Wednesday, October 25, 2006
Parrots are easy to tame and delight breeders for they imitate human voices, are cheerful and smart.
They can transmit joy by repeated whistles, but also anger and fear by flapping wings repeatedly along with screeches.
The colorful 12.99 inch bird chooses as its natural nesting sites palm and pine trees and mangroves, preferably near fruit plantations.
Green color prevails but the skin around the eyes and forehead are white, while cheeks and throat have some red that at times extend to the stomach.
Education of local residents and other conservationist actions are directed to help the "talking bird" friend of humans multiply.
"There is no room for complacency," says Thomas Brooks of the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, who did the study with Stuart Pimm of Columbia University in New York City and Joseph Oyugi of the National Museums of Kenya in Nairobi.
Brooks and his colleagues studied the extinction of bird species in five fragments of Kakamega Forest, Kenya's only rainforest. The researchers determined the rate of bird extinction based in part on how long the fragment has been isolated and on the number of bird extinctions during that time. To check their method, they showed that it accurately accounts for the number of species that have been lost in eastern North America, where deforestation peaked 150 years ago.
Brooks and his colleagues found that within 50 years of isolation, 2,500-acre fragments of Kakamega Forest lose half the bird species likely to go extinct. They concluded that it will take about a century for fragmented tropical rainforests to lose all the bird species that will ultimately die out.
"Our results provide both encouragement and warning," say Brooks and his colleagues.
The warning is that without action, half of the world's 360 threatened forest bird species will be extinct in about 50 years. The encouraging conclusion is that because the most-recently isolated fragments probably still have most of their species, conserving these fragments will mean saving the greatest number of species.
Human activities have caused some 500 bird species worldwide to go extinct over the past five millennia, and 21st-century extinction rates likely will accelerate to approximately 10 additional species per year unless societies take action to reverse the trend, according to a new report.
Without the influence of humans, the expected extinction rate for birds would be roughly one species per century, according to Stuart Pimm, professor of conservation ecology at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment
Brazil's rare grey-winged continga is among
bird species in danger of extinction.
and Earth Sciences, who is one of the report's principal authors.
"What our study does, for the first time, is provide a well-justified and careful estimate of how much faster bird species are going extinct now than they did before humans began altering their environments," said Pimm, whose research group pioneered the approach of estimating extinction rates on a per-year basis.
"Extinction rates for birds are hugely important, because people really care about birds," he said. "People enjoy them, and bird watching is a big industry. So we know the rates of bird extinctions better than the rates for other groups of species."
"Habitat destruction, selective hunting, invasive alien species and global warming are all affecting natural populations of plants and animals adversely," added Peter Raven, president of the Missouri Botanical Garden, who is co-principal author of the report and a longtime collaborator with Pimm.
The report will appear in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences during the week of July 3-7, 2006. Other authors are Alan Peterson, a physician in Walla Walla, Wash., and Paul Ehrlich and Cagan Sekercioglu, conservation biologists at Stanford University.
The researchers calculated that since 1500 -- the beginning of the major period when Europeans began exploring and colonizing large areas of the globe -- birds have been going extinct at a rate of about one species per year, or 100 times faster than the natural rate.
And the rate has been faster in recent times. "Increasing human impacts accelerated the rate of extinction in the 20th century over that in the 19th," the report said. "The predominant cause of species loss is habitat destruction."
These findings do not mean Europeans have caused all of the extinctions of birds over the course of time, the researchers said. "Europe's exploration of the rest of the world merely continued to extinguish species at rates similar to those caused by the earlier Polynesian expansion across the Pacific," they said in the report.
The new assessment considerably exceeds previous scientific estimates that 154 bird types disappeared during that past 500 years, according to the researchers.
One factor contributing to such large differences in estimates is that "more than half of the known species of birds were not discovered until after 1850, an important point that previous estimates of extinction rates have failed to take into account," Raven said. "One can't register a bird as extinct if it was not known to exist in the first place."
According to Pimm, as recently as 1815 scientists were aware of only about 5 percent of the world's birds. "The reality is that scientists did not know about most remaining bird species until about 1845 or 1850," he said.
The new report is not all bleak, Pimm said. "The good news in this report is that conservation efforts are reducing extinction rates to about one bird species every three or four years," he said, but he added that even this improved rate "is still unacceptable."
Of the 9,775 known species of birds, "an estimated additional 25 would have gone extinct during the past 30 years if it were not for human intervention," Raven said.
