Friday, July 25, 2008

Loose Feathers #159

Northern Saw-whet Owl / Photo by Gary M. Stolz (USFWS)

Bird news
  • Cuckoos are nest parasites, meaning that they lay their own eggs in the nests of other birds. At least one bird species is able to tell the difference between cuckoo eggs and their eggs by the wavelengths of ultraviolet light reflected by the eggs. (UV rays are invisible to humans but visible to birds.)
  • Raptors may be harmed by exposure to lead and cadmium, two common industrial materials. Since they accumulate such toxins, raptors serve as an early warning system for possible dangers to humans.
  • Hundreds of young Magellanic penguins have been washing ashore in Brazil this summer. Most have been dead or dying from starvation. The lack of fish to eat may be due to an oil spill off Uruguay, or it may have been caused by climate change or overfishing.
  • The number of raptors killed at the Altamont Pass wind farm increased by 27% from October 2005 to October 2007, according to a study carried out by Alameda County. Golden eagles kills decreased, however. The farm needs more monitoring because most of the mitigation measures were not fully implemented until early 2007; Alameda County approved another study period this fall.
  • A resident of Arkansas found a pair of conjoined baby barn swallows. Unfortunately, both died.
  • Galapagos finches have changed in subtle ways over the past 35 years. The average bill size has increased and decreased several times in response to food availability.
  • About 200 gulls have been found dead near Perth, Australia. So far the cause is unknown.
  • In Minnesota, 687 cormorants and 37 pelicans have been found dead at Pigeon Lake and Minnesota Lake. The cause seems to be a disease, but what disease remains undetermined.
  • Red kites are now flying in Ireland again for the first time in 200 years.
  • The populations of white-faced ibis and Swainson's hawk are recovering in California's Central Valley thanks to habitat restoration.
  • Finally, the CLO is looking for help reorganizing their webpages. They have offered a few inducements to participate.
Birds in the blogosphere
Environmental news
  • Air pollution is degrading natural ecosystems in the eastern United States. The main culprits are airborne toxins like sulfur, nitrogen, and mercury that contaminate and acidify waterways. The problem is worse on this coast than the west coast because of prevailing winds that carry industrial emissions from further west.
  • Los Angeles became the second U.S. city to ban plastic grocery bags; the ban will go into effect in 2010 if California fails to pass a tax on the bags. (More on the story here.)
  • Warmer temperatures due to climate change are drying wetlands in many places. The phenomenon could have a feedback effect as drier wetlands release more of the greenhouse gases that had been sequestered there.
  • Biofuels can contribute to climate change if forests (especially tropical forests) are razed to grow them.
  • Oil companies are looking to get their drill bits and pipes into the floor of the Arctic Sea. The USGS just reported that the Arctic Sea may hold 90 billion barrels of oil 1,670 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
  • Federal prosecutors have brought charges of negligence and hiding evidence against the company involved in the San Francisco Bay oil spill.
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