Thursday, October 04, 2007

Alex's Pathology Report Released Today

For those who may not be familiar with the achievements of Alex the African Grey Parrot, here is his obituary from his colleagues at The Alex Foundation.

Known as one of the most famous African Grey parrots in history, Alex pioneered new avenues in avian intelligence. He possessed more than 100 vocal labels for different objects, actions, colors and could identify certain objects by their particular material.

He could count object sets up to the total number six and was working on seven and eight. Alex exhibited math skills that were considered advanced in animal intelligence, developing his own “zero-like” concept in addition to being able to infer the connection between written numerals, objects sets, and the vocalization of the number.

Alex was learning to read the sounds of various letters and had a concept of phonemes, the sounds that make up words.Alex’s personality was very evident in his everyday life. He was “in charge” of his home and relished ordering “his” humans to perform various tasks for him. He also acted as a coach and cheerleader to his fellow birds, Wart and Griffin, alternately encouraging or admonishing them during their lessons.

His favorite toys were cardboard boxes, key chains and corks.

Purchased from a Chicago pet store in June, 1977, at that time he was 12 to 13 months old. Alex came from humble beginnings. Alex’s accomplishments proved that all African Grey parrots have an intelligence far beyond what was previously thought before his decades-long work with Dr. Pepperberg.

Sadly, Alex passed way on September 6, 2007. He was 31 years old.

We miss him dearly.

Fly high Little dude!


Alex died quickly. He had a sudden, unexpected catastrophic event associatedwith arterosclerosis ("hardening of the arteries"). It was either a fatal arrhythmia, heart attack or stroke, which caused him to die suddenly with no suffering.

There was no way to predict his demise. All of his tests, including his cholesterol level and asper levels, came back normal earlier that week. His death could not be connected to his current diet or his age; our veterinarian said that she has seen similar events in young (10 year old) birds on healthy diets. Most likely, genetics or the same kind of low-level (impossible to detect in birds as yet) inflammatory disease that is related to heart disease in humans was responsible.

We will have no further information

The Alex Foundation
As Alex went "to bed" his last night...

Alex: I love you.
Dr. Pepperberg: I love you, too.
Alex: You'll be in tomorrow?
Dr. Pepperberg: Yes, I'll be in tomorrow.


Goodnight, Alex.

Donegal Browne

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Sam the Seagull and Opportunistic Planning, Birds Are Brand Sensitive

Photo courtesy of the BBC
Aberdeen: Sam the Gull Exits with his Cheese Doritos without Paying
There is historical precedence as he is rather a Robin Hood Gull. He takes from those with many Doritos and gives to he and his friends who have none-- unless Sam nips them that is. He also does the bag ripping. Most of his "friends" don't have the equipment to get the pesky sack open.
Below find the BBC link. When you get there watch the video; the link is below the original of the photo above.
Seagull becomes crisp shoplifter

A seagull has turned shoplifter by wandering into a shop and helping itself to crisps.

The bird walks into the RS McColl newsagents in Aberdeen when the door is open and makes off with cheese Doritos.

The seagull, nicknamed Sam, has now become so popular that locals have started paying for his crisps.

Shop assistant Sriaram Nagarajan said: "Everyone is amazed by the seagull. For some reason he only takes that one particular kind of crisps."
American Common Crows on the Berkeley Campus in California, when given the option between two discarded fast food bags, many of which tend to have a few french fries still inside, invariably choose the McDonald's bag according to a new study.
These particular birds are obviously "brand" sensitive. The gull may have learned that a certain "symbol" embedded in a wrapping denotes the food inside which isn't visible. The Crows, though not exactly known for their olfactory sense, could be choosing by odor or by the visual symbol on the bag. Either way the Crows have a definite preference.
Donegal Browne


Though she calls herself contrary in this instance, Eleanor Tauber the nature photographer who graciously shares her work on the blog that is, I don't find Eleanor contrary at all. She did though, as she made a trip to go hawk watching at the Audubon Center in Connecticut and ended up focusing her camera on as she says, "yellow jackets , dying flowers and apples....."

For me, that's a wonderful form of openness. If one only notices what one went for, one will miss whole swathes of things. One would pass by these thistle seeds. The fluff of which is still the most delicate hue of purple, a subtle reminder of the more intense, passionate summer color of its blossom. Time passes.

And what about the telling and exquisite fragrance of apples on the ground? Wasps do love them dearly. And in just a little while the apples will ferment and you will see the intoxicated wasps going drunkenly about their business. And a little later, the same happens with small crab apples and Cedar Waxwings.
And oh yes, Eleanor did see some hawks as well.
Donegal Browne

Monday, October 01, 2007

But Then...

But Then...We Already Knew They Were Tough

An urban Red-tail Eyass beards the tough urban Catbirds

Urban House Sparrows are city scrappers. This one photographed by Eleanor Tauber

Isolde of the St. John's Cathedral nest, protects her youngsters from Kestrels and Crows at the same time,

Two pigeons soar in the Manhattan sky not in the least perturbed by a blimp, (Photo by Bill Walters),

And the Monarch of Central Park, Pale Male, the original tough urban raptor, scrutinizes his nest.

Cities Breed the Toughest Birds
Andrea Thompson
LiveScience Staff Writer
Sun Sep 30, 1:20 PM ET

Urban birds are regular tough guys compared to their country cousins. The avian urbanites adapt to changing environments and noisy, crowded habitats, a new study shows.

Birds that hang out on stoops and city streetlights have to deal with a set of challenges that feathered friends in more natural landscapes never encounter.

"The urban habitat is usually more severe than the habitats these birds historically occupied," said study team member John Wingfield of the University of Washington. "Urban habitats aren't easy, so the birds have to have developed coping mechanisms."

To find out which kinds of birds thrive in city environments, the researchers sent out questionnaires to ornithologists, biologists and birdwatchers all over the world that asked them to list the 10 most common native breeding birds found in their cities.

The responses named 217 urban bird species from 73 of the world's largest cities and 247 rural species. (Rural species were defined as those that did not breed in human-disturbed areas, such as towns and cities, and those for which their natural distribution overlapped with the area of at least one large city, implying they had lived there before humans moved in.)

Some well known city-dwellers, including starlings, parrots, crows, sparrows, pigeons and doves, showed up on the list, said study leader Frances Bonier, currently of Virginia Tech.

Some less common species found in cities included the black-tailed trainbearer, a tiny hummingbird in Quito, Ecuador; the green bee-eater found in Giza, Egypt; and a small bird called the broad-billed tody that lives in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

The research showed that worldwide, urban birds could endure a far broader range of environments than those which only lived in rural areas. Their elevation ranges were more than 1,600 feet broader and their distribution covered about 10 degrees more latitude, or 700 miles.
What gives city birds an edge over their rural relatives isn't known, but previous studies have shown that they have found ways to keep their stress levels down in the face of blaring horns and jackhammers and have changed their songs to make themselves heard over the din.

The new study's findings, detailed in the online edition of the journal Biology Letters, could be used to fine-tune conservation efforts by helping to identify the species that are least capable of dealing with an ever-changing and developing world. "
In the face of global climate change and human disturbances, such as increased urbanization and deforestation, we may be able to identify species that can cope with such changes," Wingfield said. "Then we may be able to identify the species that cannot cope with these changes, or might even go extinct in the face of increased disruption."

(Because even what seems to be the most obvious of hypotheses has to be tested to make sure what looks obvious is actually the answer. Do you remember the expensive study financed by the pet food industry in which they studied various diets to find the most healthful one for cats? It turned out to be....mice. Don't see Mouse Flavor Yummy Buffet in the canned cat food section? There are laws against rodent bits in canned food in the U.S.)
Donegal Browne