Thursday, December 22, 2011

Hummingbird in the hand...

Original post from Big Bend Birds & Nature.

This bird was not found banded but the process is too interesting to resist posting here!


Allen's Hummingbird (Selasphorus sasin) vs. Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus)

Most Rufous Hummingbirds have at least some green flecks on their backs at some point of growing up. Some lose them by the time of adulthood. Some keep or gain more into a "green-backed" Rufous Hummingbird status.

It's this green-backed Rufous Hummingbird that is near identical to the adult Allen's Hummingbird, a bird that always has a green back.

Where ranges overlap, it can be difficult or impossible to separate the two other than having the bird in-the-hand. As time marches on, there are those who are learned enough in their bird observing, field-work and/or region they live in that can tell the difference between the two without it in-hand. Others atleast have experienced leanings toward one species ID or another. The advent of high-shutter speed digital photography has helped, too.

There was an effort today to capture two green-backed Selasphorus species hummingbird.

We caught one. One person in the party is long-timed permitted to do this.

Allen's Hummingbird , Marathon, Brewster Co., TX. A location where migration routes do overlap.

Some diagnostics:

One way out of the hand to get a strong hunch is this:

Hatch-year (HY), birds hatched this calender year (have a mixed audience reading), Allen's Hummingbird male develop their full gorget earlier than do Rufous.

This HY male Allen's is well on his way.

By the way, HY hummingbirds have corrugations or wrinkles/grooves running alongside their bills. After-HY birds typically lack them completely or they are almost gone.

That's what Kelly is looking at in the above pic.

This HY bird (and us for that matter) is all the way into the month of December. It's lost some its older feathers, though has some left.

Check out the primary feathers of one of his wings:

It has new secondary feathers. It also has new primary feathers except for the outer-most 3 (P7-9). More brown in color and certainly more worn on the edges. He's growing up.

Also, his tail still has some old pin feathers amidst newer adult tailfeathers.

Moving from age-characteristics of humming birds back to species specific characteristics making this an Allen's Hummingbird, and not a green-backed Rufous Hummingbird...

These two species have 10 tail-feathers or retrices. There are five on the left and five on the right. The innermost are both labeled tailfeather number 1 (or R1). So from the innermost two tail-feathers, our R-1's, we count outward; R-2, R-3, R-4, R-5.

In the above photo, those two thickest feathers by his index finger are the R-1 tail-feathers.

R-2 feathers on a Rufous Hummingbird has a notch in it.

R-2 feathers on an Allen's does not.
No notch here.

All the tail-feathers in each sex and age-class are narrower in Allen's compared to Rufous.

This become more acutely apparent in R-5. The outermost tail feathers. They are narrower in Allen's Hummingbirds.

Again, no notch in R-2, and check out the narrower outermost tail-feathers. Somewhere we can dig up a photo of the tail of both species side-by-side. I'll edit that in, in the future, perhaps.

Anyways, as is standard procedure in avian fieldword various physical measures were taken.

This is wing chord length:

Chord length is a measurement taken when a bird's wing is bent at around a 90 degree angle (sort of as if it were at rest). The length from the "wrist" to the longest primary wing tip is taken.
Check out his new band on his right leg. Tiny.
I've worked with band sizes from albatross, sulids, shearwaters, noddies, terns, warblers, vireos, shrikes, and others. The band size for a hummingbird is amazing!

Measuring tail length:

Width of the outer tail feather:

After various other morphological data taken, this HY male Allen's Hummingbird with a healthy weight was released ... with a bad auto-focus..

Another far-West Texas Allen's Hummingbird. This is the latest calender date that Kelly has banded an Allen's. Kelly's been doing this for a long time. (Edit: click here for his site and research on West Texas Hummingbirds!)

**He later banded an Allen's Hummingbird this afternoon at a friend's place in Alpine.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Whimbrels in the news



As part of an international effort to map shorebird migration, Whimbrels on the Eastern Shore in Virginia have recently been fitted with satellite tracking devices. Some of these birds have been tracked for years. This is a project previously brought to the attention of E-bulletin readers, most recently in July when we described the remarkable international journey of one of these birds, a Whimbrel named “Hope”:

Two other Whimbrels, a female named “Machi” and a male named “Goshen,” have also been tracked for several years. Last month, both Machi and Goshen landed on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, after first having successfully navigated their way through or around Tropical Storm Maria and Hurricane Irene, respectively. Although they were not migrating together, both stopped at Guadeloupe after encountering the two different storm systems. Then, on the morning of 12 September, both satellite-tracked birds were shot by hunters at two different wetlands in Guadeloupe. Not surprisingly, the loss of these two individuals on the same day and on the same island quickly raised international concerns from birders and conservationists over the vulnerability of migratory shorebirds throughout the Caribbean and the need for increased protection.

