14th Annual Great Salt Lake Bird Festival

March 6, 2012 by  
Filed under Events

The 14th Annual Great Salt Lake Bird Festival will turn the spotlight on Northern Utah’s many fantastic birding sports. Keynote speaker for the event will be Greg Miller, a renowned name in the world of competitive birding. The workshops are aimed at getting young ones and families involved in birding, how to interact with live birds and more. There will be a number of activities tailored to the youth, while birders can enjoy many hours of searching on various feild trips during the Great Salt Lake Bird Festival.

Dates: 17 to 21 May 2012
Venue: Davis County Legacy Events Center
Location: Farmington
State: Utah
Country: United States of America

Physical Traits and Genetics in Pigeons

February 15, 2012 by  
Filed under Features

Believed to have been domesticated in the Mediterranean region up to 5,000 years ago, pigeons are providing new insight into the role of genetics in the development of physical traits. A study being carried out by the University of Utah, in the United States, has revealed that there is an enormous amount of diversity among these birds, with more than 350 breeds of pigeons differing in body size, color, patterning, beak size and shape, posture, skeletal structure, vocalizations, flight behavior and feather placement. Enlisting the help of pigeon breeders around the world, the study focused on the visible traits and genetic relationships of 361 pigeons representing 70 domestic breeds, as well as populations on the Isle of Skye in Scotland and Salt Lake City, Utah.

Michael Shapiro, assistant professor of biology at the University of Utah, and the senior author of the study which was published in the journal Current Biology earlier this year, noted that it was observed during the study that similar traits can be found in birds that are distantly related, and conversely, closely related birds can at times look quite different. Among the examples cited to support the study is the fact that both the English trumpeter pigeon and the German owl pigeon have crested head feathers despite not being closely related. Furthermore, English trumpeters have feathers on their feet similar to that of English pouters, and yet the two species are not closely related, as is the case of the short beaks shared by the African owl pigeon and the Budapest short-faced tumbler. On the other hand, the closely related African owl and German owl pigeon have short beaks in common, but the African owl has plain head feathers, with the German owl sporting a head crest.

Other interesting findings of the study include the fact that free-living pigeons, such as those commonly found in cities, particularly around statues, carry the DNA of racing pigeons. Some of the traits found in pigeons are likely as a result of selective breeding, as is the case with other domesticated animals, such as dogs, but many of the traits found in pigeons are as a result of adapting to their environment. Shapiro pointed out that many different animals use the same genes in order to build similar body structures, and if scientists can understand which genes are behind normal diversity in the wild through the study of pigeons, this knowledge could ultimately provide insight into diversity in humans, including human disease.

American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos)

February 9, 2009 by  
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As the name might suggest, the American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) is predominantly white in color with black plumage on its wings, and is approximately 60 inches in length with a 110 inch wingspan. They have very long, orange bills with pouches on their lower mandibles, and short legs with large webbed feet. Another very unique characteristic of the American White Pelican’s beak is that males develop a fibrous plate on the upper part of their beaks during the mating season.

The American White Pelican is an extremely social bird, and is always found in colonies, or in the company of a friend. They are also family orientated, and therefore they will breed and rear their families in the safety of the colony. They tend to nest on islands and quiet areas, where the female can lay two to four white eggs, with a one month incubation period. Nests are built on the ground, using grass, reeds and sticks. Both parents take an active role in the rearing of their young, as both male and female pelicans will participate in feeding. The adult birds are very quiet, with the exception of the occasional grunt. The young however, will make themselves heard by squealing noisily.

As the American White Pelican feeds on fish, they are found in coastal areas, near lakes and even in marshes. That includes areas such as Utah, northern California, southwestern Minnesota, northeastern South Dakota and Colorado. Occasionally, the pelicans can be seen on the coast of Texas. During the winter months, they are known to migrate to the Pacific Coast.

It might seem to be impossible for birds of their size to float on top of the water, but the American White Pelican has the advantage of air-filled bones and air sacs that are located in their bodies. In contrast to other pelican species that dive from great heights to catch food, the White Pelican simply glides around, scooping fish out the water with its immense pouch. As the pelican is bound to scoop as much water as he does fish, the pouch is able to hold about 3 gallons of water. And instead of swallowing gallons of water with his meal, he bends his bill downward to drain the water, and then lifts his head up, to let his catch slide down his throat. An adult American White Pelican can eat approximately four pounds of fish a day, with preferred choices being that of jackfish, shiners, catfish, carp and yellow perch.

Greater Roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Greater Roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus) is not purple and does not cry “Beep Beep” when ready to speed away. It does, however, run at great speeds and is extremely agile. At fifteen to seventeen miles per hour, it can give most animals a run for their money. The Greater Roadrunner is 22 inches in length, and is part of the cuckoo family. The Roadrunner is predominantly dark brown, with white spots and white belly. Their eyes are yellow and there is bare skin around the eye, with post-ocular streaks. A dark crest of plumage on the head can be raised and lowered. The Roadrunner has blue legs and beak, and the feet are zygodactylous. Zygodactylous means that the feet have two toes pointing forward and two backward. The males and females are similar in coloring and appearance.

Greater Roadrunners are generally found in New Mexico, California, Utah and most regions in the southern United States. The Roadrunners prefer desert areas that have both scattered brush areas and open land. Open grasslands allow the Roadrunner to reach top speed that enables them to catch fast moving lizards, rodents, insects and snakes. They do also feed on specific seeds and fruits at times. This bird might look comical and harmless, but they are fierce predators. Running toward their prey and catching flying insects and small birds out the air, are both hunting techniques that are used by the Greater Roadrunner. It uses its tail as a rudder to maneuver and change direction when running.

Not every year is a fierce fight for a mate during breeding season, as Greater Roadrunners mate for life. Males that have not found a suitable partner will either chase the female, entice them with food or bow in front of the female to catch her attention. Nesting is determined by the rainfall a region receives, meaning that in a region where only one rainfall period is experienced, there will be only one nesting period, and nesting will take place in both August and September in a region that has two rainfall periods. Rainfall ensures that there will be enough resources for both the parents and the chicks. The male Greater Roadrunners will collect building material for the nests and the female is responsible for the construction. Nests are built off the ground, as Roadrunners are capable of flight, although rarely used. The female can lay between two to eight eggs, and both parents assist in the 20 day incubation period. The chicks are able to fledge the nest after only 18 to 21 days, but are still fed by their parents for up to 40 days.

Greater Roadrunners are also very territorial and do not migrate. They can live between 7 to 8 years of age, and sexual maturity is only reached between the ages of two to three years. They are very inquisitive birds, and have very unusual skills to cope with the extremely warm conditions in which they live. They are able to enter into hypothermia in the evenings, which assists them to conserve energy. During the midday heat, they will reduce their activity, and they are also able to conserve water.