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]
Prior to their southward migration, the godwits eat up large, until up to 55 per cent of their body weight is fat. They then reduce the size of their gut, kidney and liver by up to 25 per cent to compensate for the added weight. Godwits are amazing migratory shorebirds who travel many thousands of miles at a go. Here's a brief documentary of people studying them (12 minutes on youtube + ad, shows invasive surgery). Here's some science on their flights (creative commons). [more inside]
Why are owls so wise? Perhaps it's because they're utter badasses.
Ferocity is essential for a bird whose frigid, spotty range extends across northeastern China, the Russian Far East and up toward the Arctic Circle, one that breeds and nests in the dead of winter, perched atop a giant cottonwood or elm tree, out in the open, in temperatures 30 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. Dr. Slaght’s colleague Sergei Surmach videotaped a female sitting on her nest during a blizzard. “All you could see at the end was her tail jutting out,” Dr. Slaght said.The New York Times Science section gives an update on some current owl research. [more inside]
Earthflight is a BBC nature documentary narrated by David Tennant that takes a breathtaking flight on the wings of birds across six continents and experiences some of the world's greatest natural spectacles from a bird's-eye view. There are some full episodes up on YouTube (including South America, Africa, and the Making Of), but in particular these two clips caught my eye: Feral Cat Hunting and Peregrine Falcon Hunting.
The Birds of Paradise Project "It took 8 years and 18 expeditions to New Guinea, Australia, and nearby islands, but Cornell Lab scientist Ed Scholes and National Geographic photographer Tim Laman succeeded in capturing images of all 39 species in the bird-of-paradise family for the first time ever. This video gives a sense of their monumental undertaking and the spectacular footage that resulted.". See, for example, the Ballerina Bird's novel shape shifting view.
In a report that scaled up local surveys and pilot studies to national dimensions, scientists from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and the Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that domestic cats in the United States — both the pet Fluffies that spend part of the day outdoors and the unnamed strays and ferals that never leave it — kill a median of 2.4 billion birds and 12.3 billion mammals a year, most of them native mammals like shrews, chipmunks and voles rather than introduced pests like the Norway rat.That cuddly kitty is deadlier than you think
See also Feral Cats Kill Billions of Small Critters Each Year
See also The impact of free-ranging domestic cats on wildlife of the United States
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has released a trailer for their upcoming documentary, "The Birds of Paradise" (SLYT) [more inside]
Artist makes music with bird droppings. This BBC report includes probably the most excited reaction to guano in history.
Marc Morrone is a pet shop owner from the Bronx who spun a small cable-access show about pet care into a Martha Stewart Omnimedia-backed pet-advice career. But he first became known for his call-in show in which he gave advice while surrounded by a menagerie of moving, falling, pooping animals.
“One swallow does not make a summer, but one skein of geese, cleaving the murk of a March thaw, is the spring.”
The great naturalist Aldo Leopold took detailed notes in his journals every morning before sunrise, logging the birds he heard calling on his farm in rural Wisconsin. Now, using journals from the Aldo Leopold archives, and bird calls from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, researchers at UW-Madison have replicated what Aldo Leopold would have heard one morning on his farm in the 1940s autoplays bird calls.
Adam Doyle paints "beautiful gestural portraits of birds," according to the art blog Colossal. His other work includes book covers, paintings and illustrations aimed at children, and contributions to the 52 Shades of Greed card deck (4 of clubs, 5 & 6 of hearts, and 7 of spades).
Nature constantly engineers new and creative solutions to all sorts of problems—turning our stereotypes about sex upside-down along the way.
Staying_On-Topic in r/intelligentanimals posts a huge number of links explaining why Corvids (crows, ravens, magpies, etc) are amazing.
Photographer Todd R. Forsgren works with ornithologists to safely capture striking images of birds in nets. [more inside]
Rosemary Mosco is a field naturalist who draws bird & nature comics: "bird and moon" (previously), "ghosts of the northeast woods", "bird sound mnemonics", "birds are gross", "evolution sucks". Her bi-weekly comic strip Wild Toronto ("It cleverly observed and taught us about the animals and plants that live in our city") ran on Torontoist for some months in 2008; she has an illustrated collection of 55-word stories as well (previously mentioned). Her website, flickr, & tumblr.
