Today’s Bird Adventures (Long Post)

Update 3: The fledging grackle is not fine. Had two dead ones in the backyard today, one missing a head. I think the organs belong to a third. We’re assuming we have a canine bird killer living with us.

I have now moved the bodies/organs to the front yard in a planter to keep an eye on them and document decomp (Bee! I thought you might like this). Whatever, it’s interesting, guys.

New: Found a fledgling blue jay in the front yard this afternoon. Its parent kept trying to feed it but was being mobbed and chased off by grackles. So….I picked it up (and took pictures), showed the neighbors and looked for the nest. It was surprisingly comfortable with me. Its heart rate slowed back down and it relaxed while I was holding it. It even let me pick it back up again later (after I put it down in the yard) without trying to get away or squawking.

The neighbor said she keeps getting attacked by the adults because the little one was by her front door. WW (friend/roommate) spotted a second one but it freaked out and we couldn’t find it again. With WW’s help I climbed a ladder and stuck the one I had up in the tree. It climbed up to the nest and the adults stopped freaking out.

The neighbor is going to come get me if she gets attacked again or if she spots the other baby. She originally was hoping the fledgling would just die so the adults would let her go in and out of the house, but now she’ll just have me move them. Apparently I’m now the neighborhood bird whisperer and interferer in bird lives.

Pictures to follow soon.


Think about it: the zoological park in which living animals are subjected to strict confinement; where they must live a life that, no matter the size and ‘naturalness’ of the cage, is wholly different from the natural one to which they are suited; where their instincts are dulled, tamed, and corrupted (eating involves no hunting or foraging and sexual relations are interfered with and closely monitored) allows such seemingly needless suffering to fellow creatures that we, as (hopefully) ethical animals, must not only supply a very good reason for this subjugation, but also live up to it… the zoo should be a local Conservation Center, focusing wholly on saving (or reinstating) species in the wild and on educating the public about the importance of conservation and biodiversity. […]

Zoos sometimes believe that captive animals themselves are sufficient education… Yet what do captive animals - lacking context - teach one about the natural world and its importance?… A visitor can look through the glass and see an insect, a snake, or a reptile and “learn” nothing more than this: they are boring, because they just sit there… It’s also difficult to wrap one’s head around an animal being endangered when it’s three feet in front of you. Without context - without quality information in a variety of forms - zoos only teach us illusions regarding nature and conservation, yet many zoos still believe that caged animals will say it all. […]

Zoos need to take these conservation issues and make them applicable. If they want to stop logging in Borneo to save the orangutans, why doesn’t the zoo provide a list of tropical woods to avoid purchasing? In addition, why don’t they highlight that the rainforest isn’t being cut for Borneo’s needs, but for western and Asian consumption? To tackle the bushmeat trade, zoos could address the larger issue of poverty in Africa… The zoo, as a conservation center, must make visitors aware of their responsibility in fixing these global problems. For in the end it is lack of funds, awareness, resources, and will that continually allows our world to be ravaged in unsustainable and wasteful ways. […]

While quality education may be lacking at most zoos, they are still doing great things in the conservation world. The Bronx Zoo, arguably one of the best in the world, is run by the Wildlife Conservation Society, which currently has 660 field projects around the world… But this leaves me with a question: why are these conservation initiatives not proclaimed? Why don’t zoo visitors see information first-hand about what their local zoo (or zoos across the world) are working on? I’m not talking about just a little plaque and a few words, but an in-depth description of the project and its goals. Let the visitor know that zoos do not exist solely for visitors’ needs, but as research institutes and bases for overseas and local conservation. Allow them to comprehend that animals are not mere entertainment for humans, but a vital part of ecosystems around the world that make our Earth as wondrous (and effective) as it is. […]

If wild animals are not allowed to strike awe in the visitor and to be used as an opportunity to educate them about the decisions they (or their governments) make that affect their wild relatives, then their incarceration is not merely reasonless, but criminal. These animals are ambassadors for wilderness, for a biodiverse earth, for the planet as it is (or even as it was). This is not a role they have chosen, but one we have forced upon them. Zoos have a moral obligation to achieve the most good out of this sad state of affairs.


Jeremy Leon Hance - Zoos: why a revolution is necessary to justify them, Life is Good: Conservation in an Age of Mass Extinction (via zoo-logic)

This is pretty amazing, and there should definitely be more.  It always makes me sad when I see animals who were hit by cars.  This is a genius idea (apparently started in the Netherlands according to the original post).


These Beautiful Bridges Are Just For Animals

by Jess Zimmerman

If we’re going to keep putting roads in the middle of their habitats, animals are sometimes going to need to cross the road. But it’s better for everyone involved if they don’t have to push a button and wait for the light to change, because they don’t have thumbs and nine times out of 10 they’ll just careen into the side of your car. Which is why some highways have overpasses built specifically for animals like deer, elk, and grizzly bears.

Nobody teaches moose pedestrian etiquette like “look both ways,” but they figure out pretty quickly that crossing the terrifying asphalt river is safer if you take the beautiful grassy bridge. That’s just my guess at a moose’s internal life, but there’s data too: In Banff National Park in Canada, animals have used the six overpasses and 35 underpasses more than 200,000 times since monitoring began in 1996…

(read more:



Top - Highway A50, Netherlands (photo: Niels Verheul)

BL - France.     BR - Banff, Alberta, Canada (photo: Joel Sartore)

(via phdramblings)

Range Maps

Does anyone have any suggestions on what to use to create really good looking range maps?  I want to combine information about habitat ranges of different species so that I can include them on my poster in just one map.  I will be honest, I suck at Photoshop/Gimp/etc.  Any ideas?

