Bills Regulate Body Temperature

July 26, 2011 by  
Filed under Features

On 20 July 2011 the research done by a team of scientists from the well-known Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center was published in the Ecography journal, and has revealed more insight into the use of bird’s bills. Working at the Conservation Biology Institute of the Smithsonian Center, the team focused their attention on five different sparrow species that prefer the marshes of various regions, and discovered that they use their bills for more than just eating food and foraging. It was shown that not only are their bills adapted to their diets, but they can also assist birds to regulate body heat.

There were ten sparrow species and their subspecies that the team found to enjoy the salt marshes that are located along the North American Gulf Coasts, and they looked at more than one thousand three hundred individual birds. When measuring the individual birds and looking at their bills, along with the temperatures where they reside, it has been recorded that the size of their bills were determined by this feature as well, as their bills assisted them to regulate their body heat during the soaring temperatures of the summer. The higher the average summer temperature of a specific region, the bigger the bills were on the birds. To release their body heat, it was determined that the birds are able to transfer blood into the tissue that is found in their bills and from there the heat is expelled into the air. Therefore the bigger the bill on the bird, the more heat is able to be released into the air.

This was confirmed by comparing the birds in the different areas, as the birds living in the cooler marsh areas have smaller bills than those living in higher temperatures. Leader of the research team and director of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, Russ Greenberg, commented that is has been known that in animals, such as rabbits and seals, blood is able to be increased to the extremities of animals that are not well insulated, but now it is known that birds are able to cool down their body temperature through their bills, as well as retain their body moisture, which they so desperately need in such high temperatures. The team is now continuing their research with Brock University physiologists, trying to form a more detailed database by using thermal imaging.

Young Penguins Fitted with Monitors

July 19, 2011 by  
Filed under News

The African Penguin, also referred to as the Jackass Penguin, might be a little awkward on land, but can definitely hold its own in the water as a very efficient hunter. Tourists who visit Cape Town, South Africa, and see the beauty of these birds do not realize that they are actually witnessing a very rare moment, as the population of these birds has decreased from approximately four million in the 1900s. The last census done by the Southern African Foundation of the Conservation of Coastal Birds in 2010 counted only sixty thousand. This alarming decrease has led to the creation of a new project to protect these valuable birds.

Humans, as the story usually goes, had a great influence in the reduction of numbers of African Penguins, as up until the 1960s the penguin eggs were being harvested for human consumption. Another factor was the harvesting of guano that was used as fertilizer, but is crucial for adult penguins, as they use the hardened guano to make nest burrows. To add to the penguins’ problems, oil spills and over harvesting of anchovies and other fish species that are a part of their diet has made their fight for survival even harder.

Scientists want to try and create artificial hatcheries to assist in the breeding of African Penguins for release, but to recreate the hatcheries efficiently, it is vital for them to have the correct information to understand the penguins better. In order to do this they have attached a transmitter, which is approximately the size of a matchbox, to baby penguins that are about ten weeks of age. The penguins are first placed in a pool so they can get used to swimming with the transmitter and then released into the ocean. One penguin has already been released, and a penguin named Richie is due for release. Scientists will be releasing approximately five penguins with transmitters.

Dr Richard Sherley, a key member of the scientific team from the University of Cape Town, commented that he hoped that the data collected would allow them to understand what influences breeding colonies in the choices they make and the early life of a penguin, as these questions have not been answered as yet. Lucy, which was the first penguin to be released, has already transmitted back data, which showed scientists that young penguins are able to swim approximately twenty-eight miles in one day. Sherley commented that because no-one really knows much about the early days and life of young penguins, it is crucial for them to collect this data to assist in their conservation projects. The transmitters will eventually fall off of the penguins, but it is hoped that by then enough information has been gathered to assist scientists in finding the ideal breeding site for a colony that can be protected and will be the site of the hatchery.

A Visit to Ohio Bird Sanctuary

July 12, 2011 by  
Filed under Features

Gail Laux started the County Raptor Rehabilitation Center in 1988 on her private property. In 1995 the Heart of Ohio Boy Scout Council approved a lease to allow the facility to move to the Camp Avery Hand site. Through generous donations and support, the Ohio Bird Sanctuary was able to open its doors to the public in 1999. The sanctuary was eventually able to purchase fifty-two acres of land it had leased, and went on to buy another fifteen acres in 2009. To become a public facility the sanctuary created a board of trustees. Through the assistance of volunteers, events were organized to raise funds to renovate buildings, create a parking area and make trails for visitors to enjoy.

The visitors centre now proudly boasts a classroom, exhibition lobby, outdoor display facilities, offices, library and an emergency centre that takes in injured and sick birds. This non-profit organization is dedicated to the rehabilitation and protection of the birds of prey of Ohio. Ninety acres of the sanctuary is open to the public, with hiking trails leading to various breathtaking areas of the sanctuary where visitors will be able to view various birds of prey. A few of the local bird residents are visitor friendly and gladly accept the meal worms that are on sale at the sanctuary, allowing members of the public to have a personal and interactive experience with these fascinating birds. Tours are available, as educating the public on the value and importance of preserving birds of prey is the main goal of the Ohio Bird Sanctuary. It also welcomes more than twenty thousand scholars a year, and bird lovers are invited to join the weekend programs that feature workshops such as Breeding Birds Surveys, Creatures of the Night, Fall Wildlife Festival and Christmas for the Birds.

Because of the sanctuary being located on the Clearfork Reservoir border and being surrounded by marsh and dense forests, the trails leading through the sanctuary are breathtaking and will take visitors over meadows, marshlands and between beautiful pine groves. The butterfly garden is another recommended attraction that is filled with wonderful variety wildflowers and is a tranquil location at the sanctuary. The Ohio Bird Sanctuary is not only performing a vital role in protecting the birds of prey of Ohio but is an exciting attraction for visitors to enjoy.

Pigeons Can Recognize Human Faces

July 5, 2011 by  
Filed under Features

It seems that years of sharing space with humans and being forced to adapt to changes in city lifestyles, has taught pigeons a few tricks that are quite remarkable to say the least. They might seem to most people just ordinary birds, but on taking a closer look pigeons are actually highly intelligent and are able to differentiate between humans, not by the clothes they wear, as they have learnt that clothing changes, but by facial recognition, which is extremely remarkable.

The perception capabilities of pigeons were tested previously in a laboratory, but researchers of the University of Paris Quest Nanterre La Defense decided to take their next experiment into the “wild” so to speak, to see how undomesticated pigeons would react. To ensure that the test would be performed as accurately as possible, two researchers were selected who shared the same build and skin color, but wore laboratory coats of different color. These two researchers then went out into the park to feed the pigeons. The first researcher threw out the food and then stood back ignoring them, giving them the opportunity to eat the food without being disturbed. The second also threw out food, but then chased them away, being hostile towards the pigeons.

For the second session, both researchers were told not to chase the pigeons, and allow them to eat, but the pigeons had remembered who the hostile researcher was and avoided her. They decided to repeat the session a few times over, even getting the researchers to swop their lab coats, but still the pigeons would avoid the researcher who was hostile on their first encounter. This confirmed the suspicions of the team, that the pigeons relied on facial recognition to detect hostiles.

Facial recognition is not a new skill in the bird world, and other researchers have discovered in previous years that birds such as magpies and jackdaws are also able to recognize humans according to their facial features. So next time you think about chasing away a bird, think twice about your actions, as you might not remember which bird you were hostile to, but they are more than likely going to remember you!