This AHY male Common Yellowthroat got no farther than the main north entrance of the Noble Research Center today.
As storms rolled through overnight, I assumed I might find a casualty this morning. There were two: a completely rain-soaked female Indigo Bunting in the southwestern alcove and a completely dry and fluffy Mourning Warbler at the south entrance under the rain protection provided by the portico’s overhanging roof. The latter was an AHY male with fat = 3.
This AHY female Painted Bunting in post-breeding condition (dried-up brood patch) met her end at the main north entrance, and was partially obscured in some bushes. This is why I don’t just check the ground; I look everywhere a bird body could end up.
Two migrants to kick off the second week of July is not what I’d call a good sign. So far, I’ve already documented 23 casualties in 2019.
Painted Bunting is the 3rd most abundant casualty on my list (26 individuals over 10 years). Only Ruby-throated Hummingbird (34) and Lincoln’s Sparrow (51) have been more often found at this site.
Although I consider July to be spring/summer, today’s casualty screams fall migrant. I was saddened this morning to find the pinnacle of avian evolution, Louisiana Waterthrush, at the far northwestern corner of the Noble Research Center.
This bird looked pretty good on the outside, but it was pretty rank. It’s Monday and the bird came in at some point between Friday afternoon and this morning. The relatively bob-tail has me thinking that it might be a HY bird, but I’m not sure.
Every day there is a casualty discovered is cause for a twinge of sadness. Some are worse than others, however, especially when our personal biases are affected. My internal monologue on noticing any dead bird is a classic Midwestern ope, but today it escalated to motherf****r! as I got close enough to see what it was lying in front of a glass entry on the northwestern corner of the Noble Research Center. Yep, it was the pinnacle of avian evolution, a Louisiana Waterthrush.
I would be remiss not to mention the unusually rainy, cool spring we’ve enjoyed here in the Southern Plains, and this week flooding has turned deadly. Here in Stillwater, we topped 7″ of rain on Tuesday, with roads and schools closed. But our saturated soils didn’t result from one super storm. Check out these 30-days totals:
In fact, we’re a solid 20″ above average for the year:
This is a pattern of rainfall that often washes out waterthrush nests, built along the banks of streams. Having returned at the end of March, it could easily be the case that our local waterthrushes have attempted to nest, and been flooded out, at least three times. Perhaps a scenario like that might explain how a second-year (check out the feather wear) female (she at least attempted nesting – check out the brood patch) Louisiana Waterthrush ends up outside its territory in unfamiliar habitat to die at a window on the 23rd/24th of May? Is this a local movement to find a new territory less prone to flooding and give it another go? Is this a bird that has given up for 2019 and was on her way to molt and prepare for southbound migration while other birds are still streaming north? These intimate details of birds’ lives provide endless fascination for me and, of course, can lead to new and interesting directions for research that can help these birds better survive their forays into human-dominated landscapes.
Besides the feather wear and brood patch, there were a couple of other interesting things about this bird. It had fat in the furcular hollow! Floods don’t keep waterthrushes from foraging well, despite their threat to nests. Still, actually accumulating fat is hormonally influenced, and it strikes me as odd for a bird to accumulate fat outside of migration. This bird also showed obvious trauma to the tip of the bill, indicating a window strike at full speed. I can’t quite tell if the mark on the right pectoralis major is a contusion from collision or the beginning of the progression of brood patch loss. Many questions . . .
There’s a small alcove on a northeast corner of the Food and Agricultural Products Center across a parking lot from the Noble Research Center that often lures birds to their death. Today, it was this second year Summer Tanager.
My walk to the Noble Research Center revealed two window-killed birds outside the Food and Agricultural Products building, a male Yellow Warbler and Ruby-throated Hummingbird.
I also found remains (wingtips) of the Summer Tanager and Indigo Bunting that were scavenged from the southwestern alcove.
New casualties this morning were a SY male Painted Bunting in the southwestern alcove and a male Tennessee Warbler (9.5g, fat = 1) in the northeastern alcove.
We had a serious cold front move through on November 11–12, dropping temperatures and a decent inch or so of snow. This was unusual in that we’ve pretty much had snowless winters for the past couple of years (a couple of ice storms and no more) and that it happened so early in the season. We were probably a week or so ahead of peak autumn color here; now all of those leaves are stuck to the trees and browning. Although brief, it was a hard freeze. Birds were caught a bit unawares too, as the results of today’s survey suggest.
