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As toxic wildfire smoke chokes West Coast, bird populations have gone missing

Bird lovers in California are realizing that many birds are simply disappearing or worse, turning up dead.

Elias Marat



As the West Coast faces an unprecedented wave of fires across multiple states, bird lovers in California are realizing that many birds are simply disappearing or worse, turning up dead.

In the Birding California group on Facebook, bird watchers discussed the total silence that has come to their backyards, where the sounds of birds chirping and singing used to greet them in the morning.

“I live in Folsom—have not seen a bird or heard a bird chirp this morning,” said Jodi Root.

“We live in northern Nevada and have noticed the same thing,” added Gardnerville resident Karen Holden.

“Same here in Napa,” said Tammy Saunders, who said that things had become “very quiet which just adds to the eeriness of the orange colored dark sky.”

Almost 100 seasoned birdwatchers gave similar responses to the survey, with most noting that they saw a marked decline in birds visiting their feeders and birdbaths, as well as a clear thinning-out of the variety of species.

Like the insects that many birds rely on for food, wild bird populations have been in a state of major decline over recent years. However, the record-shattering heatwave and smokey, toxic air conditions in California and other western states haven’t only impacted human populations. Tragically, the ash that is falling across West Coast cities isn’t only comprised of trees and brush, but also includes the incinerated remains of birds and other creatures caught in the wildfires.

And as Deborah Pertersen of Inside Climate News reports, birds – with their highly sensitive respiratory systems that are instantly responsive to changes in environmental conditions – are acting as the global equivalent to the canary in a coal mine, at a time when seemingly the entire planet is on fire.

While much still remains unknown about how smoke impacts bird populations, doctoral candidate Andrew Stillman of the University of Connecticut notes that birds perpetually live on the edge, and extreme changes can have dire consequences for bird species.

“One thing that is important to point out is we do know high levels of smoke exposure can be harmful to birds,” Stillman told Inside Climate News. And unlike humans, birds “cannot escape like humans by going indoors.”

Veterinarians and bird scientists have also found that smoke can leave a damaging impact on the lung tissue of captive birds, leaving them susceptible to deadly respiratory infections, notes the Audubon Society.

 “We do know that exposure to particulate matter, which of course is of great concern for human health, can affect birds as well,” said Olivia Sanderfoot, a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow at the University of Washington Seattle who studies the impact of air pollution on birds.

And while the still-raging fires haven’t given researchers much of a chance to survey the population of birds along the west coast, the anecdotal evidence stacking up is clearly showing that the health effects of the massive plumes of smoke coming from over 85 fires raging in western states is hitting bird populations hard.

“Overall, it seems like the anecdotes suggest that there is a decline in bird activity during smoke events,” said Olivia Sanderfoot, a researcher at the University of Washington.

In a 2017 paper, Sanderfoot and Tracey Holloway wrote that “Birds have long been recognized as sentinel species for environmental change.” 

The literature review concluded that “Exposure to air pollution clearly causes respiratory distress in birds and increases their susceptibility to respiratory infection,” in addition to causing complications to bird reproduction.

However, the science of wildfire smoke’s impact on birds remains largely undeveloped.

“We know pretty much nothing about the long-term impact of smoke on birds,” Sanderfoot said.

Indeed, most of the research on birds only covers a handful of species, and most of it focuses on air pollution rather than wildfire smoke.

“Of the roughly 10 000 species of birds known worldwide, only a few have been studied to characterize avian responses to air pollution, and the animals used in laboratory experiments may not be representative of the wild bird species most at risk from air pollution,” Sanderfoot and Holloway wrote.

Sanderfoot and her fellow researchers are now conducting studies in Washington, a state which saw some of the most hazardous air pollution ever recorded over the past week. Sanderfoot and her team are planting microphones and cameras in smokey areas to register whether bird songs decrease in high-smoke areas.

Tara Sears Lee, a nursery volunteer in Los Alto, California, has also observed the terrible impact of smoke on birds in recent days.

“Outside for 6 hours yesterday and no jays, crows, ravens, quail, turkeys, or hawks – all usual and very vocal visitors,” she wrote on Facebook. “Only hummingbirds, juncos, towhees and titmice. Worst of all was a dead hummingbird just lying on the ground – had heard they are being overcome by heat and smoke and just drop dead.”

Birders across the state are also posting photos on their Facebook accounts of dead hummingbirds in their backyards or, inversely, boosted numbers of birds at their backyard feeders – a result of the forced migration caused by fires.

