Lectures & PRESENTATION TOPICS
Dr. Bird is Available for your Speaking Engagements
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As an Emeritus Professor of Wildlife Biology and Director of the Avian Science and Conservation Centre of McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Dr. David Bird has published 200 peer-reviewed papers and supervised 50 graduate students on a wide range of wildlife themes, including endangered species, toxicology, captive propagation of birds of prey, human-wildlife conflicts, and more recently, the application of UAVs (drones) to wildlife research and conservation. Until his retirement in 2012, he taught several university-level courses, including ornithology, wildlife conservation, ethology, and scientific communication.
He has written and/or edited several books, the most recent ones being The Bird Almanac: A Guide to Essential Facts and Figures on the World's Birds in 2004, Raptor Research and Management Techniques in 2007, Birds of Canada in 2010, and two newer versions, Birds of Eastern Canada and Birds of Western Canada in 2013.
Dr. Bird is a past-president of the Raptor Research Foundation Inc. (an international organization devoted to birds of prey), past-president of the Society of Canadian Ornithologists, an elected Fellow of the American Ornithologists Union, a former member of the Board of Directors of the American Birding Association, and an elected member representing Canada on the prestigious International Ornithological Committee. He currently sits on the boards of Unmanned Systems Canada, an organization dedicated to the use of unmanned vehicles, and Bird Studies Canada. Besides his innumerable public lectures and radio and television appearances, Dr. Bird was also a regular columnist on birds for The Gazette of Montreal and continues to write a column for BirdWatcher's Digest magazine.
ATTRACTING BIRDS TO YOUR BACKYARD
An introduction to the most common birds found in Victoria backyards is followed by detailed tips on backyard bird feeding, e.g. types of feeders, foods offered, hygiene, installing bird baths, and how to become a respectable birdhouse landlord.
Naturally, a peek at those furry rascals, the squirrels, is unavoidable, not to mention some other unwelcome backyard guests.
This talk is rounded out by a discussion of desirable and undesirable plants that attract birds to our region.
HOW BIRDS DO IT!
Ever wonder how birds are equipped to produce those warm, fuzzy chicks in the nest? Not all is as it seems.
Join Dr. David M. Bird as he takes you on a humorous “bird’s eye-view” of the seemingly indecent world of avian reproduction involving the Mile-High Club, incest, homosexuality, sex changes, divorce, and infidelity.
It simply puts television soap operas to shame! You may never look at birds the same again.
WATCHING BIRDS NAKED
Are birds really "bird‑brains"? Do they taste "good"?
Can eagles see farther than humans?
Why are most owls as blind as we are on a dark night?
How does a kestrel use ultraviolet light to catch mice?
Which birds smell the best?
These are just some of the questions that Dr. David Bird will answer in his humourous but educational slide show on the sensory ecology of birds. Remove those beautiful coats of feathers and you'll discover that birds have some of the most incredible physical and physiological adaptations to keep them in tune with their environment and with each other.
Once you've heard Dr. Bird's talk, you'll never look at birds in the same way again.
CAN WE HAVE TOO MANY BIRDS?
A very recent survey by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service showed that one in five Americans is a bird-watcher. A similar census with Canadians would likely reveal the same. One then can conclude that North Americans are engaged in a love affair with our feathered friends. But not all people love birds. Ask fishermen in the Maritimes and the Great Lakes, as well as catfish farmers in the deep south what they think of cormorants and be prepared for a littany of vitriolic comments. Ask airport managers about the growing numbers of gulls and waterfowl competing with airplanes for the use of runways. Ask the good folks of Leesburg, Virginia whether they support the impending cull of vultures in their state. In fact, ask most Americans how they feel about our Canada geese and discover that they are only beloved when they fly over and move on to somewhere else.
Even among the birders themselves, one can find those who love one kind of bird but not another. One only has to scan such publications as the Nature Society News to quickly learn that house sparrows and starlings are detested by purple martin enthusiasts or bluebird trail managers. And from a management point of view, if hundreds of brown-headed cowbirds are not trapped and humanely killed each year in Michigan, the highly endangered Kirtland’s warbler would likely disappear from the earth in a fairly short time. Never mind raptorial birds like sharp-shinned hawks, even common grackles, rock pigeons and even house finches are not always welcomed at feeders in the yards of bird-lovers.
Over the last 20 or so years, I've has had my share of phone calls from folks who want to know how to get rid of the hawks killing songbirds in their backyards. Discover for yourself whether we can indeed have too many birds in the world.
A GOOD OLE-FASHIONED CAT FIGHT!
The domestic cat likely shared a common ancestor some 10 to 15 million years ago, but the oldest feline fossil records are only 3 to 5 million years old. The direct ancestor of our house cats is likely the African wild cat, F. libyca. The cat, as we know it, was only fully domesticated during the last 150 years. The domestic cat in the Americas probably originated from immigrants sailing from Europe, particularly those settling in Pennsylvania. Based on figures gleaned from the literature, there are now well over 150 million pet cats in the world. The number of feral cats is not really known.
Roughly half of owned pet cats run free outdoors. While not all pet cats hunt birds, many of them do. The ones that do hunt birds do so regardless of whether they are well-fed or not. Most cat-lovers allowing their cats outdoors do not believe that their pets kill birds, or if they do, they are not convinced that it is a problem. Needless to say, it is no easy task to convince cat-owners to keep their pets indoors.
Based on several studies in both Europe and the U.S., a very fair and conservative estimate of the average number of birds killed annually per owned house cat to be four. Using various estimates on the numbers of pet cats in various geographical entities and taking into consideration the number of indoor cats, one can estimate that close to two billion birds are killed by pet cats all over the world each year! If one halves this figure to be even more conservative, the world’s pet cat population could be responsible for taking out between 0.5 and 1 percent of the 200 billion birds existing in the world.
