What pigeons do in grass

After rain, pigeons often flock to grassy areas and people often wonder what they are doing there.

Well, some time ago, I was on a camp site with lots of pigeons. Mostly wood pigeons, no rock doves (city pigeons).

They were very relaxed and walked up very close to the tent with me sitting in the opening, while they foraged.

I saw one eat an entire worm, but I noticed that they also actually eat the tips of grass.

Attack of the mushrooms!

I ran into this little critter in 2012. I’ve never attempted to identify the species. This specimen has its own identity, with plenty of character.

Notice that it has an audience of fellow fungi?

 

(I wonder what caused it to grow this way and I also wonder if it was Agaricus augustus. It does occur locally; I know one spot where I’ve seen the species twice in about 10 years. I never bothered to look into the species of or even underneath this particular mushroom at the time. It resembles a Jaguar hood ornament.)

It’s a fact. Cats kill birds.

For whom the bell tolls: cats kill more than a million Australian birds every day

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On the prowl in the outback.
Hugh McGregor/Arid Recovery, Author provided

John Woinarski, Charles Darwin University; Brett Murphy, Charles Darwin University; Leigh-Ann Woolley, Charles Darwin University; Sarah Legge, Australian National University; Stephen Garnett, Charles Darwin University, and Tim Doherty, Deakin University

Cats kill more than a million birds every day across Australia, according to our new estimate – the first robust attempt to quantify the problem on a nationwide scale.

By combining data on the cat population, hunting rates and spatial distribution, we calculate that they kill 377 million birds a year. Rates are highest in Australia’s dry interior, suggesting that feral cats pose a serious and largely unseen threat to native bird species.


Read more: Ferals, strays, pets: how to control the cats that are eating our wildlife


This has been a contentious issue for more than 100 years, since the spread of feral cats encompassed the entire Australian mainland. In 1906 the ornithologist A.J. Campbell noted that the arrival of feral cats in a location often immediately preceded the decline of many native bird species, and he campaigned vigorously for action:

Undoubtedly, if many of our highly interesting and beautiful birds, especially ground-loving species, are to be preserved from total extinction, we must as a bird-lovers’ union, at no distant date face squarely a wildcat destruction scheme.

His call produced little response, and there has been no successful and enduring reduction in cat numbers since. Nor, until now, has there been a concerted effort to find out exactly how many birds are being killed by cats.

Counting the cost

To provide a first national assessment of the toll taken by cats on Australian birds, we have compiled almost 100 studies detailing the diets of Australia’s feral cats. The results show that the average feral cat eats about two birds every five days.

We then combined these statistics with information about the population density of feral cats, to create a map of the estimated rates of birds killed by cats throughout Australia.

Number of birds eaten per square kilometre.
Brett Murphy, Author provided

We conclude that, on average, feral cats in Australia’s largely natural landscapes kill 272 million birds per year. Bird-kill rates are highest in arid Australia (up to 330 birds per square km per year) and on islands, where rates can vary greatly depending on size.

We also estimate (albeit with fewer data) that feral cats in human-modified landscapes, such as the areas surrounding cities, kill a further 44 million birds each year. Pet cats, meanwhile, kill about 61 million birds per year.

Overall, this amounts to more than 377 million birds killed by cats per year in Australia – more than a million every day.

Which species are suffering?

In a related study, we also compiled records of the bird species being killed by cats in Australia. We found records of cats killing more than 330 native bird species – about half of all Australia’s resident bird species. In natural and remote landscapes, 99% of the cat-killed birds are native species. Our results also show that cats are known to kill 71 of Australia’s 117 threatened bird species.

Birds that feed or nest on the ground, live on islands, and are medium-sized (60-300g) are most likely to be killed by cats.

Galahs are among the many native species being killed by feral cats.
Mark Marathon, Author provided

It is difficult to put a million-plus daily bird deaths in context without a reliable estimate of the total number of birds in Australia. But our coarse assessment from many published estimates of local bird density suggests that there are about 11 billion land birds in Australia,
suggesting that cats kill about 3-4% of Australia’s birds each year.

However, particular species are hit much harder than others, and the population viability of some species (such as quail-thrushes, button-quails and ground-feeding pigeons and doves) is likely to be especially threatened.

Our tally of bird deaths is comparable to similar estimates for other countries. Our figure is lower than a recent estimate for the United States, and slightly higher than in Canada. Overall, bird killings by cats seem to greatly outnumber those caused by humans.

In Australia, cats are likely to significantly increase the extinction risk faced by some bird species. In many locations, birds face a range of interacting threats, with cat abundance and hunting success shown to increase in fragmented bushland, in areas with high stocking rates, and in places with poorly managed fire regimes, so cat impacts compound these other threats.

Belling the cat

What can be done to reduce the impact? The federal government’s Threatened Species Strategy recognises the threat posed by feral cats, albeit mainly on the basis of their role in mammal extinctions.

The threatened species strategy also prioritised efforts to control feral cats more intensively, eradicate them from islands with important biodiversity values, and to expand a national network of fenced areas that excludes feral cats and foxes.

