"A remarkable international effort to map out the avian tree of life has revealed how birds evolved after the mass extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs into more than 10,000 species alive today. More than 200 scientists in 20 countries joined forces to create the evolutionary tree, which reveals how birds gained their colourful feathers, lost their teeth, and learned to sing songs." Via iO9.
Birds, like quite a few other animals, can exhibit Gynandromorphism. Homosexual behavior in birds is also common. The phenomenon of avian spontaneous sex reversal has been well-documented, starting with Aristotle. Now modern researchers have uncovered yet another way in which birds are hacking sex roles: scientists think white-throated sparrows may actually be evolving a second pair of sex chromosomes.
"A few days ago, my son, Lucas, and I took the train to Prague for his school break. Usually, when I visit a city, my first port of call is whatever passes for a botanical garden but when he told me that Prague’s zoo contained not only giant salamanders but also two pairs of shoebills, I could not resist the temptation..." (John Burnside's essay in The New Statesman.) [more inside]
A nebulous trade in forged and illegal fossils is an ever-growing headache for paleontologists. [more inside]
White noise a little too stuffy? Nature sounds a little too outdoorsy? Wish Starbucks had a cricket infestation? Mix it up with a custom ambient noise generator!
A team of researchers, including University of Edinburgh paleontologist Stephen Brusatte and Swarthmore College Associate Professor of Statistics Steve C. Wang, cataloging 853 skeletal characteristics in 150 dinosaurs and analyzing the rate at which these characters change, and they found that "there was no grand jump between nonbirds and birds in morphospace." In other words, birds didn't suddenly come into existence, but evolved, bit by bit, or characteristic by characteristic. But when birds were finally a thing, they went crazy. "Once it came together fully, it unlocked great evolutionary potential that allowed birds to evolve at a super-charged rate."
Diana Beltran Herrera sculpts beautiful birds out of paper. She's currently working on a series based on postage stamps; you can see some of the new birds on her Facebook page. [via]
"It was always assumed that V-formation flight was learned from the adult birds. But these guys are all the same age and they learned to fly from a human in a microlight. They learned V-formation flying from each other. National Geographic reports on some of the fascinating intricacies of the V formation observed in migrating birds.
Invertebrate numbers nearly halve as human population doubles. The decline of birds might have something to do with this recent news that half the insects (and spiders, crustaceans, slugs, worms) are gone.
They saw "birds entering the solar flux and igniting, consequently become a streamer," for the smoke plume that comes from birds that ignite in midair. BrightSource concentrated solar plant is a "mega-trap" for wildlife, with the bright light of the plant attracting insects, which in turn attract insect-eating birds that fly to their death in the intensely focused light rays. Estimates range as high as one streamer every two minutes at a single plant, though this is disputed. A Federal report (PDF) is "occasionally gruesome".
Koryos, who previously explained how cats got domesticated using tumblr, now explains why homosexual pair-bonding can be a successful reproductive stratagem. Also, Coot Parenting Tips, Queen Cowbird Of The Brood Parasites , There's No Such Thing As An Alpha Wolf, and Can Animals Have Pets?
"We ornithologists, with our Important Capitals, continue to look Curiously Provincial" : copy-editors and ornithologists fight a very pilkunnussija-esque war over conventions of bird names.
Hummingbirds have been slow to give up their secrets, but slowly, we've learned to understand them.
Thanks to a certain resemblance to an insect, the hummingbird is known in French as “oiseau mouche” (fly bird). Its fondness for the calyxes of blossoms has inspired the Portuguese names “beija flor” (flower kisser) and “chupa flor” (flower sucker), and the related Spanish “pica flor” (flower poker). In other languages, hummingbirds are known as “Kolibri,” a word likely of Caribbean origin, or Trochilidae, their scientific name (which was provided by Carl Linnaeus and, curiously, seems to relate to a different bird — a type of kinglet called “trochilus” by the ancient Greeks). These inventive names reflect the wonder and enigma that surrounds these creatures and the peculiar abilities and proclivities that set them apart from other birds.[more inside]
Genius in a tiny mother bird, who learned to give her babies a password so they wouldn't die. A musical password. The Superb Fairy Wren sings to her eggs. The unborn baby birds, still in the egg, learn that musical password and sing it on being hatched.
