More attractive birds mother healthier chicks… even if they are rearing another animal’s offspring

A study of Great Tits (Parus major) revealed a direct link between the health of the infants and the 'attractiveness' of their mother

A study of Great Tits (Parus major) revealed a direct link between the health of the infants and the ‘attractiveness’ of their mother

  • Researchers took two with different patterning, and swapped chicks
  • Found link between health of infants and ‘attractiveness’ of mother

Better looking birds are more likely to have healthy offspring, scientists have learned.

Studies of female great tits’ appearance, and the weight and immune strength of their chicks at two weeks, has revealed a direct link between the health of the infants and the ‘attractiveness’ of their mother.

The study of the birds (parus major), was published in a paper in BioMed Central’s open access journal Frontiers in Zoology.

Researchers from Palacky University in the Czech Republic took two mothers with different patterning, and swapped their chicks.

They compared the offspring’s weight, size and immune strength and found a correlation between the chick’s weight at two weeks and the size of the distinctive black breast stripe on the genetic mother.

The immaculateness of both the genetic and foster mother’s white cheek patch was related to the strength of chick’s immune response suggesting that this was due to both nurture and genetics.

They found, however, that the body size of a chick was related only to the body size of its genetic mother and not related to appearance at all.

In these socially monogamous birds both the males and females are brightly coloured, however neither the cheek patch nor the stripe in males affected the health of the babies.

Starlings and sparrows under threat: Alarming loss of garden birds puts Britain’s favourite species in terminal decline

The numbers of the UK’s most threatened and ‘incredibly precious’ birds are continuing to fall after years of declining at ‘alarming rates’, according to a birdwatching survey.

Starlings, a UK ‘red-listed’ species – meaning it is of the highest conservation concern – hit an all-time low in the RSPB’s annual Big Garden Birdwatch survey last year and their numbers sank by a further 16% in gardens this year.

Numbers of house sparrows, also on the red list, dropped by 17% in gardens compared to 2012, while bullfinches and dunnocks, both amber-listed, fell by 20% and 13% respectively

Alarming decline: Starlings, pictured left, and sparrows, pictured right, are under threat according to the RSPB

Alarming decline: Starlings, pictured left, and sparrows, pictured right, are under threat according to the RSPB

Martin Harper, RSPB conservation director, said he enjoyed the Birdwatch with his children this year and described it as “one of those memorable mornings when the family is captivated by nature”.

He said: ‘We know from the many people who take part in Big Garden Birdwatch every year that garden birds are incredibly precious to us and connect us to nature every day.’

He added: ‘But several of our familiar and best-loved species have been declining at alarming rates over the 34 years that the RSPB has been running the Birdwatch and this year’s results show a continuing decline.’

Mr Harper highlighted the important role gardens play in supporting threatened birds.

‘We go to great lengths to ensure that special UK habitats are given the right levels of designation and legal protection because of their role in supporting threatened wildlife, but what’s very clear is that every one of our gardens, the places literally on our doorsteps, are important too,’ he said.

He added: ‘Gardens make up around 4% of land area in the UK and their role as habitats for our wildlife is clear.

Under threat: The RSPB has expressed fears for the bullfinch, pictured left, as part of its birdwatch project to keep track of species such as the Goldfinch, pictured right

Under threat: The RSPB has expressed fears for the bullfinch, pictured left, as part of its birdwatch project to keep track of species such as the Goldfinch, pictured right

‘They are the places that birds come to for food and shelter when conditions in the countryside are especially tough and together, we can all play a part in making them more welcoming and supportive for wildlife, whether we have a garden full of greenery, a yard or a window box.’

While the decline of some species continued, others improved with garden sightings of siskins, fieldfares and jays up by as much as 85%.

The cold, harsh conditions in the wider countryside back in January are likely to have driven more of these birds into gardens on their search for food.

Last year saw a particularly bad crop of acorns – a favourite among jays – meaning these birds are likely to have visited gardens more than normal during the winter to find alternative food sources.

Almost 590,000 people across the UK – including 75,000 pupils and teachers at schools – took part in the Birdwatch in January.

source : dailymail.co.uk

Slow-moving spring doesn’t stop migratory birds

This is a photo of an immature Peregrine Falcon of the race that breeds in Greenland with a band on its right leg. These are the most migratory of the worldÕs falcons the adults heading to Patagonia in southern South America for the winter before returning to its high Arctic breeding grounds in Greenland on an annual basis. That is a minimum of a 20 thousand mile annual commute and some huge open water crossings.

This is a photo of an immature Peregrine Falcon of the race that breeds in Greenland with a band on its right leg. These are the most migratory of the worldÕs falcons the adults heading to Patagonia in southern South America for the winter before returning to its high Arctic breeding grounds in Greenland on an annual basis. That is a minimum of a 20 thousand mile annual commute and some huge open water crossings.

