Drone Technology in Bird Conservation

May 27, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

As technology advances, more and more applications are being found for the use of drones – unmanned aerial systems – which were initially developed primarily for military use. Conservationists have recognized the value of having ‘eyes’ and ‘ears’ in vast untamed regions where poaching is a problem, and countries like Namibia and Nepal are making use of drones to monitor vulnerable wildlife and stop poachers before they strike, rather than tracking them down and catching them after the damage is done. The potential for using drones in bird conservation efforts is diverse, and in the United Kingdom, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is reportedly using drone technology to monitor the nests of rare birds and introduced species.

Designed by Nigel Butcher of the RSPB, the drone is powered by six small electric motors that run so quietly they barely make a sound, and most importantly, do not disturb the birds. Using the marsh harrier as an example, Butcher notes that entering the area around the nests to put up cameras may result in the parents deserting the nest, a behavior they are known for. The drone, on the other hand, can fly in and film activity in the nest, transmitting images via live video feed to researchers. Moreover, birds and mammals that are active at night can be tracked with the use of thermal imaging technology, providing valuable information to researchers.

In addition to monitoring the breeding patterns of marsh harriers and bitterns, the drone technology is being used to keep track of cranes and corncrakes which are being reintroduced into areas in the UK, from where they had disappeared. Drones will also be used to film inaccessible nesting areas in the Minsmere Reserve for the BBC Spring Watch series. Located on the Suffolk coast, RSPB Minsmere is one of the UK’s most biodiverse reserves, and viewers will have the opportunity to see some of its natural bounty right in their own homes, starting on May 26 and running for three weeks.

Smithsonian Bird Collection

May 13, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

The Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History’s Division of Birds features more than 640,000 specimens and is considered to be the world’s third largest bird collection. Identified by the acronym USNM (United States National Museum), the National Collection represents up to eighty percent of the world’s known avifauna species, of which there are around 9,600. The collection is specifically available for scientific research by both resident staff and visiting scientists, with the National Museum of Natural History hosting between 200 and 400 such visitors each year. While the collection is not open to the public, the searchable online database maintained by the USNM contains information on more than 400,000 of the collection’s specimens.

The Bird Division Hall of Fame pays tribute to men who have significantly contributed to the study of birds and the collection since its inception in the mid-1800s. Among the Hall of Famers is Spencer F. Baird (1823-1887) who was the Assistant Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution from 1850 to 1878. His donation of more than 3,600 birds formed the foundation of the collection, and he was also a founding member of the American Ornithologists Union and a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

Another founding member of the American Ornithologists Union was Elliott Coues (1842-1899). Coues was an army physician, naturalist and field collector, as well as a member of the National Academy of Sciences. His various publications on field ornithology and identifying North American Birds were invaluable to ornithologists in those early days and remain valuable as reference works to this day.

Robert Ridgway (1850-1929) served as the first Curator of Birds at the USNM in 1881. He was an artist, a founding member of the American Ornithologist Union, member of the National Academy of Sciences and publisher of the first eight volumes of The Birds of North and Middle America – a reference work still in use today.

As a field naturalist and taxidermist for the USNM, William Palmer (1856-1921) collected specimens from Pribilof Islands, Funk Island, Cuba and Java, among other destinations. Assistant Curator of Birds between 1881 and 1889 Leonhard Stejneger (1851-1943) carried out pioneering ornithological fieldwork on the Commander Islands, Kamchatka, the Alps, Southwestern UK, Puerto Rico and Japan. Pierre L. Jouy (1856-1894) was a field collector who collected specimens primarily in Korea, Japan and China. He also made extensive contributions to the ethnological and zoological collections at Smithsonian.

Home Away from Home on the Islands

May 8, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

If you were to think about birding in Hawaii, what would be the first thought that ran through your mind? For me it was, “I wonder what kind of crazy tropical birds I am going to find”. I don’t know why, but when thinking about birds in Hawaii that I immediately think of birds that you would expect to find in the rainforest’s of the Amazon, the flashy colors and the long ornate tail feathers. I think you will be surprised, as I was, with the familiar feathered friends that Hawaii has in store for birders.

A familiar call

It is always comforting to be somewhere new and hear a familiar voice calling out to you. For me that was when I woke up to a beautiful morning on Kauai, welcomed by the familiar call of the Western Meadowlark! I was surprised to hear the beautiful song of one of my favorite birds. Upon doing a little research on the matter I was shocked to find out that they were introduced to Kauai, undoubtedly for the beautiful song they sing. Finding the Meadowlark inspired me to go on a hunt for other birds that I didn’t expect to see on the islands.

Who’s laughing at me?

Imagine my surprise when I was doing some hiking and thinking I was alone when suddenly I was surprised to hear what sounded like someone was laughing at me. Having experienced living and hiking in Idaho, I suddenly realized that I was being mocked by a Chukar! Oh how illusive they are in the rocky hills in Idaho – it can be quite hard to get a good view of this beautiful bird. I was in complete shock when I had several run-ins with them along the trail I was hiking.

Before visiting Hawaii, I had never seen a Chukar pop out of a bush and stand in the trail in front of me, so it was truly a magical moment for me to share the trail so comfortably with the bird. Hawaiian Chukars are so comfortable around people, so I was able to get so close to them, seeing the beauty of all of their different colors for what seemed like the first time.

A friendly covey

While relaxing on a shady hillside on Maui, I heard another familiar call. This time it was more of a ka-kah-ko, ka-kah-ko. Could it be one of my frequent visitors to my feeders at home? It sounded like it was close so I didn’t want to move too fast and spook it away. Slowly looking and scanning for any movement I finally spotted a group of birds scurrying along the ground. Seeing a healthy covey of California Quail put a huge smile on my face.

There is something quite amiable about the quail. I think if I had to describe the ‘personality’ of them, the only word that comes to mind is ‘bubbly’. I have watched them at my own ground feeders for years and never get tired of the little chirps and squeaks that they make.

Could it be?!

In my final few days of my time on the beautiful islands of Hawaii I decided to try an experiment of sorts. I had been seeing flashes of a very bright bird, but I couldn’t get a good view of it. I had heard rumors that this bird was on the islands, but until I saw it with my own eyes I wouldn’t believe it. So I went to a local store and picked up a window birdfeeder and a small bag of seed, to see if I could lure one in. Now, even as an avid birder, I didn’t spend all of my time in my room waiting to see what would come eat from the feeder, I was in Maui after all!

The times that I was in my room I witnessed a lot of amazing activity feeding from the birdfeeder. Then it happened, a flash of bright red, and sitting there on my feeder was a Northern Cardinal! I had heard that they had accidentally been introduced on the islands, but I guess I didn’t expect to actually see one. I decided to get in touch with the local Audubon Society and see if I could get some information on how they ended up there. From the information I was able to gather it sounds like someone had a pair as a pet and one escaped. To try to ensure the bird’s survival, they also let the second one go right after. This happened back in 1929. Reportedly between the years of 1929-1931 there were several hundred more pairs that were brought over and introduced to the islands. Seeing the bird in person was an amazing experience and one I will never forget.

Eye Opener

You just never know what you are going to find when you take a trip. I had a blast not only seeing a bunch of the native birds but also so many familiar species of birds. It just goes to show that when you don’t spend all of your time on the beach and just open up your eyes you will see things that you never expected to see. You might see some familiar feathers among the branches when you are looking for the new ones. If you ever have the chance to get over to Hawaii don’t miss out on the opportunity to get out and enjoy some of the beautiful birds and see what other species you can find that you didn’t expect to see!

Article contributed by: Ernie Allison

(Picture courtesty of USFWS via Wikimedia Commons)