April 21, 2019

Field Obs6: Reproduction

Field Observation #6:
Reproductive Ecology and Evolution
Date: 21-April-2019
Time: 8:15-10:00 AM
Location: Woodside Natural Area, Essex, VT
Coordinates: 44.501455, -73.139805
Weather: Overcast, warm Spring day 65°F (18°C)
Habitat: Mixed forest, marsh, river

I went birding in Woodside Natural Area in Essex, VT which is a great location to see a variety of birds due to the mixed forest habitat wrapping around a marsh area next to the Winooski River. The weather was very warm so lots of birds were out and their vocalizations could be heard everywhere. The entire walk was full of lively chatter and lacked many quiet spots or areas where birds were vocalizing distress or warning calls. Observations of bird vocalizations and behaviors throughout the excursion supported that many birds are trying to attract mates and prepare a nest for the coming warm weather.

The entire trip had Red-winged Blackbird calls in the background and they could be observed throughout the entire marsh area that the trail circled around. These birds live and eat in marshes, where they build nests using stringy plant material among low laying marsh vegetation or even on the marsh itself. The males were either observed next to a female in low lying grasses or on high perches calling out to establish their territories.

Among the forests, Tufted Titmice were heard quite often as they reside within deciduous woods and feed in this habitat. They nest in cavities in trees, but since their beaks are made for eating insects and seeds, they cannot excavate them themselves, so are found residing in natural holes or holes formed by woodpeckers. The individuals observed during this field outing were all adults, as indicated by the rusty patch on their bottoms and were calling out from trees. They were most likely territorial males establishing their area, as no Titmouse encounters overlapped with another’s region.

The Pileated Woodpecker was another vocal individual during the trip, although not seen. They reside in deciduous or mixed forests where they nest in cavities they create. Many of these nesting sites were observed, primarily in dead, large trees. At one point during the trip I was even able to hear the bird pecking at a tree, indicating it may be creating a new nest for the breeding season. Similar to the Titmouse, all the vocalizations heard may have been used to establish a territory because there were clear distinctions in regions when the call was heard.

Many other mating behaviors were observed during this trip as well. A pair of Hooded Mergansers were observed swimming in the marsh. The female chooses a nest site within a tree, so considering both individuals of the pair were out swimming may indicate they are still increasing caloric intake to prepare for the costly investment of egg laying. Several Canada Goose pairs were also observed, but unlike the Merganser, they nest low to the ground on a slightly elevated site near water. Their nest sites are generally more open so the incubating female can have an unobstructed view and would be more likely that they are closer to egg laying than the Mergansers. A male Northern Cardinal was also observed where he was calling out from a tall dead tree. He had his tuft erect and was calling proudly trying to attract a mate, I even observed him move from a lower branch to the top of the dead tree to try and get more attention from a female.

I sat at en edge of the marsh at a bench with the forest behind me and listened for birds for five minutes. Since I was at the edge of the marsh it was expected to hear a lot of Red-winged Blackbirds, approximately six individuals. A Titmouse was calling the entire time I was sitting there with the generic “peter peter peter” call. A Northern Cardinal would occasionally call out from the same location past the marsh but was very clearly heard. A Pileated Woodpecker was also very easy to hear and was heard beyond the marsh, but at the end of the trip I heard another one in the location directly behind me in the forest. There is a decent amount of distance between these calls, suggesting it may be two individuals with their own territory. An American Crow landed near me and was calling out and was shortly joined by two other Crow’s where they called out to each other before flying off. There were two species I was unable to identify, two of the same species to the left of the marsh and one more in the woods to the right of the marsh. But, in the end, I recorded 10 different species heard during this five-minute listening period.

