Why Some Birds Eat Dirt and Other Avian News

10-01-1998 // NWF Staff

Out for a Bite to Eat: Laysan albatrosses nesting in Hawaii astonished scientists last spring by flying as far away as California to find food for their young. "At this point, it´s a mystery why a bird nests that far away from a continent but goes there to feed," says biologist David Anderson of Wake Forest University in North Carolina, who tracked the flights by satellite.

Location, Location: For male three-wattled bellbirds, perches in open spots in Costa Rican forests are prime real estate for courtship displays. And that turns out to be good news for tree seedlings, biologist Daniel G. Wenny of the Illinois Natural History Survey has discovered. The birds not only use the perches to perform, they bring fruit to the sunny sites and then drop seeds as they dine, effectively planting trees in ideal conditions.

Yum, Dirt: Parrots in New Guinea regularly eat soil--even though it is too fine to help grind food and too low in minerals to offer nutrition. Now ecologist Jared Diamond of the University of California at Los Angeles has found the dirt helps the birds dine on seeds without being poisoned. That´s because it binds to toxins that often coat the seeds.

Big Bird´s Bark: A barking sound recently led Robert S. Ridgeley, an ornithologist from the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, to the discovery of a new bird species in the Ecuadorean Andes. Not only does the still-unnamed creature--a kind of antpitta--have a unique call, it is large for a newly discovered bird at almost 9 inches long.

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