Why Galapagos cormorants are flightless


This video from the USA says about itself:

How did the Galapagos cormorant lose half its wings? | UCLA Health Newsroom

UCLA geneticist Alejandro Burga explains how genetic mutations during evolution shortened the Galapagos cormorant‘s wings, leaving it the only one of the 40 cormorant species that’s unable to fly. The changes affect the same genes linked to a human bone disorder characterized by stunted arms and legs. The UCLA discovery may led to new treatments for people with skeletal ciliopathies.

From the University of California – Los Angeles Health Sciences in the USA:

How the Galapagos cormorant lost its ability to fly

Changes to same genes that clipped the bird’s wings also cause human bone disorders

June 1, 2017

Summary: Changes to the genes that shortened the Galapagos cormorant’s wings are the same genes that go awry in a group of human bone disorders characterized by stunted arms and legs, suggests new research. The findings shed light on the genetic mechanisms underlying the evolution of limb size and could eventually lead to new treatments for people with skeletal ciliopathies.

The flightless cormorant is one of a diverse array of animals that live on the Galapagos Islands, which piqued Charles Darwin’s scientific curiosity in the 1830s. He hypothesized that altered evolutionary pressures may have contributed to the loss of the ability to fly in birds like the Galapagos cormorant.

In a new study unraveling the cormorant’s DNA, UCLA scientists discovered genetic changes that transpired during the past 2 million years and contributed to the bird’s inability to fly. Interestingly, when these same genes go awry in humans, they cause bone-development disorders called skeletal ciliopathies.

Published June 2 in the journal Science, the findings shed light on the genetic mechanisms underlying the evolution of limb size and could eventually lead to new treatments for people with skeletal ciliopathies.

“A number of these iconic, salient evolutionary changes occurred in the Galapagos,” said senior author Leonid Kruglyak, chair of human genetics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. “Darwin, just by looking at these changes, inferred the process of evolution by natural selection. We now have sophisticated genetic tools to reexamine these classic examples and uncover what happened at the molecular level.”

The Galapagos cormorant, with its short, scraggly wings, is the only one of 40 cormorant species that cannot fly. It is also the largest of the cormorants, and a strong swimmer that dives for its meals of fish.

Researchers, including Darwin, have proposed two evolutionary paths for the loss of flight. In some cases, changes that lead to flightlessness may help birds survive because they enhance their ability to do something else, like swimming — so-called positive selection.

Alternatively, the birds may have lost their ability to fly simply because they didn’t need to migrate or escape from predators. When flying isn’t essential for survival, the mutations that hinder flight can gradually accumulate in the gene pool.

“These two scenarios aren’t mutually exclusive,” said Kruglyak, who is also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. “You can start down the path because of passive loss of flight but then also have positive selection to keep reducing wings.”

A trip to the Galapagos Islands launched Kruglyak’s interest in the cormorants. Together with first author Alejandro Burga, a postdoctoral fellow in Kruglyak’s lab, they contacted Patricia Parker, a professor of zoological studies at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. She had obtained Galapagos cormorant DNA samples for a previous study and agreed to collaborate on this project.

The researchers sequenced the genomes of flightless cormorants and three other cormorant species to zero in on genetic changes possibly linked to flight. They next used a program capable of determining whether the genetic changes they identified were likely to affect protein structure and function.

Their analyses led them to a gene called CUX1, which was previously linked to shortened wings in chickens. The scientists noticed that Galapagos cormorants possessed a different version of CUX1 than its flying relatives.

“We saw a mutation in this gene that we’ve never seen in other animals,” Burga said. The team confirmed that the changes to the CUX1 gene altered the protein’s function, likely affecting wing size.

The team also found that the flightless cormorants have an abnormally high number of genetic mutations affecting cilia — small, hair-like structures that protrude from cells and regulate everything from normal development to reproduction.

Cilia play a critical role in bone growth. People born with skeletal ciliopathies have shorter limbs, narrowed chests and stunted rib cages — as do the Galapagos cormorants. The UCLA results suggest that CUX1 controls many aspects of cilia, some of which influence bone growth.

Future studies, Kruglyak said, will explore whether other flightless birds, like the ostrich and kiwi, share mutations with the Galapagos cormorant, and whether these genes can help biologists better understand evolution and limb development.

