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.

Wildlife

Urban Mortality

Birds growing up in the stress of urban environments have a greater risk of dying young than those raised in the country, according to new Swedish research.

Scientists from Lund University separated groups of young sibling great tits, then raised half in the city of Malmö and the rest in the countryside.

Within only 13 days, those exposed to city life had much shorter DNA components that are markers of anticipated life expectancy.

“Although there are advantages to living in cities, such as the access to food, they seem to be outweighed by the disadvantages, such as stress — at least in terms of how quickly the cells of the great tits age,” said biologist Pablo Salmón.

The findings raise questions about the effects of urban stress on other creatures.

Wildlife

The bodies of these shorebirds are actually shrinking, and global warming is the cause

For red knot shorebirds that nest in the Arctic and fly across the globe every year, timing is everything — a matter of life and death.

They nest in the coldest place in the world, feeding bugs to chicks to nourish them for a marathon flight to the tropics when winter approaches. Historically, their departure to tropical beaches and their arrival back to the Arctic after the cold relents were perfectly timed, when plenty of food was available in both areas.

But a new study published Thursday in Science says global warming has changed that. Warming has caused Arctic snow to retreat earlier, causing insect populations that peak as the snow melts to rise and fall before chicks can eat as many as they need to grow and power the grueling flights to come.

As a result, red knots are physically shrinking. And because the smaller birds are weaker, they’re dying off and causing the population to shrink as well.

“Juvenile red knots that we caught along the Baltic Coast while on their way to West Africa were smaller and had shorter bills after warm Arctic summers,” said Jan van Gils, a researcher at the NIOZ Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research, who was the study’s lead author.

According to estimates calculated at the turn of the century, red knot numbers have fallen by nearly 60,000, and the threat of extinction is more than real as they continue to drop.

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Viral Carpageddon

Australian officials plan to release a carp-specific herpes virus into the country’s waterways in an attempt to wipe out their most troublesome invasive fish.

European carp have ravaged native fish populations since they were introduced by misguided early settlers in 1859.

Because the Cyprinid herpesvirus 3 hasn’t shown any adverse effects in carp-farming countries like China and Vietnam since it first appeared in the late 1990s, officials are confident it will pose no threat to the Australian environment. But they concede that a massive cleanup will be needed when untold millions of fish suddenly die and begin to rot.

The virus kills between 70 and 80 percent of exposed carp within a few weeks.

Wildfires

Birds of prey spread bush fires deliberately

Birds of prey in Australia are suspected of starting fires to drive their prey from undergrowth.

At least two raptors, the black kite and the brown falcon, have been seen swooping on smouldering twigs and embers, and carrying them on to unburnt ground, scientists have been told, in what would be the first case of animals deliberately using fire.

The birds swoop on small marsupials and large insects as they are flushed from the bush by the flames.

Bushmen, rangers and aboriginals have provided researchers with accounts of the birds starting fires in northern Australia.

Wildlife

Birds Sing Louder, Lower to Be Heard Over Human Noise

The din of modern life has gotten so loud that male bluebirds have learned to “shout” louder when the human-generated noise becomes too blaring.

Researcher Caitlin Kight of the U.K.’s University of Exeter and colleagues made the discovery after recording songs produced by 32 male bluebirds.

Writing in the journal Integrative and Comparative Biology, Kight says they found the male bluebirds were able to make real-time adjustments to be heard over noise by producing songs that are both louder and lower-pitched.

The finding suggests the birds are able to perceive the louder background noise and alter their songs accordingly to be heard by potential mates or rivals.

Co-author John Swaddle, from the college of William and Mary, cautions against interpreting the findings as proof that noise pollution has no adverse impacts on wildlife.

“Unfortunately, the world is getting so noisy that even the most flexible of species will eventually reach a threshold beyond which they will have difficulty communicating, which will impact their ability to breed successfully,” said Swaddle.

Wildlife

Birds Suddenly Vanish From Florida Key Refuge

Florida wildlife experts are baffled at the sudden disappearance of thousands of nesting birds on a 150-acre mangrove key along the state’s Gulf Coast north of Tampa Bay.

What used to be the region’s largest bird colony on Seahorse Key was typically alive at this time of year with a constant din of pelicans, blue herons, roseate spoonbills and other birds.

But all of them abandoned their nests in May, leaving the island silent and littered with broken eggs.

“It’s not uncommon for birds to abandon nests,” said Peter Frederick, a University of Florida wildlife biologist, during an interview with The Associated Press.

“But, in this case, what’s puzzling is that all of the species did it all at once.”

A small number of the birds appear to have flown to a nearby island.

The exodus could have a significant impact on other wildlife that rely on the birds to survive.

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