Category Archives: blog

Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin, a rare bird, sighted in Gurugram —

Rufous-tailed scrub Robin (Licenced -- CC BY-SA 4.0 -- Author -- El Golli Mohamed)

Rufous-tailed scrub Robin (Licence — CC BY-SA 4.0 — Author — El Golli Mohamed)

A rare migratory bird, the Rufous-tailed scrub robin (Cercotrichas galactotes), a medium-sized bird, was sighted on 26 August 2018 at the Aravali Biodiversity Park in Gurugram in Haryana (India). It was spotted for the first time in the park last year.

According to birder Amit Sharma, who spotted the bird along with two other enthusiasts, Gaurav Yadav and Janardan Barthwal, “sightings during the same time of the year (for two straight years) might indicate that the bird has made Gurugram its monsoon migratory destination.” “Last year, during the same time, I saw a Rufous-tailed scrub robin in the Aravali Biodiversity Park of Gurugram.

Pankaj Gupta of the NGO Delhi Bird Foundation agreed, saying, “Native plantation in the park is definitely paying off in protecting and inviting rare species. Vijay Dashmana, chief ecologist at the Aravali Biodiversity Park said, “The rich forest habitats created at the park has attracted many bird species to the park. The bird is generally spotted in scrub forests and migrates from the Gulf region to India.

Other common names of the bird include the rufous scrub robinrufous bush chat, rufous bush robin and the rufous warbler. It breeds around the Mediterranean and east to Pakistan. Bird of dry open country with bushes and shrubs, it also breeds south of the Sahara from the Sahel region east to Somalia. It is partially migratory, wintering in Africa (Kenya, South Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia) and India. (Times of India)

The curious case of blushing macaws —

Blushing Macaws (Pix-journal.pone - Photographic representation of the position of crown, nape and cheek feathers. (All photographs taken by A. Beraud)

Blushing Macaws (Pix-journal.pone – Photographic representation of the position of crown, nape and cheek feathers. (All photographs taken by A. Beraud)

Ever heard of macaws that blush, much like humans at an emotional moment? Researchers still don’t quite understand how it works, but a French team says they have observed the phenomenon multiple times in a group of five captive blue-and-yellow macaws. 

They published their findings on 22 August 2018 in the journal ‘PLOS One’. 

Blue-and-yellow macaws have a part of their cheeks that is naked, uncovered by feathers, and researchers noticed that this fair skin would redden during interactions with their handlers. “Birds don’t have muscles in their faces,” explained lead researcher Aline Bertin of INRA. 

Anecdotally, people who took care of macaws noticed them blushing, their cheeks reddening with increased blood flow, much like in humans. But they still needed to document the phenomenon. 

So they set up an experiment to film and photograph the birds on perches during organised interactions with their habitual human handlers, such as talking and looking at them. They saw the birds’ skin reddened around the eyes during these encounters. 

“But we don’t know if these birds can feel positive emotions,” said Bertin. (AFP)

Do Penguins Mate for Life? Paternity Tests prove otherwise —

Gentoo penguin

Gentoo penguin

Roto and Copper, two Gentoo penguins at Loveland Living Planet Aquarium in Utah, cared for three children together, taking turns feeding them. They’re a social pair, just like Coco and Gossamer, a neighboring penguin couple that raised their own chicks.

Or did they?

We tend to think of penguins as monogamous, with social bonds formed between two parents for life. But researchers have discovered that penguins in captivity, like some species in the wild, sometimes stray. After sampling the DNA of 19 Gentoo penguins at the aquarium, researchers revealed last month in the journal ZooBiology that Roto is the father of two chicks believed to be Gossamer’s offspring.

“We’ll go back to the classic movies where the male gives the female a rock and they start to build their nest with it, and they are totally monogamous,” Steve Vogel, the aquarium’s zoological operations director said, “and that is not true 20 percent of the time.” At least not at this aquarium.

