The Zebra Finches

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Just recently my niece produced a lovey little girl, the most amazing and exhilarating thing that can happen on a given day. The wee one was breech, which means that she was turned in such a way she would never have made it down the birth canal. So, the doctors suggested that my nephew call out to his daughter, coax her into position through the fabrics, skin and membrane. It would have worked if the wee-one was not so zaftig and had a bit more room to maneuver.  Mother and daughter are deliriously happy with each other now that they are physically detached from each other post the needed Cesarean procedure.

So while my niece and nephew were calling to their daughter to move her little-not-so-little body, zebra finches were singing to their eggs to prepare their chicks for  very hot and dry weather. Are the striped birds really preparing to survive global warming already while I have not even managed an energy audit of my house?

 I have no idea how birds possess the kind of knowledge that is needed to weigh all of the  potentials and possibilities, sensing the many what ifs that living in nature requires. And yet somehow, the birds know. Occasionally, we have a chance to absorb an example of this. At what point did the zebra finches decide that it was time to start to sing to their eggs? When was it hot enough that it required a change in their behavior?

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The science of this was released this past week. Take a look for yourself at  BBC’s wrap-up  or the article in the Science  Magazine http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/08/video-zebra-finch-call-prepares-their-eggs-climate-change.

The researchers learned that the parent birds sung to their chicks in order to prepare the babies for the type of development that ensured the best chance of survival. The chicks that had been sung to, did not develop as quickly, were smaller, did not eat as much, all general signs of a conservative development. Normally, these traits would not be viewed as a good thing for survival. Nature would encourage a baby bird to eat as much as it could and grow strong fast, but in an environment of less, that may not be an asset.

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While looking for the science behind this information, several other stories popped up about how birds sing to their eggs for other reasons; again all instructions and preparations. I remember when it became a ‘thing’ to play certain music to your child during the nine months, then there were suggestions of books to read aloud all in prep for the brain, lubricating something that was just developing.

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Birds learn the sounds of their parents while in the egg just as babies do. For the bird it is a matter of survival; the need to learn the sound of the parent voice to differentiate against predators. For a child it is the same. I am constantly amazed at how alike life is for all forms, when it is examined very closely.

Dry and Hot

In our area the summer has been unusually dry and hot. The forecast predicts that the warmer than normal temperatures will continue through late fall. The starlings are flocking together to discuss this information, you may have noticed the large amounts of black birds in your yards recently.

Many of us that feed the birds in our backyards have noticed the alarming rate at which the birds have been consuming seed and suet these summer weeks. Usually, summer feeding is an add-on, meant to satisfy those of us who are addicted to seeing the drama of the birds activities and do not have the flora and fauna to entice them. However it feels more like I am in the middle of a cold, harsh winter. As soon as a feeder empties, the stress level of the birds, in my opinion, seems to increase. Add to that, when the suet cages become depleted and the birdbath runs low, skirmishes develop among the birds.

Why have I become so important in a time of year when I should not be? Of course, I am only speculating to begin with but I have done a little research into what the experts are saying. Dr. David Bird (yes that is his real name) works with Brome company and has been gathering research about the decreasing levels of insects. Researchers are questioning if this is affecting the migrating birds such as hummingbirds, but also birds in general. In the summer months, arthropod-eating birds would normally be consuming almost all of their diet in insects.

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The lack of rain in my area has affected the amount of insects to the degree that anecdotally people report little to no mosquito bites thus far. We are much more aware of how the insects breed; we have better chemicals. The war on insects is ongoing and it is fierce. We are slowly depleting the bird’s source of food because it can be a danger and nuisance for us.  Dr. Bird speculates that migration patterns may change if the insect populations dramatically shift while climate changes are occurring. The birds do not like change, neither do we humans for that matter.

So feed and water those birds this summer. It maybe harder than we think for them to find good nutrition. Also, consider whether of not that pesticide is needed this year after all.

 

The Case of The Bald Ibises

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The Northern Bald Ibis is nearly extinct although it is a symbol of abundance in the golden sands of the Mediterranean. It has always been considered a holy bird with a linage linked to Noah and his ark; as well as Thoth, the scribe of the Greek gods; and featured in the labours of Heracles as written by Herodotus.

This strange, magnificent bird is large,  glossy black bird, 28–31 in long with a 49–53 in wingspan. The plumage is black, with bronze-green and violet iridescence, and there is a wispy ruff on the bird’s hind neck. But the face is dull red, clean shaven and looks as if it would feel like rubber. The males are a bit bigger than the females, or at least have a longer beak. In fact, it is considered more attractive to have a longer redder beak.

 

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The ibis starts breeding at three to five years of age, and pairs for life. The male chooses a nest site, cleans it, and then advertises for a female by waving his crest and giving low rumbling calls. Once the birds have paired, the bond is reinforced through bowing displays. The northern bald ibis lives for an average of 20 to 25 years in captivity (oldest recorded male 37 years, oldest recorded female 30 years). The average age in the wild has been estimated as 10 to 15 years.

Unless there is a war and the birds are shot. Or the ground itself, the very surface of the earth where these birds forage for lizards and vegetation, is contaminated to the point that it is deathly to the birds. Then the lifespan is nil.

Syria keeps it’s Northern Bald Ibises in a very special camp. Turkey rounds up as many as they can each year before the birds ready themselves for migration, moving the birds to enclosures for the season. images.jpg

There are so few Bald Ibises left that each country in this war torn part of the world, protects it’s small contingent of the holy bird of abundance.

Irony upon irony upon irony.

But what of these birds who are meant to soar through the sky, perch on dry cliff edges, wade on the side of the river? As humans we take so much away from our environment and when we try to save what we are in the process of destroying, it is like watching ice cream melt on the sidewalk on a cool day.