Coat the ravens evermore? To protect tortoises, officials test spraying oil into birds' nests

phys.org | 5/21/2019 | Staff
finter (Posted by) Level 4
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The sun was rising over the Mojave Desert as crews prepared to demonstrate a devastating new weapon in the war among man, bird and reptile.

Standing on a windswept plain, a group of government and utility officials locked their eyes on a drone as it hovered beside a twisted Joshua tree. As the buzzing contraption drew closer to a nest of twigs and furniture stuffing, a controller's voice cut through the cool morning air.

One—fire

"Five, four, three, two, one—fire!"

Instantly, the quadcopter squirted streams of silicone oil into the unoccupied raven's nest, thoroughly coating a clutch of simulated eggs.

Attack - Shock - Awe - Hellfire - Missile

Though the attack may have lacked the shock and awe of a Hellfire missile strike, it would have proved lethal to actual raven eggs. The layering of oil would have prevented oxygen from permeating the shells, slowly suffocating the embryos within.

After confirming the direct hit on a video feed, the drone's controllers summoned it back to the desert floor, where biologist Tim Shields gave an approving nod.

Ravens - Nest - Kids - Grandkids

"The ravens that built this nest wanted to have kids and grandkids," he said.

The population of the common raven is exploding across the American West, where it thrives on human refuse and roadkill.

Predators - Spread - Civilization - Territories - Numbers

As the large, strutting predators piggyback on the spread of human civilization, they are expanding into territories where they have never been seen in such large numbers. This expansion has come at the expense of several threatened species, including the desert tortoise, whose soft-shelled hatchlings and juveniles have been devoured by the birds.

Even tortoises up to 10 years old have shells that are too thin to withstand the hammering of a raven's beak. Numerous carcasses, looking much like helmets punctured by armor-piercing bullets, have been found beneath raven nests. In once instance, researchers counted 250 juvenile tortoise carcasses under a single nest over a four-year period, according...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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