The story sounds like a daytime TV talk show, climaxing with a surprise paternity test result. But for zoo animals, it’s important. These penguins are set to be part of a program pairing the most genetically diverse animals from different facilities, like people in a matchmaking service, to ensure a strong, healthy penguin population in case this species ever goes extinct. Although Gentoo penguins are doing relatively O.K. in the wild, other species face threats from climate change, overfishing, oil drilling and other factors.

For this penguin dating service to work, documenting familial lineages is critical to avoiding inbreeding. And while the sample size is small, the study suggests that using DNA evidence to confirm behavioral observations may be the best way to ensure healthy penguin populations of the future.

At the aquarium, staff monitors the penguins like producers on a reality TV show. When they spot two penguins engaging in mating behavior, they call in a “code Romeo.” The signal summons an animal keeper, who determines as best she can which two penguins are getting busy, and documents it in the Gentoo Penguin Studbook, a database shared among zoos and aquariums that will be used to make the most genetically diverse matches.

At Loveland, staff started noticing some penguins mating outside their social pairs. This called for paternity testing.

Of eight offspring they tested, two had a biological father that wasn’t their social father. In other words, Roto and Coco had been sneaking around. Another rogue female had been mating with two different males too — even though the males were in stable social pairs.

Eric Domyan, a biology professor at Utah Valley University who led the testing, wasn’t surprised. “Most species that we think of as monogamous, including our very own species, we know that there’s always an asterisk beside that,” he said. “It’s very rare to find monogamy in any species where there’s 100 percent fidelity to one’s mate. I expected that to be the case with penguins as well.”

For those concerned about the lives of unfaithful penguins, there’s a moral to the story: “We could say that penguins are human too,” said Dr. Domyan. He added, “It’s probably not realistic to expect animals to have a higher level of moral perfection than we do.” (New York Times)

New Zealand seabirds dying due to plastic ingestion —

Birds ingest plastic that leads to damage to internal organs, causes gut blockage or chemical build-ups in tissues (Photograph - Dan Clark/USFWS/AP)

Birds ingest plastic that leads to damage to internal organs, causes gut blockage or chemical build-ups in tissues (Photograph – Dan Clark/USFWS/AP)

Plastic pollution has the potential to cause the worst damage to seabirds in the seas around Aotearoa New Zealand, where many of them come to feed and breed.

Aotearoa boasts the greatest diversity of seabirds in the world. Of the 360 global seabird species, 86 breed here and 37 are endemic, which means they breed nowhere else.

Some 90 percent of New Zealand’s seabirds are threatened with extinction. They (and many other marine species) are under pressure from pollution, climate change, and overexploitation of marine resources. Plastic pollution could be the final nail in the coffin for many seabirds that are already struggling for survival.

Plastic – not so fantastic

Every week, another grotesque story illustrates the impact of plastic in the environment. A whale was recently found with 80 plastic bags in its stomach – it died, of course. One-third of marine turtles have died or become ill due to plastic ingestion in Aotearoa New Zealand.

A 2015 study suggested that 99% of seabirds would be ingesting plastic by 2050. The authors also predicted that seabirds in our backyard, the Tasman Sea (Te Tai o Rēhua) would be the hardest hit, because of the high densities of seabirds foraging in the region, and the overlap with plastic. This not that surprising, given that the earliest observations of Aotearoa’s seabirds ingesting plastic go back to 1958.

Sentinels of ocean plastic pollution

Seabirds are particularly vulnerable to ingesting plastics because most species feed at or near the ocean surface. They forage along eddies and oceanic convergence zones – the same areas where marine plastics accumulate. The impacts of plastic on seabirds and other marine wildlife include death by entanglement. Ingested plastic can inhibit a bird’s feeding capacity, leading to starvation or internal ulcers, and eventually death.

Flesh-footed shearwater populations in Aotearoa may have declined up to 50 percent to around 12,000 pairs since the 1980s, and have gone extinct at some of their Hauraki Gulf breeding sites. These declines continue in spite of predator eradication and an end to harvesting on many of the islands where they breed.

