Tag Archives: human impact

Land around powerlines could be boon to birds

(Michael Casey 21 May 2017)

Transmission lines may be eyesores for most people but for songbirds, the forest around them might just be critical habitat.

A team of researchers want to see if these birds are populating land cleared along the route of a powerline—as well as areas that have been recently logged—in New Hampshire and Maine.

In other parts of the country, the shrubby habitat of these younger forests have been found to offer much-needed protection for the birds from predators, as well as a steady diet of insects and fruit.

One of the researchers says these habitats are “incredibly important” for the songbirds in those parts of northern New England.

“Our goal is to get a better understanding for how these habitats function in our landscape,” said Matt Tarr, a wildlife specialist at the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension.

Tarr and his colleagues will catch the songbirds in mist nests starting later this month, band them and then track them over the next two years. They will be focused on 24 transmission line rights of way and 12 areas that been logged in southeastern New Hampshire and southern Maine.

Tarr said there are as many as 40 species of songbirds that nest in young forests and another group that nest in mature forests.

“However, there is growing evidence suggesting that after their birds finish their nesting and the young leave the nest, they leave mature forests and come into the young forest to complete their development.”

The nearly $250,000 study is being funded by the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service as well as the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s New England Forests and Rivers Fund. A contributor to the New England fund is the utility Eversource, which has proposed the Northern Pass energy transmission project that has sparked criticism from property owners, tourism officials and others.

Northern Pass entails building a 192-mile electricity transmission line from Pittsburg to Deerfield, New Hampshire, carrying enough Hydro-Quebec energy to southern New England markets to power about a 1.1 million homes.

Tarr said the study isn’t about finding an upside to transmission lines but rather trying to determine how birds use the forests that emerge after a project is built.

“It helps us understand how transmission lines function in providing that habitat on the landscape,” he said.

The information they get could be critical to policymakers as they work to create more young forests for birds as well as other species like cottontail rabbits in New England.

“Do they have positive effects or do they have negative effects?” he said. “We might find these rights of way aren’t used as we think they are for mature forest birds. That would be important for us to know.”

Nearly 400 Migratory Birds Were Killed by One Texas Building in a Single Night

(Meghan Bartels 5 May 2017;Photo: Josh Henderson)

Animal Services was able to rescue just three birds after a massive number of spring migrants hit a glass-sided tower in Galveston.

The numbers are horrifying: 90 Nashville Warblers, 60 Blackburnian Warblers, 42 Chestnut-sided Warblers, 41 Ovenbirds—and that’s just four of the 25 dead species collected from the 23-story American National Insurance building in Galveston, Texas, on Thursday morning. In total, 395 small feathered bodies were found, and they were all victims of building collisions.

Josh Henderson, the head of Animal Services for the Galveston Police Department, was called to the scene at 7:20 a.m. He was able to rescue three of the stunned birds, which were then taken to a wildlife triage center. But the sheer number of casualties shocked him. “This is the largest event like this I have ever been a part of in over 10 years,” Henderson said in a press release.

After sorting and IDing the bodies, Henderson’s final list also included: 29 Yellow Warblers, 26 Black-and-white Warblers, 24 Magnolia Warblers, 21 American Redstarts, 15 Indigo Buntings, 8 Black-throated Green Warblers, 5 Kentucky Warblers, 4 Eastern Wood-Peewees, 3 Golden-winged Warblers, 2 Painted Buntings, 2 Orchard Orioles, plus a Hooded Warbler, Gray Catbird, Blue Grosbeak, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Orange-crowned Warbler, Summer Tanager, Worm-eating Warbler, Red-eyed Vireo, and Cerulean Warbler.

Window and building strikes are a common problem for songbirds, particularly in cities located in popular migration flyways. The island of Galveston lies in the Gulf of Mexico, which is a common crossover point for flocks coming up from the Yucatan and Latin America. With spring migration in full swing, hundreds of thousands of birds are currently racing through the region to reach their northern breeding grounds. To make matters worse, Galveston got almost a quarter inch of rain on Wednesday, which might have encouraged the long-distance travelers to look for shelter.

