Science im­proves avian knowl­edge

The Delhi News-Record - - LIFE - PAUL NI­CHOL­SON­chol­ twit­­chol­sonNa­ture

Although my pref­er­ence is to be out bird­ing in the field, I al­ways keep one eye on bird science. It’s both in­ter­est­ing and im­por­tant.

At Western Univer­sity’s Ad­vanced Fa­cil­ity for Avian Re­search (AFAR) in Lon­don, or­nithol­o­gists re­search sub­jects that range from bird phys­i­ol­ogy to re­pro­duc­tive strate­gies.

Bren­don Sa­muels, a doc­toral can­di­date work­ing out of AFAR, is study­ing bird col­li­sions with build­ings. He has keyed in on how birds re­act to re­flec­tions and their abil­ity to rec­og­nize glass as an ob­sta­cle in their flight.

Many prod­uct de­signs are based on hu­man sen­si­bil­i­ties in­stead of bird phys­i­ol­ogy and birds’ vis­ual sys­tems. Re­sults of Sa­muels’ work could point to im­proved strate­gies to mit­i­gate the col­li­sion risks.

Ear­lier this year, Univer­sity of Wind­sor pro­fes­sor Dan Men­nill was part of a re­search team that pub­lished find­ings of a 15-year study on how high tem­per­a­tures are af­fect­ing trop­i­cal birds. Un­der­stand­ing how cli­mate change will shape species dis­tri­bu­tions in the fu­ture was the key theme.

The re­sults were sur­pris­ing and sober­ing. With higher tem­per­a­tures, birds were not as suc­cess­ful at adapt­ing as we might hope. Mor­tal­ity in­creased.

“We can’t look to any part of the globe and as­sume that an­i­mals are go­ing to be re­silient to the ef­fects of a warm­ing cli­mate. Even an­i­mals liv­ing in a very warm en­vi­ron­ment are not pro­tected from even sub­tle changes in global tem­per­a­ture,” Men­nill told Post­media ear­lier this year.

A study by Univer­sity of Bri­tish Columbia and Cor­nell Lab of Or­nithol­ogy sci­en­tists that was pub­lished last week in Pro­ceed­ings of the Na­tional Academy of Sciences re­vealed sim­i­lar find­ings. The au­thors con­cluded that “warmer tem­per­a­tures are push­ing moun­tain-dwelling birds ever higher as they try to stay in their com­fort zone.”

“Moun­tain­top species are run­ning out of moun­tain,” ac­cord­ing to Ben­jamin Free­man, lead author and post­doc­toral fel­low at the Univer­sity of Bri­tish Columbia. “The next step is ex­tinc­tion.”

Bird Stud­ies Canada re­mains one of our coun­try’s lead­ing bird re­search hubs. The or­ga­ni­za­tion has ac­tive pro­grams across the coun­try. I chat­ted last week with BSC’s Ian Fife who is lead­ing re­search on for­est birds at risk pro­grams.

On Nov. 9 he is pre­sent­ing re­cent find­ings from South­west­ern On­tario’s Carolinian re­gion at the Long Point World Bio­sphere’s an­nual re­search and con­ser­va­tion con­fer­ence.

Fife’s fo­cus has been on species such as Aca­dian fly­catcher, Louisiana wa­terthrush, pro­thono­tary war­bler, and cerulean war­bler.

“Trends over the past eight years show sta­tis­ti­cally sig­nif­i­cant de­clines in some of these for­est birds. Our re­sponses in­clude the de­vel­op­ment and im­ple­men­ta­tion of ac­tion plans that re­flect best forestry man­age­ment prac­tices.”

Habi­tat frag­men­ta­tion is a par­tic­u­lar chal­lenge, so main­tain­ing and en­hanc­ing habi­tat con­nec­tiv­ity is a goal.

“To that end, col­lab­o­ra­tive work with both pub­lic and pri­vate land own­ers is cen­tral to our suc­cess.” Fife said.

One of my favourite bird science web­sites is sci­ If you search on birds from the home page, you can read about stud­ies re­lat­ing to how birds learn or how many in­sects the world’s bird pop­u­la­tion eats each year.

Audubon also has an in­ter­est­ing web­site that brings much bird science and re­lated news items to a sin­gle page. Nav­i­gate to audubon. org/news/ birds-news.

Na­ture notes

• The mi­gra­tion of golden ea­gles across South­west­ern On­tario peaks now. This is one of our last fall mi­grants. • I had a re­cent ex­change on the

theme of birds with David Suzuki. He told me his in­ter­est in birds dates back to 1979. It was the bird­ing pas­sions of ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer of the Na­ture of Things that rubbed off on him. Suzuki has a spe­cial place in his heart for snowy owls and ea­gles. “I have been adopted by the Haida peo­ple into the ea­gle clan while my wife and daugh­ter, ac­cord­ing to their pro­to­col, are ravens. There are only two clans in Haida Gwaii and mem­bers of each clan as­sume that some of the char­ac­ter­is­tics of the birds — strength, lead­er­ship, trick­sters, war­riors, etc. — be­come theirs.” • Ob­ser­vant na­ture lovers may

no­tice that sy­camore trees shed their bark sea­son­ally. In late sum­mer you may see piles of the thin, splotchy bark on the ground. It gives way to fresh, white bark that has a strik­ing look on a sunny fall day.


North­ern saw-whet owls are stud­ied through the fall at South­ern On­tario band­ing sta­tions. Data such as weight, age, and sex are cap­tured to en­hance our un­der­stand­ing of bird pop­u­la­tions and ul­ti­mately to shape con­ser­va­tion ef­forts. This bird was mea­sured, banded and re­leased at the Long Point Band­ing Ob­ser­va­tory.

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