L.A. Unleashed

All things animal in Southern
California and beyond

Category: Birds

Farm Sanctuary asks Obama to send pardoned Thanksgiving turkeys to its rescue facility


The humble turkey's connection to American politics dates back at least as far Benjamin Franklin, and more recently, of course, it has figured prominently in an event that has become political tradition: The President's annual pardoning of a bird otherwise destined for human consumption.

Although many animal lovers can get behind the idea of sparing a bird, one advocacy group, Farm Sanctuary, is asking for an adjustment in the turkey-pardoning protocol. Farm Sanctuary, which operates two large-scale rescue farms, is asking President Obama to allow this year's pardoned turkeys to be moved to its Watkins Glen, N.Y., sanctuary, rather than to a Disney park as planned.

According to Farm Sanctuary, it is uniquely qualified to provide care for turkeys bred for food, which are a far cry from their wild ancestors and often experience leg problems and other maladies as a result of breeding programs that emphasize fast weight gain rather than long-term health. "At Disney theme parks, which have been entrusted with the care of pardoned turkeys since 2005, many of the birds have died within one year," a petition circulated by the group reads in part. "At Farm Sanctuary, these birds can live happily and comfortably for many years."

Farm Sanctuary isn't the only animal advocacy group to have qualms about the pardoning ceremony. Jennifer Fearing, California state director for the Humane Society of the United States, told Unleashed last year that she sees the ritual as "an odd one, in that it suggests that turkeys have committed some offense for which they can be pardoned. In reality, these turkeys have done nothing to deserve the punishment we force them to endure on our nation's factory farms."

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has previously urged President Obama to send pardoned turkeys to an animal rescue farm instead of a Disney park.

Your morning adorable: Rescued turkeys' pre-Thanksgiving spa day
Thanksgiving good deeds: Farm Sanctuary offers turkey-sponsorship opportunities

-- Lindsay Barnett

Photo: Former President George W. Bush pets a turkey named Flyer after pardoning him in a 2006 ceremony. Credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press

Six thick-billed parrot chicks at New York's Queens Zoo are a big deal for their endangered species

QueensZooParrot NEW YORK — Six baby parrots born in New York are a major addition to the world's critically endangered thick-billed parrot species.

The chicks at the Wildlife Conservation Society's Queens Zoo are part of the largest flock of thick-billed parrots in the United States.

Zoo director Scott Silver says the baby birds are a major win in the fight to save the rare species, which was eliminated from the American Southwest by the mid-20th century.

The red-and-green parrot is native to Mexico and critically endangered elsewhere -- its population decimated by hunting and logging.

Since 2006, the Queens Zoo has successfully raised 15 thick-billed parrot chicks. The six latest chicks were born from three different sets of parents since July.

Giant panda baby boom at Chinese preserve is good news for the endangered species
Your morning adorable: Asian lion cubs debut at Switzerland's Zurich Zoo

-- Associated Press

Photo: A thick-billed parrot perches on a tree at the Queens Zoo on Oct. 21 in a photo provided by the Wildlife Conservation Society. Credit: Julie Larsen Maher / Associated Press

Bird populations in Alaska and Northwest experience highest recorded rate of beak abnormalities

A crow with a keratin disorder

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Scientists have observed the highest rate of beak abnormalities ever recorded in wild bird populations in Alaska and the Northwest, a study by two federal scientists said.

The U.S. Geological Survey study on beak deformities in northwestern crows in Alaska, Washington and British Columbia follows a trend found earlier in Alaska's black-capped chickadees.

"The prevalence of these strange deformities is more than 10 times what is normally expected in a wild bird population," said research biologist Colleen Handel.

Handel and wildlife biologist Caroline Van Hemert published their findings in The Auk, a Quarterly Journal of Ornithology. They captured Alaska crows in six coastal locations and used documented reports and photographs for birds elsewhere.

