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4962.  Tue Jan 20, 2004 9:35 pm Reply with quote


4968.  Wed Jan 21, 2004 5:10 am Reply with quote

(Pall Mall Gazette, 7 February 1923)

I think the <pompous>scientific</pompous> literature can confirm the existence of the creature if two of the legs are discarded. The hoatzin (apparently pronounced Watson) is interesting as its taxonomic position is still unresolved: nobody can convince rival taxonomists that its nearest rellies are cuckoos or doves or turacos.

We also show that mtDNA sequences reported in another recent study included pervasive errors that biased the analysis towards finding a sister relationship between hoatzin and turacos.

4983.  Wed Jan 21, 2004 11:56 am Reply with quote


4984.  Wed Jan 21, 2004 12:01 pm Reply with quote


5519.  Sun Feb 01, 2004 7:59 pm Reply with quote

Maybe this should go under the General Ignorance thread as well, because this came as a surprise to me when I saw it today. I always thought the use of canaries in coal mines was a nineteenth century thing, but in fact they weren't phased out until 30th December 1986.

6221.  Wed Feb 25, 2004 6:02 am Reply with quote

Kiwis share so many characteristics with mammals that they're described as an "honorary mammal". The theory is that because New Zealand had no native mammals for millions of years, and was so isolated from other land masses, kiwis (and the other large birds native to NZ like the moa) evolved to fill niches which in the rest of the world are filled by mammals. Also, because they had no mammal predators, they were able to behave in a way which would have got them killed anywhere else, eg. living on the ground.

Their mammalian features include:

-they have whiskers, like a cat, on the face and around the base of the neck;

-they have a highly developed sense of smell, which enables them to find food by smell alone. As Garrick pointed out, they have nostrils on their beaks - in fact, they're the only birds with exterior nostrils. Their sense of smell (the size of their olfactory bulb in relation to their forebrain) is second only to the condor;

-they have a well-developed sense of hearing;

- their body temperature is much lower than other birds, closer to a mammal's body temperature;

-they have a shaggy, hair-like plumage. They aren't born covered in down, but in a slimy coat, which dries and flakes off within 24 hours, leaving them with their full plumage;

- their skeletons are different even from other ratites (flightless birds). All ratites have undeveloped flight muscles, which means that they don't need a keeled sternum to support the muscles. But a kiwi's actual bones are not filled with air sacs to make them super-light, like other birds. Their bones contain marrow, like a mammal. That also makes their legs strong and powerful;

-they have 4 toes instead of 2 or 3, like most birds;

- their large feet have fleshy footpads, so they can walk almost silently;

- their eye sockets are not separated by a plate like most birds, but are divided by a large nasal cavity;

- they live on the ground, either in burrows, or in natural hollows like tree roots. They dig their burrows with their powerful legs and claws, and some species build a labyrinthine system of tunnels;

- their skin is very tough, like a hide;

- they ovulate from both ovaries, like a mammal, whereas birds only use one. In most birds, only the right ovary functions, unless it becomes damaged, in which case the underdeveloped left ovary surges into action, as an ovatestis, secreting testosterone, which masculinises the bird. The only theory I could find for why birds use only one ovary is that they need their bodies to be as light as possible, so if only one ovary is necessary, then why bother developing both. Two developing eggs would be inconveniently heavy. This is also the theory for why birds don't have a bladder - a waste of space.

S: Bully for Bronatasaurus, Steven Jay Gould

6223.  Wed Feb 25, 2004 6:45 am Reply with quote

Kiwi reproduction: this is raw nature. It made me feel quite sick.

It takes 30 days for the female to form an egg, and during this time, she has to eat three times as much as normal, to feed the developing foetus. However, she has to fast for the last 2 or 3 days before she lays the egg, as the egg is so massive that there is hardly any room left for her stomach.

An egg can be between 15 and 25% of the female's body weight, 6 times bigger than you might expect from another bird the same size. By inter-species ratio, a chicken and a kiwi the same size would produce eggs weighing 55-100 and 400-435 grams respectively. There is an x-ray of a pregnant kiwi on

The preganant mother's belly is so distended by this massive egg, that it actually touches the ground. She has to walk with her legs splayed, and soaks her belly in cold water, both to soothe the stretched skin and to take some of the weight off.

The egg contains 65% yolk, a massive amount compared to most birds, whose eggs contain closer to 25% yolk. Birds whose eggs contain a high yolk percentage are born far more developed than birds from eggs with relatively little yolk. Sparrows, for example, are born from an egg with about 25% yolk, and are blind, naked and helpless. The kiwi is born with its eyes open and full plumage. The nutrition from the yolk sustains the newborn kiwi for several days after it hatches, so it doesn't need to eat. In fact, the hatchling kiwi is so gorged with the yolk that its belly is too distended for the kiwi to stand, as the legs simply can't support the weight. Its about 2 or 3 days before the hatchling has absorbed enough of the yolk sac to be able to stand and shuffle around the burrow.

Incubation differs between species of kiwi: Little Spotted Kiwi and Brown Kiwi breed in pairs and only the male incubates the egg; Great Spotted Kiwi, Rowi and Haast Tokoeka breed as pairs, and both adults share incubation; the male, female and a group of helpers share incubation amongst Southern Tokoeka. Because the male is smaller than the female, the egg is even bigger in proportion to a male's body size, so it's not incredibly easy for a male to position himself so he's completely covering and protecting the egg.

The incubation period is between 70 and 80 days, much longer than of a similar-sized bird, but about the same time as for a similar-sized mammal. This is probably because the body temperature is so low. Hatching can take up to 3 days. The parent then stamps on the shell to break it up, and either buries it in the nest, or eats it, for its calcium.