“Loss of flight is something that has taken place in birds frequently,” Kruglyak said. “There’s a pretty rich field trying to understand how all these changes happen and whether common trajectories exist between species.”

Galapagos penguins in trouble


This 2014 video says about itself:

Abbi Helfer discusses how the behavior of the Galapagos penguin helps it to manage the equatorial heat.

From BirdLife:

11 Apr 2017

The penguin that paddles in paradise

No huddles please for the Galapagos Penguin; this tropical trooper calls the warm waters of the equator its home. But life in paradise is anything but a walk in the sun for the world’s rarest penguin…

By Alex Dale

If the concept of penguins frolicking on African beaches or waddling across New Zealand cityscapes blows your mind, then hold on to your flippers, because the reach of this remarkable family of birds extends much further north than that. Indeed, the northernmost-dwelling species of penguin has found a home on a sweltering tropical archipelago straddling the equator – about as far removed from popular imagery of penguins shivering on the South Pole as you’re likely to get.

We’re on the Galapagos – a chain of volcanic islands located 563 miles east of its parent country, Ecuador. The islands need no introduction to nature enthusiasts – their biodiversity and wealth of endemic species is the stuff of legend, and famously, the observations made by Charles Darwin when he visited the islands in the 19th century formed the backbone of his influential theories of evolution and natural selection.

And by rights, the Galapagos Penguin Spheniscus mendiculus should be the poster child for evolution. Exactly how, thousands of years after they first washed up on these shores, has this diminutive penguin adapted to life in this most un-penguin-like of environments?

The answer: er, not without some difficulties. In order to survive in the scorching equatorial sun, Darwin’s theories have had to work overtime. Physically, the Galapagos Penguin has evolved to become smaller than most other penguins, a tactic that helps it keep cool, as animals with smaller surfaces areas can lose heat more efficiently.

It has also evolved to grow fewer feathers, and there are even patches of bare skin that help to radiate the sun’s heat away from its body. And at times when even these measures aren’t enough to cool down, you’ll find the penguins in their trademark pose, flippers outstretched to catch the cool sea breeze, panting like a dog. Take a closer look and you’ll see they take good care to hunch forward, shielding their feet from the baking sunlight.

The unique challenges of their island landscape has forced the Galapagos Penguin to change its breeding cycle as well as its build and its behaviour. It has become an opportunist. Instead of following strict breeding cycles like other species, the Galapagos Penguin couple for life and stay near their nesting sites all year round, ready and waiting for the chance to arise.

The species needs to remain open-minded about when to get down, because the availability of its food sources is completely at the mercy of the unpredictable ocean currents. Only when the sea temperature falls below a certain level, bringing with it a rise in nutrients (and subsequently small fish), will the penguins attempt to breed. It is testament to the resiliency of the penguin family that this tiny species has managed to carve out a niche for itself in such a seemingly alien environment.

Yet, it remains the rarest and most endangered of all the penguins, with an estimated population of just 1,200, and the main threat to their continued survival is a familiar one, one that evolution often struggles to keep pace with – human impact. Like fellow Endangered species Northern Rockhopper Penguin Eudyptes moseleyi, the Galapagos Penguin’s restricted range means that just one single event could prove disastrous. 95% of the world’s Galapagos Penguins are confined to just two islands – Isabela and Fernandina.

This stronghold falls within the boundaries of Galapagos National Park, allowing authorities to effectively tackle local threats such as invasive species and human disturbance of breeding areas. But a bigger threat to the species’ future is something that can’t be weeded out by boots-on-the-ground conservationists: climate change.

The same unpredictable climate cycle that dictates the Galapagos Penguins’ breeding habits can, and does, wipe out huge swathes of the population. The phenomenon is known as the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) – an irregular variation in pressure that results in periodic rises and falls of the ocean surface temperature. So, just as the cooler periods bring a bumper crop of fish, so do too elongated periods of warmer temperature bring famine.

Such a happening from 1982-1983 resulted in the near-catastrophic loss of 77% of the entire penguin population, and another from 1997-1998 resulted in a crash of 66%. Both times, the penguin populations managed to rebound, but the recovery was slow and this is what worries conservationists on the island.

Dr. Gustavo Jiménez is senior researcher at the Charles Darwin Foundation, an NGO that has, since 1959, worked to provide scientific knowledge to aid the conservation of Galapagos’ wild-life. “The hypothesis is that the climate change is affecting natural processes such as El Niño”, he says. “If El Niño events come to the Galapagos more frequently, and stronger, it will not give the species time to recover.”

