Stories tagged bird

I just downloaded the Raptor Resource 2008 Project Banding Report (how's that for a little light reading?), and I found the following:

"We removed the High Bridge stack nest box after the 2007 nesting season. Xcel Energy was converting from a coal facility to natural gas turbine operation, and planned to raze the stack some time in early 2008. We installed a replacement nest box on the nearby ADM stackhouse, but it appears that the falcons chose to nest under the nearby High Bridge instead."

All spring we watched and waited, and the birds were there all along! I'll get in touch with the folks at Xcel and Raptor Resource and see what we can do about watching the peregrines during the 2009 nesting season.

Folks from Excel Energy and the Raptor Resource Project provided a new nest box to the staff at the ADM terminal at 575 Drake Street (at the intersection of Shepard Road and Randolph Avenue). ADM is going to mount and prepare the box by February 1. With a little luck, the falcons we've been lucky to watch for the last few breeding seasons at the High Bridge stack will find the new box and set up housekeeping as usual. (The High Bridge stack is going to be demolished; right now, the nest cam shows the construction site of the new, adjacent power plant.) Keep your eyes open and your fingers crossed...

Dec
13
2007

The Science Museum is hosting a distinguished visitor this week, one whom most of us may not meet in a lifetime in Minnesota. On Monday, December 10th, a bird called a Townsend's Solitaire appeared, feeding on the blue cones (not berries) of the red cedar (or Juniper) trees outside the P1 level of the parking ramp. It has since favored the Big Back Yard, where it suns itself on some of the structures and bordering fence and shrubbery.

Townsend's Solitaire: If you're walking past the Science Museum this week (on the Big Back Yard side), keep your eyes open for this guy.
Townsend's Solitaire: If you're walking past the Science Museum this week (on the Big Back Yard side), keep your eyes open for this guy.Courtesy Adele Binning

A resident of the western mountains from Alaska to New Mexico, and east to the Black Hills of South Dakota, the Solitaire is a very rare migrant and winter visitor in Minnesota. Although recorded at widespread locations across the state, it appears only as an occasional individual in unpredictable fashion.

True to its name, the Solitaire is a lover of solitude and its bold, clear, ringing song wonderfully symbolizes its wilderness surroundings. This member of the thrush family somewhat resembles a miniature mockingbird in color and many markings, but is closer to the size of a slender bluebird--about eight inches in length.

How long this guest will stay with us remains to be seen...

Identification tips for the Townsend's Solitaire
Wikipedia entry

Alex, an African Gray parrot who was the subject of many groundbreaking studies on bird intelligence, learning, and communication, as well as the subject of many, many documentaries and educational TV programs, has died in Massachusetts at the age of 31. (The title of this post isn't meant to be flip: I had the distinct privilege of meeting Alex a few years ago, on a trip through MIT's Media Lab, and I can honestly say I've never met a smarter and more charismatic bird.)

*All due credit to Monty Python

Jul
19
2007

No, he's not dead, he's restin'! Remarkable bird, the Brazilian blue. Beautiful plumage!: Photo by gnakcgnackgnack at Flickr.com
No, he's not dead, he's restin'! Remarkable bird, the Brazilian blue. Beautiful plumage!: Photo by gnakcgnackgnack at Flickr.com

Chalk up another victory for environmental protection. Lear’s Macaw, a brilliant blue parrot native to Brazil, is coming back from the brink of extinction. Ten years ago, a survey found only 70 birds in the wild. A June count by the American Bird Conservancy found 751.

The bird is still endangered by hunting and illegal pet trade. But protecting its habitat in northeastern Brazil has helped bring the bird back.

Oh, and before I forget: Season 1, episode 8.

Scientists will be banding Athena's chicks starting at 9am on Tuesday, June 26. Science Museum visitors get to pick names for the little peregrine falcons: vote now for your favorite! We'll be closing the poll on Monday morning.

Apr
16
2007

“Athena”—the female peregrine falcon at the High Bridge power plant nest box—laid her first egg of 2007 on Sunday, April 15. Peregrines usually lay three or four eggs each year, so we'll be watching for more in the next few days.


Athena's first egg, 2007: Hard to see, but it's there. (It's the orange blob by her foot.) Congratulations, Athena.

