Lost in Migration

European_Robin_2German scientists have found that radio waves can throw birds off their migration paths. The phenomenon is most acute in cities. The paper was published in Nature last week.

The scientists discovered the issue when trying to research the impacts of subtle magnetic fields on bird migration in their lab in Oldenburg, Germany, a BBC article reports. A much-replicated method of studying bird migration and magnetic fields didn’t work until the scientists shielded their experiment from radio waves of a certain frequency.

They study found that birds are adversely affected by EMF (electromagnetic frequency) radiation and levels much lower than humans are. So low, in fact, that the BBC article says only quantum level phenomena can explain it.

The research was conducted for seven years. In the BBC article, a scientist explained that the team wanted to be extra careful before reporting the unexpected findings, which they knew would be controversial.

Read the Nature article here. (Subscription or fee required for full article.)
BBC article here.
Article in The Australian, here.

Photo: European robin, the subject of the lab experiments. By Sunnyjim (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.0-uk (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/uk/deed.en)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons


Low Lead in Arizona Condors

Condor_bloodwork_webIt’s been a good year for lead levels in condors in Arizona and Utah. While last year saw the second worst levels on record, this year saw the lowest level in a decade, says a press release from the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

“The ups and downs of lead poisoning over the years demonstrate that any single season does not make a trend, but our test results are encouraging,” said Eddie Feltes, field manager for The Peregrine Fund’s condor project in the release. “If this ends up being the beginning of a trend, we hope it will continue.”

Arizona Game and Fish, as well as the Peregrine Fund, which also distributed the release, believe that voluntary lead ammunition measures in the two states has contributed to the lower lead levels in condors there. Another factor may be the unseasonably mild winter, the release says.

In an article in the Salt Lake City Tribune, Chris Parish, condor program coordinator for The Peregrine Fund is quoted as saying, “The half life of lead in blood is a very short period. That gives us a relatively good indication of where and when exposure may have happened.”

The Tribune article also says that 78 percent of hunters in condor country who were contacted were voluntarily using non-lead ammunition. In 2011 the number was 10 percent.

More details in the Arizona Game and Fish press release here. (Halfway down the page.)
The same press release is here on its own page at the Peregrine Fund website.
The Salt Lake City Tribune article is here.

Photo: Courtesy Arizona Game and Fish Department





Construction Netting Harms Swallows

Nets installed to keep cliff swallows away from a bridge construction zone in Petaluma, California wound up killing dozens of the birds last year, the Press Democrat reports. The construction firm had to pay a $3,525 fine for killing the birds, but now a local conservation organization has won a victory that will force CalTrans and its contractors on the Petaluma bridge project to use hard plastic sheeting instead of netting to keep the birds away during construction.

Read all the details in the Press Democrat, here.

Roadside construction nets, although these were used on the ground to control erosion, also killed wildlife in New York State. We wrote about it here.

Photo: American tree swallows nesting under the bridge over Cayucos Creek, Cayucos, CA. By marlin harms. Used under Creative Commons license.

WNV And Shrikes

From the Canadian Cooperative Wildlife Health Centre’s healthywildlife.ca blog:

This was also a somewhat higher year for West Nile virus infection in birds in Saskatchewan. This past summer the CCWHC Western Northern region diagnosed WNV deaths in a Cooper’s hawk, two northern goshawks and two nestling loggerhead shrikes, as well as nine crows. Some diagnostic testing is still pending so those numbers may increase. The death of the loggerhead shrike nestlings is particularly noteworthy as the number of shrikes has declined dramatically throughout their range and in some parts of Canada they face local extinction. In Canada, eastern loggerhead shrikes are considered endangered and prairie loggerhead shrikes are threatened. The population of shrikes has been declining for the last century and the causes for the declines are multiple and varied. As their numbers dwindle, WNV is just one more threat faced by this vulnerable species.

Read the blog, here.

Zombies vs. Wildlife

Can I be Boing Boing when I grow up? Last week it ran a post by National Wildlife Federation naturalist David Mizejewski on how wildlife would save us if there were ever a zombie attack and if whatever caused zombification only affected humans.

“If there was ever a zombie uprising, wildlife would kick its ass,” Mizejewski says in the piece.

