Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Extinction before Identification?

From this week in Conservation Science by Conservation Magazine:

"Dour predictions that extinctions will outpace efforts to name Earth’s species are unfounded, scientists argue. With the help of amateurs and online tools, they say, researchers could catalogue most of the planet’s flora and fauna within a century." Read more here.

For more on how to get involved with online scientific opportunities for amateurs, here is a list from the most recent Audubon magazine:

Seafloor Explorer: mark bottom-dwelling creatures on the seafloor
Cyclone Center: help classify 30 years of cyclone images
Whale Fm: help identify whale songs
Old Weather: transcribe weather records from mid-19th century ship logs

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Grassland Birds & Black-tailed Prairie Dogs

Here is the abstract from a recently published scientific paper with interesting results showing differences in the grassland bird community on and off prairie dog colonies.

McCown's Longspur by Shawn Billerman
Augustine, D. J. and Baker, B. W. (2013), Associations of Grassland Bird Communities with Black-Tailed Prairie Dogs in the North American Great Plains. Conservation Biology. doi: 10.1111/cobi.12013

Colonial burrowing herbivores can modify vegetation structure, create belowground refugia, and generate landscape heterogeneity, thereby affecting the distribution and abundance of associated species. Black-tailed prairie dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus) are such a species, and they may strongly affect the abundance and composition of grassland bird communities. We examined how prairie dog colonies in the North American Great Plains affect bird species and community composition. Areas occupied by prairie dogs, characterized by low percent cover of grass, high percent cover of bare soil, and low vegetation height and density, supported a breeding bird community that differed substantially from surrounding areas that lacked prairie dogs. Bird communities on colony sites had significantly greater densities of large-bodied carnivores (Burrowing Owls [Athene cunicularia], Mountain Plovers, [Charadrius montanus], and Killdeer [Charadrius vociferus]) and omnivores consisting of Horned Larks (Eremophila alpestris) and McCown's Longspurs (Rhynchophanes mccownii) than bird communities off colony sites. Bird communities off colony sites were dominated by small-bodied insectivorous sparrows (Ammodramus spp.) and omnivorous Lark Buntings (Calamospiza melanocorys), Vesper Sparrows (Pooecetes gramineus), and Lark Sparrows (Chondestes grammacus). Densities of 3 species of conservation concern and 1 game species were significantly higher on colony sites than off colony sites, and the strength of prairie dog effects was consistent across the northern Great Plains. Vegetation modification by prairie dogs sustains a diverse suite of bird species in these grasslands. Collectively, our findings and those from previous studies show that areas in the North American Great Plains with prairie dog colonies support higher densities of at least 9 vertebrate species than sites without colonies. Prairie dogs affect habitat for these species through multiple pathways, including creation of belowground refugia, supply of prey for specialized predators, modification of vegetation structure within colonies, and increased landscape heterogeneity.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

More Mimickry!

I came across a couple of amazing examples of birds mimicking human speech on Buzzfeed and wanted to share the videos with you all! It seemed particularly apropos following Julie's post on mimickry.
First, an amazing Common Myna named Kaleo who was raised by a human from the age of about 3 days old:

Here is another myna making an appearance on The Johnny Carson Show (some of you may remember Jack Hanna of the Columbus Zoo appearing on late-night talk shows with a host of animals- seeing him on TV as a child was one of the reasons I became a biologist!) :

And finally, Pepper, a European Starling that was rehabilitated after being found at a very early age with a broken leg, making an incredible array of vocalizations:

Thursday, January 10, 2013

More on the CBC

Fellow board member Anika pointed out this recent podcast from Science Friday about the Christmas Bird Count. For more information on the CBC check out the National Audubon site. More locally, Eve Newman, Outdoors reporter for the Laramie Boomerang, accompanied my team the day of the count and wrote an article about this year's event in Laramie.

A Not So Silent Spring

I came across this article from Conservation Magazine yesterday, albeit a couple years old, but it's very interesting. The article is about birds incorporating human noises into their vocal repertoire.

A male European blackbird was terrorizing the neighborhood. For several months, he started singing at around 5 a.m. each day, but this was no ordinary song. The bird imitated the sounds of ambulance sirens and car alarms at a jarringly life-like volume. It even produced cell-phone ring tones that went unanswered for hours.

The tale of the annoying blackbird in Somerset, U.K., was not unique. Hans Slabbekoorn, an assistant professor of behavioral biology at Leiden University in The Netherlands, had heard similar stories—but he was skeptical that such bizarre reports could be true. So he started asking people to send him recordings of the off-kilter blackbirds. Sure enough, what he got back was pitch-perfect imitations of urban noises, including not just sirens and car alarms but even the distinctive sound of a golf cart backing up—mimicked by blackbirds living near a golf course.

While the sounds seemed artificial, the reason birds were making them was surprisingly natural....continued here.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Laramie CBC results are in!

Gray-crowned Rosy-finch by Shawn Billerman
Laramie's Christmas Bird Count was held December 15, 2012 with 38 participants working in 15 teams. There were 50 species and 4851 individuals observed. The weather was the best we've had in years: overcast with scant wind.  Highlights included crossbills, rosy-finches, redpolls, and a few lingering blackbirds.

Canada Goose    1
Gadwall    1
Mallard    123
Green-winged Teal    4
Common Goldeneye    4
Bald Eagle    5
Northern Harrier    3
Red-tailed Hawk    1
Ferruginous Hawk    3
Rough-legged Hawk    16
Golden Eagle    3
American Kestrel    1
Merlin    4
falcon sp.    2
Wilson's Snipe    20
Rock Pigeon    1059
Eurasian Collared-Dove    231
Mourning Dove    16
Great Horned Owl    1
Downy Woodpecker    2
Hairy Woodpecker    2
Northern (Red-shafted) Flicker    15
Northern Shrike    2
Steller's Jay    2
Blue Jay    1
Clark's Nutcracker    1
Black-billed Magpie    28
American Crow    570
Common Raven    298
Horned Lark    2
Black-capped Chickadee    21
Mountain Chickadee    174
Red-breasted Nuthatch    59
White-breasted Nuthatch    4
Brown Creeper    4
Townsend's Solitaire    11
American Robin    497
American Tree Sparrow    28
Song Sparrow    1
White-crowned Sparrow    1
sparrow sp.    30
Dark-eyed Junco    3
Dark-eyed (Oregon) Junco    15
Dark-eyed (Slate-colored) Junco    3
Snow Bunting    5
Red-winged Blackbird    4
Brewer's Blackbird    2
Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch    132
House Finch    112
Red Crossbill    65
White-winged Crossbill    1
crossbill sp.    42
Common Redpoll    2
Evening Grosbeak    2
House Sparrow    1212

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Specimens, Bald Ibis, and Razorbills

Northern Bald Ibis or Waldrapp
(Wikimedia Commons)
In my morning perusal of The New York Times, I came across this 2011 series on collecting. I thought it might interest others and it relates to our December public talk.

At the same time, my fiance was reading his Swiss newspaper and came across a story on a Northern Bald Ibis that took a wrong turn in migration this year and ended up in Spain. The Northern Bald Ibis, or Waldrapp, is a critically endangered species that, unlike other ibis species, prefers to nest on cliffs in arid regions. For more on this interesting species, check out the website here (click on the British flag for the English version).

And that story reminded me of a recent article I read on the eBird site on an invasion of Razorbills in Florida this winter. There must be something wrong when a pelagic seabird from the north shows up in numbers in tropical waters. You can read about the Razorbill invasion here.

Julie Hart, LAS Secretary