Moshi District Council used airplanes to spray poison over the pests, which are typically seen in the morning and evening hours feeding on paddies before they spend the night in sugarcane plantations.

Farmers say they now expect to bring in a bumper harvest without the birds.

Wildlife

Coast of Antarctica Will Host World’s Largest Marine Reserve

The world’s biggest marine reserve, almost as large as Alaska, will be established in the Ross Sea in Antarctica under an agreement reached by representatives of 24 nations and the European Union in Australia on Friday.

The policy makers and scientists agreed unanimously to create a zone that will encompass 600,000 square miles of ocean. Commercial fishing will be banned from the entire area, but 28 percent of it will be designated as research zones, where scientists can catch limited amounts of fish and krill, tiny invertebrates that provide food for whales, penguins, seals and other animals.

The area, which is mostly contiguous and hugs the coast off the Ross Sea ice shelf, will come under protection on Dec. 1, 2017, and remain a reserve for 35 years. The agreement was reached in Hobart, Tasmania, at the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources.

The reserve includes the Ross Sea shelf and slope, the Balleny Islands and the ocean around two seamounts, one known as the Scott seamount. Seamounts, or underwater mountains, are habitats and foraging areas for mammals, birds and fish, including Weddell seals, killer whales and emperor penguins.

This Bird Can Remain Airborne For 10 Months Straight

Scientists have long suspected that the common swift remains airborne for extraordinary amounts of time during its annual migration.

Now, a team of scientists in Sweden has proved that these birds fly for tremendously long periods of time. They affixed data loggers onto a total of 19 of the master fliers in 2013 and 2014, and recaptured the birds months or years later. Researchers found that the birds can spend almost their entire 10-month nonbreeding period on the wing.

The data loggers gathered information on acceleration and flight activity, and those installed in 2014 also included light trackers for geolocation.

The results were astonishing. For example, according to research published in Current Biology, one of the birds stopped for just four nights in February in 2014 — and the next year it stopped for only two hours. Other birds stopped for longer periods of time. But “even when swifts settle to roost,” the researchers say, “the amount of time not flying is very small.”

The birds are known to travel from Europe to sub-Saharan Africa — but they apparently don’t touch down there, as National Geographic reports. Researchers say they have never found roosting sites in sub-Saharan Africa.

The scientists say that the rarity of the stops during nonbreeding season suggests that the bird may only take a pause because of bad weather. The fact that some birds fly continuously during nonbreeding periods indicates that the species may not actually need to land for sleep. In fact, it’s unclear “when and to what extent swifts need to sleep,” the paper states.

“They feed in the air, they mate in the air, they get nest material in the air,” researcher Susanne Åkesson from Lund University in Sweden tells National Geographic. “They can land on nest boxes, branches, or houses, but they can’t really land on the ground.”

The birds’ shape contributes to this finding; their “wings are too long and their legs are too short to take off from a flat surface,” the magazine reports.

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Wildlife

Zebra finches sing to eggs to prepare babies for global warming

Zebra finches program their offspring to prepare for global warming by singing to eggs before they hatch. In especially hot areas, finch parents make a special call to incubating eggs, basically telling them it’s really hot outside and they better not grow too big. The hatchlings listen — and this mechanism might explain how birds learn to adapt, and survive climate change.

Many bird species sing to their eggs. These calls have been shown to do everything from improving learning to synchronizing hatching times. When it comes to the Australian zebra finch, we already know that they make a specific call when it’s unusually hot outside, which in this case means over 79 degrees Fahrenheit no matter what season it is. Finch parents start making these calls about five days before the eggs are supposed to hatch and the calls become more frequent the closer it gets to hatch time. This suggests the calls are a way to tell the soon-to-be-born finches about the world outside, and not just the parents complaining about the heat.

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Wildlife

Arctic Eviction

Migratory birds that have throughout the ages spent the summer in the Arctic may soon find their breeding grounds there too warm and unsuitable because of climate change.

The Arctic is now warming faster than most other places on the planet, especially areas that are home to the most visiting bird species — western Alaska and eastern Russia.

Scientists from the University of Queensland say that climate change in those areas is already causing the “shrubification” of the tundra and creating an environment that invites such predators as red foxes to move northward.

Researcher Hannah Wauchope predicts most Arctic shorebirds won’t be able to breed in the Arctic by 2070.

Wildlife

Angrier Birds

Yet another study comparing the lives of city birds and country birds found that those living in urban areas are “angrier” than their rural counterparts, exhibiting significantly higher levels of territorial aggression.

“A possible reason for this is that these birds have less space but better resources to defend,” said Scott Davies, a Virginia Tech researcher who conducted the study.

He added that living around humans gives birds better shelter, but also means there is more competition for limited urban food.