The Cape and Islands are a fickle place to bird at this time of year. Even though bird migration is clearly under way (ospreys have returned to enliven our skies, resident birds are singing at dawn and dusk, and American woodcock engage in courtship displays most evenings), it still doesn’t feel like spring. Yet this is the way spring is in our region, very different from what most of the continent experiences where the warming land blossoms with life. It is a subtle, slower season here with a gentle greening of the land and very slowly rising water temperatures.

How quickly things will change when the sun finally shows itself. Despite the completely weather-related whining in this column, the birding is improving and can be expected to virtually explode in the weeks ahead, especially when compared to what has happened for the past month. Birds are on the move, and by the end of next week, land birds will be much more obvious.

The region has been hosting some very fancy birds of late. Foremost are three individual northern lapwings, Eurasian plovers that have been delighting birders from around the country who have made the trek to Nantucket to see them. Two lapwings arrived on Oct. 30 on the heels of Hurricane Sandy, the third bird arrived on Feb. 26, and to have all three still hanging out in fields on Nantucket is without precedent. At least two tufted ducks, another Eurasian species, have been spotted with some degree of difficulty. One bird was a hen-type in Falmouth, and a drake has been seen on Nantucket. A drake king eider has been very obliging at the east end of the Cape Cod Canal, where a yellow-crowned night heron, a southern species that overshot the mark, has been reliable as well.

Diurnal raptors — including ospreys as well as red-tailed hawks, Cooper’s hawks, northern harriers and turkey vultures — are all very obvious of late. These species all breed in our area, and the sights and sounds of their courting are hard to miss when the weather is not terrible. They know what time it is, even though the temperatures have refused to cooperate.

Currently, red-tailed hawk pairs are engaging in courtship displays. They feature impressive aerial maneuvers including talons dragging through the air and performing spectacular loop de loops in impressive diving flight displays. They have been a common sight. The moth-like, deep wing beat flight of displaying Cooper’s hawks, seen all over the place this past week, gives these fast-flying predators that specialize in ambushing other birds, an entirely different look from what one is used to. Even the turkey vultures have been performing some rather neat acrobatics overhead of late, obviously not something they do when looking for roadkill.

Male ospreys are starting to be heard, even above downtown areas, as they engage in aerial flight displays involving a slowly ascending hover, usually with a fish in their talons, with lots very distinctive calling. Their relatively high-pitched calls (feeble sounding to many human observers) is seemingly at odds with these birds’ robust general impression. The birds arrive from wintering grounds and immediately set about repairing their nests, attracting or reaffirming pair-bonds with a mate and even in some cases getting right to the business of making another batch of ospreys.

Double-crested cormorants are returning to the region. The cormorant species that winters here is the great cormorant, with the occasional double-crested cormorant increasingly attempting to over winter. Both cormorants, while universally not considered attractive birds, when well seen at close range, particularly in a spotting scope, have shockingly brilliant turquoise eyes that contrast with their drab, dark plumage. It gives an observer an entirely different perspective on these much-maligned birds.

At any rate, the beginning of the expected horde of these fish-eating birds has returned. The vanguard of small flocks has descended on many Cape and Island tidal ponds, and large loosely formed migrant flocks flying in an erratic V-shape can be seen overflying on many days.

The most bird action in our area is still not on the land but in the waters surrounding it. The silver lining in all the cold, rainy weather is that with the persistent low visibilities and easterly winds, the Outer Cape’s eastern shore and both Vineyard and Nantucket sounds have all been crammed with migrating pelagic bird species. Northern gannets, breeding plumaged common loons, larger numbers of red-throated loons, breeding plumaged red-necked and horned grebes, breeding plumaged razorbills, large flocks of scoters and common eiders, as well as a variety of gulls, including black-legged kittiwakes and Iceland gulls, have all been seen repeatedly and in numbers over the past couple of weeks.

Certainly the spring has started slowly. It always does and can be painfully slow developing.

The best is still to come. As soon as the sun breaks through the perpetual overcast and the wind returns from the southwest, get ready, because the migration is going to rapidly accelerate. Until next week — keep your eyes to the sky!

E. Vernon Laux’s birding column appears every Saturday in the Cape Cod Times. Laux is the resident naturalist for the Linda Loring Nature Foundation on Nantucket. You can hear him on “Bird News” with Mindy Todd at 10 a.m. the first Saturday of the month on the Cape’s NPR station, WCAI, 90.1, 91.1 and 94.3. You can also listen to his “Bird News Commentaries” on Wednesdays at 8:35 a.m. and 5:45 p.m. He can be reached at vlaux@llnf.org.

source : capecodonline.com

Eggs-iting surprise from rare birds of prey

Peregrine falcon laying egg at nesting spot at St George's Church, Sheffield.

