The one that got away

I just ran into an injured wood pigeon (Columba palumbus, also known as “culver” in southeast England, apparently). I suspect that it had been in some kind of altercation as a nearby magpie and crow were upset, though I didn’t see a cat in the area. Maybe it had been in a collision with a car. Or hey, the crow? Crows do occasionally attack pigeons, and also magpies. The magpie was chattering quite loudly so had presumably witnessed something that worried it (which is why I first looked for a cat).

The pigeon had an injured foot (no visible bleeding), so I decided to grab it and take it home so it could get some rest and heal.

But as I am currently in terrible shape, I wasn’t quick and agile enough, though I almost got it. (I did actually touch it, when I tried to towel it.) It flew off then, clearly knowing where it wanted to go to, which was a reassuring change from its behaviour when I spotted it, so I am hoping that it had been in shock, that I helped it snap out of it and that the injury is not too bad and able to heal.

(Also, I  had forgotten that I was wearing a long RED silk scarf at the time. This can alarm birds as they recognize it as the colour of blood, I have learned. With pet birds, you can teach them that not all blood red is actually blood for example by taking a red marker and scribbling on your hands. It may depend on the bird species, obviously.)

I will keep an eye out for the poor thing. Around here, wood pigeons are quite shy. I was amazed to see them scurry around seated people’s feet in Amsterdam a few months ago.

Yes, birds can be in shock.

In Tierra Verde in Florida, I once found a bird sitting in the middle of the road, stunned. I scooped it up and put it in my bike basket, and it stayed there for the duration of my remaining bike ride. Ten minutes or so. But when it was time to examine the bird, it flew off before we got the chance, leaving a few healthy-looking droppings behind.

And Lee Fox, who founded and ran the wild-bird hospital at which I was volunteering at the time, once stopped a guy from killing a pelican, just in time. He’d hit the bird with his car and wanted to put it out of its misery, not realizing that the bird was probably mainly stunned. Lee Fox happened to be passing in her car, stopped and rescued the bird.

Fingers crossed.

 

Need your faith in humans restored?

This will help a lot.

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(Police later showed up to scoop them up and take them to safety, in case you notice that they’re still stuck after having traversed all these lanes.)

Very severe animal cruelty at Mahard Egg Farms in the US

Last evening, I saw a video and photos that I found shocking. It concerns severe animal cruelty that occurs near Sulphur in Oklahoma. The farm is part of Mahard Egg Farms who appear to be headquartered in Texas. I searched LinkedIn and found nine accounts associated with the company, including that of its CFO, Kaitlin Mahard.

I believe that severe animal cruelty can be considered “violent crimes” which would mean that LinkedIn should remove the accounts associated with Mahard Egg Farms. The LinkedIn Professional Community Policies state that “those who engage in violent crimes are not welcome and not permitted on the Services”.

In 2011, Mahard Egg Farm, Inc., indeed a Texas corporation, was told to pay a $1.9 million penalty to settle claims that the company violated the Clean Water Act (CWA) at its egg production facilities in Texas and Oklahoma, according to the EPA:
https://www.epa.gov/enforcement/mahard-egg-farm-inc-clean-water-act-settlement

The latter apparently resulted in this:
https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2013-09/documents/mahardegg-cd.pdf

That document includes the following:

C. MORTALITY MANAGEMENT
18. Defendant shall comply with the Mortality Management Requirements in Appendix D at the Vernon-Chillicothe Facility, the Springhill Facility, the Prosper Facility, the Boogie Hill Facility, the Nebo Ranch, and the Ravia Facility, unless such facility is not growing poultry.

Appendix D stated:

APPENDIX D:
MORTALITY MANAGEMENT

I. Texas
65.
No later than the Effective Date of this Decree, Mahard shall cease any transfer of
carcasses between Facilities unless a composting plan is in place that is consistent with 30 T.A.C. 332, Subchapter B, and has been approved by EPA and TCEQ.

