Searching for Magnetoreceptors in Birds

April 24, 2012 by  
Filed under Features

The theory that navigational skills in some birds may be influenced by iron particles in their beaks reacting to the magnetic field of the earth, has recently been refuted by scientists at Vienna’s Institute of Molecular Pathology. Acknowledging that the new discovery was somewhat disappointing, molecular biologist David Keays noted that the mystery of how animals detect magnetic fields had become even more mysterious.

Using 3D scanners on slivers of pigeon beak, researchers found that the particles which had previously been thought to react with the earth’s magnetic field were in fact macrophages with normal amounts of organic iron to protect the birds from infection. These cells have no ability to produce electric signals to communicate with brain cells and are therefore unable to influence the pigeon’s behavior. These same cells were also found in other parts of the bird’s body and are found in other animals, particularly in the spleen, lungs, and skin, where they play an essential role in recycling iron from red blood cells and fight against infection. The findings were confirmed by scientists from the University of Western Australia – Jeremy Shaw and Martin Saunders – who were also working on the study.

Keays was reported as saying that the new discovery should not be seen as a set-back as it puts scientists on the right path to finding magnetic cells. The general consensus remains that birds, and a significant number of other animals, detect the magnetic field of the earth and use it for navigation. So it stands to reason that they must have cells facilitating this, although in the case of birds, it has been suggested they may make use of landmarks or sunlight for navigation as well.

Scientists will continue in their quest to understand how migratory birds interact with the earth’s magnetic fields, with the hope of linking their findings to other species with homing habits, including sea turtles, rainbow trout and bees. Although the project has its challenges, Keays believes that learning how nature detects magnetic fields could lead to the creation of artificial magnetoreceptors with the potential of treating human medical conditions, particularly relating to the brain.

Mites and Chickens

August 30, 2011 by  
Filed under Features

Most people do not realize chickens can contract mites. However, this is actually a pretty common problem with our outdoor bird friends. It is generally noticed with feathers falling out, itching, and even bald patches, accompanied by nervousness and staring off into space. Later comes nerve damage; a white, scaly crest; and death.

This is hard to treat after your birds get it. If one of your chickens has contracted mites isolate it from the others. Rub Frontline or Advantix for small kittens on the neck, in the ‘wingpits’, a bit by the vent, and just a tiny drop on the back. Do not overdose. Only do this once. Then you can spray commercial, made-for birds’ mite spray on and around the bird for about a week. Quarintine the chicken for about forty days. Spray it every Monday and Friday when quarantined. If mites persist take your bird to avian vet as soon as possible.

Clean the structure of the other birds with lots of disinfectant to prevent them from getting mites. Hang a mite protector on the wire. Spray the other birds with the remainder of the commercial mite remover. Make sure they have plenty of dust to bathe in; this generally removes lice. Clean yourself well too, because if you have indoor parrots you do not want to give the lice to them. Sometimes outdoor birds can spread the mites, while if you race pigeons they may come back with them. Remember, if not treated quickly this ailment can be fatal in rare cases. If you can afford it the best thing to do is take your whole flock to the vet for treatment. It is actually as common for a chicken to get mites as a pigeon despite the belief that pigeons are always infested with the pesky bugs. Due to the fact this must be treated quickly always be on the lookout for mites in your flock. Even if your flock doesn’t have mites, have these items on hand :

2 bottles of commercial mitespray
1 mite protecter that you can hang on chicken wire
1 bag of commercial chicken dust for dust baths
1 carrier so you can transport birds to the vet

As long as you keep the cages/coops clean you should not have problems.

Article contributed by: Eliza Kuklinski.

The views and advice expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Birds.com

Six Foreign Species Fall under Endangered Species Act

August 16, 2011 by  
Filed under News

Many bird species across the world have been placed under protection, as the importance of conserving them has become necessary. Due to their declining numbers, ornithologist have been submitting requests for at least seventy species to be noted in the Endangered Species Act since the 1980s. These species were submitted from all over the world, and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service confirmed that most of these bird species submitted would come under the Endangered Species Act. Now six foreign bird species have been entered onto this database.

To speed up the process of getting the suggested list of endangered bird species recognized, the Centre for Biological Diversity began legal proceedings in the years 2004 and in 2006, and by 2008 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a list that featured proposals for five bird species, but noted that an additional forty-five foreign species deserved to be listed as well. The Center for Biological Diversity once again put pressure on the department in 2009, which led to the agreement to extend the list and six species recently received their permanent place under the protection act. These species are the Jerdon’s Courser, Cantabrian Capercallie, Eiao Marquesas Reed Warbler, Slender Billed Curlew, Marquesan Imperial Pigeon and Greater Courser.

One would wonder why the Center for Biological Diversity could be campaigning for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to recognize foreign species, but the answer is quite simple: the restricting of the selling and purchasing of wildlife that are endangered. Once on the list, funding for conservation will increase, and it will also increase the scrutiny on areas that are at risk of development programs, preventing vital habitats to be destroyed. Agencies such as the World Bank would be required to ensure that prospective project land is not the habitat of the birds on this list.

The attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, Justin Augustine, commented that they are pleased that the birds that are bordering on extinction will now receive the protection they deserve, and that being under the Endangered Species Act gives these species a better chance of survival and will also bring attention to the urgent need to conserve the bird species that find themselves under threat of human intervention and development.

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!

Possible Insights into the Evolution of Flight

June 28, 2011 by  
Filed under Features

A study run by the University of Montana might just be able to bring clarity to the evolution of flight, as Brandon Jackson and his team conducted research into bird flight. Their findings have recently been published in the Journal of Experimental Biology. The art of flap-running by birds is the major factor discussed in the study, showing that this method could have been used by once flightless birds, and is still used by birds today to enable them to propel themselves forward. Jackson wanted to know why.

It seems that birds today will often flap their wings while walking up a slope or incline, to enable them to move forward. It is believed that this flap-run movement enables birds to take to flight. It is the same technique that is adopted by chicks, as they are unable to fly when they are born, and need to learn how to conquer this method of movement. The fact that birds are not born with flight abilities, has led researchers to believe that this very method was part of the evolution of flight. This interesting method of movement was noticed by Ken Dial while he was studying chuckars, which are part of the partridge family. After talking to locals and ranchers who have constant contact with these birds, they confirmed that most of the chuckars would rather flap-run up a hill or cliff, as it seems that it takes a lot less energy for them to flap-run instead of flying. This became very intriguing to researchers and they decided to measure how much power is being used while flap-running as opposed to flying.

They managed to record this by implanting electrodes into pigeons’ flight muscles, which could then record the muscle activity. Pigeons are very good flyers, but given inclines and ramps, the difference between flying up the incline and flap-running was analyzed. It was found that much less power was used during flap-running and that this method would therefore be crucial for chicks to learn how to fly, as well as for birds that are still developing their plumage to escape predators. This study has not only given the researchers new insight into birds but a glimpse back into the evolution of flight.

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