In lockdown’s calm, glossy ibis finds prime nesting conditions in Sri Lanka

Many Animals Can’t Adapt Fast Enough to Climate Change

Climate change has thrown our beautifully balanced planet into chaos. As oceans and forests transform and ecosystems go into shock, perhaps a million species teeter on the edge of extinction. But there may still be hope for these organisms. Some will change their behaviors in response to soaring global temperatures; they might, say, reproduce earlier in the year, when it’s cooler. Others may even evolve to cope—perhaps by shrinking, because smaller frames lose heat more quickly.

For the moment, though, scientists have little idea how these adaptations may be playing out. A new paper in Nature Communications, coauthored by more than 60 researchers, aims to bring a measure of clarity. By sifting through 10,000 previous studies, the researchers found that the climatic chaos we’ve sowed may just be too intense. Some species seem to be adapting, yes, but they aren’t doing so fast enough. That spells, in a word, doom.

Matt Simon covers cannabis, robots, and climate science for WIRED.

To determine how a species is adjusting to a climate gone mad, you typically look at two things: morphology and phenology. Morphology refers to physiological changes, like the aforementioned shrinking effect; phenology has to do with the timing of life events such as breeding and migration. The bulk of the existing research concerns phenology.

The species in the new study skew avian, in large part because birds are relatively easy to observe. Researchers can set up nesting boxes, for instance, which allow them to log when adults lay eggs, when chicks hatch, how big the chicks are, and so on. And they can map how this is all changing as the climate warms.

By looking at these kinds of studies together, the authors of the Nature Communications paper found that the 17 bird species they examined seem to be shifting their phenology. “Birds in the Northern Hemisphere do show adaptive responses on average, though these adaptive responses are not sufficient in order for populations to persist in the long term,” says lead author Viktoriia Radchuk of the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

In other words, the birds simply can’t keep up. By laying their eggs earlier, they’re encouraging their chicks to hatch when there are lots of insects to eat, which happens once temperatures rise in spring. But they’re not shifting quickly enough.

This isn’t a phenomenon exclusive to human-caused climate change. Life on Earth is so diverse because it’s so adaptable: Temperatures go up or down, and a species might move into a new habitat and evolve to become something different over time. But what we humans have unleashed on this planet is unparalleled. “We’re experiencing something on the order of 1,000 times faster change in temperature than what was seen in paleo times,” says Radchuk. “There are limits to these adaptive responses, and the lag is getting too big.”


Many Animals Cant Adapt to Climate Change Fast Enough
The WIRED Guide to Climate Change

Which means now more than ever, we have to aggressively conserve habitats to help boost species. “I think the results of this paper really add an abundance of caution, that we shouldn’t hope that species will adapt to changing climate and changing habitats, that we don’t need to do anything,” says Mark Reynolds, lead scientist for the Nature Conservancy’s migratory bird program, who wasn’t involved in the study.

Indeed, this paper is a terrifying window into what might be happening to ecosystems at large. A bird doesn’t live in a vacuum—it preys and is preyed upon. An ecosystem is unfathomably complex, all sorts of creatures interacting, which makes these dynamics extremely difficult to study, especially when Earth’s climate is changing so quickly.

“It’s not an internet type of network, it’s not an electrical grid,” says Peter Roopnarine, curator of geology and paleontology at the California Academy of Sciences, who wasn’t involved in this work. “These are systems that have very specific structures and configurations to them. We have poor documentation of that.”

On a very basic level, if insects start breeding earlier in the year because the planet is warming, birds have to shift their life cycles. That means the birds’ predators do, too. “One phenological change in one species can have a ripple effect through the system,” says Roopnarine.

Another major consideration here is generation length. Species that more rapidly produce offspring tend to adapt better to change. That’s why bacteria can so quickly evolve resistance to antibiotics: They proliferate like mad, and individual bacteria with the lucky genetics to survive the drugs win out and pass those genes along. Something like an elephant, which may not reproduce until she’s 20 years into a 50-year lifespan, is working with way longer timescales and may struggle to adapt to change.

