Annals of DDT: Eagles return to Buffalo, New York, in a big way

July 26, 2017

Caption from the Buffalo News: A bald eagle, one of a pair of eagles raising chicks in a nest on Strawberry Island in the Niagara River, fishes in the river, Saturday, March 9, 2013. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

Caption from the Buffalo News: A bald eagle, one of a pair of eagles raising chicks in a nest on Strawberry Island in the Niagara River, fishes in the river, Saturday, March 9, 2013. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

Among the greater chunks of powerful evidence for the damage the pesticide DDT did to birds is the dramatic recovery of some species as residual DDT levels drop, after DDT use ended in the U.S.

In 1970 only one nesting pair of bald eagles lived in New York state; I have not found whether they successfully fledged any young that year, but the odds are against it.

47 years later, eagles nest in after-recovery record numbers in New York, according to the venerable Buffalo News.

If you haven’t spotted the stark white head of a bald eagle somewhere in the Buffalo Niagara sky, it might be time to get out of the house more often.

Eagles are back in historically high numbers, according to a recent report by the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

The DEC reported a record-high 442 bald eagle breeding territories statewide in 2016, including 58 spots in six Western New York counties, including Erie, Niagara, Wyoming, Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Allegany counties. That’s up from 38 spots in the region in 2012.

“It’s an astonishing number,” said Jim Landau, a count coordinator from the Hamburg Hawk Watch.

Recovery of bald eagles, and other endangered raptors including osprey, brown pelicans and peregrine falcons, is a great chapter in the book of successes of the Endangered Species Act and the rising conservation consciousness of the 1970s.

Recovery of all four species waited after EPA’s ban on crop use of DDT, until residual DDT levels in adult birds declined to a point the female birds could once again produce competent shells for the eggs they laid. DDT levels in fish and prey also had to drop to levels that would not poison chicks just hatched.

EPA banned DDT from U.S. farms in 1972, designating all DDT made in the country for export, to fight disease. Though DDT use declined world wide as resistance to the pesticide spread rapidly among mosquitoes and flies that were its target, most diseases DDT fought against declined. I estimate about 100 million fewer people died of malaria alone after the DDT ban. Birds were saved, and so were humans.

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Are birds smarter than Columbus?

March 8, 2016

Another great find on Twitter, for geography, biology and physics classes.

How do birds navigate, compared to, say, Columbus? Most U.S. history texts make a big deal of Columbus’s navigation, made possible by invention of the magnetic compass and the sextant.

Birds are more accurate, and they have neither. Well, they don’t have external magnetic compasses. See the cartoon.

Neuroscientist and cartoonist team up to talk about birds

Neuroscientist and cartoonist team up to talk about birds “seeing” magnetic lines of the Earth! Information from Dwayne Godwin at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, with drawings by Jorge Cham, who draws Piled Higher and Deeper.

Teachers, have someone in the drafting department make this cartoon into a poster for your classroom.

As usual, the truth is more weird and wonderful than fiction writers could hope to invent.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Columbia University’s Twitter managers.


Wildlife refuge photos, early January 2016

January 5, 2016

National Wildlife Refuges. Four days ago, most people were very fuzzy on what they are, except for members of Ducks Unlimited, and conservationists.

Here are a few Tweets to help the rest along.

Moose at the National Elk Refuge, outside Jackson Hole, Wyoming:

Wisdom is a 64-year old albatross who remarkably returns to the Midway National Wildlife Refuge every year, and has raised chicks most of those years. Midway NWR is northwest of Hawaii:

Sparky the lightning catching bull bison, at the Midwest NWR:

Every Kid in a Park shares a photo of an unnamed wild area (threw it in just for the heck of it):

Yellow-rumped warbler at the Sacramento NWR:

USFWS workers conduct a controlled burn at the Okefenokee NWR in Florida:

Hamden Slough NWR, Minnesota, is 26 years old today, January 5:

Great blue heron at Sacramento NWR:

Pied-billed grebe at Sacramento NWR:

Conservatives keep misattributing a famous quote to Thomas Paine, but it was Ed Abbey who said it. Rumor is you can find Abbey at the Caza Prieta NWR in Arizona:

Buenos Aires NWR, Arizona:

Wichita Mountains NWR, Oklahoma:

Bosque del Apache NWR, New Mexico (near Las Vegas, New Mexico, home of the first Owl Cafe and the wonderful Owl Burger):

https//twitter.com/CherylRofer/status/683725871123791872

Back to the Midway Atoll NWR:

1908 photo from Oregon’s Malheur NWR:

Working against extinction of monarch butterflies, at St. Marks NWR:

Lake Klamath NWR in Oregon, critical habitat for ducks along the Pacific flyway:

Loxahatchee NWR:

“Conservatives” want to sell these lands off, or drill for oil or gas, or mine for minerals, on many of these lands. Will these places be preserved for your great grandchildren and America’s future?