Posted on April 21, 2019 22:19 by kylermose kylermose | 16 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

April 03, 2019

Field Obs4: Migration

Date: 01-April-2019
Time: 5:30-7:00PM
Location:, Woodside Natural Area, Essex, VT
Coordinates: 44.501455, -73.139805
Weather: Sunny, partly cloudy, 38°F (3°C)
Habitat: Swamp, riverside, light forest

Birds migrate in order to reach regions with high or increasing levels of food resources. Vermont is an excellent place to observe migration because many species leave the cold state in the winter to go South where more food is available. But, in the springtime, food resources increase and there is less competition, so these species migrate back to take advantage of growing insect populations and budding plants, as well as establish nest sites. Migration is a costly, so a bird must make physiological tradeoffs which has resulted in a variety of migratory distances/ patterns. Migration verses permanent resident status is a matter of life history strategies.

Permanent residents do not migrate, but instead invest energy into physiological and behavioral adaptions that allow them to survive the harsh winter conditions. For example, a Black-capped Chickadee has the ability to fluff its feathers to provide insulation, which is why a Chickadee in the winter appears larger than one in the summer. Many winter residents like the Brown Creeper, American Robin, Chickadee, and Woodpeckers also have the ability enter a state of regulated hypothermia (torpor) at night to conserve energy. Night cover is crucial, communal roosts of the American Crow and creation of protected shelters observed in the Pileated Woodpecker aid in heat retention during cold nights. Foraging poses another issue for winter residents as many insects and plants die during the cold months, but they have evolved mechanisms to overcome this. Creative foraging techniques such as the spatial memory of Woodpeckers or foraging in mixed flocks as seen with Chickadees, Sparrows, Finches, and Tufted Titmouse’s increases information sharing and caloric intake during periods of limited food availability.

Some birds forgo investing their energy into adaptions and intensified foraging efforts during winter time and migrate to more productive regions instead. There is a variety of migratory birds characterized by the distance migrated, from short to long distances. A short distance migrant observed is the Red-winged Blackbird, which is resident to Northern North America all year-round, but migrates to parts of Mexico for nonbreeding seasons and then can be seen in Northern Canada during breeding seasons. The southernmost distribution of the Blackbird is over 3,000 miles from Vermont, but considering this bird is native to almost all of the US year-round, it is unlikely any individual migrated this distance. Some medium distance migrants observed includes Song Sparrows and Eastern Phoebes, which both migrate as far south as Florida and Mexico during nonbreeding seasons up to Northern Canada during breeding seasons. The most southern distribution of the Song Sparrow is roughly 2,500 miles, but similar to the Blackbird, it has a wide American distribution so may be unlikely any individual found in VT traveled this distance. Both of these migration patterns can be characterized by the term “leapfrog migration” where Northern residents do not migrate as far south as more southern residents. The Eastern Phoebe is one of the first returning migrants to Vermont in order to breed, traveling as far as Southern Mexico over 4,250 miles away. Belted Kingfishers are characterized as long-distant migrants but can be found in central North America all year-round. During the nonbreeding season though, they can be found all the way to central American and the Caribbean and observed all the way up through Alaska in the breeding season. Although it is likely a migratory Kingfisher in Vermont came from more central North America, over 3,500 miles are between Vermont and central America. The Canada Goose has a similar resident and migratory pattern, but do not go as far south, only to northern Mexico, roughly 2,200 miles away.

Posted on April 03, 2019 18:25 by kylermose kylermose | 13 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

March 19, 2019

Field Obs3: Social Behavior and Phenology

Date: 13-March-2019
Time: 4:00-6:00PM
Location: Puerto Villamil, Isabela Island, Galapagos, Ecuador
Coordinates: -0.9533, -90.9864
Weather: Sunny, partly cloudy, 80°F (27°C)
Habitat: Mixed (see first paragraph below)

I was extremely fortunate to be taking a spring break course in the Galapagos Islands studying conservation and the natural history. Beforehand I ensure I purchased a nice camera so I would be able to take pictures of the marvelous and diverse birds that reside in these unique islands. The islands are notorious for their rapid changes in scenery, in a single 30-minute drive I was able to see beach, desert, tropical rainforest, and high-altitude volcano ecosystems. The hostel I was staying at was right on the beach and was a short 2.5-mile walk to a dry, dusty, tortoise breeding center which followed a boardwalk through a light forest and a lagoon back to the hostel. This unique setting allowed me to see a wide variety of birds from extremely different environments all within 90 minutes of each other.

