Tag Archives: Birds

Birds of Australia: New Book

There are close to just under 900 species of bird in Australia, and The Australian Bird Guide by Peter Menkhorst, Danny Rogers, Rohan Clarke, Jeff Davies, Peter Marsack, and Kim Franklin covers just over 900 of them. Where do the extras come from? Sea birds in the nearby oceans, I think.

This is an excellent bird book that all Australian birders simply need to have. Holiday season is just around the corner. Get one of these for your favoriate Australian!

This is not exactly a pocket guide. It is more of a car guide, and you better have a big glove box. The 6.8 x 9.7 inch format is hefty, and there are over 550 pages of high quality thickish paper.

There are some 30 pages of excellent front matter giving all the usual contextual information any bird guide gives. Then, the species are laid out taxonomically with color coded bleeds grouping major taxa. Each spread of pages has information on the left and pictures, which are excellent Peterson style drawings, on the right.

The typical spread has four species, but many have three. A species will be represented by several drawings showing the different morphs (by age status and sex, typically) as well as other features, such as what a wing looks like in flight, or a close up of a tail’s markings, etc. The authors were very thoughtful in this aspect of the layout. The book is designed to help you identify the bird. Information needed to address subspecies or hybrids, etc. is provided. There are range maps for everything on the same page layout.

There is a checklist, glossary, and index.

The Australian Bird Guide has spread the 900 birds across 4,000 images divied up on 249 plates (with, as mentioned, three or four bird species per plate).

A very notable feature of The Australian Bird Guide is what appears to be a very extensive coverage of the elusive sea birds in the region. Distribution and status of the bird species is very up to date as well.

About the authors:

Peter Menkhorst is a principal scientist with the Victorian government and has forty years’ experience in ecological research and the survey and management of Australian mammals and birds. He is the author of A Field Guide to the Mammals of Australia. Danny Rogers is an ornithologist specializing in shorebird ecology and patterns of feather molt in birds, and works for the Victorian government environment department. Rohan Clarke is a lecturer in vertebrate ecology at the School of Biological Sciences, Monash University. Jeff Davies is a Melbourne-based artist who specializes in portraits of Australian birds and their environments. Peter Marsack is an award-winning wildlife artist based in Canberra. Kim Franklin is a freelance artist and illustrator who has exhibited worldwide and is based in Adelaide.

Dinosaur eating insects!

Giant insects can eat tiny dinosaurs.

In this case, the giant insects are praying mantis, and the dinosaurs are hummingbirds and other small birds. In some cases, maybe most cases, this involves small birds like hummingbirds being taken at nectar sites (natural or otherwise) by introduced species of praying mantis in the US.

Here’s the info from the recently published paper:

Bird Predation By Praying Mantises: A Global Perspective, by Martin Nyffeler, Michael R. Maxwell, and J. V. Remsen, Jr.

ABSTRACT
We review 147 incidents of the capture of small birds by mantids (order Mantodea, family Mantidae). This has been documented in 13 different countries, on all continents except Antarctica. We found records of predation on birds by 12 mantid species (in the genera Coptopteryx, Hierodula, Mantis, Miomantis, Polyspilota, Sphodromantis, Stagmatoptera, Stagmomantis, and Tenodera). Small birds in the orders Apodiformes and Passeriformes, representing 24 identified species from 14 families (Acanthizidae, Acrocephalidae, Certhiidae, Estrildidae, Maluridae, Meliphagidae, Muscicapidae, Nectariniidae, Parulidae, Phylloscopidae, Scotocercidae, Trochilidae, Tyrannidae, and Vireonidae), were found as prey. Most reports (>70% of observed incidents) are from the USA, where mantids have often been seen capturing hummingbirds attracted to food sources in gardens, i.e., hummingbird feeders or hummingbird-pollinated plants. The Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) was the species most frequently reported to be captured by mantids. Captures were reported also from Canada, Central America, and South America. In Africa, Asia, Australia, and Europe, we found 29 records of small passerine birds captured by mantids. Of the birds captured, 78% were killed and eaten by the mantids, 2% succeeded in escaping on their own, and 18% were freed by humans. In North America, native and non-native mantids were engaged in bird predation. Our compilation suggests that praying mantises frequently prey on hummingbirds in gardens in North America; therefore, we suggest caution in use of large-sized mantids, particularly non-native mantids, in gardens for insect pest control.

Birds of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East: New Field Guide

Just got my copy of Birds of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East: A Photographic Guide by Frédéric Jiguet and Aurélien Audevard.

This is the first and only field-ready photographic bird guide that covers every species in Europe. There are 2,200 photos covering 860 species. The West Asian and North African coverage is of all of the species there that have occurred in Europe, so think of this primarily as a European guide.

The entry for the Mute Swan.
The entry for the Mute Swan.
I hasten to add and emphasize. These are not your grandaddy’s photographs. Many photographic guides have pretty nice looking photographs that show a bird, but then, when you go look up the bird you saw, you quickly discover that many of the best guides (such as this one) are not photographic, but rather, follow the Peterson/Pedrides tradition of drawings designed to help in identification. Jiguet and Aedevard use photographs that are then enhanced and set in a non-photographic background or matrix, so they end up looking, and acting, a lot more like the drawings. This means that key features are indicated and notated.

Critically important in this guide is the ratio between the above mentioned numbers. For every species, there are potentially several photographs. Sometimes, it is male and female. Some other morphological categories are illustrated. For some birds, especially raptors, there may be numerous views in flight.

The amount of information give per bird is minimal (this is a field guid) and the range maps are classic style and well done. Some books have dozens of pages of front matter, but this book has almost none. Other than the index and credits, there is no back matter. Yet, the book is well over 400 pages long. That’s a lot of birds in one book. If you want a European bird guide for the field, this is the one.