First, there was a Lincoln’s Sparrow in an odd spot, along the northern exterior wall. This bird looks like it had been there for a bit, like maybe it had been buried under the snow and I had missed it.
Next was an Orange-crowned Warbler (AHY-male) in the northwest alcove.
Casualty number two of the fall 2018 migration was this waterlogged Ruby-throated Hummingbird at the southeast alcove.
All carcasses remain in place, and I was saddened to discover this new one: a second-year male Painted Bunting at the main north entrance.
As the molt sequences in this species defy my ability to explain in a coherent fashion, suffice it to say that this was a male Painted Bunting born in 2017. He spent his first winter somewhere in Mexico or Central America and returned to the Great Plains to attempt his first breeding season this spring & summer of 2018. Along the way, he molted some feathers, but he had not taken on the dazzling blue and scarlet and citron of an older male, i.e., one more than two years old. He looks to have been beginning that process, however: Check out the blue feathers coming in on the face and crown and the contrast between the green-edged secondaries that have grown in more recently and the dull browns of his primaries that were the set he grew while in the nest last year.
This poor guy was probably on his way to northwestern Mexico where he would take advantage of the monsoon-driven flush of productivity to give him the fuel to finally replace those primaries in August and September. Then he would head down further south to spend the actual winter before coming back here next May.
Alas, he didn’t make it – all because of a stupid window.
Though they might have come in yesterday (when I didn’t check), there were two birds in the southwestern alcove today: a Tennessee Warbler (AHY-U, fat = 2) and a Painted Bunting (SY-U <probably female>, fat = 2).
There was also a bonus at the Food and Ag Products Center: a window-killed Yellow-billed Cuckoo and a trapped Black-and-white Warbler. The warbler flew off fine as I approached.
I found a trapped Clay-colored Sparrow today in the southwestern alcove. Upon release in the relative safety of a nearby shrub, the bird flew off another 5m or so to another shrub, where it perched strongly.
Less lucky was the Magnolia Warbler I found in the northwest alcove. This bird, a female with fat = 3, was just the second of this species documented on this project.
I found just the second-ever Baltimore Oriole on the project today, at the main north entrance. This was a SY female (fat = 2, 33.5 g) showing extreme feather wear and asymmetrical flight feather molt. See especially the difference in the 2nd tertiary (S8, if you prefer) between the left and right wings.
Note – a dull-plumaged female Baltimore Oriole can be difficult to distinguish from Bullock’s Oriole. This bird was easy to discern as Baltimore owing to brightest yellow in the center of the upper breast/throat (instead of higher on the cheek/malar), more brownish rather than grayish upperparts, and dark centers to brownish feather of the scapulars.
I actually discovered it on my 8/20 survey, but this poor little bird on the 20th was already seething with maggots so I’m comfortable calling it an 8/19 casualty. This was a second year male. Check out the feather wear on his primaries. He was headed south to molt and then continue on further south.
As I’m about to head out for a conference this week, spring and summer monitoring comes to a close. I’ll begin August 2017 the 9th consecutive year of (mostly) daily monitoring for window casualties at the Noble Research Center on the campus of Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Oklahoma, USA.
It’s been a busy spring.
Beginning Mar 1st, here’s what has turned up at the Noble Research Center.
- Indigo Bunting – 5
- Painted Bunting – 5
- Ruby-throated Hummingbird – 3
- Lincoln’s Sparrow – 2
- Mourning Dove – 2
- Nashville Warbler – 2
- Orange-crowned Warbler – 2
- Baltimore Oriole – 1
- Chipping Sparrow – 1
- Eastern Meadowlark – 1
- House Wren – 1
- Northern Parula – 1
- Tennessee Warbler – 1
- Yellow-billed Cuckoo – 1
That’s 28 individuals of 14 species, and damn, that is disheartening.
On the plus side, my commitment to checking almost every day has put me in position to save a few birds by getting them safely away from the building and taking them someplace secure to rest and recuperate for a bit. I can’t guarantee that all 6 of these survived the ordeal, but they seemed to be in good shape when I last saw them:
- Northern Cardinal
- Common Yellowthroat
- Mourning Dove
- Song Sparrow
- Yellow Warbler
- Carolina Wren
I was out of town from 21–30 June and no surveys were run during that time. On June 30th, however, I heard from Dawn Brown and Corey Riding that there were three casualties at the southwestern alcove of the Noble Research Center: a badly decayed Northern Parula (adult male), a female Ruby-throated Hummingbird, and a female (with brood patch!) Indigo Bunting. It’s possible that the bunting came in on the 30th, but the others were clearly killed prior to that date. (Photos by Dawn Brown.) This is officially the first Northern Parula found on the project.
