The week in bird news, November 15

Laysan Albatross, photo by Paul Berry at International Bird Rescue’s Los Angeles center, January 2013

• Scientists studying albatrosses find that these magnificent seabirds have incredibly sophisticated flight patterns, which harness wind energy to propel them far more efficiently than their 11-foot wingspan could muster through flapping.

Via National Geographic:

A team of scientists from the Technische Universitat Munchen in Munich, Germany, used aerospace engineering to reveal the birds’ unique flight patterns—a physical feat that has puzzled academics for years. By attaching GPS trackers to 20 wandering albatrosses (Diomedea exulans) in the wild, the researchers were able to study data from 16 of the birds as they left and returned to the Kerguelen Archipelago (map) in the Indian Ocean.

Albatrosses yo-yo up and down in the sky, taking advantage of momentum generated on their downhill glides in order to climb back up against the wind. These constant up and down changes in altitude keep the birds aloft without requiring much effort.

The research article, “Experimental verification of dynamic soaring in albatrosses,” is published in the current issue of The Journal of Experimental Biology. [National Geographic]

• The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has added 23 species to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (six of which were previously covered as subspecies of listed species). [American Bird Conservancy]

• A massive solar power project in California’s Coachella Valley is raising concerns regarding its impact on migratory birds. Scores of dead or injured birds with burned wings caused by intense radiation reflected off solar mirrors have been found on-site. [Desert Sun]

• For Rhode Island beachgoers, a relatively close look at nesting sites of the endangered Piping Plover, courtesy the Nature Conservancy and participating landowners. [Environmental News Network]

• A fantastic bird’s eye view of the Northern Gannet in flight: Researchers with the University of Exeter’s Environment and Sustainability Institute Yeray-Seminario-PiF-11and the Royal Society for the Preservation of Birds attached lightweight mini-cameras and GPS tracking devices on 20 of these seabirds in the seas surrounding the UK.

“Gannets are long lived seabirds and there is still much to learn about their life away from the breeding colony,” said the University of Exeter’s Dr. Stephen Votier. “The application of technology to study the private lives of gannets has been influential to our research in the short-term, but the goal is to continue this work in the long-term to help provide a sustainable future for gannets and other marine life.” (Photo by Yeray Seminario.) [Vision Systems Design]

• Examining the increasingly early migratory patterns of the Black-tailed Godwit, scientists warn of climate change’s effects on bird migration. “We have known that birds are migrating earlier and earlier each year – particularly those that migrate over shorter distances. But the reason why has puzzled bird experts for years. It’s a particularly important question because the species which are not migrating earlier are declining in numbers,” Lead researcher Dr. Jenny Gill from the University of East Anglia’s school of Biological Sciences said. [Science World Report]

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