Tag Archives: birds

Mountain plover not warranted for endangered species listing

Nesting mountain plover (Photo/Fritz Knopf)

Here’s some food for thought.

The mountain plover’s populations now range around 20,000 birds left in the world. Across the globe, a very different creature, the saiga antelope, only boasts about 40,000. One of these animals is globally listed as critically endangered, and one was found not qualified for federal endangered species status. Any guesses?

Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, after a review of the current scientific and commercial information found mountain plover not warranted for listing, citing threats to its habitat as less significant than previously thought.

Mountain plovers are a small ground-nesting bird that rely on short-grass prairies and shrub-steppe environments in the American West for breeding habitat. Land use and habitat loss have been a primary suspect in the disappearance of the plover, an animal so good at hiding, that science is just now starting to get a better idea of how many are left. Recent research shows that rather than being pushed out by agriculture, mountain plovers are actually using farmland as a refuge during nesting season.

I want to take this as good news, but with short-grass prairie and steppe disappearing, swallowed up by energy development and overgrazing, active cropland does not sound like the most stable of refuges for a bird of small numbers, stature and a master of camouflage.  My hope is that not being listed will help avoid animosity of the animal by landowners, and perhaps even foster pride and care of the plover so that farmers will not have to contend with being the harbor of an endangered species.

Saiga Antelope, numbers around 40,000, critically endangered and rightfully so.

How many of an animal is left is not necessarily determinant of whether a species should be protected. Many factors go into the decision. But one has to wonder, what makes a population of 20,000 birds so much more stable than 40,000 of another species?

Advertisements

Naked Penguins

Naked featherless African Penguin by Nola Parsons

Feather-loss disorder has also been observed in African penguins, which inhabit the coast and offshore islands of South Africa. (Photo/Nola Parsons)

Penguins already endure their fair share of image problems. They’re a bit pudgy around the middle (not that there’s anything wrong with that). They have wings, but can’t fly, and a beach strut that’s really more of an awkward waddle. Now these tuxedoed birds can add bald to that list.

In a somewhat alarming twist of fate, penguins are being born featherless, and scientists don’t know why.

The phenomenon first emerged in 2006 when researchers observed featherless black-footed (AKA African) penguin chicks at a rehabilitation center in Cape Town, South Africa. That year about 59 percent of penguin chicks at the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds lost their feathers, followed by 97 percent in 2007. Meanwhile, researchers with the Wildlife Conservation Society and University of Washington in Argentina also observed featherless Magellanic penguins in the wild.

In both cases, the featherless chicks grew at slower rates than their downy counterparts, most likely because they had to expend more energy to regulate their body temperature, said the researchers in a press release. The goose-fleshed penguins also had a tendency to spend more time in the sun, compared to feathered penguins. Many of these vulnerable chicks died during the study.

A researcher holds a featherless Magellanic penguin chick.

A researcher holds a featherless Magellanic penguin chick. (Photo/Jeffrey Smith)

So far, scientists don’t yet know what’s causing what looks like the avian version of mange. Disease, thyroid disorder, genetics and nutrient deficiencies could all be potential culprits, they say.

On a slightly more positive note, it does look like chicks that survive do eventually grow feathers. Researchers are working furiously to figure out what’s causing the trouble.

“We need to learn how to stop the spread of feather-loss disorder, as penguins already have problems with oil pollution and climate variation,” said P. Dee Boersma, one of the study authors in a press release. “It’s important to keep disease from being added to the list of threats they face.”

Scientific Journal:

Waterbirds

Study Authors and Affiliations:

Olivia J. Kane, Jeffrey R. Smith, and P. Dee Boersma of the Wildlife Conservation Society and the University of Washington; Nola J. Parsons and Vanessa Strauss of the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds; and Pablo Garcia-Borboroglu and Cecilia Villanueva of Centro Nacional Patagónico

Contact:

John Delaney, jdelaney@wcs.org, 718-220-3275, Wildlife Conservation Society


Saving the white-shouldered ibis and a way of life in rural Cambodia

Only about 500 of the birds remain in the world,  making the white-shouldered ibis a creature that flirts dangerously

A white-shouldered ibis in Cambodia. Human impact on this critically endangered bird can be beneficial rather than destructive, and could even save it from extinction. (Photo/Hugh Wright)

A white-shouldered ibis in Cambodia. Human impact on this critically endangered bird can be beneficial rather than destructive, and could even save it from extinction. (Photo/Hugh Wright)

with extinction. The once common bird’s number is not up just yet however, as the ibis’ saving grace may lie in their relationship with small-scale farmers of Cambodia, a partnership likely to help save both the bird and a traditional way of life in Southeast Asia.