In order to better understand the long-term trends and prospects of the species, the Charles Darwin Foundation performs three annual monitoring exercises, tagging individuals and nests, and holds a census to compare year-on-year survival and mortality rates. Jiménez is clear on the consequences if El Niño’s effects are felt more frequently – the extinction of the species. But the solution is harder to pin down.

“Through research and information sharing, we hope we can show the impact of El Niño to politicians, and maybe they could change the vision in the future”, says Jiménez.

Fail to convince them, and it could finally be the end of this little penguin that, for all those years, has survived against all odds.

Ten bird species, discovered in 2016


This Spanish 2016 video is about the Gran Canaria Blue Chaffinch.

From BirdLife:

New year, new birds: 10 newly-recognised species

By Alex Dale, 29 Dec 2016

BirdLife is proud to announce that Volume 2 of the Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World is now available to purchase. Published  by Lynx Edicions in association with HBW and BirdLife International, Volume 2 chronicles the world’s passerines (perching birds), and completes the most exhaustive illustrated checklist of birds ever compiled, with stunning, full-colour portraits of all the world’s 10,965 extant species.

As part of our commitment to this birder’s tome, BirdLife’s science team performed a rigorous taxonomy review of all the world’s birds, and discovered that previously we had underestimated the world’s avian diversity by as much as 10%. Many birds previously thought races, or sub-species of other birds, were actually fully-fledged species in their own right.

As a result of these studies, over 1,000 new bird species were recognised during the compilation of the Illustrated Checklist, 10 of the most eye-catching of which are featured below.

1. Gran Canaria Blue Chaffinch Fringilla polatzeki

Meet Europe’s newest, and rarest, resident bird. Previously considered the same species as the larger, and far more common, Tenerife Blue Chaffinch Fringilla teydea, the Gran Canaria relative makes its Red List debut in the Endangered category, as forest fires on the island have decimated this rare finch’s preferred Canary pine habitats. Future fires could prove disastrous.

2. South Island Kokako Callaeas cinereus

South Island Kokako

Is the ‘Grey Ghost’ still haunting New Zealand’s South Island? Distinguished from its North Island relative by its orange (rather than blue) wattles, this arboreal forest bird has not been reliably spotted since 2007, which explains its Red List categorisation as Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct). But given that the last verified sighting before 2007 was in 1967, however, it’s perhaps a little too soon to stop believing in ghosts…

3. Asir Magpie Pica asirensis

Asir magpie

Look familiar? It should do – this Saudi Arabia endemic was, until 2016, considered a race of the famous Eurasian Magpie Pica pica. However, unlike its widespread relative, which has a range that spans Ireland to Vietnam, just 135 pairs of Asir Magpie remain, all of which are restricted to juniper forest in the valleys of south-west Saudi Arabia. It is difficult to distinguish visually from the Eurasian Magpie (although there is marginally more black plumage on its back), but its call is very different: a loud ‘quaynk-quaynk’ sound.

4. Bahama Nuthatch Sitta insularis

Bahama nuthatch

The Brown-headed Nuthatch Sitta pusilla is a common species throughout much of the southern and eastern parts of the USA, but the much rarer race insularis, now recognised as a distinct species, has a much smaller range, confined as it is to the island of Grand Bahama. Aside from location, it can be distinguished from the Brown-headed Nuthatch but its longer, thinner bill and its darker eyestripe.

5. Comoro Blue Vanga Cyanolanius comorensis

Comoro Blue Vanga

Previously considered a subspecies of the Madagascar Blue Vanga Cyanolanius madagascarinus, this striking shrike-like bird is still reasonably common on Comoros, but ongoing habitat loss and degradation are contributing to its gradual decline.

6. Marsh Antwren Formicivora paludicola

Marsh Antwren

Despite living practically on the doorstep of São Paulo, this species was only discovered in 2004. It occupies an area possibly less than two square kilometres, and has already been lost from two sites in the short time since its discovery. Some of the birds were translocated from one of these sites ahead of the construction of a dam upstream that wiped them out. Talking of South American dams

7. Antioquia Wren Thryophilus sernai

This video from Colombia is called Endemic- Antioquia Wren – Thryophilus sernai – Cauca Valley.

