When Nigel, an African grey parrot who was missing for four years, was reunited with his caretaker, the bird was chattering in Spanish, not the British accent he had when he disappeared. (The Daily Breeze)
Why do birds fly in a "V" formation? Scientists at the UK's Royal Veterinary College attached sensors to endangered ibises migrating from Austria to Tuscany. What they confirmed is that the aerodynamics of V flocking helps the birds conserve energy and that they optimize this by careful positioning and timing their wing flaps. "Precision formation flight astounds scientists" (Nature)
Back in May, aboriginal rangers placed a motion-sensing camera near Western Australia's Margaret River to collect images of crocodiles. The camera disappeared. Recently though, another ranger found the camera about 110 kilometers away. It appears that a sea eagle had snatched it. (ABC News, thanks Bob Pescovitz!)
Colombian artist Diana Beltran Herrera creates exquisite bird sculptures from paper. She's constructed more than 100 species, all life-size. Her papercraft aviary is currently on display at the Rollins College's Cornell Fine Arts Museum in Winter Park, Florida.
"Diana Beltran Herrera’s Flock of Paper Birds" (Smithsonian)
A new study published at Plos One reveals that cockatoos can pick complicated locks, with one bird unraveling the five interlocking components without being given a demonstration beforehand. Jon M Chang, for ABC News:
Alex Kacelnik, a professor of zoology at Oxford University ... and his colleagues, Alice Auersperg and Auguste von Bayern at the University of Vienna, placed a cashew nut behind a window fastened shut by a thin metal bar. The birds had to get through four additional locks that required them to pull a pin, turn a screw, remove a bolt, and rotate a wheel to reach the reward. More importantly, they had to do those actions in the correct order. If a cockatoo completed the first task, the scientists then rearranged the order of the four locks. They wanted to see whether the birds could modify their lock-picking behavior by doing the same four actions but in a different sequence.
Chemical analysis of Archaeopteryx remains show that the creature was patterned "light in colour, with a dark edge and tip to the feather", say researchers from the University of Manchester.
At Smithsonian, Jimmy Stamp posted a brief history of bird automata. And yes, I know that Bubo from Clash of the Titans, above, isn't real. But... Bubo! Clash of the Titans! From Smithsonian:
The earliest example (of an avian automaton) dates to 350 B.C.E. when the mathematician Archytas of Tarentum, who some credit with inventing the science of mechanics, is said to have created a mechanical wooden dove capable of flapping its wings and flying up to 200 meters, powered by some sort of compressed air or internal steam engine. Archytas’ invention is often cited as the first robot, and, in light of recent technological advancements, perhaps we could even consider it to be the first drone; the very first machine capable of autonomous flight. Very few details are actually known about the ancient mechanical dove, but it seems likely that it was connected to a cable and flew with the help of a pulley and counterweight. This early wind-up bird was chronicled a few hundred years later in the pages of a scientific text by a mathematician, Hero of Alexandria."A Brief History of Robot Birds"
Writer Darren Naish, who blogs at Tretrapod Zoology, took this photo of a Larus gull attempting to chow down on an awkwardly shaped starfish. (And, really, are there any other kind of starfish? Especially when you're trying to fit them in your mouth whole?)
You might remember Larus gulls from a recent piece I wrote on speciation and evolution. According to Naish, they might have another place in the story of evolution, as well. Regardless of how Sisyphean this gull's dinner plans may appear, Larus gulls actually (successfully) eat a lot of starfish. So many, in fact, that, as Naish explains in a recent post, they might be prompting one species of starfish to slowly turn a different color — an adaptation that makes the species less visible to gulls.