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Birds, Feral Cats and Coyotes – Updating a Serious Conservation Issue

Bird owners are usually concerned with the welfare of wild species, so today I’d like to focus on an underappreciated conservation concern, feral cat predation upon birds.  Recent studies have shown that “trap-neuter-release” programs, collars with bells, and other popular control methods are failing to protect wildlife.

Feral Cats: Scope of the Problem

Although estimates of cat numbers vary widely, it is certain that feral and free-roaming house cats in the USA kill millions of native birds, reptiles and amphibians and billions of mammals yearly.  Only 35% of the country’s 77,000,000+ pet cats are kept exclusively indoors, while 60-100 million feral individuals live exclusively outdoors.  The effects of cats and other invasive species are second only to habitat loss as a cause of extinctions worldwide.

Rare and threatened species that have been killed by free-roaming cats include Florida Scrub Jays, Piping Plovers, Star-Nosed Moles, Pacific Pocket Mice and many others.  On Oahu, Hawaii, cats and mongooses killed significant numbers of Laysan Albatross and Wedge-Tailed Shearwater chicks until the USA’s first predator-proof fence was installed around key nesting areas (please see article below). Read More »

Pygmy Parrots – Thumb-Sized Lichen-Eaters that move like Woodpeckers

Micropsitta PusioI recently attended a fascinating lecture on Island Bird Diversity at the American Museum of Natural HistoryTwo Pygmy Parrot species – the Red-Breasted (Micropsitta bruijni) and the Finsch’s (M. finschii) – drew the speaker to the Solomon Islands. In reflecting back on the talk afterwards, I realized that, despite my interest, I had yet to observe a live Pygmy Parrot. They’ve never been in the collection of the Bronx Zoo, where I worked for over 20 years, and only rarely appear in museums.  Further research turned up one interesting field report, but it seems that we still know very little about these smallest and, arguably, most unusual of all parrots.

The World’s Smallest Parrots

Six species of Pygmy Parrots inhabit New Guinea, the Solomons and neighboring islands. They look, in most respects, like other parrots – but barely exceed a human thumb in size!  At 3.5 inches in length, the Buff-Faced Pygmy parrot (M. pusio) is the smallest Psittacine; its relatives are not much bigger. Please see the video below…it is hard to believe they are real! Read More »

Red-Billed Quelea – Captive Care of the World’s Most Numerous Bird

Red billed QueleaAlthough attracting less attention than European Starlings and other common birds, Red-Billed Queleas (Quelea quelea) outnumber them all.  Yet despite being dubbed the “Locust Bird” for its habit of moving in flocks containing millions of individuals, this attractive African weaver is surprisingly difficult to breed in captivity.


Population size is not the Red-Billed Quelea’s sole unique characteristic. It is also the only bird in which males exhibit highly variable color patterns that are not designed to advertise their value as mates.  In all other colorful, sexually-dimorphic species (those where males and females differ in appearance), color is used to express desirability to females (please see this Gouldian Finch article).

Some male Red-Billed Queleas vary so much from others that they appear to be of different species. The black or white facial mask is surrounded by feathers that may be colored red, orange, pink or various shades of each; the breast is often splashed with similar colors. Please see the article below for photos of several males…the effect of all this variation in a huge flock must be spectacular! Read More »

Meyer’s Lorikeet – Natural History and Captive Care

MaleoMost parrot aficionados know of the Meyer’s Parrot, but the beautiful green lorikeet bearing the same “first name” is relatively unstudied in the wild, and not commonly kept here in the USA. The Meyer’s Lorikeet (Trichoglossus flavoviridus mayeri), a subspecies of the Yellow-and-Green Lorikeet, differs from many related species in both coloration and social behavior.  A forest-dweller confined to a single island, this unique bird deserves the attention of aviculturists now, while wild populations are still relatively stable.


Three shades of green color the plumage of the 8-inch-long Meyer’s Lorikeet. The breast feathers and those behind the eye are tipped with yellow, and the bill is bright orange.  While lacking the “flamboyant” reds and blues often associated with lorikeets, it is quite spectacular in appearance. Read More »

How Pink Pigeons Saved me from Life as a Lawyer

Pink PigeonFirst, I should explain the odd title.  I grew up near the Bronx Zoo and dreamed of a career there since early childhood.  Early on, however, responsibilities made it impossible for me to consider zoo work, a notoriously low-paying field.  By the early 1980’s, however, things changed and I was volunteering at the Bronx Zoo and doing everything else I could think of to break into the field.  But I was a lawyer at the time, and, despite years of experience with well-known animal importers and bird breeders, the zoo’s management did not believe I seriously intended to abandon such a lucrative profession.  Then the Pink Pigeons came to the rescue…

Thanks, Pigeons”

After a year of failed attempts, I managed to land an interview for a position as bird keeper.  As the curator and I walked and talked, I caught sight of a group of unusual birds, and stepped closer.  I thought they might be Pink Pigeons, Nesoenas mayeri.  I was shocked, as there were but 12 individuals left in the wild at the time, and captive breeding efforts had only just begun. Read More »

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