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WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 27, 2014
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APPS
Merlin App Now Available for Android Devices
Just in time for fall migration, Merlin, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's free bird ID app, is now available for Android devices. The popular iPhone version of the app, released in January 2014, has been downloaded more than 230,000 times and has helped people identify more than 700,000 birds.

BOOKS
BirdLife and Lynx Publish Illustrated World Bird Checklist
Lynx Edicíons and BirdLife International have published the first-ever Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World, utilizing new criteria and recognizing 462 new species which were previously treated as 'races' of other forms.

CONSERVATION
Audubon Alaska: Proposed Old Growth Timber Sale Bad for Birds
The proposed Big Thorne timber sale, the largest industrial cutting project in Alaska's Tongass National Forest in 20 years, is "bad for birds, wildlife and hunters," says Jim Adams, Policy Director of Audubon Alaska.

CONTESTS
SFBBO's California Fall Challenge Click Off
The San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory's 5th California Fall Challenge Click Off photo contest will focus on birds living in or migrating through California and is open for submissions through October 5th, 2014
Duck Stamp

EVENTS
Chelan Ridge Hawk Migration Festival
Join the Methow Valley Ranger District, HawkWatch International, and North Central Washington Audubon Society Sept. 13 for the 5th annual Chelan Ridge Hawk Migration Festival in Pateros, Wash.
Former USFS Chief to Speak at Georgia Wilderness Act Anniversary Event
The U.S. Forest Service and valued partners invite the public to help commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act with a celebration in downtown Dahlonega, Ga. on September 6, with keynote speaker Dale Bosworth, who served as USFS Chief from 2001 to 2007.

EXHIBITS
Passenger Pigeon Exhibit at Florida Museum of Natural History
"A Shadow Over the Earth: The Life and Death of the Passenger Pigeon," an exhibit marking the 100-year anniversary of the bird's extinction, features illustrations, artwork and poetry from famed naturalists who documented the pigeon's biology and its decline.

JOBS, JOBS, JOBS
Madison Audubon Communications and Outreach Coordinator
Madison (Wis.) Audubon Society (MAS) is looking for a motivated, creative and enthusiastic person to join our strong team that is dedicated to bird conservation, advocacy, and education to serve as Communication and Outreach Coordinator.

OPTICS
Celestron Regal M2 Spotting Scope
Celestron brings its 50-plus years of optics expertise to the outdoor enthusiast with the Regal M2 spotting scope series, with advanced features like extra-low dispersion (ED) for increased resolution and contrast and Celestron's proprietary XLT optical coatings.

PREDATION
Group Challenges Fed Plan for Lethal Management of Cormorants
American Bird Conservancy (ABC) has raised multiple objections to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposal to kill 16,000 cormorant birds on East Sand Island (ESI), in the Columbia River Estuary, as part of a plan to reduce predation of juvenile salmonids including salmon smolt by the birds.

RECOGNITION
First 'Fire Bird Conservation' Awards Presented by NBCI
The contributions to wild bobwhite restoration by entities and/or individuals in six states claimed the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative's (NBCI) National Fire Bird Conservation Awards during ceremonies at the annual meeting of the nation's bobwhite experts in Iowa recently.

SPECIES
Ovenbird Named for Unique Nest
The ovenbird, an inconspicuous, ground-nesting warbler, is best-known for its emphatic and distinctive song - a series of progressively louder phrases often described as "teacher, teacher, teacher."

VOLUNTEERS
Remove Invasive Plants from SW Michigan State Parks
Residents of southwest Michigan are invited to get out and enjoy the September weather while helping to protect natural habitat and removing invasive plants during volunteer stewardship workdays next month.

YOUTH
Engage Kids in eBird With BirdQuest
The BirdSleuth K-12 team from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology has developed a new BirdQuest booklet to aid young people and help them engage with eBird.