According to the United States Shorebird Conservation Plan, 28 of North America’s 57 shorebird species are now considered highly imperiled or of high conservation concern in the U.S. Among these species, population information suggests that Whimbrels may have declined by as much as 50 percent over the last several decades. Hunting and habitat loss are among the leading causes for this decline. These factors are exacerbated during migration following severe storms, when large numbers of shorebirds are sometimes forced to land at often restricted Caribbean stopover sites. Guadeloupe, Martinique, and Barbados are specifically islands where limited natural or artificial wetlands (created to attract migrant shorebirds for sport shooting) during fall migration account for tens of thousands of shorebirds getting shot annually.

Fortunately, there has been some recent progress to change this activity on Barbados, a story the E-bulletin highlighted in July 2009

While hunters and bird conservationists on many of the islands from the Bahamas to Barbados have formed partnerships to support wiser use of hunted species and their habitats, adequate conservation regulations still seem to be lacking.

Over many decades, the International Migratory Bird Treaty (IMBT) has protected many bird species that migrate across international borders. Unfortunately neither Guadeloupe nor Martinique which are operated as French overseas departments is party to this Treaty. More importantly, birds which are protected in the French overseas departments do not benefit from the same level of protection that exists in metropolitan France. The European Directives of Birds and Habitats, pillars of conservation of nature in Europe, do not apply to these territories. Barbados, once a British colony and now an independent state, is also not party to the IMBT.

These factors complicate matters considerably.

While birds are falling between the cracks of regulation and enforcement, bird-conservation organizations across the Americas, including the Society for the Conservation and Study of Caribbean Birds (SCSCB), are calling for action to increase shorebird protection in the French West Indies. NGOs in France, Guadeloupe, French Guiana, and Martinique have called for examining a number of options, including the need for the following:
– updating the standing of hunted species, notably shorebirds, according to their population status;
– adapting the hunting season to forbid hunting during periods of reproduction, dependence, and prenuptial migration;
– limiting the number of days of hunting and bag limits;
– limiting the use of lead in wetland zones.

Lisa Sorenson, President of SCSCB commented, “This event has quickly raised awareness of the issue of shorebird hunting and the need for updated hunting regulations in the French West Indies in a way that was not possible previously. We are optimistic that better hunting laws and other shorebird conservation measures will come out of this experience.” (Those interested in writing to decision-makers in the Caribbean, with an emphasis on the French West Indies, can contact Lisa Sorenson for some guidance at: )

To obtain further information, visit:


Monday, October 3, 2011

More Whimbrel love!

This time from NPR: The Toughest Little Bird You've Never Heard Of

I'd lump it in with the previous few posts on Atlantic migrating Whimbrels, but these are the Pacific ones with a very different story than their Atlantic brethren. Basically instead of having a cushy (or deadly) stopover spot in the Bahamas, the west coast critters go straight from Alaska to New Zealand, though some go to Australia. NPR's page has a great tracking map, definitely worth a peek!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Whimbrel down

Goshen, a shorebird tracked by scientists, becomes second study bird to be lost on Guadeloupe

Unfortunately, large birds are often hunted outside of the US; tracking birds tells us not only about migration routes but also the unfortunate pressures they face. Goshen was a Whimbrel, but even American White Pelicans become food. (Follow-up to American White Pelican post is here)

Friday, August 26, 2011

Whimbrel vs. Hurricane Irene

Here's a great 3 page pdf on a Whimbrel (named Chinquapin) that has skirted Hurricane Irene on a four-day non-stop flight:
click for the pdf

Update: now there's a non-pdf link!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Banded Osprey sightings

From the Texas wildlife rehab list:

Banded Osprey sightings

PLEASE REPORT SIGHTINGS - We banded reintroduced ospreys with blue, green and orange color bands with alpha-numeric codes during a project in southeastern South Dakota from 2004-2010. Please report sightings of birds with these color bands and codes, if possible, to EILEEN DOWD STUKEL, SD Game, Fish and Parks (EM:eileen.dowdstukel/at/ us; PH 605-773-4229) .

Friday, July 8, 2011

Flier for reporting banded birds!

