AEWA: Supporting Habitat Conservation for Migratory Birds

July 2, 2013 by  
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Administered by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and developed in line with the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) is a program devoted to the conservation of migratory waterbirds and their habitats in Africa, the Middle East, Europe, Central Asia, the Canadian Archipelago and Greenland. This calls for the cooperation of governmental authorities in these regions, as well as the wider conservation community, to develop conservation principles that can be applied successfully to the management of migratory waterbirds along all their migratory routes.

The 255 AEWA-monitored species cross international borders during their annual migration and need suitable habitats as stop-over and breeding sites. Cooperation between countries along their routes is essential to ensure the survival of many of these species, which include grebes, divers, pelicans, herons, cormorants, storks, ibises, spoonbills, rails, cranes, gulls terns, auks, frigate birds and more.

As of June 1, 2013, seventy-one countries and the European Union are involved in the AEWA program, cooperating with one another in the interest of the birds. Representatives from these member countries meet every two to three years to review progress made and plan the way ahead. The first meeting was held in November 1999 in Cape Town, South Africa, with subsequent meetings being held in September 2002 in Bonn, Germany; in October 2005 in Dakar, Senegal; September 2008 in Antananarivo, Madagascar; and the most recent being held in May 2012 in La Rochelle, France.

Countries that have joined AEWA are legally bound to carry out core activities as outlined in the organizations Action Plan. The current action plan is valid until 2015 and includes legal measures that protect the habitat, eggs and birds of the identified migratory species, with certain exceptions if the bird population is deemed sustainable or if it poses a danger to crops, water and fisheries. The Action Plan also covers strategies for conserving specific species, emergency measures for species deemed in danger, and methods of re-establishing populations in their traditional range. Habitat conservation is covered in detail, as is the establishment and control of eco-tourism, as well as the education of personnel responsible for implementation of the Action Plan and members of the public.

Birding enthusiasts, who gather to greet the masses of migratory birds that have successfully completed their annual, often treacherous journey, can do so in the knowledge that organizations such as the AEWA are playing a vital role in the success of this marvel of nature.

Making a Difference with Bird-Safe Buildings

April 23, 2013 by  
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Completed in 2010, the Aqua skyscraper in Chicago has been applauded for its revolutionary design and aesthetic appeal, but what is of particular interest to bird conservation groups is the fact that the building is bird-safe. Garnering the approval of PETA and the American Bird Conservancy, the 86-floor building is designed in such a way as to minimize the risk of birds colliding into its windows – a major cause of bird deaths and injury in metropolitan areas. This is achieved, in part, by the undulating concrete terraces which, along with ceramic in the glass, break reflections off the windows. The building is reportedly being reviewed for LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification.

Although the New York City Audubon Society in 2007 published a set of guidelines related to designing bird-safe buildings, research has revealed that these are seldom taken into account even when designing environmentally friendly buildings. Even LEED, which is fast becoming a sought after certification for green buildings, only awards one point for the bird-safe factor of a building and does not make it a stipulated requirement. Toronto and Chicago are among the cities promoting bird-safe building design, but as yet there is no nationally recognized certification or requirement for this.

With more and more birds being forced to adapt to city living as their rural territory is encroached on by development, environmentalists are tallying up the casualties, estimating that throughout North America up to 100 million birds are killed every year as a direct result of colliding with high-rise buildings, and even more than that number are injured. Moreover, in an effort to reduce their carbon footprint, some architects attempt to make the most of natural light by installing larger windows, thereby creating even more of a hazard to birds. Some progress has been made in producing window glass or glass coatings to reduce the risk, such as the German-made Ornilux, but for any meaningful change to come about architects need to seriously take the welfare of birds into account when designing new buildings.

Environmental Monitoring With the Help of Birds

January 1, 2013 by  
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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.

Waterbird Conservation in the African-Eurasian Flyway

October 9, 2012 by  
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As a joint effort between BirdLife International and Wetlands International, and supported by UNEP-GEF (the United Nations Environment Program -Global Environment Facility) and a number of donors and partners, Wings Over Wetlands was the first international wetland and waterbird conservation project to take place in the African-Eurasian flyway region. The project initially ran over four years (2006-2010) and enlisted the aid of international conservation organizations and national governments to support migratory waterbirds in the African-Eurasian region.

Wings Over Wetlands (WOW) also supported field projects in eleven wetland areas in twelve countries within the region – Haapsalu-Noarootsi Bays in Estonia; Biharugra Fishponds in Hungary; Nemunas River Delta in Lithuania; Banc D’Arguin National Park in Mauritania; Namga-Kokorou Complex in Niger; Hadejia-Nguru Wetlands in Nigeria; Saloum-Niumi Complex in Senegal and Gambia; Wakkerstroom Wetlands in South Africa; Dar Es Salaam Wetlands in Tanzania; Burdur Gölü in Turkey and Aden Wetlands in Yemen.

