Birds and Environmental Health

environmental health news logo-wideIt has bird week here at State Wildlife Research News, but Environmental Health News is dedicating months to articles reflecting on birds and environmental health. The publication’s Winged Warnings series will contain 16 articles when it concludes in October.

Right now you can read many informative articles about the impacts of heavy metals, toxics, climate change, night lighting and other environmental problems that harm not just birds, but humans as well.

Find the home page for the Winged Warnings series here.

Bird Journal Round-up

Condor cover Aug 14In honor of two major reports on bird conservation released last week, it is going to be bird week here at State Wildlife Research News. First, the science journals. If the State of the Birds has you wondering what and where your state can be doing bird conservation better, the latest issue of The Condor has some answers for you.

Some highlights:
Development, such as farms and the building of transmission lines, in the sagebrush ecosystem favors raven populations over sagebrush specialists, such as ferruginous hawks. Landscape alterations influence differential habitat use of nesting buteos and ravens within sagebrush ecosystem: Implications for transmission line development

Radar analysis has revealed several important fall migratory stop-over sites for birds in the northeastern United States, including coastlines of Long Island Sound, throughout the Delmarva Peninsula, in areas surrounding Baltimore and Washington, along the western edge of the Adirondack Mountains, and within the Appalachian Mountains of southwestern Virginia and West Virginia. Radar analysis of fall bird migration stopover sites in the northeastern U.S.

In grasslands, getting rid of trees helps populations of savannah sparrows and sedge wrens much more than improving the quality of the grasslands does. A multiscale assessment of tree avoidance by prairie birds

This issue of the Condor is particularly rich in papers relevant to bird conservation in North America. Check out the table of contents here.

In the Wilson Journal of Ornithology:
Analysis of thousands of eared grebes that died on the Great Salt Lake in December 2011 found that the downed birds had elevated levels of mercury and selenium compared to the eared grebes that migrated through the area without incident. Factors Influencing Mortality of Eared Grebes (Podiceps nigricollis) during a Mass Downing

And No Sex Bias in Wood Thrushes (Hylocichla mustelina) Captured by Using Audio Playback during the Non-breeding Season

State of the Birds

2014SOTB_Cover_300pxAccording to a National Audubon Society press release issued last week, more than half of the common bird species in North America are at risk from climate change. The release announced a comprehensive study of North American bird populations based on Audubon’s annual Christmas Bird Count and other sources.

“The study identifies 126 species that will lose more than 50 percent of their current ranges – in some cases up to 100 percent – by 2050, with no possibility of moving elsewhere if global warming continues on its current trajectory. A further 188 species face more than 50 percent range loss by 2080 but may be able to make up some of this loss if they are able to colonize new areas. These 314 species include many not previously considered at risk,” the release says.

Read the Audubon press release here.
Read Audubon articles and access the report itself, here.
Read The New York Times article on the report here.
Read the USA Today article on the report here.

The very next day the U.S. Committee of the North American Bird Conservation Initiative, a 23-member private/public partnership released its annual State of the Birds report. There, the message was much the same, with a slightly more optimistic frame. The New York Times reports that the State of the Birds says that “nearly one-third of America’s birds are in trouble.”

Federal agencies play a big role in the State of the Birds report, and this report emphasizes the importance of habitat to bird populations, pointing to specific regions as trouble spots.

“After examining the population trends of birds in desert, sagebrush and chaparral habitats of the West, the report’s authors identify aridlands as the habitat with the steepest population declines in the nation. There has been a 46 percent loss of these birds since 1968 in states such as Utah, Arizona and New Mexico,” the Initiative press release states.

The State of the Birds also emphasizes success stories, such as the impact of wetland restoration on waterfowl populations.

The 2014 State of the Birds landing page is here. It includes links to the press release, the full report, a watch list and a list of common birds in decline.
Read the very brief New York Times article here.
Read the National Public Radio report here.

The State of the Birds report has been issued since 2009. Audubon played a lead role in putting together the report and publicizing it in 2009, 2010 and 2011. It does not appear that there was a State of the Birds report in 2012. In 2013 the Audubon’s CEO issued a statement saying that Congress’s inaction on the Farm Bill was harming birds. This year, Audubon issued its own report emphasizing climate change as a threat. Audubon is still a member of the U.S. Committee of the North American Bird Conservation Initiative and its name still appears on the State of the Birds report.


Snake Disease Confirmed in Georgia

mudsnake-scwds_cropSnake Fungal Disease was identified in a mud snake found on the edge of a blackwater swamp near near Statesboro, Georgia, according to a press release from Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Nongame Conservation Section. The fungal disease was confirmed by the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study, the release notes.

The mud snake was the first wild snake confirmed with the disease, but previously a captive rat snake had been diagnosed with the fungus, a brief article in a newsletter from Georgia Department of Natural Resources says.

Mud snakes are solitary, so the finding suggests that all snake species are vulnerable to the fungus, the press release says.

Read many more details, including a description of the disease, in the Georgia DNR press release, here.
The Georgia DNR newsletter article can be found here, but you have to scroll down.

Photo: Mud snake with Snake Fungal Disease, courtesy of Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

Stiltgrass Bad News for Toads

northern leopard frogJapanese stiltweed is an invasive grass species that out-competes native species in wetlands, forests and other areas. Recent research at the University of Georgia found that it isn’t doing any favors for the American toad either, a post in Entomology Today reports. The paper appeared in the journal Ecology.

