Stories tagged birds

Aug
20
2014

Hot spot: This solar farm in the Mojave Desert in California is igniting birds in flight at an alarming rate. Mirrors on the ground reflect super-hot light to the towers to be converted into electricity.
Hot spot: This solar farm in the Mojave Desert in California is igniting birds in flight at an alarming rate. Mirrors on the ground reflect super-hot light to the towers to be converted into electricity.Courtesy Craig Dietrich - Flickr
A huge solar energy farm in the Mojave Desert seems to be having one serious side effect: passing birds in flight are bursting into flames.

What's going on is that 300,000 mirrors on the ground are directing sunlight to huge towers that convert that energy into electricity. Bugs are attracted to the bright light from the mirrors drawing hungry birds to get into the path of the reflected light. And that concentrated light energy is causing the birds to catch fire, sometimes at a rate of one every two minutes. The flaming birds have been noticed since the plant powered up in February and its estimated that the total bird kill this year could top out at 28,000. Researchers estimated that one bird they found dead had been roasted by light beams that were nearly 1,000 degrees F.

Plans for building a second plant are on hold while investigators study the situation at the current site. What do you think? Is the potential of killing many birds a worthwhile cost for increased clean, "green" electricity?

I want to fly like an eagle to the sea.....
fly like an eagle, let my spirit carry me.

Nov
26
2012

Drawn to birds: A little time and effort can lead to some new understanding and nice sketches of our feathered friends.
Drawn to birds: A little time and effort can lead to some new understanding and nice sketches of our feathered friends.Courtesy John Muir Laws
Today is the kick-off of an eight-week effort that encourages us all to get to know our feathered friends a little bit better.

Feeder Watch: Sketch runs until January 20. You're welcome to flutter down into the project any time you'd like and "feed" as much or as little on it as you desire.

It's a simple concept with just one requirement – having access to an active bird feeder. Each day you watch the birds at the feeder, you're encouraged to sketch what you're seeing. The project also ties into Project Feeder Watch, which asks people to count and report the various types of birds they see at their feeders each day.

Why spend your time sketching birds? Sketching allows us to look at the world more closely and learn to observe details quickly and accurately. The project hopes to be a marriage between avid birders who might not have the most highly-developed sketching skills with artists who might not know much about birds.

Participants can share their thoughts at an online discussion site to learn from others. The entire Feeder Watch: Sketch run has been divided into four two-week blocks that will have specific themes for participants to dig into. Sketchers are also encouraged to take photos of their efforts to share online with others and participate in contests.

Not quite sure how to get started? Here are some beginner sketching tips from the John Muir Laws website.

Okay, so get out there and load up the bird feeder, sharpen those pencils and start sketching!!! It's bound to be a happier experience than playing Angry Birds one more time! And check back at Science Buzz as we update progress on the project.

Mar
20
2012

Still image from a video of a Common Raven stripping fur off of a coyote.
Still image from a video of a Common Raven stripping fur off of a coyote.Courtesy Twin Cities Naturalist
A motion activated camera captured remarkable still images in Northern Washington County, Minnesota this week. The camera was set up on a dead coyote in hopes of discovering what scavengers would come eat. Raccoons and crows were not unexpected but it was exciting when Common Ravens showed up on the photos.

Northern Washington County is right on the edge of the breeding range of Ravens and simply seeing them during breeding season is an exciting sign they may be breeding. The photos went even further than simply showing the ravens were present however. What the series of photos which were complied into a video clearly show is a raven stripping the fur from the coyote and then carrying it away. Ravens are known to line their nests with animal fur so this is a clear indication these birds are nesting.

View the entire video here.

Information like this helps scientists build range maps of where birds breed. Many states are building breeding bird atlases with the help of citizen scientists who study bird behavior. Currently Minnesota, Colorado, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia have active atlas efforts. Find out more and learn how to take part at http://bird.atlasing.org/

Twin Cities Naturalist
Twin Cities NaturalistCourtesy Twin Cities Naturalist
Check out this week's Phenology Roundup where professional naturalist Kirk Mona of Twin Cities Naturalist discusses what's been seen around the Twin Cities area in the last week. Phenology is the science of the seasons. It looks at how and when nature changes according to seasonal climatic conditions.

View a summary of phenology sightings in the Twin Cities this past week.

Twin Cities Naturalist
Twin Cities NaturalistCourtesy Twin Cities Naturalist
Check out this week's Phenology Roundup where professional naturalist Kirk Mona of Twin Cities Naturalist discusses what's been seen around the Twin Cities area in the last week. Phenology is the science of the seasons. It looks at how and when nature changes according to seasonal climatic conditions.

View a summary of phenology sightings in the Twin Cities this past week.

Mar
25
2011

Bird killer?: Not so fast...
Bird killer?: Not so fast...Courtesy Aeolus88

So there's this rumor running around that wind turbines kill birds, and it's true--they do. But are turbines the greatest threat birds face?