While the original WOW project has run its course, leading international conservation organizations dedicated to protecting of waterbirds and their habitats developed the Critical Site Network (CSN) Tool giving easy access to information on the sites deemed critical for waterbird species. As one of the major achievements of the WOW project the CSN tool provides information for more than 300 migratory waterbird species, highlighting what can be achieved when like-minded conservation organizations work together. This wealth of information assists authorities at local, national and international level to identify the network of sites essential to specific waterbird species, thereby enhancing conservation efforts.

The WOW project also strengthened the implementation of AEWA – the African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement – which lists 255 species of birds that are dependent on wetlands for their annual migration and breeding cycle. These include many species of pelicans, grebes, cormorants, divers, herons, rails, storks, ibises, flamingos, spoonbills, ducks, geese, swans, waders, cranes and gulls. Parties to the agreement are required to implement conservation measures set out in the AEWA Action Plan, including habitat conservation, research and education projects and management of human activities. The 5th session of AEWA representatives was held in La Rochelle, France on 14-18 May 2012, under the theme of “Migratory Waterbirds and People – Sharing Wetlands”.

Physical Traits and Genetics in Pigeons

February 15, 2012 by  
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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.

Birds Say No Thank You to Organic Wheat

June 11, 2010 by  
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Organic farming has become vital to the conservation of the environment and has been shown to have more health benefits than conventional farming that makes use of fertilizers and other aids to improve their crops. Scientists, therefore, were not testing the health benefits of organic farming when they decided to test which type of grain birds would prefer. Previous testing was done over very short periods of time, but the latest studies have proven that, when given a choice, birds prefer conventionally grown seeds to organic foods.

Dr Ailsa McKenzie from the Newcastle University, together with Dr Mark Whittingham, decided to run a study of their own, in the lab and in the wild, to see how birds would react to the choices given to them. They decided to give the birds enough time to be able to differentiate between the two seeds. As expected, the birds ate from both bowls only for a short period of time. Once the birds began to notice the difference in the organic and conventionally grown seeds, they ate from the conventionally grown bowl of seeds more than sixty percent of the time. After running their studies in the laboratory, they moved their research to forty-seven gardens in the surrounding area. Bird feeders were placed in the gardens and the studies were conducted over two winter periods, for six weeks and then eight weeks. This experiment also proved to show that birds chose the conventionally farmed seeds over the organic feed.

Scientists do not believe that their choice has anything to do with the taste or health benefits, but rather the protein content of the seeds. Once back in the laboratory, seeds were again taken from over-fertilized crops and given to canaries, with a selection of low-protein organic seeds. Again, the birds showed more interest in the high-protein seeds. Inorganic nitrogen, which is used by farmers, eventually becomes protein, and it has been discovered that birds will rather eat protein rich feed than organic seeds. Dr McKenzie also stressed that these findings have no bearing on human diets, as seeds and wheat are not sources of protein for humans. The study has, however, shed light on the dietary habits and preferences of birds and their nutritional needs.

ScrubJay Festival 2010

January 20, 2010 by  
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The Scrub Jay Festival 2010, will take place on 20 February, and is an initiative that is hosted by the Lyonia Environmental Center to raise awareness for the plight of the Scrub Jay. It is a bird that is only found in Florida, and nests in habitats where scrub is in abundance. They are currently a threatened species, with encroachment on their habitat being a major threat, and the festival hopes to educate the public on this unique bird. Guided walks, talks to promote conservation, live music performances and activities for children will keep festival goers entertained and amazed throughout the day.

To find out more about the festival and its activities, contact the Lyonia Environmental Center direct, of visit their website at http://lyoniapreserve.com/LEC1-6-10.htm.

Date: 20 February 2010
Venue: Lyonia Environmental Center
City: Deltona, Florida
Country: United States of America

Caring for a Lost Bird

November 25, 2009 by  
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The most terrifying experience for a bird owner is to have their beloved pet bird escape and fly away. Fears for their well-being and safety are overwhelming. Equally difficult to deal with is finding a lost bird in your garden and not knowing how to care for it until alternative arrangements can be made, or the original owners can be found. Not everyone has a spare bird cage lying around the house, and if the bird was able to make it to its new destination, the chances of him flying off again are pretty good.

Lost birds are often found near homes as they are scared and confused by their unfamiliar surroundings, and over and above the fear of not knowing how to return home, they are hungry and thirsty. One can almost always lure a pet bird into your home or near enough to place a towel over them for capture with food, water, calling and a lot of patience. Once captured, it is essential to remember the basic needs of a bird and to reduce stress as it can be fatal. Trying to touch the bird or befriend it can cause an aggressive reaction, which is due to the stress of a new environment and fear.

