Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Bird Flu Puts Ravens At Risk And British Empire?

One of the Tower of London's ravens is seen roosting in 1996.
Photo Credit: By Lynn Fergusson -- Reuters

For 350 years, coal-black ravens have wandered freely around the Tower of London's grassy inner courtyard as cawing barometers of the monarchy's vitality -- if the ravens ever die or leave the tower, the legend goes, the tower and the kingdom will fall.

Now the fear of bird flu has done what Luftwaffe bombings, blizzards, assassinations and abdications could not, forcing the ravens to be moved inside in isolation for their own safety and to hedge Britain's bets on the future of the crown.

On Tuesday, Hungarian officials confirmed that they had found the lethal H5N1 strain in three dead swans. With seven European countries now reporting cases of bird flu, including France, which is just 21 miles across the English Channel, concern is spreading in Britain. European officials met Tuesday in Brussels to discuss how to contain the virus, which has killed at least 92 people, mostly in Asia.

The British government has announced that plans are being prepared to put millions of free-range chickens indoors if the disease reaches British shores. But, quietly, the country's most famous birds were moved indoors last Wednesday night to custom-made aviaries. The names of the eight ravens currently in the tower are Gwylum, Thor, Hugine, Munin, Branwen, Bran, Gundulf, and Baldrick.

The move was made public this week by Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress, as the tower is officially known, as visitors continue to inquire as to the whereabouts of one of the favorite features of the 900-year-old tower.

As thousands of visitors arrived Tuesday to view the famed Crown Jewels, several discussed the ravens that were seen no more. No one was saying nevermore would they be seen, but officials said the quarantine is not likely to be brief.

* Read more from The Washington Post
* More on Ravens and Tower of London the from Wikipedia

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Action Alert: Stop Blackwater Development

For the past several years, DC Audubon has made an annual field trip in the fall to Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, an important site for migrating and wintering waterfowl. It is also a vital breeding ground for bald eagles and other threatened species. Rare mammals that use the refuge include the endangered Delmarva Fox Squirrel.

The health of the refuge, and by extension, the health of the Chesapeake Bay is now itself endangered. A planned development bordered by Egypt Road and the Little Blackwater River would destroy important an agricultural habitat and remove a buffer zone along the river, allowing more pollutants to seep into the watershed.

Sign this petition for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to request Governor Ehrlich to intervene and stop the development.

For background on the fight, see this recent article from the Washington Post.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Root For The Home Teams

It is a local rivalry in the making. Two Washington teams head to the World Series of Birding, but only one will come out on top.

The DC Audubon Society is sending their new team "City Flickers" to go up against the more seasoned team of ornithologists from the Smithsonian Institution called "The Bushnell-Smithsonian Woodpeckers." Bushnell. Sponsorship. Let's root for the new kid on the block.

May 13th is the 23rd annual World Series of Birding in Cape May, New Jersey. It is a 24 hour race to see the greatest number of species and some take it very seriously. Like any other modern day sporting event many of the teams have rallied sponsorship, not surprisingly the sponsors tend to be binocular, camera, and lens oriented. Cape May is one of the great birding areas in the U.S. as it is the first/last land point across the Delaware Bay for bird migrating north/last and at World Series in the past the winners have seen over 200 species.

Last year around 1,000 people, comprised of 98 teams including children and teenagers, registered for the event, including the Snow Birds from Canada, a Turkish team and the four-times winning Nikon Team and hit the fields, woods, and beaches of New Jersey.

The ground rules are simple. Teams start anywhere in New Jersey at at 12:01 a.m. Saturday and finish up the following midnight at the Cape May Lighthouse.

Get Ready For Kiwi Krazy At National Zoo

A North Island brown kiwi has hatched at the Smithsonian's National Zoo-only the second of these endangered kiwis to hatch during the Zoo's 116-year history. The National Zoo is one of just four zoos in the world to breed kiwis outside of New Zealand.

The bird hatched on Monday, Feb. 13, after 64 days of incubation. A quick health exam by National Zoo veterinarians and Bird House staff determined that the chick was healthy. In the last few weeks, National Zoo Bird House staff monitored the chick's development inside the egg each day, by weighing and candling the egg-a procedure that uses a bright light to illuminate the egg's interior, enabling staff to see the egg's air cell and monitor the chick's growth inside.

The kiwi chick weighed 9.7 ounces when it hatched and will rest in an incubator for the first week; it will be removed for daily weighing. Once it is able to stand, it will be placed in a specially designed brooder box off-exhibit, where it will continue to grow and develop under the careful observation of Zoo staff. Kiwi chicks hatch fully feathered, with their eyes open and begin foraging for small worms and berries after their first week of life, since they receive no help from their parents.

In 1975, the National Zoo was the first institution outside of New Zealand to hatch a kiwi. That 30-year-old bird is still on exhibit at the Zoo's Bird House. The Zoo currently has five kiwis―one female, three males and the newly hatched chick, whose gender is not yet known.

