Category Archives: Birds

Bird Science and Evolution: 2013 Year In Review

Many, many things happened in the area of bird science this year, so this review can not be comprehensive. But I’ve compiled a sampling of this year’s news and events for your edification. I’ve organized them by date (month/day) of the approximate reporting or blogging time of the item of interest, which does not necessarily reflect the actual date of occurrence.

click here to see my review at 10,000 Birds…

The evolution of four-winged birds

…When we look at living species (A and B) that we know shared a common ancestor resembling one of them (A), we can guess that the features seen in A evolved in steps more or less linearly to eventually resemble the corresponding features seen in B. For example, we think that chimpanzees and humans shared a common ancestor that resembled chimps a lot more than humans, and in fact, we consider living chimps to be a pretty close analog to this common ancestor. Chimp teeth are somewhat larger in relation to body size than human teeth, and human teeth have somewhat thicker enamel than chimp teeth. This might suggest that chimp-like teeth transformed over time, step by step, in a linear fashion, to become human-like … slightly smaller and somewhat thicker enameled … over evolutionary time.

That would be a reasonable hypothesis, but it would be wrong. When we look at the teeth found among fossil remains of human ancestors and their relatives, we clearly see that the creatures that arose form a chimp-like ancestor bore teeth are as different from both chimp and human teeth as one might see anywhere in the fossil record of mammals evolving over a few million years. …

Read all about it here in my latest post on 10,000 Birds.

A new study of Natural Selection in Birds

…there is a new study that has significant advantages of the Bumpus study, though the latter will still be useful in teaching about evolution because of its limitations and the questions it raises. The new study is about Cliff Swallows (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota) in southwestern Nebraska.

As you know, a lot of birds are killed in the U.S. because of collisions with vehicles. About 80 million, according to the Cliff Swallow study by Charles Brown and Mary Bomberger Brown. Brown and Brown examined the possibility that birds in a population subject to this particular form of mortality would undergo Natural Selection, with some traits that prevented death through vehicular collision being selected for over time. …

Read the whole thing here.

Smoking is (good) for the birds

Back in the 1980s, it became popular for biologists to consider plant secondary compounds in understanding inter-species relationships and other ecological matters. I was doing my thesis research at the time, and it even affected what I was doing, as the wild world was being reconceptualized in terms of tannins and alkaloids, seed edators and dispersers, and so on. I remember taking an advanced seminar in plant-animal interaction, in preparation for my own study of human-plant interactions. The first thing I learned was that most animal-plant interaction did not involve mammals, or even birds. Insects ruled. We spent most of the rest of the semester dealing with grasshoppers. At one point, for some reason, we had a debate. It was the heady, politically charged days of Roe v. Wade, and so we debated the issue of choice. The question was, did female plants choose which pollen would fertilize their ova, or were they merely raped by the patriarchal male plants? Luckily, I was chosen to be on the pro-choice side. We wore the appropriate buttons and hats and carried signs to the debate. Also, it turns out that we were scientifically correct; female plants exert considerable choice in whom they mate with, it turns out.

Read the rest here…

Feederwatch: A course in art focusing on birds

Here is the website, here is the Facebook page, and here is the writeup:

Feeder Sketch is an 8 week free one line casual course. You can come and go as you please. No requirements, and any level of participation is welcome (from just seeing what it is, to drawing 2 times a week for and hour).

Join us if you are just learning to draw or are an illustration superstar. A novice birder – or someone who can identify a bird by just a few little chirps. Everyone is welcome!

If you just want a weekly reminder about the group, you can hit maybe here, and stay updated.

Who are “we”?
We are staff and educators from the Science Museum of Minnesota and the Museum of Life and Science in North Carolina. Some of us draw for fun, while others have no art background whatsoever. None of us are bird experts. We will be “learning to look, and looking to learn” together.

What is it exactly?
This free, eight-week online program accommodates a range of birders and sketchers, from novice to expert, focusing especially on the novice sketcher. We’ll host observational and drawing activities each week online on the FeederWatch Forum, share our work with each other, and enjoy conversations about learning how to draw (again) as an adult and also learning to draw birds in particular.

The official FeederWatch season runs from November 10, 2012 through April 5, 2013. We will facilitate the accompanying FeederSketch program from November 26, 2012 through January 20, 2013. We encourage you to participate in both—sign up to count birds and submit your data to the Project FeederWatch program for the whole season, as well as sketch along with us for the eight-week FeederSketch companion program.

Questions or need help registering?
Email us at

What is the real impact of cats, windmills, and other things on birds?

I wrote a post at 10,000 birds that starts to explore this question by comparing the number of birds that there are, the number of birds that seem to die off every year, and the possible number that get munched by cats, and briefly discusses predator niches and that sort of thing. I hope this is the start of an interesting discussion that will eventually get us tilting at windmills.

Have a look: Are there so many birds that cats don’t matter?

Baby Birds

This is baby bird week on 10,000 Birds. From the intro post:

Somehow it seemed fitting that after our last theme week – Bird Love Week – that we should spend a full seven days examining what could be the results of that theme. It’s Baby Bird Week on 10,000 Birds and the adorable, fuzzy-wuzzy, itsy-bitsy, baby birdies will be everywhere! Can you handle the cuteness?

If you go to the bottom of that post, you’ll see a current listing of posts…as of this writing there are four beyond the intro…so you can explore them all. My contribution will be up tomorrow. I’ll keep you posted.

Music of the Birds. And more!

Music of the Birds by Lang Elliott is a classic book and CD combo well over 10 years old, that provided bird lovers with a chance to learn to identify and appreciate the songs of numerous species. Over the last decade or so many other CD-based bird song offerings have become available. More recently, Lang teamed up with Marie Read to produce an iBook (iAuthored) version of Music of the Birds which takes advantage of the iAuthored iBook format in many ways. This is my first review of an iAuthored book, and obviously the first one on this blog, so I want to use the opportunity to discuss what a iAuthored iBook does. Continue reading Music of the Birds. And more!