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Analysis and Comment (59)

A Crimson Rosella (Platycercus elegans) in the wild near Melbourne. Raoul Ribot

Colour variability in Crimson Rosellas is linked to a virus

Despite its name, the Crimson Rosella is perhaps Australia’s most colour-variable bird and a cause of this striking and beautiful diversity seems to be a disease that’s potentially deadly to many other…
A 9-metre-long early relative of T rex that stalked the Early Cretaceous of northern China was the first truly terrifying feathered dinosaur discovered. Brian Choo

Book review: Flying Dinosaurs – How fearsome reptiles became birds

While a week can be a long time in politics, palaeontology typically moves more sedately, in keeping with its subject matter (the slow progression of the aeons). But one area of fossil research is seeing…
Some of the bird world’s mimicry superstars. Clockwise from top left: superb lyrebird; silvereye; satin bowerbird; Australian magpie; mistletoebird; brown thornbill. Alex Maisey; Justin Welbergen; Johan Larson; Leo/Flickr; David Cook/Filckr; Patrick/Flickr

The mimics among us — birds pirate songs for personal profit

From Roman classics to British tabloids, humans have long celebrated the curious and remarkable ability of birds to imitate the sounds of humans and other animals. A recent surge of research is revealing…
The Rufous Scrub-bird: will it have to move to Tasmania to survive? Allan Richardson

Finding new nests for birds threatened by climate change

Rufous Scrub-birds have been calling loudly from the mountains of eastern Australia ever since Australia parted from Gondwana 65 million years ago. They are still there today – as noisy as ever, though…
Caught: a female swift parrot emerging from her tree-hollow nest. Dejan Stojanovic

Sugar gliders are eating swift parrots – but what’s to blame?

Swift parrots are one of Australia’s most endangered birds, but until very recently we didn’t know why. New research shows that they’re being eaten by sugar gliders at their breeding grounds in Tasmania…
Don’t even go there, girlfriend! KOO/Shutterstock

Ravens have social abilities previously only seen in humans

Humans and their primate cousins are well known for their intelligence and social abilities. You hear them called bird-brained, but birds have demonstrated a great deal of intelligence in many tasks. However…
Australian flowers and their pollinators have evolved a specific way of communicating – all based upon colour. aussiegall/Flickr

Colourful language – it’s how Aussie birds and flowers ‘speak’

In Australia, honeyeaters are far and away the most abundant and important nectar-feeding birds, so also the most important avian pollinators of flowers. What effect has their visual perception had on…
“Don’t mess with me and my nest,” said the jackdaw with his eyes. Conor Lawless

Jackdaws use bright eyes to ward off competitors

Humans use their eyes constantly while communicating with others. Eye movements can be gestures, so that when we see someone glance to the side, we look in the same direction. Eyes can also be a warning…
Around 20,000 chickens were culled in Hong Kong last week after the virus was detected in birds imported from mainland China. Alex Hofford/AAP Image

Explainer: what is H7N9 bird flu?

Australia’s federal Department of Health has advised general practitioners to be on the lookout for potential cases of the H7N9 strain of influenza A, or bird flu, following a spate of deaths in China…
The lyrebird courtship display involves dancing and mimicry. David Cook/Flickr

Lyrebirds mimicking chainsaws: fact or lie?

The lyrebird is considered one of Australia’s best-known birds — you might recognise them from our 10 cent coin — but do we really know them? Famed for their spectacular courtship display, you may have…
A ex parrot: one of the few Night Parrots collected in the 1870s in South Australia. Marie Meister, Museum of Zoology, Strasbourg

Found: world’s most mysterious bird, but why all the secrecy?

The Night Parrot has been called the “world’s most mysterious bird”. First discovered in 1845, it was rarely seen alive for most of the next hundred and seventy years, but it has been rediscovered in 2013…
Somehow the Orange-bellied Parrot is always getting into trouble. Fatih Sam

Australian endangered species: Orange-bellied Parrot

If you had to ask an average Australian the name of a threatened bird in this country, many would nominate the Orange-bellied Parrot. Critically endangered, and with fewer than 50 left in the wild, it…
Will the sun set on migratory songbird hunting, or the birds themselves? ONDR

Ending songbird slaughter? There’s an app for that

In an article for National Geographic and a forthcoming documentary film, author and birder Jonathan Franzen ponders the slaughter of migratory songbirds around the Mediterranean, and asks how it can be…
#timeforlunch brb. Sean Gray

Forget tweeting, meet the birds who blog

Researchers in Aberdeen and the RSPB have set up a project that enables Scottish birds to write their own blogs. Readers will be able to track the daily lives of red kites as they travel around the Scottish…
The prevailing picture of dinosaurs as dull, lumbering creatures may be wrong. FlickrDelusions

Some dinosaurs were birdbrains (and that’s a good thing)

Birds are some of the brainiest creatures on earth, while their direct ancestors - the dinosaurs - are often stereotyped as dull and doomed. But a new study published today in Nature challenges this notion…
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? flickr: South Eastern Star ★

Bird strikes could ground Boris Isle of Grain airport plan

The London mayor’s recent decision to endorse the Thames Estuary’s Isle of Grain as the site for a new major hub airport has already raised concerns about threats to local birds, but perhaps it is threats…
I love the smell of rat poison in the morning… Tony Martin/SGHT

The birdlife of South Georgia is handed another chance

Across the world, the damage caused by invasive alien species is second only to habitat destruction by humans in reducing the planet’s biodiversity. Their effect is especially potent on islands. Cats…
Without taking action we’ll soon see the back of many species. Chris Ison/PA

Are birds worth the billions?

