In September large, dark brown sea ducks swim in rafts off the coast of Maine. When they aren’t resting on the water they dive for mussels and crustaceans or walk up on the rocks to stand among the seaweed.
They vaguely resemble the lead field guide pictures for common eider (Somateria mollissima) but their current plumage is motley and variable. Right now common eiders are in eclipse.
Like many ducks and geese, eiders completely molt their tail and wing feathers after the breeding season, rendering them flightless for 3-4 weeks. Flight is restored in time for fall migration, but then they molt their body feathers. All told the process takes 4+ months.
To see eiders in all their glory watch them in breeding plumage from January to early June.
And you’ll see them fly.
(photos from Wikimedia Commons; click on the captions to see the originals)
Today the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program added more than a dozen fisheries, including the U.S. American lobster fishery, to its “Red List” of seafood because they currently pose risks to the survival of critically endangered North Atlantic right whales. Seafood Watch provides recommendations for seafood buyers based on sustainability criteria. … [Currently] more than 25,000 restaurants, stores, and distributors — including Whole Foods, Blue Apron, HelloFresh, Cheesecake Factory, Compass Group, and ARAMARK — have committed to using Seafood Watch ratings to guide purchasing and menu choices and to avoid red-listed seafood.
Since at least 2001 NOAA Fisheries, which sets rules to protect fisheries and marine wildlife, has known that the second leading human cause of right whale deaths is from entanglement in vertical-hanging fishing gear including gillnets and the ropes of fish and lobster traps.
The ropes and lines become embedded in the skin. The gear snags more gear and prevents the whale from diving or surfacing completely. The whale dies.
Whenever possible rescuers from the Coast Guard and Florida Fish and Wildlife sail out to cut the lines from entangled right whales (photos at top in 2014 and below in 2004) but a portion of rope usually remains with the whale because it’s embedded in a wound.
I hope the impasse ends soon, though it doesn’t affect me personally. My husband is a Fish Frowner — no “fishy” smells at home — so I’ve rarely eaten seafood for 40+ years and, given the choice, I prefer shrimp to lobster. So glad the shrimp red list got solved.
(photos from Wikimedia Commons and via Flickr Creative Commons licensing; click on the captions to see the originals)
Scallops travel by opening and closing their shells but the direction they move seems counterintuitive. They don’t lead with their hinges. Instead the open edge goes first as they use their eyes to guide themselves.
Scallops’ eyes look like bright beads at the shells’ front edge.
Solar-powered GPS tracking devices for birds can be so accurate that researchers can tell the bird’s location to within 100 meters. The devices keep transmitting even if they fall off, so when a beachcomber collected a discarded tag on a beach in Orkney it tracked him too.
Last winter researchers at University of Exeter attached GPS tracking devices to 32 Eurasian oystercatchers (Haematopus ostralegus) in County Dublin, Ireland to find out how the birds use the public lands. This spring one of the oystercatchers migrated to its breeding grounds on Sanday, Orkney Islands, Scotland. Its tag fell off on the beach on 7 April. The tracker kept transmitting.
At the end of May the tracker started moving again. It visited a campsite and a pizza shop, flew from Edinburgh to Heathrow and came to rest on a residential street in Ealing, London. Stuart Bearhop, Professor of Animal Ecology at the University of Exeter’s Centre for Ecology & Conservation, tweeted this plea for the tag’s return.
Twitter can you please help? We have a tag that has fallen off one of @mindtheTrapp‘s oystercatchers. Someone visiting Orkney in the last few days seems to have found it and taken it to London. Can you please RT and/or get in touch if you think you can help us get it back! pic.twitter.com/a2IoXzI02h
“The tags are worth around £1,000 each, so pretty pricey!” said PhD student Steph Trapp who is carrying out the research. “Any we can get back will be really valuable for increasing our sample size and the amount of data we can collect.”
Avian influenza, also called bird flu, is in the news lately because a highly contagious strain has made it to North America from Eurasia. Though not dangerous to humans, this year’s strain is easily caught by some bird species, most notably chickens. Here’s what it is and what we can do to protect birds.
What is this virus?As USDA explains, “Avian influenza is caused by an influenza type A virus which can infect poultry (such as chickens, turkeys, pheasants, quail, domestic ducks, geese, and guinea fowl) and wild birds (especially waterfowl).” Various strains are always in the wild but the low pathogenicity versions do not cause illness in wild birds or chickens. Every few years, however, a highly pathogenic (HPAI) strain surfaces that is extremely infectious, fatal to chickens, and rapidly spreads in domestic poultry.
This year’s HPAI strain has already devastated many poultry farms.
Which birds have died? USDA is tracking the virus and reports that millions of commercially raised chickens and turkeys have already died this year. As of 7 April 2022 the total death count was more than 24.2 million, the vast majority of which — more than 16 million — were Commercial Layer Chickens. That’s why the price of eggs has gone up. (See USDA commercial and backyard flock statistics here.)
Should we worry about wild birds? Not so much. Wild birds maintain their own social distancing whereas domestic poultry live in crowded conditions on factory farms.
In addition, avian flu is primarily caught by ducks, geese, swans, chickens, wild turkeys, pheasants and quail. Some raptors catch it, though in low numbers. Songbirds are at low risk.
As of 7 April 2022, USDA testing of dead wild birds has found 637 cases in the U.S. 88% were water-related birds, notably mallards and snow geese. 11% were raptors. The highest raptor death toll was among black vultures who roost communally. (See USDA wild bird statistics here.)
Notice the order of magnitude here: 24.2 million poultry deaths versus 637 wild bird deaths.
Interestingly, the species most susceptible to avian influenza are closely related and stand alone in the the phylogenomic supertree below (pale green branch at bottom right) while those least susceptible are least related to ducks and chickens.
And finally, here are two quotes from the New York Times:
Nearly all the nine billion chickens raised and slaughtered in the United States each year can trace their lineage to a handful of breeds that have been manipulated to favor fast growth and plump breasts. The birds are also exceptionally vulnerable to outbreaks of disease. “They all have the same immune system, or lack of an immune system, so once a virus gets inside a barn, it’s going to spread like wildfire,” said Dr. Hansen, the public health veterinarian.
Andrew deCoriolis, the executive director of Farm Forward says: “Instead of asking how factory farms can prevent infections that originate in the environment, which is how they frame it now, we should be asking how they can prevent infections that originate on factory farms,” he said. “If we keep raising more and more animals in these conditions, we should expect the exact outcome we’re getting because that’s how the system is set up.”
Les Leighton had his camera set up at Canada’s Vancouver harbor when a drama played out in front of him. A gull zipped by with both a bald eagle and peregrine falcon pursuing it in flight. What was it about that gull that attracted two predators at the same time?
Watch the chase and notice the difference between the eagle’s and peregrine’s hunting techniques. Why did both of them give up?