Birds in the News

We may not notice but birds are everywhere in the news almost everyday. On the radio, television, magazines, internet, and social media we find references to birds.newspaper-152320_960_720

From Audubon, this :”Four years ago, thousands of Snowy Owls stormed the northern United States, taking up

Snowy_Owl_Barrow_Alaska birds

posts in surroundings drastically different from the flat Arctic tundra over which they typically preside. Some whiled away the hours peering at dog walkers from suburban fences; one learned to hunt around a Minnesota brewery with mouse pro

blems. In a typical winter, around 10 Snowies visit Pennsylvania, but in 2013 the state was graced by 400. They were part of the largest Snowy Owl irruption, or influx of a species into a place they don’t usually live, the U.S. has seen since the 1920s.

If you missed it, you might be in luck. Project SNOWstorm, a volunteer-fueled Snowy Owl-tracking organization founded after that irruption, predicts another wave of Arctic raptors will hit North America this winter, according to their most recent blog post.”

Light pollution may be increasing West Nile virus spillover from wild birds

Meredith E. Kernbach, Daniel J. Newhouse, Jeanette M. Miller, Richard J. Hall, Justin Gibbons, Jenna Oberstaller, Daniel Selechnik, Rays H. Y. Jiang, Thomas R. Unnasch, Christopher N. Balakrishnan, Lynn B. Martin. Light pollution increases West Nile virus competence of a ubiquitous passerine reservoir species. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 2019; 286 (1907): 20191051 DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2019.105

We’re in the midst of summertime mosquito bite season and cities across the country are reporting a heightened number of West Nile Virus (WNV) cases. The house sparrow is one of the most common carriers of WNV in urban areas. Mosquitos feed off the infected birds and spread the virus to humans. New research finds house sparrows exposed to artificial light at night, such as what’s used in parking lots, maintain higher burdens of WNV for longer than those who spend their nights in the dark.

The study published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B concludes infected house sparrows living in light polluted conditions remain infectious for two days longer than those who do not, enhancing their host competence, or propensity to generate infection in other hosts or vectors. In turn, mathematical models show this likely increases the potential for a WNV outbreak by about 41 percent.

“The findings may be the first indication that light pollution can affect the spread of zoonotic diseases,” said lead author Meredith Kernbach, PhD student in the University of South Florida College of Public Health. “Many hosts and vectors use light cues to coordinate daily and seasonal rhythms, which is among the most reliable environmental cues, and disruption of these rhythms by light exposure at night could affect immune responses, generating the effects we see here.”

Researchers studied 45 house sparrows, exposing half to artificial light at night. Following 7-25 days in captivity, the team exposed the birds to WNV and took blood samples 2, 4, 6, and 10 days post-exposure. Researchers found all birds were infected within 2-4 days, however after that, birds exposed to light at night maintained transmissible burdens of WNV.

Kernbach says they picked the little brown birds since they live in close proximity to humans in urban areas, play host to a number of parasites and diseases, and are frequent carriers of WNV. While birds exposed to light pollution remain infected for a longer period of time, this did not increase mortality rates.

These results follow a previous study led by the University of South Florida that found zebra finches that have the avian stress hormone corticosterone (CORT) are more susceptible to mosquito bites. Such stress is known to be caused by a number of factors such as road noise, pesticides and light pollution. Researchers suggest new lighting technologies be created that are detectable to humans, but not for wildlife. From Science Daily

Island birds possess bigger brains than those from the mainland. Aug 1, 2018

Birds that live on oceanic islands have bigger brains than their mainland counterparts, according to findings published yesterday in

New Zealand Tomtit

Nature Communications.

Researchers analysed the sizes of 11,554 brains belonging to 1,931 bird species. Island living can be isolating, forcing birds to problem-solve and develop larger brains. The differences in brain size between island and mainland birds may arise from evolution and may not be an indicator of colonization success, the researchers report.

F. Sayol et al., “Predictable evolution towards larger brains in birds colonizing oceanic islands,” Nature Communications, doi:10.1038/s41467-018-05280-8, 2018.

Crows are maligned as scavengers that torment their dead brethren. Portrayed as aerial killers in the 1963 Alfred Hitchcock classic, “The Birds.”

In France, though, the wily crow is getting a makeover. Puy du Fou, a historical theme park in the Loire region about four hours from Paris, has trained six crows to pick up cigarette butts and bits of trash and dump them in a box.

Mon Dieu! Are the pigeons of Paris next?

Not likely. The theme park’s owners would rather have humans properly dispose of their own candy wrappers and cigarettes. The crows are part of an educational campaign to prompt the ecologically minded to take their rubbish with them.

“We want to educate people not to throw their garbage on the ground,” said Nicolas de Villiers, the president of Puy du Fou. That is especially true of smokers who casually flick lit cigarettes and extinguish them with the tips of their shoes. As Mr. de Villiers put it, if crows can be schooled to pick up trash, why can’t humans? NYTimes August 2018

Sites Carrying News About Birds

Audubon Bird News
Birding News
Bird News
Birds NewsBirdlife International
Brome Bird News
Huffington Post
Live Science
Natural News
New York Times Bird Stories Archive
Neuroscience News
Science Daily