Despite conservation efforts, "some 1,200 more species are likely to disappear during the 21st century," he warned. "An equal number are so rare that they will need special protection or likely will go extinct, too."
The forecast may be even bleaker for other types of animals, the researchers said.
"We do not give the kind of special attention to other groups of organisms that we do to birds, and extinction rates for them are likely to be much higher over the 21st century and beyond," Raven said.
The researchers derived their estimates using a large database of threatened and endangered species compiled by Bird Life International in Cambridge, England. They also used a compilation by report co-author Alan Peterson of the first scientific descriptions of bird species.
"Knowing when species were first described to science turned out to be a hugely important part of this story," Pimm said.
Parrots have a characteristic curved beak shape with the upper mandible having slight mobility in the joint with the skull and a generally erect stance. All parrots are zygodactyl, having the four toes on each foot placed two at the front and two back. Along with the cockatoo family Cacatuidae, the parrot family makes up the order Psittaciformes. The term "parrot" can be used in either the narrow sense of the parrot family Psittacidae or the broad sense of the order Psittaciformes.
Birds of the parrot family can be found in most of the warm parts of the world, including India, southeast Asia and west Africa, with one species, now extinct, in the United States (the Carolina Parakeet). By far the greatest number of parrot species, however, come from Australasia, South America and Central America.
Many species can imitate human speech or other sounds, and at least one researcher, Irene Pepperberg, has made controversial claims for the learning ability of one species; an African Grey Parrot named Alex has been trained to use words to identify objects, describe them, count them, and even answer complex questions such as "How many red squares?" (with over 80% accuracy). Other scholars claim that parrots are only repeating words with no idea of their meanings and point to Pepperberg's results as being nothing but an expression of operant conditioning.
Parrots are kept as pets, particularly conures, macaws, amazons, cockatoos, cockatiels, and budgerigars (also known as parakeets). Often the wings of such birds are clipped, but many people keep flighted pet parrots. Some parrots species have very long life-spans of up to 80 years. In 2004, Britain's Daily Mirror newspaper carried the story of a female macaw supposedly born in 1899, and subsequently a pet of Winston Churchill during the World War; the aged parrot, called Charlie, was reputed to curse the Nazis and Adolf Hitler.  Subsequent research strongly suggested that the parrot had never belonged to Winston Churchill,   although Charlie's great age was not in question.
The attractiveness of parrots as pets has led to a thriving - often illegal - trade in the birds, and some species are now threatened with extinction. The scale of the problem can be appreciated in the Tony Silva case of 1996, in which a world-renowned parrot expert and former director at Tenerife's Loro Parque (Europe's largest parrot park) was jailed in the US for 82 months and fined 0,000 for smuggling the birds 1. The case rocked conservationist and ornithological circles, leading to calls for greater protection and control over trade in the birds.
Escaped parrots can represent a threat to local ecosystems if they become established in the wild. This is now occurring in Spain, in Barcelona and Tenerife. Several species, including Red-lored Parrots (Amazona autumnalis), Lilac-crowned Parrots (Amazona finschi), and Yellow-chevroned Parakeets (Brotogeris chiriri), have become well established in Southern California. A sizeable population of feral Indian Ring-necked Parakeets (Psittacula krameri) exists in and around London, England, thought to have descended from escaped or released pets. The largest roost of these is thought to be in Esher, Surrey, numbering several thousand. There are also feral Monk Parakeets in Hyde Park, on the south side of Chicago, USA. 
The number of macaws has been declining during recent decades and Don Brightsmith at Texas A&M University's Schubot Exotic Bird Center is studying ways to make sure macaws will not become just photographs in a book one day.
Brightsmith says there are 17 species of macaws, and of those, one is extinct, another has become extinct in the wild and seven other species are endangered.
There are several reasons for their declining numbers. The birds are highly prized by the pet trade industry and they are losing their native habitat due to construction and other factors. Also, some South American natives kill them either for food or for their bright feathers.
But little is known about macaws, except that they are highly intelligent creatures and can live up to 50 years.
Macaws can also be affectionate birds.
"It's believed they are very sensitive to human emotions," he added. "The more we learn about these birds, the better our chances to save them."
Monday, October 23, 2006
You can hear the birds from out on the street long before you pull into Bill Mitton's driveway.
Theirs is a riotous sound disorderly, unruly and unrestrained.