66.
Mahard shall ensure that all carcass disposal at the Vernon-Chillicothe, Prosper, and
Springhill Facilities is conducted in accordance with TCEQ Regulatory Guidance, RG-326, Handling and Disposal of Carcasses from Poultry Operations (August 2009) and in accordance with 30 T.A.C. § 335.25. Mahard shall collect all carcasses within 24 hours of death and properly disposed of them within three (3) Days of death. Animals must not be disposed of in any liquid manure or process wastewater system. Disposal of diseased animals shall be conducted in accordance with Tex. Agric. Code § 161.004.

II. Oklahoma
67.
Mahard shall comply with the terms and conditions in Mahard’s 4/29/09 Carcass Disposal Plan, as amended and supplemented by the letter from ODAFF, dated May 7, 2009, to Mahard (both attached here as the Appendix D Supplement).

The Kroger chain has meanwhile dropped Mahard’s eggs and I’ve reached out on LinkedIn to it spokeswoman Kristal Howard to thank Kroger and ask her to ensure that Kroger will never be associated with such severe animal cruelty again.

Kroger’s 2018 Sustainability Report includes an animal welfare policy, which states:

“Kroger has a long-standing commitment to responsible business practices, including the humane treatment of animals,” Kroger says in its policy. “We require our suppliers to adopt industry-accepted animal welfare standards that we endorse, and we monitor our suppliers for compliance with these standards. We align with the Food Marketing Institute’s industry-adopted and industry-aligned animal welfare standards for the following animal proteins: beef, pork, chicken, turkey and eggs. For nearly a decade, Kroger has convened our own independent panel of animal science experts to make recommendations on how we can work with the industry to improve animal welfare.”

I’ve also contacted the EPA.

Can you stop watching this?

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Humans and other animals

I used to be quite fond of people in general, but I no longer like humans as much as I used to.

Humans have been on the planet only a short while, but no other species has managed to wreak even a fraction of the destruction that humans already have.

Humans also hunt and incarcerate each other, and sometimes kill each other, for no good reason. (Guantánamo, anyone? Migrant detention centres, anyone? 9/11 anyone? )

Humans approve of it when other humans want to build unhealthy concrete, plastic, steel and brick homes yet tend to object when other humans want to build homes made from branches and wood, or earth, or straw bales and adobe, or live in a hole excavated in the ground where they keep their books and the other kind of stuff that we all tend to have.

More and more humans, it looks like, gather and gather and gather, and steal, and build up reserves that would last them many lifetimes. It has a name, I believe. Consumerism.

So-called progress that happens for no more than the sake of the drive for bigger bigger bigger more more more has become the norm. (Third Heathrow runway, anyone?)

Sales for the sake of sales instead of the sake of contributing something worthwhile to the lives of others is still a major driver for many, as is the accumulation of monetary value, often to make up for feelings of inadequacy and insecurity.

“It’s amazing! I have X euros/dollars/pounds’ worth of merchandise in my shop right now!”

Even a so-called stupid bird brain of a quaker parrot knows that in times of plenty, all that matters is that you have food in your hands – not how much someone else has – and that you should start building up a little stack of reserves for yourself when you notice that food is scarce.

This spunky creature, a quaker parrot called Sioux, was part of my household for 21 years  Her life and death have changed my life forever. She was still a youngster when she was brought to a wild-bird hospital in Florida where I was volunteering at the time. It was against the law to release her, and she was unable to fly, so she needed a home. I adopted her along with quaker parrot Mohawk. As I had noticed that these birds are never on their own in the wild, I wanted to adopt at least two of them, for increased well-being, and housed them together. Myiopsitta monachus.

Quaker parrots don’t round up other birds and their youngsters and put them in cages. They protect them, stand up for them (they stand up even for cats). In the wild, they share their amazing self-built homes that have separate spaces for various activities with other species, sometimes even predators. (Yet they are also highly territorial, protective of their homes.)

But many humans see them as “threats” and spread vile myths about them, mainly because their natural habitat was once limited to South-America.

Probably also because at some level, we humans feel threatened (challenged, made uncomfortable) by the intelligence and strong lively personalities of these birds. They can be highly opinionated.

Something similar goes for our city pigeons.