Birdly: An Attempt to Fly. "‘Birdly’ is an installation which explores the experience of a bird in flight. It tries to capture the mediated flying experience, with several methods. [...] Visualized through HMD (Oculus Rift) the participant is embedded in a virtual landscape where his body is the body of a Red Kite. The whole scenery is perceived in the first person perspective of a bird. To intensify the embodiment we include additional sonic, olfactoric and wind feedback. Soundwise you perceive only the roaring of the wind and the flaps of the wings." [more inside]
Meet the majestic American WoodEch.
From 1851 to 1858, Henry David Thoreau noted a number of natural occurrences in detail, including the first flowering dates for over 500 species of wildflowers in Concord. Additionally, Alfred Hosmer, a botanist in the same area, had recorded the flowering dates of over 600 species of wild plants in 1878 and from 1888 to 1902. With that data, Richard Primack, a biology professor at Boston University, and fellow researcher Abraham Miller-Rushing spent years aligning old plant names with current names to study the change flowering patterns from the recorded past to present. Their phenological study concluded that plants in Concord, on average, are now flowering 10 days earlier than they were in Thoreau's time (full article for the journal BioScience). [more inside]
Crates in video games. (previously) Trains in video games. Birds in video games. Wall art in video games. Luchadores in video games. Foliage in video games. (previously) Logic in video games. Easter eggs (secret content) in video games. Normal eggs (and other food) in video games. Toilets in video games. Improved women's armor in video games (slightly NSFW). (previously) Bears in video games. Mickey Mouse in video games. Love in video games.
"I had heard about this film through various channels off and on through the years. It had gotten to the point where it was almost apocryphal in my mind.... Nobody knew where it was, nobody had ever seen it, but I was aware it existed. It was like the holy grail." said Wayne Petersen, director of the Massachusetts Important Bird Areas program for Mass. Audubon on the archival footage of the extinct heath hen discovered, restored and premiering at the Mass Audubon Birders Meeting this month. [more inside]
Western Digs is a source for "dispatches from the American ancient West." Posts are sorted into three main categories: Dinosaurs & Ancient Life (Paleontology, split into Dinosars, The Ice Age, Birds and All Fossils), Prehistoric Americans (Archaeology, split into Ancient Southwest and The Mississippians [Cahokia]), and Modern Artifacts (Historic Archaeology, including the subset The 20th Century). If you're not sure where to start reading, here are Western Digs’ Top 5 Paleontology Stories of 2013 and Western Digs’ Top 5 Archaeology Stories of 2013.
Dennis Hlynsky is a professor of film and animation at RISD whose most recent work, titled Small Brains on Mass, looks at bird behavior, particularly how they interact when flying in groups. To better understand how flying as a flock is achieved, Hlynsky filmed the birds and then stacked the images on the same frame for a set number of frames, the results show each bird’s flight as a trail, but synchronized with the flock. The results are often pure poetry. [more inside]
Snowy owls are irrupting across the upper Midwest and down the East Coast as far as the Carolinas in what could be the largest such irruption in at least 20 years. They're here because there were a lot of lemmings in the Arctic last year, and so snowy owls made a lot of snowy owls. This year? Not so many lemmings, and so many of them have come south in search of food. [more inside]
Minnesota Birdsong: An interactive poster Cute interface with birdsong content provided by the always amazing Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
Birds of the West Indies. Artist Taryn Simon (previously, previously, previously) has a work of photographs of James Bond's gadgets, guns, cars, and women. The work is currently showing at this year's Carnegie International, and has an accompanying book. Info at the main link, and a more thorough gallery here.