S: as above and

  Sophie J
6224.  Wed Feb 25, 2004 6:53 am Reply with quote

2005 will see the first test-run of a plan to teach human-reared Siberian cranes to migrate from the Arctic Circle to Iran by following a human pilot in a hang-glider. The species in question is becoming very endangered, one of the reasons being that they are shot while migrating. At the moment the Siberia-Iran flock has only four birds.

The International Crane Foundation had volunteer pilots that dress as cranes while rearing the chicks, so that they are seen as surrogate parents, before taking them on 'guided' migrations.

In 1993 the first human-led migration was carried out with Canada geese in a feat later filmed as 'Fly Away Home'.

s: BBC Wildlife Magazine. March 2004

6225.  Wed Feb 25, 2004 7:03 am Reply with quote

Kiwis live in couples, and can stay together for more than 20 years. Every 3rd day or so they share a burrow (is that a euphemism?), and at night they perform duets, calling to each other. However, divorces aren't unknown, especially in areas where there is a high density of kiwis.

Kiwis are monagamous, and the female dominates the male.

It is though that kiwis can live as long as 60 years, but because in-depth research hasn't been going for long enough, this isn't proven.

A female can lay up to 100 eggs in her lifetime.

The probable reason for the massive size of the egg is that the kiwi is the descendant of a much bigger bird, like the moa. Evolutionary changes tend to be in adult characteristics, as these are much more survivable than changes which occur at the stage of egg, young bird or foetus. It is likely that historically the kiwi was a much bigger bird. If you then compare egg size on an interspecies ratio (kiwi: moa), rather than an intraspecies ration (chicken: kiwi), the egg size is about right.

S: as above

6226.  Wed Feb 25, 2004 7:10 am Reply with quote

Baby kiwis are so vulnerable to predators that only about 5% survive to adulthood.

6227.  Wed Feb 25, 2004 7:23 am Reply with quote

There are apparently a lot of myths about kiwis. Here they are, with reasons why they aren't true:

They use their beaks to fight - no they don't they use their powerful legs and sharp claws. They sometimes hold on to their opponent with their beaks to get more leverage. Their beaks are highly valuable to them because of their sense of smell.

They are cute - they're actually very aggressive (although wild creatures generally aren't "cute", so this myth is a bit pathetic)

They are stupid - again a bit pathetic, but they can learn behaviour, so the myth is false

They are slow-movers - nope. They can cover their own territory (up to 60 football fields of rough terrain) in a single night. If they're alarmed, they can run as fast as a person

They're half-blind - no, they have small eyes because they're mainly nocturnal, but they are also more than capable of operating in daylight

They have the biggest eggs in relation to their body size - no. They're whoppers, but actually some small seabirds, like petrels, have a proportionally bigger egg, and they also have to fly with theirs.

S: as above

6229.  Wed Feb 25, 2004 9:54 am Reply with quote

The hammering and drilling of a woodpecker is interesting. It will hammer at a tree for food at a rate of 15 to 16 times a second. Every time a woodpecker brings its head to a halt, the force of the sudden stop is so strong that it results in a stress equivilant to 1,000 times the force of gravity. (Another article assures me that it is 250 times the force of which an astronaut is subjected to during lift off.)

6230.  Wed Feb 25, 2004 9:56 am Reply with quote

The reason that their heads do not shatter as a result of this is:

Their beaks are separate to their brains. Between the skull and beak is a sponge like cartilage cushion which absorbs most of the shock. Every time the woodpecker strikes a blow the muscle pulls the brain-case away from its beak, the beak of a woodpecker is stronger than most birds, its bill is chisel-tipped

6279.  Tue Mar 02, 2004 4:34 am Reply with quote


A small songbird in the wild has less than a 50% chance of surviving more than two years. However, if a young bird can survive accidents, disease, predation, migration, and winter starvation, it may live a surprisingly long time.

As a general rule, larger birds tend to live longer. It also helps to be at the top of the food chain.

A Laysan Albatross has survived 42 years and 5 months in the wild. Parrots in captivity have been known to live over 80 years.

Here are some of the records for longevity. These are certainly not average life expectancy -- these are the all time records! These figures are based on the recapture of banded birds. The life of the bird at the time of death is shown in years and months:
Common Loon 12-11
Laysan Albatross 42-05
Brown Pelican 27-10
Anhinga 11-11
Great Blue Heron 23-03
Green Heron 07-11
Mute Swan 26-09
Canada Goose 28-05
Mallard 26-04
Osprey 26-02
Red-tailed Hawk 25-09
American Kestrel 13-07
Northern Bobwhite 06-05
Whooping Crane 18-10
Killdeer 10-11
Herring Gull 28-00
Common Tern 25-00
Elf Owl 04-11
Great Horned Owl 27-07
Ruby-th Hummingbird 09-01
Downy Woodpecker 11-11
Hairy Woodpecker 15-10
Red-eyed Vireo 10-00
Blue Jay 17-06
American Crow 14-07
Purple Martin 13-09
Carolina Chickadee 10-11
House Wren 09-00
Eastern Bluebird 10-05
Western Bluebird 05-01
American Robin 13-11
Northern Mockingbird 14-10
Yellow Warbler 09-11
Song Sparrow 11-04
Northern Cardinal 15-09
Western Meadowlark 06-06
Red-winged Blackbird 15-09
House Sparrow 13-04

6283.  Tue Mar 02, 2004 6:33 am Reply with quote



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