Autopsies of birds caught in fisheries in Aotearoa’s waters show flesh-footed and sooty shearwaters are more likely to contain plastic fragments than other species. Plastic fragments found in New Zealand flesh-footed shearwater colonies showed a linear relationship between the number of nest burrows and plastic fragments, indicating that plastic ingestion may be a driver in their population decline.

Toxic plastic soup

In Australia, up to 100% of flesh-footed shearwater fledglings contained plastic, the highest reported for any marine vertebrate. Fledglings with high levels of ingested plastic exhibited reduced body condition and increased contaminant loads.

The chemical structure of plastics means that they act as toxin sponges, attracting harmful contaminants from the surrounding seawater, including persistent organic pollutants and heavy metals. When an animal ingests plastic, there is the potential for those toxic chemicals to leach into its tissues.

Chemicals such as PCBs and flame retardants that are added to plastics during manufacture have been found in seabird tissue around the Pacific. High concentrations of toxic chemicals can retard growth, reduce reproductive fitness and, ultimately, kill.

Sooty shearwater (tītī) chicks, which are harvested and consumed by Māori in Aotearoa, have a high potential for ingesting plastic, given evidence of plastic ingestion in shearwaters from Australia and anecdotal evidence from harvesters on Stewart Island (Rakiura). The closely related short-tailed shearwater, which breeds in Australia, has also been shown to consume plastic. In one study, 96% of chicks contained plastics in their stomachs and chemical loads in their tissue.

Ocean health and human health

Few, if any, studies have specifically looked at contaminant loads derived from plastics in any species of seabird in Aotearoa. However, Elizabeth Bell from Wildlife Management International is now collecting samples of preen glands, fat and liver tissue for analysis of toxic chemicals in bycatch birds found with plastic inside them. This research is crucial to understanding the implications of the transfer of toxins to people from harvested species that ingest plastic.

Seabirds are the sentinels of ocean health. They tell us what we can’t always see about the health of the oceans and its resources that we rely on.

Plastics are sold to us on the perceived benefits of strength, durability and inexpensive production. These qualities are now choking our oceans.

In a few decades, we have produced an estimated 8.3 billion tonnes. The expedited pace of production has not been met with adequate waste management and recycling capacity to deal with it all. As a result, an estimated 8 million tonnes of plastic pollute the environment each year.

Global production of plastics is doubling every 11 years. It is predicted to be an order of magnitude greater than current production level by 2040. The time is ripe for the initiation of an international agreement to lessen plastic pollution in the world’s oceans and save our seabirds and marine wildlife. (The Conversation)

World’s biggest king penguin colony shrinks by 90 percent —

1982 picture shows a two-million-strong king penguin colony on Ile aux Cochon (Picture -  Henri WeimerskirchFrench National Centre for Scientific Research (Source AFP)

1982 picture shows a two-million-strong king penguin colony on Ile aux Cochon (Picture – Henri WeimerskirchFrench National Centre for Scientific Research (Source AFP)

The planet’s largest colony of king penguins has declined by nearly 90 percent in three decades, alarmed researchers said on Monday (30 July 2018).

The last time scientists set foot on France’s remote Ile aux Cochons – roughly half way between the tip of Africa and Antarctica – the island was blanketed by two million of the flightless birds, which stand about a metre (three feet) tall.

But recent satellite images and photos taken from helicopters, show the population has collapsed, with barely 200,000 remaining, according to a study published in Antarctic Science.

King penguins are home bodies. While adults will set to sea for days at a time foraging for food, the species does not migrate.

Why the colony on Ile aux Cochon has been so decimated remains a mystery.

“It is completely unexpected, and particularly significant since this colony represented nearly one third of the king penguins in the world,” said lead author Henri Weimerskirch, an ecologist at the Centre for Biological Studies in Chize, France, who first set eyes on the colony in 1982.

