Archive | Birds

Penguins Sent to U.S. for Global Warming Exhibition

A group of 20 penguins rescued from Brazilian beaches last year have been sent to the U.S. for an exhibition on climate change.

Brazilian scientists say the Magellanic penguins arrived safely this weekend in Los Angeles, where they will be kept in quarantine before being sent to California’s Monterey Bay Aquarium, AFP reports.

The birds were among hundreds of Magellanic penguins that washed up on the beaches near Rio de Janeiro while migrating from Argentina’s southern Patagonia region.

Brazilian wildlife officials are currently studying the penguins’ changing migration patterns. They said the birds have been following schools of fish further north in recent years, and that global warming may be to blame.

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Traveler Detained for Possessing 200 Illegal Animals

An Indonesian man was arrested Wednesday at an airport in Bangkok, Thailand for attempting to smuggle 200 live animals – including tortoises, snakes, squirrels, spiders, lizards and a parrot – in three suitcases.

The international wildlife monitoring group TRAFFIC said in a statement Thursday that the traveler was stopped after airport officials spotted the animals in images of the scanned luggage.

“It’s not unprecedented to find numbers — sometimes even hundreds — of live animals inside luggage like this,” TRAFFIC spokesman Richard Thomas told “What makes this case unusual is the wide variety of wildlife in the cases. Animals like tortoises are usually taped up to keep them from moving, and being detected, but quite how the man in this instance expected not to be found out is quite extraordinary.”

The suspect said he had illegally purchased the animals from an outdoor market in Bangkok.

“One really has to question how Chatuchak Market, which is located just down the street from both Wildlife Protection and Nature Crime Police Offices, can continue these illegal mass sales,” TRAFFIC regional director William Schaedla said, according to MSNBC. “The situation is totally unacceptable in a country that claims to be effectively addressing illegal wildlife trade.”

TRAFFIC reportedly found the following animals crammed inside the three black bags:

88 Indian Star tortoises

34 ball pythons

33 elongated tortoises

22 common squirrels

19 bearded dragons

18 baboon spiders

7 radiated tortoises

6 Argentine horned frogs

6 mata mata turtles

4 spiny tailed lizards

4 striped narrow-headed turtles

3 aldabra tortoises

2 boa constrictors

2 Sudan plated lizards

2 corn snakes

2 king snakes

1 ploughshare tortoise (world’s rarest turtle)

1 pig-nosed turtle

1 African gray parrot

1 milk snake

1 hog nosed snake
The man is currently in police custody and faces smuggling charges, TRAFFIC said.

Posted in Amphibians, Birds, Mammals, Reptiles0 Comments

Bird Flu-Resistant Chickens Could Prevent Pandemic

British scientists have engineered genetically modified chickens that are resistant to bird flu, claiming they have taken the first step in thwarting an illness that could one day set off a global pandemic.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge said they were able to breed chickens that didn’t transmit the avian flu to their neighbors – although they still got sick and died when exposed to the H5N1 virus.

The flu-resistant birds were bred with a piece of DNA that generates what researchers called a “decoy” molecule, which mimics an enzyme that is essential to the reproduction of the virus.

After breeding the genetically modified birds, researchers infected 10 of them and 10 normal chickens with the avian flu. They found that the transgenic birds did not infect healthy birds in the same pen with them.

Researchers still need to determine whether the transgenic chickens and their eggs would be safe for human consumption.

“Preventing virus transmission in chickens should reduce the economic impact of the disease and reduce the risk posed to people,” said Laurence Tiley, of Cambridge’s department of veterinary medicine, one of the study’s lead authors.

While H5N1 rarely infects people, it is highly deadly when it does. Experts fear that the virus will evolve into a form that can spread easily among people.

The study was published in Friday’s edition of the journal Science.

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Penguins Hampered by Tagging, Scientists Say

Tagging wild penguins with flipper bands threatens their chances of survival and has skewed data on the effects of climate change, biologists said Wednesday.

Researchers at the University of Strasbourg in France followed 50 banded adult King penguins and 50 non-banded penguins with under-the-skin transponders for 10 years.

Conducting their research on a French island in the southern Indian Ocean between Africa and Antarctica, they found the flipper-banded penguins had 39 percent fewer chicks and were 16 percent likelier to die than their untagged counterparts.

Study author Yvon Le Maho theorizes that the metal bands, which are tied around the top of the flipper, increase drag on the penguins when they swim.