When birds encounter glass, they see the image it reflects rather than a hard surface; so when a building’s internal or external lights are left on over night—the latter being the case for the American National Insurance building—birds can easily get disoriented. Some might think it’s a place to rest, especially if they spy office plants inside, while others might just see a clear passage. Both can cause them to crash into windows or even the side of the building—often to a fatal end. After surviving a trek that takes them over hundreds of miles of land and open water, it’s an unjust end for the intrepid migrants.

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Stop killing the river: Ask Argentina to save Hooded Grebes


(Irene Lorenzo 12 May 2017; Photo Juan María Raggio)

A new documentary, Killing the River, reveals how the planned construction of two hydroelectric dams is threatening the ecosystem of Argentina’s last glacial river.

Welcome to the remote lakes of the Patagonian wilderness, adjacent to the Santa Cruz River in Argentina. For hundreds of years, the area was a safe haven for the threatened Hooded Grebe Podiceps gallardoi, especially during their breeding season.

Fertile sediment, carried downstream from the river to the estuary, ensures food availability not only for this iconic species but also for other charismatic birds such as the Magellanic Penguin Spheniscus magellanicus, Chilean Flamingo Phoenicopterus chilensis, and Magellanic Plover Pluvianellus socialis; as well as many others like the endangered subspecies of Red Knot Calidris canutus rufa.

Once isolated from human threats, the fate of this unspoiled habitat changed in a matter of months as the government recently proposed the construction of two dams in this pristine river.

If the construction were to continue, the two dams would block natural processes, which would have an impact on river flow and aquatic ecosystems in the area. Food availability downstream would be affected as well, resulting in the loss of wintering habitats for the aforementioned species.

An especially worrying situation for the Hooded Grebe, whose numbers are around 500 breeding pairs and already under pressure from the spread of invasive species.

Today, the President of Argentina Mauricio Macri lands in Chinese grounds to discuss the construction of these damaging dams, which are linked to foreign investment. A coalition of NGOs is now seeking support to save the country’s last glacial river with the release of the documentary Killing the River (“Matar al río” in Spanish).

The president is expected to deliver today the Environmental Impact Study to his Chinese counterpart, which would enable the construction of the so-called Kirchner and Cepernic hydroelectric dams.

For this reason, the NGO coalition calls for society to alert President Macri before he starts his negotiations with China to stop the controversial project that would affect the habitat of the Hooded Grebe.

Considering that 15 days ago the country launched their Zero Extinction programme, it is incoherent with the government’s environmental plans to continue with the construction. Their list of protected species includes the Hooded Grebe, while they insist on the construction of two dams that would guarantee their extinction.

“The state created a few years ago a National Park to save the Hooded Grebe from extinction. Today that same state can sign the death certificate of the species”, says Hernán Casañas, CEO of Aves Argentinas (BirdLife Partner).

The two major works are currently paralyzed by order of the Supreme Court of Justice for not complying with obligations under the Law of Environmental Impact of Hydraulic Works. If President Macri goes forward with the proposal, he would be taking for granted the fulfillment of a process that is not yet concluded.

In order to progress with the dams, two fundamental instances are missing: a public hearing and the Environmental Impact Assessment. According to the ruling of the Supreme Court “the magnitude of the project requires a scientifically-proven, socially participatory, balanced and profound reflection”.

“Does it makes sense to move forward with two dams that would extinguish the Hooded Grebe, negatively impact other species, destroy an environment and not even solve the energy problem, only because the contract was signed by the previous management? It’s time to slow down and rethink the situation”, the NGO coalition says.

In legal terms, we’re in still in time to fight the construction but news about the construction having reached the point of no return keep circulating. The NGO coalition wants to remind the public through the documentary that there’s still time to stop the construction. If you want to help, head to Twitter and copy-paste the following message:

“President @mauriciomacri please stop the destruction of Santa Cruz River https://youtu.be/m-s9BUUYgFw #RioSantaCruzSinRepresas”.


Tracking Devices Reduce Warblers’ Chances of Returning from Migration

CONDOR-16-180 T Boves

(AOS 3 May 2017; Photo T. Boves)

The tools ornithologists use to track the journeys of migrating birds provide invaluable insights that can help halt the declines of vulnerable species. However, a new study from The Condor: Ornithological Applications shows that these data come at a cost—in some cases, these tracking devices reduce the chances that the birds carrying them will ever make it back to their breeding grounds.