The five recognized species of kiwis are all flightless, nocturnal, burrowing birds that are unique to New Zealand. North Island Brown Kiwis are listed as "endangered" by the International Union of Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.

* National Zoo Website

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Dating Is For The Birds

Scally-Headed Parrot

An ornithologist who set up a dating agency for lonely parrots says it has been a huge success. Rita Ohnhauser has already brought 1,300 lonely hearts together in Berlin and unlike other matchmakers she knows her pairs will never split - because the birds mate for life.

"In the wild parrots search out a life partner and then spend every minute of the day with them, but when they are kept as pets they are mainly alone and get very depressed," said Ohnhauser.
She added that parrot owners across Germany had started bringing their feathered friends to the sanctuary to find a mate, and she currently had 150 parrots busy "getting acquainted" with other birds.

"Birds experience love at first sight just like humans. But others make a really careful choice before entering a relationship. It can take up to three months," she said. (From Ananova)

* The Parrot Pages

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Off The List

The bald eagle is shown in Homer, Alaska on Saturday, Feb. 5, 2005.
(WASHINGTON POST) The proud symbol of a nation for more than two centuries, the iconic and elegant American bald eagle also is emblematic of a snail-paced federal bureaucracy.

Seven years after the government said the fierce raptor is no longer threatened with extinction, officials finally have a plan for removing it from the endangered species list.

Officials said Monday's action could lead to the bald eagle coming off the endangered species list within the next year or so.

"Should the eagle be delisted, we expect that the public will notice little change in how eagles are managed and protected," said H. Dale Hall, the Fish and Wildlife Service's director.

Hall said at least 7,066 known nesting pairs now exist in the contiguous United States. The bald eagle's territory stretches over much of the North American continent. Tens of thousands more live in Alaska and Canada, where their existence never was imperiled.

However, 43 years ago, there were just 417 known nesting pairs left in the lower 48 states, mainly because of the widespread use of DDT and other pesticides that weakened the bald eagle's eggshells and reduced its birth rate. The brown-bodied bird with the distinctive white head and tail also suffered from lead poisoning _ eating waterfowl pierced by a hunter's lead shot.

In 1967, under a law that preceded the Endangered Species Act, the bald eagle was declared an endangered species in the lower 48. In 1972, the Environmental Protection Agency banned DDT for most uses.

Fish and Wildlife officials in 1978 listed the bald eagle as endangered in 43 states and threatened in Washington, Oregon, Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin. The government hatched detailed recovery plans, with specific population and reproduction goals. Sometimes eggs were imported from Canada and installed at artificial eyries.

By 1995, the species had rebounded enough to be reclassified as threatened throughout the lower 48.

If and when the bald eagle is removed from the endangered list, two other laws will continue to protect it: the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the 1940 Bald Eagle Protection Act, later revised to include the golden eagle. But those don't address habitat.

Great Horned Owls starring on MPT!

From MDOsprey:

Maryland Public Television's Outdoors Maryland is developing a story piece on Great Horned Owls in Maryland. They hope to obtain video from throughout the nesting season to capture the breeding effort from egg to fledging. The first filming date that they have scheduled is 22 February. I know of a few GHOW nests from past years that I will quickly revisit to determine if they are active this year.

To assist MPT, if anyone knows of active GHOW nests that you would be willing to pass on, we would appreciate it. To make the piece more interesting, we would like to have nests in a variety of locations to add to the possible visual diversity of the story. If you have locations to pass on, please contact me ( off the list so that we do not indiscriminately put the subject owls at risk from over visitation.

By the way, if you do know of active nests, whether you pass them to me or not, please make certain that you enter your observations on them into the Breeding Bird Atlas, now in this its final year.

On behalf of MPT, thank you for your assistance with this effort!

Friday, February 10, 2006

Ocean City Field Trip Postponed to Feb. 18th

Due to the snowstorm predicted for Saturday, February 11th, the DC Audubon Society is postponing its annual field trip to Ocean City and the Delaware coast to Saturday, February 18th. Please make note of the changed date if you plan to attend.

Except for the date, the schedule for the trip will remain the same. See our website for more details.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Lecture at the National Zoo: Out of the Shadows: The History, Science and Current Status of the Bird Friendly® Coffee Program

Come hear what promises to be a fascinating lecture on February 9, 2006 at 7:30 p.m.

Come learn about the creation and history of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center's (SMBC) shade coffee certification efforts, known as the Bird Friendly® coffee program. Now in its sixth year, this unique Smithsonian initiative links the results of scientific field work with conservation and the marketplace. It also promises to help small coffee producers in the process. Robert Rice, a geographer and policy researcher at the SMBC, will walk you through the history, challenges, and successes of this program that—via the simple morning ritual of drinking coffee—aims to preserve habitat for many of the migratory birds we see in each year.

Go to the National Zoo website to RSVP: