International Vulture Awareness Day, 6 September


This video says about itself:

International Vulture Awareness Day, 2011, Kenya

Kenya celebrates the International Vulture Awareness Day (IVAD) by showing the diversity of species, illustrating their critical role in the environment and focusing on their main cause for their widespread decline, poisoning with pesticides.

Dr Richard Leakey makes a personal statement regarding his own experience in witnessing the decline of vultures and highlights the need for governments to tackle poisoning issues seriously, otherwise the future of vultures is certain. IVAD is a global event with awareness campaigns in the Americas, throughout Africa, Europe, Asia and the far East. Vultures have declined as much as 95% over South Asia and India because of the side-effect of diclophenac, a pharmaceutical drug meant to relieve pain in livestock.

Wind turbines and electricity lines are proving to be another serious hazard for vultures all over the world. Habitat removal and disturbance also play major roles in their declines. Vultures are one of the most beneficial animals due to their “clean-up” work and removing carcasses that would otherwise rot and encourage disease. In Kenya vultures play a vital role in not only wildlife health but in the pastoral livestock rearing lands and in community public health. Join us in celebrating the vulture!

Saturday 6 September is not only World Shorebirds Day. It is also International Vulture Awareness Day.

From North African Birds blog today:

Looking at the International Vulture Awareness Day website, we can see that two regional organisations are celebrating the event this weekend (open the link and search, Algeria, Morocco, Libya and Tunisia and see for yourself):

- The Association “Les Amis des Oiseaux” (AAO) – BirdLife in Tunisia, and

- GREPOM BirdLife Morocco

The country with more vultures than the others, Algeria, is not participating (so far).

Vultures in Africa and Europe could face extinction within our lifetime warn conservationists: here.

African penguin language, new research, videos


This video is called African Penguins go for a swim – Mountain of the Sea – BBC.

From Salon.com:

Thursday, July 31, 2014 05:12 PM +0200

How to talk to African penguins, in 6 simple videos

Researchers identified distinct calls used to express loneliness, anger, hunger and ecstasy

Lindsay Abrams

After 104 days of careful observation, researchers at the University of Turin, in Italy, think they’ve finally figured out what African penguins are “talking” about. Based on the sounds and behaviors of a colony of 48 captive penguins at the Zoom Torino zoo, the team identified six distinct vocalizations used by adults and juveniles to express just about everything that needs saying: from loneliness, to anger, to mutually experienced ecstasy.

“Vocal communication allows us to understand the many different aspects of the biology of this species,” lead author Livio Favaro explained to the Guardian. “Penguins have less sophisticated vocal mechanisms compared to song birds, but they have very sophisticated mechanisms to encode information in songs.”

The findings, written up in the journal PLOS ONE, are accompanied by a set of videos illustrating the calls. Watch them a few times, and you, too, can become fluent in the endangered species‘ language.

Contact calls are emitted by individual penguins when out of sight from their colony or partner:

The agonistic call is often emitted during fights or as a warning for other penguins to stay away. The birds stand up and stretch their necks out toward the target of their aggression:

In the ecstatic display song, the longest and loudest of African penguin calls, the birds spread their feet, stretch their neck and face upward and hold their wings out horizontally to advertise their availability to potential mates. It kind of sounds like a donkey, the researchers note, which is how the African penguin earned the nickname “jackass”:

The mutual ecstatic song is sung when mates finally get together. Partners, the researchers observed, “often emitted this call simultaneously, overlapping in a duet” — and are known to make the sound when others attempt to intrude on their twosome:

Begging moans, a newly described call, are only emitted by juveniles, and only until they’re either fed, or their parents go away:

The youngest of penguins, those under 3 months old, will emit long series of these high-pitched begging peeps for minutes on end until their parents regurgitate some food for them:

All penguin species are continuing to be at risk from habitat degradation and loss a new study finds: here.

Bahamas, built by bacteria from Saharan dust?


