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Birds in the news in mid-February

Royal Tern, one of the species that should benefit from island restoration in Virginia. Photo by Joshua Clark

Here is a roundup of seven recent stories in the news about birds.

1, Whooping Crane shot

A 1.5-year-old male Whooping Crane was shot dead in Jefferson Davis Parish, Louisiana, in mid-November 2019, according to the state’s Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. The crane was found in the town of Elton, in south-central Louisiana. A necropsy determined it had been killed by a gunshot a day or two before being found. Law-enforcement agents are looking for leads in the case, and a reward of up to $5,000 is being offered for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for the illegal shooting.

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2, Virginia to restore nesting habitat

The state of Virginia has announced plans to create breeding habitat this spring for seabirds after a road-construction project paved over the island where the birds have nested since the 1980s. State officials had come under heavy criticism for allowing paving and construction activities on South Island, where more than 20,000 Common, Gull-billed, Sandwich, and Royal Terns, Black Skimmers, and other birds, had nested since the 1980s. They’ll now create habitat on a nearby island, and said they’ll create an additional nesting island in the longer term, suggesting birds will see a net gain in habitat. Conservation leaders cheered the news.

3, Study reveals 50,000 years of bird-migration patterns

Bird migration worldwide was probably as important during the last ice age as it is today, according to a global model reconstructing migration patterns over the past 50,000 years published in Nature Communications. The findings suggest that the phenomenon is older than was previously thought. Marius Somveille of Yale University and colleagues show that birds are likely to have remained migratory throughout the last 50,000 years. According to their simulations, bird migration remained globally important despite major climatic changes between the last glacial maximum (around 20,000 years ago) and the current interglacial period. However, there were notable regional variations; for example, in the Americas fewer species migrated during the last glacial maximum than do so today. The authors conclude that the simulations provide a baseline for predicting how bird migrations may respond to future climate change. Read the open-access paper.

4, Bird protection law gutted

In late January, the Trump administration proposed regulations to codify its 2017 legal opinion that Migratory Bird Treaty Act protections do not include so-called “incidental take.” “This new rule would reverse a half-century of federal policy that held industry and companies liable for irresponsible actions that resulted in preventable (if unintentional) bird deaths, such as the 1 million birds killed in the Gulf of Mexico in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill,” according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Conservation groups denounced the move. Meanwhile, the House of Representatives is considering a bill that would reverse the Trump decision and “would reaffirm decades of practice and policy of the MBTA by every previous Republican and Democratic administration; uphold our international treaty obligations regarding bird conservation; help minimize certain industrial hazards and incentivize best management practices; and allow for financial resources to recover from incidents that impacts birds, such as oil spills,” according to a statement from Congressman Alan Lowenthal.

5, Lead poisoning and Bald Eagles

The threat of lead poisoning to birds is well-known, and yet every year, hunters use lead bullets and anglers use lead fishing tackle. The predictable result is that scavengers, such as our national bird, the Bald Eagle, ingest lead fragments in their prey, and then, if they’re lucky, wildlife rehabbers care for them and nurse them back to health. Paul Smith, the outdoors columnist for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, sheds light on the problem and explains how to fix it. 

6, Budget cuts for the environment

Trump has unveiled his budget proposal for the next federal fiscal year, and as John Platt writes at The Revelator, “it’s predictably harsh for wildlife and the environment — but great for oil, gas and coal.” Platt lists all the details.

7, Good news for a very rare bird

We’ll wrap up with a piece of good news from Madagascar. The diving duck known as Madagascar Pochard, once thought to be extinct, gave conservationists a surprise in November 2019, when 12 ducklings were born in the wild. A group of 21 pochards had been released about a year earlier but experts didn’t expect them to breed successfully so soon. “The crop of ducklings marks a victory for conservation groups that have been working for more than a decade to save the species,” according to the environmental news site Mongabay.

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Matt Mendenhall

Matt Mendenhall

Matt Mendenhall is the editor of BirdWatching magazine and You can reach him at

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