Geolocators are small devices attached to birds that record light levels over time, which can be used to determine location. They’re widely used to study migration patterns, but studies have suggested that some species may be negatively affected by carrying them. Douglas Raybuck of Arkansas State University and his colleagues monitored male Cerulean Warblers with and without geolocators to see how they fared, and they found that while geolocators had no effect on the birds’ nesting success in the same season following their capture, birds with geolocators were less likely to reappear on their territories after migration the next year—16% of geolocator-tagged birds returned from migration, versus 35% of the birds in the control group.

The data gained from geolocator studies are enormously useful for bird conservation, and on a global scale those benefits are likely to outweigh potential the costs. The results from this study suggest that the potential impacts of individual research projects need to be carefully evaluated, but we should remember that only a small number of birds are ever tagged relative to the total size of the population under study.

The researchers captured Cerulean Warblers in Pennsylvania, Missouri, and Arkansas by luring them into nets using call recordings and wooden decoys. Outfitting some with geolocators but others with only identifying color bands, they monitored the birds’ nests and then searched for them the following year to determine whether they’d returned. “Re-sighting males and identifying their unique color-band combinations as they moved about in the canopy was not always easy, but our dedicated and skilled field crew did a fantastic job of overcoming these obstacles, which were compounded by inclement weather and the rugged topography of the sites,” says Raybuck.

“New technologies such as geolocators and automated radiotracking arrays have led to a surge in new tagging studies of migratory songbirds,” according to York University’s Bridget Stutchbury, an expert on geolocators and the conservation biology of North America’s migratory songbirds. “Finding that tagged birds were far less likely to return the next year compared with un-tagged birds puts researchers in a serious dilemma, because despite the potential costs of tagging small birds, long-distance tracking is essential to find out which wintering and migratory stopover sites should be highest priority for conservation.”

Birds change song to be heard above traffic noise

(Julia John 2 may 2017; Photo Kelly Colgan Azar )

Vehicles are a major source of noise pollution for urban wildlife. That’s particularly a problem for birds that have to compete with the roar of engines to communicate. Recent research from Washington, D.C., suggests that some birds —those with innate rather than learned songs —modify their song structure to be heard over the din of traffic.

In noisier conditions, these birdsongs are shorter and have a smaller range of frequency, said Katherine Gentry, lead author on the paper published in Bioacoustics. The birds raise their minimum frequencies, reducing their song’s overlaps with low frequency traffic noise.

“That makes it easier for the receiver to detect the signal against the background noise,” said Gentry, a research assistant at George Mason University.

Gentry wanted to see if suboscines, a family of birds whose song is innate rather than learned, could adjust their signal to communicate over traffic noise. Suboscine species include the vermilion flycatcher (Pyrocephalus rubinus), chocolate-vented tyrant (Neoxolmis rufiventris), white monjita (Xolmis irupero) and eastern wood pewee (Contopus virens). Although many studies have examined birds’ response to noise pollution from vehicles, this was the first to look at how suboscines in particular change their song in the absence of traffic during temporary road closures.

Gentry recorded the song of the eastern wood pewee in Rock Creek Park, a large urban park in Washington, D.C. She then compared recordings from times when traffic noise was high and times it was low, including weekends, when roads were closed to vehicles to allow for cycling and joggers. “This study showed that suboscines can adjust their song as traffic noise fluctuates,” Gentry said. That’s good for the birds in that it allows them to improve their chances of successful communication, she said.

“Even though they’re improving the likelihood of signal reception, they’re potentially sacrificing the sexiness of their song,” Gentry said. “With that minimum frequency raised, they’re not singing that naturally selected song structure.”

Songs with a higher minimum frequency that have a narrower range of frequencies could negatively influence the birds’ ability to defend territories, find mates and reproduce if females and rival males respond more strongly to signals with wider bandwidths.

But Gentry also found that when the roads were closed and it was quieter, the birds sang more naturally. Even though a permanent reduction in traffic noise is most ideal, she said, road closures could benefit birds like these that alter their songs in response to higher traffic noise levels.

“Noise is an issue for animals,” Gentry said. “Even if they cope through signal adjustment, it could be affecting them in the long run. It’s important we make every effort to reduce it. It would be a broad benefit for the community.”