It is suggested that a lost bird be placed in a small bathroom or unused room, without a lot of noise and disturbance, where it is able to relax and feel safe. Any room should be made bird friendly, by removing any toxic bottles, closing all toilets and taking away any item that could be damaged by the bird through chewing on it. Birds are also more comfortable if they are perched and with food and water be placed near to where they perched. A backed chair can be useful in this regard. Getting down to a pet shop to get a packet of seeds is recommended, but if that is not an option, fruits, unsalted nuts, vegetables and cooked pasta (without sauce or seasoning) can also be offered. Foods to stay away from, which can cause serious harm to a bird, include onions, alcohol, avocado and chocolate. If a bird is not perching itself or it is suspected that the bird might be injured, the assistance of a veterinarian is strongly advised. The reunion between a grateful owner and lost pet is always worth the effort.

Eclectus Parrot Ownership is Rewarding

October 30, 2009 by  
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When people look for a pet bird to join their family, most owners want a one that can be affectionate, a great companion and that has the ability to fit into their daily routines. The Eclectus parrot is often overlooked as a pet bird, and owners unknowingly miss out on the opportunity to enjoy a bird that is loving, intelligent and easily manageable, if they know what their basic needs are. This breathtakingly beautiful bird is not demanding at all and is actually one of the best pet parrots on the market today.

The most distinguishing feature of the Eclectus parrot is the fact that they are dimorphic. Dimorphic means that one can distinguish between the males and females just by looking at them. In the case of the Eclectus, it is the vastly different coloring that makes it easy. The male Eclectuses are covered in green plumage with variations of orange, blue and red under their wings. Their beaks are also unusually orange in color. The females are just as attractive as the males, but have bright red plumage covering their heads and neck, with their backs and chest being purple in color and their wings displaying variations of purple and blue underneath. The females have smooth black beaks. Another unique feature is the fact that the Eclectus parrot has hair-like feathers on their heads, back and chest, opposed to the smooth, locked and contoured feathers on their wings and tails.

As pets, owners will find their Eclectus parrot to be extremely gentle and fond of interaction, even though they will never demand it. They are able to integrate into the daily routines of their owners quite easily and will sit quietly while daily duties are being performed. Through enough love and care, Eclectus parrots will be able to learn a large vocabulary and their inquisitiveness makes them quick learners. They are highly intelligent birds and will quickly notice small changes in their environment. The Eclectus species is generally a healthy bird with a life span of approximately fifty years. They have simple dietary needs of fruit and seeds and enjoy changes made in their food, such as grapes one day and maybe apples the next. Owners will not regret adding an Eclectus parrot to their family, as their gentle and friendly natures make them a pet family and friends can enjoy.

Bird Safety

February 9, 2009 by  
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Due to the adventurous nature of birds it is essential to ensure that their environment is safe.

The first safety precautions to consider are to do with the bird’s immediate environment – its cage. The spacing between the bars of a bird cage must be narrow so that your bird will not get its head stuck. Bars that are of a small diameter are easily bent and can make the gaps larger and less safe. There are a variety of feeding and watering bowls available and these must be selected carefully with the bird’s safety in mind. It is important to use the bowls designed for the holders as gaps will provide opportunity for toes to get stuck. Be sure to secure “guillotine”; type cage doors as some birds may try to lift these and get their heads caught. Look out for cages made of materials that may contain poisonous zinc or brass. Spring loaded latches can also be dangerous for toes and beaks.

Safety in feeding is another aspect to look at. Foods that are bought in bulk and then repackaged are not a good idea as they may be contaminated. Rather purchase food in the packaging of the manufacturer, even if it is slightly more expensive.

Many people recommend that a bird’s wings be clipped so as to prevent it from flying into trouble around the house. If your bird is permitted to leave its cage, it is vital to bird-proof your home for your bird’s safety, and to always know where it is. Many things around the house may prove toxic to birds, to name a few: crayons, various household cleaners, insecticides, lead-based paint, nicotine and table salt. It is also advisable not to let the bird out the cage when cooking or cleaning, as it may consume the wrong things or get burnt on ovens and stoves. Resist the desire to have your bird sleep with you, as sadly, many people have awoken to find their birds have been crushed.

Certain toys can also compromise your bird’s safety. Toys made from fabric may have threads in which the bird may tangle his/her feet or neck. Key rings are often used to attach hanging toys to the cage, however alternatives would be better as beaks, tongues and toes can get caught in these. Rope toys with loose threads may also entangle your bird.

The best thing to do is to carefully watch your bird’s activities around its cage and the external environment and try to predict any possible dangers to your bird’s safety. Rather safe than sorry!

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