The cause of the deformity -- called "avian keratin disorder" -- hasn't been determined, Handel said. An estimated 17 percent of adult northwestern crows are affected by the disorder in coastal Alaska.

The keratin layer of the beak becomes overgrown, resulting in elongated and often crossed beaks. The deformity showed up in adult birds, most often in the upper beak but sometimes in the lower beak or both.

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Video goodness: 'Dancing' hummingbird grooves to Al Green

Birds love our backyard in Echo Park. It's rife with an eclectic array of plants from fruit trees to cactus.

The other day, I was working in my office when I noticed a hummingbird darting about from the lantana to a bird of paradise to an orange tree and back. I got out my Canon still camera to try and capture a frame of the hummingbird in flight. I trained my lens on the bird as it rested on a wire, waiting for it to take off. But it didn't take off. It sat on the wire, swaying back and forth and moving its head from side to side, as if dancing to an inner rhythm.

I went back into my office and grabbed my video camera. Darn it! The battery wasn't charged. I sought out an extension cord, making sure the bird was still there and still dancing. It was.

For more than 7 minutes, I videotaped the tiny creature, watching it bounce and sway, and I started to hear soul music in my head. After it finally flew away, with the footage in my computer, I added just the right Al Green song, "I Feel Good," and it's just like he's dancing to the music.

Your morning adorable: Beatboxing cockatiel struts his stuff
Your morning adorable: Frostie the cockatoo shakes his tail feathers

-- Pamela Wilson

Environmental Protection Agency denies conservationists' petition to ban lead fishing tackle


WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency denied on Thursday a petition by several environmental groups to ban lead in fishing tackle, two months after rejecting the groups' attempt to ban it in hunting ammunition.

The EPA said that the petition did not demonstrate that a ban on lead in fishing tackle was necessary to protect against unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment, as required by the Toxic Substances Control Act.

In a letter to the American Bird Conservancy, one of the groups that filed the petition, EPA Assistant Administrator Stephen A. Owens said that a number of steps are being taken to address the concerns of lead in fishing tackle. Among them: limitations of lead in fishing gear on some federal lands; bans or restrictions on the state level; and federal and state outreach and education efforts.

"The emergence of these programs and activities over the past decade calls into question whether the broad rulemaking requested in your petition would be the least burdensome, adequately protective approach," Owens wrote to the conservancy's director of conservation advocacy, Michael Fry.

In their petition, the groups had argued that lead from spent hunting ammunition and lost lead fishing gear causes the deaths of 10 million to 20 million birds and other animals a year by lead poisoning.

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Rocker Ted Nugent's South Dakota pheasant-hunting may have run afoul of game laws

Nugent Hunting

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. -- Rocker and celebrity hunter Ted Nugent may have run afoul of South Dakota game laws by shooting pheasants after some of his hunting privileges were revoked in California.

Nugent's loss of his California deer-hunting license through June 2012 allows 34 other states to revoke the same privilege under the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact, though each state can interpret and enforce the agreement differently.

South Dakota honors other states' license revocations through both the compact and a state law that doesn't differentiate between large game such as deer and small game such as pheasant, said Andy Alban, law enforcement administrator for the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department.

Alban wouldn't confirm or deny whether the agency was investigating Nugent, but said: "In South Dakota, if a person had any hunting privileges revoked elsewhere, all of their hunting privileges would be revoked here."

Nugent, famed for his 1977 hit "Cat Scratch Fever," was on Oct. 16 hunting pheasants with his black Labrador retriever, Gonzo, at Dakota Hills Shooting Preserve, near the southwest South Dakota town of Oral, according to Nugent's Twitter posts and published reports.

A spokeswoman for the 61-year-old singer-guitarist said he was afield Thursday and that she was trying to reach him for a statement.

