News archive

January 2015

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Birds of Paradise - tonight - Thursday - BBC Two

Birds of Paradise - tonight - Thursday - BBC Two

For five centuries "birds from paradise" have captivated explorers, naturalists, artists, film-makers and even royalty. They are also one of David Attenborough's lifelong passions.
He was the first to film many of their beautiful and often bizarre displays and has spent a lifetime tracking them all over the jungles of New Guinea.
Here, David reflects on his first attempt to film the birds of paradise, their bizarre and exotic courtship rituals, his experience at a state-of-the-art breeding facility in Qatar, and how there are always wonderful things to discover.


Sunday, 25 January 2015

Don't forget to upload your results


Tuesday, 20 January 2015

RSPB is a voice for nature - complaints against us rejected

'You Forgot the Birds' and the Countryside Alliance made separate formal complaints to the Charity Commission about our charitable work. Neither complaint has been upheld by the Charity Commission. Nor was the RSPB subject to any formal investigation.

The Charity Commission invested time in examining our processes and activities in the light of the complaints they received. And they are clear that we have not breached charitable regulations or guidelines, or our own charitable objectives, on any of the issues raised.

As a charity, we operate in an open and accountable manner, and will continue to do so.

You can read an article on the homepage of the RSPB website about the allegations, how we responded and what the Charity Commission has said and done. Please read it

These challenges highlight the importance of the sound science and evidence which informs our work, the importance of our systems and ways of working, and the importance of our trustees and the fantastic support they give us. We know that certain interest groups and sections will continue to challenge and attempt to use the media to undermine us. This will not stop us from continuing to campaign for nature and speaking out against wildlife crime.

And, together, we will win - keep up the great work!

Mike Clarke
Chief Executive

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Referendum on spring hunting - news from Malta

Referendum on spring hunting - news from Malta

The Maltese Constitutional Court has decided to allow a referendum on spring hunting on the island, after pressure from the public and conservationists.

The Coalition for the Abolition of Spring Hunting was reported to be happy with the decision, say it was witnessing history in the making. Over 40,000 Maltese voters supported the idea of the referendum in a petition.

Campaign Co-ordinator for the Coalition, Romina Tolu, said to BirdLife Malta: "The process which has led to this morning's decision by the courts was a particularly lengthy one in which the hunting lobby tried to delay and mislead the people and the courts time and time again. It is now crystal clear that the legislation in question is not an EU treaty obligation, and it is more than evident that the hunting lobby were clutching at loose strings from the start."

Conservationists were universally please with the decision for the Maltese electorate to be able to vote on an important national issue in Malta. The vast majority of the Maltese public have been shown repeatedly to be against spring hunting, but a vocal and increasingly violent minority has appeared to have the ears of some powerful Maltese politicians. BirdLife Malta hopes to see: "an end to the concessions and backroom deals made between politicians and the hunting lobby at the cost of our migratory birds".

The Government is currently waiting for a date to be set for the referendum by the President. After which, it is to be hoped that a hearty campaign will begin.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Adult and child birdwatching

BIG GARDEN BIRD WATCH 24 -25th January

Why take part?
Bird populations are a great indicator of the health of the countryside. That's why it's so important to take part in surveys like Big Garden Birdwatch to keep an eye on the ups and downs of the wildlife where we live.

All you need to do is spend an hour over the weekend of 24-25 January counting the birds in your garden. It's that simple!

The more people involved, the more we can learn. So, grab a cuppa and together we can all help to give nature a home.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Crows have brain power to solve human-level thought problems

Crows have brain power to solve human-level thought problems

Crows have long been heralded for their high intelligence: they can remember faces, use tools and communicate in sophisticated ways. Now research shows that crows join humans, apes and monkeys in exhibiting advanced relational thinking.

Russian researcher Anna Smirnova has observed a Hooded Crow making the correct selection during a 'relational matching' trial. "What the crows have done is a phenomenal feat," says Ed Wasserman, a psychology professor at the University of Iowa, and corresponding author of the study. "That's the marvel of the results. It's been done before with apes and monkeys, but now we're dealing with a bird; but not just any bird, a bird with a brain as special to birds as the brain of an apes is special to mammals."

Wasserman said the Russian researchers have studied bird species for decades and that a main theme of their work is cognition. He credits his counterparts with a thoughtful and well-planned study. "This was a very artful experiment," Wasserman says. "I was just bowled over by how innovative it was."

