Wildfires

US wildfires cause mass bird die off

After an abnormally large number of migratory birds turned up dead in people’s backyards in Colorado and other parts of western and central U.S. states.

Around the same period as the birds’ deaths, more than 3 million hectares (7.8 million acres) of land burned, which resulted in habitat loss and the emission of toxic compounds that threaten the health of both avian species and humans. In addition, snowstorms struck parts of the Northwest in early September while these birds were in the midst of their annual migration. Some areas experienced temperature drops of as much as 40°C (72°F) in just a few hours.

Researchers found that the wildfires and also the toxic air were the two factors that influenced the birds’ mortality. There was a strong correlation between the observations of dead birds and wildfires and the toxic gases they produced, but there was not enough information to conclude that the avian mortality was connected to the early winter storms.

Wildlife

Quietly Disappearing

An Australian songbird is slowly fading into extinction as it loses its mating song crucial for its survival.

Scientists at the Australian National University say the young regent honeyeaters are struggling to learn mating calls because the adult birds are disappearing and not passing on the tunes. “This lack of ability to communicate with their own species is unprecedented in a wild animal,” said researcher Dejan Stojanovic. He adds that the honeyeaters are now so rare that some younger birds never find an adult male to teach them their love song.

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Wildlife

In a desert seared by climate change, burrowers fare better than birds

In the Mojave Desert, small mammals are weathering the hotter conditions triggered by climate change much better than birds, finds a new study. Using computer models, the study team showed that small mammals’ resilience is likely due to their ability to escape the sun in underground burrows and their tendency to be more active at night. This gives small mammals lower ‘cooling costs’ than birds, which have less capacity to escape the heat.

Wildlife

Avian Tragedy

Scientists believe that the untold thousands of migratory birds that fell from the sky dead or dying across parts of the southwestern U.S. in September were probably victims of smoke from the West’s catastrophic firestorms. The songbirds could have either choked in the massive pall of toxic smoke and gas or used up their fat reserves trying to fly around it.

Environment

Bird Blackout

A New Zealand South Island village has switched off all of its streetlights in an attempt to stop young birds from crash-landing on roadways.

Wildlife experts say the Westland petrel fledglings are possibly mistaking the streetlights of Punakaiki for the bioluminescent fish they typically eat. The town hosts about 6,000 breeding pairs of the rare birds each March, which is celebrated with a festival.

But the introduction of blue-white LED lights last year has some local bird watchers believing that it’s confusing the seabirds even more than usual, causing them to crash onto roads and sometimes be struck by cars.

Wildlife

Avian Tragedy

Scientists are trying to determine what caused untold thousands of migratory birds to fall from the sky dead or dying across parts of the southwestern U.S.

The songbird fatalities could be linked to the thick pall of wildfire smoke they flew through en route from Alaska and Canada to their winter grounds in Central or South America.

Or they could have used up their fat reserves trying to fly around it before they perished in New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, Arizona and parts of Nebraska. Some fear the smoke damaged their lungs. “They’re literally just feathers and bones,” New Mexico State University graduate student Allison Salas wrote on social media.

Mosquito Plague

A mosquito population boom in the wake of Hurricane Laura’s fury in late August along the Gulf Coast has led to deer, cows, horses and other livestock being killed by the insects.

Animals as large as bulls have been drained of their blood and stressed to fatal exhaustion, according to veterinary experts at Louisiana State University.

The pests became so pervasive that several Louisiana parishes launched aerial spraying operations. Similar swarms occurred after Hurricane Lili in 2002 and Hurricane Rita in 2005.

Wildlife

Global warming shrinks bird breeding windows

For breeding birds, timing is everything. Most species have just a narrow window to get the food they need to feed their brood—after spring’s bounty has sprung, but before other bird species swoop in to compete. Now, a new study suggests that as the climate warms, birds are not only breeding earlier, but their breeding windows are also shrinking—some by as many as 4 to 5 days. This could lead to increased competition for food that might threaten many bird populations.

