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Stork with GPS backpack.
Stork with GPS backpack.

Storks Give Up Migration to Eat ‘Junk Food’

Stork with GPS backpack.
Stork with GPS backpack.

We don’t think too much about our garbage. Once we throw our orange peels and moldy bread in the trash, they vanish. That’s it, as far as we’re concerned. But landfills in Spain and Portugal have taken on second careers as stork buffets, and researchers believe the “junk food” is disrupting the storks' lives. Their report was published in the journal Movement Ecology.

White storks (Ciconia ciconia) are big birds, with wingspans reaching up to 165 centimeters (64 inches). They’re quite common, and their numbers are growing.

“Portugal’s stork population has grown tenfold over the last 20 years,” lead researcher Aldina Franco said in a press statement. “The country is now home to around 14,000 wintering birds, and numbers continue to grow.”

Stork wearing its GPS backpack.

The storks’ range is divided between breeding zones in Europe and Asia and wintering zones in Africa—or at least it used to be. Part of the reason for migration was the absence of available nourishment up north. But with free food just sitting around in landfills, the storks have found no reason to leave.

Storks at the buffet.

In Portugal, the researchers attached GPS transmitters to 48 storks. Five times a day, the devices collected information about the birds’ whereabouts and behavior. With this data, the researchers could tell not only where the storks were flying but what they did when they got there, whether that meant foraging, tending eggs, or standing up to preen. As the researchers expected, the storks were spending a lot of time at the landfill.

Franco says the storks’ switch from part-year to full-time residents has a ripple effect on their lives as a whole.

“We found that the landfill sites enable year-round nest use, which is an entirely new behaviour that has developed very recently," she said. "This strategy enables the resident birds to select the best nest sites and to start breeding earlier." 

Once they've got dibs on good nest sites, according to Franco, the storks are also less likely to leave.

“But we also show that as well as those nesting close to the landfill sites, others are willing to travel up to 48.2km to visit landfill sites during the non-breeding season and up to 28.1km during the breeding season," she said. "This is much further than previous estimates.”

For better or for worse, the storks have shaped their lives around the new food supply. But that supply may not be long for this world.

“Under new EU Landfill Directives, rubbish dump sites in Portugal are scheduled to be gradually replaced by new facilities where food waste is handled under cover," Franco explained. “This will cause a problem for the storks as they will have to find an alternative winter food supply. It may well impact on their distribution, breeding location, chick fledging success and migratory decisions."

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holidays
Bleat Along to Classic Holiday Tunes With This Goat Christmas Album
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Feeling a little Grinchy this month? The Sweden branch of ActionAid, an international charity dedicated to fighting global poverty, wants to goat—errr ... goad—you into the Christmas spirit with their animal-focused holiday album: All I Want for Christmas is a Goat.

Fittingly, it features the shriek-filled vocal stylings of a group of festive farm animals bleating out classics like “Jingle Bells,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.” The recording may sound like a silly novelty release, but there's a serious cause behind it: It’s intended to remind listeners how the animals benefit impoverished communities. Goats can live in arid nations that are too dry for farming, and they provide their owners with milk and wool. In fact, the only thing they can't seem to do is, well, sing. 

You can purchase All I Want for Christmas is a Goat on iTunes and Spotify, or listen to a few songs from its eight-track selection below.

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Animals
If You Want Your Cat to Poop Out More Hairballs, Try Feeding It Beets
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Have you ever wondered if there’s a way to get your cat to poop out its hairballs instead of hacking them up? If so, you’re likely a seasoned cat owner whose tolerance for gross stuff has reached the point of no return. Luckily, there may be an easy way to get your cat to dispose of hairballs in the litter box instead of on your carpet, according to one study.

The paper, published in the Journal of Physiology and Animal Nutrition, followed the diets of 18 mixed-breed short-haired cats over a month. Some cats were fed straight kibble, while others were given helpings of beet pulp along with their regular meals. The researchers suspected that beets, a good source of fiber, would help move any ingested hair through the cats’ digestive systems, thus preventing it from coming back up the way it went in. Following the experiment, they found that the cats with the beet diet did indeed poop more.

The scientists didn’t measure how many hairballs the cats were coughing up during this period, so it's possible that pooping out more of them didn’t stop cats from puking them up at the same rate. But considering hairballs are a matter of digestive health, more regular bowel movements likely reduced the chance that cats would barf them up. The cat body is equipped to process large amounts of hair: According to experts, healthy cats should only be hacking hairballs once or twice a year.

If you find them around your home more frequently than that, it's a good idea to up your cat's fiber intake. Raw beet pulp is just one way to introduce fiber into your pet's diet; certain supplements for cats work just as well and actually contain beet pulp as a fiber source. Stephanie Liff, a veterinarian at Pure Paws Veterinary Care in New York, recommends psyllium powder to her patients. Another option for dealing with hairballs is the vegetable-oil based digestive lubricant Laxatone: According to Dr. Liff, this can "help to move hairballs in the correct direction."

[h/t Discover]

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