The study involved two adult Hooded Crows that were trained and tested to identify items by colour, shape and number of single samples. The birds were placed in a wire mesh cage, into which a plastic tray containing three small cups was occasionally inserted.

The sample cup in the middle was covered with a small card on which was pictured a colour, shape or number of items. The other two cups were also covered with cards, one that matched the sample and one that did not. During this initial training period, the cup with the matching card contained two mealworms; the crows were rewarded with these food items when they chose the matching card, but they received no food when they chose the other card.

Once the crows had been trained on identity matching-to-sample, the researchers moved to the second phase of the experiment. This time, the birds were assessed with relational matching pairs of items. These relational matching trials were arranged in such a way that neither test pairs precisely matched the sample pair, thereby eliminating control by physical identity. For example, the crows might have to choose two same-sized circles rather than two different-sized circles when the sample card displayed two same-sized squares.

What surprised the researchers was not only that the crows could correctly perform the relational matches, but that they did so spontaneously without explicit training. "That is the crux of the discovery," Wasserman says. "Honestly, if it was only by brute force that the crows showed this learning, then it would have been an impressive result. But this feat was spontaneous."

Anthony Wright, neurobiology and anatomy professor at the University of Texas-Houston Medical School, says the discovery ranks on par with demonstrations of tool use by some birds, including crows. "Analogical reasoning, matching relations to relations, has been considered to be among the more so-called 'higher order' abstract reasoning processes," he says. "For decades such reasoning has been thought to be limited to humans and some great apes. The apparent spontaneity of this finding makes it all the more remarkable."

Joel Fagot, director of research at the University of Aix-Marseille in France, agrees the results shatter the notion that "sophisticated forms of cognition can only be found in our 'smart' human species. Accumulated evidence suggests that animals can do more than expected."

Wasserman concedes there will be skeptics and hopes the experiment will be repeated with more crows as well as other species. He suspects researchers will have more such surprises in store for science.

"We have always sold animals short," he says. "That human arrogance still permeates contemporary cognitive science."

Smirnova, A, Zorina, Z, Obozova, T, and Wasserman, E. 2014. Crows Spontaneously Exhibit Analogical Reasoning.Current Biology DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2014.11.063

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Slimbridge 'swanfall' starts winter proper

Slimbridge 'swanfall' starts winter proper

Bewick's Swans have been arriving in numbers since Christmas at Slimbridge WWT in Gloucestershire, as cold weather has moved in from Eastern Europe.
More than 81 swans have now made the final leg of their annual migration from arctic Russia during the recent cold clear nights, doubling the size of the Slimbridge roost almost overnight. The arrival of lots of swans in this way - dubbed a 'swanfall'by the charity - generally coincides with the first cold snap of winter, as the birds seek ice-free wetlands to feed and roost. This swanfall is a welcome surprise after mild weather allowed the birds to remain as far east as Estonia earlier in December.

Julia Newth, WWT Wildlife Health Research Officer, helps conserve the swan species, which has been in decline since the 1990s. She said: "The arrival of lots of Bewick's Swans is a traditional harbinger of cold weather and it feels truly wintry here at Slimbridge, with crisp, clear days and hundreds of swans [also including Mute and Whooper Swans] crowding onto the lake at dusk. It's been a fantastic spectacle for everyone who's visited over the Christmas break.Sadly, there's a serious side: the number of Bewick's Swans in Europe has dropped by over a third, but we're doing all we can to get to the bottom of the problem and everyone who visits is supporting the conservation of these beautiful wild birds."

The Slimbridge Bewick's Swans are the subject of one of the most intensive wildlife studies in the world. Julia is the latest in a line of researchers who can identify each individual swan by the unique pattern of yellow and black on its beak. The study has been running continuously for 50 years and recorded the life histories of nearly 10,000 swans during that time.

The WWT has expanded its swan research over the decades and linked up with researchers throughout the migratory swans' range in northern Europe and Russia. Together they have managed to get international protection for a chain of wetlands along the way that are vital for the swans to feed and rest.

Despite protection for their wetland habitats, the swan population has gone into decline. WWT is currently raising money through its Hope for Swans appeal in order to deliver the Bewick's Swan International Action Plan, which aims to stabilise the population.

For information on swans and where to see them, or to read Julia's blog about the Slimbridge swans and her research, visit the Slimbridge WWT website.