Black-throated Robin Rediscovered in China

December 20, 2011 by  
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The Black-throated Robin (Luscinia obscura ), also referred to as the Black-throated Blue Robin, or simply the Blackthroat, is a species in the Muscicapidae family of small passerine birds found mainly in the Old World – Europe, Asia and Africa. Primarily due to decimation of its preferred habitat of bamboo thickets and high altitude coniferous forest, this elusive little bird has become quite a rare sight in recent decades. So when a team of Swedish and Chinese researchers discovered a community of breeding Blackthroats in the Qinling Mountains of north-central China’s Shaanxi province, it was a newsworthy event.

With their distinctive song consisting of short, sharp, varied strophes including harsh notes and whistles, seven singing males were counted in Foping Nature Reserve, with another seven observed in the Changqing National Nature Reserve. Being the more vocal of the sexes, males are easier to find, and it is considered to be almost certain that each male has a mate. The majority of the birds were seen in bamboo thickets and coniferous-broadleaf forests at an altitude of around 2400 to 2500 meters above sea level. Recordings have been made of the Blackthroat’s song, which will made identification easier in the future.

Resembling a European Robin Erithacus rubecula in size and general shape, the Blackthroat male has a jet-black throat and breast, and while it is believed that the female has a light-brown throat and breast, this has not been confirmed. They were first recorded in the late 19th century, and between the time of first being observed and into the early 20th century, ten of these birds were collected during their breeding season of May to August, in two different localities in China’s Shaanxi and Gansu provinces. Subsequent Blackthoat sightings include unconfirmed records from China’s Yunnan and Sichuan provinces, as well as a few birds spotted in captivity at markets. The most recent reported sighting of a Blackthroat was at the Sichuan University campus in May 2011, with reports of a Blackthroat being captured in Thailand during the winter months, which is a possible migration destination or stop-over point.

Personality is Vital for Male Birds

September 20, 2011 by  
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It seems that it is not only humans who want more than just good looks in a partner, as a recent study revealed that even in the bird kingdom, being handsome does not guarantee the attention of a female companion. Researchers have realized that personality plays a vital role for male birds to catch the attention of a female, so feathers are not the only feature females take into consideration when looking for a mate. The survey was performed by a group of scientists from the Royal Veterinary College, the University of Exeter, Canada and the Carleton University.

Zebra finches were used to conduct the study. Interestingly enough, it was the confident and more adventurous males that drew the attention of the females, regardless of the beak color, size or plumage condition of the males. More than a hundred and fifty birds were used in the program, and the personality of the females was found to play a large role in their selection as well. From the various exercises that were performed, allowing females to show scientists their preferences, it was also obvious that the more out-going females preferred the confident males, while the more shy females were not very particular when it came to choosing a prospective partner. The team leader of the project was Dr Sasha Dall (University of Exeter), who commented that the research proved that personality played a large role in a female’s decision, irrespective of the appearance of the males. It also proved that what would be expected from humans selecting partners, namely the compatibility of personalities, has been overlooked in other species.

To determine the personalities of each bird, the birds were put in a cage to explore. The females were able to view this through a clear window, but unknowingly to them, one male was held back on purpose, and the females therefore viewed him as being less confident as they did not see him exploring the cage. Some birds showed no fear in regard to discovering their new environment, while others were happy remaining in one position watching the others. The more confident birds therefore paired together, while the rest did not show any dominant preferences. Once again it was shown that there is so much about our feathered friends that we don’t know yet, leaving the future open to many possibilities and new discoveries.

Interesting RSPB Survey Results

August 23, 2011 by  
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The RSPB’s wildlife survey would not be possible if not for the loyal participation of the public, who assist in the Make Your Nature Count project. The survey began on the 4th of June and ran to the 12th of June, involving over fifty thousand gardens. Due to the assistance of the participants, the RSPB Make Your Nature Count project could collect the necessary information to compile a report on a variety of bird species to determine how successful the breeding season was. The feedback was extremely positive.

Once all the data was received, it showed that there was an increase in the breeding of robins, and that there was a ten percent increase in song thrushes in gardens across the United Kingdom. The organizer of the RSPB Make Your Nature Count, Richard Bashford, commented that it was very exciting to see the increase of song thrushes, blackbirds and robins, as it means that weather conditions were ideal during the breeding season. Since 2010, blackbirds had increased by fifteen percent. Bashford said that even though the numbers of the song thrushes had increased, it is important to remember that they did go through a period of decline and are slowly beginning to recover and have a far way to go before their numbers are satisfying, even though there are not any guarantees that the same favorable outcome will appear next year. House sparrows also seemed to increase by approximately twenty percent, but are still to be watched carefully. Thirty percent increases were recorded for chaffinches and blue tits.

The survey was performed in rural areas, urban and suburban areas and it was also the first time the public participants were asked to be on the lookout for grass snakes and bats. Almost one in fifty of the participating members reported grass snakes and they are more likely to be found in rural areas. Thirty-three percent of the participants also reported bats. As an added request they were also asked to take note of toads and frogs, as there had been a decline in their numbers over the last two years. The wildlife in any garden impacts the environment, and through the voluntary services of the public the RSPB is able to conduct their surveys and compile their reports to keep constant records on the various species.

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.

Saving the California Condor

May 3, 2011 by  
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Back in 1987, the California condor was considered to be extinct in the wild, with only twenty-seven birds remaining in captivity. Now, thanks to conservation and breeding projects, America’s largest flying bird is making a comeback, and today there are a recorded number of 394 California condors in the US, with 181 of those being out in the wild.

Michael Mace of San Diego Zoo and Safari Park has noted that, all being well, a count of 400 should be reached by the end of the breeding season, a number that has not been recorded since the 1930s. It is also hoped that the wild population of California condor will reach 200 by the end of the year – with some human intervention to counteract a man-made problem. Condor’s feed on marine animal carcasses, but due to the run-off of DDT into the oceans, where it breaks down into a chemical known as DDE (Dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene) and is absorbed by marine life, the birds land up eating the harmful chemical, resulting in weakened egg shells. To overcome this, conservationists replace the thin-shelled eggs with eggs that have been laid by captive birds, and these eggs are hatched naturally by the wild birds. The weakened eggs are then placed in incubators to hatch under the watchful eye of researchers. Although DDT has been banned in the US, it is still used in neighboring countries, entering rivers that run off into the ocean, creating a problem beyond the control of US authorities.

The natural habitat of the California condor is wooded mountains and scrublands. The birds have been reintroduced into the wilderness areas of California and Arizona. As scavengers that feed on dead carcasses, these huge birds are not fussy about what they eat and will tuck into rodents, rabbits, deer, cattle, sheep or fish. However, when the birds feed on animals that have been killed with buckshot, it results in lead poisoning.

Despite the obstacles, conservationists are confident that their efforts are worthwhile. There are currently four breeding centers involved in the hatching of California condor eggs – the San Diego Zoo, the Safari Park, the World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise, and the Oregon Zoo in Portland – with a satisfying degree of success.

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