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Climate Change Is Changing Bird Migration Patterns

24 Feb

Rising temperatures are bringing earlier migration patterns, according to a new study out of UNC Chapel Hill. Allen Hurlbert and Zhongfei Liang collected data using ebird–a citizen science program database containing 10 years’ worth of observations from amateur birdwatchers–which now includes over 48 million bird observations from about 35,000 contributors. By considering 18 species at various locations during migration, they concluded that on average, each reached various stopping points 0.8 days earlier per degree Celsius of temperature increase.

That may not sound like much, but as Hurlbert explains:

“Timing of bird migration is something critical for the overall health of bird species. They have to time it right so they can balance arriving on breeding grounds after there’s no longer a risk of severe winter conditions. If they get it wrong, they may die or may not produce as many young. A change in migration could begin to contribute to population decline, putting many species at risk for extinction.”

It’s an interesting analysis highlighting how little we know about the impacts of climate change. There are observable direct effects on behavior and survival, but it’s far more challenging to measure species interactions within the larger system.

Read the full article in PLoS ONE.


Calling All Citizen Scientists! Join The Christmas Bird Count

19 Dec

This is a guest post by Rebecca Deatsman.

Once again, the holiday season is upon us and we’re taking the time to enjoy our favorite traditions. Baking Christmas cookies, trimming the tree, birdwatching… wait, birdwatching? For tens of thousands of people across North America, giving up a day of their precious holiday break to spend it finding and counting wild birds is just as much a part of this season as presents under the tree. The organizing force behind all of this is the Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count, the world’s most venerable citizen science initiative.

Image by Hilary Wood

Long before the term “citizen science” had been coined, people in some parts of the U.S. participated in another Christmas tradition called the “side hunt.” Groups of people would form teams and take to the field with their guns, and whichever one returned at the end of the day with the most dead birds was the winner. However, around the turn of the century a man named Frank Chapman, an officer of the newly-formed Audubon Society, had an intriguing idea: why not replace the side hunt with another tradition, in which people would still go out and find as many birds as they could, but replace the guns with binoculars? In 1900, twenty-seven enthusiastic birders spent Christmas counting birds at locations spanning the continent from Ontario to California. That first year they tallied a total of ninety species, and the Christmas Bird Count has continued every year since.

The protocol has changed over time. Counts typically no longer happen on Christmas day, and instead can be held anytime during a three week period in late December and early January. Each count covers a specific circle with a 15-mile (24-km) diameter, with observers splitting up and recording every bird they see or hear all day – not just the number of species, but the number of individuals of each species. At the end of the day observers meet up to compile their data, which is then turned into the Audubon Society. But can such a simplistic method actually produce usable data?

In a word, yes. Not only does CBC data provide a record of bird populations going back over a century, it also covers a wide geographic area, from the Arctic Circle down into Central and South America, and this data has been used in numerous peer-reviewed papers. The Audubon Society provides a bibliography of hundreds of studies that have used CBC data on their website, spanning decades of ornithological research. Additionally, the Audubon Society uses the data to produce its own “State of the Birds” report, which has documented significant declines of many familiar birds, helping to identify species and populations at risk. Anyone can also access the same data to create graphs online or download and use however they want.

No experience is necessary to participate in a Christmas Bird Count – birders are generally more than happy to share their expertise with people who are new to the hobby. To find a count circle near you visit or use Google to locate the website of your state’s ornithological society. It’s a great way to meet interesting people, learn a new skill, and discover more about the place where you live. Happy counting!

Rebecca Deatsman is a graduate student in environmental education at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, where she is studying how environmental educators use social media. She blogs about natural history and sense of place at Rebecca in the Woods and can also be found on Twitter as @rebeccanotbecky. This will be her seventh year of participation in the Christmas Bird Count.

You Think You Know Someone..

18 Jan

Nemo and I have been together for nine years. A long time–especially in parakeet years. So you can imagine my surprise when her new veterinarian Dr. M. Scott Echols immediately recognized and recorded her special super power:

Dr. Echols explained that some budgies–particularly in wild populations–fluoresce under UV light. As he describes in the video, this energetically costly characteristic may help with individual identification, social signaling, and mate selection.

Why The Birds Are in Trouble

8 Jan

A surprising number of people contacted me during the past week about the recent mass wildlife deaths reported all over the world and posted across the internet. Some say it’s a sign of “End Times” (although apparently Kirk Cameron disagrees) and others wonder what’s changed in the environment.

