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What Birds Will We Hear This Spring?

Researchers aren't sure how migrating birds choose where to go to lay eggs and raise their young. However, they think that the environmental conditions birds face in their first year may help determine where they breed for the rest of their lives. But since global warming is CHANGING these conditions, birds may begin to migrate to different areas. And researchers have not only discovered WHY birds like to sing at dawn, but have learned that pollution actually makes them sing better.

Researcher Colin Studds says, "We found that where the birds go in their first winter?may determine the area, within several hundred miles, where they will breed over their lifetime. An important factor appears to be the availability of water in their winter habitat." The cycle begins when a bird leaves its northern birthplace and migrates south for its first winter.

Other researchers have discovered that eating polluted food enlarges the part of the brain in the male bird that controls song, causing their singing to be more complex and to appeal more to female birds. These pollutants also damaged the male birds? immune systems. Scientists are worried that this situation may cause female birds to choose males who are not in good physical condition, which could lead to the demise of the species.

In LiveScience.com, Charles Q. Choi quotes behavioral ecologist Katherine Buchanan as saying, "This is the first evidence that environmental pollutants not only affect, but paradoxically enhance a signal of male quality such as song?Our results suggest female birds should prefer to mate with males that forage on polluted prey. That's bad because we know the pollution affects immune function. We don't know whether it also affects their ability to find food for offspring, or their fertility. The pollution could have dramatic effects on their population. It's extremely likely that a whole range of birds will be affected the same way."

BBC News reports that birds sing in the springtime because the longer days trigger the hormones that inspire them to get ready to mate?and to attract a mate with their songs.

Birds are the modern versions of dinosaurs. We don't think dinosaurs sang in the spring, but we?re pretty sure we know what they looked like. But what did they FEEL like? A Chinese fossil has given us a rare chance to find this out. The fossil reveals that a plant-eating dinosaur with either feathers or scales had a thick layer of shark-like skin hidden underneath.

In BBC News, Helen Briggs reports that this dinosaur, known as a parrot lizard, had thick skin that would have resisted the attacks of predators. It even had tooth marks on its skin, showing that its thick hide helped fend off attackers.

Art credit: gimp-savvy.com

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