But while fences can create important havens for many threatened mammals, they are much less effective for protecting birds. To save birds, cats will need to be controlled on a much broader scale.


Read more: The war on feral cats will need many different weapons


We should also remember that this is not just a remote bush problem. Roughly half of Australia’s cats are pets, and they also take a considerable toll on wildlife.

While recognising the many benefits of pet ownership, we should also work to reduce the detrimental impacts. Fortunately, there is increasing public awareness of the benefits of not letting pet cats roam freely. With such measures, cat owners can help to look after the birds in their own backyards, and hence contribute to conserving Australia’s unique wildlife.


The ConversationWe acknowledge the contribution of Russell Palmer (WA Department of Biodiversity Conservation and Attractions), Chris Dickman (University of Sydney), David Paton (University of Adelaide), Alex Nankivell (Nature Foundation SA Inc.), Mike Lawes (University of KwaZulu-Natal), and Glenn Edwards (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) to this article.

John Woinarski, Professor (conservation biology), Charles Darwin University; Brett Murphy, Senior Research Fellow, Charles Darwin University; Leigh-Ann Woolley, Research Associate, Charles Darwin University; Sarah Legge, Associate Professor, Australian National University; Stephen Garnett, Professor of Conservation and Sustainable Livelihoods, Charles Darwin University, and Tim Doherty, Research Fellow, Deakin University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Magpies can form friendships with people – here’s how

Gisela Kaplan, University of New England

Can one form a friendship with a magpie? –even when adult males are protecting their nests during the swooping season? The short answer is:“ Yes, one can” – although science has just begun to provide feasible explanations for friendship in animals, let alone for cross-species friendships between humans and wild birds.

Ravens and magpies are known to form powerful allegiances among themselves. In fact, Australia is thought to be a hotspot for cooperative behaviour in birds worldwide. They like to stick together with family and mates, in the good Australian way.


Read more: In defence of magpies: the bird world’s bad boy is simply misunderstood


Of course, many bird species may readily come to a feeding table and become tame enough to take food from our hand, but this isn’t really “friendship”. However, there is evidence that, remarkably, free-living magpies can forge lasting relationships with people, even without depending on us for food or shelter.

When magpies are permanently ensconced on human property, they are also far less likely to swoop the people who live there. Over 80% of all successfully breeding magpies live near human houses, which means the vast majority of people, in fact, never get swooped. And since magpies can live between 25 and 30 years and are territorial, they can develop lifelong friendships with humans. This bond can extend to trusting certain people around their offspring.

A key reason why friendships with magpies are possible is that we now know that magpies are able to recognise and remember individual human faces for many years. They can learn which nearby humans do not constitute a risk. They will remember someone who was good to them; equally, they remember negative encounters.

Why become friends?

Magpies that actively form friendships with people make this investment (from their point of view) for good reason. Properties suitable for magpies are hard to come by and the competition is fierce. Most magpies will not secure a territory – let alone breed – until they are at least five years old. In fact, only about 14% of adult magpies ever succeed in breeding. And based on extensive magpie population research conducted by R. Carrick in the 1970s, even if they breed successfully every single year, they may successfully raise only seven to eleven chicks to adulthood and breeding in a lifetime. There is a lot at stake with every magpie clutch.


Read more: Bird-brained and brilliant: Australia’s avians are smarter than you think


The difference between simply not swooping someone and a real friendship manifests in several ways. When magpies have formed an attachment they will often show their trust, for example, by formally introducing their offspring. They may allow their chicks to play near people, not fly away when a resident human is approaching, and actually approach or roost near a human.

In rare cases, they may even join in human activity. For example, magpies have helped me garden by walking in parallel to my weeding activity and displacing soil as I did. One magpie always perched on my kitchen window sill, looking in and watching my every move.

The curious magpie following the author’s movements in her home (Photo by G.Kaplan no reuse)

On one extraordinary occasion, an adult female magpie gingerly entered my house on foot, and hopped over to my desk where I was sitting. She watched me type on the keyboard and even looked at the screen. I had to get up to take a phone call and when I returned, the magpie had taken up a position at my keyboard, pecked the keys gently and then looked at the “results” on screen.

The bird was curious about everything I did. She also wanted to play with me and found my shoelaces particularly attractive, pulling them and then running away a little only to return for another go.

Importantly, it was the bird (not hand-raised but a free-living adult female) that had begun to take the initiative and had chosen to socially interact and such behaviour, as research has shown particularly in primates, is affiliative and part of the basis of social bonds and friendships.

Risky business

If magpies can be so good with humans how can one explain their swooping at people (even if it is only for a few weeks in the year)? It’s worth bearing in mind that swooping magpies (invariably males on guard duty) do not act in aggression or anger but as nest defenders. The strategy they choose is based on risk assessment.

