Blog Birding #105
by Nate Swick
Writing at 10,000 Birds, David Ringer looks at recent research suggesting a relationship between tropicbirds and Sunbitterns:
However, scientists have made leaps and bounds over the last decade or so as our ability to process and interpret genetic information has rapidly grown. The 2008 “Early Bird” framework proposed by Shannon Hackett and her colleagues is being ratified and refined by successive studies using new techniques and different sets of samples.
The latest of these, “A phylogeny of birds based on over 1,500 loci collected by target enrichment and high-throughput sequencing” by John E. McCormack et al., isn’t even officially published yet, but its authors made it available this month on a manuscript server called arXiv (a practice which, by the way, is still regarded with some uncertainty but appears to be gaining popularity).
Nathan Pieplow at Earbirding suggests that gull enthusiasts are largely ignoring a huge chunk of the ID puzzle:
Gull enthusiasts are weird. They hang out at landfills. They go to the beach when it’s freezing cold, or just to see what’s in the parking lot. They’ll stare at a single bird for hours, puzzling over insanely minute details – the precise shade of gray on the back as measured by the Kodak gray scale, the age and condition of individual feathers, and even (I am not joking) the color of the inside of the bird’s mouth. When it comes to identifying a mystery gull, they look at everything; they ignore nothing.
At Audubon's The Perch, a report on a recent study suggesting that a decline in Brown-headed Cowbird populations has seen some eastern songbirds rebounding:
It was the opposite of Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring.” Avian ecologist Andrew Cox had spent a lot of time in Missouri’s woods and fields filming bird nests for his doctoral thesis, and songbird chicks seemed to be doing better than expected. He also noticed that brown-headed cowbirds, which lay their eggs in songbirds’ nest, were doing so less often than earlier reports suggested. A question came to mind: Could the two be related?
A new study in the journal PLoS ONE coauthored by Cox, now a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Missouri, reports that as cowbird populations shrank over the last 20 years, songbird nests produced increasing numbers of young.
At The Eyrie, John Shamgochian takes a close look at a uniquely forgotton aspect of bird biology, the fecal sac:
I first discovered the droppings on May 4 as I sat on our back porch, escaping the chaos of our evening household. As I bathed in the evening tranquility, a House Sparrow fluttered down from the nesting cavity in our roof. In her beak she carried a white object, which she placed with care onto the branch of one of our two young apple trees. She sat there for a moment before bending down and carefully wiping her bill against the tree's smooth-barked branch. She flew back to her nest and was back a few minutes later with another of the objects which, like the time before, she similarly deposited onto the branch. It was only then that I realized what these things were: fecal sacs. As I had this revelation, I noticed how many of them there were. These bags of waste lined our tree's branches and our fence; although I have a slight tendency to over exaggerate, I must admit that the number of white blobs was quite impressive.
At Birding is Fun, J. Drew Lanham recaps the recent Changing the Face of American Birding conference:
Anyone who has read anything I write knows that I am passionate about “coloring the conservation conversation”. That phrase has become my mantra as the demographics show us that within the next twenty to thirty years, those now classified as ethnic minorities will become the majority population. The new majority may think about birds, trees and issues like climate change, clean air, water and energy in ways that are different than the current majority does. Like the old majority, the new one will buy, vote and patronize based upon those things they care most about. Unfortunately, we’ve not done a good job as birders and conservationists in broadening the scope of those involved in our passion.