White-crowned Sparrow Males Unruffled by Younger Rivals

March 13, 2012 by  
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In the territorial world of nature, it’s not uncommon for older males to give way to the younger generation, albeit with a fight. Researchers have recently discovered that this is not necessarily the case with mature white-crowned sparrow males. In fact older males don’t even bother to get involved in any altercation, verbal or physical, and this is seen as evidence that they don’t view younger males as a threat.

In the study, which was carried out by Angelika Poesel and Douglas Nelson of the Ohio State University and funded by the National Science Foundation, it was noted that the older male would, however, become agitated and aggressive upon hearing a rival bird of the same age in his territory. It appears that the males of this species assess the fighting ability of their opponents based on age, and younger males simply don’t scare them.

The study observed a migratory population of white-crowned sparrows nesting in Bandon, Oregon, from 2008 to 2011. While plumage is an important indicator of maturity, the results of the study reveal that some birds use each other’s songs to determine age and threat level. As is the case with many bird species, male white-crowned sparrows use their songs to establish nesting territory and court a potential mate. Should a male sing in another’s territory, he can expect to be attacked and driven off if perceived to be a threat. With this particular bird species, second-year males do have plumage differences, but they also sing two or more versions of their species unique song before they choose one, and abandon the rest. This multiple version singing indicates to more mature males that the bird singing in his territory is a second-year male, and not a threat worth getting ruffled feathers about.

The research was carried out by playing various songs through loudspeakers within the established territories of mature males, and careful observation of the birds’ behavior. It was noted that second-year males that have established territory, did not tolerate other second-year males invading their space. It is thought that female birds are naturally more attracted to mature birds than to younger ones, and the older birds know this. Also, younger birds are disinclined to push their luck with a mature male which is likely to be stronger and more experienced.

Lead author of the study, Angelika Poesel, is curator of the Borrer Laboratory of Bioacoustics. Douglas Nelson is associate professor of evolution, ecology and organismal biology, and director of the University’s Borrer Laboratory.

Ravens Show Emotions

July 27, 2010 by  
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Ravens have had a stigma attached to them for centuries, symbolizing darkness in poems, songs and movies. With their black plumage and black eyes, they would seem to be the ideal bird to symbolize death and depression, but these fascinating birds also have a compassionate and social side to them that few have been aware of until recently. Researchers specifically chose ravens for their studies, due to the fact that ravens stay in a social flock for approximately ten years of their lives before finding a mate and pairing off. This characteristic of the raven has allowed researchers to study how they interact, and even how they console each other.

More than 150 fights were documented and recorded by the researchers over a two year study period to learn more about the socialization of the ravens. A special group of hand-reared ravens were chosen for the study, allowing them to live in a flock as they would in the wild. The young ravens showed all the natural signs of birds that are not in captivity, such as fighting for dominance and various other reasons. From these conflicts it could easily be assessed which of the birds were the victims, which were the aggressors and those who can be classified as bystanders.

The study showed that once a fight had occurred between the birds, bystanders that had a relationship with the victim would console each other. At times, victims would be consoled by random bystanders through preening or even just by touch. It was also observed that bystanders did not fear approaching a victim, as victims rarely initiated aggressive behavior, and that victims could also approach other birds in the flock after an altercation without leading to another unprovoked fight. Victims could, however, not approach their aggressor. The act of consoling a victim also seems to bring peace to the flock. Relationships between birds can also blossom through the act of consoling, bringing the flock together again. Emotional acts that were once only attributed to humans can now also be seen in birds, and the study of the ravens has confirmed this fact. Nature never ceases to amaze us and teaches us something new each day. In this case, the ravens have revealed a softer and lighter side to their personalities.

Anting Behavior in Birds

January 14, 2010 by  
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Anting is a form of bird behavior that has yet to be explained by researchers and scientists. Even though hundreds of bird species engage in anting all over the world, no-one has been able to confirm the reason why birds choose to do so.