Birdlife International’s new report recommends a US$80 billion increase in annual spending in order to fully protect important bird biodiversity areas. This surely poses the question: are birds really…
Even starlings are “red listed” as threatened in the UK. Clive Gee/PA

An $80bn cry for help that will save more than just birds

BirdLife International’s State of the World’s Birds report hopes to demonstrate an urgent need for funding, advocacy, conservation action and monitoring to halt the global loss of birds and other wildlife…
They aren’t just pretty birdies - superb fairy-wrens teach each other to identify and fend off parasitic species such as cuckoos. William Feeney

Superb fairy-wrens recognise an adult cuckoo … with some help

Can superb fairy-wrens learn to respond to brood-parasitic cuckoos by simply watching other fairy-wrens react to a cuckoo? That’s the question posed in a new Biology Letters study by myself and Naomi Langmore…
Plastic is a major threat to our seabirds and marine life - this bird has filled its stomach with plastic during the 80-90 days it lived. Ian Hutton

Plastic and politics: how bureaucracy is failing our forgotten wildlife

Seabirds: the poster children for ocean health. Fishers use them to identify fishing hot spots. Environmental and marine scientists use them as indicators of the condition of the ocean environment due…
Bigger male purple-crowned fairy-wrens can sing their ‘trill song’ at a lower pitch than smaller males. Michelle Hall

How deep is your cheep? Why songbirds sing their size

The melodious beauty and elaborate complexity of birdsong has long inspired poets, writers, and musicians – as well as behavioural ecologists! But besides appreciating the aesthetics of birdsong, we are…
Four major hydroelectric projects are planned for the upper Yangtze River valley. Steb Fisher

Birds, dams and people: biodiversity in China

The 2012 China Ecological Footprint Report has highlighted the cost to biodiversity of China’s rapid economic development. Biodiversity in China is under pressure because of loss of habitat. In our study…
A female zebra finch finds herself surrounded by male suitors - but who to listen to? Simon Griffith

Birds and boasting: honest when mating, dishonest when dating

A new study has revealed what many people possibly already suspect – males are more honest when displaying their “quality” to a partner than to an unfamiliar female. These findings, from a study of a socially…
The male Regent Honeyeater is larger and brighter than the female. Dean Ingwersen

Australian endangered species: Regent Honeyeater

The Regent Honeyeater (Anthochaera phrygia) is a spectacular, black, white and gold, medium-sized honeyeater. It has a bare, corrugated pale face, giving rise to its earlier name of Warty-faced Honeyeater…
The butts flicked by smokers can end up lining birds' nests – but why? Matthew Kenwrick

Urban birds may use cigarettes as medicine

The negative impacts of cigarettes on both smokers and those around them are widely known. While some effects are cosmetic (wrinkling, yellowing of the skin), others, such as cancer, can be fatal. But…
Researchers applied sunblock to the plumage of female blue tits to see how males reacted. Marko_K

Blue beauty: why male tits work harder for attractive partners

Rearing young is a costly business that often affects an individual’s own future survival or reproduction prospects. And so it makes sense for individuals to find ways to ensure the energy they spend on…
Are there fewer shorebirds now? It costs money to find out. Robert Clemens

Bird conservation trapped by scientific certainty

The profile of science has risen dramatically in policy making in recent years. Climate change mitigation, the Murray Darling Basin Plan, debate over the MV Margiris: all are talked about in terms of whether…
Male Gouldian finches are usually attracted to females with the same head colour … unless they’re blindfolded. Sarah Pryke

Tweet-twoo: beauty is in the (right) eye of the beholder

Choosing a mate is one of the most important decisions an individual of any species will make in its life. It is therefore perhaps a surprise that a new study, of which I’m a co-author, has revealed a…
The lesser marked weaver’s nest must not only be functional, but also beautiful in order to catch the attention of a female. Fotosearch Stock Photos

Nests: the art of birds

Can the nests of some birds be regarded as works of art, as aesthetic creations worthy of our admiration? Charles Darwin wrote in The Descent of Man that some birds have “fine powers of discrimination…
An introduced species can be invasive without causing native species' decline. Leaping to conclusions won’t help manage the problem. Degilbo/Flickr

We love to hate the common myna, but what should we do about it?

In Australia we are all too familiar with devastating environmental impacts of introduced species such as foxes, rabbits and cane toads. But did you know that some introduced species may have a relatively…
Birdbrains or copycats: Aesop’s fable offers insight as to how children and birds think. 'Playingwithbrushes'

Fable or truth: are birds as brainy as children?