“I think all the birds came to my house south of San Jose. Sometimes there will be more than 40-50 out there,” wrote Charlotte Trethway Noriega on Facebook.

As Petersen explains in her article, bird populations in North America have plummeted by 29 percent – or three billion birds – since 1970. And according to a 2019 study, rampant high temperatures resulting from climate change are likely to drastically alter the migration patterns of bird species. With pastures and grasslands being converted to crops, nesting places have dwindled along with the mass die-offs of insects eliminated by pesticides.

However, Stillman is finding some small traces of hope in his research of birds that have thrived in areas hit by wildfires. Black-backed woodpeckers are quickly returning to burned-out areas to feed on the larvae of wood-boring beetles that thrive on dying trees burned in fires.

However, Stillman notes “a very big caveat”: the new generation of “mega fires” like the one the West Coast is currently undergoing is far more destructive than those of the past, and the question of “how are the birds responding to this new normal” remains open.

Ancient History

Megalodon Fossils Show How Biggest-Ever Shark Had Nurseries All Over the World

Elias Marat



The massive megalodon, the largest shark to ever roam the seas, had their own nursery areas all over the globe that allowed the apex predators to raise their young and populate the world prior to their extinction.

A new study, published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters, reveals that nurseries belonging to the massive creatures have been found in across vast geographic distances where fossils belonging to both young and old megalodons were discovered.

The five likely nurseries include sites off Spain’s east coast, two off the coast of the United States, and two in Panama.

Megalodon (Otodus megalodon), whose name means “large tooth,” lived between 23 million and 3.6 million years ago until it went extinct during a period of global cooling. For 13 million years, the megalodon was the king of the sea.

The megalodon was not only the largest shark in the world, but also the biggest fish – and quite possibly the most powerful predator – to ever exist. Its teeth alone measured 18 centimeters long, and evidence shows that it could have grown to reach up to 60 feet in length.

However, because megalodon bodies were mostly comprised of cartilage – which cannot fossilize – the shark’s teeth, vertebrae and fossilized feces have been the main way researchers have calculated the shark’s body measurements.

The existence of the nurseries shows that young megalodon were still quite susceptible to attacks by other predators.

To keep the young megalodon safe, their shark parents would give birth to their young in shallow, warm water nurseries located near coastlines. In these special regions, juvenile megalodon were able to access their prey while facing few dangers from rival predators.

“Our analyses support the presence of five potential nurseries ranging from the Langhian (middle Miocene) to the Zanclean (Pliocene), with higher densities of individuals with estimated body lengths within the typical range of neonates and young juveniles,” the scientists wrote in the abstract for the study.

“These results reveal, for the first time, that nursery areas were commonly used by O. megalodon over large temporal and spatial scales, reducing early mortality and playing a key role in maintaining viable adult populations,” the authors added.

The nurseries were ideal sites that allowed young megalodons to mature into adults in a process that took about 25 years.

Experts investigated 25 teeth belonging to megalodon that were found in the Reverté and Vidal regions in Tarragona, Spain. The study led to the conclusion that these locations were filled with sharks that had body lengths consistent with the normal range of newborns and young juveniles, measuring 13 feet in length for one-month-old sharks to 36 feet in length for older juveniles.

A separate study released in September found that a 52.5-foot-long adult megalodon had heads that measure up to 15.3 feet long, with dorsal fins measuring about 5.3 feet tall and tails reaching 12.6 feet. To put this into perspective, an adult human could stand on a shark’s back and be roughly the same height as the dorsal fin.

The study’s findings also reveal that the shark’s reliance on nurseries likely played a role in their demise, when the world cooled near the end of the Pliocene period and sea levels declined.

“Ultimately, the presumed reliance of O. megalodon on the presence of suitable nursery grounds might have also been determinant in the demise of this iconic top predatory shark,” the authors of the study noted.

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Minks Infected With Mutated Covid “Rise From Their Graves” After Being Killed in Mass Culling




If you thought that this year couldn’t get any weirder, now we can add covid infected minks rising from their graves to the list of strange 2020 happenings. The minks that appeared to rise from the dead had been infected with a mutated strain of COVID-19 in Denmark.

A Danish police spokesman, Thomas Kristensen, urged local residents to stay calm, and explained that these minks are not actually zombies. Kristensen said that gasses in the decay process sometimes cause the bodies to move.

