An Elusive Bird Heard and Seen in Venezuela

Debbie Blicher is Senior Producer of Ray Brown's Talkin' Birds.

The American Bird Conservancy reports that an international team of researchers has solved one of South America's great bird mysteries: that of the elusive Táchira Antpitta.  It's a small, brown bird that had not been seen since the 1950s, listed as Critically Endangered and even thought to have gone extinct.

Antpittas are reclusive birds that are easier heard than seen. Unfortunately, the team had no sound recordings, so no one knew what to listen for. They did know where to search for it, though. Eventually, they picked up the distinctive sound of an antpitta that they had never heard before, deep in the mountainous forests of western Venezuela, and were then able to identify the bird from previous descriptions.

Similar habitat can be found nearby in Colombia, and the scientists think the species might also occur there. They’re now working to determine the bird’s full range and habitat requirements, and how best to ensure its continued survival.

Click here for the full story. 



Dressing Up Like Cranes, but Not For Halloween

Ask a wildlife biologist his or her reasons for going into that line of work, and we bet one of them WON'T be, "so I can wear a bird costume." 

Since 1966, scientists at the Patuxent Research Refuge in Laurel, Maryland have been rearing Whooping Cranes in a program that's bringing them back from the brink of extinction. In 1937, only 20 Whooping Cranes were known to exist in the world. By 1966, when their numbers had increased to 42 because of breeding efforts at zoos, an injured whooper was brought to the Patuxent Research Refuge for rehabilitation along with twelve wild eggs. These became the beginning of a captive flock from which many of the world's whoopers are now descended.

The difficulty with captive-rearing Whooping Cranes is that baby whoopers imprint on their caregivers. In other words, they think that whatever takes care of them is their parent. A baby whooper being cared for by humans wants to live with humans, does not trust other Whooping Cranes, and will not survive in the wild. So what's a wildlife biologist to do? 

This is where the costumes come in. At the Patuxent facility, as soon as a baby whooper can see beyond its egg, it's handled only by people dressed up as Whooping Cranes. Yes, really. The technicians wear poncho-like white costumes with hoods, which include camouflage netting to cover their faces. They manipulate a puppet crane head on a stick to convince chicks that an adult Whooping Crane, not a human, is raising them.  Some cranes are even taught to migrate by being allowed to imprint on an aircraft. 

This method of captive rearing is surprisingly effective. By keeping the babies surrounded by the correct sights and sounds, and by moving them to progressively more and more natural surroundings, these biologists are raising whoopers who can function in the wild. These days, the total number of Whooping Cranes in the world is over 600 individuals. It's still not many, but it's enough that a few adult cranes can now start rearing chicks on their own.

As pleased as we are here at Talkin' Birds by the success of this breeding program, we can't help but imagine the conversations some of these biologists must be having at home. "What did you do at work today, dear?" "I put on a bird costume and taught chicks to peck at worms. How about you, honey?" 

If you'd like to hear more about what's going on at the Patuxent Research Refuge, listen to our show from Sunday, November 1. It's in the archive, and you can find it right here.




Spying on California Condors

Smile! These condors are on camera!  That's right: from anywhere in the world you can watch the activity in the Koford's Ridge nest at Sespe Condor Sanctuary, Los Padres National Forest, near Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge. Female #111 and male #509 are the proud parents of a nestling who will be banded at the age of four months. This chick is an only child because California Condors lay just one egg per nest.

So--why nest cams? 

California Condors are critically endangered, and the Koford's Ridge nest cam project is part of the California Condor Recovery Program's effort to manage and learn more about their communities. All of the more than 400 condors now alive are descended from just 27 birds. These were brought into captivity in the early 1980s for what has turned out to be a successful captive breeding program; now the project's focus is on re-establishing these birds in the wild. 

For more info on this nest, its habitants, and the people studying them, listen to our show broadcast on Sunday, August 30, 2015. Our guest Charles Eldermire from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology gave us all the details. Click here for the link.  And remember to listen to us every week! Click How To Listen for our live stream, radio stations in your area, and an archive of all our shows. 

To check out the California Condor nest cam project, click here.