***a note about a note about a flier!

Subject: Banded Birds
From: Brent Ortego
Date: Fri, 8 Jul 2011 14:17:27 -0500

We get several requests per year about where to report banded shorebirds. Researchers need your help logging the distribution of their research birds. The link below will send you to a website which has much more information.

Good Birding
Brent Ortego
Victoria, TX

Greetings All,

Attached is a pdf of outreach flyers developed for by Defenders of Wildlife. Many thanks to the Defenders staff for this production. In addition to producing the flyers, Caroline Kennedy will also be putting out an alert about the availability of these flyers to Defenders contacts.

One flyer is intended as an Attention Grabber directing observers to for more information. The other flyer has more details and is also appropriate for posting, but can be used for distribution at an event.

These flyers are available for download on on the newly added Flyers page the data reporting part of the website.

Please post anywhere appropriate within your organization and ask your partners to download and post. Use them freely to help increase observations for your projects.



Jeannine Parvin
Database Administrator

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Black-necked Stilts at Anahuac NWR

This was a post on the Texbirds listserv recently; a spot close to my heart and a species that makes black & white look exotic!


Subject: Color-banded black-necked stilts and noteworthy sightings at Anahuac

From: Thomas Riecke (riecket13/Y)
Date: Fri, 24 Jun 2011 15:49:00

Dear Texbirders,

We have started color-banding black-necked stilts on the refuge. Band combos will be orange over aluminum over blue/red/or green (male/female/hatch year)on the right leg, and a unique combination of three color-bands on the left leg. We expect to band several hundred birds this summer and early fall. I would greatly appreciate any observers who resight marked individuals to report them by phone AT (214) 384-8085 or by email at riecket AT Phone is preferred as internet access is spotty in the field. GPS coordinates would be amazing, but even a general description of the location will be more than acceptable.

In other news, Kelli Haskett and I had black rail along Frozen Point Rd. (at
the 90 degree left hand before the long straightaway that leads to the kayak
launch on the bay) while conducting frog surveys early Thursday morning, and
Steve McDowell and I had a pair of least grebes are nest-building on one of the
moist soil units on the East Unit (closed to the public).


Friday, June 17, 2011

Laysan Albatross - two moms for some chicks

Here's the link to Science Daily's article: Laysan Albatross Employs 'Dual Mommies' I realize it's not even particularly banding related, but it's still fantastic bird research!

On the island of Oahu, in Hawaii, 31% of nests are female-female pairs. Female pairs raise fewer chicks than male-female pairs, but given the shortage of males, fewer chicks are better than none. Since albatross can only raise one chick each year, females stay together for multiple years for each to reproduce.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Piping Plovers!

This quick exchange was sent to me (by request); I've shuffled the order so it's in chronological order and a bit easier to read. What a fast response, even if official location is still pending!

> Sent: Tuesday, April 26, 2011 8:15 PM
> Subject: Banded Piping Plovers
> I observed several Piping Plovers today on Mustang Island, TX, USA just south of Mustang Island State Park at Corpus Christi Pass.
> There were at least two banded Piping Plovers.
> I put photos of the birds in the above album. There are several photos of each bird.
> They were foraging on the wet sand spits.
> Linda Gail Price
> Longview, Texas
> Pineywoods

> Date: April 26, 2011 10:40:01 PM CDT
> Subject: RE: Banded Piping Plovers
> Linda- Much appreciated!
> It looks as if they have dark green flags (colour bands that stick out for the leg) as well as normal colour bands, so they will have been banded by Virginia Tech in Texas or along the Missouri River, SD. I've forwarded your message to them - they should be able to get back to you with more information about the birds.
> Thanks for sending them in!
> Cheri
> Dr. C. L. Gratto-Trevor
> Research Scientist Shorebirds
> Prairie and Northern Wildlife Research Centre
> Wildlife and Landscape Science Directorate
> Science and Technology Branch
> Environment Canada
> 115 Perimeter Road
> Saskatoon, SK S7N 0X4 Canada
> Telephone 306-975-6128
> Facsimile 306-975-4089
> Government of Canada

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A Whimbrel named Hope



Also on the subject of shorebirds and their migrations, it may be particularly instructive to follow the travels of just a single Whimbrel, a bird nicknamed “Hope.”

Hope is a female Whimbrel that was captured in Virginia on the southern Delmarva Peninsula on 19 May 2009. There, she was banded and fitted with a satellite transmitter. Since then, Hope has logged more than 21,000 miles (33,000 kilometers), flying between a remote Canadian breeding territory on the MacKenzie River (an IBA site, by the way) near Alaska and a comfortable winter territory on St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands!

