Razorbills Take A Florida Vacation


Razorbills are typically birds of the northern Atlantic Ocean. Some winters they’ll show up in New Jersey or as far south as Virginia, giving bird-watchers a thrill. This black-and-white auk is not quite like anything else seen on the East Coast.

So imagine the surprise when razorbills started showing up in Florida. Not just one or two, but well over a hundred of them.

eBird had the story on their blog two weeks ago. The photo of razorbills flying over palm trees is worth a look.

The Florida media is catching on as well. Florida Today ran a story the day after Christmas. It says the birds are “penguin-like.” Well, the razorbills are black and white, and are bowling-pin shaped, but they fly. (And are from a different hemisphere, but that’s a mere detail.)

EBird says that the razorbills probably did not head south for warmth, mojitos or a vacation, but in search of food. That’s not good news.

Read the eBird blog, here.
Read the Florida Today story, here.

Photo: Razorbill, somewhere in the north Atlantic, courtesy of the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

NM Crane Mystery

mystery crane NMIt’s not so much of a mystery, as a quirky little crane that has attracted media attention nationwide. Back in November, Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico posted a photo on its Facebook page of a crane that was darker, thinner, smaller and had more compact feathers than the flock of sandhill cranes it was with.

The refuge is known for its sandhill cranes, so it made sense that this was simply a color morph, or a crane that had preened dark mud into its feathers. But the guessing game had begun, with the most outrageous guess supposing that this was a hybrid between a sandhill crane and a trumpeter, native to South America.

The photo of the bird that is getting the most exposure is by Clint Henson of the New Mexico Department of Game & Fish.

Read more about the guessing game in the San Francisco Chronicle, here.
The Bosque del Apache NWR Facebook page is worth a visit just for the many stunning photos, of cranes, other creatures and beautiful vistas.

Photo: Mystery crane and sandhill friends, courtesy of the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge.

Avian Malaria in Alaska

Human beings do not get avian malaria, which is a good thing for the human beings in Alaska. Avian malaria is, however, caused by a parasite that is closely related to the one that causes human malaria, and that might be a good thing, too. Of course, the news for birds is bad all around.

A study by San Francisco State University researchers, published in the journal PLoS ONE, collected blood samples from birds in Alaska over a latitudinal gradient in Alaska, from 61°N to 67°N, and found the avian malaria parasite as far north as 64°N.

This is a huge threat to the Arctic’s rich bird life, because the birds there have never been exposed to avian malaria and they may be highly susceptible to it, says San Francisco State University Associate Professor of Biology Ravinder Sehgal, one of the study’s co-authors.

The finding may supply medical researchers with a valuable model of human malaria and climate change. The spread of malaria (the human kind) is one of the most threatening aspects of climate change on human health.

For anyone charged with managing populations of wild birds — whether they are songbirds, water fowl or upland game birds, the presence of avian malaria at up to a latititude of 64°N is worth noting in hunting plans, endangered species recovery plans, and when investigating disease outbreaks in birds.

Read the PLoS ONE paper, here. (This is an open access journal.)
Read the SF State U press release, here.
Read a brief analysis of the findings in Climate Central, here.

Photo: SF State Associate Professor of Biology Ravinder Sehgal holds a Common Redpoll, one of several bird species in Alaska researchers discovered were infected with malaria. Credit: Ravinder Sehgal, SF State.

Cat People vs. Bird People

When it comes to feral cat colonies versus bird conservation, there is not a lot of middle ground, reports a new study in PLoS ONE by researchers from North Carolina State University.

The study surveyed 577 people who either manage a feral cat colony or are a bird conservation professional. The big finding was that fewer than 10 percent of the cat colony managers believe that feral cats harmed bird populations or carried diseases.

The cat people were the optimists, however, the study showed. 80 percent of the cat people believed a compromise between the needs of feral cats and bird conservation could be reached, while only half the bird conservationists thought so.

We found the article on NewsWise. You can read it here.
It’s from a NC State U. press release, which you can find here.
Go to the article itself, in PLoS ONE, here. (Open access, so it’s free.)

Photo: Cats in a feral colony sun themselves on a wall. Photo courtesy of Alisa Davis, University of Hawaii at Manoa, via the North Carolina State University.