“The picture is unambiguous,” Le Maho told news agency AFP. “Among banded penguins, the least-fit individuals died out in the first five years of the study, which left super-athletic birds.

“In the remaining five years, the mortality rate between the two groups was the same, but the reproductive success of banded penguins was 39 percent lower on average.”

Le Maho said this is the first study showing the long-term detriments of penguin tagging practices, and disproves the long-held assumption that the birds adjust to the bands.

He said banded birds respond differently to the climate, arriving later (16 days later on average) on the island to breed. This tardiness endangers the survival of their offspring, because late chicks face harsher weather conditions and more predators.

Consequently, studies that use banded penguins to measure the impact of global warming on marine life need to be reviewed, researchers said. Although climate change is still harming penguin populations, the data may be skewed.

“…[W]hen there was a rise in sea temperature and food was less abundant, the penguins had to swim farther, and banded penguins stayed longer at sea to forage compared with non-banded birds,” said Claire Saraux, like Le Maho a member of France’s National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), according to AFP.

The findings were published in Wednesday’s edition of the Nature science journal.

Posted in Aquatic Life, Birds, Conservation, Ecosystems, Effects0 Comments

“Aflockalypse” Mapped on Google

The recent string of mass animal deaths that the Washington Post and some bloggers have taken to calling “the aflockalypse” can now be monitored on Google Maps.

The regularly updated resource pinpoints mass animal kills all over the world with blue arrows, tracking the die-offs from Dec. 2010 to the present.

All the fuss began last week when 5,000 red-winged blackbirds mysteriously dropped dead in the small town of Beebe, Ark. When more birds rained down on a Louisiana stretch of highway and thousands of drum fish washed up along the Arkansas River, people began to connect the dots.

Since then, as Google’s tool confirms, a slew of significant die-offs have cropped up all over the world–from crabs to penguins to manatees.

While many express religious or environmental concerns over the cause of the kills, the scientific community remains firm in saying these events are unrelated and not all that uncommon.

Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson says these incidents normally pass under the radar, and that advances in technology are to blame for a perceived connection.

“This instant and global communication, it’s just a human instinct to read mystery and portents of dangers and wondrous things in events that are unusual,” Wilson told The Associated Press on Thursday. “Not to worry, these are not portents that the world is about to come to an end.”

Posted in Animals, Birds, Ecosystems, Fish, Mammals0 Comments

More Bird Deaths in Sweden: up to 100 Jackdaws Fall Dead

50 to 100 birds have been found dead on a street in Sweden, officials said Wednesday.

The mass kill comes just days after 4,000 to 5,000 red-winged blackbirds dropped dead in Beebe, Ark. – most likely due to confusion caused by New Year’s Eve fireworks – and power lines likely killed about 450 more birds along a Louisiana highway near Baton Rouge.

Veterinarian Robert ter Horst told The Associated Press that fireworks set off on Tuesday were a possible cause for the dead jackdaws, which were discovered in the city of Falkoping Wednesday.

Shock from the fireworks, cold weather conditions and difficulties finding food could have caused the birds to die from stress or get run over by vehicles in their confusion, ter Horst said.

Doomsayers are shaken up about these Hitchcockian events, but scientists point out that these sorts of bird deaths aren’t all that uncommon. According to the U.S. Geological Service’s website, about 90 mass deaths of birds and other wildlife occurred between June and Dec. 12. There were five incidents of mass kills that affected at least 1,000 birds, reports.

Swedish officials are testing five of the dead jackdaws, AP said.

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Birds Drop Dead in Louisiana Days After Massive Arkansas Kill

In the second large-scale blackbird kill to hit the Southeast this week, 500 birds rained down on a quarter-mile stretch of highway in Louisiana.

The carcasses of red-winged blackbirds were discovered in rural Pointe Coupee Parish, near Baton Rouge. Just a few days earlier, 4,000 to 5,000 birds dropped dead about 300 miles to the north, in Beebe, Arkansas.

Officials say New Year’s Eve celebratory fireworks may have confused the Arkansas birds, causing them to crash into homes and cars. They have also pointed to lightning or a high-altitude hail storm as possible causes for the massive die-off.

Wildlife experts in both states sent carcasses to the National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wis. and the University of Georgia for testing, but it isn’t clear whether the cases are even related, and officials say it’s unlikely they will be able to determine an explanation for the deaths with absolute certainty.

