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Feature Articles
Editor's Note
Contributors
Audubon View
Letters
Green Guru
Energy
Incite
Earth Almanac
Currents
Birds
Reviews
One Picture
Field Notes
Briefs
Carbon Food Print
Early Bloomers
Numbers Game: The Big Sleep
Fast Track
Good News
Herbal Remedy
Technology: Birds in Cyberspace
Shake That Tail
Thar She Blows

News Articles
A major shift in birds’ ranges; the psychology of living green; more.

Food Collection/Getty Images

Carbon Food Print
About a quarter, or 8.1 tons, of the average U.S. family’s annual 38-ton carbon dioxide footprint comes from food. When engineers at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, looked at how these food-linked emissions are generated, they found that although we typically transport comestibles long distances, the bulk of greenhouse gases are created during the production phase. Overall, red meat and dairy products are the biggest culprits. The findings suggest, the researchers say, that “shifting less than one day per week’s worth of calories from red meat and dairy products to chicken, fish, eggs, or a vegetable-based diet achieves more GHG reduction than buying all locally sourced food.”
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Early Bloomers
When naturalist Henry David Thoreau recorded his observations on the environment in Concord, Massachusetts, he probably never imagined his work would help scientists 150 years later understand their changing climate. Boston University botanist Richard Primack and Abraham Miller-Rushing, an ecologist with the USA National Phenology Network, deciphered Thoreau’s scrawled notes of the first flowering dates during the 1850s. They also obtained the dates in Concord at the turn of the 20th century, and followed up with their own record keeping earlier this decade. Their data, published in the journal Ecology, show that the mean first flowering date for 43 plants moved up by a week: from May 14 in Thoreau’s time, to May 10 in the 1890s, and to May 7 in recent years. Some species are blooming much earlier, such as the highbush blueberry (21 days) and the yellow wood sorrel (32 days). “The study almost certainly underestimates the change,” Miller-Rushing says, because Thoreau recorded unusually warm years and because the study’s final years were especially cold. Changing bloom dates will likely alter the interactions between flowering plants and pollinators like bees, potentially throwing the plants and animals out of sync and hindering their survival. “Climate change is not just affecting species in Canada or northern Europe,” Primack says. “It’s already affecting species in the eastern United States, and in Concord, one of the most central places in American consciousness.”—Laura Shin
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Edwin Fotheringham

Numbers Game
The Big Sleep

40
The number of days the poor-will, a nocturnal bird common to the Southwest desert, has stayed in a dormant state called torpor—the only bird known to do so for multiple days.

310
The average number of consecutive days Australia’s pygmy possum hibernates.

86
The temperature, in degrees Fahrenheit, at which the fat-tailed dwarf lemur can be found hibernating during Madagascar’s tropical winter.

27
The Arctic ground squirrel’s lowest recorded body temperature during hibernation.

300
The number of pounds a Kodiak bear can lose during its winter slumber.

5
Fewest heartbeats per minute for a small hibernating animal.

30
The minutes it takes a little brown bat to raise its body temperature from 36 degrees Fahrenheit to 100.4 degrees.
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Fast Track
For decades biologists have followed bird migrations by rather crude means: tagging individuals, then waiting to see where they showed up, or attaching radio transmitters and following the animals with handheld antennas. Since 2007, however, scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Alaska Science Center have used satellites to track the bar-tailed godwit’s journey from Alaska to New Zealand. Trans-mitters implanted in the birds’ bodies show exactly where they fly, and revealed that in 2007 one flew 7,300 miles in eight days straight.
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Good News

End of the Road
In December birders, surfers, and conservationists across California hung 10 with joy after protecting Southern Orange County’s San Onofre State Beach, an Important Bird Area. The U.S. Department of Commerce rejected a county transportation agency’s proposal for a toll-road extension. Audubon California fought the project for more than a decade, noting that it would harm populations of many threatened and endangered birds, including snowy plovers, and other wildlife.