Climate change may play a role

In 1997, a particularly strong El Nino weather event warmed the southern Indian Ocean, temporarily pushing the fish and squid on which king penguins depend south, beyond their foraging range.

“This resulted in population decline and poor breeding success” for all king penguin colonies in the region, Weimerskirch said.

El Nino’s are cyclical events that occur every two to seven years. But they can be amplified by global warming, which itself produces many of the same results, albeit on a longer timescale.

Indeed, Weimerskirch and colleagues showed in an earlier study that climate change, on its current trajectory, will likely make the Iles Crozet – the archipelago that contains Ile aux Cochon – unviable for king penguins by mid-century.

Migration is not an option because there are no other suitable islands within striking range. Other factors may be contributing to the decline of the Ile aux Cochon colony, including overcrowding.

One egg at a time

“The larger the population, the fiercer the competition between individuals,” noted a statement from France’s National Centre for Scientific Research, which funded the study.

“The repercussions of lack of food are thus amplified and can trigger an unprecedented rapid and drastic drop in numbers.”

But this so-called “density-dependent effect” can also be made worse by climate change, the study notes.

Another possible culprit is avian cholera, which has affected seabirds on nearby Marion and Amsterdam Islands, including some king penguins.

But until Weimerskirch and other researchers return to Ile aux Cochons – hopefully, he said, in early 2019 – they won’t know for sure.

It is also possible that invasive species such as rats, mice or cats, have found their way onto the island.

The Red List of Threatened Species conservation status for king penguins is currently “least concern,” but the new data may prompt a re-evaluation.

King penguins are the second-largest penguin species after the Emperors. They do not make a nest, but rather lay one egg at a time and carry it around on their feet covered with a flap of abdominal skin, called a brood patch.

Parents take turns incubating the egg, switching every couple of weeks over a two-month period.

There are two sub-species of kings. Aptenodytes patagonica patagonicus inhabits the Falklands and South Georgia Island, while Aptenodytes patagonica halli resides in the southernmost reaches of Indian Ocean and South Pacific. (AFP News)

Crows ‘reverse engineer’ tools from memory: study —

New Caledonian Crow

New Caledonian Crow

New Caledonian crows (Corvus moneduloides) use mental pictures to twist twigs into hooks and make other tools, according to a provocative study that suggests the notoriously clever birds pass on successful designs to future generations, a hallmark of culture.

“We find evidence for a specific type of emulation we call mental template matching,” co-author Alex Taylor, director of the Language, Cognition and Culture Lab at the University of Aukland, told AFP.

“Put simply, crows can reverse engineer tool designs using only a mental image of that tool.”

A long-simmering debate among evolutionary biologists asks how much of the crow’s tool-making ability is genetically programmed, and how much is acquired and transmitted through learning and memory.

A famous experiment filmed in 2002 featuring “Betty the crow” showed the bird bending a straight piece of wire into a hook in order to retrieve a morsel of meat stuffed in a narrow plastic tube.

The feat was hailed as proof that the New Caledonian crow could invent new tools on the spot, a rare ability among non-human animals.

But a study published a dozen years later found that more than a dozen wild-caught crows also broke off small branches and fashioned them into tiny hooks with their beaks, leading some researchers to conclude this ability is at least partly hardwired.

To the extent it is learnt, there’s a further split: some experts think the birds are mimicking witnessed techniques, and others – including Taylor – say the crows have a more sophisticated approach.

The distinction is comparable to two methods for making a paper plane.

“You can follow a list of directions – fold in the middle, then the corners, etc.”, said Taylor.

Culturally transmitted

“Or you could have an image in your mind of what you want the airplane to look like at the end, and work to that goal.”

To remove lingering ambiguity, Taylor and colleagues captured eight wild crows and trained them to drop variously sized bits of paper into a vending machine in order to retrieve rewards.

In the second part of the experiment, the birds – when given large cards – tore them up to create pieces similar in size and shape to those that had earned them goodies.

“The crows were able to recreate tool designs without a reference point – there was no tool they could see when making a ‘tool’ from the card,” Taylor said.

