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Volume 86 Issue 6 | p. 136 | Newscripts
Issue Date: February 11, 2008

Newscripts

Department: Newscripts
Bad Birds: Turkeys torment lab
Credit: Mike Neale/Shutterstock
8606nsturkey
 
Bad Birds: Turkeys torment lab
Credit: Mike Neale/Shutterstock

Troublesome Turkeys

Berkeley, Calif., is so rife with eccentric characters that peculiar behavior is rather commonplace. And then the macho turkeys showed up. Yup, it's true. A GANG OF WILD TURKEYS is challenging the area's live-and-let-live philosophy, and they're wreaking havoc at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Last spring, the wild turkey population living on LBNL grounds experienced a baby boom. At first, the 60-some-odd turkeys were cute, and the loud gobbling was not an incessant soundtrack. Sure, a few birds would chase staff who zip about campus on Segway transporters—comic relief that Newscripts desperately wishes it had witnessed—but few people saw the foul foreshadowing.

Now, gangs of turkeys roam around the grounds, scaring employees when the avian toughs spread their wings to show off. (It's a macho act to which this Newscripts writer can attest is terrifying, having experienced it alone in a forest at dusk.)

The LBNL birds also saunter around the parking lots pecking at their reflection in car windows. One wayward bird made a cameo appearance in the campus café, and then made his exit by breaking through a window.

The turkeys don't just have a lot of guts, they are also producing a liberal amount of droppings. The feces are piling up on picnic tables, on sidewalks all around the cafeteria, and near the entrances of research buildings. Besides the public health concern, the droppings tracked inside labs are causing bacterial and yeast contamination in some experiments. So far, about $100,000 has been lost in supplies and time due to contamination, says Ron Kolb, a recently retired LBNL spokesman. The researchers have had to institute "more frequent and rigorous decontamination of the labs," he adds.

As the debate over what to do about these badly behaved birds unfolded, local animal rights activists entered the fray, worried that the birds would end up on the cafeteria menu. But the plan is actually to hire a turkey wrangler to transport the birds to some remote location. The glitch is the long waiting list. Much-sought-after wranglers are currently relocating other unruly members of California's population of 750,000 wild turkeys.

Engendered Species: Aviansex secrets revealed
Credit: Chow Shue Ma/Shutterstock
8606nschicks
 
Engendered Species: Aviansex secrets revealed
Credit: Chow Shue Ma/Shutterstock

Meanwhile in Germany, researchers are reporting a new solution to a different sort of bird predicament: How to figure out a BIRD'S SEX when the plumage doesn't seem to say it all.

Although feather fashion is often telling—boy birds tend to sport flashily colored quills—sex is hard to distinguish for most baby birds and for some exotic birds. You can't look under their wings, so to speak, because all birdie genitalia is internal. So what to do? Most established methods require analyzing some sort of blood sample—a time-consuming strategy that requires an invasive procedure, often using anesthetic, which can stress out fussy rare parrots being sexed for breeding programs, and can even cause death.

Even when feathers don't visually reveal any secrets, you can still use the plumes and a little Raman spectroscopy to sex a bird. All you need to do is take a scan of the mushy pulp at the base of the feather (Anal. Chem. 2008, 80, 1080).

Male and female DNA and different, and the DNA in this pulp varies enough to provide Raman spectra that indicate a bird's sex, explains Juergen Popp, from the University of Jena, in Germany. He says the long-term plan is to use Raman spectroscopy to sex a bird's egg before hatching. In addition to applications in breeding programs, the agricultural industry could anticipate chicken sex earlier and circumvent rearing males for egg production—a situation where the chicks really need to be, uh, chicks.

 

This week's column was written by Sarah Everts. Please send comments and suggestions to newscripts@acs.org

 
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