Glass Coating Offers Solution to Window-Related Bird Deaths

August 28, 2012 by  
Filed under News

Flying into glass windows they are unable to see is one of the leading causes of bird deaths in urban areas. So the invention of a glass coating which is visible to birds, while remaining transparent to humans, is welcome news. Developed by German company Arnold Glas the new product, named Ornilux, reflects ultraviolet light which birds can see, but humans cannot. Tests conducted thus far suggest that its use may reduce window-related bird strikes by 66-68%, and with ongoing efforts to improve the product, this percentage may very well be increased.

The glazing concept was inspired by the web of the Orb-weaver spider which is known to reflect ultraviolet light preventing birds from flying into it and destroying it. Upon reading an article about the Orb-weaver spider, a friend of the owner of Arnold Glas suggested using the concept to develop a coating for glass, for the same purpose as the spider has – to prevent birds from flying into it. The product development took a number of years, with a host of glass and coatings being tested and discarded, until developers discovered a coating they named Mikado – the German name for the game of pick-up-sticks, as its pattern resembles the scattered sticks.

The end product was tested at a flight tunnel situated in a US nature reserve, where birds were encouraged to fly to the end of the tunnel which had been partly covered in glass coated with Ornilux and partly with plain glass. A net was used to catch birds that fell and great care was taken to ensure that none were injured. As mentioned earlier, the results of the test revealed that the product could prevent up to 68% of bird strikes.

The coated glass has recently been installed in a lookout tower at Lindisfarne on the north-east coast of England – the first application of the new product in the UK. The lookout tower dates back to the 1940s when it was used by the local coastguard for the benefit of local fishermen. Having stood empty for some years, it has recently been renovated for use by visitors to the island as it offers spectacular views of the surrounding areas and its wildlife. Safety for the thousands of birds that live in the area, or stop-over at certain times of the year, was a major consideration, and Ornilux provided the solution.

While the cost of the product may prevent it from being used on a wide scale at this stage, it is early days yet and future developments may well make it more affordable. Meanwhile Ornilux offers a solution to the problem of birds colliding with glass, and has been installed at a wildlife center in Canada, a mountain railway building in Austria, a zoo in Germany and a school in the United States, as well as the lookout tower at Lindisfarne.

Avian Edutainment at Weltvogelpark Walsrode

April 10, 2012 by  
Filed under Features

Covering more than 24 hectares, with more than four thousand birds representing 675 species from all around the world, Weltvogelpark Walsrode is a birding enthusiast’s paradise. Promoted as the largest bird park in the world, both in land area and number of species, Weltvogelpark is located near the town of Walsrode in Lower Saxony, Germany. The park is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2012 with a host of events and special displays, one of which is more than three million spring flowers – a picturesque palette of vibrant color.

With special emphasis on conservation, Weltvogelpark offers an outing that is both entertaining and educational. The walk-in free-flight aviaries allow visitors to observe the birds in their natural habitat, while flight demonstrations demonstrate the amazing skills of birds, and feeding times provide insight into the needs of various species, including pelicans, penguins, vultures and flamingoes. The park offers special events and classes for school groups, while ensuring that visitors of all ages and levels of mobility have access to the features of the park. Experienced rangers are on hand for guided tours, and boards detailing interesting facts about the Weltvogelpark’s feathered residents are placed throughout the spacious reserve.

The park is also involved in research and conservation projects, and has had a measure of success in breeding some endangered species, including the Andean condor (Vultur gryphus), and Shoebill stork (Balaeniceps rex). While breeding is generally allowed to take its natural course at Weltvogelpark, sometimes it is necessary to intervene, particularly with rare and endangered species. In these cases the eggs are artificially incubated and the birds are hand-raised, ensuring that they bond with their own species as soon as possible to avoid being imprinted by humans. In 2011 more than 600 young birds hatched out – clearly they are happy in their environment.

In addition to the outstanding facilities for the park’s birds, Weltvogelpark Walsrode boasts one of the largest botanical gardens to be found in Northern Germany. More than 70 species of roses and 120 different species of rhododendron are features of the botanical gardens, with hundreds of different trees, flowers and shrubs, both indigenous and exotic, providing color throughout the year.

Possible Insights into the Evolution of Flight

June 28, 2011 by  
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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.

Astounding Research into Great Snipe Migration

May 31, 2011 by  
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There are twenty-five species of wading birds that fall under the Scolopacidae family, and the great snipe is one of them. Generally recognized by their long bills and plumage coloring that allows it to blend in with its surroundings, there is a magnificent talent that the snipe possesses that has been recently been uncovered. This beautiful shore bird is quite small and its stocky body, which they ensure carries enough fat by August, assists them in their migration. But until recently, their migration patterns were a mystery, and the information revealed by a project started in 2009 has uncovered breathtaking details.

