American Birding Podcast



Blog Birding #417

29% of the North American birds that were present in 1970 have disappeared in the intervening 50 years, the result of the study published in Science by researchers associated with the American Birding Conservancy. The good news is that the declines are reversible. Ed Yong has more at The Atlantic. 

A new study, which analyzed decades of data on North American birds, estimates that the continent’s bird populations have fallen by 29 percent since 1970. That’s almost 3 billion fewer individuals than there used to be, five decades ago. “It’s a staggering result,” says Kenneth Rosenberg from Cornell University and the American Bird Conservancy, who led the analysis.

Ron Pittaway’s annual winter finch report is out, and it doesn’t look like birders in the east can expect to see many irruptive finches this year.

This is not an irruption (flight) year for winter finches in the East. Most winter finches will stay in the north. There are abundant spruce cone crops across the boreal forest in Ontario, Quebec, and Newfoundland. Most conifers (except pines), birches and other seed crops are good to excellent in much of the Northeast. This should be a good winter to see finches in traditional hotspots such as Ontario’s Algonquin Park, Quebec’s Laurentian Mountains, New York’s Adirondack Mountains, and northern New England States. For the details on each finch species, see individual forecasts below, Three irruptive non-finch passerines are also discussed. The forecast applies mainly to Ontario and nearby provinces and states.

It has always been assumed that most birds have a relatively poor sense of smell, but new research has challenged that assumption. As Jente Ottenburghs of Avian Hybrids explains, some chickadees may even use smell as a means to find their own species.

To understand the origin of new bird species, ornithologists have mainly studied characters such as plumage color and song. If birds look or sound different, they probably represent distinct species. But what about less obvious features? What about smell? Recent work has shown that odors play an important role in avian ecology and evolution (see this paper for a nice review). In songbirds, olfactory cues are most likely produced by the uropygial gland. This organ is situated at the base of the tail and secretes complex mixtures of chemicals (generally called preen oil). Could these oils contribute to avian speciation? A recent paper in the journal Ecology and Evolutionput this idea to the test.

The United States is home to a great many populations of feral parrots. At Cool Green Science, Justine Hausheer offers a guide to the more common species.

I’m looking out of my hotel room window in downtown Los Angeles, and I swear I just saw a parrot in the palm trees across the highway. Either that, or the 17+ hours of jetlag are causing me to hallucinate. But the next day, now well rested, I see them again — a flash of green and gold in the hazy sun. Later, both my colleague and my Sibley bird guide confirmed that I had indeed seen a Yellow-chevroned Parakeet, one of several that have established breeding colonies amid the skyscrapers and urban sprawl of LA.

At Birding New Jersey and Beyond, Rick Wright considers the homely coot, a bird that has fascinated observers for centuries.

Curious about whether these asocial behaviors have always defined cootness, I cast a quick glance at some of the older literature treating these familiar birds. “Older”? Yes, a lot older: The works listed in the zoological index to the Patrologia latina, always a convenient, if rarely a comprehensive, way to begin to answer questions like this.