Still, such widespread kills are not uncommon. The U.S. Geological Service reports 90 mass deaths of birds and other wildlife from June through Dec. 12 alone, The Associated Press said Tuesday.

Last week, 83,000 drum fish washed up along a 20-mile stretch of the Arkansas River, about 100 miles west of Beebe. Officials believe disease is to blame for those deaths, because only one species of fish was affected.

Posted in Biodiversity, Birds0 Comments

Birds Fall from the Sky in Arkansas; Wildlife Officials Seek Explanation

City and state officials were perplexed when thousands of birds fell from the sky in Beebe, Arkansas on New Year’s Eve night.

Beebe mayor Mike Robertson said reports of the dead red-winged blackbirds and starlings first surfaced at about 11:30 p.m., WCSH6 in Portland, Maine said.

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission says the carcasses will be tested Monday by the state Livestock and Poultry Commission Lab and the National Wildlife Health Center Lab in Madison, Wis.

The birds fell in a one-mile area in Beebe, which is about 40 miles northeast of Little Rock. The total number of dead birds remains unclear, with some news sources – including The Associated Press – reporting that 2,000 birds dropped dead and CNN claiming that as many as 5,000 died en masse.

Environmental workers finished cleaning up the carcasses on Sunday, AP reports.

The Game and Fish Commission said air tests came back clean for toxins and that there were no immediate clues as to what caused the avian genocide.

“Test results usually were inconclusive, but the birds showed physical trauma and that the flock could have been hit by lightning or high-altitude hail,” said Game and Fish ornithologist Karen Rowe, according to WCSH6.

Game and Fish spokesman Keith Stephens told CNN that the commission was also considering local New Year’s Eve fireworks a possible culprit.

Posted in Biodiversity, Birds0 Comments

7 Brazilian Birds Make U.S. Endangered List

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has listed seven imperiled Brazilian birds as protected under the Endangered Species Act, the New York Times reports.

In a statement issued Tuesday, the agency called Brazilian federal protection laws “inadequate” in preserving the threatened species, several of which are considered at risk of extinction.

Registering the birds on the U.S. endangered list will speed the flow of federal grants toward international conservation projects and aid negotiations to improve protection efforts, the Times said. The move will also draw attention to development projects proposed by the U.S. government and multilateral lending agencies that might destroy the birds’ habitat.

The majority of the birds live in Brazil’s Atlantic Forest and Cerrado biome, which have been ravaged by deforestation for agricultural and resource extraction purposes. Only about 7 percent of the original Atlantic Forest remains intact today, the Times said.

“Protecting these species under the Endangered Species Act will give them a better chance of survival, and it will help attract worldwide attention to the urgent plight of these animals,” Justin Augustine, staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “We hope the Obama administration continues to undo the significant backlog of foreign species that deserve protection but have yet to receive it.”

The newly proctected species include: the black-hooded antwren, Brazilian merganser, cherry-throated tanager, fringe-backed fire-eye, Kaempfer’s tody-tyrant, Margaretta’s hermit, and southeastern rufous-vented ground-cuckoo.

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Bird Census: Volunteers Participate in Christmas Bird Count

An annual bird census kicked off in the Americas this week, calling on volunteers throughout the Western Hemisphere to help assess the health of bird populations and guide conservation action.

The National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count, a tradition currently in its 111th year, began Tuesday and runs through Jan. 5. Participants head out into the wilderness with binoculars, spotting scopes, cellphones, bird guides, and notebooks to jot down every bird they see over a 24-hour period.

The collected data provides researchers and conservation biologists insight into the health of bird populations.

“Each year, volunteers brave snow, wind, cold, ice or rain, often venturing afield during pre-dawn hours, to take part in the Christmas Bird Count, and they have made an enormous contribution to help guide conservation actions,” New York Department of Environmental Conservation Bureau of Wildlife chief Gordon Batcheller said in the release.

The CBC takes place in designated “count circles” fifteen miles in diameter, in both urban and rural areas. Each circle is supervised by a “count compiler,” who is an experienced birder, giving beginning bird-watchers a chance to get an effective introduction to bird identification.

Based on the collected findings, the National Audubon Society has noticed a trend in recent years: global warming has driven birds steadily north at a rate of one mile a year, the New York Times reports.

Audubon said in a release that this year’s census will be especially significant in evaluating the impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on bird populations.

Posted in Birds, Conservation0 Comments

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