There was a Lincoln’s Sparrow at the main north entrance today.
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.
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.
I’ve been behind with stacks of papers to grade, and they’ve kept me from keeping up as often as I’d prefer. During the period from October 7–18, I conducted 8 surveys, skipping Oct. 8, 14, and 15. The data from these last 11 days look a bit like this:
- Oct. 7: HOWR
- Oct. 9: no casualties
- Oct. 10: no casualties
- Oct. 11: LISP
- Oct. 12: TUTI
- Oct. 13: no casualties
- Oct. 16: OCWA, SOSP, LISP, and NAWA
- Oct. 17: no casualties
- Oct. 18: no casualties
Just past mid-October, and we are crushing the annual mortality count right now with 55 dead birds.
Oct. 7 – I found just the third House Wren on the project. This one ended up on a warm air outflow grate from the air conditioning unit and was quickly desiccated.
Oct. 11 – I collected this Lincoln’s Sparrow from the south portico.
Oct. 12 – This Tufted Titmouse was a surprise in the southwestern alcove.
Oct. 16 – This was not a good day for migrants. I found an Orange-crowned Warbler at the northeast alcove, a Song Sparrow at the south portico, and a Lincoln’s Sparrow at the southwestern alcove. Shortly after completing my survey, a Nashville Warbler was turned in from a collision in the southwestern alcove.
The Mourning Dove was still there this morning, but it has been disturbed a bit and is now on its back.
New this morning was an unfortunate Lincoln’s Sparrow at the main north entrance to the NRC. As is so often puzzling, this was a bird that had to have been traveling south to hit the glass there even though the net movement of Lincoln’s Sparrows in April in Oklahoma is north.
This bird had 0 fat, was of indeterminate sex, and looks to be a SY. Note trauma to the bill tip indicating the point of collision.
Flight calls abounded last night as I walked the dog at least thrice. Those calls – little tsips! and tseeps! sounded to me like sparrows flowing from the north after three straight days of strong winds blowing from the south. A quick check of Paul Hurtado’s Nexrad radar birds page confirmed a big push in Midwest and the Plains:
Sadly, with that push came two casualties at the Noble Research Center: a Lincoln’s Sparrow (AHY-U with fat = 2) at the southwest alcove and a Common Yellowthroat (AHY-M with fat = 2) at the northwest alcove. (Apologies for the shaky portrait on the Yellowthroat – it looked clear on my phone.)
Although casualties continue to pile up in the west alcoves where I’ve treated several windows with ABC Bird Tape, it has so far appeared to be the untreated panes in those alcoves that are claiming the casualties.
Today I found a stunned Lincoln’s Sparrow on the south portico (no photo).
The bird couldn’t fly well, but it could fly. I decided to give it the “perch test” to determine if I should consider it to be a casualty or simply a trapped bird. Once able to catch it, I walked the bird south toward Edmond Low Library and found it a dense and secluded place to perch and rest where it might feel protected – or at least better protected than out in the open of the portico. I was pleased to see that the bird grasped a branch strongly and seemed to perch well. This one had me on the fence a bit, but I ultimately logged it as trapped. Though stunned, it seemed otherwise healthy with fat score = 2.
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.
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.
All right, it’s been several days so I’m comfortable listing that Lincoln’s Sparrow as trapped. It’s still in fine shape, but I watched it bump a window (gently) as it tried to evade me. There were at least two others and I think a Nashville Warbler hanging out in the trees by the main north entrance to the NRC this morning. It could be there are 4 trapped birds there, but I’m being conservative about how I catalog them because they are all flying strongly, etc.
Not so lucky were three other sparrows this morning. I found a Lincoln’s Sparrow at the southeast alcove and a Lincoln’s and Song Sparrow together at the south portico. All were in great shape with fat = 2 or 3. The Lincoln’s were both hatch-year; the Song was after hatch-year.
This was an interesting case. I received a message late morning yesterday (thank you, OSU undergrad Cassandra Rodenbaugh) that there was a dead Lincoln’s Sparrow at the Noble Research Center in a highly conspicuous location. The bird was not there when I conducted my daily survey around 7:30 am, so it must have flown in since then. Normally, I might have dropped what I was doing to go collect the bird, but I wanted to check first with Scott Loss who, with his PhD student Corey Riding, are using data from the Noble Research Center for a more expansive study of window-collision mortality. One of their current objectives is to check buildings for collision victims at different times during the day to address biases associated with survey time. They have also been engaged in calculating scavenger removal rates and identifying scavengers using camera traps.
We decided that the best course of action would be for me to pretend I did not know about the bird and simply go about my business checking the NRC this morning as usual. Corey and his team noted the casualty on their afternoon and evening surveys, and I saw from about 75m away as I walked to my car last night.
Despite this fresh, juicy, healthy Lincoln’s Sparrow sitting out in a highly conspicuous location on a sidewalk just outside a door, and despite the fact that I just photographed a cat at the NRC two days ago, there was the Lincoln’s Sparrow when I conducted my survey this morning:
Other than the tiny ants getting to its eyeballs, the bird was untouched. I have recorded it and will analyze it as a 4/23 casualty, even though we know that it was really a 4/22 (Earth Day) casualty. If the bird’s condition was any indication of others I’ve collected in a similar state (i.e., immaculate, but for some ant damage), then this suggests that several others I have collected as “day 0” birds might already have persisted unscavenged for the better part of a day.
The sparrow’s rects seemed fairly worn and tapered but I found no molt limit on this bird so I’m hesitant to commit to an age any more specific than AHY. The bird was in fine shape for migration with fat = 2. A close examination of the bill tip will reveal an injury that suggests it was moving at high speed when it struck the glass. Rest in peace, weary traveler.