At the same time it is a sound that reminds one of life itself of a time in our distant past when we were not the dominant force in our environment. It is a primordial screech.
As you pull up the drive you begin to realize that the screech you hear is coming from a detached cinder block building just across the driveway from Mitton's house.
And unless you have any idea what Mitton's passion is, you would not know that the screech is the joyous sound of 100 budgerigars a colorful tropical bird, indigenous to Australia and New Zealand.
The budgies, as they are commonly known, bear little resemblance to their distant relatives. According to Mitton, they have become "English parakeets."
Except perhaps for their cacophonous screech.
In the wild they are green in color. But a peek inside of Mitton's cinder block aviary would leave one wondering just how this formerly tropical green bird evolved into an "English parakeet" that now sports no less that 23 color variations.I
t is actually a lesson in genetics. And in a sense, an act of love.
Mitton is a member of the Budgerigar Association of America, one of several worldwide organizations that breed, show and, in a word, appreciate budgies.
Today, Saturday, and Sunday, Mitton and his fellow members of the club will hold their Grand National Budgerigar Show in the gymnasium at the Camp Verde Community Center.
Having the event in Camp Verde is no small accomplishment. The last three years it has been in Atlanta, Dallas and Las Vegas.
It's a big deal for the town and a testimony to Mitton and his partner Darvin Jenner's stature in the community of budgie aficionados.
Mitton has been raising budgies since he was a kid. He got out of it for a brief period in his life, but eventually returned after helping his daughter raise some budgies as pets.
Over time he has become one of the nation's top breeders with several birds placing in the national championships.
"The truth is, I love the competition," Mitton said. "That's what motivates me.
"No surprise, considering Mitton spent over 30 years as a high school football coach in Phoenix until retiring to Camp Verde this last year.
The secret to his success, at least with the birds, is a simple matter of knowing what will happen when birds of a feather get together.
"The whole process of breeding good birds is a lesson in genetics. You learn which genes are dominant, which ones are recessive, and how to calculate the odds," Mitton said.
The results of those calculations are what you see in Mitton's aviary. Shades of blue, yellow, green and brown abound in his gender specific cages as do variations in eye color, body size and temperament.
"There is a computer program on the market to help you keep track of the breeding process and help predict the outcome. But the bottom line is, you have to know your birds," Mitton said.
His ability to recognized each of his 100 or so birds and relate each one's lineage is testimony to that knowledge.
On Saturday, from around 9:30 a.m. to about 4 p.m. all of their colors, including lutino, harlequin, spangle, pied and lace wing, will be on display as some 400 budgies and about 100 breeders compete to see which bird is the National Grand Champion.
It will be an extravaganza of both sight and sound, in which you will be treated to their joyous screech, the one truly original characteristic that connects them to their antipodean ancestors and their distant cousins.
Friday, October 13, 2006
Club president Peter Pennycook
Established in 1906, Loanhead and District Cage Bird Society has fought against dwindling interest in this dedicated past-time and is still going strong.
On Saturday, society members are expecting around 800 entries from across Scotland and the north of England to attend its 99th show. The popular show will take place in St Margaret's Church Hall, Clerk Street, Loanhead, from1.30pm to 4pm.
To mark the society's milestone, every exhibitor is to be presented with a specially-engraved pen and certificate. Additional medals will also be awarded to champions and novices at the show, which normally attracts around 600 entries.
A special invitation to attend has been sent to the society's oldest member, 92-year-old Robert Pentland, who lives in Gilmerton. Mr Pentland, who won the British Cup in 1951 with a first class goldfinch cock, keeps British birds, mules, hybrids and new colour canaries.
Judges at this year's show include Mr R Purdie (Norwich, Fife Fancies, British, Mule and hybrid), Mr D Anderson (Borders), Mr P Fleming (Glosters, Yorkshire and any other canary variety), Mr B Meichan (new colours), Mr D Lumsden (Fife Fancies), Mr R Rae (foreign) and Mr D Burnett (budgerigars).
The Loanhead show is the second biggest in the Lothians behind the Linlithgow show. The Scottish National Show in January remains the top attraction in the cage bird calendar.
This year there will be better prizes than normal this year thanks to the support from many of the specialist clubs. The Scottish Norwich Plainhead Club has donated prize money and the Fife Fancy Canary Club is to present 17 rosettes.Research carried out by society members, scanning the pages of the Midlothian Journal, revealed that the newly-formed Loanhead Cage Bird Society held its first show in October, 1907.