CAN DRONES HELP OUR BIRD POPULATIONS?
Small unmanned vehicle systems (UVS), sometimes referred to as “drones” and formerly exclusive to militaries, are rapidly advancing in sophistication and availability to civilians. Ranging from hand-launched autonomous airplanes to terrestrial robots to underwater machines, they are increasingly being employed in such areas as agriculture, emergency services, meteorology, oceanography and now, small UVS are being used in the field of bird research and management, for example conducting population surveys, tracking radio-tagged birds, sensing and observing birds in inaccessible or dangerous places, mapping and monitoring bird habitats, and deterring nuisance bird species.
Join Dr. David M. Bird as he explores these applications of UAS for ornithology research and management, including costs, sizes, practicality in the field, regulations, etc.
A LECTURE FOR EGGHEADS
Birds are the only taxon of vertebrates where no species bears live young.
They lay eggs instead.
Which bird species lays the largest egg? The smallest egg?
Did you know that an extinct bird species used to lay eggs with a volume equivalent to 150 chicken eggs?
How does one explain all the different colours and shapes of eggs?
Why do some birds like American robins lay such conspicuously coloured eggs?
Why do some bird species lay a specific number of eggs while others can lay several clutches if need be?
Have you ever been grossed out by a seemingly fertile egg in the frying pan?
And do brown chicken eggs taste better than white ones?
Find out the answers to the questions and many more in Dr. Bird’s slide-illustrated talk on eggs and clutches.
THE AMERICAN KESTREL:
THE“WHITE MOUSE” FOR RAPTOR RESEARCH?
Most bird-watchers are familiar with the tiny falcon that hovers with rapidly beating wings over a farmer’s field or a grassy highway interchange searching for a fat little mouse or succulent grasshopper. Formerly known as the "Sparrow Hawk," the American Kestrel is the smallest, most numerous, and most widespread North American falcon.
Perhaps no one in the world knows this species better than Dr. David Bird, the director of the Avian Science and Conservation Centre and a professor of Wildlife Biology on the Macdonald campus of McGill University. He and his graduate students have been studying this bird both in captivity and in the field since 1973. With his captive colony located on the Macdonald campus, David and his technician and partner, Ian Ritchie, have easily bred several thousand kestrels in the last quarter-century. With close to 100 scientific papers including a conference proceedings and a Birds of North America monograph published on the American kestrel, David will offer a summary of his findings in his usual entertaining, informative style
Despite the amazing breeding success of his captive birds, David will also speak of dark clouds on the horizon for wild populations of the American kestrel, especially in the northeastern part of the continent. A number of data banks suggest that the kestrel is on the decline. Changing habitat and food availability, West Nile virus, new chemical threats, and burgeoning increases in predators like Cooper’s hawks are all being blamed. There may never be a better time for backyard birders to install nesting boxes on their properties to ensure that this is not a limiting factor in their populations.
BIRDS CAN GET THERE FROM HERE!
Every fall roughly 5 billion birds of 187 species leave Europe and Asia for Africa and a similar number of over 200 species do the same in North America. Then....in the spring, they do it all over again in the opposite direction!
But not all birds migrate.
Even within a single species, some birds stay to brave the winter, while most head south. Most people are amazed when they look out in their snowy backyards to see a robin perched in a tree in mid-winter. Of those which do fly south, do they fly at night or by day? High or low? All at once or a bit at a time? Singly or in squadrons? In all sorts of weather? Straight path or all over the map? And how do they prepare themselves for this arduous journey? But most important though, if they’ve got the urge and they’ve got the gas, how in the heck do they find their way?
Join Dr. David Bird, Gazette bird columnist, professor of ornithology and Director of the Avian Science and Conservation Centre of McGill University, as he attempts to enlighten you on these migrational mysteries and more in a slide-illustrated talk.
TECHNOLOGY AND BIRDS OF PREY: A DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD
The world of technology has clashed with the world of raptors in many devastating ways over the last several decades, e.g. organochlorine pesticides like DDT, collisions with automobiles, planes, powerlines, and now windmills, a supposed environmentally-friendly energy source. The organochlorines have now been replaced with the less persistent but more highly toxic organophosphates such as fenthion which is used as an avicide. Military jets and ospreys are at war in the skies over Labrador. Electromagnetic fields from powerlines are impacting upon physiological systems of raptors nesting and roosting on them.
On the other hand, in many ways technology is coming to the rescue of birds of prey, as well as other birds. Two amazing developments in technology that are now being applied to raptors come to mind.
First, the use of DNA analyses in the laboratory to produce genetic fingerprints unique to each bird revolutionized our ability to identify individuals. Now DNA is widely used in forensic science, taxonomy, behavioural ecology, and other research. A particular use is determine the extent of monogamy in birds and raptors may well be among the few avian taxons that do not cheat on their mates.
Second, attaching tiny transmitters that bounce signals off satellites circling the earth now allow biologists to follow migrating raptors, e.g. golden eagles, peregrine falcons, etc., from their breeding grounds south to their wintering areas as well as the return trip north. Satellite telemetry, despite its current high cost, can achieve in a year what it normally takes dozens of years to do by traditional banding techniques. It is now being applied to peregrine falcons nesting in cities to determine whether they are sources or sinks for the population.
Dr. David M. Bird, Director of the Avian Science and Conservation Centre, and his graduate students have been studying all of the above aspects of technology, both good and bad, on raptors for the last 16 years.