I started the walk at my hostel, where there was a local, friendly Yellow Warbler that joined us for breakfast every morning. I was happy to see my little friend right before embarking on my excursion. Along the beach, I observed shorebirds, primarily Whimbrels and Sanderlings. These birds are generally solitary foragers, although Sanderlings could be observed in small foraging groups, although little interaction occurred. These birds were primarily observed foraging along the shoreline at dawn and dusk in order to escape the heat. Frigate birds and a Brown Pelican were also observed flying by, but it was not uncommon to see these birds flying solitary in the sky at any time of the day. Many Frigate birds observed during the trip had a large, red sack underneath their neck which they are able to inflate to attract a mate, indicating a fully mature male. This inflation is a major communication method male use to try and attract a female in, the larger the air sac, the more likely they are to obtain a mate. Other Frigates had a white, feathered neck, indicating that they were either juvenile males or females.

Once at the tortoise breeding center, a Galapagos Mockingbird was immediately spotted in a nearby low-lying tree. There are two other Mockingbirds found in the Galapagos, but these birds are able to differentiate each other due to their variety in plumages, although not an issue as many of these species are separated by islands. Although they have wings, they prefer to hop and walk around, limiting their dispersal and hybridizing abilities. A Smooth-billed Ani was seen drinking water out of one of the tortoise’s baths. These birds are generally found in groups of 10-40 birds and communicate with a variety of calls, although this bird was seen alone. While leaving the breeding center, I walked through a low-density forest of smaller trees where various finches were observed. A Sharp-beak Ground-finch and a Medium Ground-finch were seen in close proximity of one another, and although descendants of the same finch and very similar in physical attributes, these birds are not the same species. The thirteen finches that reside in the Galapagos actually all developed their own unique calls and will not respond to that of another finch. So, although these two birds were heard chirping similar notes in close proximity of one another, they were not communicating.

After exiting the forest, a boardwalk led me through saltwater lagoon where a flock of Greater Flamingos was observed communally foraging. Flamingos of all sub species on a global scale can be found in flocks ranging from 10 individuals to upwards of 200, the flock I observed had approximately 20 individuals. One several birds were observed foraging, perhaps suggesting this was not a peak foraging time, or perhaps could mean they all forage at different times. Most notable about the Flamingos is their bright pink coloration, which is not used for communication but is a side effect of the keratin found in the prawn and shrimp their diets primarily consist of. It is not entirely known how and why their bodies process the pigmentation the way that it does, but it is truly beautiful to see. Younger Flamingos had more grey-white coloration, but after eating more keratin-rich shrimp, their plumage will mature to the gorgeous pink color seen in the adults. Other lagoon birds were observed as well, including the White-cheeked Pintail which was seen in close proximity to other individuals, but no verbal communication was noted. Two Yellow-crowned Night Heron were observed independently of each other, these birds generally forage alone so I was not surprised to not see it within a group. Additionally, it is a nocturnal bird, so observing is at almost at dusk time was appropriate with its feeding and circadian schedule.

Although the Galapagos is extremely diverse, there are not many foraging flocks of smaller birds that would respond to pishing. Fortunately, I do this often when in Vermont forests to try and attract smaller, flocking birds like Black-capped Chickadees and Tufted Titmouses. By either making a “pssh” noise or a whistle, it indicates to smaller birds that the area is safe enough from predators that another organism (me) feels safe making noise. The birds aren’t confusing my vocalizations as another of their species trying to communicate, merely using it as an environmental cue that the region is safe for foraging. Larger birds generally don’t respond to this kind of noise because they primarily use vocalizations for intraspecific communication and not as environmental cues for safety.

