BIRD STRIKES: Collisions between birds and airplanes, which witnesses say caused yesterday's US Airways crash landing in the Hudson River, are becoming more common. The New Yorker reported yesterday the problem is rare thanks to better monitoring, but an ornithologist tells MSNBC it's happening more often, due to cleaner environments — thus more birds — and quieter airplanes. According to FAA statistics, bird-plane collisions quadrupled from 1990 to 2007. (Sources: The New York Times, MSNBC, The New Yorker)

PELICAN GRIEF: The mysterious case of disoriented, emaciated pelicans stumbling and dying from Oregon to Mexico may finally be solved. Wildlife experts had been baffled by birds staggering across highways, dropping from the skies and winding up far from the coast, some as far as the Arizona desert. While toxins haven't been ruled out, scientists now blame frostbite for the birds' weird behavior. Warmer temperatures in recent years had allowed pelicans to migrate farther north, and thousands were seen on East Sand Island in British Columbia in early December. When a snowstorm blew through with 60 mph winds, the birds were likely caught off-guard. "These birds were probably not subject to anything like this in a hundred years," one biologist said. (Sources: The Los Angeles TimesThe NY Times)

SUBTERRANEAN HOMESICK ALIEN: Methane gas bubbling up from Mars' surface is a "breathtaking discovery" hinting that life may currently exist on the red planet, NASA scientists are reporting. Something is causing substantial amounts of the gas to regularly vent into the atmosphere, and while it could be underground geological or chemical processes, there's a good chance its origin is biological, as most methane on Earth is produced by bacteria. "Mars just got a whole lot more interesting," a scientist told The Washington Post. (Source: WaPo)

OIL SLIDE: Worldwide oil consumption will drop for the second straight year in 2009, the first two-year slide in 26 years, the International Energy Agency is predicting. The Houston Chronicle reports that while '09 might be a dismal year for people trying to make money from oil, the fossil fuel may have hit bottom, setting the stage for an eventual rebound. The U.S. Energy Information Administration doesn't agree. (Sources: The Associated Press, The Houston Chronicle, EIA)

GRID AND BEAR IT: The urgent need for an economic boost, combined with the lack of a head start on planning and design, may prevent a nationwide energy grid or rail network from being included in the current stimulus bill. "Before you spend billions of dollars on new lines, you have to spend millions of dollars on design work," a green infrastructure expert tells The LA Times. Still, Obama's transition team says it's committed to its promises, which could be included in other bills later this year. (Source: The LA Times)

GETTING RID OF COAL ASH: Is suddenly on the nation's mind, The Washington Post reports this morning. As mentioned in yesterday's Last Call, environmental groups are worried the TVA will dump the Tennessee slurry into an abandoned coal mine, which could contaminate groundwater. (Sources: WaPo, The Knoxville News Sentinel)

Russell McLendon

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