Friday, March 26, 2010

Loose Feathers #231

Dark-eyed Junco / Photo by Dave Menke (USFWS)

Birds and birding news
  • Paleontologists found a fossil of a new bird species, Longicrusavis houi, which lived in the early Cretaceous. Its long shins suggest that it may have been a wading bird.
  • Researchers found that the preen oils of two populations of Dark-eyed Juncos produce different smells. Males and females of each population also produced different smells. Since the birds were captive-raised, the differences appear to be genetic rather than environmental, which suggests that smell could play a role in species differentiation.
  • Male Great-tailed Grackles have glossier feathers than females, and the glossiest males are the most  attractive. The glossiest males also tended to have the longest tails, another sexually-selected trait.
  • Three new breeding sites for the extremely rare Worthen's Sparrow have been found in northeastern Mexico. This sparrow's population is estimated to be just over 100 individuals in the wild.
  • An amateur paleontologist found fossil bones of a new bird species, Flexomornis howei, in Texas. The bird lived about 96 million years ago.
  • The US government is spending $2 million to restore bird habitat at Mauna Loa. Even though Hawaii accounts for 44% of endangered bird species in the US, it usually receives only 4% of state and federal conservation funding.
  • The American Bird Conservancy has published a downloadable brochure on ways to prevent birds from hitting windows. Window strikes account for 300 million to 1 billion bird deaths per year.
  • Bird bones are hollow, but the bone material is denser, so that a bird skeleton will weigh the same as the skeleton of a mammal of similar size.
  • Two communities in Bolivia have designated about 500,000 acres as a conservation area to protect the Red-fronted Macaw.
  • Five men (including four Navy officers) face federal charges for killing 21 protected waterbirds in Florida.
  • Over 150 birds were killed in an accidental fire at Gilcrease Nature Sanctuary in Nevada.
  • Philadelphia is turning a formerly wooded section of Fairmount Park near the Wissahickon Valley into a butterfly meadow to match its historical character. The change is expected to benefit some bird species as well.
  • The UK's oldest Osprey, estimated to be 25 years old, returned to its nest again this year. This female has laid 55 eggs, 46 of which have been successfully fledged.
  • Plans to reintroduce Sea Eagles to England are running into local opposition, based partly on the fear that the eagles will prey on domesticated animals.
Birds in the blogosphere
Environment and biodiversity
  • Scientists have found the first truly amphibious insects: the caterpillars of Hyposmocoma moths. These are also the first caterpillars known to eat snails and other mollusks.
  • The EPA has proposed a rule to make the petroleum and natural gas industry and plants that inject carbon dioxide into the ground to report their annual greenhouse gas emissions, including methane and fluorinated gases.
  • A disputed island in the Bay of Bengal has disappeared is now covered by water because of rising sea levels.
  • The world's strongest insect is a dung beetle, Onthophagus taurus, which can pull objects up to 1,141 times its own weight.
  • Global deforestation rates have slowed since the 1990s but remain high. Global forest loss during the 2000s was about 13 million per year, as opposed to 16 million hectares per year in the 1990s. Africa and South America continue to lose forest cover, while other areas have held steady.