Sea Change
During his final days in office, President George Bush designated three new marine national monuments covering nearly 200,000 square miles in the Pacific Ocean, creating the world’s largest area of fully protected waters. The monuments support dozens of species of seabirds and migratory shorebirds, including rare petrels, great frigatebirds (above), white terns, and black-footed albatrosses.

Wild for Wilderness
The 111th Congress kicked off with a rare Sunday vote, easily overcoming Senator Tom Coburn’s (R-OK) filibuster 66-12 to approve a massive package with 160 public lands bills. If signed into law, it will designate more than two million acres of wilderness in nine states, and establish some 1,000 miles of scenic rivers, four new national trails, and 10 new national heritage areas. Together, these bills represent the greatest addition to the wilderness system in 15 years.—Katherine Tweed
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Herbal Remedy
When we ache we often reach for an aspirin. Some plants, it turns out, don’t need to pop a painkiller when they get stressed out—they create their own. Scientists from the National Center for Atmospheric Research have discovered that plants generate a chemical similar to aspirin, called methyl salicylate, when they experience drought, unseasonable temperatures, or other situations that make it difficult to survive. The chemical, which was first found in a walnut grove, may help plants defend themselves against disease. It may also benefit nearby plants: Species that produce methyl salicylate release it into
the atmosphere, warning their neighbors of danger.—Susan Cosier

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Edwin Fotheringham

Technology
Birds in Cyberspace

For nearly three years truck driver Bill Pulliam jotted down bird sightings on paper scraps, noting each glimpsed magpie or red-tailed hawk and then filing the notes away at home. In 2006 moisture in his fixer-upper farmhouse in Tennessee damaged his precious records, jeopardizing years of meticulous observation.

Luckily for Pulliam, the Cornell Ornithology Lab and National Audubon teamed up to create eBird. Birders in the Western Hemisphere submit their lists to this online database (ebird.org), which generates graphs, frequency charts, and rare bird sighting alerts. The data help track migrations and identify possible Important Bird Areas, says Brian Sullivan, an eBird project leader.

Pulliam is thrilled to have accurate—and safe—records: some 4,000 checklists, tallying 591 life-list species. “I didn’t know how many species I’d seen in Monterey, California, but eBird does, and it’ll show me,” he says. “I can go to my eBird data and have it show me every single cardinal I ever saw.” (For steps on how to use eBird, click here.)—Shawn Query
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Shake That Tail
To impress females and intimidate rivals, the male Anna’s hummingbird chirps an explosive, high-pitched squeak that punctuates his 60-mile-per-hour display dive. For decades people have debated whether this love screech might actually come from the bird’s feathers. To find out, Museum of Vertebrate Zoology biologist Christopher Clark recorded the birds’ plunges with a high-speed video camera. He saw that the sound is perfectly timed to the split-second spreading of tail feathers at the bottom of the dive. “The reason these birds might be diving is to get fast enough for their feathers to flutter,” says Clark. He thinks there may be up to 30 other species of hummingbirds that do a similar feather shake.—Jessica Leber
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Edwin Fotheringham

Thar She Blows
Scientists trying to find out what illnesses afflict blue whales can hardly ask the enormous mammals to blow into a tissue for a mucus sample. Toy helicopters, on the other hand, work quite well. After Karina Acevedo-Whitehouse had trouble capturing spray spouted from blues’ blowholes with a pole extended from a research vessel, she decided to take to the air. The marine biologist attached petri dishes to the landing gear of a three-and-a-half-foot hobby helicopter, and collected mucus by hovering the chopper over several blues in the Gulf of California. It might sound like child’s play, but controlling the toy is so challenging an engineer has to do it. “You’re on a moving boat,” Acevedo-Whitehouse says, “there’s waves, wind, and you’re over a whale.”—Justin Nobel
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Technology: Birds in Cyberspace (An Extended Version)
More on how to use eBird, the electronic database that lets you keep track of your life lists and contribute to science.