Anting can take on different forms. Some birds will pick up ants in their beaks and rub the ant over their feathers, after which they eat the ant; while others will open their wings and lie down over an active anthill and allow ants to climb up onto them. But it does seem that one part of anting remains consistent: birds prefer using ants that produce formic acid. Ants use the formic acid their bodies produce as a defense mechanism, which they spray at their attackers, but at the same time provides birds with a certain something that scientists would love to discover.

One theory on anting is that the formic acid could be used as a fungicide, bactericide and as an insect repellent, while others choose to believe that it is the vitamin D content in the acid that birds are after. This leads to another unanswered question: why do birds sometimes use alternative anting tools, such as millipedes and fruit? Some scientists believe that anting is used to preen feathers and helps prevent the drying out of their plumage, but then one again has to ask, that if only some birds include anting in their behavior, could preening really be the answer? Another suggestion that has been made is that anting has an intoxicating effect, as some birds have been known to shake and lose control over their ability to walk. Anting has been documented in a variety of species including crows, babblers, weavers, owls, turkeys, waxbills and pheasants to name but a few. And for all the research done and no lack of theories, it seems the human race will have to be satisfied with the fact that the mystery behind anting might elude us forever, and remain a small secret that nature is not willing to share.

Feather Degrading Bacteria Studied

December 21, 2009 by  
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The existence of feather degrading bacteria in wild birds was only discovered for the first time approximately ten years ago. This natural phenomenon has therefore been plaguing ornithologists with more questions than answers and sparked the undertaking of the recent studies done to explore the effects feather degrading bacteria has on birds, and in which birds this occurrence is more common. Even though more information has been collected in regard to the bacteria, studies remain ongoing. A few interesting facts have been discovered so far.

The feather degrading bacteria seems to target brightly colored birds more than those with dull plumage. To investigate this fact, a group of scientists chose a large colony of Eastern Bluebirds living in Virginia as test subjects, studying the population as a whole and noting the differences of the bacteria found in the male and female birds. Not only does this bacteria influence the coloring of the birds, but their general health as well.

It is now known that most wild birds carry feather degrading bacteria and some birds are even host to more than one bacteria species. The exact impact the bacteria has on their feathered hosts is still unclear, but they are not found to be in the majority. Almost all the birds in the study were found to have the bacteria, which hydrolyses the protein beta-keratin. It had been found that melanin pigmented feathers are resistant to feather degrading bacteria and that the oils used by birds to preen can also halt the growth of the bacteria. These traits confirm that defenses against these bacteria can be built and it is therefore suggested that the bacteria could have an influence on the evolution of birds. It was also found that the bacteria had a greater impact on the female birds than on their male counterparts. The bacteria seems to dull the coloring of the feathers, and scientists believe that the difference in bacteria between male and female birds could be influenced by the routines followed by each sex, and the areas they travel in. It is, however, mere speculation as scientists are still trying to confirm if the daily routine of males and females could play a role in the bacteria occurrences. Alex Gunderson, from Duke University in North Carolina commented, “If bacteria detrimentally influence feather coloration, they may place selective pressure on birds to evolve defenses against them.”

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.

Farmers Could Save Endangered Ibis

October 7, 2009 by  
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The elegant white-shouldered Ibis is a critically endangered wading bird that is found in the southern regions of Laos, Vietnam, the eastern region of Kalimantan and in the northern areas of Cambodia. Its natural habitat includes wet grasslands, sand and gravel bars at the water’s edge, marshes and forests that do not consist of dense vegetation. The coloring is quite distinctive with dark plumage covering the bird’s body, red legs and a bald black head. Its name is derived from a unique feature which can be found on the inner forewing of the white-shouldered Ibis, a light, almost white, colored patch of plumage.

