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Feature Articles
Editor's Note
Audubon View
Audubon in Action
Field Notes
Audubon Family
True Nature
Earth Almanac
Audubon Living
One Picture
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Black-tie Crooners
Numbers Game: Happier Holidays
Found Money
Bee Sting Operation
Shell Game
Jellies in a Jam

News Articles
Oil spill aftermath; interview with a bird detective; bringing home the bison; more.


Steven Kazlowski/Science Faction/Corbis

Black-tie Crooners
On Antarctica’s rocky beaches, male Adélie penguins with the most consistent calls get females first. They come ashore in the summer to mate, attracting the ladies with what researchers call an “ecstatic” display call. “I have previously described it as a cross between a donkey and a stalled car starting, but that is perhaps too unkind,” says Emma Marks of the University of Auckland. “It is more of a thrumming, pulsing beat followed by a harsher cry.” Fellas with the steadiest frequency during the long part of the call win the girls, Marks and her colleagues found. They recorded, weighed, and measured their subjects on Ross Island, where about half a million Adélies breed, and discovered that the penquins with higher-quality tunes are also heavier and more successful at raising chicks. Forget dressing for success—these males sing for it.—Susan Cosier

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Numbers Game
Happier Holidays

Gallons of water we could save if each American household used just 10 gallons less water on Thanksgiving

Tons of extra waste Americans generate between Thanksgiving and New Year’s

Miles of ribbon thrown out each year

Times that ribbon could wrap around the earth

Cubic yards of paper Americans would save annually if we sent one fewer holiday card each

Billions of letters and packages delivered in December 2009

Percentage of Americans who say they would prefer a reduced focus on holiday gifts

Percent less energy used by Energy Star–qualified holiday lights, compared with conventional strands

Percent of annual battery sales that occur during the holidays

Christmas trees cut down in the U.S. each holiday season

Christmas trees that end up in landfills each year

Christmas tree recycling programs across the U.S.

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Found Money
In 1824, three years before John James Audubon began to publish The Birds of America, the legendary wildlife artist reportedly drew a grouse for a New Jersey bank note—but for nearly two centuries no one could locate the illustration. This year, after a decade-long search, Robert Peck, curator of art at Philadelphia’s Academy of Natural Sciences, and Eric Newman, an authority on American money, found the lost grouse image on engraved bank note sample sheets in a private art collection.—Alisa Opar

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Flughafen hamburg/M. Penner

Bee Sting Operation
Bees make excellent detectives. Their ability to smell explosives, for instance, has led many bomb squads to put this particular talent to good use. Recently their more conventional gift, as honey producers, landed them steady employment at eight German airports that are taking a unique approach to monitoring air quality. Peter Nengelken, who works in Düsseldorf International Airport’s neighborhood relations office, explains that any substance present in local bees’ honey, such as heavy metals, “is an indication that there are pollutants on the plants, flowers, and also in the air, and we can take countermeasures.” Emissions from planes, as well as automobile traffic at airports, can lower air quality, potentially harming wildlife and residents in the surrounding communities. So far the bees are giving the local air quality stingers-up marks. The laboratory tests indicate that their honey contains no contaminants, and is pure enough to eat. “Working with our local beekeepers to help monitor the air,” says Nengelken, “is one more thing we can do to maintain a trustful relationship with our neighbors.” What a sweet deal.—Nathan Ehrlich

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Eric Issellee/Shutterstock

Shell Game
New Yorkers and hermit crabs share an obsession: the hunt for more spacious living quarters. But while the city dwellers undertake desperate strategies—scanning obituaries, moving into illegal sublets—the tiny crustaceans use social networking to exchange shells equitably. Researchers planted empty shells, too large for an average crab, in hermit crab colonies. The new digs quickly attracted attention because the creatures rely on abandoned snail shells, which they continually outgrow, for homes. In most cases, they gathered around the shell until a crab large enough to use it showed up. Then the house swapping began. “They sort themselves from the largest down to the littlest itty-bitty crab,” says Tufts biologist Sara Lewis. “Then very quickly, like a waterfall of crabs, they slip off their shells and into the next one, right on down the line.”—Nancy Averett

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Kim E. Andreassen/University of Bergen

Jellies in a Jam
Jellyfish aren’t at the top of the menu wish list for most species, but a small fish that thrives in noxious waters off western Africa gobbles them up—and in doing so has become an ecosystem savior. Since overfishing caused Namibia’s marine fisheries to collapse, jellyfish have flourished. Practically nothing eats the slimy stingers, except bearded gobies, six-inch-long swimmers that thrive in anoxic mud. They’re generalists that live off mud and jellyfish and are, in turn, dinner for larger fish and birds, explains University of the Western Cape jellyfish expert Mark Gibbons. “The goby has become very central to the new system as it is effectively now the cornerstone species, supplying many of the higher trophic levels with a stable source of food,” he says. “Without the goby there would be less hake and horse mackerel and fewer seabirds and seals.” It’s a dirty job but, luckily, one gobies are adept at doing.—Alisa Opar

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