A risk is posed by someone who is unknown and was not present at the time of nest building, which unfortunately is often the case in public places and parks. That person is then classified as a territorial intruder and thus a potential risk to its brood. At this point the male guarding the brooding female is obliged to perform a warning swoop, literally asking a person to step away from the nest area.

If warnings are ignored, the adult male may try to conduct a near contact swoop aimed at the head (the magpie can break its own neck if it makes contact, so it is a strategy of last resort only). Magpie swooping is generally a defensive action taken when someone unknown approaches who the magpie believes intends harm. It is not an arbitrary attack.

Fearless magpie in pursuit of larger and dangerous brown goshawk keeping themselves and other.
species safe (Photo by G Kaplan- no reuse)

When I was swooped for the first time in a public place I slowly walked over to the other side of the road. Importantly, I allowed the male to study my face and appearance from a safe distance so he could remember me in future, a useful strategy since we now know that magpies remember human faces. Taking a piece of mince or taking a wide berth around the magpies nest may eventually convince the nervous magpie that he does not need to deter this individual anymore because she or he poses little or no risk, and who knows, may even become a friend in future.

A sure way of escalating conflict is to fence them with an umbrella or any other device, or to run away at high speed. This human approach may well confirm for the magpie that the person concerned is dangerous and needs to be fought with every available strategy.

The ConversationIn dealing with magpies, as in global politics, de-escalating a perceived conflict is usually the best strategy.

Gisela Kaplan, Professor of Animal Behaviour, University of New England

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

How gender and stereotypes can shape our relationship with dogs

Whose best friend? How gender and stereotypes can shape our relationship with dogs

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One man and his dog.
Pierre Malou, Author provided

Paul McGreevy, University of Sydney and Fiona Probyn-Rapsey, University of Wollongong

The relationship between people and their dogs can be a lasting and loving bond if the match is right. But when acquiring a dog, how do you know if that match will be a good one?

Research shows there is a difference in the way some dogs react to men and women, and it can also matter if the dog is a he or a she.

The challenge lies in understanding the interactions of dogs with humans. And part of that challenge can be influenced by gender stereotypes of both humans and dogs.


Read more: I’ve always wondered: can animals be left- and right-pawed?


This shows why matching dogs to people is far more complicated than we might predict.

Dogs extend their innate social skills to humans.
Paul McGreevy, Author provided

Humans and dogs: a long history

Humans have been co-evolving with dogs for thousands of years. We owe them a lot, including (perhaps surprisingly) the ways in which we experience and express gender via animals.

This often happens in negative ways, such as when women are referred to as bitches, cows, pigs, birds, chicks and men as wolves, pigs, rats. None of these animal metaphors have much to do with the animals themselves but more to do with how we use categories of animals to categorise humans.

So unpacking and challenging gender stereotypes might just also improve the lives of animals too.

A 2006 landmark analysis of gender and dog ownership revealed that owners use their dogs as props to display their own gender identities.

Participants in this study considered female dogs to be less aggressive but more moody than apparently more playful male dogs. They used gender stereotypes not only to select dogs, but also to describe and predict their dog’s behaviour and personality.

Learning to fetch.
Paul McGreevy, Author provided

The potential ramifications of this are important because such flawed predictions about dog behaviour can lead to a person giving up on their dog, which is then surrendered to a shelter.

Once surrendered, an aggressive bitch or uncooperative dog faces a grim future, with most dogs who fail a behavioural assessment being killed, adding to the troubling euthanasia rates in Australia.

That said, the predictive power of behaviour assessment in shelters is being questioned. Some say the ability of such assessments to reliably predict problematic behaviours in future adoptive homes is “vanishingly unlikely”. Moreover, the assessments are likely to be informed by the gendered expectations and behaviours of the humans who assess, surrender or adopt.

A small study in the UK in 1999 observed 30 dogs in shelters when approached by unfamiliar men and women. It found that the female dogs spent less time looking towards all the humans than the male dogs did.

All the dogs barked at and looked towards the women less than the men, which the researchers suggest shows that gender of the potential adopter plays a role in determining what a good match might look like, as well as the likelihood of adoption.

Dogs and bitches may have different motivations.
Paul McGreevy, Author provided

Even the bond that dogs share with their primary care-giver may have gender differences. For example, in a 2008 Australian study (led by one of us, Paul), dog owners reported that male dogs showed elevated levels of separation-related distress compared to female dogs. They also reported that separation-related distress and food-related aggression increased with the number of human adult females in the household.

Desexing, which is more than justified by the animal welfare benefits of population control, also complicates cultural beliefs about appropriate dog gender and may even influence a dog’s problem-solving behaviour. A recent study published this year suggests that desexing may have a more negative effect on female than male dogs when it comes to aspects of cognition.

A study (co-authored by one of us, Paul) published last month, that focused solely on working sheepdogs and their handlers (and so may have limited relevance to domestic companion dogs), is the first report of behavioural differences related to gender difference in both dogs and humans.

Gender stereotypes

These studies underline just how much the lives of dogs depend upon how they conform to gender expectations. In other words, it’s not just how we humans interact with dogs that matters, it’s how our genders interact as well.

While we know how damaging stereotypes can be for humans, dog owners may not consider just how their conceptual baggage of gender stereotypes affects the animals they live with.

Most dogs excel at fitting into our homes and lives.
Paul McGreevy, Author provided

More research can help to shed light on the role that gender plays when it comes to making a good match between humans and their dogs; and by good match, we mean one that will result in a decrease in the likelihood of the dog being surrendered to a shelter or treated badly.


Read more: Curious Kids: How can you tell if your cat is happy and likes you?


The take-home message from these studies is that, to be truly successful mutual companions, dogs don’t need just any human, they need a complimentary human who is open to reflecting critically on gender stereotypes.

Thanks partly to an uncritical adoption of gender stereotypes, the matching of dog and human is currently rudimentary at best. So we should not be surprised if dogs often fail to meet our expectations.

The ConversationWhen relationships go wrong, it’s catastrophic for dogs, because it contributes to euthanasia rates in shelters. These deaths need to be better understood as a broader failure of human understanding about how their own beliefs and behaviour affect the dogs in their lives.

Paul McGreevy, Professor of Animal Behaviour and Animal Welfare Science, University of Sydney and Fiona Probyn-Rapsey, Professor of Humanities and Social Inquiry, University of Wollongong

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Pets and you

The science behind why some people love animals and others couldn’t care less

File 20170927 24149 i6vsca

xkunclova/Shutterstock.com

John Bradshaw, University of Bristol

The recent popularity of “designer” dogs, cats, micro-pigs and other pets may seem to suggest that pet keeping is no more than a fad. Indeed, it is often assumed that pets are a Western affectation, a weird relic of the working animals kept by communities of the past.

About half of the households in Britain alone include some kind of pet; roughly 10m of those are dogs while cats make up another 10m. Pets cost time and money, and nowadays bring little in the way of material benefits. But during the 2008 financial crisis, spending on pets remained almost unaffected, which suggests that for most owners pets are not a luxury but an integral and deeply loved part of the family.

Some people are into pets, however, while others simply aren’t interested. Why is this the case? It is highly probable that our desire for the company of animals actually goes back tens of thousands of years and has played an important part in our evolution. If so, then genetics might help explain why a love of animals is something some people just don’t get.

Micro pigs in skirts.
PanyaStudio / Shutterstock.com

The health question

In recent times, much attention has been devoted to the notion that keeping a dog (or possibly a cat) can benefit the owner’s health in multiple ways – reducing the risk of heart disease, combating loneliness, and alleviating depression and the symptoms of depression and dementia.

As I explore in my new book, there are two problems with these claims. First, there are a similar number of studies that suggest that pets have no or even a slight negative impact on health. Second, pet owners don’t live any longer than those who have never entertained the idea of having an animal about the house, which they should if the claims were true. And even if they were real, these supposed health benefits only apply to today’s stressed urbanites, not their hunter-gatherer ancestors, so they cannot be considered as the reason that we began keeping pets in the first place.

Illustration of a Japanese cat cemetery.
Penguin, Author provided

The urge to bring animals into our homes is so widespread that it’s tempting to think of it as a universal feature of human nature, but not all societies have a tradition of pet-keeping. Even in the West there are plenty of people who feel no particular affinity for animals, whether pets or no.

The pet-keeping habit often runs in families: this was once ascribed to children coming to imitate their parents’ lifestyles when they leave home, but recent research has suggested that it also has a genetic basis. Some people, whatever their upbringing, seem predisposed to seek out the company of animals, others less so.

So the genes that promote pet-keeping may be unique to humans, but they are not universal, suggesting that in the past some societies or individuals – but not all – thrived due to an instinctive rapport with animals.

Pet lovers of the future.
Conrado/Shutterstock.com

Pet DNA

The DNA of today’s domesticated animals reveals that each species separated from its wild counterpart between 15,000 and 5,000 years ago, in the late Palaeolithic and Neolithic periods. Yes, this was also when we started breeding livestock. But it is not easy to see how this could have been achieved if those first dogs, cats, cattle and pigs were treated as mere commodities.

If this were so, the technologies available would have been inadequate to prevent unwanted interbreeding of domestic and wild stock, which in the early stages would have had ready access to one another, endlessly diluting the genes for “tameness” and thus slowing further domestication to a crawl – or even reversing it. Also, periods of famine would also have encouraged the slaughter of the breeding stock, locally wiping out the “tame” genes entirely.

But if at least some of these early domestic animals had been treated as pets, physical containment within human habitations would have prevented wild males from having their way with domesticated females; special social status, as afforded to some extant hunter-gatherer pets, would have inhibited their consumption as food. Kept isolated in these ways, the new semi-domesticated animals would have been able to evolve away from their ancestors’ wild ways, and become the pliable beasts we know today.

