August 18, 2005

Scientists try to save rare and randy warbler

LONDON (Reuters) - Europe's rarest songbird is facing
extinction, despite being the most promiscuous and energetic
lover in the avian world, and concerned scientists are looking
urgently for ways to save it.

The male aquatic warbler is described as "continuously
ready to mate" and able to indulge in record-breaking mating
sessions, which in turn gives the females ample opportunity to
sample and select the best mates.

However, numbers have slumped to less than 20,000 in the
past century -- a decline of 95 percent -- and its range has
shrunk from continent-wide to isolated strongholds in eastern
Europe as humans have ravaged its habitat.

"It is officially listed as 'vulnerable' and it faces the
prospect of extinction unless things get better," Ed Parnell of
BirdLife International told Reuters on Thursday.

Scientists from across the continent are meeting in Spain
for the first top-level international conference to save the
randy songbird, whose habitat is disappearing as marshlands are
drained and farmland is expanded.

The male bird plays no part in nest-building or raising
chicks and spends most of its time hunting for willing females
and mating at length.

"In contrast to most birds, which get the business over in
a mere one to two seconds' sexual contact, aquatic warblers
spend up to 35 minutes copulating," according to one paper at
the conference in Palencia, nothern Spain.