This week in birds - #342

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment:


This Red-tailed Hawk doesn't look too happy about the drenching he just got from a sudden rain shower. He's been getting a lot of those showers lately as our rainy winter/early spring continues.

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Extreme weather events continue to be a common occurrence around the country and around the world. This week, for example, the city of Flagstaff in northern received three feet of snow in twenty-four hours. It was the highest single-day snow total in the 126 years that records have been kept.

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Say goodbye to the Bramble Cay melomys, a tiny island rodent that the government of Australia has confirmed as the first mammal known to have become extinct because of climate change. The rodents were wiped out by sea-level rise on their island. 

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A colony of these cute little Burrowing Owls is thriving alongside Los Angeles International Airport. If there is a niche somewhere, Nature will provide an occupant for it.

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The current administration in Washington is assembling a panel to study whether climate change poses a national security threat. Before you get too excited about that news though, you should know that the person heading the panel is a climate change denialist who thinks that carbon emissions are an asset rather than a pollutant.

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Wallace's giant bee is a bee that is as large as a human thumb and about four times as large as a honeybee. You wouldn't think such a critter would be inconspicuous, but it had not been seen for 38 years and was feared to be extinct. Recently, though, it has been rediscovered alive and well in the Indonesian islands of the North Moluccas.

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And yet another giant feared to be extinct has been rediscovered: A giant tortoise of the Galapagos, the Chelonoidis phantasticus, also known as the Fernandina giant tortoise, has been found on that island 113 years after the last one was known to exist. The one discovered is a female and it is believed that others must be present on the island.

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The melodic song of the House Finch is familiar around much of the country, but the song of individual birds can vary quite a bit over time and distance. Most animals inherit the sounds that they make but about half of the bird species learn to speak by imitating their elders and they don't always imitate them perfectly, and thus the language evolves from one generation to the next. The House Finch is one of those. 

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The chemical additives used in plastics have been found in the eggs of Northern Fulmars nesting in the High Arctic. The fulmars are seabirds that spend most of their time at sea. 

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White-nose syndrome is the fungal disease that has decimated bat populations in many parts of eastern North America and it is rapidly spreading westward. Wildlife biologists are studying bat habitats and bats in the West to try to determine vulnerabilities and try to find a way to help bats resist the deadly disease.

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Many residents along the U.S.-Mexico border have come up with what they think is a much better idea than any kind of wall. They are calling it the Mesquite Manifesto. It uses the native tree that thrives in this unforgiving land as the basis of a restorative economy that will benefit communities on both sides of the border. 

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How do we account for all the different shapes of skulls and bills that can be found among birds? Well, it is evolution, of course, but what drives the evolution? Since Darwin, it has mostly been thought to be a factor of how the bird forages, but a new study indicates that shared ancestry and behavior are more important than foraging activities and the food that the bird eats. 

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The Kirtland's Warbler has long been one of North America's most critically endangered bird species, but the little bird is staging a comeback and gladdening the heart of bird-lovers everywhere. The latest sign of this recovery comes from Jamaica which has just reported its first ever confirmed Kirtland's Warbler. Scientists are not sure if this is a range expansion or a migration mishap but either way it is more evidence of the improving status of the little birds.

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A climate scientist who worked under contract with the National Park Service for several years, studying and documenting the effects of sea rise on national parks, has lost her job because she refused to remove all references to human causes of climate change in her scientific report.

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In an encouraging sign for the critically endangered right whale, seven new calves have been spotted so far this winter off Florida's Atlantic coast. Although one expert opined that it still wasn't enough, it is a vast improvement over the last calving season when exactly zero calves were seen.

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Why do zebras have stripes? A study in Britain using horses dressed as zebras gives evidence that the stripes confuse flies. And maybe they confuse other critters that harass or prey on zebras as well.

Comments

  1. You're right that the hawk in your pic doesn't look too happy; then again, they never do. :-) It looks impressive though. It would be more advantageous for zebras if they could confuse big cats rather than flies. ;-) Good news for right whales and species thought to be long extinct to have been witnessed again. I saw a pic of the giant bee. Quite a sight!

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    Replies
    1. The giant bee is truly impressive. I wouldn't want to be pursued by one.

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  2. As always, a fascination array of nature news. I loved the entry about why birdsong changes over the generations.

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    Replies
    1. It's an interesting example of the "cultural" evolution of birds, I think.

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