More than 200 birds were exhibited with the main prize-winners being Mr A Thomson and Mr J Thomson of Newtongrange, who were awarded the medal for the most points received.
The sterling efforts of the society, which continued to hold its annual show throughout World War One, were recognised in its early years by the town's then Provost Hugh Kerr, who remarked: "A man who has a hobby is a much better man as a rule than a man who has none."
President Peter Pennycook (70) has been a member of the society for more than 30 years and took over the presidency from Jimmy Lowe 10 years ago.
A resident of Moorfoot View, Bilston, Mr Pennycook first became interested in cage birds as a young boy. "I was a lad, just about eight or nine. My dad and I started with pigeons. I was a pigeon man first but when my dad died I put the pigeons away and started with budgies.
"I carried on from there getting more and more and the number just got bigger and bigger. In fact, I am having to make more cages as I have bred that many beautiful young ones," said a proud Mr Pennycook, who specialises in foreign birds including lovebirds and cockatiels.
With a host of rosettes to his name, Mr Pennycook, a former miner, won the Scottish National twice in 1993 with a barraband parrakeet and in 1997 with a crimson winged parrot.
"When I first started birds, there were 20 to 30 clubs in Scotland. Now you are lucky if there are half a dozen."If it wasn't for secretary Douglas Munro, member Dave White and I, there would be no club. I think there is determination in a few people left, who would like to see the club carry on."
Mr Pennycook, who retired as a kitchen fitter, admitted it was becoming increasingly difficult to attract new members."Young people have got computers, PlayStations and all that now. They are not interested," said the president, a member of the Lovebird 1990 Society, the Cockatiel Club, the Parrot Society, the Scottish Foreign Bird Society, the Java Sparrow Club and the Strathclyde Foreign Bird Society.
Sunday, October 08, 2006
GREENTHUMBS Harry and Noela Duncanson couldn't bear the thought of a
developer bulldozing their botanic garden and nursery business when they put it up for sale early this year.
Harry and Noela Duncanson with one of the new owners of Burnside, Mick Lohman.
The pair had spent the past 23 years turning the 5ha property at Nambour, in the Sunshine Coast hinterland, into a nature lovers' oasis. "To see that cleared for houses would have been really sad," 68-year-old Harry said.
Happily for the Duncansons, the new owners shared their vision for the future of Burnside Gardens, which encompasses Nambour Nursery.
Brothers Mick, 45, and Paul Lohman, 38, who live in nearby Kiamba and Mapleton, are opening the garden to visitors next weekend through Australia's Open Garden Scheme.
"What Harry and Noela (63) have created is a legacy that should be open to the community – not turned into brick veneer," Mick said.
The property, on the fertile slopes of the Blackall Range, changed hands in August. The Lohman brothers, who had no horticultural experience, knew they would be up to their armpits in flowers and fertiliser.
"We were a bit overwhelmed and stunned at first," Mick said.
"They have many years of hard work and knowledge between them so we are doing some crash-course learning."
The Duncansons, avid collectors, will live on at the gardens for six months to teach Mick and Paul all they can about the grounds.
And the Lohmans had better pull on their gardening gloves because there's something to learn in every corner of the undulating grounds.
In the south-facing front garden, a rich tapestry of colour, shape and textures covers 4000sq m.
Harry, who wants to start a new garden at nearby Woombye on 2000sq m while he still has the energy, says he'll miss Burnside's 30 varieties of conifers.
"There are ground covers and pyramid shapes and conifers with a gold, purple or silver look – and they look nice grouped," he said.
Bird of paradise, purple passion (like wisteria), hippeastrums and bougainvillea provide brilliant colour to contrast with foliage plants such as grass trees, ferns and tricolour groundcover.
Standing guard over these hundreds of specimens is a mature red cedar, whose leaves make perfect mulch.
"We planted that before the house was here and we grow all the shade-loving plants underneath it," said Harry, who played host to 1400 visitors when Burnside last opened to the public.
Other mature trees include an endangered bottle tree prized for its unique shape and a Leichhardt tree – home to two possums.
Birds, such as lorikeets and king parrots, are attracted to the native garden on the east side of the home that features grevillias.
Perhaps the rarest specimen of the collection is the amherstia nobilis. The Burmese tree hasn't yet flowered (it can take 10 years to do so), but it will be spectacular when it does, bright crimson flowers hanging from a long flower stalk.
"It needs to be among a forest of trees," Harry said.
A fine selection of tropical plants is showcased in the north-facing back garden. Yellow Fraser Island vine, golden chain tree, and yellow saraca, to name a few.
A brilliant jade vine grows up a trellis. "The flowers are so unusual, nature's wonderful the way it has combined the mauves and blues," Harry said.
"The only thing is they like their roots to be cool with plenty of light for the flowers."
Harry has planted a brownea grandicep that flowers from August to October. "It's beautiful – it has these huge clusters of orange flowers."
Water for the informal gardens comes from five dams surrounded by more plantings.
"There's very little that needs to be done to maintain the gardens once they get to maturity," Harry said.
"The density of its plants keeps out the weeds."
• Burnside Gardens, 171 Burnside Rd, Nambour, opens to visitors October 14 and 15.
UWA plant conservation biology professor Steve Hopper warned this week that drawing water from Yarragadee would be a big mistake.
Dr Hopper was head-hunted for the job of running the Royal Botanical Gardens in London, a post he will take up when he leaves this Sunday.
A strong advocate for conservation, Dr Hopper's dedication to preserving natural heritage and resources is one of the reasons he was chosen for the job.
He said the push for WA to draw groundwater from Yarragadee in the South-West would result in irreparable environmental damage.
"Yarragadee is going to have a major impact on local communities and on the globally unique plants and animals down south and in the area around Nannup," he said.
"If you start putting bores in and drawing groundwater, the first things affected are shallow bodies of water, like ponds, which are groundwater-fed.
UWA professor Steve Hopper, who will become head of
Kew Gardens in London next week, said Perth shouldn't
draw its water from the South-West.
"A drop in ground level of half a metre will affect them ahead of deep lakes and rivers because they are full of plants and animals unique to south-western Australia and are significant globally.
"The environmental impacts are pretty scary and Yarragadee is only a short-term solution.
"People need to think long and hard about it; is it the start of a solution or a stop-gap that's going to cause long-term environmental damage?
"It doesn't solve the basic problem which is the expanding human population without a change in how we use water."
Dr Hopper said the Water Corporation was on track, looking at a mix of strategies to source water, including establishing a desalination plant and recycling grey water.
But Yarragadee was a repeat of the Gnangara Mounds strategy.
"If you look at Gnangarra Mounds it's pretty disturbing," he said.
"Some dams in Perth have had a decline in rainfall up to 50% and the Gnangara Mounds supplies are dwindling rapidly."
Dr Hopper said the community needed to embrace recycling water as a long-term strategy with local councils working together with householders.
"Hundreds of gigalitres go off the roads and our roofs every year," he said.
"If we got only half of that back, that's the same amount the South-West Yarragadee is going to deliver.
"There's a huge catchment of water that, with adequate treatment, would be perfect.
"If we want to live here for hundreds of years we've got to start doing things slightly differently."
As head of Kew Gardens, Dr Hopper will be in charge of the world's largest living collection of flora, with over 30,000 different species covering 120ha on the Thames in London.
Saturday, October 07, 2006
An orange-bellied parrot
Tasmania's endangered orange-bellied parrot is facing a mysterious threat.
Birds at the Environment Department's breeding centre near Hobart have been quarantined since January, when 46 young birds were killed by the disease.
Months of testing, in Australia and overseas, has not pinned down the cause.
Mark Holdsworth from the Parrot Recovery Program says the wild population does not appear to be affected.
"Wild population appears to be stable and we didn't detect any decline in the nestlings produced," he said.
"But before we can release birds from Taroona into the wild population we need to determine if this potential disease, which we believe may be a type of herpes virus, is in this population.
"It may in fact be that this disease is a native disease to orange-bellied parrots and we've just discovered it through captive breeding."
Tasmanian Primary Industries Minister David Llewellyn says the deaths of the 46 birds earlier this year was a regrettable incident, but it will not have any effect on the overall recovery program.
Thursday, October 05, 2006
Local budgie enthusiasts are presenting an exhibition of show budgies at the Badger Creek Old School Building (opposite Healesville Sanctuary) from 11am to 3pm.
The aim of the exhibition is to improve awareness of showing and breeding and to share information with other budgie enthusiasts.
The show will also gauge interest in setting up a local budgie club.For more information phone 0419 591 617 or 5962 4640.