Global warming changes local bird populations, matching scientists’ predictions

April 3, 2016

Phys.org caption: The American robin, a familiar species across much of continental USA, has declined in some southern states such as Mississippi and Louisiana, but increased in north-central states, such as the Dakotas. Credit: US Fish & Wildlife Service

Phys.org caption: The American robin, a familiar species across much of continental USA, has declined in some southern states such as Mississippi and Louisiana, but increased in north-central states, such as the Dakotas. Credit: US Fish & Wildlife Service Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2016-03-strong-effects-climate-common-bird.html#jCp

Most serious birdwatchers can tell you about global warming and climate change, just from watching the birds at their feeders, and when those birds migrate.

Now comes a study to confirm with data and controlled observation what the birders have been saying all along. Phys.org reported:

Scientists have shown for the first time that common bird populations are responding to climate change in a similar pronounced way in both Europe and the USA.

An international team of researchers led by Durham University, UK, found that populations of bird species expected to do well due to climate change had substantially outperformed those expected to do badly over a 30 year period from 1980 to 2010.

The research, conducted in collaboration with the RSPB and the United States Geological Survey (USGS), is published in the journal Science.

It is the first real demonstration that climate is having a similar, large-scale influence on the abundance of common birds in widely separated parts of the world, the researchers said.

Among the species showing pronounced effects of climate change are common woodland and garden birds such as the wren, in Europe, and the American robin in the USA.

(Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2016-03-strong-effects-climate-common-bird.html#jCp)

Biologists especially work to predict effects of warming on plants and animals, both to help plan changes in activities such as farming and hunting, and to protect species that are endangered now, or are likely to become so due to changing climate factors.

This study shows scientists can predict with accuracy some of the wildlife effects.

These changes are consistent with changing climate suitability within those areas, the researchers said.

Other factors, such as the size of the birds, the habitats they live in and their migratory behaviour, all affect , but did not differ systematically between groups advantaged or disadvantaged by climate change.

Therefore, only climate change could explain the differences between average population trends in advantaged and disadvantaged groups, the researchers said.

The study’s lead authors, Dr Stephen Willis and Dr Philip Stephens, of Durham University’s School of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, said the findings showed there was a large-scale, consistent response by bird populations to climate change on two continents.

The study was published in the April 1, 2016 issue of Science, “Consistent response of bird populations to climate change on two continents.

Science  01 Apr 2016:
Vol. 352, Issue 6281, pp. 84-87
DOI: 10.1126/science.aac4858

Tip of the old scrub brush to Svein T veitdal:


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?


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 . . .”


Annals of DDT: Rachel Carson was right, DDT hurts birds

April 6, 2014

Coming up on World Malaria Day 2014, and U.S. Congressional elections, we’ll start seeing repeated false attacks on Rachel Carson as the right’s most-favored representative of environmentalism, and those attacks will include calls to “end the ban” on DDT to roll back the “increase in malaria caused by the ban. ” Facts are that DDT was never banned in Asia nor Africa (not even under a 2001 anti-pollution treaty); Rachel Carson called for no ban on DDT, but instead urged use of “integrated pest management” (IPM)  to combat disease vectors, and IPM used broadly since 1999 has slashed malaria death totals and infections even more; and malaria deaths and infections started a downward trend in the 1960s that continues today, mostly without DDT.
This is one in an occasional series of posts to correct these hoax claims, with citations to information that readers may check for themselves. Much of this post appeared here earlier, in much longer form.

Rachel Carson was very careful in her 1962 book Silent Spring.  She offered more than 50 pages of citations to science papers and hard research to support what she wrote — a “don’t take my word for it, check it out for yourself” kind of honesty.

Still, today, there is an organized effort with broad success on the internet to smear Rachel Carson and hide the science she wrote about.  Standard from adherents to this insurgent anti-science movement include are claims that Carson’s book was wrong.  The title comes from a prologue of the book in which Carson described a spring in some future year, a spring which was unheralded by the songs and chatterings of birds.  Carson argued that, if humans do not stop to think about secondary effects of chemicals used, especially as pesticides, whole regions might be devoid of birds, dead from DDT poisoning.

Carson cited research from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about just how deadly DDT could be to entire ecosystems.  She was particularly alarmed by research done at Midwestern universities, where DDT sprayed to save American elm trees from Dutch elm blight, quickly killed off most birds who came in contact with the stuff.  Dutch elm blight is spread by beetles, the targets of DDT in those sprayings.

