We finally had a decent cold front push through with the first nip of autumn in the air but, unfortunately, it also brought us the first Lincoln’s Sparrow casualty of fall. This was an AHY-U, bulging with fat (scored it a 3). This one is also the first window casualty in front of a treated window. I can’t tell if the bird flew into an untreated pane above the treated area or if it hit one of the treated panes. That’s a design flaw of my study, stemming from the logistical challenge of treating such large expanses of glass.
Lots of birds were moving through campus today. I found a pair of Brown Thrashers and this Grasshopper Sparrow flitting around the plantings in the southwestern alcove.
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.
That southwestern alcove continues to get a workout this fall, but again, the unfortunate victim was found in front of untreated glass panes.
Today it was a hatch-year (HY) Nashville Warbler; sex undetermined with fat score = 2.
When I found the bird in position on the cement as indicated in the above photo, it had already been heavily scavenged by ants. I moved the carcass to a location on the grass on the north side of this southwestern alcove (see photo, top right) to set up a removal trial.
I initially reported “no casualties” for September 7, but Chrissy Barton’s sharp eyes found one for me.
Some time between my survey that morning and Chrissy’s walking through that entrance around noon, a Ruby-throated Hummingbird – apparently another HY male, struck an untreated pane at the southwest alcove and died. Both it, and its partner from a couple of days earlier, were removed before I got back to check on the morning of the 8th. I recorded this second hummingbird as scavenged/removed on day 0.
The HY male Ruby-throated Hummingbird I found this morning means that, for 2016, a young male of this species was both the last casualty of “spring” (on July 11th) and the first official casualty of fall.
This bird was in the southwest alcove, illustrating the urgency with which I must complete my ABC bird tape treatments of the west entrances!
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.
This morning, a dead Tufted Titmouse achieved some grim and arbitrary notoriety as the 250th window-killed bird I’ve found at the Noble Research Center since monitoring began on 20 August 2009. She’s right near the entrance to the northwest alcove, and I left her in place to see how long it takes for her to be removed.
Like so many birds I find in June, this was a female (AHY) with a brood patch. This one had a faint stripe of mulberry juice down the front of her breast and little on her beak.
Intrigued by the pattern, I queried my database for June casualties, 2009–2016. Out of 22 window-kills, at least 8 have been females with brood patches (and additional 7 might have been but the data weren’t recorded).
Thanks to Corey Riding & Co. for checking the Noble Research Center while I was away on 6/9 and 6/10.
The cuckoo and House Finch carcasses remain.
I learned on 6/15 that Chrissy Barton from Corey Riding’s team actually did find a window-killed Black-and-White Warbler on the evening of 6/11. The bird is a SY female, and I think I see a gap in the breast feathers that would point to a brood patch . . .
Today marked the first casualty of a species that is common and conspicuous on campus – a House Finch at the southwestern alcove. As seems to be the case with resident birds, June is evidently a time for post-breeding dispersal, and this bird was, like many June casualties before her, a female with a brood patch.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 . . .
A crisp and cool night following a home football game made for lots of birds on the move and, evidently, quite a few coming into campus. I found this morning 3 dead Lincoln’s Sparrows: southwest alcove, southwest peninsula, and southern portico. I found a dead Grasshopper Sparrow at the northwest alcove.
Trapped birds consisted of a Song Sparrow that I pushed away from the southwest alcove, and a Chipping Sparrow in the rafters of the southern portico, apparently unable to figure out that flying down was the key to getting out.
Last Sunday the 18th, I found a White-throated Sparrow at the southwest alcove and a Lincoln’s Sparrow at the entrance at the end of that alcove. There were also two trapped Lincoln’s Sparrows at the north entrance that I first found near the curved northeastern wall.
The story is a bit more complicated, however.
I was contacted over the weekend by Krista Pike who said that she had found a dead sparrow inside the Noble Research Center, and placed it outside for me to find. I wasn’t quite sure how to count a bird that died inside the building, but I ultimately decided to count it as any other unfortunate victim.
Autumn arrived with a thud for this poor Clay-colored Sparrow today. It was one of the fattest of these little sparrows I’ve ever seen (easily a 3 on my 0–3 scale), which was impressive for a youngster: HY-U.
I was not able to check the NRC yesterday (9/15), but that’s when I think this Yellow Warbler actually came in and met its end in the northwestern alcove. I think it’s a HY male; fat = 2. I left the bird in place for a scavenging trial.
Today I found a window-killed Nashville Warbler in the southwestern alcove. The brownish cast to the upperparts and tapered rectrices suggest a HY bird, sex undetermined. Fat = 2. I have included a radar image of last night’s flight on a rare evening that felt a lot more like October than September.
I found our 8th Mourning Warbler of the study on Sep. 1, in the southwest alcove. It looked to be an ASY female, but I did not handle it for close examination. I left it for a scavenging trial.
The backstory for this bird is that it actually died yesterday sometime after my morning check and before Corey’s 11:30 am check. This was a broad daylight collision. I counted it here as a Sep. 1 fatality because I wouldn’t have discovered it until this morning had I been on my own. I would have noticed that the bird was not a fresh casualty, but the best I could have done was say that it died sometime yesterday after my morning search and probably before midnight. With Corey’s information, we now know that it was in place nearly 24 hrs before I detected it on my own.