Last month, on 8 April, Hope returned to Virginia following a 75-hour, 1,850-mile (2,900 kilometer) flight over the Atlantic Ocean. For more details and to see a fascinating route map showing Hope’s journeys, see here:

Friday, April 15, 2011

Ross's Goose seen in OH then MI

From Julie A. Craves of the Rouge River Bird Observatory - a Ross's Goose in Michigan that was also seen in Ohio!

The two links: first with general ID and photos, second with map
New for Dearborn: Ross's Goose
Update on Ross's Goose

This is a fantastic combination of sightings on one bird, kudos to Joe Hildreth for making the connection re: bands!

According to the posts, the bird was banded as a wee nestling in 2006 in Canada, seen in Ohio this March, and made the Michigan appearance in April... not a bad record of a bird on the move!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Request for Godwit and Whimbrel reports

Just spreading the word!


Please Report Color-flagged Hudsonian Godwits and Whimbrels

Since 2007, we have attached uniquely numbered/lettered, red color-flags to 790 Godwits and 355 Whimbrels on ChiloĆ© Island, Chile. Godwits or Whimbrels have also been flagged in Alaska, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Manitoba, and Virginia. If you see any of these flagged birds, please submit your observations to On this site, there are instructions on how to read and report color-flagged birds, and you can click on “Report Resighting” to enter your observations. By using this site, to report one of our flagged godwits or whimbrels, you will immediately know where and when it was banded.

Banding projects to study migratory shorebirds that make epic hemispheric journeys have been underway since the mid 1990’s. In recent years, the birds have been tagged with engraved markers allowing identification of individuals with spotting scopes. The combination of banding and resighting data allows greater understanding of the habitat uses and needs by imperiled species. With this understanding comes the hope of achieving the protective actions required to halt, and even reverse, the population decline exhibited by many shorebird species.

For more information on the Hudsonian Godwit and Whimbrel project in Chile, contact Brad Andres (; 303-275-2324) or Jim Johnson (; 907-786-3423).

Thanks in advance for the assistance.

Brent Ortego
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
Victoria, TX

Friday, March 25, 2011

Canadian plover conundrum

A friend of mine, a Michigan plover biologist, posted a rather interesting saga of a one-legged plover: click here to go to The Birding Life blog.

It is an interesting issue - a plover that hasn't migrated in spite of the lateness of season, an endangered bird that would not survive if left alone, but one that would not be releasable by the time warmer weather rolled around. Thankfully at least it's not unheard of to keep plovers alive in captivity...

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Piping Plovers return to Canda

Beach Birds - from On Nature magazine

The Piping Plover is small, specialized and finally returning to its former Canadian range with much help from Michigan efforts... but unless wintering grounds see a decline in similar pressures, the population is still facing precarious challenges.

Oh, yes, and color bands, leg bands and good interviews with biologists are included!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Tsunami spares old albatross

Shared via the Texas Wildlife Rehabilitation group:

"Thousands of seabirds were killed at Midway when the tsunami generated by the March 11 Japanese offshore quake struck the U.S. Pacific atoll, northwest of Hawaii.

Among the fatalities drowned or buried under debris were at least 1,000 adult and adolescent Laysan albatrosses.

But Wisdom, the 60-year-old Laysan mother highlighted in Earthweek last week as the oldest known wild bird in the United States, survived.

Wildlife biologist John Klavitter of the Fish and Wildlife Service tells Earthweek that Wisdom and her mate were aloft when the wave struck, and almost certainly were unaffected.

Their nest and chick were also spared from the waves, up to 5 feet high, due to their location on one of the higher elevations of Midway’s Sand Island."

http://www.earthwee ew110318/ ew110318a. html

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

60 years old and raising young

This is another fantastic example of how we know some of what we know: America's oldest wild bird is a new mom

Laysan Albatrosses are fantastic examples of fragility, of all things - since they have such a low reproductive rate, they're quite susceptible to environmental interference (plastic, long-line fishing, etc).

The bird was first identified and banded by a USGS researcher in 1956 when she was incubating an egg, according to the USGS. As the Laysan albatross can't breed before age 5 – and spends much of its life before that at sea – scientists estimate Wisdom is at least 60 years old. She may be even older, though, as most Laysan albatrosses don't breed until age 8 or 9 after an extended courtship, according to the USGS.