Raymond Klaassen, a biologist from the Lund University in Sweden, captured ten great great snipes and managed to tag them to collect information in regard to their migration. Captured and let go on the western coast of Sweden, three birds returned and were recaptured to have their tags removed, revealing the most staggering information. For the first time ever, the migration of great snipes could be put on record, but even for scientists and biologists, the information received from the tags was overwhelming. It seems the great snipe tops all other birds when it comes to migration as it is able to fly an impressive four thousand miles without making any stops to eat, drink or sleep. Not only was the flight astounding, given that the great snipe is able to fly ninety-six hours non-stop, but they also averaged speeds of fifty miles per hour. The flights were compared to wind charts showing that the birds had almost no tail winds during their migrations, meaning that they are able to make the flights and maintain high speeds on their own.

One of the recaptured tagged birds completed a migration of three thousand eight hundred miles, while the other two had migrations of two thousand eight hundred miles and four thousand two hundred miles. The first trip took eighty-four hours, while the others took forty-eight hours and eighty-four hours. Klaassen commented that the reason why the great snipes do not stop on their flights is unknown, but it is suspected that this is the unique migration strategy of the great snipe. Even though there are other birds that are also able to travel vast distances, it is the speed the great snipes are able to travel at that has astonished researchers, as their wings are not the most aerodynamic of the bird kingdom. But it seems the fat they store before a migration gives them enough energy to maintain speed and cover large distances. According to this new information and studies, the great snipe can officially be called the king of bird migrations.

Study Sheds Light on Bird Collisions

March 22, 2011 by  
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It seems that the engineering feats of humans, such as wind turbines, telephone poles, pylons and buildings, are accidently causing the death of many birds. As birds are considered creatures with very good eye sight, we have not been able to understand why this happens so frequently. However, a closer look at how their vision works explains how most of the fatalities occur. A study done by Professor Graham Martin (Birmingham University) approached the project with the aim of understanding why these fatalities occur and to find out how birds perceive the world during flight.

Martin explained his findings saying that birds have a very unique visual system that is different to those of humans. He said: “When in flight, birds may turn their heads to look down, either with the binocular field or with the lateral part of an eye’s visual field.” This makes them blind, so to speak, in regard to the direction they are traveling in. Their frontal vision is mainly used to detect movement, and as bird’s eyes are located on the side of their heads, looking ahead is not as easy for them as it is expected to be. Their vision is at its peak looking laterally and down in search of prey.

Some birds also have another disadvantage – the speed at which they travel. Some birds have extremely fast flight speeds, making it difficult for them to react on information received, especially when sight is further complicated by weather conditions, such as mist and rain.

The study, however, is not only negative, as measures to minimize deaths can now be taken. Prof. Graham Martin stated: “While solutions may have to be considered on a species by species basis, where collision incidents are high it may be more effective to divert or distract birds from their flight path rather than attempt to make the hazard more conspicuous.” Some organizations, such as the Royal Society of Birds have already been lobbying for wind turbines to be constructed in areas that are not directly in the flight paths of birds, and conservationists are supportive of coming up with solutions to reduce bird deaths.

New Discovery Sheds Light on Bird Evolution

June 25, 2009 by  
Filed under Birding Tips

Up until a few days ago it was a commonly held belief that modern birds evolved from theropod dinosaurs such as the tyrannosaurus or allosaurus. Now new evidence has been found in favour of the theory that birds evolved separately on a parallel path to dinosaurs.

The discovery may be new, but the evidence has been there all along. Simply put, it is virtually impossible for birds to have evolved from dinosaurs. Researchers at the Oregon State Univserity (OSU) in the US pinpointed the largest significant difference in their skeletal structures – their thigh bones – as proof of this fact. Up until now the relatively fixed position of the bird’s thigh bone and the role that it plays in keeping this creature alive has gone largely unnoticed. While virtually every other land animal has a moveable thigh bone, the bird’s thigh bone, or femur, is largely fixed, making them ‘knee runners’. What is most remarkable about this feature is that it is fundamental to the continued functioning of the animal; it is the fixed position of the femur and other bird bones that keeps their air-sac lung from collapsing when the bird inhales oxygen.

Research has revealed that warm-blooded birds need about 20 times more oxygen than do reptiles which are cold-blooded. As such, they have a unique lung structure which allows for a much higher rate of gaseous exchange and activity. It is this soft and delicate structure which is carefully protected by the fixed skeletal structures that surround the lungs.