This beautiful bird has found its way onto the critically endangered list, the IUCN Red List, of bird species and it is estimated that there are fewer than 250 birds remaining in the world. Recent studies have revealed that there could be ways to save this wonderful bird, as they began to investigate the reasons behind the speedy decline in the species. The University of East Anglia has recently published their results.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds funded the project and studies were concentrated in Cambodia, as the biggest collection of the white-shouldered Ibis is found here. Watching and studying the approximately 160 to 200 birds, has revealed that they prefer open areas, with open sand areas and ground level vegetation, as it makes access to prey easier, makes it easier for the birds to see oncoming danger and assists them in landing and take off as there are less obstacles. What has made the study even more fascinating is the fact that human interaction almost always plays a negative role in the survival of animal and bird species, but in the case of the white-shouldered Ibis, human activity is playing a vital role in the protection of the remaining birds. Open fields where livestock graze and areas that are burnt down by farmers to create more open fields, in turn accommodate these birds and opens more habitats to them. As the white-shouldered Ibis seems to be dependant on the farmers for their existence, it is hoped that this relationship between farmer and Ibis can assist in the survival of the species and hopefully increase white-shouldered Ibis numbers.

Red-Billed Chough Project in Portugal

September 9, 2009 by  
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The Red-Billed Chough species falls under the crow family. It is easily recognized by its features that include a longish curved beak and red coloring, red legs and pitch-black plumages that glisten in the sun. They are known to mate for life and also remain at their breeding site. Nests can be found on cliff faces and caves. But concern has grown over an area in Portugal where there once was an abundance of Red-Billed Choughs, and nests were an ordinary sight. The surrounding area of Chaos has not recorded a sighting of a Red-Billed Chough in a long time, and steps are being taken to correct the loss of these birds in the area.

The herding of goats in the Chaos countryside was once a very active form of agriculture, but as the agricultural lands began to be abandoned, the vegetation and brush started growing at such a rate that the Red-Billed Choughs could no longer forage underneath the bushes as they used to, and the insects that used to breed in the goat excrement and provide these birds with extra nutrition are also no longer found here since the goats were removed. Efforts are therefore being made to revive the industry of goat herding to enable the Red-Billed Choughs to once again populate the area.

The project has enlisted the assistance of two candidates who herd the newly acquired goats, as well as monitoring the birds, natural herbs and orchids which are found in the area. To raise funds, the project has brought in a tourist angle, allowing visitors to Portugal to be goat herders for a day explore the beautiful landscape and receive a guided tour of the natural wonders and sites in the Chaos countryside. In addition, organic cheese production is a product that potential goat herders can invest in, especially as the project is incorporating tourism into their attempt to save the Red-Billed Chough population. It is hoped that the project will jumpstart the industry of goat herding and in doing so, provide the Red-Billed Chough with a habitat again. These endangered birds can be saved, with dedication from the project, assistance of the community and support from visitors and tourists. Tourists will be able to explore a new world while playing a vital role in saving the Red-Billed Chough in Portugal.

Mustached Parakeets

April 1, 2009 by  
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When looking at the Mustached Parakeet, it is evident that belonging to the same family does not mean that you share the same characteristics. The Mustached Parakeet is related to the Ringneck Parakeet, and is often referred to as a Java Mustached Parakeet. These colorful little parrots make wonderful pets and their laid back attitude assist them in being great companions. Just as any other captive birds, Mustached Parakeets have certain dietary needs to ensure their health and welfare.

This fascinating bird has coined its name from the mustache-like markings that is found on its face and once the birds have reached maturity, the males’ beaks are orange in color, while the females are recognized by their black beaks. Growing to approximately thirty three centimeters and weighing on average a hundred and thirty grams, the Mustached Parakeet is a small parrot. They have predominantly green plumage, lighter coloring on their heads with a blue tinge and indentifying salmon to pink colored plumage on their chests.

Being extremely intelligent means that the Mustached Parakeet can get bored very easily, and therefore needs an assortment of chew toys and toys that can stimulate their thought process. Spacious cages are also recommended. When compared to the Ringneck Parakeet, the Mustached Parakeet is much calmer and can speak clearer than its counterpart. They are playful and social birds, but can test their boundaries if they have not been disciplined correctly. In the wild, these birds travel in flocks and can get very lonely if they are without a companion and do not get sufficient attention from their owners. In their natural habitat, these birds will feed on a variety of foods which include seeds, fruit and berries, and it is therefore recommended that owners seek advice from their veterinarian to ensure that the correct diet is followed.