Posted on March 19, 2019 23:09 by kylermose kylermose | 14 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

March 05, 2019

Field Obs2: Physiology

Kyler Mose
WFB130: Ornithology
Field Observation #2: Physiology

Date: 05-March-2019
Time: 8:30-10:30AM
Location: Ethan Allen Homestead, Burlington, VT
Coordinates: 44.5082, -73.2295
Weather: Sunny, partly cloudy, 18°F (-8°C)
Habitat: Mixed (see first paragraph below)

I went birding in Ethan Allen Homestead Park which was a mixed habitat of coniferous and deciduous trees along with open fields and swamp lands. This New England forest was cold, but the birds have adapted to survive these cold and resource-limited winters. To compensate for the high metabolic needs to stay warm in winter, these winter residents must have a high caloric intake. Many birds, like the Black-capped Chickadee observed, bulk up in the Fall when food resources are more available. But they are also intelligent birds and can remember where major food sources are, like bird feeders or trees with high seed densities. This can be observed in Black-capped Chickadee aggregations near trees with higher food output.

Birds also have behavioral and morphological responses to survive the harsh winters of New England. They can be seen huddling, which was not actively observed in this outing, but puffing of feathers can be readily observed in most winter birds. The Northern Cardinals observed all had fluffed feathers in order to warm air in their down feathers to increase insulation. Black-capped Chickadees are another common bird that can also be seen with puffed feathers to aid in insulation. Birds are also able to enter a state of torpor, or a regulated hypothermia, where they drop their temperatures up to 15°F at night, which allows for many energy conservations during cold nights.

Dead trees can also prove useful as habitats for birds to shelter themselves from cold nights. Many of the dead snags passed along the field observation were upright and in initial stages of death. There were large hallows in many of the snags, which could prove helpful in protection against cold nights. No strong correlation was found between snag density and bird density, but the area surveyed was not great, so short foraging trips away from a night time shelter is a possible explanation. No great energy is expended to travel from a nigh shelter to a food-dense region within the same forest.

Posted on March 05, 2019 22:11 by kylermose kylermose | 8 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

February 19, 2019

Field Obs1: ID and Flight

Kyler Mose
WFB130: Ornithology
Field Observation #1
ID and Flight


Date: 19-Febraury-2019
Time: 10:00-11:30AM
Location: Wheeler Nature Park, South Burlington
Coordinates: 44.4415, -73.16977
Weather: Sunny, clear skies, 19°F (-7°C)
Habitat: Mixed (see first paragraph below)

I observed birds at Wheeler Nature Park in South Burlington. This location was awesome because it had a variety of habitats ranging from open fields, dense underbrush, and open forests with a running stream throughout the park to support higher productivity levels. The variety of niches within this park yielded a range of birds observed which allowed for proper comparison of flight patterns between birds of different habitats.

American Robins and Cedar Waxwings were found in more open habitats. I observed the Waxwing’s flight pattern, which was comprised of flapping during takeoff, followed by short gliding periods. They had to do continuous flapping in order to keep up the altitude and velocity but did have periods of gliding in the air. This flight pattern is supported by their structure of their wings, which are broad and pointed. The group of Waxwings observed were eating in a tree and had brief fluttering moments where they would hover over a berry. Again, their broad and large wing to body height ratio aided in this flight pattern and technique.

In more dense and covered forests Black-capped Chickadees and White-breasted Nuthatches were observed. This difference in habitat also resulted in different flight patterns observed in these smaller birds. The Black-capped Chickadee had more sporadic, and hoppy flight patterns where they would flutter to different branches, rather than soaring through open spaces. When they did more open passages of flights, their wings were working much harder than that of the Waxwing, which can be attributed to the much smaller scale of the Chickadees wing. The Chickadee has a very distinct manner of flight, often fluttering between branches, which aided in identify these little birds at greater distances.

Posted on February 19, 2019 21:35 by kylermose kylermose | 4 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

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