And this, from a wildlife rehab list, source uncited:

MIDWAY ATOLL — The oldest known U.S. wild bird – a coyly conservative 60 -- is a new mother.

The bird, a Laysan albatross named Wisdom, was spotted a few weeks ago with a chick by John Klavitter, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist and the deputy manager of the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge.

The bird has sported and worn out 5 bird bands since she was first banded by U.S. Geological Survey scientist Chandler Robbins in 1956 as she incubated an egg. Chandler rediscovered Wisdom in 2001. In 1956, he estimated Wisdom to be at least 5 years old then since this is the earliest age at which these birds breed, though they more typically breed at 8 or 9 after an involved courtship lasting several years. This means, of course, that Wisdom is likely to be in her early sixties.
There must be something to all that fish oil she consumes because Wisdom does not look her age (see photo below).

“She looks great,” said Bruce Peterjohn, the chief of the North American Bird Banding Program at the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, Md. “And she is now the oldest wild bird documented in the 90-year history of our USGS-FWS and Canadian bird banding program,” he added. “To know that she can still successfully raise young at age 60-plus, that is beyond words. While the process of banding a bird has not changed greatly during the past century, the information provided by birds marked with a simple numbered metal band has transformed our knowledge of birds.”

Wisdom, Peterjohn said, has likely raised at least 30 to 35 chicks during her breeding life, though the number may well be higher because experienced parents tend to be better parents than younger breeders. Albatross lay only one egg a year, but it takes much of a year to incubate and raise the chick. After years in which they have successfully raised and fledged a chick – which on Midway is about two-thirds of the time – the parents may take the occasional next year off from parenting. Klavitter said that Wisdom also nested in 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2010.

And since adult albatross mate for life, with both parents raising the young, it makes one wonder if Wisdom has had the same partner all these years or not.

Almost as amazing as being a parent at 60 is the number of miles this bird has likely logged – about 50,000 miles a year as an adult – which means that Wisdom has flown at least 2 to 3 million miles since she was first banded. Or, to put it another way, that’s 4 to 6 trips from the Earth to the Moon and back again with plenty of miles to spare.

One reason for all these miles is that Laysan albatross spend the first 3 to 5 years after fledging at sea, never touching land. Then they return to breed in the northwestern Hawaiian Island chain but some of their feeding grounds are actually off the coast of western North America, including the Gulf of Alaska. The parents tend to feed closer to the islands where their nests are when the chicks are very young, but they regularly commute to the northern Pacific Ocean and even the Gulf of Alaska when the chicks are older or when the adults are incubating. They convert the fish eggs and squid oil they eat into a rich, oily liquid, which they regurgitate and feed to their chick.

In the non-breeding part of the year, albatross do not touch land -- the birds, scientists believe, often even sleep while flying over the ocean.

Peterjohn noted that Wisdom’s remarkable record is just one example of the valuable data provided by bird banding. In addition to establishing longevity records for birds, banding data from the North American Bird Banding Program documents migratory patterns, provides critical harvest and survival information used to manage populations of migratory game birds, and supports research activities on many issues from toxicology to disease transmission and behavior. Since 1920, approximately 64.5 million birds have been banded by this Interior Department-Canadian Wildlife Service program, and of those, nearly 4.5 million bands have been recovered.

About albatross
Albatross are legendary birds for many reasons – in Samuel Coleridge’s poem, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” a sailor has to wear an albatross around his neck as punishment for killing the bird. According to seafaring legends, albatross are the souls of lost sailors and should not be killed. However, as reported by James Cook, sailors regularly killed and ate albatross.

Albatross are remarkable fliers who travel thousands of miles on wind currents without ever flapping their wings. They do this by angling their 6-foot wings to adjust for wind currents and varying air speeds above the water.
Nineteen of 21 species of albatross are threatened with extinction, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Present threats to the birds include lead poisoning of chicks on Midway from lead paint used in previous decades; longline fishing, where the birds are inadvertently hooked and drowned, though conservation groups have banded with fishermen and dramatically lowered the number of deaths from this cause; and pollution, especially from garbage floating on the ocean.

The birds ingest large amounts of marine debris – by some estimates 5 tons of plastic are unknowingly fed to albatross chicks each year by their parents. Although the plastic may not kill the chicks directly, it reduces their food intake, which leads to dehydration and most likely lessens their chance of survival. In addition, albatross are threatened by invasive species such as rats and wild cats, which prey on chicks, nesting adults and eggs. Albatross evolved on islands where land mammals were absent, so have no defenses against them.