This video says about itself:

Wildlife of Exuma Island, Bahamas – Lonely Planet travel video

Visitors to sparsely populated Exuma, a remote island in the Bahamas, can expect a close encounter with sharks and iguanas.

From New Scientist:

Bahamian paradise built by bacteria using Saharan dust

13:40 28 July 2014 by Flora Graham

The Bahamas may have been created by bacteria thriving on minerals in dust from the Sahara desert, 8000 kilometres away.

In this NASA satellite image from 2009, it is possible to see how the many islands of the Bahamas are actually the highest points of distinct areas where the sea is shallow and turquoise.

These turquoise waters mark the top of the Bahama Banks – underwater columns of coral reef limestone more than 4500 metres tall that have formed over the past 100 million years. It was thought that tiny plants and animals generate the vast amounts of carbonate that make up the towers, similar to how coral reefs are formed. But the surrounding sea is poor in nutrients, so what would have sustained them is a mystery.

Now researchers including Peter Swart from the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science in Florida are showing that photosynthetic cyanobacteria may actually have done much of the construction.

Cyanobacteria are involved in the precipitation of calcium carbonate in the sea, but they would have needed an enormous amount of iron to do their work. This could have been provided by the dust that blows across the Atlantic from the Sahara.

There are characteristic traces of iron and manganese in recent carbonate sediment on the banks, pointing to their Saharan origin. So the team suggests that the Bahama Banks are being built up by cyanobacteria and may also have been in the past.

The results of this research are here.

Sociable weaver birds’ nesting colonies, new research


This video is called Social weaver birds nest in a tree in AfricaDavid AttenboroughBBC wildlife.

From Wildlife Extra:

Why cooperation among sociable weaver birds leads to their amazing nests

A new insight into one of the biggest questions in science – why some animals, including humans, work together to maintain a common good – has been achieved by scientists at the University of Sheffield.

Sociable weavers, a highly gregarious and co-operative breeding bird from the savannahs of southern Africa, build the largest nests of any bird, often weighing tonnes and lasting for decades, and housing colonies of up to several hundred birds.

The massive nests consist of individual nest chambers which are used throughout the year for breeding and roosting and are embedded within a communal thatch.

The thatch covering the nest doesn’t originate from individual chamber building but requires separate investment from colony members to build and maintain it.

As such it provides a public good from which all colony members benefit in terms of buffering extremes of temperature, supporting individual nest chambers and protecting from predators.

The question that researchers from the University’s Department of Animal and Plant Sciences addressed is how sociable weavers work together to successfully build and maintain this public good, while keeping freeloaders at bay.

This is a general problem in such situations because some individuals may cheat the system by benefitting from the public good, without contributing to it.

There are several potential solutions to this problem, one of which is that co-operative behaviour is directed towards relatives.

Dr Rene van Dijk, from the Sheffield research team led by Professor Ben Hatchwell, said: “Our study shows that relatedness between colony members is low, on average, but co-operation over thatch-building is kin-directed, due to the positioning of relatives within nests.

“Sociable weavers do not contribute to thatch building equally, but those that do contribute to it are more closely related to their neighbours within the colony than are non-builders.

“Crucially, related birds are positioned close to one another within nests, so that thatch building investment also benefits their relatives.

“Additionally, relatives visit each other’s nest chambers, suggesting again that the communal benefits are shared among kin.

The study not only demonstrates that the influence of kin selection may stretch beyond that of nuclear and extended family groups thus promoting co-operation in large social groups, but it is also the first study to show that kin selection may promote the communal construction and maintenance of an animal-built physical structure.

Such structures include nests, mounds and burrows.

“This co-operation is similar to how human families may decide to accept a lodger into their home.

“If the lodger isn’t related to the family, he or she may pay rent but otherwise they will not care too much about the upkeep of the house.

“However, if the lodger is a known family member, then you would expect them to maintain the house which he or she may stay in for a longer period and possibly inherit.

“It may seem like a small difference, but it tips the balance towards a more co-operative society.”