Tag Archives: Seabirds

A brighter future for the shy albatross

Predicting the future is a tricky business.  As then United States Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld famously said “There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know” .  Then there is the interactions between all the variables that determine the outcome of a particular event.  However, few things work in isolation and species decline often results from the accumulation of different stressors.  If we want to put in place conservation management measures that are effective in the long term, then we need to be able to put our known (and measurable) stressors together and figure out what, cumulatively they mean for our potentially at risk species.

The shy albatross (Thalassarche cauta) is an endemic to Australia, breeding on just three Tasmanian islands, including the aptly named Albatross Island.  The albatross of Albatross Island have a long history of human interest.  In the early 19th century adult albatross were extensively hunted for their feathers and egg, taking their numbers down from an estimated 11,100 pairs to just 400.  The population is now recovering, but still faces a number of possible threats.  High on this list are two issues – changing climatic conditions, and the accidental capture of the albatross in longline and trawl fisheries.  To understand just what the combined impact of these stressors could mean for this vulnerable bird, Robin Thomson and colleagues from CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research​​​, together with the Tasmanian Government Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and the Environment (DPIPWE) put together a model that can hopefully direct management to ensure these birds survive in the long term.

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Cool critter of the month: The Eurasian oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus)

Phylum: Chordata

Family: Haematopodidae

Where do they live?
These rather enigmatic migratory birds have a large range stretching across Europe, north Africa, and even into parts of Asia.  Most of the birds spend the winter in the warmer parts of this range, primarily in north Africa and southern Europe, moving northwards to breed.  In some areas like the UK, there are resident populations, where the birds stay all year round (though they undergo a ‘mini-migration’, from the southwest in the winter to the north for breeding).  During the breeding season you stand a good chance of spotting the birds on coastal saltmarshes, sandy or shingly beaches, on dunes and even on the shoreline of inland lakes and rivers.  During the winter months, your best bet is to head down to bays and estuaries.  If there are any oystercatchers nearby there’s a good chance you will spot them.  Not only is the oystercatcher among the largest of the waders, but the birds are also incredibly noisy.  Just check out this short video.

Why are they awesome?
The Eurasian oystercatcher is one of 12 species of oystercatcher found across the world.  Apparently they were given their name ‘oystercatcher’ back in the early 1840’s when the American oystercatcher ( Haematopus alliatus) was spotted munching on oysters – a mollusc that is not easy to get at.  Here are three open access papers explaining some of the awesome things we have learned about these flying critters:

Continue reading Cool critter of the month: The Eurasian oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus)