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Urban avian rivalry: Birds fight it out for food and shelter in big cities



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  • Competition’s tough in the big, bad city. Just ask a chickadee.

    Research has found that urban birds aren’t shy about throwing their weight around against weaker rivals — and the richer the city, the tougher the underdog’s daily struggle for food and shelter.

    “As we see economic development, we see this intensifying of competitive interactions,” said Queen’s University biologist Paul Martin, whose paper was published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    Martin and his colleagues were curious about how competition between closely related species differs in the natural and urban worlds.     

    “We know these kinds of interactions are really important in nature and they determine which species has the best access to resources,” he said. “But we have no idea how these things relate to urban environments.”

    Researchers looked at almost 300 bird species in 250 cities from Bangalore to Budapest to Bogota. The species were grouped into 142 closely related pairs such as the mountain chickadee and the black-capped chickadee, the house finch and the purple finch, the song sparrow and the swamp sparrow. 

    Biologists then looked at the behaviour of each species in the pair wherever their urban territories overlapped. Even when both species were well-adapted to city life, researchers found that the stronger species of the pair tended to let the weaker know that the town wasn’t big enough for the two of them.

    “The larger size can often predict who’s going to win,” Martin said. “More muscle mass, larger weapons like bills or talons — all those things provide a benefit to larger species in a fight.”

    The real surprise came when researchers realized that the law of the streets may not apply everywhere.

    Dominant species seem to run off the subordinate pair mostly in economically developed cities. For the rich, dominants ruled. 

    Not so in developing cities.

    “In those countries, we find species living alongside the dominant species in cities,” said Martin. “The competitive effects that we found for developed countries are completely missing.”

    Why is that? Martin doesn’t know.

    Perhaps it has something to do with how resources such as food are distributed in developed cities. Large, centralized food resources for birds — for example, managed waste disposal sites — may be easier for a flock of bigger birds to defend against a smaller rival.

    That’s for future study. For now, Martin’s content with the new insight into how wildlife behaviour varies as it comes into human communities — research he calls vital as humanity becomes more and more urbanized.

    “There’s been a lot of interest in our impacts on wildlife,” Martin said. “We’re seeing more and more evidence of actual evolution in organisms in response to urban environments.

    “The public is interested as well. Those are the organisms they see everyday.”

    — Follow @row1960 on Twitter

    Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

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    Wild goose chase: Bird spending winter at Winnipeg car wash evades capture



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  • WINNIPEG — A wildlife group isn’t giving up on a real-life wild goose chase.

    Staff and volunteers with the Wildlife Haven Rehabilitation Centre in Winnipeg have been trying for weeks to catch a Canada goose that has made a car wash its home for the winter.

    Animal care co-ordinator Tiffany Lui suspects the bird has an injured wing and was unable to fly south with its feathered friends.

    The centre started receiving calls in October, when the season’s first snow blanketed the city, about an out-of-place goose in an area on the south side of the city, Lui said.

    The bird seemed to take up more of a permanent residence in December in a snowbank outside the Shell gas station at Pembina Highway and Dalhousie Drive.

    There have been repeated attempts to catch it with nets and bed sheets, Lui said.

    “The problem is it does have the capability of flight … just enough to get over top of the cars and over top of our heads,” Lui said Monday.

    “We know we can’t just walk up to it. We have to be sneaky and try other options.”

    Lui said a teacher from a nearby school loaned the group a volleyball net which they used last week to try to capture the bird. “That didn’t work out as well as I’d hoped.”

    Workers at the gas station said Monday they couldn’t talk about their unofficial mascot. A request for comment from Shell Canada was not returned.

    Lui said the goose seems to be doing fine. It gets water from puddles, as well as blasts of warm air, when vehicles exit the car wash. People who have heard about the bird have also left it seeds, corn and bread crumbs.

    If the bird is captured, she said, it will be cared for at the centre with four other geese, four ducks and two pelicans that also didn’t make it south.

