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How You Can Help Protect Migrating Birds

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Chris via Wikipedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

Warm weather is on its way back to the Northern Hemisphere, and with it, flock upon flock of migratory birds. The birds’ journey is not without risks, including some we’ve created, but there’s also a lot we can do to help, as the Sierra Club explains.

Cats remain the biggest killer of American birds, but colliding with buildings is a close second, killing between 100 million and 1 billion birds each year as they crash into stationary objects. The collisions are often the result of light pollution, which can disorient night-flying birds, and shiny building materials that reflect the sky. Because crashes are common during migrations, these periods are a great time for researchers to collect data on how, where, and why the accidents happen.

To do that, they need people power. Bird lovers across the country are turning up in droves to their local bird and wildlife organizations to help count and record collisions, and the information they’ve amassed is already making a difference. Data collected by citizen scientists with New York City’s Project Safe Flight helped identify the species at greatest risk (and thus the species in greatest need of intervention). Volunteers in other cities can add their records directly to research databases. Other organizations even station volunteer bird rescuers by common collision sites to collect those that crash and bring them to wildlife hospitals.

While glass-covered skyscrapers do present an obvious problem, conservationist Joanna Eckles of Audubon Minnesota says lower buildings are just as much of a threat. “Most birds are killed by our homes,” she said in a statement. But this is good news, she added, “because it means this is a preventable problem.”

Want to help? Check in with your local wildlife group or Audubon Society to see what kind of work they have for citizen scientists.

You can also take some easy steps to help crash-proof your home. Turn off lights when you leave the room. Replace porch lights with downward-facing LEDs to reduce glare. Add decals to large, high-risk windows to make the glass obvious, or cover them with soft nets or screens. For even more tips, check out the Fatal Light Awareness Program (FLAP) bird-proofing website.

[h/t Sierra Club]

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Animals
Owning a Dog May Add Years to Your Life, Study Shows
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We've said that having a furry friend can reduce depression, promote better sleep, and encourage more exercise. Now, research has indicated that caring for a canine might actually extend your lifespan.

Previous studies have shown that dog owners have an innate sense of comfort and increased well-being. A new paper published in Scientific Reports and conducted by Uppsala University in Sweden looked at the health records of 3.4 million of the country's residents. These records typically include personal data like marital status and whether the individual owns a pet. Researchers got additional insight from a national dog registry providing ownership information. According to the study, those with a dog for a housemate were less likely to die from cardiovascular disease or any other cause during the study's 12-year duration.

The study included adults 40 to 80 years old, with a mean age of 57. Researchers found that dogs were a positive predictor in health, particularly among singles. Those who had one were 33 percent less likely to die early than those who did not. Authors didn't conclude the exact reason behind the correlation: It could be active people are more likely to own dogs, that dogs promoted more activity, or that psychological factors like lowered incidences of depression might bolster overall well-being. Either way, having a pooch in your life could mean living a longer one.

[h/t Bloomberg]

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Big Questions
Why Don't We Eat Turkey Tails?
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Turkey sandwiches. Turkey soup. Roasted turkey. This year, Americans will consume roughly 245 million birds, with 46 million being prepared and presented on Thanksgiving. What we don’t eat will be repurposed into leftovers.

But there’s one part of the turkey that virtually no family will have on their table: the tail.

Despite our country’s obsession with fattening, dissecting, and searing turkeys, we almost inevitably pass up the fat-infused rear portion. According to Michael Carolan, professor of sociology and associate dean for research at the College for Liberal Arts at Colorado State University, that may have something to do with how Americans have traditionally perceived turkeys. Consumption was rare prior to World War II. When the birds were readily available, there was no demand for the tail because it had never been offered in the first place.

"Tails did and do not fit into what has become our culinary fascination with white meat," Carolan tells Mental Floss. "But also from a marketing [and] processor standpoint, if the consumer was just going to throw the tail away, or will not miss it if it was omitted, [suppliers] saw an opportunity to make additional money."

Indeed, the fact that Americans didn't have a taste for tail didn't prevent the poultry industry from moving on. Tails were being routed to Pacific Island consumers in the 1950s. Rich in protein and fat—a turkey tail is really a gland that produces oil used for grooming—suppliers were able to make use of the unwanted portion. And once consumers were exposed to it, they couldn't get enough.

“By 2007,” according to Carolan, “the average Samoan was consuming more than 44 pounds of turkey tails every year.” Perhaps not coincidentally, Samoans also have alarmingly high obesity rates of 75 percent. In an effort to stave off contributing factors, importing tails to the Islands was banned from 2007 until 2013, when it was argued that doing so violated World Trade Organization rules.

With tradition going hand-in-hand with commerce, poultry suppliers don’t really have a reason to try and change domestic consumer appetites for the tails. In preparing his research into the missing treat, Carolan says he had to search high and low before finally finding a source of tails at a Whole Foods that was about to discard them. "[You] can't expect the food to be accepted if people can't even find the piece!"

Unless the meat industry mounts a major campaign to shift American tastes, Thanksgiving will once again be filled with turkeys missing one of their juicier body parts.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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