Posts Tagged ‘New Zealand’

Hen mothers for ducklings, cross-fostering species

// August 25th, 2011 // 1 Comment » // Sex and Reproduction

hen and ducklings

Image by cod_gabriel

When I was young and living on a small farm in the Adelaide Hills, we used to raise ducklings under chickens. The hens were more inclined to sit and warm the eggs, and once hatched were better at protecting their young from rats. So we took duck eggs, placed them under brooding hens, and everything was cheery.

Those hens loved them little ducks, at least, they looked after them just as well as they did their own chicks. They’d go out foraging together, chattering away in their different tongues at a handful of scattered grain. But there was one place where their differences became obvious. The pond.

At the first sight of water, the ducklings would be in and swimming, having a great time duck-diving underwater and eating duckweed. Meanwhile, mother hen would be going absolutely spare! You could almost hear the concerned clucks saying “now get out of that water at once! Don’t you know you can’t swim? Oh heavens, what have I done to deserve such unruly children?”

What she’d done, somewhat unintentionally, was to be a cross-foster mother. A species which raises children of another species.

Peahen and guineafowl chicks

Image by Chicago Zoological Society

Chicago’s Brookfield Zoo recently raised two clutches of guineafowl chicks with peahen mothers. The parents protected their brood from hawks, and showed them the ropes of living free-range in the zoo – such as how to avoid pedestrians.

From the press release:

“‘Zoogoers may not notice anything unusual between the moms and chicks, but there are definitely differences and several barriers that they needed to overcome, including language and behaviors,’ said Tim Snyder, curator of birds for the Chicago Zoological Society, which manages Brookfield Zoo. ‘The first two weeks were a little precarious because the chicks needed to learn what the peahens’ vocalization meant and adapt to different behaviors that are not instinctual to them.’

“For instance, Guineafowl chicks naturally scatter and hide when frightened or threatened, while peachicks run toward their mother. Additionally, Guineafowl moms and chicks move as a group and help care for each others’ young, which is the opposite of independent peafowl.”

Black Robin on Rangatira Island

Image by Frances Schmechel

Cross-fostering for conservation helped bring Black Robins from the brink of extinction. In 1980, only five survived in the wild on Little Mangere island in New Zealand, including a just one fertile female called Old Blue.

Each Spring, the first clutch of eggs was raised under a Chatham Island tit, giving Old Blue time to breed twice in the season.

Bit by bit the population has crawled back and is now a relatively comfortable 250 individuals. The fostering program has been used as a model for other endangered bird species.

SKA – Something Kinda Awesome and a tremendous telescope

// May 12th, 2011 // Comments Off on SKA – Something Kinda Awesome and a tremendous telescope // How Things Work, Recent Research

The Australian Government just announced it will spend 40 million dollars over the next four years to support Australia’s bid to host the Square Kilometre Array (SKA.) If, like me last week, you’re not really sure what the SKA is and Google seems to think it’s some kind of music – here’s the lowdown based on the RiAus event I went to on Thursday hosted by Professor Peter Quinn.

The SKA is a radio telescope 10,000 times more powerful than any other, a single scientific instrument comprised of individual dish antennas 15 metres wide working together.

Artist impression of SKA

Artist's impression of dishes that will make up the SKA radio telescope. Credit: Swinburne Astronomy Productions/ SKA Program Development Office.

From a central, densely packed core, receiving dishes will spread outward an area of over 3,000 kilometres. Combining their signals creates a telescope with the collecting area equivalent to a single dish one square kilometre in area.

Where will this massive instrument live?

The shortlist has been whittled down to two: South Africa and Australia. If in South Africa, the dishes will reach onto islands in the Indian Ocean. If in Australia, they will extend into New Zealand.

The final decision will be announced next year. Being Australian, naturally I’m hoping we’ll get the honour.

Murchison SKA candidate location

The candidate core site in Murchison Shire, WA. Credit: Ant Schinckel, CSIRO.

Our bid puts the SKA core in the Western Australia desert, Murchison Shire.

From here, the dishes would spiral out in five long arms across Australia and New Zealand.

The proposed core site is a space the size of the Netherlands, it contains 110 permanent residents.

With low population comes low radio interference. CSIRO scientists are working on innovative solutions to keep the site radio-quiet.

For example, trains in the region currently communicate by radio, and there’s dialogue to come up with an alternative that will work for trains without interfering with the SKA.

What will we find out there with our powerful telescope? Well, if ET phones home within our galaxy, with the SKA, we’ll hear it. In the next post, I’ll talk more about finding first light, when the galaxies began to glow.

Here’s more about the SKA: Australian site and International site.






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