"My subject is a barren one – the world of nature, or in other words life; and that subject in its least elevated department, and employing either rustic terms or foreign, nay barbarian words that actually have to be introduced with an apology. Moreover, the path is not a beaten highway of authorship, nor one in which the mind is eager to range: there is not one of us who has made the same venture, nor yet one Roman who has tackled single-handed all departments of the subject."Naturalis Historia was written by Pliny the Elder between 77 and 79 CE and was meant to serve as a kind of proto-encyclopedia discussing all of the ancient knowledge available to him, covered in enough depth and breadth to make it by a reasonable margin the largest work to survive to the modern day from the Roman era. The work includes discussions on astronomy, meteorology, geography, mineralogy, zoology and botany organized along Aristotelian divisions of nature but also includes essays on human inventions and institutions. It is dedicated to the Emperor Titus in its epistle to the Emperor Vespasian, a close friend of Pliny who relied on his extensive knowledge, and its unusually careful citations of sources as well as its index makes it a precursor to modern scholarly works. It was Pliny's last work, as well as sadly his sole surviving one, and was published not long before his death attempting to save a friend from the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius that destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum, famously recounted by Pliny's eponymous nephew Pliny the Younger.
Here is a reasonable translation that is freely available to download from archive.org for your edification.[more inside]
The Emus and Sexy Sexy Sniper the Ostrich dance the tango against their greatest enemy: The weasel ball.
Operation Migration has helped endangered bird species migrate by leading the way with ultralight aircraft. At the moment you can see a live video of them in flight.
Animals have tempers. Bad tempers. And they want what they want. And there are animated gifs to prove it.
Megapode, Greek for "large foot," refers to refers to 12 species of Australasian chickenlike birds (order Galliformes), which have small heads compared to their bodies, and large feet. They are also known as Mound Builders, or Incubator Birds, as they bury their eggs in some warm material, most commonly fermenting or decomposing plant matter. But on Sulawesi island in Indonesia, Maleos bury their eggs in sun-baked or volcanically heated sands, then depart. The young hatch from their large eggs (5 times the size of chicken eggs), then dig out of their sandy incubators and walk or fly away. If you can't make it to Indonesia to see the birds in person, you can also visit the Wildlife Conservation Society's Bronx Zoo to see their 9 Maleos, or check out their video about Maleos and the zoo's breeding program. [more inside]
In 2012 alone, keas were responsible for $425 million in damages and 5 deaths. And while it’s true those statistics aren’t based on real data and that I just made them up, they are nonetheless startling.
Boring day job? Watch a grizzly bear hunt for salmon at Brooks Falls or the Lower Brooks River in Katmai National Park, Alaska. [more inside]
Cocks (almost) don't have a penis, a trait common to 97% of bird species, but they can grow one when the expression of the Bmp4 gene is prevented. The expression of this gene causes the percursor of the phallus in the chick embryo to undergo apoptosis (cell death) and Bmp genes are also involved in 3 other bird traits: feather development, toothlessness and beak shape. In penis-less bird species, copulation requires a sex maneuver nicknamed the cloacal kiss (in French) which requires a full cooperation of the female (3 min of tender parrot sex). In species where males have a penis, like ducks, females are less lucky: the coevolution of the rather convoluted morphology of male and female genitalia has been hypothezised to occur through sexual conflict [many previouslies]. The evolutionary mechanisms that drove phallus reduction in most birds species are still unknown.
BBC Radio 4 has begun to transmit Tweet of the Day, a 90 second 5:58 A.M. weekday broadcast (also podcast!), featuring the songs of UK birds. The program is set to last for 265 episodes, and will feature a revolving door of presenters, beginning with Sir David Attenborough.
Here's a video of a cockatoo dancing to Daft Punk. Bird's got moves.
[V]Robo Raven[V] is a robot bird. So uncanny a hawk attacked it during testing. Other robot birds include the SmartBird, a flying robotic seagull, and AirPenguins. Robobee is a robot bee.
The Lost Bird Project documents the stories of five North American birds driven to extinction in modern times and sculptor Todd McGrain's road-trip to memorialize them. (via)
NestWatch offers all kinds of interesting information about birds and their nests with beautiful pictures of the birds, their nests, clutches, broods, and fledglings. An example: the Indigo Bunting. Each page about a particular bird includes their often beautiful songs and sounds. There is a related Flickr NestWatchers site, as well as an extensive community with links about places for bird watching in each state. It's part of the fabulously encyclopedic website of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology with its own rich archive of superbly organized recordings and videos at the Macaulay Library. [more inside]