Humans are very good at innovating and it would seem reasonable to expect our children would be too. But a recent study questions these assumptions, suggesting young children’s ability to problem-solve…
Climate change has led to modified bird migration patterns. Vinoth Chandar

Peter Doherty: why our fine-feathered friends deserve better

Maybe it’s just a normal part of growing older and “taking the time to smell the roses”, but I’ve been finding over the past few years that I’m much more interested in birds. That hasn’t yet turned me…
Chestnut-crowned babblers provide a perfect opportunity to test theories of cooperative breeding. Enchylaena

Babblers show why birds of a feather stick together

Blood is thicker than water when it comes to being a team player – at least if you’re a bird in outback Australia. So shows a new study I was involved in, published this week in the journal Proceedings…
Artist’s impression of an individual Yutyrannus. Dr Brian Choo

Dinosaurs of a feather: meet T-Rex’s fluffy cousin

It’s taken a century of debate, but in the past two decades we’re finally understanding where birds came from. Now, with a new study published in the journal Nature, Chinese and Canadian researchers have…
Sydneysiders are spotting - and “status updating” - urban cockatoos. chris jd/Flickr

Social media turns Sydney residents into cockatoo trackers

Loud, large and lovable, the Sulphur-crested Cockatoo has become a well known inhabitant of Sydney. It has always been present around the fringes of Sydney and west of the Great Dividing Range, but over…
Habitat of the Eastern Curlew along its migratory pathway in east Asia is rapidly being reclaimed for development. Dean Ingwersen

The numbers are in: Australia must do more to protect migratory birds

Australia is a signed up member of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and a strong supporter of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG). Both these global programs are trying to reduce the rate…
Steve Irwin may be more famous, but corvids are among our most successful expats. Chris73/Wikimedia

Stone the crows! Could corvids be Australia’s smartest export?

Among birds, crows and ravens (or corvids) are the most intelligent. They have the largest brains for body size; they’re more like primates than birds. In fact, some people call them “flying monkeys…
The humble pigeon mightn’t look smart, but it’s no bird-brain. Seamoor

Are pigeons as smart as primates? You can count on it

We humans have long been interested in defining the abilities that set us apart from other species. Along with capabilities such as language, the ability to recognise and manipulate numbers (“numerical…
Does evolution always favour the bold and the beautiful? simondbarnes

Great Tits give insight into personality

In an Oxford woodland a soap opera plays out with the familiar plotline so loved by daytime television devotees – infidelity and the battle between bold and shy personas. The main twist in this tale is…
Bird flu transmission to humans is rare and hasn’t occurred with this new strain. AAP

Explainer: should we be worried about the new strain of bird flu?

The circulation of a new strain of the H5N1 avian flu virus from China and Vietnam has prompted calls from the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN for health authorities to be ready for a possible…
Our “first” feathered friend no longer has the wind beneath its wings. Xing Lida and Liu Yi

Move over Archaeopteryx – an earlier bird caught the worm

As little as 15 years ago, the boundary between birds and dinosaurs was a fairly sharp one. On one side was Archaeopteryx, a 150 million-year-old magpie-sized creature from Bavaria, southern Germany, long…
Could the zebra finch’s growing popularity ruffle The Body’s feathers? Tracey Nearmy/AAPIMAGE

Australia’s first supermodel … no, not that one

Long before Elle Macpherson staked her claim to the title, indeed by the end of the 1890s, Australia had inadvertently exported a model to the northern hemisphere that has become internationally famous…
Would you like to take “ownership” of a black swan? Catherine Payne

Citizen scientists, the black swan needs you

You may have heard that a male black swan was widowed by rock-throwing children in Melbourne recently. The event caused ripples of public concern, but also revealed how little we know about these iconic…
Flocks falling from the sky can be the canaries in our environmental coalmine. AAP

Birdbrains cry aflockalypse as fish die and birds fall from sky

The year began with the news that thousands of birds had fallen out of the sky in Arkansas, and 100,000 drum fish were found dead in a river nearby. Soon the media began reporting more incidents all over…

Research and News (9)

Can crows read?

Crows can recognise and ascribe numerical meaning to symbols, a new study shows, suggesting that the unusually intelligent…

Research Briefs (45)

When a jay dies, the chorus cries

New research shows birds are aware of their dead and respond with cacophonous gatherings. The research, which was carried…

How woodpeckers avoid headaches

An analysis of woodpecker anatomy and behavior revealed some features that prevent head injuries and could potentially be…

Honeyguides kill their siblings

Only a few days old and still blind and naked, chicks of the African greater honeyguide kill their newly hatched foster siblings…

The speedy bird catches the girl

While the early bird might catch the worm, it’s the quick bird that gets the ladies. That’s the case for rock ptarmigans…

Birds wear stress in their feathers

The feathers of wild birds can be analysed to determine the effect natural- and human-caused disasters have on wild populations…

Sparrows spar by sharing songs

Far from being a harmonious sing-a-long, song-sharing among sparrow populations is actually an aggressive behaviour, akin…