Trump’s border xenophobia threatens wildlife

This April 2018 video from the USA says about itself:

How Trump’s border wall would disrupt nature

The environmental impact of border walls, explained.

Read more about the border wall’s effect on wildlife here.

When we talk about the consequences of the proposed wall at the border of the US and Mexico, we usually think in terms of people. But along the political divide are rich pockets of biodiversity, with dwindling populations of species that rely on the ability to move back and forth across the border.

Under the 2005 REAL ID act, the Department of Homeland Security doesn’t have to comply with various environmental laws that might otherwise slow or halt construction in a sensitive area. Laws like the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, the National Environmental Policy Act or the Migratory Bird Treaty Act — none of those apply to border wall construction.

Several parcels of land, including the National Butterfly Center, a state park, and other areas in the federal wildlife refuge system — are still threatened by wall construction. It could still be years before construction starts in some of these areas — but there’s still a lot we don’t know about the full impact of barriers on biodiversity.

From Washington State University in the USA:

Protected habitats near US borders

December 4, 2019

Summary: The clustering of protected habitats in the Americas near international borders makes many iconic, wide-ranging animals physically dependent on good relations between neighboring countries and wildlife-friendly borders.

Resembling an overgrown house cat with black-tipped ears and a stubby tail, the Canada lynx, a native of North America, teeters on the brink of extinction in the U.S. The few lynx that now roam parts of Washington and the mountainous Northwest survive largely because of a network of protected landscapes that crosses the U.S.-Canada border.

Washington State University environmental researchers believe this transboundary landscape provides not only essential habitat for the wild cats but likely also vital connections with larger lynx populations in Canada.

Wildlife cameras set by WSU researchers recently photographed lynx in the Kettle Mountains of far northeast Washington, close to the Canadian border, and more big cats have been spotted in Glacier National Park near the Montana-Canada line.

Lynx, like their forest-dwelling neighbor the grizzly bear, require many miles of connected, undeveloped terrain to survive. According to new research led by Daniel Thornton, assistant professor in WSU’s School of the Environment, such terrain occurs most frequently throughout the Americas near international borders.

This clustering of protected habitats, including national parks and conservation areas, makes many iconic, wide-ranging animals — lynx, grizzlies, jaguars, tapirs and scarlet macaws among them — physically dependent on good relations between neighboring countries and wildlife-friendly borders.

“Because protected areas are more common near international boundaries, cooperation across borders will be key to maintaining large, connected, resilient protected areas for biodiversity conservation,” Thornton said. “And because border regions are so important in this regard, anything that negatively impacts transboundary cooperation between countries or the ability of animals to move across borders — such as increased security and border structures — could be very problematic for species conservation.”

Cross-border cooperation needed to mitigate climate change, other threats

In addition to politically charged border security measures, climate change and other large-scale landscape alterations pose serious threats to wildlife and habitat preservation throughout the Americas.

Writing in Ecological Applications, Thornton and his research collaborators at the University of Florida and Trent University in Ontario, Canada, said their study results indicate “efforts to conserve species and mitigate effects of long-term stressors, like climate change, will be most successful when planning includes neighboring countries.”

The scientists examined the distribution, connectivity, and integrity of protected areas near the borders of 23 countries across North, South and Central America. They found clustering of these primary habitat areas extending approximately 78 miles from the borderlines.

Connectivity of protected areas is especially important for animals to be able to adjust to habitat loss and fragmentation or to shift their ranges as climate changes, the researchers said. Maintaining these landscape networks will grow increasingly critical where forest depletion is taking a toll.

For example, a cross-boundary approach to managing protected areas could be especially beneficial in the highly-threatened Dry/Wet Chaco ecoregion bordering Argentina, Paraguay and Bolivia. Rapid deforestation there is dividing habitats, causing negative impacts on numerous species.

Although international conservation efforts are relatively rare in the Americas, transboundary protected areas are expanding globally, leading to more integrated and large-scale conservation projects among neighboring countries, the researchers said. They noted additional benefits from these projects include promoting climate change resilience, sustainable development across borders, cooperative resource management and peace.

Top 5 North American animals, video

This 3 December 2019 video says about itself:

Bison go head to head in battle, raccoons feed on rock crabs, and polar bears feast on a huge whale carcass in our top 5 North American animals on BBC Earth.