A new study published in the journal Animal Conservation highlights the work of the University of East Anglia and BirdLife International as they look at the benefits of traditional small-scale farming to survival of the critically endangered white-shouldered ibis.  Farming and cattle grazing create ideal forage land for the birds and opens a clean line of sight for spotting predators and prey. These findings draw attention to the friendlier side of human impacts. But plans for large-scale development in western Siem Pang, Cambodia, threaten both the farmer’s way of life and the ibis’ last hope for survival.

Scientists, conservation groups and the Cambodian government are currently looking at ways to mediate impacts. “The Forestry Administration in Cambodia is supportive of a proposal to make the area a protected forest,” said Hugh Wright, lead author of the study, in a press release “and we believe that this – along with the continuation of local farming methods practiced for generation after generation – will be crucial in saving this once common species from extinction.”

To find out more about the plight of the white-shouldered ibis, check out BirdLife International.


Into the Big Empty: Wyoming’s Red Desert goes live on YouTube

Journey into Wyoming’s Red Desert, a little known wilderness the size of Denali National Park that brings the steppes of Mongolia to America’s backyard. Here, energy companies vie for the desert’s riches in a world of 50,000 pronghorn, herds of wild horses and some of the most unforgiving landscapes of the West. Come learn of this place and the struggles to protect it as you travel Into the Big Empty.


Bait fisheries drive decline of bird species

(Photo/Andrew Easton, 2004)

(Photo/Andrew Easton, 2004)

Every year the horseshoe crabs gather to spawn, releasing thousands of eggs along the Delaware Bay coast. And with timing perfected by evolution, red knots, a bird enduring one of the most impressive yearly migrations from the Arctic to the Tierra del Fuego, arrive just in time to gorge on the eggs of the horseshoe crab. It is a vital stop on the “peeps'” spring migration. But the crabs and their eggs are disappearing, a loss with dire consequences for the little birds.

Red knot populations have fallen more than 75 percent in recent years, and new research published in this month’s issue of Bioscience reveals that Red knots can thank the bait fisheries for their hungry stomachs. Within half a decade the fisheries harvesting horseshoe crabs grew 20-fold, gobbling up more than 2 million crabs a year and effectively eliminating 90 percent of the eggs that red knots rely upon to survive their almost 19,000 mile migration.

But this research is not just a blame game for the fisheries. A coalition of scientists worked together on this study to help draft recommendations for the adaptive management of the bait fisheries that could help all three groups survive.


Sawhill Ponds revisited – Winter

_mg_0055_filtered

_mg_0216 _mg_0045

Just a few more photos of Sawhill Ponds in Boulder, Colo.  Mew gulls winter in  Boulder, and here two birds fight over a fish that they’ve managed to peck out of the ice.


The Nature Files and a visit to Sawhill Ponds

The Nature Files brings information about the open spaces and wildlife that share our home in the Denver Metro area to you. I hope that this site can be a resource as well as an inspiration for those of you wanting to explore the nature in your backyard. I will periodically upload featurettes including sights and sounds of easy day or weekend outings around Boulder, Denver and other nearby counties, and will also share photos, or news about what’s happening with parks and open spaces.

Click photo to view a short video about Sawhill Ponds.

Click photo to view a short video about Sawhill Ponds.

SAWHILL PONDS

I hope you enjoy the first posting about Boulder’s Sawhill Ponds, a series of 18 ponds — reclaimed gravel pits — that are a safe haven for birds and other local wildlife. This open space area is about half a mile north of the 75th Street and Valmont Road intersection, and great for an easy, but not too crowded nature walk. I plan to bring you a new featurette about this location each season in order to give you some idea of how this environment evolves throughout the year. Click on the photo below to access the first show depicting late fall at Sawhill Ponds.


%d bloggers like this: