Take a mid-winter break with our latest round-up, a “warming” collection of notable bird and conservation news. We've got updates about loons, rediscovered birds, and even a butterfly and frog for good measure
Hawai'i's two endemic seabirds, IUCN-listed Critically Endangered Newell's Shearwater and Endangered Hawaiian Petrel, were recorded in Oahu's mountains after 700 years' absence, thanks to automated acoustic recording devices strategically placed by researchers from Pacific Rim Conservation (an ABC partner). In a study published in The Condor: Ornithological Applications, the researchers describe monitoring 16 Oahu sites, two of which registered Newell's Shearwater, or ‘A'o, calls and another that recorded Hawaiian Petrel, or ‘Ua'u, calls. Repeated recordings at these sites seem to indicate regular visits, renewing hope that these birds — which had been considered locally extinct or extirpated — may breed again someday on Oahu. Read more.
“This new finding represents a glimmer of hope for these species on Oahu, one of the least expected places to find these rare and imperiled seabirds,” says Hannah Nevins, ABC's Seabird Program Director. “This is a great example of the resilience of seabirds and their ability to persist in one of the most populated places [in Hawai'i].
“What was unique to this study was pairing the habitat modeling with exploratory use of acoustic monitoring, a great approach for finding these elusive nocturnal seabirds,” Nevins continues. “This opens the door for future work on other islands where remnant populations of these petrels and shearwaters may exist.”
Renewable energy is vital in the fight against climate change, but wind turbines pose a collision hazard to birds and bats. Based on three peer-reviewed studies, American Bird Conservancy estimates that 1 million birds die annually from collisions with turbines.
Wind facilities also have indirect bird impacts brought on by their construction and presence. Documenting these dangers is challenging. Dr. Bettina Mendel of Kiel University and colleagues recently investigated how loons are being affected by a cluster of wind farms inside and at the edge of a 1,210-square-mile protected marine area in the German North Sea.
The study determined that wind turbines inside or next to the reserve displaced birds from valuable habitat, crowding them into remaining safe areas. The consequences of this displacement likely include increased stress, competition for resources, and, perhaps, increased mortality. Read more.
“They used scientifically rigorous methods to quantify something that concerns many, but that few have been able to document: displacement of birds in response to wind farms,” says Holly Goyert, American Bird Conservancy's Bird Smart Wind Campaign Director. “We tend to worry about individual collisions, but displacement can also have a long-term effect on bird populations.”
Wind energy and birds can coexist, but only if the wind industry adopts bird-smart practices, such as careful study and siting, monitoring, and minimization and mitigation of impacts. Visit the ABC website to learn more about ABC's Bird Smart Wind Energy program.
From the Alagoas Foliage-gleaner to the Po'ouli, last year, a number of species were officially declared extinct after years of not being observed in the wild. Beyond birds, wildlife like the Northern White Rhinoceros are on the verge of vanishing. Earth "is now in the midst of its sixth mass extinction of plants and animals — the sixth wave of extinctions in the past half-billion years," according to the Center for Biological Diversity.
But there is still room for hope. Researchers recently rediscovered birds, including Brazil's Blue-eyed Ground-Dove and the Bahama Nuthatch, which are still hanging on with support from conservation organizations like American Bird Conservancy and its partners. And the Brazilian government plans to reintroduce captive Spix's Macaws — a species considered to be extinct in the wild — next year at the Alliance for Zero Extinction site where they were last found.
ABC is also working on the Hawaiian Islands with partners to protect species like the Maui Parrotbill (Kiwikiu) and Palila, which are threatened by habitat loss and introduced species, including mosquitoes that carry avian pox and malaria, two diseases fatal to most of the islands' native forest birds.
“Hawai'i is the frontlines of the extinction crisis,” says Chris Farmer, ABC Hawai'i Program Director. ”But ABC and our many partners are tirelessly working to stop any additional species from joining this sobering list. This year, we are planning to translocate parrotbills in order to create a second population, and we hope that our work on biotech mosquitoes will break the avian disease cycle in order to save the entire forest bird community.”
Read more from USA Today.
Most people know the Monarch butterfly. Despite its popularity, this migratory species is in dire need of increased conservation efforts, and it is declining on its traditional Mexican wintering grounds. University of Florida Assistant Professor Hannah Vander Zanden and colleagues indicated in a recent study there is an interesting new twist in the eastern Monarch saga: Some monarchs from the Midwest core breeding population now regularly winter in southern Florida, a destination previously thought to be accidental. If further examination supports these initial findings, identifying and protecting additional Monarch reserves in the Sunshine State will be important, since at least some of these eastern butterflies seem to winter outside the “traditional” central Mexican wintering grounds. Read more.
That's not to say there aren't challenges on their breeding grounds:
“Unfortunately, Monarch butterflies are suffering from the same grassland habitat degradation and loss that is causing severe population declines in some of the most common grassland birds, like the Eastern Meadowlark and Northern Bobwhite,” says Jim Giocomo, American Bird Conservancy's (ABC) Oaks and Prairies Joint Venture Coordinator. “ABC is working with partners to help private landowners restore thousands of acres of diverse, native grassland habitat each year, supporting declining populations of Monarchs, other pollinators, and grassland birds through the Grassland Restoration Incentive Program (GRIP).”
For more information about how ABC and other partners support GRIP efforts, see:
Oaks and Prairies Joint Venture: www.opjv.org
Rio Grande Joint Venture: www.rgjv.org
Gulf Coast Joint Venture: www.gcjv.org
What would it feel like to be the last of your species? Believed to be the last of his kind, a Sehuencas Water Frog known as Romeo spent ten years alone at an museum in Bolivia. Finally, though, Romeo has found his Juliet. During a recent expedition, researchers found five more individuals, including two females, and they will be implementing a breeding program that may eventually help boost this rare frog's population.
If it can happen for Romeo, can it happen for the world's 'loneliest' bird? With the recent rediscovery of a female Stresemann's Bristlefront, ABC and other conservation organizations hope that future expeditions will find a flock for this solo bird.
Daniel Lebbin, ABC's Vice President of Threatened Species, says, “ABC and our partners across the hemisphere are working hard to conserve this and other bird species on the brink of extinction, and to make sure other species don't decline to such dangerously low population levels.”
“Although we are relieved that the Stresemann's Bristlefront continues to survive, the species' future remains precarious,” says Amy Upgren, Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE) Program Officer at ABC. “Much more work needs to be done to locate additional individuals and protect additional habitat.”