Birds have been on the planet so incredibly much longer than humans. They are highly aware of their own vulnerability (with to some degree the exception of birds of prey), so much that they will always try to hide it as well as they can. They don’t go around destroying their own habitat, and they tend to live quite peacefully with other species.

Humans are only one species. Homo sapiens.

We humans haven’t really learned a thing yet, have we?

These two embedded tweets below are supposed to show one image and one video.

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You thought animals we eat have no feelings?

Boiling water hurts them too.

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Time for a rethink?

There is no such thing as a dumb animal. Okay, with the possible exception of that one bee who currently keeps flying into my kitchen, again and again and again. But he always finds his way out again. Hm. Then maybe even this bee isn’t really that dumb… I haven’t figured out yet what smell on my windowsill could be attracting him. Or her.

We need to reconsider our view of other species, urgently.

Read this story: https://www.thedodo.com/on-the-farm/starving-pig-shared-food-with-his-friends

Two pigs were rescued, one had piglets and was well and the other one was very thin. Rescuers were puzzled. Turned out that the latter had been giving most of the food he had to the other pig. To help the other pig survive.

We need to reconsider our views regarding other species, urgently.

Personally, I have seen small parrots stand up for cats.

How on earth did we “developed” humans manage to think for so long that other species have no cognitive abilities? No capacity for emotions? Mind-boggling. The more developed we become, the less wisdom we humans seem to have?

Traditional scientists have to stop being so damn pig-headed about this. To see the obvious does not make you stupid, silly or dimwitted.

Brachycephalic dogs

These are essentially fashion accessories. That the dogs are live animals who are bred to look cute and that this means that they have trouble breathing does not matter to anyone who sees a dog as a fashion accessory – or a faithful adoring admirer – but it should.

There are other side effects, such as frequent skin infections.

https://www.bva.co.uk/news-campaigns-and-policy/policy/companion-animals/brachycephalic-dogs/

“We need to talk about this” – updated version

I am wrapping up the much improved version of “We need to talk about this“. There is now a chapter on euthanasia, for instance, with a discussion of the Groningen Protocol.

I didn’t write this book to convince you that my views are the right ones, even though I hope you will agree with many of them. I wrote this book to encourage as many people as possible to develop their own opinions in these areas, to go beyond impassioned exclamations like “this is so wrong” or “this is very good” and to make their opinions known to their governments and  academics, and to discuss these issues with their friends, relatives and colleagues. Continue reading

Are dogs trying to tell us something with their expressions?

 

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Shutterstock

Jan Hoole, Keele University

Dogs have been part of human social groups for at least 30,000 years. So it’s not unreasonable to suppose that we might have had some influence on their behaviour, and perhaps their understanding, during that time. We certainly know that dogs have developed ways to communicate with us, for example by whining when they are distressed or barking to alert us to intruders.

Many dog owners would probably say their pets can even tell us things using facial expressions, just like humans do. But is that really true? Perhaps they are just showing emotion without meaning to communicate (just like humans also sometimes do). New research published in the journal Scientific Reports suggests it might be, but there are still reasons to be sceptical.

In a rather elegant experiment, the researchers set up four scenarios. They offered a dog food (a guaranteed way to get their interest) while the human handler was facing towards and also away from the dog. They also had the handler face towards and away from the dog without offering food. They found that the animals showed facial expressions more often when the handler was facing towards them than away, regardless of whether or not food was involved.

Until now, there has been little work on whether or not facial expressions in dogs are involuntary. You might be able to see when a dog’s happy, angry or sad from their face, but that doesn’t mean they are purposefully trying to tell you how they felt.

The new paper suggests that the expressions may be a means of communicating something to the person. It is certain that the expression is more frequently displayed when the human is facing towards the dog, even though the handler did not look directly at the dog during the trial, and that humans respond to that expression.

If I make this face, will you stop shouting?
Shutterstock

That dogs are able to understand when a person is paying attention to their behaviour is well documented. We also know that dogs show different facial expressions when in the presence of humans, especially in the case of that “guilty” look that every dog owner knows. That particular expression doesn’t actually mean they are feeling guilty. It’s more an attempt to appease the owner who is angry for some, to the dog, unknown reason.