What’s so troubling about this study is that, by comparison to other animal families, birds are relatively adaptable in their phenology: They can tweak the timing of their migrations, for instance. A less mobile critter like a frog has no such luxury. But what these researchers have found is that flexibility is no longer enough for salvation.

The Largest Parrot That Ever Lived Has Been Discovered in New Zealand

8 AUG 2019

A collection of bird bones sat in lab storage for more than a decade, believed to be the remains of an ancient eagle. Little did scientists know what was hiding in the fossils: “Squawkzilla.”

Heracles inexpectatus was discovered by scientists in New Zealand, according to a study published Wednesday. At about 3 feet (1 meter) tall, the bird would probably have stood nearly as tall as the average American 4-year-old.

Scientists have been finding enormous prehistoric birds for years, but this one still shocked them. It’s the largest parrot ever known to have walked the Earth. It might have even preyed on other birds.

At an estimated 15 pounds (7 kilograms), the now-extinct bird beats out all the other parrot competitors, at nearly double the weight of the endangered kakapo, New Zealand’s reigning giant parrot.

The scientists approximated its size based on two leg bones, called tibiotarsi, under the assumption that they both came from the same bird. The researchers compared the drumstick-like bones to bird skeletons in the South Australian Museum collection and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History’s electronic collection.

The fossils were dug up in 2008 in St Bathans, New Zealand, where many thousands of bird bones have been found.

The large bones, believed to be the bones of an ancient eagle, flew under the radar for a decade. It was during a research project in the lab of Flinders University paleontologist Trevor Worthy that graduate student Ellen Mather rediscovered the bones.

After that, a team of researchers began reanalyzing the findings earlier this year, according to the BBC.

“It was completely unexpected and quite novel,” Worthy, the study’s lead author, told National Geographic. “Once I had convinced myself it was a parrot, then I obviously had to convince the world.”

The bird probably lived during the Early Miocene, which spanned from about 23 million to 16 million years ago.

Researchers concluded that the bird probably couldn’t fly and consumed what was along the ground and easy to reach, according to National Geographic. But that might not have been enough to satiate the giant parrot.

It’s possible the bird had more carnivorous ways, like another New Zealand parrot, the kea, which has been known to attack and subsequently munch upon living sheep, the magazine reported.

Michael Archer, a co-author of the research and paleontologist at the University of New South Wales, told National Geographic that Heracles might have even been eating other parrots, giving way to a nickname: “Squawkzilla.”

Archer told Agence France-Presse the bird had “a massive parrot beak that could crack wide open anything it fancied.”

Heracles probably won’t be the final unforeseen fossil from the St Bathans area, Worthy told AFP. The researchers have turned up many surprising birds and animals over the years.

“No doubt there are many more unexpected species yet to be discovered in this most interesting deposit,” Worthy said.

2019 © The Washington Post

This article was originally published by The Washington Post.

Illegal Bird Smuggling Is Fueled by Finch-Singing Contests in New York

The songbirds, often smuggled from Guyana, can fetch between $3,000 and $5,000 each, federal authorities said.

All 34 of the finches discovered last week in hair rollers inside luggage at Kennedy Airport survived the trip from Guyana, officials said.CreditU.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York
ImageAll 34 of the finches discovered last week in hair rollers inside luggage at Kennedy Airport survived the trip from Guyana, officials said.
CreditCreditU.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York

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Some bet as much as $200. Others wager as little as breakfast or a beer. The real prize — bragging rights and status — goes to the owner of the bird that sings the most vigorously during the competitions that kick off at dawn on Sundays in parks in Brooklyn and Queens.

The male chestnut-bellied seed finches are judged on how fast, and how long, they sing when held beside each other in cages, stimulating their instinct to establish dominance.

But this avian twist on “America’s Got Talent” has also fueled an illegal cottage industry: the smuggling of finches into the United States from South America.