Audubon Christmas Bird Count issue: Eagles did not prosper during the ‘time of DDT’

August 26, 2015

Still photo captured from the film,

Still photo captured from the film, “Christmas Bird Count,” by Chan Robbins; photo shows a group counting birds, probably in the 1940s or 1950s. Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count got its start in 1900.

In the notoriously wrong and misleading “100 things you should know about DDT” posted by pro-DDT, anti-wildlife Steven Milloy of “Competitive Enterprise Institute” and Fox News fame, based on the foggy rant of Dr. Gordon Edwards, we get these two misleading claims:

69. After 15 years of heavy and widespread usage of DDT, Audubon Society ornithologists counted 25 percent more eagles per observer in 1960 than during the pre-DDT 1941 bird census. [Marvin, PH. 1964 Birds on the rise. Bull Entomol Soc Amer 10(3):184-186; Wurster, CF. 1969 Congressional Record S4599, May 5, 1969; Anon. 1942. The 42nd Annual Christmas Bird Census. Audubon Magazine 44:1-75 (Jan/Feb 1942; Cruickshank, AD (Editor). 1961. The 61st Annual Christmas Bird Census. Audubon Field Notes 15(2):84-300; White-Stevens, R.. 1972. Statistical analyses of Audubon Christmas Bird censuses. Letter to New York Times, August 15, 1972]

99. The Audubon Society’s annual bird census in 1960 reported that at least 26 kinds of birds became more numerous during 1941 – 1960. [See Anon. 1942. The 42nd annual Christmas bird census.” Audubon Magazine 44;1-75 (Jan/Feb 1942), and Cruicjshank, AD (editor) 1961. The 61st annual Christmas bird census. Audubon Field Notes 15(2); 84-300]

100. Statistical analysis of the Audubon data bore out the perceived increases. [White-Stevens, R. 1972. Statistical analyses of Audubon Christmas bird censuses. Letter to New York Times, August 15, 1972]

Those claims are false with regard to bald eagles.

The careful citations offered by Milloy and Edwards simply do not exist; if the source exists, the source does not say what is claimed by these guys.  (Don’t take my word for it; go see for yourself.)

Audubon never suggested, in any forum, that their famous Christmas Bird Count had shown increases in eagles. Most other species showed no increases, either. I spent a couple of days at the library of Southern Methodist University reviewing every issue of Audubon Magazine from 1941 through 1974, and found not a single article suggesting anything other than declining eagle populations in the lower 48 states (Alaska eagles were not untouched by DDT, but were not so seriously affected; and as you will see below, the first counts of Alaska’s eagles did not occur until after 1950, so the addition of numbers from Alaska counts do not indicate an increase in U.S. population of eagles.)

I also reviewed each bird count, usually published in a separate booklet with the March issue of Audubon in that time. While raw numbers increased, that was clearly due to increases in people observing. At no point did any ornithologist or Audubon member suggest eagles were in recovery, from 1941 through 1972.

That’s a long explanation, unsuitable for quick discussion on blogs, and wholly too much for a 140-character Tweet. My experience with Milloy and his followers is that they will say my analysis somehow errs, though they cannot offer any real analysis from any other source that isn’t just a misreading of the raw bird count.

I wrote the Audubon Society, and asked them to respond to the claim. At first the press office thought the claims so bizarre that they didn’t think a reply necessary.  I sent them a half-dozen links to other documents that cited Milloy and Edwards.  Delta Willis at Audubon took the claims to officials of the bird count.

Geoff LeBaron, Director of Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count sent the following reply (posted without correction).

See also the footnote from Audubon Chief Scientist Gary Langham appended to the end of the e-mail.

LeBaron, Geoff
Sent: Friday, May 10, 2013 10:21 AM
To: Willis, Delta; Langham, Gary; Dale, Kathy
Subject: RE: DDT and effects on birds, and Audubon Christmas bird count

Hello Delta,

From the 1930s through 1970s there was a tremendous growth in the number of Christmas Bird Counts, from 203 total counts in the 30th CBC to 1320 counts in 80th CBC.  The number of observers on those counts rose from 679 in 30th to 32,322 in the 80th Count.  That is a tremendous increase in effort as well as geographic coverage, and more people in more areas are going to count more Bald Eagles, even if the populations are [were] declining.

A second major factor is that during that period many CBCs were started with the specific goal of censusing wintering Bald Eagles.  Thus we were targeting the areas where eagles were wintering, and thus tallying a much greater percentage of the total population.

