Astounding Research into Great Snipe Migration

May 31, 2011 by  
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There are twenty-five species of wading birds that fall under the Scolopacidae family, and the great snipe is one of them. Generally recognized by their long bills and plumage coloring that allows it to blend in with its surroundings, there is a magnificent talent that the snipe possesses that has been recently been uncovered. This beautiful shore bird is quite small and its stocky body, which they ensure carries enough fat by August, assists them in their migration. But until recently, their migration patterns were a mystery, and the information revealed by a project started in 2009 has uncovered breathtaking details.

Raymond Klaassen, a biologist from the Lund University in Sweden, captured ten great great snipes and managed to tag them to collect information in regard to their migration. Captured and let go on the western coast of Sweden, three birds returned and were recaptured to have their tags removed, revealing the most staggering information. For the first time ever, the migration of great snipes could be put on record, but even for scientists and biologists, the information received from the tags was overwhelming. It seems the great snipe tops all other birds when it comes to migration as it is able to fly an impressive four thousand miles without making any stops to eat, drink or sleep. Not only was the flight astounding, given that the great snipe is able to fly ninety-six hours non-stop, but they also averaged speeds of fifty miles per hour. The flights were compared to wind charts showing that the birds had almost no tail winds during their migrations, meaning that they are able to make the flights and maintain high speeds on their own.

One of the recaptured tagged birds completed a migration of three thousand eight hundred miles, while the other two had migrations of two thousand eight hundred miles and four thousand two hundred miles. The first trip took eighty-four hours, while the others took forty-eight hours and eighty-four hours. Klaassen commented that the reason why the great snipes do not stop on their flights is unknown, but it is suspected that this is the unique migration strategy of the great snipe. Even though there are other birds that are also able to travel vast distances, it is the speed the great snipes are able to travel at that has astonished researchers, as their wings are not the most aerodynamic of the bird kingdom. But it seems the fat they store before a migration gives them enough energy to maintain speed and cover large distances. According to this new information and studies, the great snipe can officially be called the king of bird migrations.

Study Sheds Light on Bird Collisions

March 22, 2011 by  
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It seems that the engineering feats of humans, such as wind turbines, telephone poles, pylons and buildings, are accidently causing the death of many birds. As birds are considered creatures with very good eye sight, we have not been able to understand why this happens so frequently. However, a closer look at how their vision works explains how most of the fatalities occur. A study done by Professor Graham Martin (Birmingham University) approached the project with the aim of understanding why these fatalities occur and to find out how birds perceive the world during flight.

Martin explained his findings saying that birds have a very unique visual system that is different to those of humans. He said: “When in flight, birds may turn their heads to look down, either with the binocular field or with the lateral part of an eye’s visual field.” This makes them blind, so to speak, in regard to the direction they are traveling in. Their frontal vision is mainly used to detect movement, and as bird’s eyes are located on the side of their heads, looking ahead is not as easy for them as it is expected to be. Their vision is at its peak looking laterally and down in search of prey.

Some birds also have another disadvantage – the speed at which they travel. Some birds have extremely fast flight speeds, making it difficult for them to react on information received, especially when sight is further complicated by weather conditions, such as mist and rain.

The study, however, is not only negative, as measures to minimize deaths can now be taken. Prof. Graham Martin stated: “While solutions may have to be considered on a species by species basis, where collision incidents are high it may be more effective to divert or distract birds from their flight path rather than attempt to make the hazard more conspicuous.” Some organizations, such as the Royal Society of Birds have already been lobbying for wind turbines to be constructed in areas that are not directly in the flight paths of birds, and conservationists are supportive of coming up with solutions to reduce bird deaths.

New Discovery Sheds Light on Bird Evolution

June 25, 2009 by  
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Up until a few days ago it was a commonly held belief that modern birds evolved from theropod dinosaurs such as the tyrannosaurus or allosaurus. Now new evidence has been found in favour of the theory that birds evolved separately on a parallel path to dinosaurs.

The discovery may be new, but the evidence has been there all along. Simply put, it is virtually impossible for birds to have evolved from dinosaurs. Researchers at the Oregon State Univserity (OSU) in the US pinpointed the largest significant difference in their skeletal structures – their thigh bones – as proof of this fact. Up until now the relatively fixed position of the bird’s thigh bone and the role that it plays in keeping this creature alive has gone largely unnoticed. While virtually every other land animal has a moveable thigh bone, the bird’s thigh bone, or femur, is largely fixed, making them ‘knee runners’. What is most remarkable about this feature is that it is fundamental to the continued functioning of the animal; it is the fixed position of the femur and other bird bones that keeps their air-sac lung from collapsing when the bird inhales oxygen.

