On helping birds and miscellaneous news items

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The April-May edition of National Wildlife contained an article describing measures that residents of cities and suburbs can take to make their properties more attractive to birds, butterflies, bees, and other beneficial insects. To enhance songbird populations, landscaping with native trees and shrubs is strongly recommended. During the nesting season, songbirds rely almost exclusively on insects to feed their young. Most of these insects are plant-feeders during some stages of their life cycles, and exotic plants support few insects birds rely on. A study in the Mid-Atlantic region revealed that native oaks provide food for 534 caterpillar species whereas ginkgos, popular non-native trees, support only one. Birds such as chickadees and warblers rely specifically on caterpillars for 90 percent of their diet during the breeding season.

The author, Laura Tangley, also stresses the importance of providing clean water for birds to drink and bathe if natural sources are not available. She quotes University of Delaware entomologist Douglas W. Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife With Native Plants, who says that by helping birds, homeowners also will be helping other wildlife. “Birds are good ecological indicators. If you have a diverse native bird population, it’s a sign that the ecosystem as a whole is healthy.” Peter Marra, a Smithsonian research scientist, is also quoted. Marra, after 13 years studying urban and suburban bird reproductive success, concludes, “The three most important things homeowners can do to help birds are eliminating pesticides and free-roaming domestic cats and adding native plants.”

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Latest in Keystone XL: The State Department recommends approval, but Pres. Obama has not yet given it. James Hansen, NASA’s head climate scientist warns, “Approval of the pipeline would be the first step down the wrong road, perpetuating our addiction to dirty fossil fuels, moving to even dirtier ones.”

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USA Today reports the atmospheric carbon dioxide level has reached 396 parts per million, up from 200 ppm in 1800. CO2 levels last reached 400 ppm about 15 million years ago, when global temperatures were as much as 10 degrees F. warmer, and sea levels were 75 to 120 feet higher than today.

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A new federal study finds that emergency room treatment for 10 common illnesses varies enormously, depending on the hospital and the type of insurance. Cited is the cost of treating a urinary tract infection, which ranges from $50 to more than $73,000.

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Researchers at Cardiff University (U.K.) finds that the size of the penis bones in Britain’s otters are steadily decreasing, and that the incidence of undescended testicles is increasing, as is the occurrence of cysts on the vas deferens tubes that carry the sperm. The scientists fear that these problems are caused by endocrine disruptors in the otters’ aquatic habitats. The author of this report, Elizabeth Chadwick, stated that the otters’ troubles “could be a warning for all mammals, including us humans.” Numerous chemicals, including some pesticides and prescription drugs, are known to be endocrine disruptors, and bisphenol A (BPA) is suspected to cause birth defects and other developmental disorders in males. BPA is used in the manufacture of hard plastic beverage bottles and to line the interiors of metal food and beverage containers.

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Golfers take note of these happenings: in Waterloo, Ill., a golfer fell into a 15-foot-deep sinkhole that opened in the middle of a fairway. He was rescued by friends; the general manager of the course called the incident “an accident of nature.”

In Beaufort, S.C., a golfer reached into the water to retrieve his ball, and a ten-foot alligator bit off his arm. In Lake Wales, Fla., a golfer entered the water and a nine-foot gator grabbed his leg. He escaped, but had three deep gashes on his leg. In 2007, a golfer was attacked by a gator in Venice, Fla. when he reached into the water for his ball and was bitten on his arm by a one-eyed gator measuring nearly 12 feet in length. It was assumed that the gator believed the man was offering it some food, another accident of nature. Signs should be erected at golf courses where alligators may be lurking warning golfers to refrain from attempting to retrieve balls from the water.

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A book, Tools & Projectiles of Southeastern North America, written by a former AU zoology graduate, Winston Baker, should be of interest to anyone interested in Indian artifacts. The book is 670 pages in length, is encyclopedic in scope, and contains thousands of sketches of arrowheads, spear points, scrapers, and knives used by Indians. Some color photos are included. Baker was a student of mine, and the breadth of his knowledge of nature and archeology is remarkable. The book is available at Hastings, located at Glendean Shopping Center.

Bob Mount is a Professor Emeritus with the Dept of Zoology and Entomology, Auburn Univ. He is also chairman of the Opelika Order of Geezers, well-known local think tank and political clearing house. He writes about birds, snakes, turtles, bugs and assorted conservation topics.

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