About the authors:

Frédéric Jiguet is one of France’s leading ornithologists and a conservation biologist at the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris. He is director of the Centre de Recherches sur la Biologie des Populations d’Oiseaux (CRBPO), and serves on the editorial board of France’s premier bird-study journal, Ornithos. Aurélien Audevard has been studying birds for much of his life and has conducted several high-profile conservation studies for the Ligue pour la Protection des Oiseaux, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur (LPO PACA). His photographs have appeared in many of Europe’s leading birding magazines, including Ornithos, L’Oiseaux, Birding World, and Dutch Birding.

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

Introduction 6
Species descriptions 12
Swans 12
Geese 14
Shelducks 21
Dabbling ducks 22
Whistling ducks 28
Diving ducks 28
Sea ducks 34
Stifftails 41
Vagrant and exotic ducks 42
Gamebirds 45
Divers (Loons) 55
Grebes 58
Shearwaters and petrels 61
Storm-petrels 66
Rare petrels and albatrosses 67
Frigatebirds 75
Tropicbirds 76
Gannets and boobies 77
Pelicans 80
Cormorants 81
Herons, bitterns and egrets 83
Storks 93
Spoonbills and ibises 94
Spoonbills and storks 96
Flamingos 97
Honey-buzzards 99
Buzzards 101
Snake eagles 105
Kites 106
Vultures 108
Harriers 113
Eagles 117
Osprey and Black-shouldered Kite 126
Accipiters 127
Falcons 129
Rails, crakes and gallinules 137
Cranes 143
Bustards 145
Oystercatcher and Turnstone 148
Stilts and avocets 149
Stone-curlews and coursers 150
Pratincoles 151
Plovers and lapwings 153
Sandpipers 162
Woodcocks and snipes 173
Dowitchers and Upland Sandpiper 176
Godwits 177
Curlews 178
Larger sandpipers 180
Phalaropes 185
Skuas (Jaegers) 187
Gulls 190
Terns 211
Auks 222
Sandgrouse 227
Pigeons and doves 229
Parakeets 234
Cuckoos 235
Owls 238
Nightjars 246
Swifts 248
Contents
Kingfishers 251
Rollers 253
Bee-eaters 254
Hoopoe 255
Woodpeckers 256
Larks 262
Swallows and martins 269
Pipits 274
Wagtails 279
Accentors 284
Wren and Dipper 286
Robins and chats 287
Redstarts 291
Stonechats 295
Wheatears 298
Rock thrushes 303
Thrushes 304
Bush warblers and cisticolas 311
Grasshopper warblers 312
Reed warblers 315
Tree warblers 320
Sylvia warblers 324
Leaf warblers 333
Crests 341
Old World flycatchers 343
Tyrant flycatchers 348
Penduline tit and leiothrix 350
Reedling and parrotbill 351
Long-tailed tit 352
Tits 353
Nuthatches 358
Treecreepers 360
Wallcreeper and Golden Oriole 361
Shrikes 362
Crows and jays 370
Starlings 377
Waxwings 379
Bulbuls and mynas 381
Sparrows 382
Introduced exotic finches 386
Finches 389
Buntings 404
Vagrant Nearctic passerines 417
New World warblers 433
Index 434
Photographic credits 444

How do you get a sex chromosome? A little bird told me this…

What is sex?

Musings at 10,000 Birds:

This is a simple question with a complicated answer. Part of the answer is this: The biological identity of an individual that guides its choice of mate. So, in a simple version of the world of a bird, there are two sexes, male and female, and males chose females and females chose males as mates.

Assume for a moment that there is choice, and that the choice is based on a discernible feature. So, for example, males and females prefer to mate with a member of the opposite sex who has a blue and white pattern on its breast. So far so good, and so far simple. A bluer blue together with a whiter white on a female or male will be extra attractive to the member of the opposite sex.

But what if there emerged a genetically novel version of the males who lacked the white, but would only mate with females that lacked the blue. And, the obverse occurred as well. Suddenly you would have multiple sexes, beyond the usual two. There would be two kinds of males and two kinds of females.

Let’s ask the question again, what is sex? In a world in which the final adult outcome with respect to sex can be highly variable, one might look more deeply to find a simple binary observation to tell you if an individual is a male or a female. At the deepest level are presumably some genes, or maybe one gene, that matters, but there may be other equally important things that are not directly genetic as well. For example, in rats (as in “lab rat”) if the mother of a nominally (genetically) male offspring does not repeatedly lick the anogenital region of the pup, the usual cascade of hormones and hormone induced changes, involving androgens, will not occur in that individual and the final outcome will not be a rat that will mount and mate with a female.

Somewhere in between the gene and the anogenetical licking (or gender policing or incubation temperature or whatever else matters) is the sex chromosome. A sex chromosome may be a section of DNA (as a chromosome is) …. Read the rest here

The Best Bird Books

A few suggestions for holiday gifts, or library upgrades, in the topic of birds.

Thinking About Birds Thinking

Some very interesting books came out this year that investigate bird brains.

Bird Brain: An Exploration of Avian Intelligence by Nathan Emery is the best current book on animal intelligence, and one of the best bird books you’ll be able to lay your hands on right now.

bird_brain_evolution_of_intelligence_nathan_emeryMy review of the book is here.

What the Robin Knows: How Birds Reveal the Secrets of the Natural World by Jon Young is an exploration of nature via the senses (mainly visual and auditory) of birds, and of the reader. I’ve spent a fair amount of time communing with nature, either living with foragers in the Congo, or when I was a kid, being left in the forest by my parents who would drive away quickly, that sort of thing. You learn to read the signs of nature, and part of that is understanding what other animals are understanding, because that is information.

I review Yong’s book here. This is a fantastic book that you will really enjoy if you have any interest at all in nature or birds. Or not. You’ll still enjoy it.

Also check out The Genius of Birds by Jennifer Ackerman.

This elegant scientific investigation and travelogue weaves personal anecdotes with fascinating science. Ackerman delivers an extraordinary story that will both give readers a new appreciation for the exceptional talents of birds and let them discover what birds can reveal about our changing world. Richly informative and beautifully written, The Genius of Birds celebrates the triumphs of these surprising and fiercely intelligent creatures.