The Birding Wire Photo Gallery


This Broad-winged hawk (Buteo platypterus) was photographed this past weekend by Outdoor Wire Digital Network publisher Jim Shepherd at the Ijams Nature Center in Knoxville, Tenn., where the raptor is recovering from injuries and will soon be released. Jim used his Canon EOS 7D with a Canon70-200mm zoom, ISO 400, f/8 at 1/60th sec.

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Do you have a favorite photo you'd like to share with thousands of Birding Wire readers? Send an electronic image, along with the species, location, date, additional details and technical data to birdingwire@gmail.com.

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Study: Hummingbirds Have Good Taste
Editor's note: There are few birding enthusiasts who don't share a special appreciation and fascination for hummingbirds. The results of a new study led by Harvard scientists indicate how a hummingbird's taste for sweet nectars evolved and how they roundly reject substituted artificial sweeteners and other liquids. JRA

Everything about hummingbirds is rapid. An iridescent blur to the human eye, their movements can be captured with clarity only by high-speed video. Slowed down on replay, their wings thrum like helicopter blades as they hover near food. Their hearts beat 20 times a second and their tongues dart 17 times a second to slurp from a feeding station.

Anna's hummingbird (Calypte anna) in the Santa Monica Mountains, Calif. Image: Maude Baldwin
It takes only three licks of their forked, tube-like tongues to reject water when they expect nectar. They pull their beaks back, shake their heads and spit out the tasteless liquid. They also are not fooled by the sugar substitute that sweetens most diet cola.

These hummingbirds look mad.

The birds' preference for sweetness is plain, but only now can scientists explain the complex biology behind their taste for sugar. Their discovery required an international team of scientists, fieldwork in the California mountains and at Harvard University's Concord Field Station, plus collaborations from Harvard labs on both sides of the Charles River.

Now, in a paper published in Science, the scientists show how hummingbirds' ability to detect sweetness evolved from an ancestral savory taste receptor that is mostly tuned to flavors in amino acids. Feasting on nectar and the occasional insect, the tiny birds expanded throughout North and South America, numbering more than 300 species over the 40 to 72 million years since they branched off from their closest relative, the swift.

"It's a really nice example of how a species evolved at a molecular level to adopt a very complex phenotype," said Stephen Liberles, HMS associate professor of cell biology. "A change in a single receptor can actually drive a change in behavior and, we propose, can contribute to species diversification."

This sweet discovery all started with the chicken genome. Before scientists sequenced its genes, people assumed that chickens and all birds taste things the same way that mammals do: with sensory receptors for salty, sour, bitter, sweet and the more recently recognized umami taste, which comes from the Japanese word for savory.

The canonical view stated there was a sweet receptor present in animals, much smaller than the large families of receptors involved in smell and bitter taste perception-vital for sensing safe food or dangerous predators.
Some animals have lost certain taste abilities. The panda, for example, feeds exclusively on bamboo and lacks savory taste receptors. Carnivores, notably cats, are indifferent to sweet tastes. The gene for tasting sweetness is present in their genomes, but it's nonfunctional. Scientists suspect that an interplay between taste receptors and diet may effectively relegate the sweet taste receptor into a pseudogene that does not get turned on and eventually disappears.
The chicken genome is another story: It has no trace of a sweet-taste receptor gene. Faced with this all-or-nothing scenario, Maude Baldwin, co-first author of the paper, had one reaction.

"The immediate question to ornithologists or to anybody who has a birdfeeder in the backyard was: What about hummingbirds?" she recalled. "If they are missing the single sweet receptor, how are they detecting sugar?"

More bird genomes were sequenced, and still no sweet receptor.

Anna's hummingbirds (Calypte anna) reject most artificial sweeteners. In this video frame, the birds drink from sucrose-containing feeders (feeders 3 and 6) but reject aspartame (feeder 1). Video: Maude Baldwin. View video at: http://vimeo.com/103738539
So began Baldwin's quest to understand how hummingbirds detected sugar and became highly specialized nectar feeders. A doctoral student in organismic and evolutionary biology and the Museum of Comparative Zoology, she is a member of the lab of Scott Edwards, Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology and Curator of Ornithology in the Museum of Comparative Zoology. She sought out Liberles at a meeting of the International Symposium on Smell and Taste in San Francisco. They agreed to work together on experiments that would eventually reveal how hummingbirds evolved and diversified, based on a change in their taste receptor.