The only way the birds could have reproduced the objects is by having a “mental template of the tool design in their mind.”

Indeed, New Caledonian crows do not appear to imitate, or play close attention to the tool building of other birds in the wild.

But that does not mean that the tools they design cannot be culturally transmitted, Taylor insisted.

“Cumulative cultural evolution is the natural selection of ideas – we copy the best ideas and then modify them,” he explained.

“Some of these modifications work, some don’t, and the best ones are then copied and passed on.” (AFP)

After much drama stork with a plastic ring around its beak rescued —

black-necked stork (pix SShukla) Representative image

black-necked stork (pix SShukla) Representative image

After a week-long rescue operation, the Black-necked Stork (Ephippiorhynchus asiaticus) was rescued from the Najafgarh Jheel in the state of Haryana in India on 13 June 2018 morning. An eight-member team including rescuers from Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), Nature Conservation Foundation and state’s wildlife department rescued the bird when it lost strength to fly. The ring entangled around the bird’s beak was made of rubber.

After the stork was caught it was kept in a recovering facility maintained by the Gurgaon forest officials for two days and finally released at Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary, about 15km from Gurugram City on 15 June.

The team of Times of India (TOI) visited the rescue spot and found that tremendous efforts were being put in by the rescue team which used drones; field scope and bamboo trap to locate and catch the bird. The members of the rescue team were Rakesh Ahlawat, Sonu Dalal, Anil Gandas, Qasim, Dr. Debasish (a veterinarian), Sunil Kumar, and Krishan Kumar. The team is accompanaid by a drone pilot Ajay.

Bird rescue operation became campaign

A birder Manoj Nair first spotted the hapless stork, a ‘near threatened’ species, with its beak caught in a plastic ring from a bottle. The wildlife department was alerted and the rescue operation was started.

“I was shocked to see a black-necked stork there, struggling to remove a plastic ring from its beak. I clicked a few pictures and alerted the authorities and other birders so that they could rescue it,” he said, adding that the situation was making it difficult for the bird to even drink water.

The bird in question is an adult male and nearly 4 to 5 feet tall. Earlier it was spotted at the Basai wetland, about 22 km from the spot it was rescued, on 8 June morning by a three-member team from the wildlife department. There is a heap of plastic waste near the Basai wetland. A plastic compressing and recycling unit set up by some private player has been operating in the area, which has now been removed by the authorities.

After the alert sounded several guards and birders visited Basai wetland as well as other nearby wetlands, including Najafgarh Lake and Sultanpur bird sanctuary, all situated around the national capital, Delhi, but the bird was not to be found. The problem was the plastic ring was not colourful hence not easily visible.

The authorities also requested birders to assist in the rescue operation. Vinod Kumar, additional principal chief conservator of forest, said, “We have already deployed a team to rescue the bird. We are exploring several methods that can help in the rescue. But we need the help of birders. I request all birders to be on alert and contact us whenever the bird is spotted.”

The animal’s plight and the rescue operations were widely reported by news media, ever since the bird was spotted. But the rescue mission was largely propagated and fuelled by social media. The picture of the bird with the ring around its beak was shared widely by birders and residents of Gurgaon on social media, triggering cries for a rescue operation. Vinod Kumar, Gurgaon’s additional principal chief conservator of forest, says, “Such incidents happen quite often in Basai because of the plastic waste in the area. Often, birds die too, but these incidents don’t come to light because nobody is able to spot these birds. This time, we – and this bird – were lucky that a birder spotted it and posted the picture on Facebook. It was our duty to save the bird. We wanted to send the message that each bird’s life is important.”