Research has revealed that warm-blooded birds need about 20 times more oxygen than do reptiles which are cold-blooded. As such, they have a unique lung structure which allows for a much higher rate of gaseous exchange and activity. It is this soft and delicate structure which is carefully protected by the fixed skeletal structures that surround the lungs.

According to Devon Quick, an OSU instructor of zoology, their unusual thigh complex and the way it supports the lungs is “fundamental to bird physiology.” Quick noted that “It’s really strange that no one realized this before. The position of the thigh bone and muscles in birds is critical to their lung function, which in turn is what gives them enough lung capacity for flight.” This only adds to other evidence that birds likely did not evolve from dinosaurs – such as the feathers, wings, bones and unique locomotion and lung system that is peculiar to birds – and supports the relatively new theory that they evolved separately on a parallel path to these extinct creatures.

Herald Petrel (Pterodroma arminjoniana)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Herald Petrel (Pterodroma arminjoniana) is a medium-sized bird belonging to the Procellariidae family. It is a sea bird and spends much of its life on or above the ocean, only really visiting nesting grounds during breeding season. It is generally found below the Equator but you may find these birds as far north as North Carolina on occasion. One of their more notable breeding grounds is that of Raine Island and other small cays in the Coral Sea where it can forage comfortably in the surrounding ocean. When looking for breeding grounds, the Herald Petrel favors warm islands with soils that are well suited for nesting burrows. It feeds on squid and crustaceans which it skims from just below the surface of the water with its bill only to be ingested later whilst the bird is in flight.

When you look at the Herald Petrel, you will find that its body measures roughly 36-41 cm in length with a wingspan of 97-102 cm. Generally speaking, the whole bird is gray with some green showing on the nape and upper tail. The body has no patterning whatsoever. The Herald Petrel also has a hooked, seabird-shaped bill and a pointed tail. The wings are also quite pointed in shape while the legs are pink in color. Birdwatchers should note that there are three different color morphs of the Herald Petrel: light, intermediate and dark. The light morph has a white chest and belly, while its upper parts are a dark gray. The dark morph has a dark grey body overall with a silver-grey or white base on its under-wing flight feathers. The intermediate morph is mixture of the light and dark morph.

When the time comes for the Herald Petrel to breed, both sexes will work together to excavate or clean out a burrow. Once this is done, the female lays only one egg in a sparse, un-lined burrow and both the male and female share incubation duties. After 49-54 days, the eggs hatch and a new Herald Petrel is born. Herald Petrels have only one brood a year.

Evolution

February 9, 2009 by  
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Scientists theorize that birds evolved from dinosaurs. This theory for the evolution of birds was brought about by the discovery of a fossil species possessing feathers. This fossil species called Archaeopteryx lithographica dates back to 150 million years ago and is thought to have evolved from dinosaurs called theropods. Archaeopteryx lithographica had two strong legs and walked as a bird does. Its skeleton was reptilian whilst it had the feathers of a bird. Recently, two other feathered dinosaur species were discovered in China. Scientists believe that this adds further proof to the theory of the evolution of birds from dinosaurs.

Other Scientist argue that birds evolved a long period of time before Archaeopteryx. They theorize that the evolution of birds occurred from 4 legged reptiles that died out with the dinosaurs. Such scientists believe that the actual ancestors of our birds today only appeared some 65 to 53 million years ago. This view is not popular amongst scientists though.

There are two theories as to why feathers would have developed in the evolution of birds. One is that because the ancestors of birds where becoming warm-blooded, they required the insulation of feathers. Another is that they develop due to a need for flight and gliding. Whilst many creatures have been and are able to fly, feather-powered flight is unique. This ability to fly gave birds the competitive edge as they could travel over greater distances and areas whilst seeking food. This also allowed them to live in places inaccessible to other animals.

Bird species have adapted to fit into various niches (a place and purpose in relation to the entire ecological community). They have developed instincts to feed, breed and migrate in a way that is species specific.

Birds today continue to adapt to the changing conditions of the world. Unfortunately, these changing conditions have seen many species become extinct. However, increasing awareness of the need to protect the environment and the animals who live in it may ensure that future generations will continue to enjoy these fascinating creatures.

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