I took the day off and went to the zoo today.  Here are some pictures I took of the gorillas.  The crappy glass gets in the way and I took them with my phone, but I still managed to get a few cool ones.

I could just sit and watch them all day.  It would be so amazing to see them in the wild.

Caw Caw

I was outside before class this afternoon mimicking a cardinal song (by whistling), trying to get them to sing back to me.  It wasn’t until a few minutes had passed and I got a few strange looks that I remembered that staring up in the trees and making bird noises was not normal behavior.   

I study animal communication and I am terrible at mimicking animals sounds.  Obviously this talent is not a requirement to work in this field, but I know so many people (particularly ornithologists) that are just amazing mimics.  When I spent a week in the woods (several years ago) following birds around, recording them, and being eaten alive by mosquitoes, one of our instructors just blew my mind with his mimicking.  If he was with me and I was having a hard time recording (too quiet, couldn’t find them, etc.) he could draw them in closer with their own song.  That week I actually learned how to mimic a Mountain Chickadee (Poecile gambeli) and believe me I told everyone I knew about my new skill.  I even have a recording from that week of a mountain chickadee and myself calling back and forth. Don’t think this is impressive, because I guarantee almost all of you that can whistle can mimic a mountain chickadee (here try).

Northern Cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) are the only other bird (so far) that I’ve attempted AND can mimic fairly well.  Cardinal song, compared to Mountain Chickadee song, is much more complex and varied.  This makes it harder for me to copy.  They do have similar elements so mine is just sort of a generic song.  When I was visiting family on the east coast I was able to sing back and forth with a male cardinal.  Very exciting.  The one on campus today was not impressed.

Last year, a colleague of mine was giving a talk and started discussing marmoset vocalizations.  He stopped and called me out, asking me to demonstrate what they sound like.  Soooo embarrassing.  I turned bright red and had to announce to the room that there was no way I was going to attempt that in front of them.  I can now sort of mimic their alarm calls but I don’t do a great job (this does not involve whistling).  I still wouldn’t perform these in front of a crowd.

So, I have a weird goal of trying to learn more vocalizations.  The bird calls and songs may actually come in handy in the field, but really I just think it’s cool.  I’d also like to point out that my weird, nerdy tendencies are definitely rubbing off on my 5 year old.  He can now do a pretty darn good cardinal impression even though he can’t even whistle!     

Next time I get a strange look I’m just going to yell “IT’S FOR SCIENCE!”

Guess that fish part

So, I wasn’t kidding when I said I found this stuff interesting and was trying to figure out the fish parts in my tank.  I’ve read about fish behavior (particularly antipredator behaviors, and communication in a limited number of species) but I don’t know much about fish anatomy.  I was curious about this (note how nasty the water was-eating giant fish is messy):

Turns out it is a swim bladder which is used for buoyancy allowing the fish to stay at a particular depth without floating up to the surface or sinking to the bottom.  This keeps fish at a neutral buoyancy, though some fish are able to adjust the swim bladder to make themselves more or less buoyant.  Typically it’s filled with a gas, for example oxygen, though in some primitive species it’s filled with oil.  It is not found in cartilaginous fish (sharks, rays, etc.) or in some deep-sea bony fish. 

Here is a picture from a salmon dissection lab:

With swim bladder disease, your fish could be swimming around like this or as pictured here:

(Photo by Michelle Jo)

Fish anatomy lesson from my dining room.

Go check out the live feed going on over at The Cornell Lab of Ornithology.  Currently the male is incubating two eggs.  There is also a chat feature, so you can ask questions.

UPDATE at 11:25 CT:  Now the female is incubating the eggs.  She’s the bigger, more colorful one (also banded on the right leg, while the male’s left leg is banded).  If you watch this later and aren’t sure who you are looking at there are pictures and descriptions at the bottom. :)

A Eurasian Eagle Owl in slow motion.  One of the coolest videos I’ve watched in a while.  He was raised at Turbary Woods Sanctuary in the UK and began training at 8 days old.  According to the trainers comments, he/she was holding a chicken leg in his/her gloved hand just below the camera.

(via vurtrunner & TurbaryWoods on YouTube)

Shameless plug for my friends (you’ll like it though)

Several of my friends have been working on a huge recording project in Costa Rica and they just released their first CD, A Day in the Osa:  Soundscapes from a Costa Rican Rainforest. FYI:  the Osa Peninsula extends from the southern tip of Costa Rica and is one of the most biodiverse places on Earth.

Map of Costa Rica

Their project has several goals: 

1. to catalog the biodiversity found in the Osa

2. to share this with everyone and show how important it is to preserve it

3. to use the recordings for educational purposes

4. to make recordings available for scientific purposes (like the work that I do)

5. to directly help with conservation efforts by donating proceeds from the project to conservation organizations 

Go check out their website (in both English and Spanish), to see a species list and listen to a lot of their recordings!!!  And if you’re interested, buy their CD.

(Map from