Newly described from north-west Colombia and newly-acquainted to the Red List’s Endangered club, the construction of the Ituango Dam, an embankment dam on the Cauca River, could wipe out over half its known dry forest habitat.

8. Nias Hill Myna Gracula robusta

Nias Hill Myna

This stocky myna, possibly the largest extant member of the starling family, is prized for its talking ability and this has led to its demise. Restricted to the Banyak and Nias islands of Indonesia, wild populations have seemingly been almost entirely wiped out by visiting bird trappers. This freshly-split species was considered extinct in the wild until 2015, when Czech zoologists discovered a new population.

9. Lendu Crombec Sylvietta chapini

Lendu Crombec

Stick in a pin in the most wild, untamed part of the African rainforests you can find on a map, and you will have stuck a pin right through last known whereabouts of this elusive warbler. It is known only from three specimens taken in montane vegetation on the ultra-remote Lendu Plateau in Democratic Republic of Congo. Some habitat still remains and the species may still be extant, but civil war prevents us from finding out for sure. Until then, it is officially classified as Critically Endangered.

10. Vampire Ground-finch Geospiza septentrionalis

This video says about itself:

8 February 2010

Vampire finch (Sharp-billed ground finch) feeds on blood of Nazca and Red-footed boobies on Wolf Island in the Galapagos. This is a clip from a video made by Greg Estes called Galapagos: Suited for Survival.

If you’re reading this list last thing at night, then you’re probably going to want to keep the lights on. This bloodthirsty Galapagos finch, endemic to the islands of Wolf and Darwin, was always considered a very distinct subspecies of the Sharp-beaked Ground-finch Geospiza difficilis, not least because of its rather ghoulish feeding habits. This aptly-named species occasionally pecks at the skin of other birds, such as boobies, until a wound opens so it can drink its victim’s blood. It is believed the Vampire Ground-finch developed its taste for blood to compensate for the scarcity of resources on the arid islands it calls home.

Biology and conservation, good and bad news


This video says about itself:

24 August 2016

Scientists have discovered these incredible new species of all kinds of creatures.

8. Two New Species of Ant

The two new species were discovered living in New Guinea and have gained quite the attention from fans of the popular tv show Game of Thrones. The new ants were named after the Mother of Dragons’ own two dragons Viserion and Drogon. Scientists went with the names because the ants come equipped with spines that resemble that of the two dragons, though the similarities stop at the name. Scientists initially believed that the spines served as a defensive mechanism but 3D imaging showed that the spines were actually made up of muscle fibers that were all connected to the ant’s large head.

7. A New Species of Spider

This recently discovered species of ray spider was found back in 2014 by an arachnologist who works at the California Academy of Sciences. What’s incredibly fascinating about ray spiders as a whole is that they aren’t classified as filter feeders. According to Charles Griswold who works at the Academy, ray spiders create a web like most regular spiders do but instead they use their web as a sort of net. They pull their web into a cone shape and wait for their next meal to come along. Once in range, the spider launches their net and catches the unfortunate prey.

6. A New Species of Frog

This newly discovered frog acquired its name from a legendary creature that lives in the rainforest called the mapinguari. Dart Frogs are famously known as some of the most venomous creatures on earth, yet, this frog isn’t poisonous at all. Dendropsophus mapinguari is the scientific name and the herpetologist who found it named it this in honor of the region’s culture, This species of frog is colored bright yellow and can be found in the Amazon jungle in Brazil.

5. A New Species of Viper

This new species of viper was believed to be part of the same species as another already identified snake. However, researchers finally figured out that the viper itself was actually a completely separate species. The new Talamancan palm-pitviper can only be found in northern and the central Cordillera de Talamanca, which is the mountain range that lies on the border of Panama and Costa Rica.The snake only grows to be about less than 24 inches and can be identified by its black and bright green color pattern and their fascinating venom with special neurotoxins.

4. A New Species of Sea Slug

This mysterious mass of purple glob was discovered late last month on July 28 when the research crew aboard the E/V Nautilus spotted the creature just off the coast of California. They obtained the aquatic animal by using a suction device on a remote controlled vehicle to capture and further examine it on the ship. Susan Poulton, a spokesperson for the ship, believes that this could be some new species of sea slug as there are no known sea slugs with this color, though further study is required.