American northern saw-whet owls

This March 2019 video from the USA says about itself:

Injured Owl Rescued | Cute Saw-Whet Owl | Released Back into the Wild

An owl crashed into our window today and was injured. Watch as the injured owl is rescued and then flew around our house.

We thought this was a baby owl, possibly a great horned owl baby, but we found that this is a Northern Saw-Whet Owl, which is the smallest owl in North America. This was an adult owl but it was stunned after smashing into my window and was laying out in the cold snow and looked like it was going to die. The injured owl was rescued by my daughter who placed it into a box in the house, away from predatory cats that live outside (not my cats).

Soon the owl recovered and flew across our living room to another window and then back to another window and landed right next to my cat. It is amazing that my cat was so confused that he did not even try to attack the owl. Our cat was absolutely bewildered and just sat there as the owl flapped its wings and landed ON the cat. We released the owl back to the outdoors and it landed on a table outside. Soon it flew off to a nearby coniferous tree where is sat safely and recovered the rest of the day.

From the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in the USA today:

Meet the Cutest Owls in North America—and the Banders Who Study Them

A Northern Saw-whet Owl could fit in the palm of your hand, but it’s a predator through and through, with a fierce gaze and blazing yellow eyes. For decades these secretive owls were scarcely known at all. Then came Project Owlnet, a grassroots banding program that discovered these tiny mousers are actually quite common and widespread. Author and Owlnet veteran Scott Weidensaul takes you out for a night of banding in our Living Bird story.

Saw-whet Owls in Your Backyard? NestWatch has custom nest box plans just the right size for this little owl (and more than 50 other species, too).

How bald eagles fly, new research

This 2017 video from the USA says about itself:

An American Bald Eagle flies with a GoPro

Jeep is a 5-year-old American Bald Eagle in Apopka, Florida. After losing a talon in 2012, Jeep (named after the “GP” in GoPro) is now rehabilitated and acting as an educational ambassador for the Avian Reconditioning Center in Apopka.

From the University of British Columbia in Canada:

Why are bald eagles such great gliders? It’s all in the wrist

New research helps explain how nature reshapes wings

October 24, 2019

Summary: Birds come in an astounding array of shapes and colors. New research helps explain why bird species with similar flight styles or body sizes don’t have consistent wing shapes. Bird species tend to reshape the range of motion of their wings — rather than wing shape or size itself — as they evolve new ways of flying.

Birds come in an astounding array of shapes and colours. But it’s their physical prowess — like a bald eagle’s incredible ability to soar — that captivates human imagination.

An enduring mystery is why bird species with similar flight styles or body sizes don’t have consistent wing shapes. All hummingbirds, and some species of falcons, hawks, kingfishers and passerines can hover, but the birds have strikingly different morphologies and are only distantly related. Ravens soar like eagles while their look-alike cousins, crows, stick more closely to the ground.

New research in Science Advances helps explain why. Bird species tend to reshape the range of motion of their wings — rather than wing shape or size itself — as they evolve new ways of flying.

“Birds essentially swim through the air — they flex, extend and bend their wings in flight,” explains Vikram Baliga, a researcher at the University of British Columbia and lead author on the paper. “As a bird specializes in a flight style, nature doesn’t appear to reshape the size or shape of the wing as much as it remodels the wing’s range of motion. Much like a swimmer adjusting their stroke.”

Hovering birds, according to the research, are relatively restricted in their ability to extend their elbows, but have a generous capability to move their wrist.

“Hummingbirds basically tuck their elbows in and predominately rely on rapidly swinging their wings at the wrist joint,” says Baliga. “For birds that glide, it’s more about maintaining the position of the limbs to keep steady sail. The most restricted species in our study are the bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocepalus) and the sooty shearwater (Ardenna grisea), both of which frequently soar and glide.”

Baliga and UBC zoologists Douglas Altshuler and Ildiko Szabo categorized 61 species of birds by flight style — from hovering to gliding to soaring. Using samples collected by the UBC Beaty Biodiversity Museum, the researchers manually measured the shape, flexibility and extendibility of each species’ wing. They also built an evolutionary family tree of the birds to then determine how range of motion evolved in the wrists and elbows of bird’s wings.

This work provides insights for drone and aircraft design. Engineers are looking to nature, using bioinspiration to improve flying performance.

“By looking across avian flight diversity, our research has determined one component of how birds use their wings,” says Baliga. “We’re working towards understanding how wings in nature morph during flight so that the knowledge can be applied to unmanned aerial vehicles — particularly in turbulence, wind gusts, or when attacked by aerial predators.

