Bad reputation of crows demystified

The 326 interactions between corvids and their prey, shows that they have a much smaller effect on other bird species than was previously thought. Credit: Jorge Piñeiro

The 326 interactions between corvids and their prey, shows that they have a much smaller effect on other bird species than was previously thought. Credit: Jorge Piñeiro

In literature, crows and ravens arebad omens and are associated with witches. Most people believe they steal, eat other birds’ eggs and reduce the populations of other birds. But a new study, which has brought together over 326 interactions between corvids and their prey, demonstrates that their notoriety is not entirely merited.

Corvids—the bird group that includes crows, ravens and magpies—are the subject of several population control schemes, in both game and conservation environments. These controls are based on the belief that destroying them is good for other birds. They are also considered to be effective predators capable of reducing the populations of their prey. Continue reading

Riddle of flying bird’s weight solved by scientists

The scientists trained birds to fly towards a perch inside the device

The scientists trained birds to fly towards a perch inside the device

Scientists at Stanford University in the US have developed a super-sensitive device that can measure the weight of a bird in flight.

The invention, created by Prof David Lentink’s research team, measures the force produced by every wing flap.

The device, described in the Royal Society journal Interface, will enable researchers to carry out tests of miniature drones, to assess more precisely their flight performance.

It has also answered a physics riddle.

This question, Prof Lentink explained, is whether a container or a truck carrying birds changes in weight when the birds inside were flying. Continue reading

Study says sneaky females outwit males

 Sneaky females outwit males when pilfering food from close relatives (Credit: Alamy)


Sneaky females outwit males when pilfering food from close relatives (Credit: Alamy)

If you can’t find your own food, why not simply steal meals that others have stored for later?

A sneaky tactic perhaps, but one crucial for survival for the common songbird, the great tit.

What’s more, female tits are better at pulling off such heists than males, new research has discovered.

Outsmarting the opposite sex in this way may enable female tits to compensate for the males’ domineering personalities.

Great tits belong in the Paridae family. Their relatives in the same family, such as marsh tits, habitually store food.

Great tits do not. Instead they watch where their relatives store it and then pilfer their food caches. Continue reading

Buzzed birds slur their songs, researchers find

 A pair of Zebra finches at Bird Kingdom, Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada. Credit: Wikipedia

A pair of Zebra finches at Bird Kingdom, Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada. Credit: Wikipedia

You know how that guy at the karaoke bar singing Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” sounds a little off after he’s had a few drinks? The same goes for buzzed birds, according to a team led by researchers from Oregon Health & Science University.

For a study published in PLoS ONE, scientists found that when they got some unsuspecting zebra finches drunk, the birds slurred their songs. The findings could help scientists study the neural processes underlying birdsong – and shed light on human speech.

While many scientists want to understand alcohol’s effects on such a complex system as speech, it’s difficult to perform the necessary studies on humans, which is why many researchers turn to birds. Continue reading

Genomics work suggests vocalizing birds could tell us more about human speech disorders

Think that sparrow whistling outside your bedroom window is nothing more than pleasant background noise?

 Scientists may be able to glean important insights from the genes of songbirds.

Scientists may be able to glean important insights from the genes of songbirds.

A new paper from a researcher at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) suggests that we can apply what we know about songbirds to our understanding of human speech production—and, therefore, come closer to identifying and potentially even reducing the prevalence of disorders like stuttering and Huntington’s Disease.

In a paper published in Science this month, CSAIL postdoc Andreas Pfenning and collaborators at Duke University compared genetic maps of brain tissue from three groups: humans, vocal-learning birds, and non-vocal-learning birds and primates. Continue reading

We finally know when birds lost their teeth

Open wide. (Olga Maltseva/AFP/Getty Images)

Open wide. (Olga Maltseva/AFP/Getty Images)

Scientists have figured out when and how birds lost their pearly whites — and it wasn’t a prehistoric fist fight, according to a paper published Thursday in Science.

As the modern descendants of dinosaurs, birds must have once had teeth. We’ve known this since 1861, when paleontologists uncovered Archeopteryx, a 150-million-year-old bird fossil with teeth. But now, as you probably know, all birds have got beaks instead.

Fossil records are too spotty for scientists to pinpoint when the shift occurred. Until now, so was genetic information.

But because of the newly reported sequencing of 48 different bird genomes (representing at least one species from each major lineage), we can now trace beaks back to their origin. Continue reading