Science in the News: Invigorating or Exasperating?

By Hugh Powell
June 26, 2008
science in the news Photo by Yula Kapetanakos.
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Did you know that Asian vulture populations have fallen by more than 97 percent since 1992? Three species may be extinct within a decade, all due to an unanticipated side-effect of a veterinary drug used on cattle.

Or that the songs of successful Black-throated Blue Warblers can sway the judgment of others searching for a place to settle down?

You may have heard that as our climate warms, some birds are changing their migration schedules. But did you know that long-distance migrants, such as Great Crested Flycatchers returning from South America, seem less able to judge Spring’s new schedule – meaning they may arrive too late to their breeding grounds?

Then there’s last week’s creepiest science result, involving the Nazca Booby (a seabird related to the Northern Gannet)? Newly hatched chicks usually kill their booby siblings in a flurry of biting and shoving as soon as they hatch. Now, scientists have pinned this aggression on high levels of androgens – a type of hormone – that are three times as high in Nazca boobies as in another, more peaceful booby species.

That’s a very brief roundup of scientific findings from the last couple of weeks. This sort of science – covering pretty much any bird species you can name and nearly any aspect of its lifestyle – is going on around the clock and around the globe.

And I love it. I always look forward to the next fascinating story about how the world works, uncovered by some grimy academic after a decade spent in some remote, green corner of the world.

But then, I’m a science writer. What about you? Does science pique your curiosity? Would you read science news if it were collected here at the Lab? When you read about a bird on All About Birds, would you be interested in tidbits about recent research on the species? Or do your eyes tend to skip over words like “androgen” altogether?

I love to read and write about science. But the most important part of writing is the reader. So just how much science do you want on your Lab of Ornithology home page?


  • I love reading about interesting science facts but do tend to glaze over some of the “androgen”ous words. But the beauty of the net is that these stories could be archived, delivered in RSS feeds, etc. and the user can pick and choose what to read.

    These articles can definitely be put into categories to enhance the readability and usability: I tend to read ANY article about conservation efforts and skip a bit of the other stuff (although, its all conservation when you think about it :)

    In the All About Birds section it would be wonderful to have links to conservation going on for a species including info on where you may see the bird, like a specific park or preserve.


  • yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!

  • Yes, great idea! I enjoy reading interesting science facts that deal with conservation, wildlife, etc. I agree with ‘Birdfreak’ that it should be delivered in a way that allows one to skim all the articles and read deeper on the ones that really interest you.


  • Ellen

    Details, yes? Long scientific words? Absolutely. Presented in a clear and engaging style? Perfect. Bird behavior fascinates me, particularly within the larger environmental and habitat setting.

  • MSC

    Is it possible to do what does where if you double-click on a word in any of their stories, a window pops up with the dictionary definition of the word? This could be useful not only for science stories but for the species accounts too.

    Yes, I love birdy science stories!

  • Karen

    I would be very interested in info about current research at the lab.

    I like the science, but would prefer a separation of news of feeder birds and other birds. Time restrictions often make it necessary to be selective about what I read. It would be easier to do this if feeder bird science was a separate category.

  • Mike

    Yes. Articles on bird behavior, especially those that inhabit the continental USA are enjoyed.

  • Alex Chang

    is everyone talking about having exclusive science articles from the Lab or you’ll be happy with a science news aggregator that grabs headlines from the internet (maybe filtered through our staff?)

  • I would like exclusive info from Lab projects as well as filtered headlines across the web. More so from the Lab.

  • liz visick

    It’s terrific to have this sort of On-Line birding magazine, one I can flit through easily, settling on whatever catches my imagination. I’ve just got waylaid by all four of the tempting topics above. Hell on my work schedule, a joy for my brain.

  • News is great. It adds variety to the content on the site.

  • Connie

    I always like to know “how things work”, so I love to read about findings such as these.

  • Frank Maltby

    I have searched in vain for details of each of a bird’s senses.

    For example: Sight. How many images a second do different species perceive? Can a bird make sense of our TV displays at 25 frames a second? A comparison of the bird and human senses would be very appreciated.

    (IMO Science has failed to develop the obvious species comparative tool, that of Species Survival Profiles. With those we can compare like needs and priorities with like of any living creature, even survival profiles of humans in varous cultures and habitats. If a child could compare their own survival profile with that of a bird or any other creature they might be in contact with, we might become a better species before it is too late.

Science in the News: Invigorating or Exasperating?