Category Archives: Articles

In memory of species declared extinct in 2018 — plus one we’ve already lost in 2019

Earth is losing wildlife at an alarming pace, a crisis many scientists now describe as a mass extinction event. The planet has seen several mass extinctions before, but this is the first in human history — and the first with human help. Wild plants and animals are vanishing amid a storm of human-induced disasters, namely habitat loss, unsustainable hunting, invasive species, pollution and climate change.

Spoiler Alert: Can Gray Jays Survive Warmer Weather?

“Where’d they go?”

Scientist Ryan Norris was puzzled. Just moments ago, two doting Gray Jays were bouncing about the nearby spruce trees like Labrador retrievers happy to see their owner. When he wrapped a couple of cotton balls around one of the spruce tips, his rotund chums had quickly seized upon the offering. Cotton comes in handy for birds when they’re in need of insulation material for nest construction.

How Evolution Reshaped the Woodcock

Evolution works with what’s at hand. So if you start with a normal bird skull – bill pointing forward, eyes oriented front or sideways, ears behind eyes – and introduce the challenge of seeing behind your head while your bill is pushed deeply into the soil, what do you get? The American Woodcock! With its long bill constantly probing the soil for earthworms, its entire skull has been rearranged. Relative to other birds, woodcocks’ eyes have moved toward the top and rear of the skull, pushing the ear openings downward. Apparently the brain followed suit!

When 136 Bird Species Show Up At A Feeder, Which One Wins?

There’s something tranquil about watching birds coexist at your backyard feeder, pecking away in their quirky abandon. That is, until the local Blue Jay arrives, flushing all your daintier songbirds out in a raucous flurry. It might seem like just plain bullying, but there’s more going on than meets the eye in the fast-moving (and frankly addicting) world of bird-feeder drama. Setting out a limited food resource (like a feeder full of seeds) in a time of scarcity (like winter) naturally brings birds into conflict. Just beyond your kitchen windowpane, your backyard feeder is creating the perfect stage to glimpse the inner workings of birds’ social lives—what behavioral ecologists call “dominance hierarchies.”

What’s Up With the Weird Mouths of These Finch Chicks?

Peer into the mouth of a hungry African Silverbill, Gouldian Finch, or other Estrildid finch chick, and you’ll see something unexpected, intriguing, and maybe even a little unsettling: strange mouth markings. These marks—such as beaks rimmed with a black lining or glow-in-the-dark beads, and mouth roofs covered in trypophobia-inducing holes—are so disturbing to some that they’ve inspired comparisons to aliens.

Birds on a Cold Night: How do our feathered friends fare when it’s cold?

During December, birds spend the long, cold nights in a protected place, sheltered from rain and safe from nighttime predators. Small forest birds, such as nuthatches and creepers, may spend the night huddled together in tree cavities. Birds like this male Mallard fluff up their feathers for insulation, hunker down over their legs and feet, and turn their heads around to poke their beaks under their shoulder feathers.