About birds

New this year is the important conservation oriented book Birds in Trouble by Lynn Barber. This is about birds threatened by all manner of things. In particular, she looks at just under 50 species in the US that have specific reasons to be considered as threatened.

Not new this year, but a book that I like so much I always want to mention it (when talking about bird books) is Ten Thousand Birds: Ornithology since Darwin by Birkhead, Wimpenny, and Montgomerie. Check it out. The title says it all.

watefowl_north_america

Pretty Bird

Waterfowl of North America, Europe and Asia by Sebastien Reeber is one of those bird books you keep handy and use to expand your knowledge of birds laterally. You see a duck, then you explore the duck’s kin globally in this very nice looking and at the same time informative book.

The Crossley Guides

The Crossley ID Guides did not come out in 2016, but I list them here because they are still current, must have, highly innovative and beautiful books. If you don’t have the appropriate guides for your area, get them!

<li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0691147787/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0691147787&linkCode=as2&tag=grlasbl0a-20&linkId=b07fe7215836f1dae723663f8d276637">The Crossley ID Guide: Eastern Birds</a><img src="//ir-na.amazon-adsystem.com/e/ir?t=grlasbl0a-20&l=am2&o=1&a=0691147787" width="1" height="1" border="0" alt="" style="border:none !important; margin:0px !important;" /></li>
<li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0691157405/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0691157405&linkCode=as2&tag=grlasbl0a-20&linkId=00f5c3fd704c68fd8c894014f6112e7a">The Crossley ID Guide: Raptors</a><img src="//ir-na.amazon-adsystem.com/e/ir?t=grlasbl0a-20&l=am2&o=1&a=0691157405" width="1" height="1" border="0" alt="" style="border:none !important; margin:0px !important;" /></li>
<li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0691151946/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0691151946&linkCode=as2&tag=grlasbl0a-20&linkId=83bd46ac51800e8627195c6b02a2b7b1">The Crossley ID Guide: Britain and Ireland </a><img src="//ir-na.amazon-adsystem.com/e/ir?t=grlasbl0a-20&l=am2&o=1&a=0691151946" width="1" height="1" border="0" alt="" style="border:none !important; margin:0px !important;" /></li>

screen-shot-2016-12-08-at-7-16-38-pmBut also by Birkhead, and current, is The Most Perfect Thing: Inside (and Outside) a Bird’s Egg. From the publishers:

Renowned ornithologist Tim Birkhead opens this gripping story as a female guillemot chick hatches, already carrying her full quota of tiny eggs within her undeveloped ovary. As she grows into adulthood, only a few of her eggs mature, are released into the oviduct, and are fertilized by sperm stored from copulation that took place days or weeks earlier. Within a matter of hours, the fragile yolk is surrounded by albumen and the whole is gradually encased within a turquoise jewel of a shell. Soon afterward the fully formed egg is expelled onto a bare rocky ledge, where it will be incubated for four weeks before a chick emerges and the life cycle begins again.

The image of the owl at the top of the post is a screen grab from this gallery of photos by Ana Miller. I’ve got a couple of original Millers hanging in my library. You should get one too! Makes a great holiday gift.

Very Smart Birds, Very Smart Bird Book

Crows are smart. Anyone who watches them for a while can figure this out.

But that is true of a lot of things. Your baby is smart (not really). Your dog is smart (not really). Ants are smart (sort of).

bird_brain_bird_twoIt takes a certain degree of objective research, as well as some serious philosophy of intelligence (to define what smart is) to really address this question. But when the research is done and the dust settles, crows are smart.

We were all amazed (or not, because we already knew that crows are smart) to find that New Caledonian crows made and used tools. Now, we know (see my most recent post at 10,000 Birds) that a nearly extinct Hawaiian crow is also a tool user. The interesting thing about this new finding is that it is highly unlikely that the Hawaiian crow and the New Caledonian crow descend from a tool using ancestor, according to the researchers who did this work. Rather, tool use arose independently in the two species. But, really, not so independently.

bird_brain_bird_oneThey are all crows, and crows are smart, and both of these species live in a particular habitat where this tool use makes sense, and competing species of bird that might otherwise be going after the resources the tool use allows access to are absent. So, the trait evolved twice, but not unexpectedly.

The Evolution and Development of Bird Intelligence

I want to point out two things about birds that you probably know. First, they share modalities with humans to a greater degree than most other species, even our fellow mammals. Second, many birds live under conditions where complex behavior would be selected for by long term Darwinian processes.

Most mammals are solitary, small and nocturnal, or if large, are diurnal herd animals or some sort of predator. They tend to be olfactory and have varying degrees of vision, etc. We, on the other hand, are highly visual, not very olfactory, diurnal, and have a complex social system, and so on. We share these traits, for the most part, with our fellow primates, but humans live in many non-primate habitats these days, so we tend to stand out as a bit odd. If you are reading this blog post, chances are that the nearest non-pet and non-human mammal that you could locate right now is a squirrel, and the actual nearest mammal is some sort of rodent that you would have a hard time finding.

But, the nearest animal with an interesting brain, and interesting behavior, is a bird. Go look out your window and report back. I’ll study this diagram on the evolution of intelligence while I await your return.


bird_brain_nathan_emery_figure_evolution

OK, I hope that was fun. Let us know what species it was in the comments, please.

The visual orientation, together with that second trait of smartness, combine to make birds and their smartness akin to human’s smartness to the degree that we subjectively see birds as “intelligent,” and that alone is interesting. But likely, we are both intelligent by objective criteria, about certain things.

Bird Brain: An Exploration of Avian Intelligence was written by Nathan Emery, who is a Senior Lecturer (that’s like a Professor of some sort, in America) at Queen Mary University, London. He researches the evolution of intelligence in animals, including primates and various birds, and yes, including the crows!