The stiltgrass, the researchers found, is wonderful habitat for wolf spiders. As wolf spider numbers increase, they prey on an increasing number of juvenile American toads. The researchers had noticed low toad survival in eight areas in Georgia with invasive stiltgrass and wanted to know why. They were surprised to find an abundance of wolf spiders.

The researchers hypothesize that the stiltgrass allows the spiders, which keep their own populations in check through cannibalism, to hide from each other.

Read all the gory details in the Entomology Today post.
Read all the scientific details in the Ecology paper.

In other amphibian news, National Public Radio recently featured the North American Amphibian Program, a citizen science project that has been tracking calling frogs for 20 years. The news hook seems to be that a citizen science in Virginia recently discovered the presence there of a leopard frog species that had only been identified two years ago in the New York City area.

Photo: Leopard frog. Credit: Shaula Hedwall/USFWS

Coyote Population Steady in South Carolina

coyoteThe South Carolina Department of Natural Resources reports that coyote populations in the state have leveled off in the last several years, although when he heard the news, its own board chairman said his farm has “about 10,000,” the The Columbia State newspaper and the (Florence) Morning News.

The information was released at a presentation to the natural resources board last week.

The population trend is estimated from the number of coyotes killed in the state each year, the article reports. That number has remained steady for several years. The article notes that the state does not have specific population figures on coyotes.

According to the harvest statistics, coyotes are not spread evenly over the state. Several counties top the others in the total number of coyotes killed and the number of coyotes killed per square mile. Abbeville, Saluda and Cherokee Counties lead the list in coyotes killed per square mile, the Island Packet reports.

The article includes extensive quotes from a university extension agent who refers to the coyotes as “dogs,” which really isn’t helping anyone.

The Columbia State article in the Island Packet, with lots of interactive statistics.
The Morning News article.

Photo: Coyote by Steve Thompson, courtesy US Fish and Wildlife

Mule Deer Decline Research

wrmdh-deer-on-mat-up-close-gov-del_originalWhy are mule deer declining in Western states? So far, that’s a mystery. The Wyoming Game & Fish Department reports that the Muley Fanatic Foundation has pledged $1.3 million in an attempt to solve that mystery.

The money will fund an ambitious, five-year research project called the Deer-Elk Ecology Research (D.E.E.R.) project. The department’s press release says that the project will use five kinds of high-tech tracking devices, satellite monitoring, laboratory analysis, 170 helicopter enabled animal captures and the dedicated services of a full-time Ph.D candidate and will involve the Muley Fanatic Foundation,the University of Wyoming Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, as well as the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

The research will take place in the greater Little Mountain Area of southwest Wyoming because it is rich in the factors that are suspected in the mule deers decline:  prolonged drought, habitat alteration, predation, and expanding elk populations.

Wyoming Game and Fish Department press release, here.
Link to the Muley Fanatic Foundation, here.

Photo: A completely different mule deer study, but still in Wyoming. This one in the Wyoming Range. Courtesy Wyoming Game and Fish

Camel Crickets

They are called camel crickets, cave crickets, spider crickets, or sprickets. Among the places they live are in damp basements and garages. They are harmless. There are 150 different species of them in North America, Entomology Today reports. Until recently, the site says, the camel crickets found in basements and garages were native species. But no more.

A citizen science project by researchers at North Carolina State University found that 90 percent of the camel crickets observed by the researchers or reporting citizens were greenhouse camel cricket (Diestrammena asynamora), a non-native species from Asia long known in greenhouses, but not in basements.

To make things even more interesting, photographs of camel crickets sent from the northeastern US appear to depict Diestrammena japanica, which hadn’t been formally reported in the US before.

Entomology Today article.
NC State University Camel Cricket project site.
Journal article on the project.


Indiana River Otters: From Recovery to Control

otter_pair_maxwell“The [Indiana] Department of Natural Resources is considering allowing a trapping season for river otters less than two decades after being reintroduced to the Hoosier landscape,” wrote John Martino, outdoors columnist for the Kokomo Tribune last week. In the article, Martino says the river otters were official declared extirpated from Indiana in 1942.

The state’s reintroduction program began in 1995 and included 303 river otters trapped in Louisiana and released in Indiana, the article says. Ten years later river otters were taken off the state endangered species list.

In 2013 the IDNR received more than 64 formal complaints about river otters eating fish from private ponds, Martino reports. The department issued 11 nuisance animal control permits in 2012, he adds. Now, he reports, the department is considering controlling the river otter population by opening a trapping season for river otter in the counties where it is most abundant.

Read the article in the Kokomo Tribune here.
Information on river otter from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources is here. It includes links to several data sets, including a mortality study.

Photo: courtesy Indiana Department of Natural Resources

Good News for Vermont’s Bats

little brown bat with white nose syndrome on cave wallAs the second state struck by white nose syndrome in bats, good news for Vermont’s bats is good news for all hibernating bats in North America. An Associated Press story reports that scientists are interpreting results of a winter-long study of bat movements in New England’s largest bat hibernation site as showing a sharp reduction in the number of bats felled by white nose syndrome.

The scientists tagged over 400 bats, and found that only eight left their hibernation cave early. Only 192 bats left the cave at their normal time, but the scientists say they think those other 200 or so bats hibernated in another cave, as opposed to dieing somewhere deep in the cave out of reach of their tracking antenna.

Read the whole Associated Press story here.
Scroll down for some background on the study and other interesting white nose syndrome info, here.

Photo: Little brown bat with white nose syndrome. Courtesy of Missouri Dept. of Conservation