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Friday, January 11th 2013

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On today's Mooney,

After years of research, a Canadian university has finally completed the ultimate family tree of birds, dating all the way back to the dinosaurs. Terry Flanagan reports on a Pine Marten making itself comfortable in a Co. Offaly home. And we investigate some remarkable klepto-parasites: animals who mimic other species in order to steal their food!

BT Young Scientist Exhibition

The 49th BT Young Scientist Exhibition continues at Dublin's RDS until tomorrow, and Professor John O'Halloran is one of the judges there. He tells us about some of the entries received this year, and Terry Flanagan reports back from the Exhibition where he met with students to learn more about their work...

The students Terry talked to were:

Stand No: 4536
Joshua Gorman Climax and Jay Dolan from Blackrock College
Project: bottling bull belches and collecting cow pats!

Stand No: 1211
Siún Hickey from Loreto Abbey, Dalkey
Project: regional variation in birdsong. Do robins have dialects?

Stand No: 1105
Catherine Markey, Chloe McMahon and Gemma Traynor from Ballybay Community College
Project: the effects of incubation and hatching of eggs

For more information about the Exhibition, click here.


We humans use mimicry for fun, by and large. But in the animal kingdom, mimicry has far more practical, and some might say sinister, uses.


Some species of snake mimic more venomous species, so they can look more dangerous, and avoid getting attacked. Some animals use mimicry as camouflage, like the "mimic octopus", which can make itself look like a flat fish, and hide at the bottom of the sea.

But some animals have raised mimicry to the level of an artform. And one such creature is an African bird called the "drongo". This bird has become so adept at mimicking animals like meerkats, and indeed other birds, that it tricks them into relinquishing food they have just captured!

Dr. Thomas Flower is a researcher at the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology at the University of Cape Town . And he has done some investigative work on this tricky avian con artist! We are delighted he joins us today, all the way from the MCR studio in Cape Town, South Africa...

Red Squirrels

During the week, we received this e-mail from one of our listeners Helen, in Bray:

Hi Derek,

I've been seeing a lovely healthy red squirrel in my garden over the last few days, the crows and magpies seem to be very upset at his presence but he seems to be holding his own against them. I have never seen a red squirrel in this country before - plenty of the greys of course ( I live on the seafront in Bray). I was hoping someone could tell me if there is anything I can do to help our little friend to prosper?

Helen McGoohan

Red Squirrel

We ask today's panel of Dr. Richard Collins, Terry Flanagan and Professor John O'Halloran to give their advice...

Tame Pine Martens

We received a lovely letter a few days ago with two photographs attached, which you can see below. One is of 8-year old Simon Feehan in a green jumper and the other is of Simon’s Mum Teresa Ryan-Feehan in a pink coat – and both Simon and Teresa are pictured beside a little pine marten. And that’s what surprised us because pine martens are quite rare, elusive little creatures – and would normally run a mile from a human.

But Teresa’s letter explained that a family of pine martens moved into her house, into one of her BEDS in fact, and seem quite happy to cohabit with human beings! We sent Terry Flanagan out to meet Teresa and her pine marten at Teresa's home in Birr, Co. Offaly, to find out more...

App Article: Barnacle Geese: The Priest’s Fish and other stories (by Eanna ni Lamhna)

We tend to think of winter as a time when some of our birds have flown off to Africa as there is no insect food for them here at this time of year. But Ireland is south for birds that breed further north and so we get winter visitors – birds that come here to spend the winter – yes that’s right – Ireland is a much warmer place than Iceland, Greenland or Arctic Canada at this time of year. And of course they leave again in April to travel north again. On the face of it you would wonder why. Haven’t we got loads of grass here all summer that they could eat? Why risk the arduous journey over the ocean?

To find out more, download the Mooney app, for iPhone and Android phones, to read the rest of Eanna's article, and much more!

Family Tree Of Birds

Have you ever sat down and drawn up your family tree, or maybe you paid a genealogist to do it for you? It’s fascinating to be able to look at the lines on the tree that represent the generations that have come before you and those that are coming after. And if you add all the aunts and cousins and grandparents and so on you could easily end up with a family tree of a hundred people or more!

But imagine taking 9,993 related people and trying to figure out their family tree!! How long would that take?!? Now translate those people into BIRDS and try to do it!

It’s a daunting task but one that has just been completed by a team of scientists – and the world now has its FIRST-EVER ‘Family Tree of Birds’, including every species from the time of the dinosaurs!

Arne Mooers
Arne Mooers

Arne Mooers is Professor of Biodiversity at Simon Fraser University, just outside Vancouver, Canada. He is one of the people who drew up this Avian Family Tree, and he joins Derek and the panel live from Vancouver today...

You might also be interested in looking at the One Zoom Tree Of Life - click here to visit the website.

K Club Wedding Competition

About 22,000 couples get married in Ireland every year – and here on Mooney we’re going to make 2013 lucky for some with a fantastic wedding competition we’re going to be running in January in conjunction with the RTÉ Guide and The K Club! To find out more, tune in, and get a copy of the RTÉ Guide, on January 14th!

The Island Landscape

RTÉ Television, in association with Mooney, is currently producing a major new documentary series on the history of the Irish landscape. The series will tell the story of how our landscape was created after the last major climatic event – the end of the last Ice Age, over ten thousand years ago.  And we want your help! Would you like to contribute video towards the TV series? Click here to find out what we're looking for!

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