Bowerbirds, a family of 20 species in eight genera, are a fascinating bunch of birds who range from New Guinea and Australia. Some are flashy, others drab, but all are named for the "bowers" (avenues, huts, or towers of sticks; source) that the males craft and decorate to attract a mate. There are regional styles (PDF) in the design of the bowers, and the male Greater Bowerbirds even employ optical illusions. Some, like the Vogelkop Bowerbird, add mimicry vocal to their repertoire of courting methods. Add accidental cultivation to the list of fascinating features of the bowerbirds. [more inside]
Birds are gorgeous but you can't have pets and can't abide stuffed animals. What's a bird lover to do? Vegan Taxidermy to the rescue! [more inside]
An Anna's hummingbird on a tiny nest, smaller than an ivy leaf, with two hatchlings therein. Watch it live. [more inside]
Next weekend, February 17-20, is the 2012 Great Backyard Bird Count, sponsored by the National Audubon Society, the Cornell Lab for Ornithology, and Bird Studies Canada. [more inside]
High Speed Animal Flight Videos Show Hidden Aerial World. The Dutch Program Vilegkunstenaars (Flight Artists) sent high-speed video tools to amateurs around the world with the challenge: Capture nature in flight. They then picked the best from the over 2,400 slow-motion clips that were uploaded. [more inside]
On the 6th of December 2011, as has been traditional for the past 9 decades since Finland's Independence, the President, Tarja Halonen and her spouse, Dr Pentti Arajarvi host what is known as the Linnan juhlat or Castle Ball, an extremely popular televised reception for the notables of the nation. Along with the usual dignitaries, the President is also permitted to select invitees based on merit - entertainers, athletes, individuals - whom she feels have been in the news in the past year. This year Peter and Teija Vesterbacka also were invited due to Peter Vesterbacka's work as the CMO of Rovio. Teija Vesterbacka wore a red dress for the evening that had design concepts from one of the birds in the mobile game Angry Birds. Highlighted in the Finnish news by the very select group of photographers permitted entry to this exclusive event, it was when the photograph of this dress went viral among global MSM that the angry birds began to fly.
Islands make up only about 3% of the earth's land area but host about 20% of all species and 50 to 60% of endangered species. The biggest threat to islands are invasive species, mainly rats, but also pigs and cats, who feed on nesting birds and native plants. New Zealand has been the innovator in clearing islands of rats because of its endangered populations of flightless birds which are vulnerable. One species of flightless parrot, known as the kakapo, has only 131 individuals left in the "wild" - they are closely guarded 24x7 on Codfish Island, their nests surrounded by rat traps and cameras vigilantly on the lookout for invaders. [more inside]
Ghost of Gone Birds. Over 100 artists were invited to choose an extinct bird and produce a piece of art inspired by that particular bird and celebrating its glory days. Birds celebrated in the show include the Dodo, the Matinique Amazon Parrot, the Black Mamo and the Great Auk.
How to hatch a dinosaur: 'So making a chicken egg hatch a baby dinosaur should really just be an issue of erasing what evolution has done to make a chicken. Every cell of a turkey carries the blueprints for making a tyrannosaurus, but the way the plans get read changes over time as the species evolves.' [via]
Ghostly images remain on windows after bird strikes. No blood, no gore.
Cats are apparently the culprits behind several avian extinctions worldwide. So, are cats bad for the environment?
In 1998 three birders--Sandy Komito, Al Levantin and Greg Miller--had their big year attempt chronicled in 2004 in a book of the same name by Mark Obmascik. Due to a few fortuitous circumstances including some spectacular fallout on Attu, a remote Alaskan Island, Komito's 1998 record of 745 species has never been surpassed. Their friendly yearlong rivalry is being documented further in a motion picture featuring Owen Wilson, Steve Martin and Jack Black coming out later this year. [more inside]
What is Bird Poop? What Do Nesting Birds Do With All That Poop? Poop From The Front End. The Poop Wars of 1879. Poop Week has just concluded at 10,000 Birds, with stories, dirty science and beautiful photos at "the intersection of poop and birding, a fertile precinct if there ever was one." [via The Agonist] [more inside]
Cool paintings of birds by Maurizio Bongiovanni [embedded good music], an Italian-Chinese artist included in the sumptuous art blog ArtOdyssey, which is really worth exploring. [more inside]