What follows is an overview of wildlife’s role in cleaning up the undead, from carrion eating birds, to carnivores that will go for anything slow-moving, to detritivores like maggots and beetles. It’s got lots of videos, so this is not lunchtime reading.

Our cultural zombie moment is peaking now, so enjoy. But when zombies finally jump the shark, remember, you heard it here first. (Well, second.)

“Zombies vs. animals” in Boing Boing, here.

Antibiotic Resistance Spreads to Wildlife

m_crow_5Antibiotic resistance isn’t just for humans and farm animals. An article in Environmental Health News says that antibiotic resistance has been found in crows, gulls, houseflies, moths, foxes, frogs, sharks and whales. You can follow links in the article to get to the journal article with the findings for each of those groups.

The big question raised in the article is, what is the implication for human health? Nobody really knows. But certainly, if you are handling wildlife, these findings give you a reason to be even more cautious. And they certainly have implications for wildlife rehabilitation.

Read the entire article in Environmental Health News.
The article focuses on a recent crow study, and you can find the abstract for that here.

Photo: Crow. By David Herr, courtesy US Forest Service

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.

California Bans Lead Bullets

On Friday (Oct. 11), Gov. Jerry Brown of California signed the nation’s first law banning the use of lead bullets in hunting into law. The bill was written to slow the decline of the California condor, which ingests the lead bullets when scavenging at hunters’ gut piles or when eating the bodies of animals shot but not killed by hunters. The law contains an escape clause that will revoke the ban if the federal government bans non-lead bullets because of the armor-piercing abilities.

California had previously banned lead bullets in the areas of the state where there are condors. It is the first state in the nation to ban lead bullets.

One odd fact, the bill was signed in a group of 11 bills. Most of the other of the bills in the group focused on gun control. Protests against banning lead bullets for hunting have often portrayed the bill as a gun control measure rather than a wildlife conservation and human health measure.

Read the Los Angeles Times article here.
Read the KCET blog post here.
Find a Google list of other news articles here.

New Loon Study Announced

loonThe Biodiversity Research Institute (BRI) of Gorham, Maine announced yesterday that it will begin the largest loon conservation study in North America.

The announcement was made in Wyoming, an interesting choice, since it is not exactly a hotbed of loon activity. Wyoming is, however, home to one of the many ventures of the study’s funder, Joe Ricketts. BRI was awarded a $6.5 M grant from the new Ricketts Conservation Foundation for the study.

A press release about the announcement sent to Society of Enviromental Journalist members said: “Underlying the Foundation’s mission is the reality that government no longer has sufficient resources to deal effectively with the growing environmental challenges we face. As a result, private individuals and corporations must increasingly shoulder the responsibility of conserving our wildlife and wilderness areas. www.joericketts.com” (The website says, among other things, that Ricketts is a part owner of the Chicago Cubs.)


The press invitation also says: “The loon is a key bioindicator of aquatic integrity for lakes and near shore marine ecosystems. These iconic birds are becoming more exposed and susceptible to serious threats from type E botulism, mercury pollution, lead poisoning, oil spills, and over development.”

Visit the BRI website’s loon program page, here.

Photo: Loon, courtesy of the State of Minnesota, where the loon is the state bird.

Getting the Lead Out

lead - periodic tableTwo stories today focus on two different states’ efforts to get lead out of the environment.

An article in the Portland (Maine) Herald Press literally goes behind the scenes of the recent legislative ban on lead fishing gear in Maine, which was passed earlier this year, but won’t totally ban the lead gear until 2017. It goes into the lab of Mark Pokras, a Tufts University professor of wildlife health, who played a role in encouraging that legislation. Pokras has been studying lead poisoning in loons for over 20 years.

Pokras says that lead poisoning is responsible for the deaths of over a third of the loons that find their way to his lab in Massachusetts.

Read the story in the Portland Herald Press, here.

In Minnesota, studies show that a bad shot with a lead bullet (such as one that hits a hip bone), can cause lead to splinter throughout a white tailed deer’s flesh to the extent that it would be difficult, or impossible, to remove all of it. For the sake of public health, and also for the sake of the state’s bald eagles, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources encourages deer hunters to voluntarily use copper bullets.

The article details some of the differences between hunting with copper and lead bullets, which implies that a different technique may be more effective when using copper bullets.

Read the story in the Minnesota Conservation Volunteer, here.