But there are some questions about the particular facial expressions the dogs made in the new study that mean the evidence isn’t conclusive. For example, one of the expressions the authors noticed was the raising of the inner end of the eyebrows. This increases the size of the eyes and makes the dog look more puppy-like.

Studies have shown that humans prefer animals that look like infants. This explains the popularity of breeds with short noses and large eyes, such as boxers and pugs. Dogs that raise their eyebrows more frequently seem to be more popular with people than those that don’t. This could have led to the breeding of dogs that are more likely to show these more attractive expressions alongside those that have childlike anatomical features.

Tongue wagging

Another important indicator that the authors noted was when the dogs showed their tongues. Unfortunately, the researchers didn’t separate tongue movements that indicate stress, such as licking the nose or lips, which can be an appeasing signal, from those that indicate pleasure, anticipation or excitement, such as panting or hanging the tongue out of the mouth. Without this distinction it is difficult to draw conclusions about the emotional state of the dogs.

Previous research also suggests that dogs are aware of when a human is paying attention to them and may change their behaviour accordingly. It is possible that these dogs, aware that the human is facing them felt a level of anticipation, excitement and possibly some anxiety which affected their facial expression. The fact that the food produced no extra interest when the person was turned towards the dog or away from them, could be influenced by the fact that the dog was not actually given the food.

The authors suggest that the dog’s facial expressions may be partly a result of their emotional state and partly an attempt to actively communicate with the handler. Without any evidence about the effect of the expression on the behaviour of the handler, it is difficult to say if that is true.

The ConversationIf further research could make distinctions between the type of tongue movements involved in these expressions, as well as the raising of the eyebrows, we might be able to say with more certainty. But whatever the outcome, many dog owners will probably continue to swear their pets are trying to tell them something.

Jan Hoole, Lecturer in Biology, Keele University

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

How to behave at a zoo – according to science


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What are you staring at?
Shutterstock

Samantha Ward, Nottingham Trent University

With October half-term approaching, millions around the world will head to their local zoo to indulge in the Halloween activities and get a little fresh autumnal air in the presence of some extraordinary animals. At this time of year, the animals are still wonderfully active and there’s plenty to see and do. But there are certain things you should be doing as a visitor to ensure that the animals are able to act as naturally as possible within their environments.

With advances in zoo enclosure design, there are now more opportunities for you to get up close and personal with the more exciting animals, with walk-through exhibits and animal feeding sessions. In zoos, animal welfare research is carried out frequently to ensure the animals’ lives in captivity are at their best – and we now understand the impacts that human-animal interactions have on the animals housed in them.

Research has shown that zoo animals are able to tell the difference between unfamiliar (visitors) and familiar (keepers) people and that, in some cases, visitors can have a negative impact on them. For example, increased visitor numbers have been associated with increased levels of aggression in mandrills, mangabeys, and cotton-top tamarins (monkeys), more time spent alert towards visitors in sika deer, gorillas and Soemmerring’s gazelle, less time visible to the public in jaguars, orang-utans and siamangs, and increased stress hormones (glucocorticoid concentrations) in spider monkeys, blackbuck and Mexican wolves. This can be managed by responsible zoos, but everyone must play their part.

Research has also shown us that keeper-animal interactions have a positive impact on the animals’ behaviour. This should always be kept in mind.

Don’t crowd them out.
Author provided

The following tips will help ensure that you don’t disturb the animals and have a negative impact on their behaviour.

What you need to know

There is growing evidence to show that excessive noise levels cause stress in animals and so when you are around the animals in their enclosures, try to be as quiet as possible.

Many animals, including great apes, such as gorillas and chimpanzees, are also extremely receptive to eye contact as it is a form of communication between individuals within the social group. This may make them sit with their backs turned – and can make them less likely to engage with you. Try not to stare at the animals if they are facing you – and avoid shouting or banging the glass to get their attention. Respect the animal’s privacy and space.