3. A New Species of Boa

Finding a new species of snake is considered very rare which is why scientists are quite excited about this find. The snake is a species of boa that was discovered on Conception Island of the Southern Bahamas that is known for being uninhabited. The boa is silver in color and gives off a shine like metal. It’s believed that only around a 1,000 of these creatures are living on the island. It lives off a diet of birds as it dwells in the treetops and there is a strong possibility that this species could become extinct due to the feral cats that hunt it.

2. A New Species of Giant Tortoise

Found on the Galápagos Islands of Ecuador, these giant tortoises might look familiar to the ones that already exist on the [Santa Cruz] island but rest assured this is a whole new species of tortoise. This species was found living on the eastern side of the island. It’s been estimated that there are only around 250 of these tortoises left. With this new discovery now comes the conservation efforts to help conserve the species. The scientific name for this species comes from Don Fausto, a park ranger who worked to help conserve them.

1. A New Species of River Dolphin

The Araguaian boto is a river dolphin that can be located in the middle and lower regions of the Araguaia River from Barra do Garças all the way to the Santa Isabel rapids. It was first discovered back in 2014, but it should be noted that technically the Society for Marine Mammalogy does not recognize this dolphin as a new species due to the examination of only two bodies of this species.

From BirdLife:

6 things you might have missed from the 2016 Red List

By Alex Dale, 14 Dec 2016

Tales of parrots in peril and giraffes in jeopardy dominated the headlines when the 2016 edition of the Red List was published last week.

But while the plight of world-famous species inevitably catches the media’s eye, there are many other interesting and quirky stories that end up falling under the radar. This is an unavoidable consequence of the Red List’s wide remit, with its researchers assessing tens of thousands of animal and plant species every year – from monkeys to mangos and everything in-between.

Below, we round-up some of the important bird-related news that may have passed you by during the initial media frenzy.

1. We now have over 700 new bird species

BirdLife is responsible for assessing the threat status of all bird species on behalf of the IUCN Red List. To perform this duty, we need to know, first and foremost, exactly how many species of birds there are in the world.

To help us better understand avian biodiversity, our science team recently completed a rigorous taxonomic review of all the world’s birds, comparing biometrics, plumage, vocalisations, ecology, behaviour, geographical relationships and genetics, to determine which subspecies were, in fact, fully-fledged species of their own.

The results were eye-opening: it turns out we had grossly underestimated avian biodiversity. Over 1,000 ‘new’ species were recognised over the course of this two-part review, 742 of which were announced as part of this year’s Red List (the rest having already been revealed in 2014).

All 742 of these species are illustrated and described in our upcoming publication, Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World Volume 2.

This 2014 video, in Spanish, is about the Gran Canaria blue chaffinch.

2. Europe’s newest songbird is also its rarest

The new information from the taxonomic review allows us to focus on new conservation priorities. For example, we now know that the Gran Canaria Blue Chaffinch Fringilla polatzeki is probably Europe’s rarest passerine.

It was previously lumped with the Tenerife Blue Chaffinch Fringilla teydea. But while the Tenerife species is comparatively healthy (Near Threatened), that on Gran Canaria has seen its preferred pine habitats decimated by forest fires on the island. Today, as few as 240 individuals remain, and this newly recognised species is Endangered. With the Azores Bullfinch Pyrrhula murina showing evidence of recovering, the Gran Canaria Blue Chaffinch likely takes over the mantle of rarest passerine.

This newcomer isn’t Europe’s rarest non-migratory bird, however: that unwanted title remains with Zino’s Petrel Pterodroma madeira, which has a population of fewer than 200 birds, which breed on just six cliff ledges in Madeira.

3. Galapagos has had its first avian extinction

Least vermilion flycatcher

As part of the taxonomic review, our experts also looked at museum specimens of long-gone birds. This led to a situation that perhaps might seem unusual: 13 of the 742 newly-recognised birds are already extinct.

All 13 of these posthumously-recognised species were island endemics who were probably wiped out by invasive species. They include the Marianne White-eye Zosterops semiflavus of the Seychelles, which was wiped out in the 19th Century before the successful measures which have saved a great many of the islands’ other endemic species could be implemented.