He and his team “…have found striking similarities in the behaviour, ecology, neurobiology and cognitive mechanisms of corvids (crows, rooks, jackdaws and jays) and apes. [Suggesting that] these similarities are adaptations for solving similar social and ecological problems, such as finding, protecting and extracting food and living in a complex social world.”

The book is really great, the best book out there right now on animal intelligence, possibly the best book so far this year on birds. This is the kind of book you want laying around the house or classroom to learn stuff from. If you are writing or teaching about anything in evolution or behavior, this is a great way to key into the current work on bird intelligence.

Bird Brain is also going to earn a place on my Holiday Shopping Guide in the “Best gifts to give a science oriented youngster or your local life science teacher to encourage thinking about evolution” category. Yes, this is definitely a gift level book. Nobody will not like this book.

This is like a coffee table book in that it is slightly larger (not huge, just a little big) format, and full of great pictures, and the kind of book you can pick up and start reading anywhere. But it is also a book with a story, in a sense, or at least, an arc organizing the research being reported on. It is engagingly and well written and, very importantly, written by an expert.

I do respect journalists who become very interested in a topic and learn all about it and write it up, but there are limitations to such work. It is possible for various errors, minor or not, to sneak into such a work because the author is not deeply engaged in the way that a lifelong commitment to a work allows for. Bird Brain is written by an expert, so that is not going to happen here.

I highly recommend Bird Brain, for anyone who does not want to be a bird brain about birds, intelligence, evolution, or the evolution of intelligence in birds.

Here’s the TOC:

  • Foreword by Frans ee Waal
  • Introduction
  • 1 From Bird Brain to Feathered Ape
  • 2 Where Did I Hide that Worm?
  • 3 Getting the Message Across
  • 4 Feathered Friends (and Enemies)
  • 5 The Right Tool for the Job
  • 6 Know Thyself, and Other
  • 7 No Longer Bird-Brains
  • Best Bird Book Of the Year So Far: What The Robin Knows by Jon Young

    There was a dead rabbit in the middle of the road today. I suspected such a thing, nearby, just out of sight, and edible, because I noticed some crows taking off whenever a car went by. Then, when I went over, I could see the rabbit that they were feasting on between drive-bys.

    I had been looking for rabbits lately, because of this: the cat had switched to hanging out by the upstairs window, the better to observe the just arriving Juncos (snow birds, it is fall). She had previously spent most of her time observing rabbits from the lower, ground level windows, until just the other day when, rather suddenly, all the rabbits disappeared. Until then, there was always a rabbit or two. In fact, the entire city had been recently invaded by rabbits, according to several reports, and now they seemed to be disappearing quickly. This, I assume, means that the coyotes finally got busy. Or, an epidemic of tularemia. Either way, something happened.

    I once had a cat that was partly outdoors on Cape Cod. Well, the cat was indoors, but would escape. We’d go looking for it and always find it in a bush (a different bush every time) surrounded by no rabbits. All the other bushes would have rabbits nearby. But not the one with the cat in it. (Until, again, the coyotes showed up and ruined the rabbit-test method of finding the cat!)

    Have you seen the film Dead Birds? See it if you can. This is a very important ethnographic film, of the old style, by Gardner, of a place in Highland New Guinea. Part of the story actually has to do with live birds, not dead ones, and how they are used by sentries at the outskirts if the village lands, during times of conflict, to detect the arrival of enemy combatants. You watch the birds, and you are watching the hidden predators.

    Or you can listen to them. Or you can listen to the monkeys. Anything with an alarm call. I could engage you with story after story, if you and I both had the time, of finding very interesting and elusive critters out in the bush, mainly in Africa, by following up on the predator avoidance behavior of primates or birds.

    And, this brings us to what I think is one of the best bird books ever.

    What the Robin Knows: How Birds Reveal the Secrets of the Natural World by Jon Young is an exploration of nature based on this premise: the robin knows everything about its environment, and this information is regularly conveyed via the bird’s call, or its behavior. By observing that behavior or understanding the robin’s vocalizations, you can poach that information and also know a lot about the immediate environment, which may be your own back yard, the area near your camping site, the wooded gully the enemy may approach you by, or a nearby park.

    And, of course, it isn’t just the robin, it is all the animals including birds, insects, and everything else. But Young is talking about birds, and it is certainly true that in most or possibly all habitats, it is the birds that, owing to their diurnal and highly visible and sound oriented nature, are telling you all this information about your mutual surroundings as well as about the bird itself.

    To me, birding (and nature watching in general) is not so much about lengthening one’s list (though that is always fun) but, rather, about observing and understanding behavior. Young explores this, teaches a great deal about it, and places this mode of observation in the context of countless stories, or potential stories, about the world you are sharing with the birds you are watching.

    This is a four or five dimensional look at a multidimensional world. Lucky for us humans, as primates, we share visual and audio modalities, and mostly ignore odor, and we have overlapping ranges in those modalities (to varying degrees). But birds fly (most of them, anyway) and are small and fast and there are many of them. In many places we live, we are the only diurnal visually-oriented non-bird. Indeed, while I’m sure my cat communes with the rabbits at a level I can’t possibly understand, I’m pretty sure I get the birds in ways she could not possibly get her paws around. (Which is why we don’t let her out of the house. She would prefer to eat them, rather than appreciate them!)

    From the publisher, about the author:

    Growing up near the Pine Barrens in New Jersey, Jon Young studied as a tracker and naturalist. For three decades, he has taught and mentored children and adults, combining Native skills practiced worldwide with the tools of modern field ecology, emphasizing the nearly lost art of understanding bird and animal language. The founder of OWLink Media, 8 Shields Institute, and the Shikari Tracking Guild, he consults with programs around the world. Jon has written or produced numerous books, audio, and multimedia projects. His website is www.birdlanguage.com. Married with six children, he lives in the woods above Santa Cruz, California.

