Posts about birds

Dinosaur Bird Wing and Feather in Amber

Rare Dinosaur-Era Bird Wings Found Trapped in Amber

Two tiny wings entombed in amber reveal that plumage (the layering, patterning, coloring, and arrangement of feathers) seen in birds today already existed in at least some of their predecessors nearly a hundred million years ago.

Skin, muscle, claws, and feather shafts are visible, along with the remains of rows of feathers similar in arrangement and microstructure to modern birds.

photo of dinosaur wing in amber with feathers visible

The nearly 100 million year old wing shows a structure that is very similar to modern birds.

The piece in this photo, and others samples, were bought at an amber market in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin state in northern Myanmar. The region is politically unstable and most of the amber is sold to Chinese consumers for jewelry and decorative carvings.

Read the related posts for more on the wonderful discoveries saved in amber of hundreds of millions of years. We get to read about these amazing discoveries so often it is easy to lose appreciation for how amazing each one is. This photo shows a wind that was used by a dinosaur almost 100 million years ago.

Related: Marine Plankton From 100 Million Years Ago Found in Amber 2008)Learning About Life over 200 Million Years Ago From Samples Trapped In Amber (2012)The evolution of birds from small predatory dinosaursDino-Era Feathers Found Encased in Amber (2008)Amber Pieces Containing Remains from Dinosaurs and Birds Show Feather Evolution (2011)Ancient Whale Uncovered in Egyptian Desert

Backyard Wildlife: Great Tailed Grackle

Great tailed grackle, stalking in grass

I think this is a Great Tailed Grackle, please comment if you think I am wrong. This is taken in my backyard in Arlington, Virginia.

Great tailed grackle, sitting in grass

Related: Red-Shouldered HawkBackyard Wildlife: Fox and DeerBackyard Wildlife: Blue JayBackyard Wildlife – ChimpmunkBackyard Wildlife: Robins Attack Holly Tree

Backyard Wildlife: Blue Jay

photo of a blue jay with a berry in its beak

Blue Jay in Arlington, Virginia (in my backyard). See more of my photos.

This is a picture I simply could not have taken before I bought my new camera (a Canon PowerShot SX60 HS Digital Camera with 65 times optical zoom). Birds are still hard to photograph but now at least occasionally I get a decent photo of birds. If you want to get photos of wildlife it is a great camera. And it is a wonderful camera in general.

I like just planting things that will feed and shelter birds (and others) rather than filling bird feeders myself. There is information on how to use your backyard to promote wildlife. I see many birds flying around in my backyard, which is quite nice. Blue jays are some of my favorites.

Blue jays diet is composed mostly of insects and nuts. They especially like acorns.

Young jays may be more likely to migrate than adults, but many adults also migrate. Some individual jays migrate south one year, stay north the next winter, and then migrate south again the next year. No one has worked out why they migrate when they do.

The pigment in blue jay feathers is melanin, which is brown. The blue color is caused by scattering light through modified cells on the surface of the feather barbs.

Related: Backyard Wildlife: Robins Attack Holly TreeBackyard Wildlife: BirdsBackyard Wildlife: CrowsBackyard Wildlife: FoxBackyard Wildlife: Chimpmunk

Crows can Perform as Well as 7 to 10-year-olds on cause-and-effect Water Displacement Tasks

In Aesop’s fable about the crow and the pitcher, a thirsty bird happens upon a vessel of water, but when he tries to drink from it, he finds the water level out of his reach. Not strong enough to knock over the pitcher, the bird drops pebbles into it — one at a time — until the water level rises enough for him to drink his fill.