Another newly-split species, the glossy red Least Vermilion Flycatcher Pyrocephalus dubius, has the dubious honour of becoming the first avian extinction recorded in the Galapagos. Confined to the island of San Cristóbal, it was discovered during Charles Darwin’s voyage in 1835. Since 1960, invasive plants have replaced a large part of the island’s native vegetation, which in turn led to the decline of this insectivore’s favourite bugs. This, combined with avian pox, bot fly and rats, may have been the last straw – the last reliable sighting was recorded in 1987.

4. One bird has now become 12

Pitta evolution

In the most extreme outcome from our taxonomic review, one species, the Red-bellied Pitta (Pitta erythrogaster) of South-East Asia, has been split into twelve distinct species. They are (deep breath): Red-bellied/Philippine Pitta (Erythropitta erythrogaster), Talaud Pitta (Erythropitta inspeculata), Sangihe Pitta (Erythropitta caeruleitorques), Siau Pitta (Erythropitta palliceps), Sulawesi Pitta (Erythropitta celebensis), North Moluccan Pitta (Erythropitta rufiventris), South Moluccan Pitta (Erythropitta rubrinucha), Papuan Pitta (Erythropitta macklotii), Louisiaide Pitta (Erythropitta meeki), New Britain Pitta (Erythropitta gazellae), Tabar Pitta (Erythropitta splendida) and New Ireland Pitta (Erythropitta novaehibernicae).

The reasons behind this split are explained by BirdLife’s Nigel Collar in an article published on Motherboard/Vice. A 13th species, Sula Pitta Erythropitta dohertyi, had already earlier been split from P. erythogaster, meaning we now have a baker’s dozen of these striking red birds.

5. Even widespread birds are in trouble

This 2013 video is about a rustic bunting singing in Norway.

It’s easy to assume that widespread birds aren’t at risk, but this simply isn’t always the case, as the concerning case of the Rustic Bunting Emberiza rustica illustrates. It breeds in damp coniferous forests all across northern Eurasia, from Norway to Japan, and for years this large range has perhaps led conservationists into a false sense of security about the species’ status. However, new data collated from across its range suggest the species has declined by more than a third since the turn of the century. Factors implicated in its collapse include logging and drainage across its breeding range and agricultural intensification and large-scale trapping for food on its wintering grounds. In response to this alarming decline, the species was uplisted from Least Concern to Vulnerable in the 2016 Red List.

6. It wasn’t all bad news for parrots

This video says about itself:

Footage of a Forbes Parakeet [=Chatham Parakeet] foraging for seeds on the forest floor in “Robin Bush” on Mangere Island (Chatham Islands, New Zealand) in March 2013.

The BirdLife article continues:

In Asia and Africa, demand for the cagebird trade has led to many species of parrots and parakeets being trapped and traded into near-extinction in the wild. But on the Chatham Islands, an archipelago located off the east coast of New Zealand, a charming green parakeet is fighting back against extinction.

The Chatham Parakeet Cyanoramphus forbesi was assessed in the Red List as Endangered for nearly two decades, as it found itself threatened not only by habitat loss and invasive predators, but also from the amorous attentions of a rival parrot.

The islands’ Red-crowned Parakeets Cyanoramphus novaezelandia threatened to hybridise the Chatham Parakeets out of existence by interbreeding with them, but careful and continued management of these threats by local conservation groups has seen the species bounce back to the point where it has now been downlisted from Endangered to Vulnerable.

Thirteen ‘scary’ bird species for Halloween


This video says about itself:

8 February 2010

Vampire finch (Sharp-billed ground finch) feeds on blood of Nazca and Red-footed boobies on Wolf Island in the Galapagos. This is a clip from a video made by Greg Estes called Galapagos: Suited for Survival.

By Alex Dale & Irene Lorenzo, 28 October 2016:

13 birds that aren’t for the faint of heart

The bird family is one of the most beautiful wings of the Animal Kingdom – they can bewitch us with their pretty plumage, or enchant us with morning melodies. But the natural world can also be cruel, and in order to survive in some challenging environments, some birds have had to develop adaptations and behaviours that evoke very different emotions in the hearts of humans.

Below, we give 13 such bird species their moment in the sun. Well, except for the Vampire Ground-finch. She’d rather stay in the shade, thank you very much.

