ScienceDaily (Apr. 23, 2012) — An international team of scientists has uncovered the first evidence of a non-human species cultivating plants for use other than as food. Instead, bowerbirds propagate fruits used as decorations in their sexual displays. The researchers discovered male bowerbirds had unusually high numbers of fruit-bearing plants growing around their bowers, and used these fruits in order to attract females.
Have you ever wondered what (biologically) makes a bird a bird? I thought I would share this list of characteristics that are unique to birds and are not found in any other groups of animals that are alive today:
Feathers — all living birds have feathers.
Horny beak — the jaws of modern birds are covered with a horny sheath, which is much lighter than bone and helps reduce weight to aid flight.
Furcula — commonly called a “wishbone,” the furcula is actually two fused clavicles. Some dinosaurs also had a furcula.
Pneumatic bones — also called “hollow bones,” these special bones have air-filled canals that are strengthened by criss-crossed struts. Some dinosaurs also had pneumatic bones.
Hallux — a special backward-facing toe that helps birds perch or grip prey. The hallux of birds that run along the ground is positioned higher up on the leg, so it doesn’t interfere with movement.
Air sacs — unlike mammals, birds do not have a diaphragm, so air is moved in and out of a bird’s respiratory system through pressure changes in these special sacs. Most birds have nine.
ScienceDaily (Apr. 11, 2012) — Using tiny tags to track a bird’s location, biologists from PRBO Conservation Science (PRBO) have unlocked the mystery of where Golden-crowned Sparrows, which overwinter in California, go to breed in the spring. Published this week in the journal PLoS ONE, the study reveals for the first time the exact migration route of this small songbird to its breeding sites in coastal Alaska.
During a time when birds are experiencing the negative impacts of climate and land-use changes, being able to pinpoint the most important breeding and stopover places is critical to prioritizing conservation investments.
ScienceDaily (Apr. 2, 2012) — Sparrows in San Francisco’s Presidio district changed their tune to soar above the increasing cacophony of car horns and engine rumbles, details new Mason research in the April edition of Animal Behaviour.
"It shows a strong link between the change in song and the change in noise," says David Luther, term assistant professor in Mason’s undergraduate biology program. "It’s also the first study that I know of to track the songs over time and the responses of birds to historical and current songs."