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.
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.
Thanks to concurrent surveys between Corey Riding’s project and my own, I learned Monday (5/25) of a bird that I had missed on Sunday (5/24): At the north entrance and tucked under some shrubs is a Mourning Warbler. I missed the bird on two consecutive surveys. Corey thinks it must have come in sometime during the day on Saturday (5/23).
I’m not too upset to have missed this bird – twice! – because it is waterlogged and cryptic against the background mulch on which it lies and I could only see it from a specific angle that I rarely take when investigating that section of shrubbery. The key is not to never miss a bird on a survey, it’s to conduct redundant surveys to estimate how many I might be missing. Thankfully, that number seems to be quite low, but we’ll know better what it actually is in a few months.
Both Mourning Warbler and the Swainson’s Thrush were in place this morning.
This morning I found the 51st species casualty on the project – a horribly drenched Ovenbird that needed a couple of hours in front of my space heater to dry out and reclaim its former beauty.
Can you see it? I can.
At this point, I already knew what it was. That belly was just too white.
This was a southeast alcove casualty:
Once dried and re-sheveled, I could tell that this beauty was an after-second-year bird, but its sex could not be determined. What was obvious was that it was bulging with fat in the furcular hollow and all across the belly. This bird was in prime condition.
For the 3rd consecutive day I’ve found a SY Painted Bunting at the Noble Research Center. This one looks to be SY female with fat = 0, and was lying out in the open at the northwest alcove.
Also today there was a SY male Nashville Warbler at the main north entrance. This one was fat (2) and appeared to be in excellent shape, save for the impact marks on its bill that signal a violent, but perhaps mercilessly quick, end to its brief life.
The bright yellow-green rump on this bird suggests the western subspecies to me . . .
Nashville Warblers don’t mess with Painted Buntings.
Another day, another dead Painted Bunting. This time the bird was more convincingly second-year, and a female. This 203rd casualty for the project was the 10th Indigo Bunting killed at the NRC since I’ve been monitoring there. This moves Painted Bunting ahead of Indigo, tying the former for 5th place with Ruby-throated Hummingbird on the list of frequent casualties.
With apologies for not having my camera with me today, I found this second-year male Painted Bunting lying waterlogged and disheveled on top of the right hedge at the north entrance to the NRC today.
An hour in front of my space heated dried the bird out. This bird was in great shape (fat = 2) and bright green above with yellowish breast and belly. It had three tiny patches of blue feathers coming in on the head along with tapered rects, tapered primary coverts, and parallel growth bars in the rects.
Swainson’s Thrush remains at the northwest alcove.
We’ve had soaking rains every day for most of the past week. This weather might have contributed to my failure to notice the waterlogged Swainson’s Thrush I found in the northwest alcove today. It’s not only a sodden mess on the outside, from its state of decay it seems to have spent some time in its unusual location (tucked near the edge of the sidewalk in the muddy grass) before I found it today. I suppose it’s possible to have come in yesterday morning after my check, but I think more likely it came in on May 8 sometime, and I just missed it. I’m confident that it wasn’t there on May 7. Rather than second guess myself I’ll list it as a May 10 casualty unless any of my collaborators have any information to suggest otherwise.
Today I found the first casualty at the Noble Research Center since late October, 2014: a Northern Mockingbird at the northeastern alcove. This was one of those birds that would have been really difficult for me to overlook.
Now a mockingbird would presumably be a resident, and the mocker who seems to have laid claim to this corner of campus was singing his head off while I conducted my rounds. Was this his mate? Nope – my examination suggested that this was a male by his rather conspicuous cloacal protuberance. Was it a local rival? It would be pretty cool to think of the resident male driving this guy to his death my making him collide with a window. I doubt that though and here’s why: this was the fattest mockingbird I had ever seen. It was easy a “2” by my scoring, with the furcular hollow more than half full. The only reason I can see for a mockingbird to have accumulated fat would be if it was in passage. This otherwise resident species was most likely an individual of that species on his way back north to some portion of the species’ range where mockers bug out for the winter.
Migration is fraught with difficulty and real danger. Many birds experience the highest mortality of their lives while in passage. For many, that risk is worth it for the chance to exploit some environmental conditions in spring and summer that are excellent for the production of the next generation. For some like this guy, the gamble doesn’t pay off.
Here we are in another autumn migration with birds showing up dead at the south entrance. It was certainly a shame to see this vibrant bird (fat = 3) cut down and reduced to ant food on a brick walkway beneath the serenade of befouling starlings under the eaves of the Noble Research Center. This bird might have started its life in some glorious boreal bog in Canada.
With an origin likely somewhere in Stillwater, this Carolina Chickadee (fat = 2) was the second casualty today. This bird was at the bottom of the stairwell at the northeast alcove, providing further evidence that our skunk, if local, is not very good at this scavenging thing.
Grad assistant Corey Riding checked on the Noble Research Center today. He found some Clay-colored Sparrows by the main north entrance but they didn’t seemed trapped. In the northeast alcove he found this Grasshopper Sparrow, as well as a skunk that might have been interested in scavenging it.