Birds & Words #6

Swifts, seabirds, sparrows, and more.

The birds that don’t eat like birds

Little auks, tiny Arctic-breeding seabirds, eat 20% of their body weight in zooplankton every day. That is about 60,000 zooplankton. But what’s more amazing is how they do it. Diving up to depths of 27 meters, they spot, chase and attack each plankton and slurp it up. In doing so, they behave like fishes rather than birds – a world’s first.

Birds spread not only seeds far and wide but insects as well

Stick insects are masters of camouflage – they look like twigs. Now we know that their eggs resemble seeds as well. What’s more, these eggs, just like seeds, can pass through a bird’s digestive tract intact. Scientists mixed stick insect eggs in bird feed and then searched bird poop for those eggs under a microscope. A small number of the recovered eggs hatched.

The lost world of seabirds

This month’s long-form is about the hidden world of seabirds. Brace yourself for mostly heartbreaking and some light moments in this ground-reported feature accompanied by lots of photographs illustrating the plight of seabirds.

Gallery: Swifts

Shortages of nesting sites and insects have to led to a 50% decline in the UK’s breeding population of swifts. Award-winning photographer Nick Upton beautifully captures their rescue mission.

Nestlings that stay put longer risk the safety of their family

When young birds leave the nest too early, they risk their own safety but by extending their stay, they risk the safety of all their siblings. Nestlings want to stick around but parents want them gone. How do they strike a balance? Ground-nesting birds, more prone to predation, push their chicks out earlier than birds that nest in cavities, ensuring that some of the chicks survive.

Swamp sparrow song

A cluster of notes in the swamp sparrow’s song has remained largely unchanged for over 1500 years, scientists estimate based on an analysis of song recordings from 615 sparrows. The song is learned and passed down from one generation to the next, an indication of culture in these birds.

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Photo (thumbnail) credit: Manfred Enstipp

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