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Study: Birds have highly developed weather ‘radar’

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Study offers new insight into long-distance avian migration.

‘We think that these behaviors represent a previously unknown cognitive ability …’

Staff Report

FRISCO — Some migrating birds may be able to sense weather patterns on a hemispheric scale, helping them optimally time their nonstop transoceanic flights.

Bar-tailed godwits, the ultra-marathon champions of migration, breed in Alaska and spend winters in New Zealand and a recent U.S. Geological Survey-led study suggests that these birds can sense broad weather patterns.

Careful monitoring of the birds suggest they time their departure  to match the best possible atmospheric wind conditions possible within a two-week window. Remarkably, not only were the conditions optimal for take-off, but they almost always provided the best possible conditions for the birds’ entire flights, as far as 7,000 miles in eight days between Alaska and New Zealand.

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Study: Eastern chickadee populations moving fast in response to global warming

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Some bird populations are shifting fast in response to climate change. bberwyn photo.

‘The rapidity with which these changes are happening is a big deal’

*More Summit Voice stories on birds and climate change here.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Watching climate change is a little more subtle than just sitting around watching a thermometer, but sometimes even scientists are surprised at just how fast things are changing.

A group of East Coast university researchers probably felt that way as they studied the breeding areas of Carolina and black-capped chickadees. Along a narrow zone in the eastern U.S., the two species interbreed, and that overlap zone is moving northward at 0.7 miles per year — a full-on sprint by geological time standards. Continue reading

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Christmas bird count starts this week

Annual survey helps track population trends, potential threats

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A red-tailed hawk perches on a snag in the Williams Fork Range in Summit County, Colorado. bberwyn photo.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Experienced birders and novices alike are invited to join in one of the longest-running citizen science surveys in the world — the 114th annual Christmas Bird Count, set this year for Dec. 14 through Jan. 5, 2014.

This year, Colorado Parks and Wildlife is hosting an event at the State Forest State Park, near Gould. The 71,000-acre park includes alpine lakes, forests and peaks along the west side of the Medicine Bow Mountains and into the north end of the Never Summer Range. Continue reading

Global warming, anti-pollution measures combine to cut bird populations at Northern Ireland’s Loch Neagh

Loch Neagh, in Northern Ireland, from a NASA Landsat image.

Bird populations are declining at Loch Neagh, in Northern Ireland. Photo courtesy NASA Landsat.

Warmer temps in northeastern Europe shifting bird migration patterns

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Biologists studying wildlife at Lough Neagh say the number of overwintering birds at the largest lake in the British Isles has dropped dramatically in just a few decades.

The decline is due to a quirky combination of improved water quality and global warming, according to researchers at Queen’s University Belfast. Cutting nutrient pollution has suppressed algae in the lake, which means less food for snails and aquatic bugs, and in turn, less food for diving birds.

And, warmer temperatures across northeastern Europe means the birds don’t have to fly all the way to Northern Ireland to find a place to spend the cold season.

The study by Quercus, Northern Ireland’s Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation Science, found the number of diving ducks migrating to the lake for the winter months has dropped from 100,000 to less than 21,000 in the space of a decade. Continue reading

How does global warming affects bird migration?

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Broad-tailed hummingbirds may have a hard time finding food during the short breeding season as temperatures in the Colorado Rocky Mountains continue to warm steadily. bberwyn photo.

Earlier nesting and breeding observed in some species

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Some birds are nesting and hatching earlier because of steadily increasing global temperatures, and that may be driving earlier migration in some species according to scientists with the University of East Anglia.

Changes in migration timing has already been linked with a biological disconnect between some species and their primary food sources, for example hummingbirds that fly to the southern Rocky Mountains, as well as purple martins that fly from South America to eastern North America. Both species arrival is increasingly out of synch with key food sources.

“We have known that birds are migrating earlier and earlier each year … particularly those that migrate over shorter distances,” said Lead researcher Dr. Jenny Gill from UEA’s school of Biological Sciences. “But the reason why has puzzled bird experts for years. It’s a particularly important question because the species which are not migrating earlier are declining in numbers.” Continue reading

Yellow-billed cuckoo may get endangered species status

Native bird has nearly been extirpated from the West

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Yellow-billed cuckoos have nearly been extirpated from the western U.S. Photo courtesy Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory.

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Yellow-billed cuckoos are only found in a few isolated locations in Colorado.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — The yellow-billed cuckoo, once common along streams throughout the West, may finally get some protection under the Endangered Species Act.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed Endangered Species Act protection  for the brids, following a 2011 agreement with the Center for Biological Diversity to speed protection decisions for 757 imperiled species nationwide.

The flashy bird, with a long tail and white markings on it wings, has long been listed as a species of concern by Colorado wildlife biologists, as their numbers have dropped drastically since the early 20th century. Click here to read a Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory report on yellow-billed cuckoos in Colorado. Continue reading

Study: Forest clearings crucial for some birds

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Birds need structurally diverse forests. bberwyn photo.

Fire suppression, other forest practices may be contributing to decline of forest-interior species

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Efforts to protect forest-interior birds in the Northeast may be partly misguided, a new U.S. Forest Service study suggests.

Currently, most of those conservation efforts focus on preserving mature forests where birds breed, but the new research shows younger forest habitat may be vital in the weeks leading up to migration.

“Humans have really changed the nature of mature forests in the Northeast,” said Scott Stoleson, a research wildlife biologist at the U.S. Forest Service’s Northern Research Station. “Natural processes that once created open spaces even within mature forests, such as fire, are largely controlled, diminishing the availability of quality habitat.” Continue reading

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