In this week’s round-up: The New York Times on Rachel Carson’s environmental legacy, the Salton Sea as essential migratory rest stop, and an avian botulism outbreak kills scores of waterfowl in Oregon. (Illustration by Valero Doval from NYT magazine’s “How ‘Silent Spring’ Ignited the Environmental Movement”)
—In the recent Sunday New York Times Magazine, Guggenheim fellow Eliza Griswold writes a stunning piece on Rachel Carson’s ecological legacy and the vociferous backlash she endured following the release of Silent Spring 50 years ago. “She was accused of being a communist sympathizer and dismissed as a spinster with an affinity for cats,” Griswold writes. “In one threatening letter to [Carson's publisher] Houghton Mifflin, [Velsicol Chemical Corp’s] general counsel insinuated that there were ‘sinister influences’ in Carson’s work: she was some kind of agricultural propagandist in the employ of the Soviet Union, he implied, and her intention was to reduce Western countries’ ability to produce food, to achieve ‘east-curtain parity.’” [The New York Times]
— An avian botulism outbreak has killed about 1,200 birds — largely young Green-winged Teals — in several wetlands near Portland, Ore.
Caused by the naturally-occurring bacteria Clostridium botulinum, the disease attacks an animal’s nervous system, with symptoms usually consisting of partial paralysis. Early stages often show only paralysis of the nictitating membrane, or third eyelid, followed by larger muscle groups. Ultimately, the ducks are unable to move and drown or fall victim to predation.
According to a report in the Examiner, Portland Audubon Society is currently rehabilitating many birds affected by the outbreak.
Ducks with botulism respond well to an aggressive fluid therapy treatment: International Bird Rescue’s typical release rate is from 80% to 90% if the birds are captured and treated in time. [Examiner.com; Teal photo Wikipedia Commons]
—Meanwhile, researchers find that avian malaria (like avian botulism, it’s not a threat to humans) exists as far north as Fairbanks, Alaska. [Alaska Dispatch]
—The disappearing Salton Sea remains a critical stopover for more than 400 species of birds that travel the Pacific Flyway. [The Desert Sun]
—Biologists from Scotland’s University of St. Andrews have fitted crows in the South Pacific with tiny electronic tags to observe how the birds might learn from each other how to use tools.
Science Blog notes:
The study looked at crows in New Caledonia, an archipelago of islands in the South Pacific. The crows are famous for using different tools to extract prey from deadwood and vegetation. Biologists wondered whether the birds might learn by watching each other.
The results, as reported by St. Andrews, revealed “a surprising number of contacts” between non-related crows. During one week, the technology recorded more than 28,000 interactions among 34 crows. While core family units of New Caledonian crows contain only three members, the study found all the birds were connected to the larger social network. [Science Blog]