    Lots of science in this book, well documented and referenced. Simple black and white but very engaging graphics. So far my favorite bird book of the year.

    Climate Change and Birds in North America and Europe

    I’ve got a new post up at 10,000 Birds on a study looking at changing populations of several hundred common species of birds in Europe and North America (mainly the US).

    The two subcontinents exhibit dramatically different patterns, as shown in the enigmatic graph above.

    Go to the post to unravel this intriguing mystery!

    Climate Change Not Good For Red Knots

    You’ve heard the phrase, “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution,” an insightful phrase penned in 1972 by Theodosius Dobzhansky. I would like to add a second part to that phrase, and it goes like this: “… and, nothing in evolution makes sense except in the light of co-evolution.” This would hardly be an exaggeration, and it can hardly be better exemplified than with examples from migratory birds. Migratory birds have to be adapted to at least three different ecological settings. They breed in one area, migrate (and often spend considerable time) through another area, and winter in a third area. In each area they must feed and avoid predators, and in the nesting area, they must have make and protect nests, and the feeding is even more critical because they are growing their chicks.

    Changes in one or more of these zones can change the viability of a bird species’ strategy, and even influence the bird’s survival chances in other areas. In the case of one subspecies of the Red Knot, a migratory bird, changes in the breeding ground caused by anthropogenic global warming have caused changes in the morphology of the bird, which in turn have caused changes in the birds’ ability to survive in the migratory zone.

    The Red Knot (Calidris canutus) is a shorebird, a kind of sandpiper, with a global distribution. The subspecies C. c. canutus breeds in the Taymyr Penninsula and migrates to Western Europe then western and southern Africa.

    The birds arrive in Arctic in the spring, where the adults, and later, their chicks, feed on insects. The insects are abundant after the snow melt. So, the birds arrive, ideally, just in time to take advantage of the abundant insects. The young then grow, and migrate south where they stay an entire year before doing their own migratory thing. While in Europe, these birds feed on bivalves that hide in mud, and on plants. The long beak of this bird facilitates their foraging on the bivalves. Having a long beak is good, because the shallower and more readily accessible bivalves are smaller, less abundant, and slightly toxic, especially to young birds (adults may have somehow adjusted to the toxin), but deeper bivalves are less toxic and more abundant.

    Climate change has caused the timing of the snowmelt in the Arctic to change, with the snow melting off on average a half a day per year earlier over the last three or do decades.

    This has caused the insects to emerge earlier. Also, the earlier snowmelt has affected the insects so they are less abundant, and their body sizes are smaller.

    However, the Red Knots continue to arrive at about the same time every year, so the abundance and quality of the insect food source is measurably reduced. This, in turn, has stunted the growth of the young. The smaller young have smaller beaks. So, when they arrive in Europe, they have access mainly to the shallower, somewhat toxic bivalves, and plant material, and can’t get as easily at the deeper, more abundant, and non toxic bivalves down deeper in the mud. This, in turn, causes a lower survival rate for these young birds.

    The population of these Red Knots has been declining, and this may be the reason.

    Meanwhile, the adults that have lived for a few years are seen to have longer (normal length) beaks. It is likely that some Red Knots either grow more quickly or have some other way of addressing the problem of food supply. It is possible that natural selection is changing this bird population to manage these changes in climate.

    This may be a good thing long term, but it is hard to say. The Arctic has indeed been warming more than the rest of the planet, and this is likely to continue. It is not easy to predict how Arctic insect populations will change under these changing conditions. If insects end up emerging over a more prolonged period of time, or if some other aspect of the ecology changes that causes the insects to be exploited more efficiently by a competitor of the Red Knot — or less efficiently — or if some other change in ecology happens in the wintering grounds or the flyways, then this could get even more complicated.

    Climate change has happened in the past, and it is certainly true that many populations of birds and other critters have adapted, in an evolutionary sense, to these changes. Just as likely, species or subspecies have gone extinct. Every population of migratory bird probably has a very interesting (and often harrowing) story behind how they arrived at their current co-evolutionary relationship to the world around them. The problem with the currently changing climate, changing because of the human release of copious amounts of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, is that this change is happening at a rate that has rarely, if ever, been seen since birds evolved to begin with.

    This is not entirely unexpected. JP Myers and Robert Lester predicted, in the 1992 book Global Warming and Biological Diversity that asynchrony of insect emergence and shorebird migration would cause population declines in shorebirds like the red knot.


    Caption to the figure at the top of the post:

    Fig. 3. Prey choice and prey availability at the Mauritanian wintering grounds. (A) Analysis of stable isotopes of blood samples shows that juvenile red knots (n = 676 birds) largely ignored the most abundant but mildly toxic prey, Loripes. However, with an increase in age, adult red knots (n = 1664) added substantial amounts of Loripes to their diet, but only if they had long bills. Plotted are means ± SE. (B) This bill length–dependent diet shift may be explained by the depth distribution of Loripes. The majority of these bivalves live between 30 and 40 mm below the seafloor, which is precisely the range of the bill lengths. The other two food sources, Dosinia bivalves and Zostera rhizomes, are found at shallower depths and are accessible to all red knots. Bars indicate medians, boxes indicate 25th to 75th percentiles, and whiskers indicate ranges.

    The research is reported in this paper:

    Body shrinkage due to Arctic warming reduces red knot fitness in tropical wintering range. BY JAN A. VAN GILS, SIMEON LISOVSKI, TAMAR LOK, W?ODZIMIERZ MEISSNER, AGNIESZKA O?AROWSKA, JIMMY DE FOUW, ELDAR RAKHIMBERDIEV, MIKHAIL Y. SOLOVIEV, THEUNIS PIERSMA, MARCEL KLAASSEN
    SCIENCE13 MAY 2016 : 819-821

    Abstract:

    Reductions in body size are increasingly being identified as a response to climate warming. Here we present evidence for a case of such body shrinkage, potentially due to malnutrition in early life. We show that an avian long-distance migrant (red knot, Calidris canutus canutus), which is experiencing globally unrivaled warming rates at its high-Arctic breeding grounds, produces smaller offspring with shorter bills during summers with early snowmelt. This has consequences half a world away at their tropical wintering grounds, where shorter-billed individuals have reduced survival rates. This is associated with these molluscivores eating fewer deeply buried bivalve prey and more shallowly buried seagrass rhizomes. We suggest that seasonal migrants can experience reduced fitness at one end of their range as a result of a changing climate at the other end.

