Environmental Monitoring With the Help of Birds

January 1, 2013 by  
Filed under Features

While climate change and global warming are an ongoing cause for concern, monitoring the environment is a costly and time consuming activity for conservationists to carry out without help from local experts – of the feathered variety. Birds are tremendously valuable in assisting conservationists and researchers to pick up changes in the environment and species diversity, enabling them to take action where possible to prevent a bad situation from becoming a catastrophe.

Science has come a long way since canaries were used to detect toxic gases in coalmines, but birds continue to be the most effective sentinel species on the planet. The reasons for this are many and include the fact that birds are found all over the world, in all types of habitats, both in the wild and in urban settings. They are sensitive and adaptive to environmental changes and are relatively easy to monitor as they are highly visible. Birds are among the most researched animals on the planet and with bird watching being a popular activity around the world, birders are often keen to participate as citizen scientists in research projects and organized bird counts. Birding clubs and Audubon societies all over the world get involved in the gathering of data, which can then be coordinated by scientists. Moreover, there exists a wealth of historical data on the activities of birds, providing a baseline against which to compare current data. As birds include species that feed on a wide variety of food sources, they are vulnerable to the accumulation of toxins in both plants and animals they eat, thereby providing an indicator on soil, air and water pollution levels.

As birds are acutely in tune with seasonal cycles, even subtle changes in behavior, feeding and breeding patterns can alert scientists to broader environmental changes. Changes in arrival and departure times of migratory bird species have been linked to changes in temperature, ocean currents and wind patterns. Feeding and breeding patterns of marine predators and seabirds offer scientists the opportunity to monitor the health of the world’s oceans and seas and with many species the timing and success of breeding is dependent on food availability.

When birds seemingly inexplicably fall out of the sky, as was reported in Arkansas and New Jersey earlier this year, scientists will try to solve the mystery, because when birds are in distress, it is very likely an indicator that something is very wrong in the environment.

Unique Birds of the Philippines

November 1, 2010 by  
Filed under Miscellaneous

There is a good chance that the Philippines might have to change their conservation efforts when it comes to bird species. If the studies performed by Dr. David Lohman are correct, the Philippines could have more unique bird species than previously thought, and this would most certainly force the Philippine authorities to become stricter in regard to conserving these extraordinary birds. According to Dr. Lohman, it is one of the areas in the world that is overflowing with biodiversity and is astonishing in every way.

Over seven thousand islands make up the Philippines, and its wildlife is considered to be truly unique. Almost seventy-seven percent of the amphibians on the islands and sixty-four percent of the land mammals cannot be seen or found anywhere else in the world. When it comes to the bird life on the islands, it was believed that only thirty-one percent of the birds in the Philippines were endemic. Professor David Lohman then took it upon himself to begin a study to find out if some of the bird fauna could deliver distinct bird species that have not been recognized before. He decided to concentrate mainly on seven perching bird species, and by following the genetic lineages of these species, Professor Lohman has been able to determine a distinct history in regard to these bird species. In previous years, taxonomists would identify bird species through the color of their plumage and various markings found on birds, but Professor Lohman has pointed out that this form of identification is not accurate enough, saying: “Those features are not ideal, since closely related but distinct species can look similar.”

Due to the distance between the Philippines and the Asian mainland, it is believed that contact between mainland birds and those on the islands would be minimal, if none at all. By following the evolution of the bird species, Professor Lohman has found that a great number of Philippine populations were unique and not found in various Southeast Asia regions. “These unique genetic lineages were unknown before, however, our research hasn’t gone far enough to say these are new species”, explained Lohman, continuing by adding that “more rigorous analysis of the morphology may be needed to make that determination.”

The Americas IBA Directory

May 19, 2010 by  
Filed under Features

The conservation of rare birdlife has been the focus of Birdlife International for many years. In 1995 they began a project by the name of IBA, or Important Bird Area Program, to pinpoint areas across the globe that are home to endangered species, identifying the various species and protecting those areas to assist in conserving vital birdlife. At present, more than ten thousand of these areas have been identified, and conservation and environmental initiatives have been implemented. Now a new program has been established, namely the Americas IBA Directory.