“Evolution has tested a range of wing designs and motions for specific circumstances. Looking at the restrictions that nature places on birds of different sizes and flight styles can help us understand what does and does not work when designing new technology.”

Loon birds and their calls, video

This 1 September 2019 video says about itself:

The eerie calls of Common Loons echo across clear lakes of the northern wilderness. Summer adults are regally patterned in black and white. Listen to the calls of the four other types of North American Loons.

American cowbirds, polygamy and monogamy

This April 2017 video says about itself:

These Birds Trick Others Into Raising Their Gigantic Kids | Today I Learned

In this week’s Today I Learned, National Geographic explorer Luke Powell tells you about some of the worst bird parents out there – brood parasites. These birds don’t build nests, but sneak their eggs into other birds’ nests and fly.

From the University of Illinois College of Liberal Arts & Sciences in the USA:

A closer look at monogamy and polygamy in brood parasitic birds

September 30, 2019

Summary: Researchers have discovered that cowbirds conform to Bateman’s Principle, despite investing no energy into parental care. Surprisingly, 75% of the cowbirds in the system were monogamous. Future research will expand upon these findings and broaden the understanding of how cowbirds might select the nests they parasitize, what role the males could play to assist the females, and why monogamy could be such a benefit.

Researchers at the University of Illinois have shown through a multi-year study that cowbirds (Molothrus ater) conform to Bateman’s Principle, which holds that reproductive success is greater in males than in females when they have more mates. Cowbirds are distinct from 99% of other bird species in that they are brood parasites and lay their eggs in nests of birds of other species for them to raise. The researchers confirm a 70-year old theory that males in this species are more likely than females to have greater variation in the number of offspring they produce.

While Bateman’s Principle has been shown to be accurate in many species, the research team at Illinois wanted to see if this nest parasite parenting style of the cowbird would change the variation of reproductive success between males and females.

To do this, the team placed nestboxes for the host species prothonotary warbler (Protonotaria citrea) in 15 sites across the Cache River watershed in southern Illinois. Between 2007 and 2013, researchers collected DNA from over 1500 adult cowbirds and offspring from the sites and used the software COLONY to evaluate genetic relationships and determine a pedigree structure between adult and young parasites.

“The great part about using this program was that it made it possible for us to create genetic profiles of adults that we weren’t able to catch,” said study co-author Prof. Mark Hauber. “You end up getting these broods that are from the same parents or have one parent in common and you can extrapolate from the data to create genetic profiles of the other ‘virtual’ parent.”

Results from the study indicate that cowbirds do conform to Bateman’s Principle, with males exhibiting greater variance in the number of mates they had and the number of offspring they sired.

“The females clearly had preferences for certain males, which end up siring more offspring. That kind of selection just doesn’t happen in the females, which is what we would expect to see if Bateman’s Principle applies,” said Dr. Wendy Schelsky, the study’s senior-author. “This is supported by the pattern that cowbirds exhibit sexual dichromatism — the sexes look different, in other words. The males are iridescent dark and shiny and sing a complex song, whereas the females are brown and more cryptic.”

However, the data also suggested an unexpected result — approximately 75% of the cowbirds in the system were monogamous for the whole breeding season, despite not providing their offspring with food or other resources. “These birds are emancipated from the costs needing a mate to take care of the young, and yet they are engaging in monogamy. It’s the opposite of what you would predict by theory,” said Hauber.

There are a number of potential explanations for this finding, including benefits that paired males provide females that might not be immediately obvious. “There were a lot of males in the system, so females are not limited by their ability to choose males. Females were the rarer sex in this system, so the fact that they’re monogamous indicates that they receive some sort of benefit from only choosing one male,” Schelsky explained.

“This study is about the discovery of how sexual selection works in systems that are not considered ‘normal’ — in terms of parenting styles, in this case,” added Schelsky. “Our system also gave us the opportunity to be one of the most comprehensive studies providing detailed field data on the number of offspring that are produced each year by female brood parasites. The access that we were able to get with the samples — we were able to genetically profile over 1500 individual cowbirds. It gives us a really good idea of what’s going on with these birds on a larger scale.”

Future research will expand upon these findings and broaden the understanding of how cowbirds might select the nests they parasitize, what role the males could play to assist the females, and why monogamy could be such a benefit.