After cloning the genes for taste receptors from chickens, swifts and hummingbirds-a three-year process-Baldwin needed to test what the proteins expressed by these genes were responding to. She joined forces with another scientist at another International Taste and Smell meeting. Yasuka Toda, a graduate student of the University of Tokyo and co-first author of the paper, had devised a method for testing taste receptors in cell culture.

Together they showed that in chickens and swifts the receptor responds strongly to amino acids-the umami flavors-but in hummingbirds only weakly. But the receptor in hummingbirds responds strongly to carbohydrates-the sweet flavors.

"This is the first time that this umami receptor has ever been shown to respond to carbohydrates," Baldwin said.

Toda mixed and matched different subunits of the chicken and hummingbird taste receptors into hybrid chimeras to understand which parts of the gene were involved in this change in function. All told, she found 19 mutations, but there are likely more contributing to this sweet switch, Baldwin and Liberles suspect.

"If you look at the structure of the receptor, it involved really dramatic changes over its entire surface to accomplish this complex feat," Liberles said. "Amino acids and sugars look very different structurally so in order to recognize them and sense them in the environment, you need a completely different lock and key. The key looks very different, so you have to change the lock almost entirely."

Once the mutations were discovered, the next question was, do they matter? Does this different taste receptor subunit drive behavior in the hummingbirds?
Back at the feeding stations, the birds answered yes. They spat out the water, but they siphoned up both the sweet nectar and one artificial sweetener that evoked a response in the cell-culture assay, unlike aspartame and its ilk. It's not nectar, with its nutritional value, but it's still sweet.

"That gave us the link between the receptor and behavior," Liberles said. "This dramatic change in the evolution of a new behavior is a really powerful example of how you can explain evolution on a molecular level."

This work underscores how much remains to be learned about taste and our other senses, Liberles said.

"Sensory systems give us a window into the brain to define what we understand about the world around us," he said. "The taste system is arguably a really direct line to pleasure and aversion, reward and punishment, sweet and bitter. Understanding how neural circuits can encode these differentially gives us a window into other aspects of perception."

Source: Harvard Medical School
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Aug. 28 - Sept. 1
Colorado Field Ornithologists Convention
Sterling, Colo.
Sept. 5 - Sept. 7
Hummingbird Migration Celebration
Strawberry Plains Audubon Center, Holly Springs, Miss.
Sept. 12
Columbus Audubon Presents Swift Night Out
Westerville, Ohio
Sept. 12 - Sept. 14
Whooping Crane Festival
Princeton, Wis.
Sept. 12 - Sept. 15
Yampa Valley Crane Festival
Steamboat Springs, Colo.
Sept. 13 - Sept. 21
Festival of Hawks
Amherstburg, Ont. (Canada)
Sept. 13 - Sept. 21
Festival of Birds
Holiday Beach Conservation Area, Amherstberg, Ont.
Sept. 13 - Sept. 23
Detroit Audubon Society 75th Anniversary Dinner
Detroit Yacht Club's Fountain Room, Belle Isle, Mich.
Sept. 18 - Sept. 21
HummerBird Celebration
Rockport, Tex.
Sept. 19
Flying Wild Educator Workshop
Horicon Marsh Education Center, Horicon, Wis.
Sept. 19 - Sept. 22
Cape Cod Bird Festival
Cape Cod, Mass.
Sept. 20
Xtreme Hummingbird Xtravaganza Open House
Gulf Coast Bird Observatory, Lake Jackson, Tex.
Sept. 20
Flying Wild Facilitator Workshop
Horicon Marsh Education Center, Horicon, Wis.
Sept. 20 - Sept. 21
Ohio Natural Areas and Preserves Assn. Banquet
Lakeside, Ohio
Sept. 23 - Sept. 28
Sept. 25 - Sept. 28
Monterey Bay Birding Festival
Watsonville, Calif.
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