1. Great Grey Shrike

Lanius excubitor

If we have any small animals, birds or toads in the audience, look away now. Famously, shrikes like to impale their prey on thorns, branches or barbed wire, a gruesome display that serves to keep the body steady so the bird can hack away at it with its powerful beak. Or, so it can save it for later – shrikes are known to keep ‘larders’ of impaled prey for when they feel peckish.

This video is about a great grey shrike and other birds.

2. Northern Rockhopper Penguin

Eudyptes moseleyi

Penguins are all friendly and cuddly, right? Not this one! This devil-eyed penguin is not only the smallest of its kind but also the most aggressive. They have been seen fighting over fish, nesting locations and mating partners. Unfortunately, over the last 30 years their populations have been decreasing for reasons they can’t fight: changes in sea temperature and their incidental catch in fisheries are only some of the threats.

This video says about itself:

18 December 2014

Measuring the density of Northern Rockhopper Penguins (Eudyptes moseleyi) on Nightingale Island, Tristan da Cunha. The penguins nest beneath 2m-high tussock grass, so our 20m transects can be a bit of a chore.

The BirdLife article continues:

3. Southern Cassowary

Casuarius casuarius

These large flightless birds come with a fearsome reputation – they turn aggressive when threatened, and are one of just a handful of bird species known to have killed a human. Their powerful kicks are made all the more dangerous by dagger-like spikes on its inner toes. However, the last recorded human death was 1926, so perhaps they should be more scared of us – BirdLife has listed the Southern Cassowary as Vulnerable, as their numbers have plummeted in the last 40 years due to habitat loss, hunting, collisions with motor vehicles and other factors.

This video is called About Cassowaries (Full HD Documentary).

4. Hooded Vulture

Necrosyrtes monachus

With their hunched posture, bald heads and taste for freshly-deceased carrion, vultures carry common perceptions of death, decay and disease. But in truth, vultures are remarkably clean creatures – and in fact, because they are so swift in picking clean carcasses, they actually help control the spread of deadly diseases such as rabies or tuberculosis. Sadly, vultures are currently enduring the fastest bird decline on record – faster even than the Passenger Pigeon or Dodo. Read more on how you can support our work with vultures here.

This video is about hooded vultures in the Gambia.

5. Marabou

Leptoptilos crumenifer

This huge African stork is known to feed on carrion, garbage and if you’re not careful, your camera. TERRIFYING!

This video is called Birds of Uganda – the marabou stork.

6. Common Raven

Corvus corax

From Disney to Edgar Allen Poe, this burly, widespread crow has long been associated with dark omens. But it’s also one of the smartest animals around, capable of using tools and of logical thought, so if this species had any intention of overthrowing us, they would have done so by now.

This video from Britain is called BTO Bird ID – Corvids – Crow, Rook, Raven.

7. White-bellied Go-away-bird

Criniferoides leucogaster

Some say this bird has a loud and distinctive call that sounds like ”Go away! Go away!”. Yes, White-bellied Go-away-bird populations seem to be doing fine but they still need your love – now go away!

This video is called The splendid call of the white bellied go-away bird.

8. Northern Potoo

Nyctibius jamaicensis

Meet the potoos, a funny-looking family of birds that have become an internet sensation thanks to their hilarious expressions. However, sorry to spoil your Halloween party, their population is actually suspected to be in decline owing to ongoing habitat destruction in the Amazon.

This video says about itself:

2 October 2012

The Common Potoo, Northern Potoo and the Great Potoo all live in Costa Rica. These birds fly at night and feed on large insects.

The BirdLife article continues:

9. Shoebill

Balaeniceps rex

This enormous, distinctive stork-like bird stands deathly still in Africa’s swamps, waiting for an unwitting snack, such as a lungfish or baby crocodile, to swim within striking range. Once in its grasp, the Shoebill uses its strong clog-shaped bill to decapitate its prey. When it’s not giving everyone the silent treatment, it makes a call that sounds eerily like machine gun fire.

This video is called Shoebill Stork vs. Lungfish | National Geographic.

10. Hoatzin

Opisthocomus hoazin

Doesn’t look very scary to you? Maybe you want to try getting a little closer. This leaf-gobbling native of South America’s rainforests is also known as the ‘stink bird’, because it – uniquely amongst birds – shares a similar digestive system to cows. Unfortunately for the Hoatzin’s next-door neighbours, it also means it shares a similar smell to cow manure.

This video is called Birds of Peru: Hoatzin.

