22 May 2016 – 2 Swainson’s Thrushes

Northwest alcove.  The only thing sadder than the sight of these two birds is the realization that they were probably traveling together.

21 May 2016 – Mourning Warbler and Yellow-billed Cuckoo

With apologies for the 1) poor and 2) non-existent photos . . .

I found an ASY male Mourning Warbler (fat = 0) at the main north entrance this morning. He was waaaaay better looking than these photos attest, and I bet he was even more handsome in life.

 

In the northwest alcove lay a female (with well-developed brood patch!) Yellow-billed Cuckoo (no photo).  I left the cuckoo in place, as the ants were already doing a number on her.

 

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In scavenging news, the starling from 5/18 was both moved and eaten: I found a remnant pile of its larger feathers about 5m away from the bird’s location. Whatever picked it up had taken it south to the bushes in front of the northern entrance.

18 May 2016 – European Starling

This was an odd find, both for species and location.  In monitoring since 2009, this is only the second starling I’ve ever found, despite the fact that starlings nest on the NRC in spring and roost there year ’round. Starlings are pretty well urban-adapted, however, and I guess that explains the infrequency with which I come across them. They either know how to recognize glass as a barrier or they are so likely to perch on the building as opposed to flying past it that they’re more often at a safer “stalling speed” on the wing when they get close.

Except, of course, when they aren’t, and then they’re just as susceptible as any other passerine to death by window. That happened to this inexperienced youngster (HY) at some point over the past 24 hours. I left it in place for a removal trial.

The other weird thing as I alluded above was the location: left side of the main north entrance, close to where the building begins to curve on the east side.

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17 May 2016 -Painted Bunting

I found yet another Painted Bunting at the NRC this morning; this time a SY female was the victim. She didn’t have much fat, but otherwise she was in fine condition. Of course, she was a bit damp from this morning’s drizzle, so I put her in front of the fan for a couple of hours to dry her out.

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15 May 2016 – Swainson’s Thrush

Whilst I was traveling this weekend, Corey Riding took over monitoring at the NRC for me.  On Sunday the 15th, Corey found this Swainson’s Thrush in the northwest alcove. For those keeping score, it’s 20 August 2009–30 April 2016: 2 Swainson’s Thrushes, and 1 May 2016–15 May 2016: 4 Swainson’s Thrushes.

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12 May 2016 – The story of Layla

Today was a first for me, and I’ve been doing this almost daily for 6 years . . .

I rounded the corner to enter the northwest alcove and was greeted by the sound of a very angry cardinal.  This one, in fact:

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She was chipping nonstop – her mate was there too but hanging back a bit – at another lady cardinal who looked like she’d been having a bad day.

The corner was strewed with her feathers; she was mostly bald on the back of her head.

Here’s what seems to have taken place.  The disheveled female smacked the window and got stunned and then, as a “trapped” bird, couldn’t figure out how to turn around and escape. Then, like taking a wrong turn down an alley and getting trapped by local street thugs, the pair of birds didn’t take kindly to this interloper and they tried to drive her off their territory.  The poor stunned bird just sat there and endured quite a pummeling by the female of the pair.

Window collision leads to intraspecific aggression in Northern Cardinal.  This note practically writes itself.

Despite her rough morning, however, the female weathered the abuse pretty well, and I even had a bit of difficulty in catching her.  Here’s where the story takes on a more heartwarming aspect.

One delightful feature of life in Stillwater, OK is that we play host to the Special Olympics each May. Thousands of athletes with their families and support crews in the planet’s brightest T-shirts were on campus today, and heading over to the football stadium for Opening Ceremonies.  One such group approached me just after I had caught the cardinal and inquired if they could cut through the building on their way to the stadium.  I checked the door, determined that it was unlocked, and invited them to pass through the alcove, much like so many birds think they can do but, sadly, cannot.

Of course, when some Special Olympians and their squad are approaching you whilst you’re holding a disheveled lady cardinal in your hand, you make sure they get a chance to see her up close, and I did! 

It’s always fun for people to see birds up close, but there’s something about the times when I’ve worked with differently-abled folks that I’ve noticed that their sense of wonder and appreciation for such things is on a whole other level.  Their excitement did not disappoint!  They were really gentle, though, and very careful to ask first if they could touch the bird.  (I told them “no” just because I wasn’t sure they’d have a chance to quickly wash their hands after doing so, and that’s always the first thing I do after handling a wild bird.)

Then came the questions, and the first one knocked me for a loop:  “What’s her name?”  The first thing this little girl wanted to know was not the strange set of circumstances that led to some guy walking around with a cardinal in his hand, she first wanted to personalize the cardinal.  It was a startlingly beautiful reaction to the situation!