Primates may see eye contact as a threat.
Shutterstock

Animals in the wild are always more cautious when they have young. In zoos, baby animals are very popular, which encourages more visitors and heightened reactions from the crowds. Currently, there is no research investigating the impacts of visitors on the mother-infant relationship but it is crucial to respect the animals even more just in case there are negative implications.

The animals are likely used to their enclosure and the continuous stream of visitors surrounding it, so they might not notice you as an individual. But this does not mean that you should try to encourage them to do so by throwing food or other objects into the enclosure that have not been provided by the zoo keepers. These can cause the animals serious dietary problems. Zoo animals are on a carefully measured and specific diet and other food can be detrimental to their health and welfare.

Safety first

Health and safety in zoos is paramount. The barriers and windows are there for both your and the animals’ protection. Zoos now use a variety of designs so that you can view the animals clearly and take good photos – but if you cannot, never scale the barriers or reach out to the animals and avoid placing children on or over fences. There are a surprisingly high number of injuries, and worse, due to this each year – zoo animals are never tame and should never be treated as such.

Good zoos create educational and engaging signage to educate you during your visit. The signs may be for health and safety reasons or to enable you to learn about the animals in front of you, their wild environment and their conservation status. Signage may also be there to tell you about particular animals who may be shy or nervous or to inform you of research being undertaken. Please pay attention to the signage – it will help ensure that you get the most out of your visit.

Keep your snacks to yourself.
Shutterstock

The ConversationStick to these rules and you can be sure that your trip to the zoo will be beneficial to the animals, you and your family. Zoo animals are mostly now all captive bred and so are used to being housed in their enclosures and being provided for by their keepers. It is your job as a visitor to respect this, the animals and their homes to ensure that your own behaviour does not negatively affect the animals living there on your visit.

Samantha Ward, Lecturer Zoo Animal Biology, Nottingham Trent University

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

Whales and dolphins have rich cultures – and could hold clues to what makes humans so advanced


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A pod of spinner dolphins in the Red Sea.
Alexander Vasenin/wikimedia, CC BY-SA

Susanne Shultz, University of Manchester

Humans are like no other species. We have constructed stratified states, colonised nearly every habitat on Earth and we’re now looking to move to other planets. In fact, we are so advanced that some of our innovations – such as fossil fuel technologies, intensive agriculture and weapons of mass destruction – may ultimately lead to our downfall.

Even our closest relatives, the primates, lack traits such as developed language, cumulative culture, music, symbolism and religion. Yet scientists still haven’t come to a consensus on why, when and how humans evolved these traits. But, luckily, there are non-human animals that have evolved societies and culture to some extent. My latest study, published in Nature Evolution & Ecology, investigates what cetaceans (whales and dolphins) can teach us about human evolution.

The reason it is so difficult to trace the origins of human traits is that social behaviour does not fossilise. It is therefore very hard to understand when and why cultural behaviour first arose in the human lineage. Material culture such as art, burial items, technologically sophisticated weapons and pottery is very rare in the archaeological record.

Previous research in primates has shown that a large primate brain is associated with larger social groups, cultural and behavioural richness, and learning ability. A larger brain is also tied to energy-rich diets, long life spans, extended juvenile periods and large bodies. But researchers trying to uncover whether each of these different traits are causes or consequences of large brains find themselves at odds with each other – often arguing at cross purposes.

One prevailing explanation is the social brain hypothesis, which argues that our minds and consequently our brains have evolved to solve the problems associated with living in an information rich, challenging and dynamic social environment. This comes with challenges such as competing for and allocating food and resources, coordinating behaviour, resolving conflicts and using information and innovations generated by others in the group.

Primates with large brains tend to be highly social animals.
Peter van der Sluijs/wikipedia, CC BY-SA

However, despite the abundance of evidence for a link between brain size and social skills, the arguments rumble on about the role of social living in cognitive evolution. Alternative theories suggest that primate brains have evolved in response to the complexity of forest environments – either in terms of searching for fruit or visually navigating a three dimensional world.

Under the sea

But it’s not just primates that live in rich social worlds. Insects, birds, elephants, horses and cetaceans do, too.