    — By Chris Purdy in Edmonton

    The Canadian Press

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    Canada, First Nations express concern over U.S. Arctic drilling plans



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  • The Canadian government, two territories and several First Nations are expressing concerns to the United States over plans to open the calving grounds of a large cross-border caribou herd to energy drilling, despite international agreements to protect it.

    “Canada is concerned about the potential transboundary impacts of oil and gas exploration and development planned for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Coastal Plain,” says a letter from Environment Canada to the Alaska office of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

    Yukon and the Northwest Territories have submitted similar concerns as the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump drafts plans to study the environmental impact of selling exploration leases on the ecologically rich plain.

    “Much of the wildlife that inhabits the … refuge is shared with Canada,” says the N.W.T.’s letter to the U.S.. “The conservation of these transboundary shared resources is very important to Indigenous groups.”

    The Porcupine herd is one of the few remaining healthy caribou populations in the North and a crucial resource for Indigenous people.

    Canada says the caribou are covered by one of four different international agreements — including two over polar bears and one for migratory birds — that commit the U.S. to preserve the area. At least three diplomatic notes have passed between the two countries over the issue.

    Canada wants assurances from the U.S. about the content of the environmental study. The N.W.T. is asking that hearings be held in Canadian Indigenous communities that depend on the herd.

    It’ll be tough, said Bobbi Jo Greenland Morgan, head of the Gwich’In Tribal Council.

    “We’re not dealing with the same government we’ve been dealing with for the past 30 years,” she said.

    In December, the U.S. released a draft environmental impact study proposal for the lease sale with a public comment period until Feb. 11.

    The stakes are high for the narrow strip of land along the central Alaskan coast. The Porcupine herd numbers 218,000 and is growing. Greenland Morgan said the animals are a regular source of food for her people.

    “We probably have (caribou) at least once or twice a week.”

    Adult caribou can co-exist with development, but scientists have shown they avoid any disturbance on their calving grounds.   

    “Canada is particularly concerned that oil and gas exploration and development will negatively affect the long-term reproductive success of the Porcupine caribou herd,” says the federal letter.

    The U.S. is aware of that possibility.

    “Potential impacts, particularly those relating to changes in calving distribution and calf survival, are expected to be more intense for the (Porcupine herd) because of their lack of previous exposure to oil field development,” says the draft plan.

    It also points out the herd’s importance to Canadian First Nations and acknowledges they take about 85 per cent of the annual harvest.  

    “These Canadian communities would be among the most likely to experience potential indirect impacts.”

    Craig Machtans of the Canadian Wildlife Service represents Canada on an international committee that manages the Porcupine herd. He said he has a good relationship with his counterpart in Alaska.

    “He does keep me informed,” Machtans said.

    But the ties aren’t what they were.

    The U.S. representative used to come from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The current member is from the Department of the Interior.

    “He has a different mandate,” said Machtans. “I’m not sure it’s the same relationship.”

    Officials at Global Affairs Canada say the U.S. is living up to the agreement on the Porcupine herd. American officials were not available for comment due to a partial government shutdown in that country.

    Machtans said Canada has no special status as the U.S. considers public input on the draft.

    “We’re not in the inner circle,” he said. “We’re participating as members of the public.” 

    International law professor Michael Byers said the U.S. may have already broken a clause in the agreement that commits both parties to consulting the other before a final decision is made on anything that affects the herd’s future.

    “There’s an obligation to consult that isn’t being implemented right now,” Byers said.

    He noted that the U.S. has already said it intends to sell the leases this year.

    Greenland Morgan said her people have been fighting for decades to keep the Porcupine calving grounds free of development — but this time feels different.

    “We’ve always had to do this,” she said. “But with the Trump administration, it’s been more challenging.”

    — Follow Bob Weber on Twitter at @row1960

    Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

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    january, 2019

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