Possible Insights into the Evolution of Flight

June 28, 2011 by  
Filed under Features

A study run by the University of Montana might just be able to bring clarity to the evolution of flight, as Brandon Jackson and his team conducted research into bird flight. Their findings have recently been published in the Journal of Experimental Biology. The art of flap-running by birds is the major factor discussed in the study, showing that this method could have been used by once flightless birds, and is still used by birds today to enable them to propel themselves forward. Jackson wanted to know why.

It seems that birds today will often flap their wings while walking up a slope or incline, to enable them to move forward. It is believed that this flap-run movement enables birds to take to flight. It is the same technique that is adopted by chicks, as they are unable to fly when they are born, and need to learn how to conquer this method of movement. The fact that birds are not born with flight abilities, has led researchers to believe that this very method was part of the evolution of flight. This interesting method of movement was noticed by Ken Dial while he was studying chuckars, which are part of the partridge family. After talking to locals and ranchers who have constant contact with these birds, they confirmed that most of the chuckars would rather flap-run up a hill or cliff, as it seems that it takes a lot less energy for them to flap-run instead of flying. This became very intriguing to researchers and they decided to measure how much power is being used while flap-running as opposed to flying.

They managed to record this by implanting electrodes into pigeons’ flight muscles, which could then record the muscle activity. Pigeons are very good flyers, but given inclines and ramps, the difference between flying up the incline and flap-running was analyzed. It was found that much less power was used during flap-running and that this method would therefore be crucial for chicks to learn how to fly, as well as for birds that are still developing their plumage to escape predators. This study has not only given the researchers new insight into birds but a glimpse back into the evolution of flight.

Kiwi Encounter at Rainbow Springs in New Zealand

June 21, 2011 by  
Filed under Features

New Zealanders are often referred to as Kiwis due to their national bird being the elusive kiwi bird. To preserve and assist in the rehabilitation of the wild kiwi numbers in the country, the Kiwi Encounter facility was opened at Rainbow Springs, Rotorua. The facility not only studies and oversees breeding projects but also educates the public on this iconic bird. It is also a tourist attraction, allowing overseas visitors into the world of this wonderful bird, where they can learn more about the fight to protect this bird from extinction.

The kiwi is probably one of the most fascinating birds on the planet and scientists have been studying this intriguing bird for years due to its unusual features and habits. Firstly, the kiwi is a nocturnal bird, sleeping in a burrow for most of the day, while foraging in the evenings. It is black in color and has very tiny wings, making it unable to fly. Its plumage resembles fur and it has an impeccable sense of smell, with its nostrils being located at the end of its beak. It is also the only bird in the world where the female has two ovaries, and instead of boasting tail feathers, it has whiskers. Not only is their sense of smell flawless, but their hearing is also extremely sensitive, making up for the fact that their eyesight is not as good as other nocturnal creatures. The kiwi’s dark coloring allows it to camouflage itself perfectly at night, and it will stand dead still, while blending into its environment, if a predator is in the vicinity. They feed mainly on insects and worms, and are very territorial.

When in the wild, campers and hikers will often hear the sniffing of a kiwi bird as it searches for food without seeing it. At Kiwi Encounters a nocturnal area has been created to resemble the birds’ natural habitat as closely as possible, including high tech lighting, creating an artificial moonlit evening, and allowing visitors to see them forage for food and go about their evening routines. There are also outdoor enclosures to investigate, some of which feature predators. The Kiwi Culture Exhibit provides the public with essential information in regard to the birds’ characteristics, origins and predators, which could include domesticated animals. It also features how New Zealanders were given the nickname of Kiwis and where products such as kiwi fruit and kiwi nuggets got their names.

The nursery and hatchery is where the captive breeding program is controlled and run. Their dietary needs are seen to through breeding facilities for worms and all the other creatures that kiwis prefer eating. Kiwi Encounter is an attraction for the entire family to enjoy, as it has specialized exhibits and interactive programs for children. Visiting the Kiwi Encounter centre is not only educational and exciting, but with each visitor passing through its doors, funds are being raised to continue the invaluable work of conservationists and scientists to save the kiwi bird.

Kèköldi Bird Conservation and Monitoring Program

June 14, 2011 by  
Filed under Events

The Kèköldi Bird Conservation and Monitoring Program is looking for volunteers and a coordinator (requires experience) to join their study site from 1 August to 1 December 2011. The site is at Kèköldi Indigenous Reserve on the Talamanca region of Costa Rica, between Puerto Viejo and Cahuita National Park, Limon Province. The reserve consists of primary and secondary forests, as well as cocoa plantations, with more than 330 bird species, including 19 species of hummingbirds. The program is a long-term and a great opportunity for students who wish to build their resume. Biologists, bird banders and bird watchers can help make a difference to bird conservation through science.