John Roach has got the full story, including an interview with conservation biologist Stuart Pimm about the real reason we should all be concerned: Although such events are relatively routine (just not typically reported), one in six bird species is threatened with extinction.

That’s a pretty big deal. In fact, it’s just the kind of crisis that should be making headlines. So if you work at a newspaper, write a blog, or choose content for other media, please consider reporting the real story here….

Hummingbird Nest Cam

2 Feb

While North Carolina is buried in snow, it’s good to remember Spring is on the way…

H/T Zuska

A Word About That Kakapo

6 Oct

You may have already come across this fantastic clip of a beautiful, very confused, critically endangered parrot circulating the interwebs:


Yes, this fellow is cute and funny, but more importantly, the video provides reason to tell the rest of his story.

The Kakapo (Strigops habroptila) is the fattest, largest, and rarest species of parrot on earth. It is a flightless, nocturnal bird that lives on four offshore islands near New Zealand. Estimates vary, but according to the BBC, there are only 90 left on Earth (after numbers have increased over past decades). The Kakapo feeds on leaves, nectar, fruit, stems, roots, and seeds, and breeds just once every two-five years. I hope, despite the title of this television series, this is not our ‘last chance to see‘ this incredible animal.

Over Austin

1 Feb


Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America

25 Sep

birdguide.JPGIt should be no surprise to readers that birds are among my very favorite critters. Aside from occasional blogger Sparticus Maximus The Great, I also reside with a pair of recessive pied budgies named Nemo and Che (who are real proud to be descendants of dinos). So naturally, I said I’d be delighted to review the new Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America by Ted Floyd, the editor of Birding Magazine. While I’ve long been fascinated with Aves, I became far more interested in birding while in Africa last summer with the Pimm group, which happens to be full of expert birders.

In short, the new field guide is spectacular. From striking photography to detailed descriptions of over 750 species, it’s by far my favorite birding guide yet. It also comes with a DVD including images and 587 vocalizations (5 1/2 hours of play). There are over 700 range maps complete with migration patterns and detailed info on taxonomy, behavior, habitat, and conservation status. You’ll find some of my favorite photos on pages 244 and 334. In my opinion, the Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America is an ideal companion for everyone from the novice to the most experienced birder.

And for readers who aren’t up for the great outdoors this afternoon, be a birder from the comfort of your home laptop… Introducing The Wild Parakeets of Hillsborough Road, Nemo and Che:

Also worth checking out: A Field Guide to the Photographic Field Guides of North America over at The Birder’s Library.

“The Owls Are Not What They Seem”

26 Jul


A one-month-old Ferruginous Pygmy-owl, Glaucidium brasilianum, at the National Zoo in Managua, in the spring of 2008. The owl was brought to the zoo after its nest fell from a rotten branch at a construction site.

Bonus points if you recognize the quote in the title.

Overcoming Avian Bias

6 Mar

Introduction by Sparticus Maximus the Great

Sure, he’s landbound with arguably lackluster plumage, but get past those superficial shortcomings and Chris Mooney is alright… eh, for a human at least.

It was with great interest I read his thought-provoking piece last October on the plight of the marbeled murrelet. Aside from the obvious urgency of the situation, his article brings us one step closer to breaking down avian bias in the blogosphere. So today I introduce Sheril’s post in order to highlight her co-blogger’s brave leadership in taking on mammalism at it’s worst. Despite his concurrent inexplicable interest in pachyderms (ugly, ridiculous, bumbling creatures that they are), Chris clearly recognizes his feathered fans deserve lots of attention–and lots of land. Yes readers, as Sheril writes below, yesterday the heroic murrelet was victorious!


According to E&ENews PM, the Fish and Wildlife Service has decided not to move forward with plans to shrink the threatened marbled murrelet’s habitat. Instead, they’ll continue protecting 3.9 million acres for the Pacific shorebird explaining ‘it is not appropriate at this time‘ to revise the designation.

juv_MAMU.jpgWhy the change of heart?

It’s possible agency folks simply wanted to protect an extremely cute shorebird… or pressure from publicized disputes over logging and old-growth forests had influence… or conflicts in court over controversial land plans were irreconcilable…

We may never know, but regardless of the motivation, don’t you just love a happy ending?

Then again, Ren Lohoefener, director of the FWS’s Pacific Region added ‘the service may decide to revisit the current critical habitat designation at a later time.’ Still, at least for now, the marbled murrelet will live to dive another day.