“As the bodies decay, gases can be formed. This causes the whole thing to expand a little. In this way, in the worst cases, the mink get pushed out of the ground,” Kristensen said, according to the Guardian.

Another issue is the fact that the animals were placed in shallow graves because the process was rushed. The graves were just over three feet deep, which allowed some witnesses to see the movement. Now officials are planning to order the graves to be dug twice as deep.

“This is a natural process. Unfortunately, one metre of soil is not just one metre of soil –it depends on what type of soil it is. The problem is that the sandy soil in West Jutland is too light. So we have had to lay more soil on top,” Kristensen said.

Regardless of the scientific explanation, the incident has sparked plenty of conversation on social media.

Local residents shared photos and videos of the bodies coming out of the ground to social media with captions like “the year of the zombie mutant killer mink” and “run … The mink are coming for you.”

Kristensen warned that anyone who might see a shallow mink grave should stay away because there is still a small risk of infection. Even though the minks had been disinfected before being buried, there is still a chance that the virus can be passed on to a person.

He said that it could be possible that “small quantities of bacteria may still be trapped in their fur” adding that it is “never healthy to get close to dead animals, so therefore this is of course something to stay away from.”

Sadly, the country plans to kill all 15 million minks that live in the country. The country is reportedly responsible for producing 40% of the world’s mink fur. The country’s mink farmers have culled more than 10 million mink so far, according to the latest numbers.

The mink burial grounds will also be monitored around the clock, and they are working to put a fence up around the area. Still, despite these security measures, some officials are concerned that the burial grounds are too close to local water sources, which could potentially put the water supply at risk. Some officials, such as two mayors in the region, are suggesting that the corpses of the minks be burned.

As of Wednesday, Denmark has reported more than 74,000 COVID-19 cases and 800 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins.

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World’s Only White Giraffe Gets GPS Tracker After Poachers Killed His Family

Elias Marat



The only known white giraffe in the world has been fitted with a tracking device to keep poachers away after its entire family was killed.

The unique creature has an extremely rare genetic trait known as leucism, which results in its white color. Unlike albinism, the loss of pigmentation is partial. However, the unusual coloration makes the animal desirable to unscrupulous poachers seeking a rare find in the wilderness.

The giraffe is currently staying at the Ishaqbini Hirola Community Conservancy in southeast Kenya. Earlier this month, conservationists fitted one of his horns with a GPS tracking device to ensure its survival, reports the BBC.

Conservationists say that the giraffe is the last of its kind that exists in the world, and have expressed concern that poachers could come to kill him after his two family members were killed in March.

The two relatives, a female and a seven-month-old calf with similar white skin, were found dead in a conservation zone in Garissa County in northeast Kenya, a large unfenced area where the male giraffe resides.

The three white giraffes had been “an immense source of pride in the Ishaqbini community” and garnered international attention over the years, the trust said in a Tuesday statement.

“The giraffe’s grazing range has been blessed with good rains in the recent past and the abundant vegetation bodes well for the future of the white male,” said Mohammed Ahmednoor, the manager of the Ishaqbini Hirola Community Conservancy.

The nonprofit group added that the tracking device would allow conservationists to see hourly updates on the whereabouts of the giraffe, granting rangers the ability to “keep the unique animal safe from poachers.”

The Kenya Wildlife Society, the main conservationist group overseeing the plight of wild animals in the eastern African nation, said that it was happy to assist any efforts on the ground to safeguard “unique wildlife like the only known white giraffe.”

The extremely rare creature was first spotted in March 2016, roughly two months after a reported sighting in neighboring Tanzania.

White giraffes appeared in world headlines one year later after the mother and her calf were caught on camera at the Garissa County conservancy.

Giraffes are native to over 15 African countries and are the world’s tallest mammals, reaching heights exceeding 18 feet. They primarily reside in savanna and woodland habitats, and subsist on a diet that includes flowers, fruits, leaves, and stems.

However, giraffes are coveted by poachers for their meat, skin, and body parts.

Around 40 percent of the giraffe population has been lost in the last 30 years, with the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) blaming poaching and wildlife tracking for the precipitous decline. Fortunately, many giraffe populations enjoy various degrees of legal protection and are the focus of conservation efforts in their range states.

There are over 68,000 giraffes across the world, according to the foundation. The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List classifies the species as vulnerable, with one of the main threats to the animal coming from poaching as well as habitat loss due to uncontrolled mining and land conversion.

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