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.
There was a dramatic scene at the Noble Research Center this morning, as I tried to steer a small flock of Lincoln’s Sparrows away from the building. Our story presumably began with the heavy flight of migrants last night in the Midwest. Here’s the scene from about midnight last night:
I checked the NRC on this bright morning at about 8:15 am. Following a north, west, south-to-north route, I didn’t encounter any birds until I approached the main north entrance. From the low shrubs I heard some rustling, and at least one sparrow pitched itself about 5′ from its hiding place into the window before turning around to flush north away from the window. Three others followed, and 4 birds perched in an ornamental tree in a little courtyard seating area just north of the main north entrance to the NRC.
From there, I crept around the tree to get a better look and identify the sparrows, but they were tough to see and all flushed and flew northwest before I could confirm the ID. The first one flew to the southeast alcove where it flew directly into the brick wall before falling to the ground below. These “trapped” birds were clearly exhausted or otherwise impaired from one or more collisions.
This is the bird that hit the brick wall:
The other 3 birds flew to the NE alcove. As I approached there, one bird was frantically flapping against the window that faces east (and looks like a clear passage to the other side to the west), and I watched it bump twice into the north-facing window on the south side of this alcove, right in the corner. This area is above an emergency exit stairwell, and that’s where the poor little guy ended up:
Remarkably, this bird righted itself a few minutes later, and I actually left it alive at a secure location on the east side of the building where it should have no trouble navigating away should it survive. I fully expect, however, to find its remains tomorrow morning, and I am counting it as a casualty. As mentioned in earlier posts, it is often difficult for me to assign a categorical end to some of these birds that are alive but clearly compromised. This bird was awake enough that I elected not to euthanize it, but I doubt that it will survive and I am counting it as a casualty.
One of the other birds in that NE alcove perched in a tree there and ultimately flew back toward the courtyard trees. That’s where it was (with the first bird that hit the brick wall) when I left. The 4th was not so lucky. This bird apparently flew right into the east-facing window of the NE alcove when it first flushed.
This is how things ended up:
After warming back to 88F by yesterday afternoon, another Friday night brought another cold front (though no rain), and we are breezy and 50s this morning, with the wind out of the north. Again, the juniper hedgerow on the north side of the Noble Research Center is loaded with birds – several dozen in my estimation. Here’s the NEXRAD radar composite for about 6:50 this morning:
At the north entrance to the NRC I found one confused and trapped Clay-colored Sparrow. This Lincoln’s Sparrow (fat = 3) was dead at the northeast alcove.
We’ve flirted with one or two cold fronts so far this season, but last night’s was by far the most powerful. It was part of a storm system that brought tornadoes to Nebraska and more than a foot of snow to the Black Hills. While we won’t see any flurries today, the breezy 50s out there right now are a huge contrast to the breezy 90s from yesterday afternoon. Boom. It’s autumn now.
I assumed there’d be a good number of birds moving either ahead of or just behind this front. I was right, and in a moment I’ll illustrate that the answer was “behind”.
This morning I weaved my way among the bundled sports fans preparing for a crisp day of tailgating and football, and found a Grasshopper Sparrow at the main north entrance and a Lincoln’s Sparrow at the northwestern alcove. This was, as everyone before them, a sad end to these two birds, the official 149th and 150th casualties I’ve documented at the Noble Research Center since August of 2009. Both birds were in immaculate condition, fresh and dry, with fat scores of 3 (Grasshopper) and 1 (Lincoln’s).
The birds’ great condition made it plainly clear that they were traveling behind the cold front that passed through around 2:00 am with thunderstorms, heavy rain, and wind. NEXRAD radar images from last night suggest that these two birds were part of a huge movement through the Plains. Here’s a sample:
So the radar composites seem to confirm my supposition that birds were moving behind this front and put down wherever they could once daylight dawned. As if the two birds I found dead weren’t enough, the tiny strip of juniper hedge on the north side of the NRC held a mixed species flock of probably 50 birds this morning. They looked to be Grasshopper, Lincoln’s, and Clay-colored sparrows, plus at least one warbler that looked like it was probably Orange-crowned.
There looked to be a House Wren and two Lincoln’s Sparrows hanging around this morning, but I still can’t consider these birds “trapped” if I can’t get close enough to them to effectively herd them away from the building.
I did find a window-killed Lincoln’s Sparrow at a nearby building yesterday, and it seems to have hit the same window that an unfortunate Common Yellowthroat did a few days ago.
This building is the Food and Agricultural Products Center, located just west and across a parking lot from the Noble Research Center. This is a weird little corner of the building that every year claims several birds, even though it seems very protected.
This morning, this Lincoln’s Sparrow was the unfortunate first victim of the season on the south side of the building. This individual was beautiful and fresh, with a fat score = 3.
Today I also found the scavenged remnants (two tail feathers and a few contour feathers) of the 42nd species I’ve been able to confirm as a casualty at the Noble Research Center since 2009: an Eastern Whip-poor-will.
Whip-poor-will is a surprising find for the study – to say the least. In my time in Oklahoma, I’ve yet to hear a Whip-poor-will. We seem to be all Chuck-wills-widows around here, and Whips seem to be confined to our easternmost counties. Here’s an eBird map for Whip reports in the month of September for the past 10 years:
Though we’ll top out around 87 F today, autumn must be in the air because today I found my first Lincoln’s Sparrow on the ground. I left the bird in place, just opposite the Dickcissel.
It looked like two House Wrens, a Grasshopper Sparrow, and at least one other passerine were still hanging around the north entrance to the NRC, but I haven’t added these birds to the “trapped” list just yet (other than the one House Wren, that is).