The Science of Birds

The Science of Birds

The Science of Birds is a lighthearted, guided exploration of bird biology. It's a fun resource for any birder or naturalist who wants to learn more about ornithology. Impress your birding friends at cocktail parties with all of your new bird knowledge! Hosted by Ivan Phillipsen, a passionate naturalist with a PhD in Zoology.

Episodes

June 23, 2022 56 min

This episode—which is Number 54—is all about bird eggs.

This is an important topic. Eggs are a fundamental aspect of bird biology. Recently, in Episode 49 of the podcast, I covered the topic of nests. So it seems like a logical next step for us to get the lowdown on eggs.

Oology is the science of studying bird eggs. So today, we are all honorary oologists. We’re egg-heads on a mission to better understand how baby birds come into th...

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This episode—which is Number 53—is all about Avian Influenza. Or colloquially what we call the Avian Flu or Bird Flu.

Depending on where you live, you might have noticed news headlines in recent months about the frightening spread of Avian Flu among both domestic and wild birds. I thought you might have some questions about this emerging disease, and so here we are with an entire podcast episode on the subject.

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May 25, 2022 28 min

This is Episode 52.

Today, we’re talking about bird species that are way, way bigger than your average chickadee or finch.

Our focus will be on evolutionary lineages that spawned some very large bird species. Species whose ancestors had been much smaller, millions of years earlier.

We’ll look at a bunch of interesting giant birds throughout history. Then we’ll talk about some scientific explanations for why these critters got so big ...

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May 5, 2022 32 min

This is Episode 51. Our bird of interest today is the Northern Cardinal, Cardinalis cardinalis.

This species is widespread across the eastern and southern US. It’s so well-known and loved that it’s the state bird for 7 states—more than any other species.

Northern Cardinals are among the most abundant birds in North America. They’re familiar denizens of backyards that visit feeders all year long. So it shouldn’t be surprising to hear ...

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April 18, 2022 21 min

This episode—which is Number 50— is all about Female Birdsong.

Songs are one of the things we love most about birds. They define the soundscapes of the natural world.

Even though humans have been surrounded by singing birds for millions of years, we still have some misconceptions about birdsong. Today’s episode is about a misconception of sex differences in birds… Of who sings and who doesn’t.

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This episode—which is Number 49—is all about bird nests.

There are tons of fun facts fun facts here, since nests are one of the more impressive aspects of bird behavior and breeding biology.

We’ll go over the functions of nests, the challenges that nesting birds face, nest site selection, the many types of nests, and nest construction.

That’s a lot to cover, but I’ll try to keep this at more of an overview level. This is sort of Bird...

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This episode—which is Number 48—is about the “Pecking Order” in birds. Or, to use the more technical term, dominance hierarchy.

Our focus will be on dominance hierarchies that we see among birds within a single species. White-crowned Sparrows beating up on other White-crowned Sparrows, for example, as opposed to White-crowned Sparrows beating up on another species, like Lincoln’s Sparrow. The latter would be an example of interspec...

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This is Episode 47. It’s all about birds in the family Laridae. This is an ancient evolutionary lineage that originated over 70 million years ago, when the world was still ruled by dinosaurs.

Besides gulls and terns, the family Laridae also includes the skimmers and the noddies.


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Links of Interest

  • Shoplifting gull stealing Doritos.

  • Link to this episode on the Science of Birds website

    Support the sho...
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    This episode—which is Number 46—is about  a special place in the Malay Archipelago where two bird worlds collide. This region lies between Southeast Asia and Australia, between the Indian and Pacific oceans. And it’s crowded with about 25,000 islands, of all sizes.

    Specifically, we’ll be looking at a geographic feature called Wallace’s Line. More generally, today’s episode will touch on the topic of biogeography.

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    This episode is all about forensic ornithology. This is a field where specialists use scientific techniques to identify bird species from trace evidence. Evidence like maybe a bit of feather, a bone fragment, or a smear of blood.

    Forensic ornithology is used to solve intriguing wildlife crimes like smuggling and illegal hunting. But it’s also helpful in other situations that don’t involve criminal activity. We’ll get into that side...