Highlighting the value of ingenuity, the fable demonstrates that cognitive ability can often be more effective than brute force. It also characterizes crows as pretty resourceful problem solvers. New research conducted by UC Santa Barbara’s Corina Logan, with her collaborators at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, proves the birds’ intellectual prowess may be more fact than fiction. Her findings, supported by the National Geographic Society/Waitt Grants Program, appear today in the scientific journal PLOS ONE: Modifications to the Aesop’s Fable Paradigm Change New Caledonian Crow Performances.

photo of Corina Logan

Researcher Corina Logan with a great-tailed grackle and a night heron at the Santa Barbara Zoo. The zoo is one of the sites where Logan is gathering data to compare and contrast the cognitive abilities of grackles and New Caledonian crows.
Photo Credit: Sonia Fernandez

Logan is lead author of the paper, which examines causal cognition using a water displacement paradigm. “We showed that crows can discriminate between different volumes of water and that they can pass a modified test that so far only 7- to 10-year-old children have been able to complete successfully. We provide the strongest evidence so far that the birds attend to cause-and-effect relationships by choosing options that displace more water.”

Logan, a junior research fellow at UCSB’s SAGE Center for the Study of the Mind, worked with New Caledonian crows in a set of small aviaries in New Caledonia run by the University of Auckland. “We caught the crows in the wild and brought them into the aviaries, where they habituated in about five days,” she said. Keeping families together, they housed the birds in separate areas of the aviaries for three to five months before releasing them back to the wild.

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Homing Pigeons May Use Low Frequency Sound Maps To Locate Home

Mystery of Lost Homing Pigeons Finally Solved

Prior research had shown that birds hear incredibly low-frequency sound waves of about 0.1 Hertz, or a tenth of a cycle per second. These infrasound waves may emanate from in the ocean and create tiny disturbances in the atmosphere. Hagstrum began to think the birds used infrasound for navigation.

on the odd day when the birds reached home from Jersey Hill without problems, the infrasound traveled between the two locations. At the other locations where pigeons headed off in the wrong direction, he showed that wind currents channeled the infrasound waves in that direction.

The explanation may solve other mysteries about pigeons — for instance, why they circle around before heading off in one direction. Because the sound waves are so long, but the birds’ ear canals are tiny, they need to circle to reconstruct the wave and figure out which way they are oriented, he said.

More interesting scientific inquiry. It is very interesting to learn what scientists are learning about our world – even when the conclusions are still preliminary and may be adjusted or refuted.

Related: Pigeon Solves Box and Banana ProblemCool Research on CrowsBird Using Bait to FishMoth Jams Bat Sonar

Parrots Given “Names” by Their Parents and Use Them Throughout Their Lives

Parrots learn their ‘names’ from their parents

Parrots, which have long amused us for their ability to imitate our vocal patterns, actually learn to caw their “names” from their parents, says a new Cornell study. The research offers the first evidence that parrots learn their unique signature calls from their parents and shows that vocal signaling in wild parrots is a socially acquired rather than a genetically wired trait.

Previous research had shown that all wild parrots use unique “contact calls” that not only distinguish each bird individually, but also communicate their gender, and the mate and larger group they belong to.

“Parrots can have extremely long periods [leading up] to independence, and this is thought to be related to their large brains,” explained Berg. The same goes for primates, he said, with humans in particular being “off the charts” when it comes to a lengthy stage of child dependence.

More research is required, to better understand the evolution of and interaction between these physical and behavioral traits, he said. “We still don’t have good explanations of how these behaviors help wild individuals survive and reproduce in nature,” he said.

The paper offers some possible explanations: Perhaps the parrots’ far-ranging journeys to “communal foraging sights” are what impress upon each parent the need to have their fledglings’ names sorted out — not unlike human parents’ need to call for their children by name at a crowded fair.

I enjoy learning more fun and cool stuff about the animals we share the world with. They are quite an interesting bunch of creatures.

Related: Crow Using a Sequence of Three ToolsFriday Fun: Crow Sledding, Flying Back Up and Sledding Down AgainBackyard Wildlife: HawkFriday Fun: Dancing Parrot

Bird Using Bread as Bait to Catch Fish

Very clever technique. Quite an effective strategy to take a byproduct of people (bread) and use it to lure in your prey. I posted another bird fishing using bait webcast previously: that post includes links to more such videos.