May 15th was another odd one, and I’ll be glad when this pulse of window-killed migrants is passed.
On my morning survey, I found a SY male Painted Bunting at the southwestern alcove, and right in front of a treated pane. (The bird off to the left is May 12th’s Indigo Bunting.)
That’s bad enough. The building cost a Painted Bunting and the ABC bird tape apparently did not steer it away from danger.
Then I heard from Dawn Brown later in the day (~3:45 in the afternoon) that she had found and collected a Painted Bunting at the same location. When I got there moments later, the Indigo Bunting was gone (so it was removed sometime during the day on the 15th), and Dawn handed me a bag with this bird inside:
Ugh – a second dead Painted Bunting. This one was more difficult to sex but also clearly an SY bird. Note the beak damage on both individuals.
With special guest stars James O’Connell and David Mallen, today’s survey turned up a male Indigo Bunting and a trapped Yellow Warbler at the main north entrance. (No photo of the warbler; it was a male.)
Let’s take a closer look at that Indigo Bunting:
The multiple obvious molt limits on this bird illustrate two generations of feathers on the same individual, some of which grew in last summer and some which have come in quite recently. This confirms the age of the bird as second year (SY).
Sad to think that this spectacular specimen of an ASY male (fat = 2) Indigo Bunting safely crossed the Gulf of Mexico a few days ago but could not safely navigate the Noble Research Center.
Indigo Buntings, of course, have no blue pigment. Blue is produced by birds through light reflectance – it’s structural color, not pigment.
You might think, then, that Indigo Buntings would look really cool in UV light. They don’t, unless you think charcoal looks cool!
Surprisingly, the 277th casualty on this project was just the 4th Orange-crowned Warbler, which is a common migrant here in central OK. This one was an ASY male with fat = 1. I first spotted him from about 80m away.
Check out this guy’s truncated rectrices, blunt-tipped primary coverts, and his pointed primaries:
The most exciting thing about him, though, is that this old guy actually had an orange crown. I’ve never seen one so orange, which makes me wonder if this fellow was closer to 10 years old than merely “ASY”. It is so sad to see such a vibrant, mature, elder statesman of a warbler cut down by something so stupid as a window. He deserved better.
The photos illustrate how obvious it is to find many of the carcasses at the Noble Research Center. Today it was an Indigo Bunting in the southeast alcove.
This was a hatch-year bird and probably a male owing to the faint bluish tinge in the wings and tail. Were those blushes of color resigned to the upper tail coverts, female would be a bit more likely. Fat = 0 on this bird.
Today I found a Red-eyed Vireo in the southwestern alcove and an Indigo Bunting at the main north entrance.
The Indigo Bunting was a second-year male with zero fat and an impressive contrast of old and new feathers. I left him in place for a removal trial. The Red-eyed Vireo, an ASY female with a brood patch and no fat, is the first vireo I’ve ever recovered as a window-kill from the NRC.
Imagine you are holding a deck of cards. Now toss that deck on the floor and look at all 52 of them. Now imagine that each one of those cards represents a different species of bird. There are sparrows, warblers, thrushes, woodpeckers, etc. With the addition of a Tufted Titmouse this morning, there have now been 52 different species of birds killed in window collisions at the Noble Research Center since I started keeping track in 2009.
Of course, this isn’t the first time I’ve featured Tufted Titmouse on this site: On 24 May 2012, I found a Tufted Titmouse at the Kerr-Drummond residence hall immediately to the west of Ag Hall. That was unusual in that it was a female with a brood patch and she had actually lain down fat (I scored her as a 1).
Today’s bird was similar: She was a second-year female with a drying brood patch and fat I would score as a 2.
According to Yogi Berra, “You can observe a lot just by watching.” My watching has just suggested to me that 100% of the Tufted Titmice that have struck windows on this campus have been females in the last week of May with some fat accumulation in the furcular hollow and a brood patch suggestive of having recently produced fledglings. Is this post-breeding dispersal? Wandering to find a mate for a second brood? Wandering after loss of a brood? Dispersal to a molting area? Questions abound, but with my n = 2, it looks like the beginnings of a pattern to me.