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Tits And Boobies

May 15, 2008

If you’re looking for Great Tits, go to England. Since 1947 scientists have been visiting Wytham Woods, England for one reason: to watch Great Tits. And since 1961, they’ve been using the same methodology to study the Great Tits.

The birds (obviously) are pretty predictable. Each spring, the female lays eight to nine eggs. The eggs hatch after about two weeks and approximately two weeks later the chicks are full-grown. To go from hatchlings to full-grown Great Tits in two weeks requires a lot of food and so the chicks gorge on winter moth caterpillars—each chick eats about 70 caterpillars a day.

Sounds pretty straightforward, right? Here’s the catch: the caterpillars are only around for a little while (about 6 weeks) so the Great Tits have to get the timing just right if they want their little Great Tits to grow up to be big Great Tits. And there’s another catch: the caterpillars hatch when the days begin to warm (at budburst) and, thanks to global warming, the days are getting warmer earlier and earlier so the caterpillars are hatching earlier and earlier.

What’s a Great Tit to do? Adapt, of course. And that’s exactly what the Wytham Woods birds have done. Scientists report that they now lay their eggs two weeks earlier than they did 47 years ago. Great Tits in Holland have adapted too, but they haven’t been quite as successful. They lay their eggs earlier, but not early enough to catch the new peak caterpillar time.

Enough about Great Tits; let’s talk about Boobies, Abbott’s Boobies. The Abbott’s Booby is an endangered seabird that nests on Australia’s Christmas Island and fishes in the Indian Ocean. Despite it’s fabulous name, you don’t want to be an Abbott’s Booby.

First of all, Abbott’s Boobies are big, but they have long narrow wings—the Australian Broadcasting Corporation calls them the jumbo jets of Boobies—so takeoffs are difficult unless they have plenty of runway or a high starting point (like their nests in the tallest trees). But tree-top nesting has its risks, especially during monsoon season when tropical cyclones threaten Christmas Island. If an Abbott’s Booby falls out of its nest and lands on the forest floor it must climb back up to its nest or at least climb high enough to catch the breeze so it can fly. If the Booby can’t fly, it can’t fish and if it can’t fish, it can’t eat. And if a baby Abbott’s Booby falls out of the nest, its chances of survival are pretty slim. After all, they only have one shot at learning how to fly.

Secondly, there aren’t very many tall trees to choose from. Between 1965 and 1987 phosphate mining destroyed one-third of the Abbott Booby habitat on Christmas Island. 

Then there are the Yellow Crazy Ants. Yellow Crazy Ants are an invasive species that were introduced to Christmas Island in the early 1900s. They weren’t particularly threatening until the mid-1990s when they started forming super-colonies with multiple queens and several thousand worker ants. Super-colonies have the potential to extend their range by up to a kilometer a year and they quickly grew to occupy more than 28% of the rain forest. Because of their tendency to attack any creature that enters their territory (they spray it with formic acid) and because they spread scale insects (who produce honeydew which promotes the growth of tree-killing mold) throughout the forest, the Yellow Crazy Ants have managed to wreak havoc on much of the Abbott’s Booby habitat. But don’t fret: the Crazy Ants are being chemically controlled.

 

 

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. PiterJankovich permalink
    March 29, 2010 8:30 am

    My name is Piter Jankovich. oOnly want to tell, that your blog is really cool
    And want to ask you: is this blog your hobby?
    P.S. Sorry for my bad english

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