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.
A government report claims that extracting 120 million barrels of oil from the Arctic Ocean will lower global carbon emissions. Economists disagree.
There’s little about a Snow Bunting that isn’t perfectly suited to life in the deep freeze. These winter wanderers are outfitted like little polar explorers, with a natural down parka of dense white feathers that cover even the birds’ ankles and base of the bill—and keeps their exposure to cold at a minimum.
“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.
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!
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.”
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.
The public can now weigh in on the Trump administration’s analysis of how oil development will affect birds and wildlife on Alaska’s coastal plain.
Hummingbirds are usually seen as fragile, harmless little birds that flutter around between flowers innocently sipping nectar. But there are some hummingbirds that live secret lives … as master swordsmen.
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.