A Bird’s Touch

March 5, 2010 by  
Filed under Pet Birds

Nature not only surrounds us with sheer beauty but also offers an abundance of fascinating new discoveries that continue to amaze us. Just when we think we know everything about an animal or bird, they seem to prove us wrong. More recently, birds have revealed that crests and beards are not merely used for finding a mate, but serve a greater purpose, allowing them to explore their surroundings as well. Research on birds, such as the auklet, has opened up a new door into the world of birds and their feathers.

Professor Ian Jones, St John’s Memorial University, and Dr Sampath Seneviratne, University of British Columbia, shared their insights and suspicions that certain feathers on a bird’s body could serve to heighten the sense of touch. When looking at birds, such as the auklet, which have intricate feathers on their heads, scientists found that by putting them through a simple navigational test, much was revealed in regard to the role that crests and head feathers play. Using a dark maze, as this breed tends to breed in dark crevices, it was found that when the birds navigated the test, they succeeded in completing the maze with less difficulty than when researchers flattened their head feathers. It was also noted that in general, if birds have ornamental feathering, they tend to be birds that are active at night.

Researchers then looked at bird species that do not feature elaborate feathering, including pheasants, kingfishers, parrots, penguins and owls. They suggest that even if some birds do not have crests and rectal bristles, longer wing feathers may also serve as a means of touch. Many birds use their feathers and coloring to show off their abilities and to either startle or camouflage themselves from their predators, but there is good reason to believe that feathers have various other functions that we have not been aware of until now. The new insight into facial feathers and flamboyant feathering could lead to further studies,to confirm these findings and the preliminary research. This use of their feathers for touch and orientation has revealed a more complex side to birds, and will have us gazing a little more intently whenever we look at these colorful creatures of the skies.

Anting Behavior in Birds

January 14, 2010 by  
Filed under Features

Anting is a form of bird behavior that has yet to be explained by researchers and scientists. Even though hundreds of bird species engage in anting all over the world, no-one has been able to confirm the reason why birds choose to do so.

Anting can take on different forms. Some birds will pick up ants in their beaks and rub the ant over their feathers, after which they eat the ant; while others will open their wings and lie down over an active anthill and allow ants to climb up onto them. But it does seem that one part of anting remains consistent: birds prefer using ants that produce formic acid. Ants use the formic acid their bodies produce as a defense mechanism, which they spray at their attackers, but at the same time provides birds with a certain something that scientists would love to discover.

One theory on anting is that the formic acid could be used as a fungicide, bactericide and as an insect repellent, while others choose to believe that it is the vitamin D content in the acid that birds are after. This leads to another unanswered question: why do birds sometimes use alternative anting tools, such as millipedes and fruit? Some scientists believe that anting is used to preen feathers and helps prevent the drying out of their plumage, but then one again has to ask, that if only some birds include anting in their behavior, could preening really be the answer? Another suggestion that has been made is that anting has an intoxicating effect, as some birds have been known to shake and lose control over their ability to walk. Anting has been documented in a variety of species including crows, babblers, weavers, owls, turkeys, waxbills and pheasants to name but a few. And for all the research done and no lack of theories, it seems the human race will have to be satisfied with the fact that the mystery behind anting might elude us forever, and remain a small secret that nature is not willing to share.

The Mini Bird Race 2009

September 10, 2009 by  
Filed under Events

The Mini Bird Race 2009 will be hosted by the Borneo Highlands Resort, with the support of the Malaysian Nature Society, on the 4th of October 2009. Contrary to what one might expect the Mini Bird Race 2009 to consist of, only wild birds a part of this event, as it is held to promote bird species and the conservation of nature. It will be the second time that this event is hosted, because of its previous success, and the Mini Bird Race sees teams face off against each other in a race of knowledge and good bird spotting skills. Each team has a limit time to find, record and identify as many bird species as possible.

The Mini Bird Race 2009 is an extremely fun and exciting event and offers spectators the opportunity to enjoy the company and activities with fellow bird lovers. For more information in regard to this event, visit the official website at http://borneohighlands.com.my/birdrace2009.html.

Date: 4 October 2009
Venue: Penrissen Range, Borneo Highlands Resort, Kuching
City: Sarawak
Country: Malaysia

Bird Migration Influenced by Toxic Molecule

July 20, 2009 by  
Filed under Features

As scientists and biologists continue to struggle to discover exactly what causes birds to migrate with such accuracy, it seems new breakthroughs continue to be made. A recent discovery reported in the June Biophysical Journal sheds exciting new light on a still relatively misunderstood process of nature.

The discovery was made by Klaus Schulten (Swanlund Chair in Physics at Illinois) and his collaborator Ilia Solov’yov (Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies). It seems that Solov’yov did not know that the molecule known as superoxide was toxic and was using it in studies of the biomechanical process of the cryptochrome protein found in the eye of a bird. Superoxide is a toxic molecule that is known to damage cells and cause disease. Now it seems it also plays a constructive role in the process that enables birds to ‘visualise’ the Earth’s magnetic field.

It turns out that superoxide is an ideal reaction partner when paired with the cryptochrome protein. In 2000 it was discovered that this protein plays a key role in the development of a bird’s geomagnetic sense, since chemical reactions can take place in the protein in response to magnetic fields. However magnetic fields interact so weakly with molecules that up until now it was virtually impossible to understand how these reactions could take place. It was thought that changes in the electromagnetic field, such as would occur when the bird changed direction while flying, would have an effect on freely tumbling spins of electrons in the birds eye which would essentially serve as a compass that pointed north or south. Researchers then supposed that the cryptochrome recruited a reaction partner with ‘zero-spin’ and it was proposed that oxygen was that partner.

Now it seems researchers had it backwards. It may not be oxygen, but rather its close cousin superoxide, that serves as the reaction partner in this process. Initially the toxicity of the molecule caused Klaus Schulten to dismiss the idea presented by Solov’yov. But then he realized that the toxicity of the molecule was actually crucial to the role it played in the process. Most living organisms, such as birds, have mechanisms for reducing the concentrations of superoxide in the body to prevent it from damaging the organism. The molecule needs to be present – but only in low concentrations. In birds, it is the presence of this molecule that makes the biomechanical compass work effectively.

North West Bird Watching Festival – A Fun Family Outing

November 13, 2008 by  
Filed under Features

If you’re looking for a great weekend’s activity for the whole family, you’ll find that the North West Bird Watching Festival is exactly what you’re looking for. This great event will prove to be both educational and recreational, helping families to reconnect with nature whilst at the same time helping them to buy out time from stressful lives and learning more about how to look after our endangered wildlife.

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