Related: Orangutan Attempts to Hunt Fish with SpearDolphins Using Tools to HuntIntelligent Dolphin Strategy for Hunting Fish

The Science Behind Hummingbird Flight

Aerodynamics of the hovering hummingbird

Hummingbirds and insects have evolved for sustained hovering flight from vastly different ancestral directions, and their distinct phylogenies underlie the differences in their aerodynamic styles. In all other birds—and, presumably, hummingbird ancestors—the downstroke provides 100% of weight support during slow flight and hovering. Given that many birds possess the mass-specific power (using anaerobic metabolism) to hover for short periods, the selective pressure on hummingbird ancestors was probably for increased efficiency (resulting in stiff wings with greatly simplified
kinematics), and an upstroke muscle (the supracoracoideus) that makes the recovery stroke rapid, while contributing enough to the hovering power requirements to allow the downstroke muscle (the pectoralis) to operate within its aerobic limits.

In other words, this pseudosymmetrical wingbeat cycle is good enough, and although hummingbirds do not exhibit the elegant aerodynamic symmetry of insects, natural selection rewards ‘good enough’ as richly as it does our aesthetic ideals

Related: Praying Mantis Attacks HummingbirdFriday Fun: Crow Sledding, Flying Back Up and Sledding Down AgainBird Using Bait to Fish

Backyard Wildlife: 2 Raptors Over Johor Bahru, Malaysia

photo of 2 raptors soaring in the sky

Two raptors soaring by John Hunter.

I see a fair number of birds around my current abode (a condo in a high rise) in Johor Bahru, Malaysia. Getting photos of them isn’t easy though. Here are 2 hawks or eagles? If you can identify them please add a comment (if you have a link to authenticate the identification, even better).

I even have some storks that commute past my windows every morning and evening.

Related: Backyard Wildlife: Robins Attack Holly TreeSharpshinned hawk feeding in backyardBig Lizards in Johor Bahru CBD

Friday Fun: Crow Sledding, Flying Back Up and Sledding Down Again

Great video of a crow sledding down a roof on a small intertube like thing (a lid?). Then it picks up the sled and flies back to the top and sleds down again. Awesome. The curious crow then flies off with its sled to try it out elsewhere (maybe).

Related: Bird Using Bait to FishCat and Crow Playing TogetherDolphins Play with Air Bubble RingsFriday Duckling Fun

Amber Pieces Containing Remains from Dinosaurs and Birds Show Feather Evolution

Dinosaur feather evolution trapped in Canadian amber

a study of amber found near Grassy Lake in Alberta – dated from what is known as the Late Cretaceous period – has unearthed a full range of feather structures that demonstrate the progression. “We’re finding two ends of the evolutionary development that had been proposed for feathers trapped in the same amber deposit,” said Ryan McKellar of the University of Alberta, lead author of the report.

The team’s find confirms that the filaments progressed to tufts of filaments from a single origin, called barbs. In later development, some of these barbs can coalesce into a central branch called a rachis. As the structure develops further, further branches of filments form from the rachis.

“We’ve got feathers that look to be little filamentous hair-like feathers, we’ve got the same filaments bound together in clumps, and then we’ve got a series that are for all intents and purposes identical to modern feathers,” Mr McKellar told BBC News.

“We’re catching some that look to be dinosaur feathers and another set that are pretty much dead ringers for modern birds.”

a picture is emerging that many dinosaurs were not the dull-coloured, reptilian-skinned creatures that they were once thought to be. “If you were to transport yourself back 80 million years to western North America and walk around the forest… so many of the animals would have been feathered,” said Dr Norell.

“We’re getting more and more evidence… that these animals were also brightly coloured, just like birds are today.”

Very cool. Science really is great.

Related: Dino-Era Feathers Found Encased in Amber (2008)Dinosaur Remains Found with Intact Skin and TissueMarine Plankton From 100 Million Years Ago Found in AmberGiant Duck-Billed Dinosaur Discovered in Mexico

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