11. Southern Giant Petrel

Macronectes giganteus

Squid! Krill! Crustaceans! Seal carcasses! Penguin carcasses! Carcasses in general! Is there anything the Giant Petrel won’t eat? Don’t get too close to find out. Also known as the ‘Stinkpot’, this giant bird has a very unique defense mechanism: whenever it feels threatened, it will spit regurgitated food and oil at their opponent. Mad skills!

This video from South Africa is called Southern Giant Petrel rescue | Dyer Island Conservation Trust.

12. Sharp-beaked Ground-finch

Geospiza difficilis

Aww, isn’t it cute? But this diminutive finch has a dark side – it likes to hop onto the back of Red-footed Boobies, peck at their skin until it becomes an open wound, and then drink their blood. This behaviour is only observed in populations on the remote Galapagos islands of Darwin and Wolf, and their macabre diet must be having some kind of effect, because it’s been proposed that these populations be split from their non-bloodthirsty brethren and made a separate, distinct species in the 2016 IUCN Red List. The name of this new bird? Appropriately, the Vampire Ground-finch.

This video is called “Vampires” and Boobies | National Geographic.

13. Chocolate Boobook

Ninox randi

What, you thought you were getting through this list without at least one owl? Not a chance. One of the 34 species of Boobook in the world, the Near Threatened Chocolate Boobook is endemic to the Philippines. Like other owls, it feeds on insects, small mammals and reptiles. Like other owls, it’s mainly active at night. But do other owls have such a cool name? Thought not.

Chocolate boobook

Attenborough on Darwin and the Galapagos


This June 2016 video says about itself:

Charles Darwin‘s Galapagos Discovery – #Attenborough90BBC

Sir David retreads Charles Darwin’s footsteps to follow how he made the discovery of evolution on the Galapagos Islands.

See also here.

New Galapagos giant tortoise species discovery


This video says about itself:

New species of giant tortoise discovered in Galapagos

23 October 2015

The new species is named “Chelonoidis donfaustoi” after a retiring park ranger and is also known as the Eastern Santa Cruz tortoise, lives on the eastern side of the island and is genetically different from tortoises on other islands.

From Wildlife Extra:

New species of giant tortoise discovered in the Galapagos Archipelago

Scientists have discovered there are two species of giant tortoises, not just one, living on the island of Santa Cruz in the centre of the Galapagos Archipelago.

There are two populations of giant tortoises on the island: a large population on the west side in an area known as the “Reserve” and another on the lower eastern slopes around a hill named Cerro Fatal. It was previously believed that group of 250 or so giant tortoises living on the east of the island were the same species as those living on the west, but genetic testing have now proved they are two different species.

“This is a small and isolated group of tortoises that never attracted much attention from biologists previously,” said Dr. James Gibbs, from the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, New York. “But we now know that they are as distinct as any species of tortoise in the archipelago. Their discovery and formal description will help these tortoises receive the scientific and management attention they need to fully recover.”

The new species has been named Eastern Santa Cruz Tortoise (Chelonoidis donfaustoi) in honour of a longtime Galapagos National Park ranger who spent decades developing methods still used today for breeding endangered tortoises. His name is Fausto Llerena Sánchez, known to his friends and colleagues as Don Fausto.

Don Fausto dedicated 43 years (1971-2014) to giant tortoise conservation as a park ranger for the Galapagos National Park Directorate. He was the primary caretaker at the Tortoise Breeding and Rearing Center on Santa Cruz, which now bears his name. The restoration of several tortoise populations is due in part to Don Fausto’s dedication and efforts.

“It’s to honour Don Fausto for all his dedication and hard work,” Gibbs said. “He devoted his life to saving many critically endangered tortoises through captive breeding. It isn’t easy to breed tortoises in captivity. He didn’t have many resources or much guidance. He figured it out through patient observation, great creativity and intelligence, and tremendous resourcefulness.”

Giant tortoises have been among the most devastated of all Galapagos creatures because of human exploitation, introduced species and habitat degradation. The Giant Tortoise Restoration Initiative is a collaborative project of the Galapagos National Park Directorate, Galapagos Conservancy, Caccone’s group at Yale University and others that works toward the long-term restoration of all Galapagos tortoise populations.

Baby Tortoises Show Up In The Galapagos Islands For The First Time In 100 Years. Read more here.