Last week, a 39-year-old Connecticut man was charged in federal court in Brooklyn with smuggling nearly three dozen finches from Guyana into the country through Kennedy Airport. The 34 birds were nestled into plastic hair curlers and placed in carry-on luggage, which was selected for a spot inspection, according to court records.

Mr. Gurahoo was freed on a $25,000 bond, posted by his uncle, who lives in Queens and told the judge he is originally from Guyana. Mr. Gurahoo’s lawyer, Eric Pack, had no comment.

Many of the birds are captured in the wild in Guyana, experts said, lured into traps with birdsong and seeds. So far this year, agents have discovered 326 songbirds being smuggled through 16 major airports across the nation, according to the United States Customs and Border Protection. Last year, agents confiscated 2,117, records show.

The contests, known colloquially as “bird races,” are especially common in Phil “Scooter” Rizzuto Park in Brooklyn.

“This is like a sport from back home,” said Ray Harinarain, a bird importer who lives in the Cypress Hills neighborhood of Brooklyn. “People from Guyana move here and bring their traditions.”

Champion birds bestow status on their owners and can increase the value of the finch — “like a racehorse,” Mr. Harinarain said.

Tiny Birds, Big Drama: Inside the World of the Birdmen of Queens
Hobbyists who stage speed-singing contests in city parks fear that federal agents lurk, eager to shut them down.

Under federal law, transported birds must be quarantined for 30 days to ensure they do not carry avian flu or Newcastle disease, which can infect humans and domestic poultry, said Paul Calle, the chief veterinarian and vice president of health programs at the Wildlife Conservation Society. That inconvenience, coupled with a superstition that birds from the wild are more virile and better singers than birds bred in captivity, feeds the market for smuggled birds.

“Some people just prefer to smuggle,” Mr. Harinarain said.

“It’s an underground thing,” he added. “People don’t want to talk about it.”

All 34 birds discovered last week were alive, and placed in the custody of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, which has regulations that allow for their return, if feasible, to Guyana.

The finches were found in plastic hair rollers at Kennedy Airport, inside the carry-on luggage of a man returning from Guyana, federal prosecutors said. CreditU.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York
ImageThe finches were found in plastic hair rollers at Kennedy Airport, inside the carry-on luggage of a man returning from Guyana, federal prosecutors said. 
CreditU.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York

The manner in which the finches are often smuggled — with no protection from high or low temperatures, no food or water and limited ability to move — creates stress, making the animals more susceptible to shedding any virus or parasite they might be carrying.


“With a multibillion dollar U.S. poultry industry, there’s a lot at stake and a lot at risk if they’re moving animals like this,” Mr. Calle said. “It’s a terrible thing.”

Though chestnut-bellied seed finches, with obsidian-colored wings and rusty breasts like robins, are not a threatened species, their illegal importation also poses ecological risks.

The finches’ robust numbers in their native region could decline to the point of collapse, as happened around the turn of the 20th century in North America with the once-ubiquitous, now-extinct passenger pigeon, said Susan Elbin, director of conservation and science at New York City Audubon.

Or, just as European starlings were introduced with good intentions into Central Park in the 1890s, only to quickly spread across the continent, displacing multitudes of native birds, exotic animals run the risk of establishing themselves and becoming a harmful invasive species.

“The problem is: They could die out, or they could do well,” Ms. Elbin said.

Donald Bruning, an ornithologist who worked at the Bronx Zoo for decades, said smuggling undermines the businesses of legitimate breeders. And the mortality rate for animals brought into the country illegally is abnormally high, he said.

He also noted that the practice may be completely unnecessary: There are far better ways, he said, to groom a champion finch than by plundering wild populations.

Baby finches, he said, learn to sing by imitation. Mr. Bruning, who was instrumental in the passage of the Wild Bird Conservation Act of 1992 that safeguards exotic bird species from being harmed by international trade, suggested competitors record the songs of champion birds and play them for chicks raised legally in captivity.

“That would solve the whole problem,” Mr. Bruning said.


An earlier version of this article misspelled the surname of a bird importer. He is Ray Harinarain, not Harinarian.