As word of rescue spread over social media, more birders and organisations volunteered to help. Authorities from the Delhi Zoo and organisations like Bombay Natural History Society and Nature Conservation Foundation came forward to help. Anil Gandass, a Gurgaon-based wildlife photographer, helped spot the bird. He used his powerful camera to click all the storks in the wetlands till he managed to find the one with the ring stuck on its beak. “It was a tiring task and wouldn’t have been possible without the zoom lenses and camera. Most of the time, it is impossible to locate these birds as the visitors aren’t allowed anywhere near them. That’s where the camera came in handy,” he says. Sonu Dalal, a birdwatcher working with Nature Conservation Foundation, says, “We had to constantly change our approach for the rescue. Initially, we tried to set a trap and catch the bird but it did not fall for it. Then, we thought of using a drone but that would have endangered other birds so we used that as a last resort. Eventually, on Tuesday, we had to chase and tire the bird, so that we could catch it by hand.”

Before the bird was finally rescued the district wildlife department approached the Delhi Zoo authorities and BNHS. Despite the efforts of various teams, individuals and organizations bird could not be caught as it was a healthy bird and would fly off on slightest danger. After doing all they could experts realized that it might take two-three days to rescue it. Rakesh Ahlawat, working with NGO Nature Conservation Foundation, said, “We spotted the bird at around 8.30am on Friday. It was a healthy adult bird and immediately flew away. I think we will be able to rescue the bird when it stops flying after it becomes a little weak as it cannot take any food or water.”

How the trapping attempts failed

1. A drone was flown over Najafgarh Lake to spot the bird. The pilot took it to a height of 100 m, as instructed by the wildlife inspector Sunil Kumar. Since the internet connectivity was poor, live video captured by the drone camera couldn’t be viewed.

2. A rescuer, Qasim from BNHS, with a hide and glue trap walked 500m into the marshes to catch the bird. He used a glue trap made of bamboo and a hide made of leaves to conceal himself. It took him 2 hours to get within 50 metres of the bird, but as he was about to use the trap, it got stuck in the marshy surface.

3. Next strategy deployed by wildlife enthusiast Anil Gandas, wildlife inspector Sunil Kumar and wildlife guard Krishan Kumar when the bird was spotted on a dry surface. The team gradually closed in on the bird, but failed because the red-wattled lapwing, which was close by alerted the stork and it flew away. (Times of India)

US’s new migratory bird policy undermines a century of conservation —

Common Tern in migration flight (pix SShukla)

Common Tern in migration flight (pix SShukla)

The Trump administration has announced a position on protecting migratory birds that is a drastic pullback from policies in force for the past 100 years.

In 1916, amid the chaos of World War I, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson and King George V of Great Britain signed the Migratory Bird Treaty. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) wrote the treaty into U.S. law two years later. These measures protected more than 1,100 migratory bird species by making it illegal to pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill or sell live or dead birds, feathers, eggs and nests, except as allowed by permit or regulated hunting.

This bold move was prompted by the decimation of bird populations across North America. Some 5 million birds, especially waterbirds like egrets and herons, were dying yearly to provide feathers to adorn hats, and the passenger pigeon had just gone extinct. Fearing that other species would meet the same fate, national leaders took action.

Migration -- Bar-tailed_Godwit_migration route (public domain)Now the Interior Department has issued a legal opinion that reinterprets the act and excludes “incidental take” – activities that are not intended to harm birds, but do so directly in ways that could have been foreseen, such as filling in wetlands where migrating birds rest and feed. Why? For fear of “unlimited potential for criminal prosecution.” As the argument goes, cat owners whose pets attack migratory birds or drivers who accidentally strike birds with their cars might be charged with crimes.

But the MBTA has not been enforced this way. It is applied to cases of gross negligence where potential harm should have been anticipated and avoided, such as discharging water contaminated with toxic pesticides into a pond used by migratory birds. This new reading of the law means that companies will escape legal responsibility and liability for actions that kill millions of birds every year.

Pollution, development and habitat loss kill birds

Purposeful killing is only one of many threats to migratory birds. Habitat loss, invasive species, pollution and collisions with buildings take heavy tolls on many species. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, every year more than 40 million birds are killed by industrial activities or structures such as power lines, oil pits, communication towers and wind turbines. The 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico killed more than 1 million birds in a single event.