The pug – a long way removed from its ancestors.
Penguin, Author provided

The very same genes which today predispose some people to take on their first cat or dog would have spread among those early farmers. Groups which included people with empathy for animals and an understanding of animal husbandry would have flourished at the expense of those without, who would have had to continue to rely on hunting to obtain meat. Why doesn’t everyone feel the same way? Probably because at some point in history the alternative strategies of stealing domestic animals or enslaving their human carers became viable.

There’s a final twist to this story: recent studies have shown that affection for pets goes hand-in-hand with concern for the natural world. It seems that people can be roughly divided into those that feel little affinity for animals or the environment, and those who are predisposed to delight in both, adopting pet-keeping as one of the few available outlets in today’s urbanised society.

The ConversationAs such, pets may help us to reconnect with the world of nature from which we evolved.

John Bradshaw, Visiting Fellow in Anthrozoology, University of Bristol

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

“Don’t you dare harm my baby!”

Yesterday, I encountered a gull and realized “Oh! You’re a baby!”

I think this was the second time in the past five years or so that I’d seen a young from close enough that I was able to detect the messiness of its feathers. The first time, I mistook it for a gull that had had an encounter with hot exhaust gases. *blush*

I looked up. Would there be a parent around? Sure enough, an adult was sitting on the roof above the youngster and sure enough, it swooped down and signalled “Don’t you dare harm my baby!” by reaching a point no more than about a meter over my head – I instinctively ducked – before it swooped upward again.

Message understood. Roger, willco, over and out.

So I walked on. The parent returned to its high perch, literally watching over its young.
Then I took this photo, with my old mobile.

The pigeons of Waterlooville, Havant

In Waterlooville, quite close to where I am based, they are having a situation that is far from rare (and one that is so wonderful to work with). See the following three pages:

https://www.havant.gov.uk/news/crackdown-feeding-time

http://www.portsmouth.co.uk/our-region/havant/don-t-feed-the-pigeons-in-havant-or-you-could-be-fined-80-1-8042053

http://www.aboutmyarea.co.uk/Hampshire/Portsmouth/PO6/News/Local-News/309312-Crackdown-on-Feeding-Pigeons-in-Havant

Apparently, some residents and shopkeepers are experiencing problems with pigeons while other residents are feeding the same pigeons, eh, up to 8 kilograms bird food per day? (I am sure I have misunderstood that, because that is a heck of a lot of bird food.)

Both sides are right, of course. While pigeons rarely spread disease – a common myth – their droppings can be unsightly and, well, a pain in the butt. Pigeons are also very smart creatures for which we are actually responsible, however, as it was us who took these birds from the sea cliffs in the countries where we found them in the past. We took them with us, and spread them all over the world because we liked them. Yep. We also used them as messengers, of course.

So what’s a pigeon gonna do? It has no choice but to use our buildings and bridges to roost and nest, as those are the only things that come close to the sea cliffs they once had in warmer countries.

And apparently, even if they are told that the birds will be killed unless they stop feeding them, many people who feed pigeons will continue to feed the birds. It is understandable. If you’ve only once seen a pigeon trying to eat some utterly disgusting piece of greasy fast food that made us gag and throw it away and that gets grease all over the bird and barely any nutrition into it, then you start feeling an obligation toward these gentle rock doves. Again, after all, we’re the ones that brought them here.

(In fact, when you look at the pigeons around you, you can also often see that the local pigeons breed with the white pigeons released on various festive and memorial occasions!)

While many city councils may feel powerless when dealing with a pigeon problem, there is actually a solution. After Nottingham City Hospital tried it in 1999, they were astonished. The pigeon population was reduced from 1200 pigeons in 1999 to 63 pigeons in 2005, only 5 years later. That is a 95% reduction in flock size without killing a single bird! Nottingham City Hospital also won the prestigious RSPCA Best Practices Award for its work with a pigeon organisation that sadly no longer seems to exist. (But this one does: http://www.pigeoncontrolresourcecentre.org/html/reviews/artificial-breeding-facilities.html. And that page has more examples and cost estimates, too.)

Think like a pigeon! What does a pigeon want? A good place to sleep, sheltered from the elements. A good place to nest too.

(And the best food you can get, because good food helps you stay healthy.)

Our buildings often don’t actually offer pigeons a lot of good shelter, so you can entice pigeons to move out by offering them a better alternative. You can place artificial roosting and nesting structures – modern dovecotes and pigeon lofts – in parks or on flat roof tops. They’re also called artificial breeding facilities or ABFs.

They enable you to decrease pigeon pressure elsewhere by attracting the pigeons to them. They can also allow you to control and maintain a healthy pigeon population (which requires a DEFRA licence just as it is also against the law to kill any kind of wild bird without a licence).

When I read that in Waterlooville, pigeons apparently are roosting (?!) on balconies where the human inhabitants don’t want them, I concluded that those pigeons must be very desperate. So that would mean that this solution might work particularly well in Waterlooville.

I bet it is possible to engage those who are currently feeding the pigeons in locations where they cause problems in a pigeon control and relocation project, leading to good results for everyone.

