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.


Indiana Bats Need Forests

Bat_Indiana_A000A paper in the recent issue of The Journal of Wildlife Management says that Indiana bats can survive in areas with a high percentage of agricultural land, but that they strongly prefer both wooded and riparian areas. The paper says that they will fly more than a kilometer over open farm fields to reach a wooded area.

How small of a forest is too small for Indiana bats? The paper doesn’t cover that question, but it does raise the issue.

The Indiana bat is federally endangered species that is also threatened by white nose syndrome.

Read the abstract in The Journal of Wildlife Management here. The full paper requires a fee or a subscription.

Photo: Indiana bat, courtesy USFWS

Windstorm Aids Rare Bird

golden-winged_warblerBill-HubickAn American Bird Conservancy press release explains how a 2011 windstorm in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area boosted efforts by the Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources to create young forest habitat for the imperiled

“Generally, most people saw the blow-down as massively destructive,” the release quotes Wisconsin DNR Wildlife Biologist Bob Hanson as saying. “However, with the correct management prescription, it actually has provided some great habitat for this potentially endangered species. The shotgun pattern the storm left created new areas of young forest, a requirement of the golden-winged warbler.”

You can read the American Bird Conservancy release here.

In 2012, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources wrote about a coalition of state and federal agencies in the Upper Great Lakes Young Forest Initiative, which aims to help the golden-winged warbler and other birds, such as grouse, that rely on young forest habitat.

Read the WDNR Weekly News article here.

Photo: golden-winged warbler, by Bill Hubick, courtesy of American Bird Conservancy.

Lizards and Climate Change

shortHornedLizardTwo papers in the journal Global Ecology and Biogeography* outline two threats that the increased local temperature aspect of climate change makes on lizards.

The first paper is about lizards in South America, but North American reptiles might experience something similar. Bearing live young allowed lizards to occupy colder climates, the paper says, but those species are now limited to those climates. As temperatures rise, those species will be forced either closer to the pole(s) or to higher elevations — severely limiting available habitat.

Read the paper The evolution of viviparity opens opportunities for lizard radiation but drives it into a climatic cul-de-sac, here. (Fee or subscription needed for full article.)
Read the University of Exeter press release on EurekAlert, here.

Another paper in the journal took data on the body temperature of lizards and compared it to the temperature of their environments. It found that it was the temperature of the environment, not the species’ body temperature, that correlated most closely (either positively or negatively) with important life-history factors such as clutch size and longevity.

Because environmental temperature seems to play a bigger role than body temperature (and therefore the lizards’ ability to compensate for environmental temperature), the paper says, climate change can have a “profound influence on lizard ecology and evolution.”

Read the paper Are lizards feeling the heat? here. (Fee or subscription required for full article.)

*In this case it is a coincidence that I ran two items from this journal on consecutive days. I received alerts on these papers from two different sources. Go figure. I’ll try to make next week lizard- and biogeography free.

Photo: The viviparous North American species the short-horned lizard, courtesy of the National Park Service.

Dickcissels and Restored Grasslands

There are more dickcissels (Spiza americana) on grasslands restored with native grasses and they nest more frequently than on grasslands with exotic grasses, a study reported in the most recent issue of The Southwestern Naturalist found, but the rate of nesting success on the restored grasslands was not significantly higher.

Dickcissels are in steep decline, particularly in the heart of their range. Restoring grasslands with native species seems like a good way to slow their population decline. This paper suggests that other factors may be as important as whether the grasses in the grassland are native or exotic, such as the size of the grassland and the height of the grasses, but that overall, dickcissel nesting is more productive at restored sites .

Read the paper here (subscription or fee required to read the full text).
A little digging found that this paper is based on a master’s thesis. Read it here.

Photo: Dickcissel by Steve Maslowski, courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service

For Better Genetics, Use Habitat Clusters

by Louise HuntHabitat clusters can improve the genetics of rare species, such as the Florida scrub jay, says a recent paper in Biology Letters.

The research focused on the genetics and available habitat for the Florida scrub jay, but the findings are applicable to other rare species, the paper says.

“We present a detailed case study of one highly fragmented, endangered species (Florida Scrub-Jay) showing the importance of keeping habitat gaps as narrow as possible, in order to maintain gene flow among populations,” says John Fitzpatrick, director of Cornell Lab of Ornithology and one of the authors of the paper. “Habitat gaps greater than a few kilometers separating two populations reduce movement of jays across them sufficiently to cause genetic isolation of the two populations. This highlights the importance of maintaining or restoring habitat ‘stepping stones.'”

Read the paper here — with subscription or fee.
Read the Cornell Lab of Ornithology press release here.
Read the Cornell Lab of Ornithology blog on the topic here.
Read the Volusia County (Florida) web page about the research, while it was in progress, here.

Photo: Florida scrub jay by Louise Hunt, courtesy of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Columbia Basin Pygmy Rabbit’s Last Stand

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is making what may be a final attempt to restore the Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit to its native habitat. A 2007 attempt to reintroduce zoo-bred rabbits into the wild ended in most of the naive rabbits being eaten by predators.

This time the rabbits will be released into a fenced enclosure, with gradual exposure to predators through smaller enclosures with tunnels to the outside. The rabbits are not pure-bred Columbia Basin pygmies, but have been bred with pygmy rabbits from Idaho and Oregon, which are not endangered. In fact, most other pygmy rabbits in the West thrive.

Read more in this article in the Idaho Statesman. An InsideScience report on the restoration is available via US News and World Report. Or read the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife press release. Read the US Fish & Wildlife Service’s species profile (well technically, a “distinct population segment” profile) here.

Photo: A pygmy rabbit of unknown distinct population segment, likely from Idaho, courtesy of the US Fish & Wildlife Service. Photo Credit: R. Dixon (IDFG) and H. Ulmschneider (BLM)