Nigel, the world’s loneliest bird, dies next to the concrete decoy he loved

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Nigel, the world's loneliest bird, dies next to the concrete decoy he loved by an author (Washington Post)
The gannet heeded conservationists' calls to settle on a small New Zealand island. Unfortunately, no eligible ladies did.

Nigel with his concrete decoy gannet

Nigel, a handsome gannet bird who lived on a desolate island off the coast of New Zealand, died suddenly this week. Wherever his soul has landed, the singles scene surely cannot be worse.

The bird was lured to Mana Island five years ago by wildlife officials who, in hopes of establishing a gannet colony there, had placed concrete gannet decoys on cliffsides and broadcast the sound of the species’ calls. Nigel accepted the invitation, arriving in 2013 as the island’s first gannet in 40 years. But none of his brethren joined him.

In the absence of a living love interest, Nigel became enamored with one of the 80 faux birds. He built her — it? — a nest. He groomed her “chilly, concrete feathers . . . year after year after year,” the Guardian reported. He died next to her in that unrequited love nest, the vibrant orange-yellow plumage of his head contrasting, as ever, with the weathered, lemony paint of hers.

“Whether or not he was lonely, he certainly never got anything back, and that must have been [a] very strange experience,” conservation ranger Chris Bell, who also lives on the island, told the paper. “I think we all have a lot of empathy for him, because he had this fairly hopeless situation.”

Urban birds sing at higher pitch than rural ones to help song carry further, research shows.

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Birds that sing their songs at a higher pitch help them travel further in built-up areas.

Previously it was thought that great tits and other common birds sung at a higher pitch in noisy areas to avoid the low pitch noise from traffic and industry.

Now, scientists from Aberystwyth University and the University of Copenhagen have found that it is the buildings that are changing the way that birds sing in cities.

Their new study, published in the journal PLoS One, suggests that urban architecture may be just as important as background noise in shaping how our birds sing.

“Our cities are packed with reflective surfaces, open spaces and narrow channels, which you just don’t get in woodland. Because sounds bounce and travel in different ways, birds have to use songs that can cope with this”, says researcher Emily Mockford. “The higher notes mean the echoes disappear faster and the next note is clearer”.

A surprise result also showed that urban songs transmitted more clearly in woodland than the rural songs of the local birds. So why don’t rural birds also sing urban songs?

Dr Rupert Marshall, Lecturer in Animal Behaviour at Aberystwyth University, commented “In woodland where trees and leaves obscure the view, many species of songbird can tell how far away a rival is by how degraded its song is. In cities there are fewer visual obstacles and song doesn’t degrade as quickly, so city birds may just concentrate on being heard”.

City birdsong may be bouncing off the walls – but does it have the X factor?