According to Devon Quick, an OSU instructor of zoology, their unusual thigh complex and the way it supports the lungs is “fundamental to bird physiology.” Quick noted that “It’s really strange that no one realized this before. The position of the thigh bone and muscles in birds is critical to their lung function, which in turn is what gives them enough lung capacity for flight.” This only adds to other evidence that birds likely did not evolve from dinosaurs – such as the feathers, wings, bones and unique locomotion and lung system that is peculiar to birds – and supports the relatively new theory that they evolved separately on a parallel path to these extinct creatures.

Herald Petrel (Pterodroma arminjoniana)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Herald Petrel (Pterodroma arminjoniana) is a medium-sized bird belonging to the Procellariidae family. It is a sea bird and spends much of its life on or above the ocean, only really visiting nesting grounds during breeding season. It is generally found below the Equator but you may find these birds as far north as North Carolina on occasion. One of their more notable breeding grounds is that of Raine Island and other small cays in the Coral Sea where it can forage comfortably in the surrounding ocean. When looking for breeding grounds, the Herald Petrel favors warm islands with soils that are well suited for nesting burrows. It feeds on squid and crustaceans which it skims from just below the surface of the water with its bill only to be ingested later whilst the bird is in flight.

When you look at the Herald Petrel, you will find that its body measures roughly 36-41 cm in length with a wingspan of 97-102 cm. Generally speaking, the whole bird is gray with some green showing on the nape and upper tail. The body has no patterning whatsoever. The Herald Petrel also has a hooked, seabird-shaped bill and a pointed tail. The wings are also quite pointed in shape while the legs are pink in color. Birdwatchers should note that there are three different color morphs of the Herald Petrel: light, intermediate and dark. The light morph has a white chest and belly, while its upper parts are a dark gray. The dark morph has a dark grey body overall with a silver-grey or white base on its under-wing flight feathers. The intermediate morph is mixture of the light and dark morph.

When the time comes for the Herald Petrel to breed, both sexes will work together to excavate or clean out a burrow. Once this is done, the female lays only one egg in a sparse, un-lined burrow and both the male and female share incubation duties. After 49-54 days, the eggs hatch and a new Herald Petrel is born. Herald Petrels have only one brood a year.

Evolution

February 9, 2009 by  
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Scientists theorize that birds evolved from dinosaurs. This theory for the evolution of birds was brought about by the discovery of a fossil species possessing feathers. This fossil species called Archaeopteryx lithographica dates back to 150 million years ago and is thought to have evolved from dinosaurs called theropods. Archaeopteryx lithographica had two strong legs and walked as a bird does. Its skeleton was reptilian whilst it had the feathers of a bird. Recently, two other feathered dinosaur species were discovered in China. Scientists believe that this adds further proof to the theory of the evolution of birds from dinosaurs.

Other Scientist argue that birds evolved a long period of time before Archaeopteryx. They theorize that the evolution of birds occurred from 4 legged reptiles that died out with the dinosaurs. Such scientists believe that the actual ancestors of our birds today only appeared some 65 to 53 million years ago. This view is not popular amongst scientists though.

There are two theories as to why feathers would have developed in the evolution of birds. One is that because the ancestors of birds where becoming warm-blooded, they required the insulation of feathers. Another is that they develop due to a need for flight and gliding. Whilst many creatures have been and are able to fly, feather-powered flight is unique. This ability to fly gave birds the competitive edge as they could travel over greater distances and areas whilst seeking food. This also allowed them to live in places inaccessible to other animals.

Bird species have adapted to fit into various niches (a place and purpose in relation to the entire ecological community). They have developed instincts to feed, breed and migrate in a way that is species specific.

Birds today continue to adapt to the changing conditions of the world. Unfortunately, these changing conditions have seen many species become extinct. However, increasing awareness of the need to protect the environment and the animals who live in it may ensure that future generations will continue to enjoy these fascinating creatures.

Migration Flights Test Bird Stamina

October 27, 2008 by  
Filed under Features

It has long been known that migrating birds embark on particularly long and grueling journeys when they cross the oceans. What hasn’t been known for sure is whether or not they somehow stop along the way – until now that is. A Bar-tailed Godwit has been bestowed with the title ‘endurance champion of the animal kingdom’ after completing his epic 7,200 mile flight across the Pacific Ocean nonstop.

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Target Training Your Bird

July 29, 2008 by  
Filed under Features

You might think its cool when your friend calls his bird over and it lands on his arm – but how do you get yours to follow suit? Your bird has been sitting in his cage so long that you’re not even sure he knows how to fly. Target training birds is not very difficult, but it helps to understand how to go about it in a way that benefits the bird and never causes it to become tired or uncomfortable.

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