    What kind of bird landed on Bernie’s podium?

    You all know this happened.

    But there is some controversy over what kind of bird it is.

    There is no doubt whatsoever that the bird was a finch. However, what kind? Most likely a house finch, because they are common, and the most likely to live in a big auditorium thingie and not be fearful of people.

    A pic of the bird is above. Here is another:

    Screen Shot 2016-03-26 at 5.35.55 PM

    What do you think it is?

    Waterfowl of North America, Europe, and Asia: Beautiful new book

    There are three kinds of books that count as animal (usually bird) guides.

    1) A pocket field guide of the critters of a reasonably circumscribed geographical area, like the Peterson Field Guide to Birds of Eastern and Central North America. This is a small book that can fit in a big pocket, and a classic guide like this one is something you’ll want to have with you while bird watching in the eastern or central US.

    2) A big book, not suitable for pockets, of the critters of a reasonably circumscribed geographical area. A great example of this is The Crossley ID Guide: Eastern Birds . It covers the same geographical area as the aforementioned Peterson guide, but the book’s authors and publishers sacrifice portability for other characteristics like richness of detail and more book real estate for many more images.

    3) A book, larger or smaller, that focuses on a specific geographical area but covers most of the visible wildlife including, often, plants, and maybe including additional information for the traveller. A recent example of this is the just published Wildlife of the Galapagos.

    4) A book that covers a large taxonomic group, but over a vast geographical area. Carnivores of the World is an example of this. It covers all of the non-aquatic carnivores, everywhere on the planet. This particular book is a pocket field guide, but in a way that is kind of funny because you’d have be on quite a trip to need a pocket guide for the Earth for a given type of animal. I quickly add, however, that while it might seem a bit silly, the Carnivores of the World is actually a fantastic book.

    barrowsgoldeneye640hThe book, Waterfowl of North America, Europe, and Asia: An Identification Guide, by Sébastien Reeber, overlaps with some of these categories. The title could be rewritten to say “Temperate and Subtropical Waterfowl of the Northern Hemisphere,” though that would be a bit misleading because a large percentage of these birds migrate long distances, so really, it is more like “Waterfowl of the world except the ones that stay in the tropics or otherwise don’t migrate north of the tropics,” but that would be a silly title.

    Also, Waterfowl of North America, Europe, and Asia: An Identification Guide is large format. The up and down and back and forth dimensions are not as large as Crossley’s bird guides, but it is way bigger than a field guide, and thick … 656 pages. The plates start on page 32 and the detailed text and photograph rich species accounts run from pages 177 to 616, to give you an idea of the balance and expansiveness found in this volume.

    This book is organized in a unique way. There are two main parts. First, 72 plates show peterson-style drawings of all of the birds that are covered, with the drawings arranged on the right side, with basic ID information, range maps, and references to other parts of the book on the left side. This allows the user to find a particular bird fairly quickly. Importantly, the pictures cover both sex and age variations.

    The second part of the book significantly expands on the plates, and is cross referenced by plate number, with extensive text and multiple photographs to add very rich detail.

    So, when it comes to your preference for drawings vs. photographs, you can have your cake and eat it too. Also, when it comes to your need for a basic field guide vs. a more in depth discussion, you can have your cake and eat it too there as well.

    easternspot-billedduck640hAside from these two main sections there are sections on how to use the book, basics of taconomy and systematics, the physical anatomy of birds and how that relates to identification, important information on moulting and plumage variation as well as age and sex, which as you probably know are key in identifying waterfowl because this varies so much. There is an extensive section on hybrids, which, again, is a big deal with many waterfowl, and a very large number of hybrids are addressed in the book. (There is a separate hybrid index.)

    The book is extremely well produced and presented. I love this book.

    Since Waterfowl of North America, Europe, and Asia: An Identification Guide is brand new, if you’ve got a birder friend or relative with a birthday coming up soon, this is the perfect gift. Meanwhile, migrations are underway. You need this book now.

    Feeding Wild Birds

    When the Texas A&M University Press asked me to consider reviewing Feeding Wild Birds in America: Culture, Commerce, and Conservation by Paul Baicich, Margaret Barker, and Carrol Henderson, I had mixed feelings.

    Was this just another backyard bird feeding guide? That would be nice, but not too exciting. After all, feeding birds is just a matter of getting a bird feeder and keeping it full, right? Was it an indictment of what some might consider a bad practice, because it brings birds in close contact with killer windows and cats, and causes them to become dependent on fickle human providers? Was it yet another guide to help bird lovers in their never ending battle with squirrels and other feeder-exploiting non-birds?

    But, I figured, what the heck, I’ll have a look. And I’m glad I did. This is a great book because it is full of stuff you would have never thought important or interesting, but that is, in fact, important and interesting.

    Americans have been feeding birds on a variable but more or less regular basis for well over a century. Human feeders have become part of the ecology of birds, and the practice has probably figured into the redistribution of a number of species, some invasive, some not. Bird conservation and birding, and generally, interest in birds, has been significantly enhanced by the practice of “bringing the birds to the people,” which is usually the reason to do this. The annual backyard bird count, which plays an important role in tracking conservation and zoological status of birds, is an extension of backyard bird feeding.

    _____________
    See also: Books on birds and nature.
    _____________

    Just as importantly, and really, one of the main reasons to read this book, is that the practice of feeding birds, supplying feed, designing feeders (and baths and other things) is an historically rich, complex, nuanced, and fascinating endeavor. Understanding the history of feeding birds is a little like collecting stamps. You can’t avoid myriad connections with history, in this case, world political history, history of American industry, game hunting, conservation, and, the environmental movement.

