There was a Gray Catbird at the south entrance today.
Birds on the move captured on Nexrad radar tell an important story on the evening of Sep. 23 to the morning of Sep. 24. First, watch migration blow up after local sunrise in the eastern US, and progress to the west.
As the night wore on, storms began to flare up in Oklahoma. Here in Stillwater those storms hit between 1:30 and 2:00 am on Sep. 24. As the storms expand, migration stalls: Birds put down to avoid the storms and for people on the ground, that’s a fallout.
Was there evidence of this fallout on the ground?
Well, there was a bonus Canada Warbler in that troublesome northeastern alcove of the Food and Agricultural Products Center. (This was in addition to a Mourning Warbler and a Wilson’s Warbler I found there on Sep. 21.)
There was a big flight of Nashville Warbler in Stillwater, too. Twelve were reported from Couch Park. I found one in the southwestern alcove and a Ruby-throated Hummingbird in the northeastern alcove.
The 40th casualty of 2019 indicates another unusually deadly year at the Noble Research Center on the campus of Oklahoma State University here in Stillwater, Oklahoma, USA. The fact that we’ve hit that benchmark in early September is especially disheartening. This hummingbird at the main north entrance earned the sad distinction of being number 40.
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.
In a corner of the main north entrance to the Noble Research Center, I encountered this mystery today:
And I’m all like:
So let’s get to work on this.
First, this wasn’t here on Nov. 3 (Saturday), I did not check yesterday (Sunday), and when I found it today (Monday, the 5th) it had already been scavenged. I count examples like these as scavenging/removal on day 0.
Okay, so there’s a feather pile and a fruit pile. The fruit pile is on top of the feathers. The fruits show no signs of digestion, other than some of them having been opened and the pits are exposed. There is a single large pit inside a small fruit that is round and black with a highly glossy finish.
After much reading, comparing, consulting, etc., I’m pretty well convinced that these are chokecherries, Prunus virginiana.
My guess? I think our bird gorged itself on chokecherries before undertaking a migratory flight that, sadly, ended at a stupid window. The scavenger burst the bulging crop of this poor bird but had no interest in the fruits (in turn, feeding my opinion on the scavenger). So the remnants of this event are a pile of feathers and a pile of chokecherries.
Ah yes – the scavenger!
Well, we know that on campus we have skunks, foxes, opossums, raccoons, and feral cats as the most likely scavengers. The most likely of those to turn up its nose at a pile of chokecherries? I’d say cat. A cat scavenger would also be pretty well supported by the clean shearing of the flight feathers from the wings, visible here:
So what’s the bird? Well it’s clearly a meadowlark, but whether Eastern or Western takes some additional work. As with the fruits, I’ve spent a lot of time reading, consulting, and comparing. Perhaps the best resource for this task was a blog post from Kevin McGowan ca. 2000. (I also couldn’t get the USFWS Feather Atlas to load.)
Everyone knows that Western Meadowlark shows a yellow malar and in Eastern Meadowlark this is whitish. Without the bird’s head this character was of no use to me, however. In fact, there were just three feathers in the pile showing any yellow at all. Two other character differences are more relevant. First, both species have white outer tail feathers, but on Eastern the outer two are fully white and the third is mostly white. On Western the white is less extensive and even the outermost feather isn’t always fully white. In addition, Western looks paler overall than does Eastern, with the pattern on its tail and in the folded wings over the back appearing lighter brown/gray with blackish stripes. On Eastern, those same areas are darker brown with thicker blackish stripes often joined at the center of the feather creating a fern-like shape instead of distinct stripes. What do you think of these?
I’m leaning toward Western Meadowlark as the original owner of these feathers.
So I’m reporting today a pile of feathers that I think was Western Meadowlark, scavenged by a mammal I think was a cat, and that the cat showed no interest in what I think was a pile of chokecherries in what I think was the crop of the meadowlark.
Challenges, thoughts, etc? I welcome any and all!
This morning I found another White-throated Sparrow. In the last two days, the number of this species I’ve found since 2009 has doubled from two to four. We’ve also reached a yearly milestone with now 50 casualties for 2018.
For a bit of added sadness, I also happened upon this Song Sparrow at the Kerr-Drummond complex.
I found two Lincoln’s Sparrow victims today, both in somewhat odd places. At the Noble Research Center, one met its end at the door leading out to the eastern courtyard. This might be only the 2nd or 3rd victim in the courtyard since 2009.
I also occasionally check for window collision victims at the Food and Agricultural Products Center just to the west across the parking lot and Monroe St. This morning there was a Lincoln’s Sparrow in a tiny alcove where I’ve found birds in the past. This one I noticed by looking to my right as I drove down the street this morning.
