Tag Archives | Birds

‘Electrosmog’ Disrupts Orientation in Migratory Birds

PIC: PD NIST

PIC: PD NIST

Via ScienceDaily:

For the first time, a research team led by Prof. Dr. Henrik Mouritsen, a biologist and Lichtenberg Professor at the University of Oldenburg, has been able to prove that the magnetic compass of robins fails entirely when the birds are exposed to AM radio waveband electromagnetic interference.

Below a certain threshold value, ‘electrosmog’ — human-made electromagnetic noise — has no impact on biological processes or even human health. That was the state of scientific knowledge up to now. But for the first time, a research team led by Prof. Dr. Henrik Mouritsen, a biologist and Lichtenberg Professor at the University of Oldenburg, has been able to prove that the magnetic compass of robins fails entirely when the birds are exposed to AM radio waveband electromagnetic interference — even if the signals are just a thousandth of the limit value defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as harmless.

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Kentucky Town Terrorized By Swarm Of Millions Of Birds

Will global warming do us in by provoking multitudes of agitated, disease-laden birds to descend upon us? Via the Bangor Daily News:

Millions of birds have descended on a small Kentucky city this winter, fouling the landscape, scaring pets and raising the risk for disease in a real-life version of Alfred Hitchcock’s horror film, “The Birds.”

The blackbirds blacken the sky of Hopkinsville, Kentucky, before roosting at dusk, turn the landscape white with bird poop, and the disease they carry can kill a dog and sicken humans.

David Chiles, president of the Little River Audubon Society, said the migratory flocks’ roosting in the city rather than flying further south is tied to climate warming.

The birds also pose a serious health hazard because their droppings can carry a fungal disease which can cause lung infections and symptoms similar to pneumonia. It is particularly dangerous for people with compromised immune systems or respiratory ailments.

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Sudan Claims it Captured Israeli ‘Spy Vulture’

Picture: Tony Hisgett (CC)

From Predator Drones to Scavenger Birds: Could Israel be using vulture intelligence agents?

Via YNET:

Sudanese media was a buzz Thursday, with news saying that Darfur authorities had captured a vulture carrying Israeli spy gear.

The suspect bird was found to be tagged with an Israeli GPS chip and a leg band labeled “Israel Nature Service” and “Hebrew University, Jerusalem.”

Khartoum’s media claimed that the device was capable of taking photos and sending them back to Israel; but Israel’s National Parks Service dismissed the allegation, saying that both the band and the GPS chip were nothing more than standard migration trackers.

Tensions between Israel and Sudan have been high since a mysterious airstrike leveled a major weapons manufacturing compound in Khartoum in October. Sudan blamed Israel for the raid. Jerusalem has remained mum on the subject.

The Opposition in Sudan was quick to mock the “spy bird” find: The country’s Justice and Equality Movement featured the news on its website, asking: “How is it possible that the regime was able to detect one vulture, but was unable to detect the jets that bombed the arms facility?”

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The French And Chinese Militaries Could Once Again Use Carrier Pigeons

Long distance strategic communication via bird may seem obsolete by a hundred years or so, but pigeon squadrons are quietly being maintained and could one day be essential in calamitous conditions, the Wall Street Journal writes:

Glorified for their roles in World War I, pigeon squadrons have long been removed from active duty because of the introduction of more reliable, all-weather communication systems. And yet the French Defense Ministry still operates a military dovecote—Europe’s last—with 150 birds drafted into the 8th regiment for communication and transmission.

The corporal [who] sees to their upkeep and training draws hawkish scenarios—a nuclear catastrophe, a hurricane, a war—where racing homers would be the last-resort messaging network. In the Syrian city of Homs, insurgents defying the regime of President Bashar al-Assad are relying on carrier pigeons to communicate because their walkie-talkies are out of reach, he says.

Last year, Mr. Decool became concerned that France could be outdone in carrier-pigeon expertise by China, which maintains a platoon of 50,000 birds with 1,100 trainers for communication in border and coastal areas, according to the Chinese Ministry of National Defense.