Seventeen former Interior Department officials representing every presidential administration from Nixon through Obama have written a memo expressing deep concern about the new policy. As they explain, the MBTA has given industries a strong and effective incentive to work with government agencies to anticipate, avoid and mitigate foreseeable death or injury to birds.

For example, it prompted energy companies to install nets above pits where they store waste fluids from oil drilling. Because these pits look like water sources, birds often land on them and can become trapped and die. Installing nets over the pits has cut annual bird deaths from roughly two million birds yearly to between 500,000 and one million. Not perfect, but a meaningful improvement.

Global citizens, global consequences

Magnolia Warbler (Breeding_ migration and winter abundance of the magnolia warbler based on computer models using eBird data)

Magnolia Warbler (Breeding_ migration and winter abundance of the magnolia warbler based on computer models using eBird data)

Because migratory birds don’t recognize international boundaries, the consequences of reinterpreting the MBTA may be felt across borders. In one year, an individual warbler may spend 80 days in Canada’s boreal forests, 30 days in the United States at resting and refueling sites during migration, and over 200 days in Central America.

At the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, we have constructed maps and animations using data collected by volunteers for eBird, the world’s fastest-growing biodiversity database. These references illustrate how migratory birds connect countries. Many spend the year in locations that span the Western Hemisphere.

The eastern-breeding magnolia warbler, for example, spends winters in areas in the Yucatan Peninsula and Central America that are fractions of the size of its breeding range. Seeing how densely these birds are clustered in their winter habitat shows us that each acre of that territory is important to their survival.

Similarly, most populations of the western-breeding western tanager overwinter in Mexico. By identifying where bird populations winter in this way, we can better target conservation actions to protect species throughout their annual cycles.

Still at risk

Western Tanager (Year-round abundance map for the Western tanager based on computer models using eBird data)

Western Tanager (Year-round abundance map for the Western tanager based on computer models using eBird data)

Today we know much more than early conservationists did about the value of birds. Healthy bird populations pollinate crops and help plants grow by dispersing seeds and preying on insects. Migratory birds also contribute billions of dollars to economies through recreational activities like hunting and birdwatching. And they connect us with nature, especially through the dazzling spectacle of migration.

Conserving migratory birds requires effective protection both in the United States and through international agreements and partnerships. The most important threats are loss and degradation of habitat, which can be caused by land conversion – for example, clearing forests for farming – or by climate change.

In the 2016 State of North American Birds report, an international team of scientists assessed the conservation status of 1,154 birds across Canada, the United States and Mexico. They found that over one-third of all North American bird species are at risk of extinction without meaningful conservation action.

Birds associated with oceans and tropical and subtropical forests year-round are in the most dire straits. More than half of North American seabirds are declining due to pollution, unsustainable fishing, energy extraction, pressure from invasive species and climate change. Birds that rely on coasts, arid lands and grasslands also are in serious decline.

There are no easy solutions, but new science is supporting responses. Transformational citizen science projects like eBird are developing vast data sets to help pinpoint where conservation action should focus. Bird conservation groups and government agencies have formed international teams to eradicate invasive predators on islands that are critical to breeding seabirds and drafted multinational agreements to clean up large floating mats of garbage in our seas that can choke, trap or poison seabirds and other animals.

Birds are a shared resource among nations. Where governments have acted, they have successfully protected migratory birds and the habitat they depend on. In my view, the Trump administration’s shift would abdicate U.S. leadership on migratory bird conservation and undermine public good for private profit. (The Conversation)

IISER scientists sequence peacock genome —

Peacock (male) - 1In a major breakthrough, researchers at Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Bhopal (Madhya Pradesh, India), have been successful in sequencing the complete genome of Indian peacock (Pavo cristatus), which according to the scientists will go a long way in protecting the population of the national bird. The work was published in the prestigious US-based bioRxiv preprint science server on May 5.