    The history starts in the nineteenth century, when regular feeding of birds became a thing. By the early 20th century, books on the topic, and a commercial and do-it-yourself industry, formed around the problem of delivering seed. Over time, various seeds and other feed products were invented, and the same industry that feeds our pets and farm animals got involved in producing bird feed. Before World War II, the practice and the associated industries were established, if not yet fully mature.

    Things got tough during the depression and World War II, because of limited resources (see especially the chapter on “Hemp, the Devil’s Birdseed”).

    Somewhere in there, the practice of feeding game birds developed. Bird baths were invented and deployed. Suet was introduced. Windows and cats increasingly became problems, and increasingly, solutions developed (partly).

    The authors investigate the spread of various species, including invasive species, with bird feeding. Of particular interest is the spread and distribution of the Cooper’s Hawk, which in some areas specializes in hanging around the feeder-equipped backyard where it is easy to find prey. (This hawk specializes in catching birds in close quarters.)

    During the 50s, 60s, and 70s, the practice involved a lot of experimentation, including how to address squirrels, and a further diversification of feed types and types of birds attracted, and the development of more companies making more products. By the end of the 20th century, the practice was fully institutionalized, and most of the current practices and products were developed, from seed to suit to hummingbird juice.

    ________
    See also: How do birds survive the winter?
    ________

    If you are a feeder of birds, this book will help you be a better feeder of birds. More importantly, it give you something else. Both bird watching and bird feeding (and lots of other things people do) are pleasurable, and people get hooked on these activities, their leisure time enriched. But these are also activities that are potential touchstones to other, vast areas of knowledge. Just as birders could, in my opinion, have an even better time birding if they knew more about the ecology and evolution of birds, bird feeders can appreciate this activity a great deal more knowing about the history. And this history is not dry, or a hard slog of any sort. The book is engaging, compelling, and just plain cool.

    I strongly recommend Feeding Wild Birds in America: Culture, Commerce, and Conservation for your avian culinary edification.

    Giant Solar Power Plants Don’t Need To Vaporize Birds

    We often hope, even assume, that technology will fix our problems. We also know that sometimes technology creates a problem. In this case, technology can help us fix the problem of needing to keep the fossil carbon in the ground by making use of the sun, but created the problem of vaporizing birds with intensely focused solar energy. But then, the engineers applied adjustment to the technology to save the birds!

    I wrote it up here on 10,000 Birds, where I write a monthly installment on birds and stuff: Solar Plant Stopped Killing Birds: One Weird Trick!

    Books On Birds And Nature

    Here we look mainly at bird books, but I wanted to also mention a couple of other items on non-birds. I’ve mixed in some new books along with a few other books that have come out over the last couple of years, but that are still very current, very amazing books, and since they have been out for a while, may in some cases be picked up used or otherwise less expensively.

    Screen Shot 2015-11-25 at 1.46.45 PMLet’s start with the least-bird like book, one that will be a must have for anyone traveling to or studying Africa. This is The Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals: Second edition. This is a newly produced edition of this now classic work, which pretty much replaces most of the other guides. However, be warned, the book is a bit big and thick. If you are going on safari, consider also getting something smaller and more pocket size such as Pocket Guide version of Kingdon or the more classic Dorst and Dandelot A Field Guide to the Larger Mammals of Africa.

    Kingdon is a naturalist and an amazing artist. The guide is detailed and has more species than any other guide. The maps are excellent and detailed. The drawings are both lifelike and designed to highlight key features. The text includes a lot of background on evolution and physical variation. This is just a great book. For African mammals, this is, these days, the guide.

    A book with all the African mammals is fairly large. There are just enough carnivores in the world (excluding seals and their kin) to put them all into one book. Carnivores of the World (Princeton Field Guides) is just plain a lot of fun. It is a bit silly, perhaps, to have a field guide to all the carnivores, because where exactly are you going to travel and see all the carnivores? But it is amazing to see them all in one place, well organized, similarly treated.

    51zayKv8lYL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Flight has evolved many times, and only some of those evolutionary events are visible in living form today. We have to assume that flight is one of the most useful adaptations, and at the same time, difficult to emerge. David Alexander’s On the Wing: Insects, Pterosaurs, Birds, Bats and the Evolution of Animal Flight is a careful and intriguing look at the evolution of fully powered flight in the four major groups that achieved this ability.

    While birds have received the majority of attention from flight researchers, Alexander pays equal attention to all four groups of flyers-something that no other book on the subject has done before now. In a streamlined and captivating way, David Alexander demonstrates the links between the tiny 2-mm thrip and the enormous albatross with the 12 feet wingspan used to cross oceans. The book delves into the fossil record of flyers enough to satisfy the budding paleontologist, while also pleasing ornithologists and entomologists alike with its treatment of animal behavior, flapping mechanisms, and wing-origin theory. Alexander uses relatable examples to draw in readers even without a natural interest in birds, bees, and bats. He takes something that is so off-limits and unfamiliar to humans-the act of flying-and puts it in the context of experiences that many readers can relate to. Alexander guides readers through the anomalies of the flying world: hovering hummingbirds, unexpected gliders (squirrels, for instance), and the flyers that went extinct (pterosaurs). Alexander also delves into wing-origin theory and explores whether birds entered the skies from the trees down (as gliders) or from the ground up (as runners) and uses the latest fossil evidence to present readers with an answer.

    The following several books are bird books that have been available for a range of time (mostly not too new, at least one quite old) but that are either really nice books, or invaluable references.