The latter are especially interesting as, not only do we know that they do interesting things, some live in multi-generational societies and they also have the largest brains in the animal kingdom. In addition, they do not eat fruit, nor do they live in forests. For that reason, we decided to evaluate the evidence for the social or cultural brain in cetaceans.

Another advantage with cetaceans is that research groups around the world have spent decades documenting and uncovering their social worlds. These include signature whistles, which appear to identify individual animals, cooperative hunting, complex songs and vocalisations, social play and social learning. We compiled all this information into a database and evaluated whether a species’ cultural richness is associated with its brain size and the kind of society they live in.

We found that species with larger brains live in more structured societies and have more cultural and learned behaviours. The group of species with the largest relative brain size are the large, whale-like dolphins. These include the false killer whale and pilot whale.

To illustrate the two ends of the spectrum, killer whales have cultural food preferences – where some populations prefer fish and other seals. They also hunt cooperatively and have matriarchs leading the group. Sperm whales have actual dialects, which means that different populations have distinct vocalisations. In contrast, some of the large baleen whales, which have smaller brains, eat krill rather than fish or other mammals, live fairly solitary lives and only come together for breeding seasons and at rich food sources.

The lives of beaked whales are still a big mystery.
Ted Cheeseman/wikipedia, CC BY-SA

We still have much to learn about these amazing creatures. Some of the species were not included in our analysis because we know so little about them. For example, there is a whole group of beaked whales with very large brains. However, because they dive and forage in deep water, sightings are rare and we know almost nothing about their behaviour and social relationships.

The ConversationNevertheless, this study certainly supports the idea that the richness of a species’ social world is predicted by their brain size. The fact that we’ve found it in an independent group so different from primates makes it all the more important.

Susanne Shultz, University Research Fellow, University of Manchester

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

Bees in the city: Designing green roofs for pollinators


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Bees living in cities often have to seek out green space like parks, ravines and gardens. Green roofs could offer them some habitat.
(Shutterstock)

Catherine Howell, University of Toronto; Jennifer Drake, University of Toronto, and Liat Margolis, University of Toronto

Declining bee populations have been widely covered in the news. It is a pressing issue worldwide as one in three bites of food that we eat relies on bee pollination.

A key factor that affects bees is increasing urban development as people flock to cities. As cities develop, they sprawl into their surroundings, fragmenting animal habitats and replacing vegetation with hard surfaces such as concrete and asphalt. Insects, including a multitude of native bees, rely on soil and plants for foraging and nesting.

Bee habitat and foraging opportunities become smaller and more distant from each other. These segments of green space have become known as “habitat patches,” disconnected pieces of habitat that animals can move between to achieve the effect of a larger ecosystem.

These patches occur in cities and can take the form of ravines, parks, gardens and so on.

Despite the fact that pollinators such as birds, bees and butterflies are better at moving between patches than less mobile species, a continuous habitat is always preferable. Green roofs are seen as a way to make up for ecological habitat fragmentation. But studies and guidelines about where and how to best construct green roofs for pollinators are just emerging.

A wild, non-native bee forages for pollen on the green roof of the University of Toronto’s GRIT Lab.
GRIT Lab

Though domesticated bee species such as the well known European honey bee (Apis mellifera) tend to receive greater attention when it comes to declining population, wild bee species are often found to be even more threatened. Wild bee species are most commonly “solitary” as opposed to “social” and nest in the ground or in existing cavities, not hives.

Of the 20,000 or so known bee species, 85 per cent or more are solitary. Rapid urbanization, through paving extensive areas of our environment and loss of vegetative cover, is having a widespread harmful impact on their habitat.

Cities are beginning to recognize the importance of creating and enhancing healthy habitats for pollinator populations that support resilient ecosystems and contribute to a rich urban biodiversity.

The City of Toronto is in the process of developing a Pollinator Protection Strategy intended to raise awareness, develop new education and training, evaluate and investment in green spaces, as well as reexamine city maintenance practices.

Green roofs are mentioned in the Protection Strategy as one way cities can compensate for the loss of ecological habitat and provide valuable foraging opportunities for urban wildlife.

Native or non-native?