In the 1950s, ornithologists, wildlife managers and bird watchers documented the pending demise of entire species of birds, especially raptors at the top of local food chains.  Audubon bird watchers throughout the eastern U.S. noted that migrations consisted of older birds only, with young and maturing birds appearing to have disappeared. Older birds mated, built nests, and laid eggs. Usually the eggs did not hatch, with chicks dying before the end of gestation.  In the few cases where young hatched, they generally died before they could migrate even one year.

Especially for the American bald eagle, this was a great disappointment. Eagles had been plentiful when European colonists migrated to North America, starting after Columbus’s voyages, 1492-1494.  By 1900, however, eagles had been hunted almost to extinction — well, they were extinct in some states.  Colonists, then farmers and ranchers, saw eagles as pests.  They ate fish the colonists wanted to catch for themselves.  Eagles would sometimes take a farmer’s chicken.  Cases of eagles taking larger prey are sparse to non-existent prior to the latter 20th century — but farmers claimed they did.  And so the birds were hunted mercilessly, simply to shoot them.

In 1911 the federal government tried to solve a many-states-wide problem, with a law protecting eagles from hunting.  It did little good.  In 1941 Congress passed a new law, with criminal penalties for people who poached eagles.  The decline of adult numbers slowed dramatically.  But that problem with hatching fledges stopped the recovery, at least so far as young birds who could replace those who died of old age or accidents.

Carson’s critics argue that eagles were never really in decline.  Steven Milloy and Gordon Edwards invented a fantastic tale that the Audubon Society annual Christmas Bird Count actually recorded an increase in eagle numbers, a false claim that Audubon certainly never made, based on a twisted misapplication of bird count methods.  USFWS and others noted the decline of eagles speeding up through the 1950s and 1960s.

Carson’s critics then will say that what plagued eagles was hunting and poaching, and not DDT.  While that was true prior to 1941, that was not the case after World War II when the laws were enforced well.

When studies indicated that DDT would stop birds from successfully breeding, Carson cited them. Her critics claim those studies were in error.

Double-crested cormorant chicks, dead in their nest from DDT-DDE poisoning; nest in the Columbia River estuary, in Oregon. US Fish and Wildlife photo.

Double-crested cormorant chicks, dead in their nest from DDT-DDE poisoning; nest in the Columbia River estuary, in Oregon. U.S. Fish and Wildlife photo. 1999 report.

But they were not.  In fact, not a single study cited by Carson in Silent Spring has ever been refuted by later peer-reviewed research, nor pulled back for any reason.  A decade after Carson’s death, researchers discovered that residual DDT in birds, especially eagles and other raptors, prevented the females from forming competent shells on the eggs they laid.  Even when the DDT doses were not high enough to kill the chicks outright, the shells could not survive the mother’s sitting on them.  The shells broke, and the chicks inside died.

DDT was a scourge to the American bald eagle, the brown pelican, the peregrine falcon, and osprey — and probably many other birds.

Healthy pelican egg on the left, and a DDT-affected pelican egg on the right.  Image from VCE Environmental Science.

Healthy pelican egg on the left, and a DDT-affected pelican egg on the right. Image from VCE Environmental Science.

Discover magazine carried an article about DDT and Carson’s book in November 2007Discover said that, since 1962 when Carson’s book was published, more than 1,000 peer-reviewed publications support Carson’s conclusions, a record remarkable in any branch of science.

In fact, Carson may have underestimated the impact of DDT on birds, says Michael Fry, an avian toxicologist and director of the American Bird Conservancy’s pesticides and birds program. She was not aware that DDT—or rather its metabolite, DDE—causes eggshell thinning because the data were not published until the late 1960s and early 1970s. It was eggshell thinning that devastated fish-eating birds and birds of prey, says Fry, and this effect is well documented in a report (pdf) on DDT published in 2002 by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). The report, which cites over 1,000 references, also describes how DDT and its breakdown products accumulate in the tissues of animals high up on terrestrial and aquatic food chains—a process that induced reproductive and neurological defects in birds and fish.

History also supports the scientists.  President John F. Kennedy tasked the President’s Science Advisory Council to check out Carson’s book, to see whether it was accurate, and whether the government should start down the path of careful study and careful regulation of pesticides as she suggested.  In May 1963 the PSAC reported back that Carson was dead right on every issue, except, maybe for one.  PSAC said Carson wasn’t alarmist enough, that immediate action against pesticides was justified, rather than waiting for later studies or delaying for any other reason. (The full text of the report may be obtained here.)

Rachel Carson was right.  DDT kills birds.  DDT threatened several species with extinction.

Carson’s science citations were verified by a select panel of the nation’s top biologists including entomologists, certified as scientifically accurate.   Since she published, more than 1,000 peer-reviewed studies have been performed that verify her findings on DDT’s harms to birds.

I have never found a contrary study published in any peer-review science journal, based on research.


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