Death by window: Some birds are injured or die when they smash into windows. This is a print left by a bird doing just that.
Death by window: Some birds are injured or die when they smash into windows. This is a print left by a bird doing just that.Courtesy Lionel Allorge

A number of things kill birds in the wild--predators (including cats and other birds), pollution, cars, windows, tall buildings, airplanes, and habitat loss are some examples. In suburban areas, cats may be the single greatest bird predator. A recent study in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. showed that cats were responsible for nearly 37% of gray catbird deaths--the number one cause of bird death.

Double take: This cat got a pigeon.
Double take: This cat got a pigeon.Courtesy Yug

Nationally, cats kill about 500 million birds per year, according to the American Bird Conservancy. By comparison, the US Fish and Wildlife Service states that wind turbines kill 440,000 birds per year--that's less than 1% of the number killed by cats. As wind farms sprout up across the US, expects turbines to kill over 1 million birds per year by 2030. Even so, that's a paltry sum compared to cats. So why all the hubbub about wind farms?

One reason may be that wind turbines are unnatural--people are fine with predators doing their thing, even if that thing is killing birds in the wild. By comparison, when human-made turbines kill birds, it makes us uncomfortable because it makes us responsible. But housecats and their feral cousins are certainly a human-related killer, too. They're not even native to North America.

I'm in ur birdhouse: Eatin' ur birdeez
I'm in ur birdhouse: Eatin' ur birdeezCourtesy Karelj

Another potential reason is the NIMBY factor. NIMBY stands for "not in my back yard." It refers to situations where people reject a project, even if it's beneficial, because they don't want the negative consequences near their homes. NIMBY rears its head when people vote down a bus depot in their neighborhood, or when a group campaigns against a power plant near their homes.

Many such projects projects end up getting built in neighborhoods that don't complain--often in low-income neighborhoods, where people feel disengaged from the political process or don't have the time or money to spend fighting a project. Sometimes that's a good thing, if it's an important project and brings good things to the neighborhood. Other times it can lead to a concentration of polluting or otherwise nasty projects being built all in one place.

Which would you rather look at?: Ok, I know modern turbines aren't so quaint, but still...
Which would you rather look at?: Ok, I know modern turbines aren't so quaint, but still...Courtesy Friedrich Tellberg

With wind turbines, many cite the birdie death toll, noise, and even appearance as reasons to cancel wind farm projects. But as technology improves, the turbines kill fewer birds and become quieter. New planning approaches site wind farms outside migratory paths so that birds are less likely to come into contact with them. They also place wind farms out to sea, or use designs that sit closer to the ground. There are really a ton of ideas blooming right now for wind power.

And as for the view, well, would you rather look at smog? Or cooling towers? I mean, power has to come from somewhere, and chances are it will involve building something.

I want pair-uh-keetz: Of course, what you do in your own house is up to you.
I want pair-uh-keetz: Of course, what you do in your own house is up to you.Courtesy Ttrimm

But the cats, well…there isn't much you can do to improve them. (I know, I've tried teaching my cat to do the dishes, but she refuses to get her paws wet.) If you really want to help the birdies, perhaps the most effective method is to keep your kitties inside. I got mine a fake bird and she doesn't even know what she's missing.

The mystery of why thousands of dead blackbirds were found in a small town in Arkansas on New Year's Eve has been solved. Loud sounds, possibly fireworks, scared the birds from their roosts, sending them into a panic that led them flying into house and in some cases, directly into the ground. Here's the initial video report of the event:

And here's the latest news story.

It's Friday, so it's time for another Science Friday video. Science Friday
Science Friday
Courtesy Science Friday
Today:
"Australian brush turkeys (Alectura lathami) are what biologists call "super precocial," says Ken Dial of the University of Montana Flight Lab. The birds fly the day they hatch, and hatchlings can climb vertical ledges better than adults, according to Dial's latest research."

The fossil remains of a giant five-foot penguin has been unearthed in Paracas National Reserve, a desert region along the coast of Peru. The new species, named Inkayacu paracasensisI (water king), grew to a size nearly twice as large as the modern day Emperor penguin. The nearly complete fossil even skeleton included flippers and feathers. Some color of a bird's feathers can be deduced by the size of the melanosomes in its structure and by their shape and arrangement. When Inkayacu's melanosomes were compared with those of modern day birds, the nanostructures indicated that the giant penguin's feathers were reddish brown in color.

"Before this fossil, we had no evidence about the feathers, colors and flipper shapes of ancient penguins," said paleontologist Julia Clarke, of the University of Texas, and lead author of the report that appears in Science. The new evidence brings up new questions. For example, Clarke and her team aren't sure when or why the feather colors of most modern penguins shifted to black and white. I. paracenensis lived during the Eocene epoch 36 million years ago, and its fossil has been nicknamed Pedro.

SOURCES and LINKS
Science News
e! Science News
Story at redOrbit
Color in fossil feathers