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Your morning adorable: Parrot holds her own spoon to eat peanut butter

We're not sure why, but we find something oddly hypnotic about YouTube user OnePickieChickie's video of Gracie, a 28-year-old yellow-naped Amazon parrot, holding a spoon with her foot while chowing down on peanut butter. (The soundtrack is undoubtedly part of the hypnotic effect.)

"They say parrots are as smart as a 4-year-old child," OnePickieChickie says. "Every time I am eating something, Gracie gets down off her cage and comes over to me because she wants some."

Gracie's a big fan of peanut butter, as evidenced by the video above, and when she's done eating, she simply drops the spoon on the floor and wipes her beak on her perch. "And, she doesn't even say 'thank you' for the peanut butter," her owner notes. The nerve!

Gracie just so happens to share her home with a certain famous bird: Frostie, the little corella cockatoo whose dance routine to Ray Charles' "Shake a Tailfeather" made him an online celebrity. (Frostie's well-known video has since been "remixed" to replace "Shake a Tailfeather" with a more current hit song: Willow Smith's "Whip My Hair.") Both birds are rescue pets.

Your morning adorable: Parakeet plays fetch
Your morning adorable: Beatboxing cockatiel struts his stuff

-- Lindsay Barnett

Video: OnePickieChickie via YouTube

In Kauai, Friday night football moves to Saturday afternoon to help young Newell's shearwater seabirds

Newell's shearwater

KAPAA, Hawaii — The tradition of Friday night football on the island of Kauai has been disrupted by an unusual culprit: Young seabirds migrating to the ocean mistake stadium lights for the moon and stars, causing them to become disoriented, drop from the sky and fall prey to cats.

School officials canceled Friday night football for almost all of the season on Kauai and moved the games to Saturday afternoon, angering residents who are upset that their beloved fall tradition has been thwarted because of a bird.

They have been showing up at games wearing T-shirts that disparage the policy, and occasionally voicing their displeasure from the stands during games.

"Because we're in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, we don't have much to offer our kids. On a Friday night, this is what our kids would look forward to," said Lori Koga, whose 17-year-old son is a Kauai High School varsity linebacker and running back. "And then they took that away from us."

At issue is a bird called the Newell's shearwater, which numbered about 80,000 in the mid-1990s. Its population has plunged 75 percent in recent years as Kauai added more lights that confuse the birds.

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Scientists study peregrine falcons to determine effects of Gulf oil spill

PeregrineFalcon SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, Texas — Once nearly wiped from the wild in North America by widespread pesticide use, peregrine falcons have rebounded across the continent. Now, scientists are studying whether the predators are running into trouble from BP's oil spill.

The research may also help determine the health of species lower down the food chain in the Gulf of Mexico.

The falcons, along with bald eagles and brown pelicans, nearly vanished from the wild before the pesticide DDT was banned in 1972. Since predatory birds are at the top of the food chain, smaller amounts of DDT that tainted their prey built up to higher dosages in their bodies and caused egg shells to thin, threatening reproduction.

All three species have since been removed from the federal endangered list, but scientists are concerned that some migrating peregrine falcons passing through the Gulf from their nesting grounds in Alaska and Greenland may be affected by remnants of the oil spill.

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Your morning adorable: Chilean flamingo chick already knows how to stand on one leg

Chilean flamingo chick

At Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo, two Chilean flamingo chicks that recently hatched have joined their parents on public display, and more chicks are expected to join them at any time.

This is the second successful breeding season for Chilean flamingos at the zoo. Last year, three chicks were born in the flock, but they were hand-raised by zoo staff instead of by their parents; this year, the parents are doing all the work! Three additional eggs are expected to hatch soon.

Flamingo chicks typically leave the nest when they're only a few days old, but stick close to their parents, who feed them with a secretion called "crop milk," according to the zoo. Crop milk is dark red in color and is produced in the upper digestive tract of adult birds (both male and female).

Adult flamingos get their coloring from pigments in their food; these guys won't turn their signature vivid pink until they're about 2 or 3 years old.

See more photos and a video after the jump!

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