The male and female falcons share the 33-day incubation duties, which include turning the eggs regularly. (The birds don't incubate the eggs in earnest, though, until they've laid all the eggs they're going to lay.) If all goes well, the baby peregrines will hatch sometime in the second half of May.

You can get daily updates here on Science Buzz, or get hourly updates by visiting Xcel Energy's High Bridge daily photos page.


Falcon chicks: Baby peregrines are helpless when they hatch, but they grow at an astonishing rate. (Courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service)
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More on peregrines from Science Buzz...

Apr
13
2007

Two years ago, everyone was talking about the work of paleontologist Mary Schweitzer: she noticed that thin slices of a 68-million-year-old fossil femur from a Tyrannosaurus rex looked like they still contained soft tissue. (See photos of the bone.) Using antibodies to the collagen protein, she showed that the bone still contained intact collagen molecules—the main component of cartilage, ligaments, and tendons.

Hello, dinos?: A new study shows that preserved collagen from a 68-million-year-old Tyrannosaurus rex is similar to that of chickens. (Photo courtesy Danelle Sheree)
Hello, dinos?: A new study shows that preserved collagen from a 68-million-year-old Tyrannosaurus rex is similar to that of chickens. (Photo courtesy Danelle Sheree)

She used antibodies to a type of collagen extracted from chickens. The fact that the antibodies stuck suggested that T. rex collagen is similar to that of birds. And when she compared the preserved soft tissue to that of modern animals, the closest match was an emu—a flightless bird.

To learn more about the collagen in the T. rex bones, Schweitzer worked with John Asara, a chemist at Harvard University, to analyze it using mass spectrometry.

The Economist describes the technique this way:

This technique identifies molecules (or fragments of molecules) from a combination of their weight and their electric charges. Knowing the weights of different sorts of atoms (and of groups of atoms that show up regularly in larger molecules, such as the 20 different amino acids from which proteins are assembled) it is usually possible to piece together fragments to form the profile of an entire protein.

When Asara compared the profile he'd created to proteins from living animals, the closest matches were to chickens and ostriches. (Schweitzer and Asara's study was published in the April 13, 2007, issue of the journal Science.)

Many paleontologists already believed, based on fossil bones, that birds are dinosaurs or their descendants. But this new paper provides even more evidence of the fact.

Buzz stories on the subject from last year:

Recent news articles:

Mar
19
2007

Indonesia—with the world's highest death toll from H5N1 avian influenza—briefly stopped providing samples to the World Health Organization (WHO), saying only organizations that agreed not to use the samples for commercial purposes would have access. Now the Indonesian government has struck a new deal to share samples under a plan that would guarantee access to any resulting vaccines.

H5N1 avian influenza viruses: This is a colorized transmission electron micrograph of Avian influenza A H5N1 viruses (in gold). (Courtesy J. Katz Goldsmith and S. Zaki, CDC)
H5N1 avian influenza viruses: This is a colorized transmission electron micrograph of Avian influenza A H5N1 viruses (in gold). (Courtesy J. Katz Goldsmith and S. Zaki, CDC)

The Reuters article says,

"Indonesia has said it was unfair for foreign drug firms to use samples, design vaccines, patent them and sell the product back to the country. ...

Menno de Jong of the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit in Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh City said sharing viruses and clinical data was vital to improve diagnostics, clinical care and vaccine development, but sharing vaccines was vital too.

'I think the point is well taken from the Indonesia experience that there should be some guarantees for countries affected by H5N1 that they will also share in the vaccines produced,' he said."

Biotech and pharmaceutical companies spend BIG money to produce tests, treatments, and vaccines for a huge range of conditions, from the life-threatening to the merely inconvenient or uncomfortable. And they’re understandably concerned about protecting their investments.

But afflicted patients are usually not compensated for the samples that make these medical miracles possible. (For a good discussion of the problem, read this editorial from the New York Times).

Check out Bryan’s blog entry ((“Patenting human genes”), and then vote in our poll.

Tell us what you think: Does Indonesia’s insistence that compensation (in the form of access to resulting vaccines) for H5N1 avian influenza samples make you feel safer/better?