Paradise Lost: The Devastation of Białowieża Forest


This is not directly about birds, but it was so sad to read about this that I couldn´t resist to publish it. To me personally Białowieża Forest has been a very strong symbol for a primeval forest for decades, and it hurts when money goes before everything else. (Editor’s note)

(Jarosław Krogulec & Gui-Xi Young; Photo: Tomasz Wilk; 26 April 2017)

Jarosław Krogulec, Head of Conservation at OTOP (BirdLife Poland) recounts the tragic devastation Białowieża Forest, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

There was a time, not so long ago, when the Narewka road took its travellers on a journey to what felt like a whole other world, to a whole other age – for the road leads you deep into the heart of Białowieża Forest. Here, straddling the border between Poland and Belarus, lies a living, breathing relic of antiquity – the largest surviving remnant of the vast primeval forest that once swathed the Great European Plain in a sea of lush greenness from the Atlantic to the Urals.

This is Europe’s ‘Yellowstone’. The forest has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an EU Natura 2000 Special Area of Conservation and Special Protection Area; under its protective canopy is the best preserved forest ecosystem and the last deciduous, old-growth forest in all of Europe. It is a haven for biodiversity – unparalleled on this continent – hosting a rich panoply of fauna and flora, notably including Europe’s largest bison population.

“Białowieża Forest….under its protective canopy is the best preserved forest ecosystem and the last deciduous, old-growth forest in all of Europe.”

But as John Milton wrote in ‘Paradise Lost’, the minds of men can make ‘a hell of heaven’ and today the Narewka trail feels more like a road to perdition. The scale of man-made devastation that has been wreaked here in recent years is spine-chilling. Miles upon miles of forest have been logged, leaving a trail of environmental destruction as far as the eye can see.

In some areas, it seems like nothing has been considered too ecologically important to escape the executioner’s chainsaw. At one spot, a majestic 150 year old giant spruce has been recently reduced to a stump. If it had been left as deadwood, it would have found ‘life after death’ and provided biodiversity for forest wildlife for up to a century to come. A little further on, you can count each ring on the stump of a felled 80 year old oak tree. And what is left is simply on borrowed time – the trunks of the trees that line the forest roads are nearly all branded with ominous red symbols, cruelly marking them out for death.

For centuries, what ensured the richness of Białowieża were natural processes that had seen very little human intervention, particularly in comparison with other European forests. However, only one-third of the Polish area of the forest is officially protected as a national park, while the remaining two-thirds are subject to forest management, and increasingly mismanagement.

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Walk with penguins in ground-breaking virtual reality video

(Shaun Hurrell; 19 April 2017)

Walk with Southern Rockhopper, King, Magellanic, and Gentoo Penguins on a remote island, in a new short film produced with Visualise for BirdLife International’s “Protect a Penguin” global campaign, to raise awareness that over half of the world’s penguins are threatened with extinction.

Amidst the sound of trumpeting parental calls, with wind buffeting against its fluffy feathers, a King Penguin chick walks right up to you and stares you in the eye. You duck your head as an albatross soars overhead, whilst another nests on a rock ledge just above you. As penguins squabble for a shower you feel almost splashed by water, and you sense the exposure as you peer over a cliff and watch a line of Southern Rockhoppers Eudyptes chrysocome jump up the steep slope to their colony. When you take off the virtual reality headset, with a bit of a dizzy wobble, you feel like you have seen the world from the perspective of a penguin—and it’s a tough realisation.

BirdLife has worked with virtual reality producer, Visualise, to create Walk with Penguins, an engaging 3D 360 short nature film—the first of its kind—to bring the daily challenges and lives of remote penguin colonies to you, and to raise awareness about threats to penguins, the second-most threatened group of seabirds (after albatrosses).

You can watch online in high-quality 360 video on YouTube (embedded below—click to view full-screen), or for the full experience, watch via the YouTube app or Google Cardboard app, using a cheap cardboard frame that allows you to use your phone as a virtual reality headset. The only thing that is missing is the smell of a real colony…

Despite being loved the world over, over half of the world’s penguins are threatened with extinction (ten out of 18 species) due to competition with fisheries, bycatch, marine pollution, disease, habitat disturbance and climate change. Urgent action is needed to better protect them, but public awareness of their situation is low, so on 10 April, we launched our campaign Protect a Penguin.

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