Associate professor Dr. Vineet Sharma, who led the research team, said: “Our group is first in the world to have done genome sequencing of peacock. Sequencing and analysis of the genome of any higher organism (eukaryote) is a difficult and challenging task but the advanced facilities at the institute helped us in achieving the breakthrough. The sequencing was completed in May 2016, and it took almost two years to complete the analysis. The sample of peacock was collected from Van Vihar National Park, Bhopal, with the help of Dr. Atul Gupta (veterinary officer) and the then director of Van Vihar.”

About the research work, he said, “Our study showed that peacock genome is closer to chicken and turkey in evolution. The most significant outcome was the revelation of signs of evolution in genes involved in the early stages of body development which makes it different from other birds.”

‘Peacocks live longer due to their robust immune system’ The research also found the candidate genes responsible for feather patterning which makes peacock as one of the most beautiful bird on the planet. “We also found that it has a robust immune system which perhaps helps it to fight infections and live longer,” said Dr Sharma.

Asked the reason of selecting peacock for genome sequencing, Dr Sharma said, “It is the national bird of India and has been given the highest degree of protection with the conservation status of ‘Schedule-I’ under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. It is also a biologically very significant bird which even intrigued famous scientist Charles Darwin. This work is extremely significant since it is the first major eukaryotic bird genome reported from India and gains additional importance because peacock is the national bird of India. The genomic clues from this study will serve as leads for further studies to decipher the unique ornamental phenotypes of peacock.”

Other members of the research team are Shubham Jaiswal, Ankit Gupta, Rituja Saxena, Ashok Sharma, Parul Mittal, Ankita Roy, Dr Nagarjun Vijay, Dr. Aaron Shafer and Vishnu Prasoodannan. In addition, this study will also help in devising better strategies for management and conservation of peacock population, which is vulnerable to habitat deterioration, poaching for train-feathers, use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers, Dr Sharma said. (Times of India)

12 peacocks dead in 10 days near Delhi, authorities baffled —

Representative image

Representative image

One more peacock died on Sunday (20 May 2018) morning in Bhondsi. More than a dozen peacocks in different parts of Gurugram and Faridabad districts of Haryana (India) had died in the last 10 days, leaving the authorties clueless about the cause of deaths.

Locals said Anil Gandas, a wildlife activist, rescued eight peacocks on Sunday morning from Bhondsi. One died after a few hours, but others are being treated at his medical facility.

The peacocks reportedly fell from trees all of a sudden after they lost their balance as their legs got twisted.

“It was strange to see peacocks falling off trees like that. Some peacocks, which were injured after the sudden fall, were attacked by stray dogs. As we have never seen peacocks behaving like this, we immediately called up Anil Gandas, who has rescued many peacocks and wild animals from the area. It was very disheartening to see peacocks in such condition,” said a resident of Bhondsi, requesting anonymity. On May 9, the district wildlife department had confirmed the deaths of five peacocks and also stated that about 15 peacocks were found unconscious at different places in Negpur and Hathin villages.

According to wildlife department officials, the peacocks in Bhondsi fell from trees due to heat stroke and the dust storm that hit the city on Saturday, while a viral disease could be responsible for the peacocks that were found dead or unconscious on May 9. Blood samples of sick peacocks were sent to an authorised laboratory in Hisar some 10 days ago, but the results haven’t come yet.

Shyam Sunder, district forest officer (wildlife), told TOI, “We have conducted postmortem of the peacock that died in Bhondsi. It seems that the cause of the death is heat stroke. Also, the dust storm on Saturday evening was responsible for its injuries. We are, however, awaiting reports of the blood samples to ascertain the cause of the death of peacocks that were found ill or dead in Negpur and Hathin.”

As a precautionary measure, the department has been spraying anti-viral medicine on trees and water bodies to protect the national bird. The department, however, can’t start the right treatment unless they receive the blood sample reports, officials said.

Animal activists have already written to the Union ministry of environment, forest and climate change over the delay in treatment of the rescued peacocks. (Times of India)