Thirdly, there were only two individual CBCs conducted in Alaska prior to the late 1950s.  Bald Eagle populations never suffered dramatically in Alaska [from DDT?], and their numbers were always much higher there.  Since the late 1950s there has been a tremendous growth in the number of counts in Alaska—again, with some of these counts targeting areas where wintering eagles congregate even in the thousands.  These counts added in Alaska can contribute greatly to the total number of Bald Eagles in each season’s CBC.

Thus even while Bald Eagle populations were plummeting in the lower 48 states (outside of Florida) CBC [Citizen Science] efforts were greatly increasing, and in fact targeting monitoring Bald Eagles.  That is why both the raw number of eagles and the numbers when weighted for observer effort went up when you pull CBC data for Bald Eagle during the decades of heavy DDT use.

It’s still educational to look at raptor numbers in CBC data in the years following the banning of the use of DDT in the US.  Many species of raptors show a rapid rebound in numbers after the mid-1970s…and Bald Eagles also dramatically increased.

Per Dr. Gary Langham, Audubon Chief Scientist:   Audubon scientists are careful to include levels of participation and geographic coverage in all analyses. Fortunately, we have tracked both of these aspects since the CBC was started and so it is straightforward to adjust for their impacts.

Bird counts do not show that eagles were out of trouble during DDT years, roughly 1946 through 1972; especially they do not show that bald eagle populations increased.

More:

Explanation of the Christmas Bird Count in four minutes, by Chan Robbins.

Chandler Robbins, founder of the Audubon Christimas Bird Count, screen capture from Audubon film

Chandler Robbins, founder of the Audubon Christimas Bird Count, screen capture from Audubon film “Christmas Bird Count.”

Nota bene: Yes, this has sat in my “to be published” box for too long. It was scheduled for publication, but it appears I had not hit the “publish at scheduled time” button. My apologies to readers, and especially to Audubon’s scientists and press people.


Red-breasted sapsucker in Yosemite

May 6, 2015

I really like this close-up of a woodpecker; from Twitter.

Wonder how long birds live? Red-breasted sapsuckers can live at least 7 years! Photo by Ann & Rob Simpson #Yosemite

Wonder how long birds live? Red-breasted sapsuckers can live at least 7 years! Photo by Ann & Rob Simpson #Yosemite


Snow Friday

February 27, 2015

It was clear this morning, but the snow started just before 9. It’s predicted to warm up enough that the stuff from the skies will be wet, but the ground will be stay frozen. Ice storm.

Businesses and schools shut down about noon.

Two male house finches, probably in their first year, try to eat enough to stay warm on a snowy day in Dallas. Photo by Ed Darrell

Two male house finches, probably in their first year, try to eat enough to stay warm on a snowy day in Dallas. Photo by Ed Darrell

Something about snow makes the birds hungry.  A tube feeder we filled last night emptied by noon.

At home we refill the feeders as best we can.

Rewards are high.  We’ve had six species in the yard at any time, all morning, and at least eight species total.

  • Blue jays

    A sparrow -- a chipping sparrow juvenile? -- acting as scout to find food; it was joined by at least two companions after dusting snow off of seeds in the feeder, and finding them suitable.

    A sparrow — a chipping sparrow juvenile? — acting as scout to find food; it was joined by at least two companions after dusting snow off of seeds in the feeder, and finding them suitable.

  • Cardinals
  • Two species of junco
  • House finches
  • Gold finches
  • White-winged doves
  • A sparrow (juvenile chipping sparrow?)
  • Chickadees
  • Wrens (probably Carolina, but they won’t come close to the house)

It would be nice if our downy woodpecker friends would visit, but they’ve been scarce most of the fall.

Where are the titmice?

As usual, we have some vireo or other (Bell’s, I think), but it knows us well enough to be able to sing to get us excited, but appear only when humans are not looking.

How are things in your yard?

We get the goldfinches in winter, with their winter colors; some of the males may be anticipating spring a bit.

We get the goldfinches in winter, with their winter colors; some of the males may be anticipating spring a bit.

Female cardinal and male house finch await their turn at the small bird feeder.

Female cardinal and male house finch await their turn at the small bird feeder.

 


Eye to eye with a black vulture

May 26, 2014

Great photo out of a group at the University of George studying carrion-eating birds.  They capture vultures — black vultures are a current project.

Close up of an eye of a black vulture.  Photo by Megan Winzeler, at a University of Georgia research project.

Close up of an eye of a black vulture. Photo by Megan Winzeler, at a University of Georgia research project. Note the photographer, reflected in the bird’s eye.

This bird has the unromantic name of BLVU202.

“The last thing the old prospector would see . . .”


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