Birds & Words #4

Birds of paradise, rare egg, new family tree, and more

1. New superb bird-of-paradise

A photographer and an ornithologist working in the remote forests of New Guinea have discovered a new ‘superb bird-of-paradise’ species. The bird’s calls, moves and courtship behaviour differ from that of the previously known superb bird-of-paradise (now renamed the greater superb). See the differences for yourself in a video embedded in the piece.

2. Early spring arrival means fewer caterpillars for birds

Three bird species have been found to be missing out on caterpillar abundance due to a mismatch between hatching of their chicks and the emergence of caterpillars, thanks to an early arrival of spring.

3. Elephant bird egg labelled as a replica turns out to be real

A museum inventory revealed that one of the giant bird eggs held in their collection is not a model after all but a genuine, fertilized egg of the extinct elephant bird. It’s a rare find—there are very few intact elephant bird eggs housed in public institutions.

4. Bad news for birds as a treaty protecting them gets diluted

The US Government has issued a guidance declaring that the Migratory Bird Treaty Act would no longer apply to activities that cause unintentional damage to birds—including even accidental oil spills. This is a huge blow to the century-old law that has been protecting birds including eagles, vultures and Canada geese. The change would affect species that navigate to other parts of the world.

5. Speaking of navigation, how do birds sense Earth’s magnetic field?

With the help of a protein present in their eyes.

6. The bird family tree is being redrawn

The OpenWings Project launched this year aims to create a new, improved tree of life for our feathered friends using genetic material from 10,000-odd species. It eventually aims to use whole genome sequencing, which is being undertaken by another team of researchers that has managed to sequence 300 species so far. OpenWings will make the data available for other researchers to use as the work progresses.

7. Bird portraits

From vultures to junglefowl, this is an amazing collection of bird portraits. I highly recommend it as it makes one appreciate the beauty of birds a great deal more.

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