Birds typically time their breeding to cues signaling the start of spring, so that their chicks hatch when food like plants and insects is most abundant. But global warming has pushed many species to breed earlier in the year; that effect is especially prominent at higher latitudes, where temperatures are rising faster than near the equator. Few studies, however, have examined how climate change affects the duration of breeding windows, which closely track the number of chicks born each year as well as overall population trends.

To find out how the length of breeding periods has changed over time, a team examined a data set spaning from 1975 to 2017 which includes the nesting records of 73 species and more than 820,000 birds from a 1000-square-kilometer area in Finland’s boreal forests. Each year, trained volunteers placed uniquely numbered rings around the legs of newly hatched chicks to track their movements and survival. Because chicks had to be a certain size to get a ring, the researchers were able to use the timing of the tagging to work out when each chick had hatched—and therefore when breeding had occurred.

On average, the beginnings and ends of the breeding periods are occurring earlier in the year. However, the ends are shifting back faster than the beginnings, resulting in an average breeding window that is 1.7 days shorter in 2017 than it was in 1975. During that same period, Finland’s average temperature rose by 0.8oC, suggesting many bird species are actively responding to changing temperatures.

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Wildlife

Global warming is changing where birds breed

Global warming is shifting the behavior of migratory birds in the eastern regions of North America. Researchers have discovered that the breeding range of some birds is shrinking, while for others this range is expanding.

According to the study, birds that both breed and winter in North America are extending their ranges north where warming temperatures have created new, suitable places to breed.

The findings indicate that bird species such as Carolina wrens and red-bellied woodpeckers will be able to adapt to future climate change.

On the other hand, some birds have breeding ranges that are dwindling. Neotropical migratory birds breed in North America during the summer and migrate to the Caribbean, Central America, and South America for the winter.

Neotropical migrants include warblers, orioles, flycatchers, and other species that birdwatchers look forward to spotting in the spring. The researchers found that Neotropical birds are not expanding north, yet their suitable southern range is shrinking.

Over the past five decades, Neotropical bird populations have decreased by about 2.5 billion individuals.

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Wildlife

Avian Tragedy

Thousands of migrating swallows and swifts were found dead across parts of Greece during the first week of April after they were killed by freak high winds and downpours. Others were found gravely injured.

The country’s ornithologist association blamed currents that blew the birds from northern Africa into the strong winds from the north of the Aegean Sea, especially around the Greek Islands.

The association warned residents to take care not to drive or walk over exhausted birds that may have landed after flying for many hundreds or thousands of miles.

Wildlife

Wildlife Return to Urban Areas

Streets and other urban landscapes emptied out around the world in recent weeks because of the coronavirus pandemic are becoming repopulated by wildlife that had historically roamed the areas.

Rafters of turkeys are rambling through Oakland, California, while pumas stalk the streets of Santiago, Chile, returning to habitats once taken from them.

Foxes “change their behavior very quickly. When a place becomes quiet, they’re straight in there,” Romain Julliard, of the French Natural History Museum, told AFP. Lawns left unmowed are also providing conditions for bees and butterflies to thrive, Julliard added.

Trump’s industry-friendly rollback could kill billions of birds

The Trump administration intends to end the long-established practice of threatening criminal penalties to pressure companies into taking action to prevent unintentional bird deaths.

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 (MBTA) allows for fines or prosecution for oil and gas, construction, communications and other companies who do not take steps to protect bird populations.

The most notable enforcement case bought under the MBTA resulted in a $100m settlement by BP, after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010 killed approximately 100,000 birds.

The Trump administration is swiftly pushing through industry-friendly rollbacks on dozens of environmental protections ahead of the election in November.

A rollback on vehicle emission standards was announced on Tuesday. In January, a rule to remove environmental protections for streams, wetlands and groundwater was completed.

The Trump administration says deaths of birds that fly into oil pits, mining sites, telecommunications towers, wind turbines and other hazards should be treated as accidents not subject to prosecution. The proposal would cement that into federal regulation.

The threat of fines and prosecution meant that companies took steps to protect birds such as red lights on communication towers, sirens and loud noises these to prevent birds landing on toxic water sites.