82-year-old narrowly avoided an $8,000 fine this week for destroying a gull’s nest

‘I didn’t know that seagulls were protected’: B.C. man escapes fine for destroying gull’s nest

A seagull eats a starfish on Granville Island in Vancouver with the impunity that comes with the knowledge that all gulls are protected under the Migratory Birds Convention Act. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

Angelo Mion learned the hard way that a seagull is more than just a flying rat. At least as far as the law is concerned.

The 82-year-old East Vancouver man found himself before a judge for the first time in his life this week after having pleaded guilty to an offence: destroying the nest of a migratory bird.

And so here he was shuffling at the glacial pace that was as fast as his feet could carry him down the aisle of a fifth floor B.C. provincial courtroom to face judgment.

“I didn’t know that seagulls were protected either. I don’t think most people do,” his lawyer told Judge Patrick Doherty.

“He didn’t know he was doing anything wrong.”

Mion’s tangle with the law grew out of the ornithological obsession of a couple whose high-rise condo allowed them a clear view of the rooftop of a low-rise East Vancouver apartment building Mion built in the early 1980s.

The octogenarian doesn’t live in the building, but he still serves as caretaker. And in the summer of 2016, his neighbours took an interest in the birth and hatching of two fledgling gulls.

These fledgling gulls were hatched in a nest on the roof of the CBC’s downtown Vancouver building. It is an offence to destroy a gull’s nest. (CBC)

Crown prosecutor James Billingsley said gull chicks are flightless for five to six weeks. But once they do take to the skies, their nests still serve as a kind of homing beacon.

“It’s how they orient themselves in cases of extreme weather,” the prosecutor said.

One of the neighbours claimed he saw Mion walk onto the roof one July morning and “chase and kick” at the two baby gulls. The birds’ parents screeched and circled in the skies overhead as the neighbour yelled at Mion to stop.

That night, the other half of the couple saw Mion “sweeping the nest into a bucket.”

They called wildlife officials, who showed up at the door of Mion’s home, “but he refused to open it.”

‘These are these common seagulls, right?’

Fast forward to the summer of 2017 and the high-rise neighbours had their eyes on a new nest of gulls. There were three this time.

Then, in mid-August, one of the neighbours came home to find there were none.

“He saw shovel marks,” Billingsley told the judge.

A B.C. provincial court judge gave 82-year-old Angelo Mion an absolute discharge for destroying a seagull’s nest. (David Horemans/CBC)

A wildlife inspector called on Mion again, this time wanting access to the roof for an inspection. Mion told him there was no need, because he had already removed the nest.

“Mr. Mion stated that he was the only one with access to the roof,” Billingsley told the judge.

“And (the officer) should go and get a helicopter because that was the only way (he) would get access to the roof.”

In a distinguished career behind the bench, Doherty has presided over complex cases involving alleged sexual assault in the RCMP, trespassing on Indigenous land and fraud.

This appeared to be the first time he had been asked to consider the rights of a Glaucous-winged gull.

“These are these common seagulls, right?” he asked Billingsley.

“That’s correct,” Billingsley answered. “All gulls are protected under the Migratory Birds Convention Act.”

The rise and fall of the Glaucous-winged gull

According to a 2015 University of British Columbia study, the number of seagulls in the Strait of Georgia, which separates Vancouver Island from the B.C. mainland, has dropped by 50 per cent in the past three decades. Diet is considered a factor in their decline.

They’re known for eating almost anything — hence the “flying rat” reputation — but they historically relied on a marine diet. Apparently french fries, cookies and other scraps picked off the plates of tourists are not an improvement.

Seagulls are as much a part of the B.C. landscape as the Coastal Mountains. And they’re protected – despite fowl bathroom habits. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

Destroying a gull’s nest carries a penalty ranging from $5,000 to $300,000. Billingsley was looking for a fine of $8,000.

But Mion’s lawyer, Ken Westlake, said an absolute discharge would be more appropriate.