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Crows Are Capable Of Human-Style Reasoning

Today, this news, tomorrow, a bird parliament. Crows living in a controlled environment have shown that they possess a sophisticated form of reasoning believed to be a hallmark of humanity alone, Wired writes:

A type of sophisticated thinking known as “causal reasoning” [is] inferring that mechanisms you can’t see may be responsible for something. But humans aren’t alone in this ability: New Caledonian crows can also reason about hidden mechanisms, or “causal agents,” a team of scientists report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It’s the first time that this cognitive ability has been experimentally demonstrated in a species other than humans.

The tests show that the crows are “capable of causal reasoning,” Taylor says. “We expected the crows to initially be scared of the moving stick. Instead, they only became scared when they could not attribute the movement to a hidden human—which suggests the crows were reasoning that the stick’s movement was caused by that human.” The crows, he says, apparently don’t expect an inanimate object to move on its own.

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Birds Hold Funerals For Their Dead

Disputing the notion that the deaths of animals are insignificant or interchangeable, Discovery News writes that birds gather in vigil by their dead and join together in song:

Researchers have just observed what appears to be the avian version of a funeral. Teresa Iglesias and colleagues studied the western scrub jay and discovered that when one bird dies, the others do not just ignore the body. Multiple jays often fly down to gather around the deceased.

The subsequent ceremony isn’t quiet either. “Discovery of a dead conspecific elicits vocalizations that are effective at attracting conspecifics, which then also vocalize, thereby resulting in a cacophonous aggregation,” Iglesias and her team wrote.

Prior research suggests giraffes and elephants might also hold ceremonies for their dead. If so, perhaps there are shared factors with humans and birds. Solidifying group togetherness and social bonding appear to be key benefits, along with learning how to avoid (if possible) whatever did in the deceased.

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How Pigeons Navigate by Magnetic Field

Homing pigeonAn answer to the eternal mystery of how migratory birds know where to go may be at hand, writes James Gorman in the New York Times:

Birds are famously good navigators. Some migrate thousands of miles, flying day and night, even when the stars are obscured. And for decades, scientists have known that one navigational skill they employ is an ability to detect variations in the earth’s magnetic field.

How this magnetic sense works, however, has been frustratingly difficult to figure out.

Now, two researchers at Baylor College of Medicine, Le-Qing Wu and David Dickman, have solved a key part of that puzzle, identifying cells in a pigeon’s brain that record detailed information on the earth’s magnetic field, a kind of biological compass.

“It’s a stunning piece of work,” David Keays of the Institute of Molecular Pathology in Vienna wrote in an e-mail. “Wu and Dickman have found cells in the pigeon brain that are tuned to specific directions of the magnetic field.” Their report appeared online in Science Express on Thursday.

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Thousands Of Birds Fall Dead From Sky In Arkansas

birdIn recent times, New Year’s seems to always bring with it mystifying mass animal deaths. What an appropriate way to ring in 2012! The New York Daily News writes:

Thousands of blackbirds dropped dead on New Year’s Eve in Arkansas in an incident eerily similar to one that occurred at the same time a year ago.

The disturbing deaths in Beebe, a city northwest of Little Rock, were sparked after loud fireworks sent flocks of the small birds into a panic, scientists said. This caused them to collide with each other, as well as power lines, houses and cars.

On New Year’s Eve 2010, an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 birds died from “blunt trauma” after they were similarly spooked by fireworks.

Eyewitnesses told authorities “the birds were hitting mailboxes, cars, basketball goals, houses, trees,” Keith Stephens of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission told the Daily News last January. “The trauma shows that they were in flight when they collided with something that killed them.”

The bird deaths, which were followed only days later by hundreds of more bird deaths in Louisiana, sparked conspiracy theories ranging from the Biblical end of the world to government coverups.

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Thousands of Dead Birds Wash Ashore in Ontario

WaterfowlVia CTV:
Thousands of dead birds will be collected from an Ontario shoreline on Monday as the province's Ministry of Natural Resources tries to determine what killed the waterfowl. Officials estimate as many as 6,000 dead birds have washed up on the Georgian Bay's shoreline. The carcasses are scattered along a nearly three-kilometre stretch near Wasaga Beach. "You just want to cry," resident Faye Ego told CTV Toronto on Saturday. Authorities speculate that the birds may have been killed by a form of botulism after eating dead fish. Locals said they noticed some dead fish on the beach a few weeks ago and a few dead birds earlier in September. During Monday's cleanup, crews will be trying to tally up the total number of dead birds on the shoreline ...
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