Most notable was the destruction last fall of nesting grounds for 25,000 shorebirds in Virginia to make way for a road and tunnel project. State officials had ended conservation measures for the birds after federal officials advised such measures were voluntary under the new interpretation of the law.

The move to relax the bird law, combined with Trump rollbacks of the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act puts birds and their habitat at greater risk, said Audubon Society vice president Sarah Greenberger.

Wildlife

Urban Avians

A new study finds why some birds thrive in cities while others go extinct due to human activities — they can either grow large brains or produce more offspring.

“On the one hand, species with large brains, like crows or gulls, are common in cities because large brain size helps them deal with the challenges of a novel environment,” said lead author Ferran Sayol of Sweden’s University of Gothenburg.

“On the other hand, we also found that small-brained species, like pigeons, can be highly successful if they have a high number of breeding attempts over their lifetimes.”

Venetian Revival

Fish and even dolphins have returned to the now-calmed waters of Venice’s famed canals due to the shutdown of tourism and daily life during Italy’s coronavirus health crisis.
The hundreds of speeding motorboat taxis and tourist boats that used to churn La Serenissima’s canals are now docked in silence. The huge cruise ships are also gone, while even most of the gondolas are moored.
The city’s typically turbid canals are now clear enough to see the native seaweed and returning schools of fish.

Wildlife

Climate-sensitive bird hints at global warming’s lasting impact

It’s hard to be a bird these days.

Take the black-throated blue warbler. The migration patterns of this small songbird have been slowly but steadily changing over the past 50 years, according to a study published Thursday in the journal The Auk: Ornithological Advances.

The timing of the bird’s flight patterns has been advancing, with its spring migration occurring around one day earlier per decade. While the warbler isn’t facing the same risks as some of its other feathered friends, it’s the kind of small but unignorable change that ornithologists are becoming all too familiar with.

Birds are very susceptible to changes, and they are really good indicators of what’s happening around them in their physical environment. This has made birds a particularly important part of understanding the growing impact of climate change.

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Wildlife

Birds are shrinking – Study

Birds are getting smaller. So shows an analysis of migratory birds that died after colliding into buildings in Chicago and were collected as specimens for the Field Museum of Natural History.

David Willard, a Field Museum ornithologist, has measured the Windy City’s dead birds since 1978. Data from his calipers and scales reveal decades-long trends in bird bodies: Their legs, on average, are growing shorter. They have lost weight. Their wings are getting slightly longer.

These changes are present in nearly all of the species he measured, according to a study of 70,716 bird specimens from almost 40 years published Wednesday in the journal Ecology Letters. Morphing birds, Willard and his colleagues say, reflect a changing climate.

The study authors examined precipitation, vegetation and other factors that could contribute to bird size. They determined an increase in summer temperatures is the strongest predictor for smaller birds.

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Global Warming

North American Birds under Threat

Two-thirds of bird species in North America are at risk of extinction if global temperatures continue to rise, according to a new report from scientists at the Audubon Society. A total of 389 species, out of 604 studied, are expected to experience declines in their populations as a result of warmer temperatures, higher seas, loss of habitat, and extreme weather, all driven by climate change.

Among those birds most at-risk are the greater sage grouse, Baltimore oriole, common loon, and the wood thrush. The new study comes less than a month after research found the United States and Canada have lost 3 billion birds since 1970, equal to losing one out of every four birds.

Global Warming

Earlier breeding season for some Arctic seabirds

The breeding season of some seabirds in Arctic regions takes place earlier as a result of the temperature rise caused by climate change, according to a science article with Francisco Ramírez, from the Faculty of Biology and the Biodiversity Research Institute (IRBio) of the University of Barcelona -as one of the main authors.

According to the study, published in the journal Global Change Biology, surface-feeding seabirds in the north of the Pacific Ocean are moving their breeding season to an earlier timing than the rest of species -about ten days before for over the last thirty-five years- due the ocean’s temperature rise and ice melting, which are signs of Spring onset in the Arctic.

The Arctic is one of the most sensitive areas to the global warming effects. Ice melting and the continuous rise of temperatures -higher than the average worldwide- are dramatically altering the structure of the Arctic ecosystems.