Hundreds of bird species will benefit from the Americas IBA Directory, as it will be a guideline for both conservationists and for authorities. The directory covers 57 different countries and has 2 345 of the most significant areas listed that need to be protected at all costs. Authorities will be able to refer to the directory to find out which of their areas are vital to the survival of birdlife, which bird species are located in that area and the biodiversity of the area, to enable them to take the right steps in protecting the natural habitat and the birds. Some areas that have been listed are significant in the migratory patterns of certain species, while others are crucial nesting sites for numerous endangered birds. Due to a number of these areas being inhabited by local communities, also relying on the natural resources such as water, authorities can assist these communities with sustainable development that will not only benefit the communities but the birdlife as well.

Hundreds of organizations have provided support and assistance in the compiling of the Americas IBA Directory. President of Bird Studies Canada, George Finney, explained: “From breeding grounds in Canada, to wintering sites in the south, and all points in between, it is imperative that we understand what is happening to bird populations and the forces that drive change. Bird Studies Canada is proud to work closely with our international partners on this issue, so that better management decisions and conservation actions can be taken.” A large number of agencies will be working together as IBA Caretakers, tracking migratory patterns and data in regard to bird populations, to note changes being made by the birds, and keeping the IBA Directory as up to date and accurate as possible.

Birding at Algonquin Park in Ontario

February 9, 2010 by  
Filed under Features

The Algonquin Provincial Park was established in the year 1893 to protect the headwaters of the area’s five major rivers. The beauty and biodiversity of the park has inspired many books and paintings, and thousands of visitors are welcomed to the park each year. Located in one of the most picturesque areas of Ontario, Canada, the Algonquin Provincial Park offers tourists tranquility, beauty and a large variety of activities. One particularly popular activity in the park is bird watching.

The fact that Algonquin Provincial Park has approximately seven thousand insect species in the park might sound insignificant to some, but without the insects, the pollination of plant life would not happen and the habitats in which the birds and animals live would no longer exist. The varied vegetation provides both animal and bird life with vital resources. Also found in the park, are two forest types, namely the coniferous forests and southern hardwood forests, creating a home for a vast number of different birds. Visitors and avid bird watchers can therefore look forward to seeing birds such as the Brown Thrasher, Indigo Bunting, Spruce Grouse, Wood Thrush, Boreal Chikadee, Gray Jay, Common Loon and many others that form part of the 272 species in the park. In addition, the Algonquin Provincial Park offers bird related programs such as Birds in Winter, Owl Prowl and Bird Adaptations. Talks are also held in the evenings in the park’s outdoor theatre, covering a wide variety of topics related to the park. Guided tours are available as well as a bird species checklist.

After a day of bird watching visitors can explore other features at the park, such as the picnic areas, stores, bookstore, backpacking trails, museum, art centre, restaurants and beaches. There are also a few lodges in the park enabling visitors to extend their stay and maybe explore the breathtaking bird life found along the rivers on the canoe routes. Bird watching in Canada is a rewarding experience and the Algonquin Provincial Park offers visitors everything they could need for an unforgettable bird watching adventure and family vacation.

Common Bird Numbers Declining

September 23, 2008 by  
Filed under Features

Previously birds such as the cuckoo, turtle dove and nightingale were thought to be amongst the world’s most common bird species. However it seems that even these birds are now at risk, with each of these species suffering massive slumps in their overall population numbers during the past half century.

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Bird Watchers and Advanced Technology Contribute to Complex Biodiversity Study

June 26, 2008 by  
Filed under Features

Dedicated volunteer bird-watchers covered around 3,500 routes across the United States, Canada and Alaska as participants in the North American Breeding Bird survey. This data is being used by the Montana State University (MSU) in a study that examines biodiversity across North America. Together with additional information gathered by a satellite sensor developed at the university, researchers are gaining tremendous insight on issues such as conservation and land use.

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First Bird Route Opened in Central America

June 13, 2008 by  
Filed under Features

With more and more people trying their hands at bird-watching, there is a greater need to develop sustainable bird-watching opportunities around the world. Some places have a particularly high concentration of birds and this makes them ideal bird-watching destinations. But without some sort of supportive infrastructure in place, it can be difficult, daunting or nearly impossible for the average bird watcher to visit such locations. The first protected zone in Central America is providing bird lovers with the unique opportunity to immerse themselves in a world of color and beauty.

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