Put yourself in a pigeon’s shoes. Where would you like to sleep? In a nice condo or in a leaky shed that may not even have a roof? Pigeons are damn smart. It’s easier to work with their intelligence than against it. Some pigeons routinely take the tram or metro and one has even been spotted taking the ferry from Portsmouth to St Malo and back.

Need more convincing? Ha! Watch these 46 minutes by National Geographic.

The artificial structures can be made from scrap materials at almost no cost. They can also be made from recycled plastic, which is sturdy, completely non-toxic (environmentally friendly) and totally maintenance-free. It is highly durable.

You can get it from Kedel, who were the winners of the 2015 ‘Best Recycled Product’ award and are based in Colne, Lancashire, Second Life Products Wales (SPLW), who are based in Swansea and British Recycled Plastic, who are based in Mytholmroyd, West Yorkshire.

With a bit of luck, ha, you can even tie such a project to your own local plastic recycling. You can also come up with ways to let the structures fund themselves, partly or fully. (Allow people to name a pigeon or sponsor a “floor” in the structure, volunteer in all sorts of ways, what have you.)

You can combine it with all sorts of educational activities (responsibility for our own environment including for example recycling) or use it to, say, connect different generations. You can include it in primary school teaching. Lots of stuff you can do with it, I am sure.

Now, if I were such a borough or city council, I’d jump at such an opportunity to make many people happy, and get lots of kudos without ticking anyone off.

If the pigeons already know one or two people who feed them, they are likely to follow those people, who can lead the pigeons away, in daily steps. And you can also teach pigeons sound signals to respond to (signals they associate with the food).

The Royal Family  has been keeping pigeons for many decades, by the way.

When I searched for the problem on Twitter, for Waterlooville, I only found four tweets, none recent.

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Anna Marie Marshall case – 2

This is the case of a homeless woman in York who had been found with an injured gull on a leash. An arrest warrant has been issued against the woman, who may not be well, so I understand.

http://www.yorkpress.co.uk/news/15391489.Woman_found____walking_injured_seagull_on_lead____in_York/

http://www.yorkpress.co.uk/news/15411980.Woman_wanted_on_warrant_over_seagull_allegations/

From the above page, I also understand that one of the charges against her – and likely the most serious one – is that she allegedly caused the injuries to the gull.

I find that unlikely. I have been lucky enough to have volunteered at a world-renowned wild-bird rehabilitator in the US (Lee Fox). It normally takes at least two people to hold and examine an injured bird. Putting a leash on a healthy bird, single-handedly?

Gulls are pretty feisty and far from cuddly. I find it very unlikely that this woman would have been able to capture and keep this gull with her if the animal had not already been hurt (badly).

Unless they have experience with birds, even regular veterinarians generally don’t know how to handle birds (so again, unless this bird was already injured considerably, this woman very likely would never have been able to keep the bird with her). Even a pigeon – usually much calmer than a gull – can be very hard to catch. Even a non-flighted pigeon can be very hard to catch if you don’t know what you’re doing (and even sometimes if you know what you’re doing).

I am trying to find out more, am contacting veterinary practices in York to see which one received the gull and what the nature and extent of its injuries were.

I have been in touch with her solicitor on Twitter, but he is not allowed to tell me much, of course, and I can only applaud his reticence. I’ve also left a message with an organization for the homeless in York, and one or two other places.

My sole interest is helping this woman if I can. Because this case is not about a healthy woman purposefully hurting a bird, by the sound of it.

I think it’s probably fairly disgusting that the police officers or prosecutor in question added the charge that the woman was yelling at the officers. In this case, that’s likely comparable to charging someone in a diabetic crisis with public intoxication (“drunk and disorderly”).

Of course, I may be wrong. Maybe the woman had a big shovel and suddenly stormed down Parliament Street, hit a few gulls, grabbed one and put it on a leash just to, say, re-enact a scene from a film with someone else recording video on a mobile to put on social media. That’s why I am trying to find more information.

I am not saying that the woman has not hurt the bird (as birds have much less dense bones than mammals and have a very different respiratory system, it’s probably easy to injure a bird accidentally), but by the sound of it, it clearly was not her intent to hurt the bird. She may have found the bird and intended to look after it. If she’d taken it to a veterinarian, she might have been turned away by reception staff. (Maybe she even had taken it to a vet practice. I don’t know.)

Neither can it be ruled out at this point that someone else put the injured animal on a leash and pressed the leash into her hands, told her to look after the bird. (That’s the sort of thing that goes on in some towns.)

Is there any CCTV of what happened?

If the woman had been in a different town or had run into different police officers, the case might not even have existed. It sounds like a waste of human resources and the taxpayers’ money.

Let’s ask this. If someone had found an injured gull and put the animal in a box in order to take it to a vet, had run into and yelled at a police officer who wanted to take the box away because he or she thought that the box contained stolen goods, would that person have been charged with the three counts Anna Marie Marshall has been charged with, even though technically, the exact same things would have happened, but with a different person?

(Generally speaking, whether you put a gull on a leash or in a box makes little difference, legally.)