Tough week here on campus as the casualties pile up.
Today, the northeast alcove had a Lincoln’s Sparrow and the project’s first Hermit Thrush. This now make casualties confirmed for 65 species at the Noble Research Center. The main north entrance claimed a Nashville Warbler, too.
Sex was undetermined for all three, but the Nashville Warbler was probably a female. The thrush and warbler looked to be after hatch year, while the sparrow was a hatch year bird. Thrush and sparrow had some fat lain down (I marked each a “one”), but I couldn’t find any fat on the warbler.
Nashville Warbler: 8.0 g
Lincoln’s Sparrow: 15.5 g
Hermit Thrush: 27.0 g
It was one of those tough days to be a Lincoln’s Sparrow on campus today. There were dead birds at the main north entrance and on the south portico. I examined the south portico bird which looked to be HY-U, with fat = 3. There were two more trapped Lincoln’s Sparrows I flushed from the main north entrance. They flew away strongly, showing no evidence of collision.
My first Lincoln’s Sparrow of the year showed up at the northwestern alcove today. I do much prefer to see them alive beneath my feeders. . .
Another feathered friend was very much alive, though stunned from a collision in southeastern entrance. He looked a bit shaky when I first found him, but he was actually fairly perky and difficult to catch. As it was chilly in the shade, I took the bird to a sunny spot near my office where he could more safely and quickly recover. Checking on the bird a bit later in the day, it was still there but flying strongly and looking to be recovering.
This bird was a wren of ambiguous affinity. It’s short tail was evocative of Winter Wren, but its plumage was a better match for House Wren. The bob tail might indicate a HY bird, but I didn’t spend much time examining its plumage for aging as my main concern was to make sure it had a safe place to chill out.
Same window, different day, same result: a HY male Ruby-throated Hummingbird whose first trip to the Neotropics was cut short by a pane of glass in the southeastern alcove.
This was the 370th casualty and 34th Ruby-throated Hummingbird found at the Noble Research Center since August 2009. Today’s casualty puts 2018 at number 7 out of 10 worst years for casualties at the NRC, and there’re still 3 1/2 months of monitoring ahead.
This morning I found the fifth dead Mourning Warbler on campus in the past two weeks: Four (including this one on the northwest alcove) at the Noble Research Center and one incidental find just across a small parking lot from the NRC at the Food and Agricultural Products Center.
For a bit of perspective on how unusual this is, i.e., Mourning Warbler is a secretive, migratory transient in Central Oklahoma that is far more likely to be found dead at a window than live on an eBird checklist, this was the 15th Mourning Warbler casualty I’ve found at the NRC since I began surveys in August of 2009. In comparison, I’ve only found 17 casualties over the same time period of the far more abundant and year ’round resident Mourning Dove.
This one was a hatch-year bird – so just a month or two old – with fat = 1.
There was more mourning for me this morning, as I found a nearly identical bird to the casualty from Tuesday: Hatch-year Mourning Warbler; indeterminate sex; fat = 3. Here is another youngster on its first journey from the boreal forest to perhaps Colombia or Ecuador, cut down in perfect health from a stupid window in the southwest alcove.
Casualty number two of the fall 2018 migration was this waterlogged Ruby-throated Hummingbird at the southeast alcove.
This Ruby-throated Hummingbird at the main north entrance is the first official fall migration casualty of 2018, a dubious honor.
Note how the window is a triple threat for migrating birds: It reflects vegetation behind, provides a pass-through illusion to the other side, and it contains a naturalistic rock garden inside visible through the glass.
In other news, the Black-and-white Warbler from 31 July was scavenged overnight, with 2–3 primaries and a single downy tuft all that remains. It lasted 9 days.
Well, here we go. Today marks the end of my 9th year conducting spring/summer monitoring for window-killed birds at the Noble Research Center. Tomorrow I begin year 10. Ten years of near daily monitoring of window-killed birds. Here’s a quick 9-year wrap-up:
- 40: average minimum casualties annually
- 360: total casualties (minimum)
- 64: species confirmed as fatalities
- 10: average number of days for birds to be removed/scavenged
Top ten (eleven) species most commonly encountered as casualties at this site:
- Lincoln’s Sparrow (45)
- Ruby-throated Hummingbird (29)
- Painted Bunting (24)
- Indigo Bunting (20) *tie* Grasshopper Sparrow (20)
- Mourning Dove (17)
- Clay-colored Sparrow (16)
- Nashville Warbler (14)
- Common Yellowthroat (11) *tie* Mourning Warbler (11) *tie* Song Sparrow (11)
There was a Ruby-throated Hummingbird in the southwest alcove today.
A sad bonus was this Blue Grosbeak at the Food and Agricultural Products Center.
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.