Gouldian finches (Erythrura gouldiae) are colorful Australian seed-eating birds that nest in tree holes in the wild or in nest boxes when bred in captivity. Their nests are always dark inside so the nestlings have unusual mouth markings to attract their parents’ attention. Each nestling has:
Four opalescent tubercles at the corners of the gape that reflect a bluish light.
Patterns inside the mouth that guide toward the gullet.
To further attract attention, the nestlings hold up their mouths and rotate their heads as shown in this video of 3-day-old chicks.
The nestlings’ elaborate show may have evolved because …
Gouldians are among the most difficult finches to breed successfully because they are not wonderful parents and have a tendency to abandon both eggs and babies, or even refuse to nest at all. People who raise Gouldians usually keep society finches as well to serve as foster parents for eggs and babies. Societies are marvelous parents and will be happy to foster other species.
Amidst the raging bushfires in Australia there’s a bit of happy news. Wombats are unintentionally saving wildlife.
Wombats are nocturnal marsupials that live in burrows which they dig with their teeth and claws. Specially adapted for their underground life, the female’s pouch where she carries her young faces backward so that dirt doesn’t get into it.
Southern hairy-nosed wombats (Lasiorhinus latifrons) are the smallest of the three wombat species. At 30 inches long and weighing 42 to 71 pounds, their extensive tunnels have many entrances, long “hallways,” several large warrens, and smaller chambers. They are known to share their burrows with other wombats and are tolerant of visits by other species. Southern hairy-nosed wombats live in the fire zone.
Rescuers figured out the importance of wombat burrows when they found healthy, unscathed animals wandering in newly burned areas including small wallabies, echidnas, lizards, skinks and rabbits. As the fires approached, the fleeing animals dove into wombat burrows to shelter safely while the firestorm passed overhead.
Two species that may benefit from the wombat burrows are shown below.
The swamp wallaby (Wallabia bicolor) is common in the bushfire area, measuring 27-30 inches excluding its tail. Rock wallabies are even smaller.
Short-beaked echidnas (Tachyglossus aculeatus) are egg-laying mammals like the platypus that measure 12-18 inches long. They eat ants and termites.
On Monday morning, 20 January 2020, a sparrow-sized songbird, colored like an exotic parrot, showed up at a backyard feeder in suburban Pittsburgh. It happened to choose the backyard of Brian Shema, Operations Director at Audubon Society of Western PA. His Rare Bird Alert immediately attracted a steady stream of birders to see this gorgeous visitor. (If you want to see the bird, instructions are at the bottom of this article.)
Painted buntings (Passerina ciris) are seed-eaters that breed in the coastal Southeast and south central U.S., and spend the winter in Florida, the Caribbean and Central America. Though one occasionally shows up in eastern Pennsylvania this individual is quite out of range in the western part of the state. He’s only the third Allegheny County record.
He’s also extra special because he’s male. Female painted buntings are nice to find but their green color is not so photogenic.
To highlight the male and female difference here’s another male, photographed in Florida by Chuck Tague in 2012. (The border emphasizes that this is not the Pittsburgh bird.)
If you’d like to see him, go to this location pinpointed on eBird’s map. Make sure you stay on the street, don’t walk in anyone’s yard, and park without blocking anything. The house is on a corner lot so you can see the feeders from the street. He was there all day yesterday (Friday 24 Jan). Chances are very good that you’ll find other birders looking at him when you get there.
(photos by Steve Gosser, Wikimedia Commons and Chuck Tague; click on the captions to see the originals)
It was only a matter of time before the highly invasive spotted lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula) made its way to western Pennsylvania but it’s disturbing to learn that it’s so close to Pittsburgh.
On 20 January 2020 the Columbus Dispatch reported that spotted lanternfly egg masses were found at the Norfolk Southern railyard in Conway, PA. They probably arrived by train and are now less than 20 miles from Downtown Pittsburgh and even closer to Ohio.
At this time of year the adult bugs are not active so an egg mass, pictured below, is the only thing they found. The authorities scraped away the egg masses and killed the eggs.
This is bad news anyway. USDA says that spotted lanternflies are the worst invasive species we’ve seen in the United States for 150 years.
Learn how to identify them and see why they’re so awful in the video below.
(photos from bugwood.org; click the captions to see the originals)
Both studies correlated the annual mean summer temperature of the species’ breeding range and reached the same conclusion: As the climate heats up, birds are getting smaller.
We should expect this.
There’s a biological rule of thumb called Bergmann’s Rule which states that, within a species, populations living in colder climates have larger body size than those in warmer climates. Bergmann’s explanation is that large animals have a lower surface-area-to-volume ratio so they lose heat more slowly in cold climates while small animals have a higher surface-to-volume ratio and can cool off faster when it’s hot.
Song sparrows (Melospiza melodia) provide a good example of Bergmann’s rule because they range across North America from Alaska to Newfoundland and south to Mexico. I saw their variability up close in the Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s Section of Birds in December 2016. My photo below shows sparrows collected in Alaska in the top row, sparrows from Pennsylvania on the bottom.
Here’s a closeup placed side by side (below):
On the left, two song sparrows collected in Pennsylvania: Pittsburgh (leftmost) and Geneva Marsh.
On the right, song sparrows collected in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands at Unalaska (leftmost) and Sanak.
Alaskan song sparrows are so large that they have to be placed sideways in the tray!
Smaller size is normal where it’s warmer.
It isn’t bad news for birds and it tells us two additional things:
Birds’ bodies have been registering climate change long before we humans noticed or admitted it.
Today a Quiz. Here are two super sharp photos of plants from very different families. What are they?
Quiz #1: The top photo is a focus stack of 100 images. In real life the image would be 2mm wide so I think it’s been magnified about 80 times. (This one is hard to guess. It helps to squint your eyes to make it look small.)
Quiz #2: The photo below is a focus stack of 70 macro images. What it is?
If you’re desperate for clues, click the links on the captions to view the photo descriptions. Here’s a clue for #2: It’s edible.
Have an idea? Leave a comment with your answer.
p.s. In case you’re curious … Focus stackingis a digital processing technique in which the photographer takes multiple images of the same object at different focal points, then digitally merges the photos to produce a completely in-focus image. The object has to hold still and so does the camera. It requires special software to merge the images.
This video shows how it works.
(photos and video from Wikimedia Commons; click on the captions to see the originals)