Volunteers should be physically fit and willing to work long hours, maintaining enthusiasm and a sense of humor. They will be required to work in a team and some knowledge of Spanish would be beneficial.

The program offers training on bird identification, constant effort mist-netting, bird banding techniques and so forth. Volunteer duties will include assisting official banders, banding birds, data entry and more.

The volunteer fee is $1300 for the first month and $300 for each additional month. The fee includes all meals, lodging at the scientific center, and training.
For additional information, please contact: Daniel Martinez A. daniel@kekoldicr.org. Cell phone : (506) 8858-2689

Dates: 1 August to 1 December 2011
Location: Kèköldi Indigenous Reserve
Country: Costa Rica

Saving the Spoon-billed Sandpiper

June 14, 2011 by  
Filed under Features

The most tragic and shocking fact is that if nothing is done to increase the numbers of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper, this bird could be extinct within the next decade. It is the harsh reality of loss of habitat, migration patterns and the fact that people set out traps to catch bigger birds and accidently trap these extremely endangered birds. With the last survey done along the Russian Arctic coast in 2009, it was estimated that there were between a hundred and twenty to two hundred breeding pairs remaining. But with them being so difficult to spot, it is feared that the number could be as low as sixty, which is alarming.

In 1758, Carl Linnaeus described the Spoon-billed Sandpiper, with its most distinctive feature being its bill that is spoon shaped. It is a very shy wading bird that is located in the Chukotka Region of Russia, but during winter they migrate to countries such as Vietnam and Bangladesh, taking on eight thousand kilometer journeys to find the warmth of summer. They have also been seen in China, Japan, Thailand and North Korea.

Fully grown, the Spoon-billed Sandpiper is a mere fourteen to sixteen centimeters, with a reddish brown head, and featuring dark brown streaks over its breast and neck. Conservationists estimate that the Spoon-billed Sandpiper population declines by approximately a quarter every year, and therefore a dedicated team has joined forces to establish a project that will assist in increasing the population. The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, along with Birds Russia, will be leading the team and working closely with a variety of organizations, such as the Moscow Zoo and RSPB, to make the project work. They are hoping to either capture a few breeding pairs of Spoon-billed Sandpipers to breed in captivity, and then release back into the wild, or find eggs which will be incubated at the Moscow Zoo, after which the chicks will be transported to Gloucestershire to be raised until they are old enough for release.

The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust is organizing fundraising events for the project, as well as creating public awareness regarding the plight of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper. While raising awareness, hunters will be given compensation if they are prepared to take down their nets, as well as given compensation for every live Spoon-billed Sandpiper they release. It will be the first time that conservationists will attempt to breed these birds in captivity, and if they are successful, the Spoon-billed Sandpiper might stand a fighting chance of avoiding extinction.

Oology – The Study of Bird Eggs

June 7, 2011 by  
Filed under Features

Oology can have two meanings. It is used to either refer to the study of bird eggs, or it can be used to describe the collecting of bird eggs. Even though the name is the same, the impact on bird life and ecosystems is vastly different. Studying bird eggs allows scientists and conservationists to understand the breeding habits of various birds and their nests. Collecting bird eggs almost led to the extinction of many bird species, as it had become a popular hobby that is now illegal in most countries.

While practicing oology as a science, it was discovered that birds that nest and lay their eggs in bushes generally lay speckled eggs, as opposed to birds that have their nests on the ground and lay unspotted white eggs. It was also found that birds that choose trees as the ideal nesting spot have either greenish colored or blue eggs that can either be unspotted or spotted. This gives conservationists great insight into birds, their nests, amount of eggs laid and general nesting habitats of various bird species.

Collecting eggs was seen as a hobby, much like collecting stamps, during the nineteenth and twentieth century. This led to a rapid decline in birds and near extinction of some. Collectors did not just remove one egg from the nest, but the entire clutch of eggs. The rarer the bird, the more valuable their eggs became, and this endangered them even more. After the eggs were collected, they would be blown out, their contents removed, to prevent the rotting of the eggs. Egg collectors would then write a date on the egg, identify the specie and frame the eggs. It is for this reason that oology as a hobby has become illegal and in certain countries, collectors can face imprisonment.

In Britain, an overzealous oologist named Colin Watson stole the eggs out the nests of very rare and protected bird species and was fined numerous times for collecting eggs. He fell to his death from a tree in 2006, and it was revealed that he had a collection of more than two thousand eggs in his possession. Gregory Wheal, also from Britain was jailed for six months for being in possession of raven and peregrine falcon eggs, and fellow Brit, Richard Pearson had more than seven thousand seven hundred eggs, which are now protected by the law, and his detailed notes and confession described a fifteen year period of stealing eggs. Fortunately, the oology hobby became less popular and oology is now used to introduce new captive breeding methods, incubation and to save endangered species from extinction.