CLOSE
ISTOCK
ISTOCK

Over a Third of North American Bird Species Are in Danger, Study Finds

ISTOCK
ISTOCK

In a comprehensive survey of native bird species in the continental United States, Canada, and Mexico, experts have labeled 37 percent as “at a risk of extinction without significant action,” reports Scientific American.

The 2016 State of North America’s Birds was created with data from tens of thousands of citizen scientists and organizations in all three countries for The North American Bird Conservation Initiative.

The species on the list belong to nine major habitat types [PDF], and each was given a “Concern Score.” Any bird species with a score of 14 or higher made the Watch List, as did species with a 13 concern score paired with a sharply declining population. (A whopping 432 of the 1154 total native species earned the Watch List designation.) Along with the concern score, the full list includes the bird’s scientific name, primary breeding habitat, and the main region in which migratory species spend the winter.

The future of birds in ocean and tropical forest environments were found to be of greatest concern. As Scientific American notes, if subspecies and areas like Hawaii and Guam had been included, the number of species on the Watch List would have been even higher. And though it's a disconcerting assessment, the report serves to bring attention to avian population problems while we still have a chance to do something about them.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
science
Why Can Parrots Talk and Other Birds Can't?
iStock
iStock

If you've ever seen a pirate movie (or had the privilege of listening to this avian-fronted metal band), you're aware that parrots have the gift of human-sounding gab. Their brains—not their beaks—might be behind the birds' ability to produce mock-human voices, the Sci Show's latest video explains below.

While parrots do have articulate tongues, they also appear to be hardwired to mimic other species, and to create new vocalizations. The only other birds that are capable of vocal learning are hummingbirds and songbirds. While examining the brains of these avians, researchers noted that their brains contain clusters of neurons, which they've dubbed song nuclei. Since other birds don't possess song nuclei, they think that these structures probably play a key role in vocal learning.

Parrots might be better at mimicry than hummingbirds and songbirds thanks to a variation in these neurons: a special shell layer that surrounds each one. Birds with larger shell regions appear to be better at imitating other creatures, although it's still unclear why.

Learn more about parrot speech below (after you're done jamming out to Hatebeak).

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
paleontology
Extinct Penguin Species Was the Size of an Adult Human
iStock
iStock

A penguin that waddled across the ice 60 million years ago would have dwarfed the king and emperor penguins of today, according to the Associated Press. As indicated by fossils recently uncovered in New Zealand, the extinct species measured 5 feet 10 inches while swimming, surpassing the height of an average adult man.

The discovery, which the authors say is the most complete skeleton of a penguin this size to date, is laid out in a study recently published in Nature Communications. When standing on land, the penguin would have measured 5 feet 3 inches, still a foot taller than today’s largest penguins at their maximum height. Researchers estimated its weight to have been about 223 pounds.

Kumimanu biceae, a name that comes from Maori words for “monster" and "bird” and the name of one researcher's mother, last walked the Earth between 56 million and 60 million years ago. That puts it among the earliest ancient penguins, which began appearing shortly after large aquatic reptiles—along with the dinosaurs—went extinct, leaving room for flightless carnivorous birds to enter the sea.

The prehistoric penguin was a giant, even compared to other penguin species of the age, but it may not have been the biggest penguin to ever live. A few years ago, paleontologists discovered 40-million-year-old fossils they claimed belonged to a penguin that was 6 feet 5 inches long from beak to tail. But that estimate was based on just a couple bones, so its actual size may have varied.

[h/t AP]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios