American Birding Podcast



Blog Birding #409

Duck genetics are a real mess, as any park pond will quickly make clear, and even birds we consider to be “good” species are closer than we imagine, as Jente Ottenburghs at Avian Hybrids explains.

Philip Lavrestsky and his colleagues sequenced the DNA of five members from the Mallard complex that occur in North America: the Mallard (obviously), the American Black Duck, the Mexican Duck (A. diazi), the Florida Mottled Duck and the West Gulf Coast Mottled Duck (for more information about population structure in the Mottled Duck you can read this blog post). Although these species are morphologically clearly distinct, it has been proven difficult – if not impossible – to distinguish between them genetically.

Jason Ward’s Birds of North America was released to great reviews earlier this year, but its popularity inspired a low-rent doppelganger from a surprising source, as reported by Cara Buckley in the New York Times. 

Ward, 32, has birded in Prospect Park with the comedian Wyatt Cenac, near Brooklyn Bridge with the Feminist Bird Club, and in Cape May, N.J., with his mentor, J. Drew Lanham, a wildlife biologist and fellow birder of color. Birders of color are pretty rare, which is why the program exists: to show that they do, too.

So Ward and his producers were shocked earlier this week when Rolling Stone unveiled a new bird-watching web series that shared uncanny similarities with Ward’s show.

In addition to being a vagrant hotspot, St. Paul Island in Alaska’s Pribilofs is home to one of the continent’s largest populations of breeding seabirds, so the arrival of a single rat on the island required an all hands on deck response, as reported by Emily Heber at Island Conservation. 

Last fall, an unwelcome hitchhiker—an individual invasive rat—made its way onto St. Paul Island, Alaska, one of the Pribilof Islands.

The Pribilof Islands are home to more than 3 million nesting birds and are considered one of the most important seabird nesting sites in the Bering Sea. The introduction of one invasive rat might not sound concerning, but if that rat were to be a pregnant female, it could quickly escalate into a major threat. Lauren Divine, director of the Ecosystem Conservation Office at Aleut Community of St. Paul Island explained:

Rats have such a potential to invade and change the ecosystem in a way we’d never recover from.”

Corporate sponsorship of wild bird common names? Is it an idea whose time has come? Carrie Laben imagines what that world would look like at 10,000 Birds. 

I’d learned a lot since the last time I sat in a meeting room even close to this fancy. Mostly, don’t steal breath mints. I’m still full of good ideas, though. And the faces around this table – faces you might recognize, and names, if I hadn’t signed an NDA that I’m pretty sure allows me to be shot into space if I tell you who was present – were doing a pretty good job of acting like they wanted to hear them.

I can’t tell you exactly how I brokered this meeting between these titans of industry and a team from the AOS, either. Of course it involved subterfuge, and bribery, and Jonathan Franzen at a crossroads at midnight. But the details must remain nebulous.

The Double-crested Cormorant is no one’s idea of a flashy bird, but it hides its most colorful feature on the inside of its mouth, as revealed by Mia McPherson of On the Wing Photography. 

During the breeding season adult Double-crested Cormorants are a bit more striking than they are during the nonbreeding season because of the changes in their plumage and inside their mouths.

Wait. What? Inside their mouths?

Yes. During the breeding season even the inside of the mouths of Double-crested Cormorants show changes, the lining inside their mouths turns into a deep, electric or cobalt blue.