    Screen Shot 2015-11-25 at 3.00.35 PM

    Bird Guides

    The Warbler Guide by Tom Stephenson and Scott Whittle is the definitive guide to warblers. It includes all the North American species, with excellent visuals and a lot of information about the birds and their songs, including sonograms designed to actually relate the visual image to the sound itself, as an aid in identification. Because, let’s face it, you are going to hear a lot more warblers than you are going to see. Which is why they are called “warblers” instead of “colorful little birds.” Perhaps unique among bird guides, this book has quizzes to make sure you are keeping up. There are piles of other information about warbler watching

    All of the Crossley ID guides are fantastic. These are not pocket books, but they are car books. You put them in your car when you are out looking for birds. These guides are unique in the way the birds are depicted, giving you views of the birds as they actually look in the wild, including really far away or hiding in the bushes, or all the other things birds do. Everyone needs to have a couple of these.

    Screen Shot 2015-11-25 at 3.06.23 PMThe Crossley ID Guide: Eastern Birds (The Crossley ID Guides) mirrors the typical Peterson type guide in its coverage. This is to be supplemented by the very valuable The Crossley ID Guide: Raptors for the hawks and such. There is also a The Crossley ID Guide: Britain and Ireland.

    Some of the Crossley guides come in an alternative binding format

    Bird Books About Birds (evolution, history, biology)

    There is a handful of books that I tend to go back to again and again to learn things about bird biology, the history of bird research, or other things beyond field identification.

    The first one I would recommend is The Birder’s Handbook: A Field Guide to the Natural History of North American Birds by Paul Elrich, David Dobkin, and Darryl Wheye.

    Screen Shot 2015-11-25 at 3.13.49 PMThis is an older book but little of the information is out of date. This is where you look up some bird you’ve been watching or wondering about and find out the real tale behind the tail. Since it is an older book you can obtain it for just a few dollars.

    Ten Thousand Birds: Ornithology since Darwin by Tim Birkhead, Jo Wimpenny, and Bob Montgomerie is an authoritative, rich, well written, big, giant, tome that reviews the history of research, and the researchers, over many decades of bird study. Bird biology is a major part of organismic (meaning, not inside the cell or body, but outside) biology. So, in a sense, this book is a history of our understanding of how animals in general work. Again, because it has been out for a few years, you may find a good price on a used edition.

    The next six books cover conservation, the intersection of birds and art, or expose detailed information about a single group of birds. They are all coffee-table level quality but rich in information and in some cases just plain inspiring. They are all current, but not right out of the publishing houses, so they can be obtained at a reasonable price, in most cases.

    The World’s Rarest Birds (WILDGuides). There are something over 10,000 species of birds (thus the name of the famous blog). Of these, just under 600 are in very very serious trouble, some to the extent that we are not sure if they exist, others are so rare that we know they exist but there are no good photographs of them, others are merely very likely to go extinct. There are patterns to this rarity, having to do with what threatens birds on one hand and what makes certain birds vulnerable on the other, but the range of birds that are threatened, in terms of size, shape, kind of bird, habitat, etc. represents birds pretty generally. It is not just obscure frog-like rainforest birds of Borneo that are threatened. Chance are you live in a zone where there are bird species that have gone extinct over the last century, or are about to go extinct over coming decades, including birds that you will never see unless you are very very lucky.

    Rare Birds of North America is the only extensive treatment I’ve see of the so called “vagrant birds” in the US and Canada. Most, or at least many, traditional bird books have a section in the back for rare birds, occasionals or accidentals, which one might see now and then. But when you think about it, how can five or even a dozen species in a bird book really do justice to the problem of spotting birds that are normally not supposed to be spotted?

    Penguins: The Ultimate Guide is a beautiful coffee table style book full of information. All of the world’s species are covered (amazingly there are only 18 of them) and there are more than 400 excellent photos. The book covers penguin science (science about them, not by them). There is also quite a bit about their conservation.

    The layout of the book is interesting. The last section of the book, by Julie Cornthwaite includes portraits of each species, and a compendium of interesting facts such as which is the fastest penguin, strange things about their bills, their odd moulting behavior, interesting color variants, how they “fly”, interesting mating facts, and what threatens them. Then there is a table organized taxonomically giving their status, population estimates, ranges, and main threats. Following this is a two page bird-guide type spread on each species, with a range map, photos, descriptions, information about their voice, breeding behavior, feeding behavior, etc. That is what you would expect in a book about penguins.

    But the first, and largest, part(s) of the book provides its uniqueness. The first section, by Dui De Roy, covers penguins generally, or specific exemplar species or groups of species, to provide an overview of what penguin-ness is all about. The second section, edited by Mark Jones, consists of 17 essays by various experts on specific topics, such as how penguins store food, how they are tracked at sea, and penguin-human interaction. I would like to have seen more about penguin evolution (which is interesting) but the sparsity of coverage of that topic does not detract from the book’s overall quality.

    Five families of birds make up the group that could be referred to as the Cotingas and Manakins, which in turn include species with such colorful names as “Pale-bellied Tyrant-Manakin,” “Bare-necked Fruitcrow,” “Peruvian Plantcutter,” and “White-browed Purpletuft.” And certainly, you’ve heard of the Andean Cock-of-theRock. These birds and their relatives are THE famous colorful amazing birds of the Neotropics, the birds people who go to the Jungles of Central and South America go to see. “… the song of the Xcreaming Piha,… the loudest bird on Earth, is used by moviemakers to epitomize jungle soudns the world over, no just in its native South America,” we are told by the authors of Cotingas and Manakins, an amazing new book that you need to either add to your collection right now or give to your favorite birder.

    How are birds related to dinosaurs, crocodiles, and pterosaurs? Where do birds live, and not live? How many bird species are there, and how many actual birds, and how does this vary across the glob? What about endemics?; Where ate the most local species found? Mike Unwin’s The Atlas of Birds: Diversity, Behavior, and Conservation covers this and more in a richly illustrated detailed global survey of Aves.

    The image at the top of the post is by Analiese Miller. Ana is a fantastic bird photographer, and you can see some of her work either by visiting my house and looking at my wall, or by visiting this web site.