Why do I bother? Because in my nearly thirteen years in Britain, I have seen a heck of a lot of injustice and it makes me sick. If I can do a little bit to decrease the injustice in Britain a little bit, I will.

(But I am no longer naive enough to think that the masses in Britain want anything else other than the misery they already have, because misery – like beauty – is in the eyes of the beholder. The British actually like most of their misery, it seems.)

In the town where I am based, you could kill a hundred gulls, so to speak, for instance with the sole purpose of annoying a nature lover, and police here would very likely merely consider it hilarious, also because lots of people actually complain about no more than gulls being gulls and calling out while flying around. Gulls have just as much right to be on the planet – or more as birds have been on the planet so much longer than humans. That’s all just as bad, or sad, but it shows you how unequally “justice” is meted out in Britain.

If anyone has any helpful feedback, please use the form below. Thanks.

 

 

Who loves to be glued to a desk?

There are very few geologists who went into earth science because they loved sitting at a desk behind a computer all day long (though particularly structural geologist do a lot of modelling).

I am no exception. Below is a view from the lamproite plug that I had in my fieldwork area in south-eastern Spain one year (Cancarix).

See what I mean?

By the way, a lamproite plug is like a tiny volcano with molten rock that came up from very deep in the earth. Kimberlite – which can contain diamonds – is a bit like that too.

I loved doing fieldwork, and I miss it. In fact, when I spend too much time behind a computer, typing up reports and so on, I tend to develop neuromusculoskeletal complaints of shoulders, arms, wrists and hands. I don’t like being indoors all the time either.

It is one of the reasons why I enjoy working with wildlife. It enables me to spend more time outside. I even have a small tent for this purpose.

Effective city pigeon management

Traditional pest control companies like spreading persistent myths that help keep them in business. Thankfully, humane wildlife deterrence practices – which are much more effective – are slowly gaining traction. Take pigeons.

They’re highly intelligent animals which we took from their native habitats in foreign countries – sea cliffs – and introduced all over the world. I didn’t know that until nearly two years ago. When it comes to pigeons, there seem to be three groups of people: People who hate them, people who love them and people who are indifferent to them.

I used to be in that third category. In the past, I hardly paid any attention to the critters.

If you haven’t seen it yet, watch this documentary:

Deterring pigeons the traditional way is expensive. That’s partly because it works against the intelligence of the animals instead of working with it. Birds have been on the planet much longer than humans – since 150 million years ago, roughly, whereas our oldest ancestors such as Orrorin tugenensis appeared only around 6 million years ago. So birds have built up a vast collective knowledge that we still lack.

Several cities, including Paris and Nottingham, successfully work with pigeons instead of against them. It results in healthier birds and makes – if you want that – controlling pigeon populations much easier (through the use of dummy eggs).

In city parks and on the rooftops of flat buildings, you can provide pigeon roosting, nesting and feeding structures – modern dovecotes – that are so attractive to pigeons – the former rock doves – that they’ll select them over the inferior spots where we humans usually don’t want pigeons.

Such structures can be made from recycled plastic, which is maintenance-free, non-toxic and available in many shapes and colours. You can use them educational facilities for the public too, connect them with their surroundings in a positive and meaningful way that can be highly inspirational.

It makes sense. Would you rather live in a shack that exposes you to the elements from almost all sides or in a nice cosy environment that feels like home?

PS
I’d be very happy to assist any party (city council, park owner, owner of large building with flat roof) who wishes to apply this.

You, me and plastic

Like just about everybody else, I use too much plastic and have started to take small steps toward reducing my plastic footprint. Plastic not only ends up everywhere, including our own bodies and the food we eat, it also greatly impacts wildlife.

Instead of toothpaste, I use baking soda that comes packaged in paper and cardboard. Using baking soda is cheaper than using toothpaste.

Instead of buying containers of liquid hand soap, I make my own from a quarter bar of soap and refill the containers I already have. This too is much cheaper than purchasing ready-made liquid hand soap and the effort involved in making my own is negligible.

I try to keep plastic food containers and reuse them at least once for seedlings on my window sill. It’s nowhere near enough. I would like to see a system geared toward collecting and reusing  the plastic used to package food.  Maybe I’ll start one myself one day.

 

Solidarity and compassion

There are two kinds of solidarity. Exclusive solidarity is essentially protectionism. Groups rally to stand up for their own kind and do each other favors such as recommend each other and give each other jobs. It exists on the basis of what divides us, what makes us different from others.

Birds do this too. If you are observant and like being outdoors, for instance go for walks, you may on occasion have seen crows appearing from all sides and forming a circle around a crow attacked by someone’s dog. You can also occasionally hear a lot of loud cackling, look up and see a group of magpies around a cat that has climbed into a tree.

Inclusive solidarity, on the other hand, is much closer to compassion. It does not ask many questions and exists on the basis of what we have in common.