Born in Italy in 1937, Mion came to Canada in 1956 with a Grade 5 education. A mason by trade, he worked until the point his body failed him, raising children and grandchildren.

He has prostate cancer and other health issues. Westlake said the gull’s nest was blocking the drain in the apartment building.

‘Absolutely inconceivable’

Mion wore a crisp light check shirt and brown dress pants as he sank into a chair beside his lawyer.

Westlake said the old man was “adamant” that he didn’t touch the nest until the chicks were gone.

And he disputed any suggestion that the neighbours could have seen his infirm client “kick” at anything.

“He walks with some difficulty,” Westlake told the judge. “What (the neighbour) observed and what he believes have nothing to do with what happened.”

After a break to consider the facts, Doherty decided to give Mion an absolute discharge — meaning he won’t have to pay a fine and hopefully will never have to set foot in a court again.

The judge pointed out that ignorance of the law is no defence. But in some circumstances, it can be a mitigating factor.

“It is absolutely inconceivable that he will be caught doing anything wrong again,” the judge said.

Protected birds injured by ‘barbaric trapping’

Police are investigating after the body of a buzzard was found in woodland with one of its legs severed and a hobby was found alive with one leg severed.


The police share this latest appeal. Ed

Officers from the Isle of Wight’s Country Watch team are investigating two incidents where protected birds have been injured, possibly by traps.

We are working with the RSPB to establish what happened after the birds were found in the Briddlesford area, both with severed legs.

On 14th March the body of a buzzard was found in woodland near to Littletown with one of its legs severed.

On 23rd September a hobby was found alive with one leg severed. This bird was taken to the RSPCA and humanely put down.

Illegal and barbaric method of trapping
PC Tim Campany from the Country Watch team said:

“We are working closely with our colleagues from the RSPB to establish what happened. One line of enquiry is that the birds may have been caught and held in a spring-type trap.

“This is illegal and is a barbaric method of trapping, it leaves the bird once freed from the trap unable to land and feed and it will eventually die of starvation.

“All wild birds are protected by law under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 which makes it an offence to intentionally harm them. Anyone found to have done so faces an unlimited fine and/or up to six months in jail.

“Raptor persecution is a priority of the National Wildlife Crime Unit and will not be tolerated. I would urge anyone with information on suspicious vehicles, persons, or traps located in the Briddlesford area to call us on 101.”

Get in touch
Anyone with information should call 101 quoting 4418 0374 840.

For more information about the Country Watch team please visit the Website.

Image: rorals under CC BY 2.0

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Man admits to illegally trapping wild birds

Some of the cages seized from the propertyPhoto: Kent Police

A man from Gravesend, who was caught illegally trapping birds, has appeared before Medway magistrates court.

Last Monday, the 39-year-old admitted possessing wild birds, using bird lime and possessing items used for trapping birds.

Officers from the Rural Task Force teamed up with the RSPCA in the summer to execute a search warrant at the man’s home.

The action, which followed information being received from the RSPB, resulted in a number of caged wild birds being seized.

Rat glue was found on branches Credit: Kent Police

Officers also found rat glue and other bird trapping equipment.

The man was interviewed by officers and admitted he was trying to catch wild birds in his garden.

He was given a 28-day curfew order and must stay at home between 7pm and 7am and ordered to pay £300 in costs and a £85 victim surcharge.

“This is an excellent example of partnership working. The intelligence received from the RSPB allowed us to gain enough information to request a search warrant and the case built by the RSPCA resulted in the man having to admit his guilt.

“Bird trapping is not only illegal, it is incredibly cruel. We are committed to working with our partner agencies to put these criminals, who illegally trap birds for their own financial gain, before the court.”

One of the cages seized from the property Credit: Kent Police

“To take a wild bird from its natural habitat and shut it inside a tiny cage is so cruel. They suffer greatly in captivity, are not used to being in cages and, sadly, often die.

‘All wild birds in England and Wales, their nests and their eggs are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and actions may only be taken under specific licences.”


It is illegal under the Wildlife and Countryside Act to trap wild birds.