I was a bit proud of myself for maintaining my composure rather than simply crying and hugging this little girl, so I responded,”I don’t know.  What do you think we should name her?”

Without missing a beat:  “Layla.  Her name is Layla.”

“Layla it is, then!”

For the next few minutes, I explained to them that Layla hit the window and got confused and that the local cardinals were angry with her.  On cue, the male started singing robustly. “See?  That’s the male up there on the roof.” I told them that I was taking Layla to the row of trees nearby where she could rest a bit and then get on with her day. She was going to be just fine.  In the span of a few minutes, they learned a lesson in window collisions for birds, territoriality, and intraspecific aggression. They didn’t need a lesson in empathy or compassion – they already knew that stuff.

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11 May 2016 – 2 Painted Buntings

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Two more young Painted Buntings had run-ins with the Noble Research Center today, but at least one survived to tell the tale.

The first bird, an SY male with fat = 2, lay dead about 10m from the main north entrance today.

 

Once I had him squared away in my pocket, I turned to continue my route and immediately noticed a second SY Painted Bunting.  This one, a female, was stunned but pretty feisty once I picked her up.

I took her for a walk across the quad to the trees outside Cordell Hall.  She screeched most of the way (a good sign!), and then I placed her in a tree to give her the “perch test”, i.e., is the bird strong/coordinated enough to perch on a branch.  She was, and she proved it to me by flying strongly to a neighboring tree and perching just fine, thank you very much.

Some people find this work I do to be a be a bit morbid, and I suppose I do spend a lot of time handing tragically dead birds.  But this has also put me in position to save a few dozen birds too, notably a Painted Bunting and Summer Tanager over the last week. Every one of these little birds who flies away from me (instead of falling prey to some cat prowling around the building) makes the time most worthwhile.

 

10 May 2016 – Swainson’s Thrush

I found this ASY male Swainson’s Thrush this morning in the southwest alcove.

 

Note the “booted” tarsus.  On thrushes the tarsus is smooth, i.e., without a lot of obvious scaling. It’s sort of like the leading edge of the tarsus is wrapped in one huge scale.

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The Painted Bunting lasted 2 days at the main north entrance; it has been removed.

8 May 2016 – Tandem Painted Buntings

Today there were 2 Painted Buntings, both second-year males with 0 fat, dead on arrival at the main north entrance of the Noble Research Center.  I left the left one in situ for a scavenging/removal trial.

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3 May 2016 – another Swainson’s Thrush and a stunned Summer Tanager

Update: I got a call about a “cardinal” that had struck the southeast alcove window at the NRC around 1:00 pm today.  The bird was in fact a gorgeous ASY male SUMMER TANAGER (and me without my camera).  I was a bit concerned that it was on the ground (a well-meaning woman was offering it some water) and that it let me grab it pretty easily. The bird was pretty feisty, however, and when I took it to the opposite side of the building to see if it could perch on its own among the row of oaks there, it took off and strongly flew up into an adjacent tree.  It’s still dusting off the cobwebs as they say, but when I last saw it the bird was perched strongly about 20′ up in a sturdy red oak.

I’ll count this one among my stunned/trapped victims, and I’ve amended the map below accordingly.


In the last few days, the number of Swainson’s Thrushes killed by window collision at the Noble Research Center has doubled from 2 to 4. This one was an after second-year bird with fat = 1.

It’s really odd how predictably unpredictable window collisions can be.  In this case, one of the most abundant migrants through our area has only rarely fallen victim to the building I monitor – despite it being a fairly common window-kill in spring at other Stillwater buildings. I’m in my 6th year of near daily monitoring for casualties at the NRC, and during that time I’ve documented Swainson’s Thrush . . .

Is it just happenstance that two Swainson’s Thrushes are killed within a few days of each other in 2016 when the previous two records were 5 years apart?  Do the now 3 birds from 2015–2016 indicate that something has changed compared to previous years of monitoring? Do the two birds at the end of April/beginning of May in 2016 indicate that the primary movement  of Swainson’s Thrush is a week earlier than typical? My sample is, of course, much to small to help answer such questions, but it is questions such as these that keep me going day after day and year after year . . .

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1 May 2016 – Swainson’s Thrush

The longest stretch without a casualty in 6 years was broken this weekend, with the unfortunate Swainson’s Thrush below the first confirmed window kill at the Noble Research Center since 19 November, 2015.

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If you were in need of evidence to convince you that it is healthy individuals that succumb to window collisions, check out the fat deposits clearly visible in the furcular hollow and on the belly of this bird.  This bird was in the prime of life.