Birds do this as well. If for example you happen to have lived with certain parrots, you may be quite familiar with this. I adopted two quaker parrots in 1994 and they both stood up for my cats if they thought some harm might be happening to one of my cats, for example if I had to stuff a pill into a cat’s mouth and make sure the cat swallowed it, for a very good reason. This happened regardless of whether the cat in question was kind to birds or not.

Birds are capable of compassion because they appear to have something called “theory of mind” just like humans do.

I have seen one of my little parrots quickly step forward and snatch a bit of feces off the other bird. It was stuck to a feather. That other bird never even noticed what happened. This was an act of selfless compassion based on the first bird’s reasoning that she would not want to have feces stuck to her own butt and therefore the other bird probably wouldn’t like it either.

I have two kinds of confirmation for this.

In the past, I have seen that particular bird come running down a series of perches (in a huge cage) and then stop short to avoid stepping into fresh feces.

This particular bird was a pretty intelligent rascal who went through phases of pranks involving feces. For a while, she took great delight in pressing her butt against the bars of the open cage to help her aim and then pelt poop at my shoes whenever I sat reading in a chair near the cage, for example. Poopball. Goal! This means that the bird assumed that I would not like getting feces on me and also that she knew that getting feces on my shoes wasn’t so bad.

This bird has forever changed the way I look at birds. I used to see birds as completely devoid of anything resembling human intelligence. Birds flew, hopped and tweeted. That was it. Oh, and they laid eggs, too. Particularly the flying made me experience them as distant, I presume. Removed. Different.

I couldn’t have been more wrong about that.

I still remember the look that parrot – the longest-living of the two – gave me when I apologized to her for it having taken me so long to realize how intelligent she was. How stupid the two of them must have thought we humans were and how desperate they must have felt at times. “Is she ever going to get it?” She was a very wise one, that one. (She started showing me, by anticipating my moves and wishes and acting on them, all by herself. The first time that happened I was stunned.)

We’d all do ourselves a favor if we could focus more on inclusive solidarity and less on protectionism. I believe we’re slowly getting there.

 

Natural friends

Yesterday evening, I saw up to four foxes within a short period of time. I saw one, a gorgeous one with a very fluffy tail and an equally fluffy face, very close to my home. I’d heard a fox call out repeatedly, before I went out. Maybe it was that one.

A little bit later, I saw two or three scrawnier-looking types a few hundred yards away from my home. They’d been up to something and I don’t rule out that they’d caught a bird and were fighting over it. There was a lot of rustling and some squeaking going on, but when I walked up to enquire, the foxes ran off, abandoning whatever they’d been up to.

Last year, I saw up to six foxes one evening, but that was much later in the evening, and I had purposefully gone out to look for foxes that day. While I was standing in the dark and couldn’t actually see the fox, one very close to me warned either me or, more likely, another fox to stay off its turf, by the sound of it. That felt awesome, to be that close, to have a fox call out right next to you. It was that time of the year when the young ones are establishing their territories.

I have seen a fox scale a 2-m-high wall as if it wasn’t there and I’ve also seen one flatten itself and slip under a gate, through a very narrow space.

If you happen to be living in the territory of foxes, and need some help with that, then it is useful to know that if you kill a fox, you usually merely enable another fox to move in. Traditional pest controllers and exterminators tend to want to kill animals, unfortunately. It is much more effective to work with specialists who understand animals and get them to cooperate.

What do they want, foxes? Essentially the same things you want. So it is often possible to entice them to go somewhere else. A good book about this is “Wild Neighbors: The Humane Approach to Living with Wildlife” by John Hadidian and others. (I am lucky enough to have it.)

It’s time to re-evaluate our relationship with animals

From the description (6 May 2014):

Lesli Bisgould is Canada’s first animal rights lawyer. For ten years, she acted for individuals and organizations in a variety of animal-related cases in the only practice of its kind in the country. She has fought for the rights of students who objected to dissection in science class, for critics of facilities where animals are held captive, and for changes in the law to ameliorate the legal status of animals. Lesli is an adjunct professor at the University of Toronto’s faculty of law where she instructs a course on animals and the law. Lesli is the author of “Animals and the Law”, the only Canadian law text on the subject, published by Irwin Law. Lesli was the 2012 international law lecturer for Australian animal protection institute, Voiceless – she undertook a 12-stop lecture tour of Australia, comparing the commercial hunts for seals in Canada and kangaroos in Australia. In recent years, Lesli’s full-time work has been in the human rights and poverty law fields, and she is currently the Barrister at Legal Aid Ontario’s Clinic Resource Office.

Grow your own food inside a computer

At least, that is what it looks like, like you’re growing vegetables inside a computer case. This is a TED Talk by Caleb Harper.

TED Talks won’t let me embed this TED Talk, so you will have to click on the above link.

You can grow your own tasty Isle of Wight, Spanish or Floridian tomatoes, lettuces, broccoli, and a lot more, by recreating local climate and nutritional conditions with the aid of a computer, using recipes that you can exchange for free.

I want one!!!

This YouTube video show you how you can build one. This is not for everyone, so it is a great projects for neighborhood communities!