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.
After a bit of a slow start it did not take long to wrack up 20 casualties this spring. Today it was a “day 0” Yellow-billed Cuckoo at the main north entrance, meaning that it hit and was scavenged before I found it. Here again is a reminder of the difference between scavenging and removal: This bird was immediately scavenged, but it will likely be many weeks before all traces of its feathers are gone.
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 . . .
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.
It was a bitter milestone this morning as I encountered the 400th casualty on this project since I began regular monitoring in August of 2009.
Again, the long-term idiosyncrasies of this long-term monitoring have revealed something new. In this case, there have been 4 total Summer Tanagers I’ve recorded as window-kills since 2009. The first was on May 3rd 2013. That’s 6 years ago, and it was 4 years into the project. The last three were May 4th, May 6th, and May 11th of this year. So in one week in the tenth year of a project we’ve turned on its head what we thought we knew about Summer Tanager collision risk here.
This morning was a bit odd in that it’s rare to find window killed Summer Tanagers at the NRC, and that someone had moved yesterday’s Yellow Warbler. Now the warbler and tanager lie together at the main north entrance, and I can only assume that the tanager died very close by. (The Summer Tanager was a second-year male.)
To me, these window kills are saddest when the victim is an older individual in its prime. Case in point, consider this outstanding male Yellow Warbler from this morning that senselessly met its end at the main north entrance. Note, too how conspicuous these casualties can sometimes be. As soon as I got a glimpse of the north entrance I could tell there was a casualty there.
There were no new casualties on my survey from about 7:30 this morning, but then the sharp eyes of students Dalton Deshazer, Jake Rowland, and Corey Sage noticed this Yellow-billed Cuckoo in the southwestern alcove. (On my check the next day, the bird had been moved off the sidewalk and was much less conspicuous. It persisted until removal on May 5th.)
As a bonus, Corey Sage provided this photo of a trapped Cedar Waxwing, also at the southwestern entrance, later that afternoon.
I received a message last evening that there was a casualty at the southeastern alcove. Thanks to Thomas Hess for the heads-up and this photo from 3:37 pm on April 25:
I found it right where he said it was this morning: technically a 4/25 casualty but I’ll consider it 4/26 for my records as that is when I would’ve found it on my own. I moved the bird off to the side and it remains in place as of Monday morning, 4/29.
It’s wonderful when spring finally springs, but that also means a return to dead birds. Today I found this wonderful male Ruby-crowned Kinglet at the southeast alcove, its life cut short en route to its breeding territory. This is the first casualty I’ve recorded at the Noble Research Center since last November. Even more significant, this is the first Ruby-crowned Kinglet I’ve recorded as a window-kill at the Noble Research Center, the 67th species casualty, and the 390th victim overall.
I haven’t analyzed this, but there have been many occasions that some unusual casualty will show up and another will appear on its heels – or on the same day. These events make me wonder about pairs migrating together or, at the very least, individuals from the same regions departing at about the same time and following similar routes. How else would we explain the 9th and 10th Orange-crowned Warblers hitting the same building less than 24 hours apart?
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
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.
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)
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.