Category Archives: Science & Tech

Older mother birds in the news

The oldest known wild bird, a Laysan Albatross first banded in 1956 and believed to be at least 60 years old, was spotted on Midway Atoll a few weeks ago. The bird was seen with a newly-hatched chick, making the albatross, known as Wisdom, one phenomenally old mother bird.

Wisdom isn’t the only old mother bird making headlines this week. Research into the breeding success of older versus younger Great Tits was recently published, with bad news for more mature birds:

The offspring of older great tit females are much less successful than those of younger mothers. Things mainly go wrong in the later stages of the upbringing, concludes evolutionary biologist Sandra Bouwhuis.

Great tit
Great tit by chapmankj75, Creative Commons on Flickr

Bouwhuis studied birds in Oxfordshire in the UK and Vlieland in the Netherlands. The research further revealed:

Although great tits can live for nine years, breeding success declines rapidly after the age of two. Nevertheless, older great tits keep on breeding every year, says Bouwhuis: ‘They carry on to the bitter end’. What is remarkable is that at the start of the breeding period there’s very little difference between the nests of older and younger females. Bouwhuis discovered, however, that massive mortality occurs just after the young leave the nest.

The precise reason for the breeding success of younger Great Tit females versus older tits was not clear. Also not clear – the influence the age of male Great Tits has on breeding success.

Great tits also have age-related defects
Oldest known wild bird returns to Midway Atoll to raise chick

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Posted in Endangered, Ornithology, Science & Tech | 1 Comment

Transmitter-fitted Black-tailed Godwits unable to breed

Some interesting news about the side-effects of attaching or implanting location transmitters on birds. This is from bird researchers at the University of Groningen, roughly translated from this article.

Grutto (2)
Grutto (2) by Alamagordo, Creative Commons on Flickr

Twelve female Black-tailed Godwits fitted with transmitters last May were unable to successfully breed this year. The birds, which are a threatened grassland species, did attempt to mate, but the transmitter worked inadvertently as a birth control device (IUD). The data was reported last week by Theunis Piersma of the University of Groningen in the NRC Handelsblad newspaper.

Scientists from the University implanted the transmitters, which are like small radios, inside fifteen female godwits. The purpose of the study was to learn more about the exact migration route of birds. The birds breed in Friesland, in the north part of the Netherlands, and migrate to southern Europe and Asia for the winter.

Although the study yielded a wealth of information about the migration habits of the birds, researchers were very disappointed with the inadvertent side effect it had on the birds’ lack of breeding success. One bird did lay eggs, but the eggs were deformed and did not hatch.

Via the work with the implanted godwits, the researchers noted that three of the birds flew more than 5,000 km non-stop, averaging 70 km per hour.

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Raptor robots

The following video profiles two companies that are marketing raptor robots. The machines are being marketed to airports as bird deterrents.

The Spanish company Bird Raptor Internacional has produced a model airplane painted to look like a Peregrine Falcon. In the clip, the “falcon” flies by a flock of gulls, who quickly disperse. I wonder if the falcon paint job had anything to do with it, though. Would they disperse if a regular model airplane flew closely over them?

A Dutch company has developed another robotic bird, but the GreenX model Bald Eagle actually flaps its wings! Developers of this model see it being used in nature films or as a spy plane. I think they should market to model airplane enthusiasts – I mean, what a cool toy!

Read more about the robo-raptors here.

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Posted in Funny, Netherlands, Offbeat, Science & Tech, Spain | 1 Comment

Dutch Oil Platform Fitted With Bird-Friendly Lighting

The Dutch oil company NAM and Philips have developed a new type of lighting . The lamps radiate a limited part of the color spectrum. Due to the lights’ unique coloring, migrating birds traveling over the North Sea are less likely to be distracted by them.

The lights are already in use on one oil platform in the Dutch part of the North Sea. The test case has been very positive so far.

Every year 60 million birds travel over the North Sea. Most birds make their journey safely and without incident. However up to 10% of the migrating birds can become distracted by the lights on offshore oil platforms. The birds may end up circling the oil platform for a long time before collapsing from exhaustion into the platform or the sea.

