Tag Archives: birdwatching

Polly Want A City? Population Boom Sparks Call For Cull Of London’s Invasive Parakeets

When someone imagines London, they probably visualise Big Ben, Buckingham palace, and an overly patriotic use of the Union Jack. What they probably don’t picture is flocks of bright green parrots occupying every tree branch and streetlamp in view. However, urban populations of invasive parrot species are becoming more readily observed globally, and in London, there are fears the population may be growing too fast!

Earlier this year, the UK saw headlines announcing that the government has been advised to cull the iconic birds following a recent increase in numbers. But with their bright colours making them a unique addition to the fauna of the city, and their nonchalant nature towards locals and tourists, many are opposed to the cull. So what is the right thing to do when we get attached to an invasive species? And are parrots on their way to becoming the next globally distributed ‘pest’?

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Not All Datasets Are Created Equal

Image Credit: Chinmaysk, CC BY-SA 3.0, Image Cropped

Species data for understanding biodiversity dynamics: The what, where and when of species occurrence data collection (2021) Petersen et al., Ecological Solutions and Evidence, https://doi.org/10.1002/2688-8319.12048

The Crux

With the rise of the internet, GPS’ and smartphones, the amount of openly available species occurrence data has reached previously unfathomable numbers. This increase is mostly due to the engagement of the citizen scientist – regular people getting out there in nature and taking part in data collection and research. From people taking photos of flowers in their backyard to organised salamander spotting safaris, citizen scientists have opened up data that previously would have cost massive amounts to produce.

The Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) is the largest hub of such data, collating data ranging from amateur observation to museum specimens to professional surveys. It is well-known, however, that this kind of openly available data comes with a myriad of caveats: some species groups are reported much more than others (I am looking at you, bird-watchers), and “roadside bias” (see Did You Know?) haunts the records. But how are the records distributed among different land-cover types on a country-scale, does it differ between groups of conservation concern, and does it depend on who the reporters are?

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The Public and Private Faces of Birds with Professor Dan Baldassarre

More than perhaps any other taxa, birds have managed to associate themselves with the beauty of nature. An ecosystem devoid of bird calls just feels like it’s missing something, and whilst tigers, koalas and elephants might be the face of many a conservation movement, you can’t lure them to your backyard or local park with a simple feeder (at least I hope not). The bird-watching community worldwide is massive, and ranges from casual backyard birders to those who are willing to travel far and wide to see a new species.

For bird scientists, there are pros and cons to the public’s love affairs with birds. The bird community is a huge source of information and a great place to raise awareness of conservation issue. Yet at the same time, our idealisation of birds has led to a lot of misconceptions, both about their population health and their private lives.

Professor Dan Baldassare came into bird ecology through a fascination with animal behaviour. The author of the fantastic paper “The Deal With Birds” (which we’ll get into in a subsequent article, Dan has spent his academic career studying the lives of a range of birds, from the striking Northern Cardinal to the incredible vampire ground finch.

I spoke to Dan recently about our relationships with birds, some of the positives that have come from it, and how our perception of them may have blinded us to some of the realities of their lives.

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Worrying Trends in North America’s Bird Populations

Birds like this American tree sparrow are declining rapidly, shows a study which looks at huge declines in North American bird populations

Birds like this American tree sparrow are declining rapidly, shows a study which looks at huge declines in North American bird populations (Image Credit: Ryan Hodnett, CC BY-SA 4.0, Image Cropped)

Decline of the North American avifauna (2019) Rosenberg et al., Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.aaw1313

The Crux

When we talk about species loss, we generally focus on extinctions. Too often, when we start to rally around a species, it’s because there are a particularly low number of that species left. In many cases, they’ve often crossed a threshold, from which it’s impossible to pull them back from the brink of extinction.

Often this draws attention away from non-threatened species. Often that’s fine – they’re non-threatened right? But downward population trajectories in these species can still damage ecosystems by lessening the impact of their ecological function, lead to local (if not total) extinctions, and of course, leading them to eventually be threatened.

This week’s authors wanted to look at bird population declines in America, but from the perspective of total abundance, as opposed to a more species-specific view.

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