This week in birds - #442

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

Many of our avian winter visitors are beginning to move on now that spring temperatures have arrived in our area, but the Cedar Waxwings are still with us. I photographed this one in my next-door neighbor's pear tree which is just beginning to bloom. A fairly large flock of the waxwings have been enjoying a feast in my yard over the last couple of weeks. Most of the berries that they normally dine on are gone now but when our February freeze came, there were still a large number of oranges on my two orange trees. The freeze spoiled them for human consumption but that hasn't bothered the waxwings. They have been eagerly consuming the fruit. I'm just glad I didn't hurry to clean up after the freeze. Sometimes procrastination pays.

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FINALLY! We have an Environmental Protection Agency director who is actually interested in protecting the environment. President Biden's nominee for the post, Michael S. Regan from North Carolina, was confirmed by the Senate this week. He has a huge job ahead of him, but he seems to be up to it. 

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Wildlife advocates are cheering the Biden administration’s announcement that it will scrap a Trump-era rule that prevents the federal government from penalizing companies under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) for the unintended but preventable killing of birds. The century-old MBTA is the main law that protects migratory birds on the North American continent.

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The final environmental review of the first major offshore wind project in the United States has been completed. The Vineyard Wind I 800-megawatt wind farm planned for 15 miles south of Martha's Vineyard was the first offshore wind project selected by Massachusetts utility companies to fulfill part of a 2016 clean energy law.

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And speaking of wind farms, a new study reports that endangered Whooping Cranes avoid stopover sites that are within five kilometers of wind-energy infrastructure. Avoidance of  turbines can decrease collision mortality for birds, but can also make it more difficult and time-consuming for migrating flocks to find safe and suitable rest and refueling locations. The study's insights into migratory behavior could improve future siting decisions as wind energy infrastructure continues to expand.

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Brood X cicadas are soon to emerge along the East Coast and from then until about July that will be a very noisy place. The noise of the cicadas annoys a lot of humans but other than that they do no harm at all and they are an absolute feeding bonanza for birds, squirrels, chipmunks, skunks, and numerous other kinds of wildlife.

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A recent study shows that many species of oceanic fish are ingesting plastic. These include hundreds of species that are part of the human diet. 

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Philadelphia will be a "lights out" city beginning April 1. In an effort to save the lives of migrating birds the city will be mostly dark at night from April 1 through May 31, the height of the migration season. 

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Invasive zebra mussels that have wreaked havoc on the Great Lakes are often found for sale in pet shops that feature aquariums. This represents a new way for them to spread and to damage other aquatic habitats.

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Warming climates in the tropical forests of Tanzania are slowing tropical birds' population growth rates and that is bad news for the ecosystem of Tanzania and for similar areas right around the world. Birds help to keep ecosystems healthy and fewer of them means it is more difficult to achieve that purpose.

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Large, charismatic carnivores usually get the lion's share (pun intended) of attention when it comes to conservation efforts, but the smaller and less noticed species can be exceptionally important to the health of an ecosystem and so are particularly worthy of study and research. In the forests of Bangladesh for example, many of the smaller carnivores remain elusive in the wild and are seldom the subject of published research. 

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Wolf hunting policies in some states are taking an aggressive turn, as Republican lawmakers and conservative hunting groups push to curb their numbers and propose tactics shunned by many wildlife managers. After the previous administration removed gray wolves' protected status under the Endangered Species Act, many states are increasing the number of kills they allow.

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As personal protective equipment such as masks are in wide use during the pandemic, it becomes essential that the used items are disposed of in a safe manner that does not allow for harm to wildlife. The last thing we need is more pollution.

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A narwhal's tusk, much like the rings in a tree's trunk, tells the story of conditions that were present when the tusk grew.

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Nature-rich sites such as woods and wetlands are more valuable than land that is farmed because of the "ecosystem services" that they provide. 

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Researchers at the universities of Lund and Oxford have determined that bird parents that receive help in raising their offspring live longer than birds that must provide for the kids on their own. Many group-living species do receive such help, often from the offspring from the previous year.

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Red wolves seem to always be on the brink of extinction and in fact, they have been declared extinct once before in 1980. A conservation effort brought them back but now their numbers have plummeted once again and there may be only ten of the animals left in the wild.

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The decline or near extinction of tourism in our year of the pandemic has been both a blessing and a curse for Earth's wildlife and wild places.

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The surprise sighting of a Red-backed Button-quail in New South Wales has excited the birding community there and has given evidence of the explosion in numbers of the species that was previously considered endangered. It has now been taken off the Rarities List.

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The last of Ireland’s great oak forests were gone by the end of the seventeenth century. But pockets of this ancient forest linger: on coastal headlands, on old country estates, and in remote valleys. These are among the last remnants of temperate rainforests in Europe.

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European Starling murmurations can be quite amazing sights. Here are some that were recorded by an Irish photographer. 

Comments

  1. This was such an educative post. Thank you.

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    1. And thank you for stopping by and taking the time to comment.

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  2. Thank you for the weekly roundup with its causes for optimism and and reasons for despair! I had not realized that Zebra Mussels are available for sale in pet shops. This really seems like the height of stupidity and I hope that the practice can be stopped. They are a huge issue in the Great Lakes. It is quite heartening to know that the Biden administration is beginning to reverse the damage done by the last administration and I hope there is more to come.

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    1. It is incredible that zebra mussels would be freely sold when their damage to our environment is known. It will take time and patience and great skill to undo all the damage done by the previous administration. They have four years and I think they have the skill; let's hope we have the patience to allow them to do the job.

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  3. I was in Virginia when a big brood of cicadas came out ... maybe it was Brood X (yep 2004) ... it was scary! With their red eyes, they were everywhere flying and I had to duck while mowing the lawn and get the heck out of there, creepy things! The Philly lights out from midnight to 6 a.m. will be good for all.

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    1. It made me happy to learn what Philadelphia is doing. I hope other cities will begin to follow suit.

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  4. Breathes a cautious sigh of relief.

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  5. I stared at your blog post in disbelief. People SELL zebra mussels for aquariums? They are a problem in New York State (including the Finger Lakes) and have been for over 20 years. The Weather Channel has already spoken of Brood X - that should be more to the south of where I live in New York State but one never knows. I applaud the changes that Biden has made that benefit the environment but, as you point out, there is a huge mess to clean up. Oh, and thank you for taking care of the robins this winter; they are back where I live now. Spring is truly (almost) here.

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    1. Zebra mussels are a problem everywhere they are released into the wild and we know that quite often people do release their aquarium residents into the wild when they get tired of them. So here's yet another way for them to invade and colonize.

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  6. Those damn zebra mussels are terrible and have wrecked such havoc in many of Minnesota's 10,000+ lakes.

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    1. They are a plague on the nation's waters. Why on earth would they be allowed to be sold in pet shops?

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