Photos for this release:
Visit: for all available photos.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

one of the oldest Bald Eagles...

Band confirms dead eagle as 1 of Alaska's oldest

In captivity, Bald Eagles can live nearly as long as humans. In the wild, the average life span is less than half of what it is in captivity. So it's interesting to see that one of the oldest known wild Bald Eagles in North America would be electrocuted at the ripe age of 25.

From the article:
"Once they reach that full adult stage - white head, brown body, white tail - you don't have any idea how old they are," said Steve Lewis, coordinator of raptor management for the Alaska region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The oldest eagle in the country was a 32-year-old bird from Maine. Alaska's oldest documented eagle was a 28-year-old from the Chilkat Valley outside Haines. Lewis suspects most eagles don't approach three decades but proving that with leg bands can be haphazard.

"Banding is one of these things, you put a lot of effort into it and you get little return, but the returns you get are really interesting," he said.

From Anchorage Daily News

Friday, February 25, 2011

Golden Eagles and wind farms

I had these links in a draft tucked away sometime in December; apologies for the delay! It's incredibly important to have bird patterns monitored in cases like this, where wind farm development can be modified and bird patterns.

Tracking Golden Eagles via satellite - Eat More Cookies

Tracking Golden Eagles by Satellite; Impact of Large-Scale Wind Farms Studied - Science Daily

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine's Cranes

On a somewhat romantic note, this from Sacramento:
Sandhill Cranes are in it for the long haul

A banded pair of Sandhill Cranes has been tracked since the late 1980s, from rearing offspring to migrating and courting; and not too anthropomorphic, all things considered! Except for the first few lines, anyway. From the article:

Wing to wing, Softie and Sweetie have seen it all, from those exhausting 600-mile flights to Oregon in spring to those chilly nights near Sacramento standing in water 4 inches deep to avoid being gobbled up by coyotes or roughed up by raccoons.

Whatever the bond and no matter the explanation, these two sandhill cranes – majestic and wise and possessing an uncanny number of human traits – have been flying, feeding, parenting and chortling when need be since at least 1987, when a federal researcher trapped them and attached ID bands to their legs.

I certainly mean no offense to those who named the birds, but my hamsters in 4th grade had similar names!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Penguin followup - NPR link

From the AOL Birding Community newsletter:

Bands attached to penguins’ flippers have helped scientists track their movement and migration for 50 years. Now, a new study reports that the seemingly innocuous bands have a significant effect on penguin mortality. Over a decade, flipper-banded penguins produced 39 percent fewer chicks and had a 44 percent lower survival rate, compared with penguins that did not have bands but had microchips inserted under the skin, according to the study, which appears in the journal Nature. That’s because the bands cause drag as penguins swim, and they are unable to gather food as efficiently for themselves or their chicks, said Claire Saraux, the study’s lead author and a biologist at the French National Center for Scientific Research and the University of Strasbourg.
New York Times

A NPR radio show on the subject of bands harming penguins can be heard at:

Thursday, January 20, 2011

When bands are bad...

Penguins tagged by scientists with metal bands 'die more quickly and have fewer chicks'

...what a headline! It seems there's a bit of controversy over band types (for example, single flipper band vs. double flipper band) and whether or not different band materials impact other species in detrimental ways.

The researchers followed 50 banded adult penguins and 50 unbanded birds for 10 years, tracking them with under-the-skin transponders.

Thirty six per cent of the non-banded survived for 10 years, compared to only 20 per cent of the band-wearing birds.

Penguins generally live for around 20 years although King penguins - among the largest penguins at 3ft tall - can live even longer.

The non-banded penguins had 80 chicks, while the banded seabirds produced 47 chicks, a 41 per cent drop.

There's definitely an ethical challenge here - and it's not really in the comments, since most folks aren't familiar with the intimate details of banding - but it remains to be seen whether or not there will be any significant changes in the way King Penguins are studied. Implants may be the most ethical method for now; but it's also important to gather and compare this sort of data so we CAN know what impact banding is having on its subjects.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Colbert Nation meets banded vulture

I try to keep this blog at least mostly scientific... but for the love of witty sarcasm, I present to you:Israeli Vulture Spy

Authorities in Saudi Arabia conclude that a vulture wearing a GPS tag from the Tel Aviv University is an Israeli spy. (02:34)

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Israeli Vulture Spy
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogVideo Archive

See also: Israeli Vulture Spy Declared Innocent By Saudi Arabia

...the world never ceases to amaze me!