Peregrine falcon laying egg at nesting spot at St George’s Church, Sheffield.

EASTER has come early for a couple of rare birds who set up home in Sheffield.

There was an eggs-iting development at St George’s Church in Broad Lane as Yorkshire’s first pair of peregrine falcons showed successful signs of breeding for a second year running.

Bird of prey Mildred, mating partner of George, overcame the winter weather conditions to lay her first egg of the season at the Sheffield University-owned building.

Remarkable scenes featuring its incubation were captured on a camera set up by the university.

The pair successfully reared two chicks last year despite harsh weather conditions and it is hoped they will lay three or four eggs in total over the coming days.

Professor David Wood, chairman of the Sheffield Bird Study Group, said: “It’s really exciting to see that the Peregrines have laid their first egg, within days of what we’d anticipated as a likely date.

“They clearly find the nest platform erected and maintained by the university to their liking.

“They’re a few days later than some other pairs monitored by webcams elsewhere, but given the weather that’s no bad thing. Late snow is seriously bad news for birds that have got the breeding season underway early.”

Peregrine falcons have been endangered because of factors including pesticide use and being a target for egg collectors. Their population has steadily increased since the 1970s.

source : thestar.co.uk

Quaker Parakeets Celebrate 40 Years In United States

Quaker parakeet

Quaker parakeet

The spunky Quaker parakeet has been quietly — or perhaps not so quietly — nesting successfully in the United States for at least 40 years. The Chicago colony was perhaps the first and the most famous, and Chicago magazine itself recently wished the nest-building parrot a happy 40th anniversary.

Over the years, the parrots nesting in Hyde Park have become a welcome sign of spring after Chicago’s long, notoriously cold winters. However, when it first arrived on this continent, the United States Department of Agriculture regarded it as an invasive species because of its impact on agricultural crops back home in its native South America.

By the way, in case you were wondering, Quaker parakeets and their close cousins, cliff parakeets, are the only parrot species known to build elaborate stick nests. Most parrots prefer to nest in termite mounds, cavities in trees, or even artificial nest boxes.

Audubon magazine reported that Harold Washington, Chicago’s first African-American mayor, lived across the street from a well-known colony. As long as he was alive, he protected them because he believed that they brought good luck. When he died in 1987, the USDA tried to remove the Quakers.

However, a neighborhood defense committee fought for the right to keep the birds.

And a later USDA study done on the growing population in Florida acknowledged that the introduced Quaker parakeets are not important crop pests. They seem to be urban or suburban birds, and the biggest problem they cause is the power outages that occur when they build their huge colony nests too close to electrical equipment.

Advocacy groups for the wild parrots can help power companies figure out the best time to remove nuisance nests. On Wednesday, New Jersey power company PSE&G safely removed badly situated nests from utility poles in Edgewater, Fort Lee, and Leonia, NJ. The date was chosen with the help of the Edgewater Parrot Society, who explained that if the nests are removed at this time of year, it gives the birds time to re-build and lay their eggs in a safer spot.

 source : inquisitr.com

Winged visitors return to Kolleru

Thanks to the lake restoration efforts, endangered species like Grey Pelicans, Painted Storks and Open Bill Storks return to the bird sanctuary

Black winged stilts forging for food in Kolleru lake near Madhavapuram in West Godavari district.

Black winged stilts forging for food in Kolleru lake near Madhavapuram in West Godavari district.

Notwithstanding the political row over fixing of contour and removal of encroachments, the Forest Department’s efforts in restoration of Kolleru lake, one of the largest fresh water eco systems of international importance, has helped in return of local and migratory birds.

The budget demand pertaining to Forest department which was tabled in the Assembly the other day had this interesting piece of information. The department says the birds that returned included endangered species like Grey Pelicans, Painted Storks and Open Bill Storks. These birds had almost shunned the place owing to rapid deterioration in the lake’s eco system.

The Forest Department has listed conservation of Kolleru wildlife sanctuary as one of the major tasks taken up by it. With the intervention of the Supreme Court, 1776 illegal fish tanks covering an area of about 44,700 acres in West Godavari and Krishna districts have been demolished. This was an achievement considering the fact that the lake is spread over 2,25,250 acres up to +10 ft contour.

With removal of encroachments, the eco-restoration work is in progress. It is being taken up by the department in coordination with other sister departments like Revenue, Irrigation, Roads and Buildings, Fisheries, Pollution Control Board and Rural development. The objective is to see that the lake gets back its pristine glory.

An Integrated Management Action Plan with an outlay of Rs. 995 crores spread over a period of five years has been prepared through consultant, Wetland International South Asia, New Delhi.

This will be implemented after its approval. The locals who have been affected by the ‘Operation Kolleru” are being rehabilitated by the Revenue Department and some employment opportunities have been created by the Forest Department. (thehindu.com)