Research on the topic of green roofs as pollinator habitats has been fairly limited, but with cities like Toronto adopting bylaws that mandate green roof implementation, there’s an opportunity to study what design decisions are most critical to their success.

Green roof planting choices have been shown to play a part in attracting specific bee species. Sedum species, which are drought-tolerant succulent plants, have always been the most popular choice for green roofs due to their hardiness under extreme conditions, long flowering period and low maintenance requirements.

In fact, in Toronto, a great majority of green roofs are planted with sedum.

Research by University of Toronto Prof. Scott MacIvor and colleagues at the Green Roof Innovation Testing Lab (GRIT Lab) shows that when individual native bees visited sedum, their pollen loads contained other herbaceous flower sources, whereas non-native bees had more full pollen loads of sedum more often.

These findings suggest that if the majority of green roofs are planted strictly with non-native sedum varieties, it could result in a lost opportunity to bolster precious habitat for native pollinators.

It’s important to note that roughly 92 per cent of Toronto’s bee species are native. So, favouring non-native plants can provide habitat for non-native bees over native bees, and could consequently lead to increased competition for those native bees.

Site matters

Despite many green roofs being opportune places for bees to inhabit, research has shown that the location of the green roof matters. The higher the roof, the fewer bees were found there. Green roofs implemented above the eighth storey would not benefit from any additional nesting resources or attract bees.

This doesn’t mean that green roofs atop skyscrapers are useless, but that they should focus on other benefits such as rainwater retention, air quality improvement and thermal cooling.

In large cities like Toronto, many new high-rise buildings are being built with a “tower and podium” configuration, whereby the first few floors of the building have a wide floor area, often covering most of the block (podium), and the tower is set back from the edge of the building.

The roof of the podium is often used as communal space for the building’s occupants and presents a good spot for a biodiverse green roof that could serve bees’ needs. The study further shows that a decline in green space area within a 600-metre radius around each rooftop results in decreasing species richness (diversity) and abundance.

Toronto’s Old City Hall is seen from the green roof planted on the podium of the new City Hall.
(Shutterstock)

Therefore, those designing pollinator habitats on green roofs should consider green space in the surrounding landscape and other features outlined in the City of Toronto Guidelines for Biodiverse Green Roofs.

Considerations and recommendations

Though the appeal of planting green roofs with sedum is evident, limiting the plant palette solely to sedum species could be a lost opportunity to promote native plant and pollinator species in urban environments.

At its worst, this practice could cause non-native bee species to have a leg up on natives as both groups compete for pollen.

It’s important to not only consider plant communities on green roofs, but also the building height and its proximity to other habitat patches to provide as much foraging habitat as possible for bees.

The ConversationWe still need new research into nesting opportunities for ground-nesting bees in the green roof growing medium, as well as the connectivity between ground level landscapes and green roofs, to better understand the ecological value of green roofs in sprawling urban regions.

Catherine Howell, Research Assistant, GRIT Lab, University of Toronto; Jennifer Drake, Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering, University of Toronto, and Liat Margolis, Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture , University of Toronto

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

Foie gras

It was a woman in Sarasota who e-mailed me a few years ago at the recommendation of someone else in Florida who made me aware of the problem with foie gras.

Essentially, it is the product of disease and torture, which is why its sale as well as its production is against the law in many countries. The disease is called hepatic lipidosis. Fatty liver disease. It is deliberately inflicted on geese and duck for the production of foie gras.

Many celebrities have spoken out against it and actively campaigned against it. The woman in Sarasota – not a celebrity – was campaigning to stop its use in local restaurants.

I made a (semi-mock) campaign for a course I was taking in 2010, and I also boycotted Amazon until Amazon banned its sales.

Since then, I’ve been boycotting eBay UK. Ebay is stubborn and still allows its sales, although it depends on the country. I’ve never seen foie gras offered from the Netherlands, but eBay.nl does accept offers from the UK, France and Germany.

Occasionally, sellers still try to sneak it in on Amazon by calling it a book, when they sell tins of the stuff packaged in cardboard, I later saw. When I spot it, I report it.

In Britain, Viva! is a very active campaigner against foie gras.

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.