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    January 20, 2022 18 min

    This episode—which is Number 44—is about the relationship between coffee production and bird conservation. 

    We'll get into how do different types of coffee cultivation affect birds, and the conservation benefits of Bird Friendly Coffee.

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    Links of Interest

  • Smithsonian Bird Friendly Coffee
  • Bird Friendly Coffee [VIDEO]
  • Coffee and Conservation

  • Link to this episode on the Science of Birds website

    Suppo...
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    January 13, 2022 38 min

    This episode—which is Number 43—is all about the Common Loon, Gavia immer. People in Europe may know it as the Great Northern Diver.

    This bird is a symbol of the northern wilderness in North America. It’s closely associated with lakes and ponds in the boreal forests of the northern US and Canada.

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    Links of Interest

  • Loon scenes in the movie On Golden Pond [VIDEO]
  • Why Hollywood Loves this creepy bir...
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    2021 is over, yo! So it's time for the Annual Review Episode! 

    We’ll be looking back at some highlights of bird science in the year 2021. What fascinating things did ornithologists and other biologists discover about birds this year?

    I’ve picked 5 studies to highlight for you. These are stories that, in most cases, were interesting enough to make the news.

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    Links of Interest

  • VIDEO: A snoozing f...
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    December 23, 2021 48 min

    This episode is all about birds in the family Hirundinidae. These are the swallows and martins.

    Other than when they’re nesting, swallows are in the air almost all day long. This aerial lifestyle and that high-speed, erratic flight pattern can make it hard for us earthbound primates to get close looks at swallows.

    But these flappy little birds definitely deserve our attention. They have many charms and talents that—with a little pat...

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    December 7, 2021 49 min

    Ecologists and ornithologists have been studying the effects of wildfire on bird populations all over the world. Their research has resulted in many fascinating discoveries about the relationships between fire and birds.

    Wildfires have been in the news a lot in recent years. In the western US where I live, enormous fires have been sweeping across California, Oregon, Idaho, and other states with increasing frequency and severity.

    And ...

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    November 16, 2021 42 min

    This is a special episode, and the first of its kind. I answer questions from my listeners. It’s a fun, mixed bag of bird factoids.

    Who were these lucky people who got to contribute to this episode? The specific listeners who submitted questions were my supporters on Patreon.

    Of course, the idea is that our discussion today will be interesting and informative to all of my listeners.

    This Q&A session covers things like bacterial di...

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    November 2, 2021 50 min

    This episode is about the seven bird species in the family Cathartidae: the New World vultures and condors.

    This group includes species like the Turkey Vulture, Black Vulture, and Andean Condor.

    Among these birds are some that people celebrate, or even revere. But others tend to get ignored, disparaged, or at worst, persecuted. I guess you could say our relationship with New World Vultures has been… complicated.

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    October 19, 2021 36 min

    Birds, probably more than any other aerial creatures, have amazed and inspired us with the grace and power of their flight. So just how do they do it?

    In this episode, we'll look at the physics and anatomy of bird flight.

    I’ll start off with the basics of aerodynamics as it relates to bird flight. That’s the meat and potatoes of our lesson today. But we’ll also consider the different ways that birds fly—their different modes of f...

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    September 28, 2021 57 min

    This episode is all about penguins. All penguins belong to the family Spheniscidae.

    Penguins are among the most bizarre and specialized birds in the world. Few other birds represent such a departure from what we think of as the standard avian model. The specializations of penguins—their adaptations—serve them very well for a life of diving deep into the ocean and of surviving in extreme cold.

    These birds are wonderful examples of how...

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    September 14, 2021 36 min

    In this episode, we’re going to look at wetlands as habitats for birds.

    We’ll start with how to recognize—how to define—a wetland ecosystem. Then, we’ll get into why these ecosystems are so important to birds. How do birds use wetlands as habitat? Next, I’ll highlight a few examples of bird species that depend on wetlands. Then we’ll talk about the conservation issues surrounding wetlands, and how their loss is affecting birds.

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