NAM has been seriously researching this problem and came up with the different type of light being a possible solution. Birds are especially distracted by reds in the color spectrum, and not as much by blues and greens. Normally, light which lacks reds would be a problem for the oil platform workers. NAM joined with Philips to come up with a solution that was safe for both the birds and the oil platform workers.

The oil platform L15, off the coast of Vlieland, was equipped with a mix of the special TL- and HID-bulbs. The test is currently studying not only the reaction of the area birds but also the safety standards of the workers on the platform. Beside the reduction in bird-related incidents, so far testing has complied to all human safety standards as well. The final results of the study will be prepared after the fall migration.

Source: Eerste platform met vogelvriendelijke verlichting

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Posted in Migration, Netherlands, Science & Tech | Leave a comment

Bar-tailed Godwit Sets Long Distance Record

A Bar-tailed Godwit set a long distance migration record for the longest non-stop flight when it flew from New Zealand to China, a distance of more than 10,000 kilometers. The bird was tracked via satellite.

The Godwit traveled the great distance over a period of just nine days, facing a headwind. The study of the birds is part of the Pacific Shorebird Migration Project.

Read more about the Project.

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Camera On White-tailed Eagle Nest Bounty For Researchers

The Dutch nature agency Staatsbosbeheer is using images from the camera they placed on a White-tailed Eagle nest over the winter to learn more about these large birds of prey. Experts and scientists are discovering new information about their nesting habits and look forward to learning about the fledge once the hatchlings emerge from the nest in the Oostvaardersplassen natural area.

Researchers have been surprised to discover that the female is more restless than the male when sitting on the nest. The male and female take turns keeping the nest warm and searching for food.

The camera has also revealed that the eagle born there last year has not returned to the nest. He has been observed hunting in the vicinity, from the same waters as his parents.

Viewers of the nest cam can see the parent bird sitting on the nest, but a view of the eggs inside is not possible. Since the camera was erected over the winter, the birds have increased the size of the nest and the edge is now 50 centimeters higher than before.

Source: Staatsbosbeheer leert van beelden broedende zeearenden

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Birds Avoid Radioactive Nests At Chernobyl

Researchers studying birds around the site of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster found that the birds favored sites with lower background radioactivity.

The study was based on the behavior of Great Tits and Pied Flycatchers between 2002 and 2003. Researchers placed nestboxes in areas of varying radioactivity; the birds preferred to nest in lower levels of radiation. Based on their choices, Pied Flycatchers did seem to be more sensitive to radiation.

Read more about the study.

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Nuthatches Shown To Understand Chickadees

Researchers have determined that nuthatches are able to understand warning calls by chickadees. Depending on the type of warning call given, the nuthatches reacted in different ways.

The researchers played recordings of chickadee calls and observed the reaction of the nuthatches. A warning call about a small predator resulted in different behavior than from a large-predator warning call. This demonstrated that the nuthatches not only heed the warning of the other bird, but understood details about the warning.

Read more about the study.

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China’s Robo-Pidge

Chinese scientists have implanted electrodes into a pigeon’s brain to control behavior by electrical stimulation. Using remote control, the scientists have been able to command the bird to such tasks as turning during flight and landing.

The stimulation to the robo-pigeon’s brain is controlled by computers. Robot birds might be used for tasks like surveillance, rescue and mapping in the future.

Source: Chinese scientists create ‘robot’ pigeon

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Albatrosses Logging Important Data

Laysan and Black-footed Albatrosses fitted with GPS tracking devices have been gathering important information about their habits and habitats. The devices measure temperature as well as track the movements of the birds with a ten meter margin of error.

Both species of albatross are listed as either Vulnerable or Endangered. They are fitted with the devices on Hawaii’s Tern Island and Guadalupe Island, Mexico. The data will be shared with fishery commissions in order to inform them where they are most likely to have bycatch (birds caught during fishing operations) and what they can do to reduce it.

Read more about the Albatross tracking program.

Visit BirdLife International’s Save the Albatross website.

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