Mustached Parakeets are very popular pets but many owners do not research their choice of pet or species and can be surprised by their natural call, which is quite vocal. Before any pet owner decides to purchase a parrot or any captive bird is it essential that they know what their care involves and how to ensure the health and welfare of these magnificent birds.

Showing and Displaying

February 9, 2009 by  
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Preparation for showing and displaying of birds typically begins about four months before the date of the show. At this time you should decide which birds you are going to be showing and then place each bird in its own cage to prevent damage to feathers and so on. The birds chosen for showing and displaying should have good plumage, posture and have all their toes. Examine the birds daily to see if they are still in tip-top condition. Maintain show birds on a nutritious diet that will not allow them to become overweight.

Once you have chosen the birds for showing and displaying, begin a routine of bathing or spraying the birds with water daily. Closer to the date of the show clip claws and file beaks. Keep the cages thoroughly clean so that the bird does not soil its feathers. Begin spraying them with a soft mist of water as their showing condition improves. Two days prior to the show stop this spraying and allow natural oils to coat the birds’ feathers giving them a lovely sheen.

Prepare your birds for the show by familiarizing them with their show cages. This can be done by enticing them into the cage by means of treats. By using this method it will not be necessary to handle your show bird and there will be no risk of damage to feathers or injuries. Also get the bird accustomed to the cage being moved around and lots of noise as this is what they will encounter at the show.

On the day of the show make sure that your show cage is clean and sprinkle a layer of plain seed on the bottom of the cage. Also rather use a water bottle attached to the outside of the cage, You do not want food and water dishes obscuring the view of the judges whilst your bird is on display.

When you arrive you will have to register your birds. The stewards will ensure that you have the correct labels for the group you are entering into. Such labels should be properly displayed. The judges will be looking for shape, size, color and condition of the bird. Plumage is to be fully developed. Birds must look lively and active but not nervous. Once the judges have seen all the birds, prizes are awarded.

Showing and displaying birds can be a rewarding and satisfying experience. Even if you do not win, you will have enjoyed the association of like-minded people, swopping stories and learning from one anothers experiences.

Roseate Spoonbill (Ajaia ajaja)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The male and female Roseate spoonbill, Ajaia ajaja, is 28 inches long and has a wingspan of 53 inches. They are relatively large, long-legged waders and have a long neck and a long spatula-looking bill. When the Roseate spoonbill is in flight it holds its neck extended.

The adult bird has red eyes that are in contrast to its greenish, featherless head. The bill is gray in color with dark mottling and it has a black nape band. The wings and back of the spoonbill are a beautiful pink color, the legs are red and the feet dark. The juvenile spoonbill has yellow eyes and bill with a white or at times a pale pink plumage and a white-feathered head.

The Roseate spoonbill enjoys marshes, mangrove swamps and tidal ponds found along the Gulf Coast. They feed in water that is shallow, brackish or salty and at times they will feed in fresh water by swinging their spoon-shaped bill from side to side in long arcs. The spoonbill will feed either in small groups or by themselves and are often seen in company of other varieties of wading birds.

The Roseate spoonbill is a monogamous bird and will breed in swampy, marsh areas producing one brood. Their nest is made up of dense vegetation above the water or on ground. The nests are made well and are a cup shape stick platform, lined with dry fine materials. The male spoonbill will look for the building materials while the female builds the nest. The female will produce three off-white eggs, marked with brown. The incubation period takes just over three weeks and once they hatch it takes a further 35 to 42 days before they are able to fly. The spoonbill’s diet is made up of fish, insects, crustaceans and a few water plants. They pick up the food by sweeping their bill through the water and when they feel their food they snap it up. The nesting area or colony is made up of different birds, like herons and egrets.

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