Bird news round-up, May 17

Seabird colony photo via Wikimedia Commons

What’s new?

—We’ve noticed an uptick in media interest regarding seabirds and their critical role in tracking ocean pollution — a subject of particular interest on this blog. In the May 3 edition of the journal Science, John Elliott of Environment Canada and University of Manitoba researcher Kyle Elliott write compellingly about seabird monitoring studies and their advantages vis-à-vis other ocean species.

For one, seabirds forage widely across open seas but return to central breeding locations: “In one afternoon at a seabird colony, a biologist can sample an area of ocean that would cost millions of dollars to investigate using a scientific vessel,” the researchers note. [Science via NBC News]

One such species that feeds on the open water is the endangered Hawaiian Petrel (pictured below via Wikimedia Commons), the focus of a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Bulweria_bulwerii_Hawaii_1Sciences. Researchers studied isotope records from modern and ancient petrel bones to examine dietary changes over time. Results indicated a radical shift in availability of fish, most likely explained by the marked rise of the commercial fishing industry over the past century. [Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences]

—Also: Greenpeace unveils a new ad targeting plastic pollution and the soda industry in Australia. [HuffPost Green]

—In Northern California, advocates for the Marbled Murrelet are calling on California State Parks to act further in protecting nesting habitat for the endangered bird in Big Basin State Park. Earlier today, the State Parks Commission was scheduled to meet regarding the murrelet habitat (if you attended, let us know what happened!). Audublog wrote recently of the species:

Unlike other seabirds which nest primarily on islands, marbled murrelets nest in large, flat branches of old-growth coastal trees such as redwoods and sitka spruce. They are so secretive that scientists did not know where they nested until the 1970s. […]

The Santa Cruz mountains are the last stronghold for central California’s murrelets, with the population of about 450 individuals nesting mostly in Big Basin State Park. According to experts, the population has declined by about 35% in the last 10 years, due mostly to nest predation by jays, crows and ravens, the group of our native birds known as corvids. Major campgrounds are located in the heart of old growth redwood habitat in Big Basin State Park, providing ample food and supporting population growth of these nest predators.

Audubon, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other groups have praised California State Parks for scrapping plans to build cabins in a sensitive breeding site, but have called on the agency to “dramatically reduce recreation and camping in three other core murrelet breeding areas, especially during the nesting season.” [Audublog]

—In the U.K., wildlife activists are concerned about the presence of a new, whitish slick seen from the air and believed to be the substance polyisobutene, or PIB, which has already killed thousands of seabirds that have washed up on the beaches of Devon and Cornwall. Polyisobutene is used in ship engines; earlier this month, the BBC reported that the UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) was still working to determine the source of the pollution. [BBC News]

This latest slick has affected Common Guillemots, known as Common Murres in North America (pictured below). Earlier this year, International Bird Rescue cared for dozens of Common Murres oiled by natural seepage off the Southern California coast.

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Common Murres, photo by Bill Steinkamp