16 October 2018 – Lincoln’s Sparrow and a bob-tailed House Wren

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.

7–12 October 2018 – no casualties, but a trapped Palm Warbler on the 12th

Lots of birds on the move this past week but, thankfully, none appears to have met its end at the Noble Research Center. The Palm Warbler – first I’ve ever found on campus – seemed a bit confused but unharmed. It was in the stairwell of the northeast alcove and popped up into the sugar maple tree on my arrival.

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20 May 2018 – two little green birds

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.

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15 May 2018 – Magnolia Warbler and a trapped Clay-colored Sparrow

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.

13 May 2018 – two Swainson’s Thrushes

The Indigo Bunting has been removed – May 12 – but the Painted Bunting and Yellow Warbler remain.

The odd thing today was that I found a dead Swainson’s Thrush along the northern wall. This might be the first casualty on this side of the building since monitoring began in August 2009. I then found a second – and alive! – Swainson’s Thrush in the southwestern alcove. The bird was feisty in the hand and perched strongly when I placed it in a nearby shrub.

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28 September 2017 – Our first Savannah Sparrow, a trapped yellowthroat, and some bonus birds

Since Monday night, we seem to have received at least 5 inches of rain here in Stillwater.  That’s great as I’ve been lamenting the lack of even clouds for a few weeks. The system that brought the rain might have kept birds bottled up to our north because once it cleared last night (Wed.) there was one heck of a flight.

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Of course, attempts to correlate window collision mortality with big radar echoes of migrating birds are fraught with confirmation bias.  There are plenty of big flights that result in no dead birds on my rounds, and I’m a lot more likely to check “last night’s radar” on a morning when I find multiple casualties.  Today was one of those days.

I walked to the Noble Research Center on a route that took me past the long row of windows on the southern side of the Food and Agricultural Products Building, aka, FAPC. This is just across a parking lot from the NRC and I’ve made several incidental finds there.  Today, these “bonus birds” numbered three: an Ovenbird, a Common Yellowthroat (collected) and, around the corner, a female Indigo Bunting that had been there for at least a few days. So before I even made it to the NRC, I encountered 3 window-killed birds.

The yellowthroat was an apparent AHY-male, with fat = 2 and weighing in at 12 g.

 

At the NRC was another surprise.  Surprisingly, after all these years and considering how common these birds are as migrants and wintering residents, I found the project’s first Savannah Sparrow, in the northwest alcove.

 

 

There was also a trapped Common Yellowthroat at the main north entrance and another Savannah sparrow flitting around – through not trapped – just west of the southern portico entrance. The Savannah Sparrow was AHY-U, weighing 18g with a fat score = 2.

Spring/Summer 2017 was busy

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.

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Beginning Mar 1st, here’s what has turned up at the Noble Research Center.

Dead Birds

  1. Indigo Bunting – 5
  2. Painted Bunting – 5
  3. Ruby-throated Hummingbird – 3
  4. Lincoln’s Sparrow – 2
  5. Mourning Dove – 2
  6. Nashville Warbler – 2
  7. Orange-crowned Warbler – 2
  8. Baltimore Oriole – 1
  9. Chipping Sparrow – 1
  10. Eastern Meadowlark – 1
  11. House Wren – 1
  12. Northern Parula – 1
  13. Tennessee Warbler – 1
  14. 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:

  1. Northern Cardinal
  2. Common Yellowthroat
  3. Mourning Dove
  4. Song Sparrow
  5. Yellow Warbler
  6. Carolina Wren

 

 

7 May 2017 – Indigo Bunting and trapped Yellow Warbler

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.)

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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).

4 April 2017 – trapped Song Sparrow

No casualties yet, but I’m up to the 3rd trapped bird of the new year: a Song Sparrow in the northwest alcove.  This one was stunned – or exhausted – but before I could get any closer than about 3m it flew away strongly – good sign!

 

This bird was likely riding a wave of migration that really lit up the radar last night (as linked from Paul Hurtado’s birding page). Check out the big blue blobs in Oklahoma from a little after 11 pm last night:

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Keep your eye on that slug of rain and storms (the green, yellow, and red) in the OK Panhandle, though.

Now check out the line of rain and storms that moved in overnight and set up shop on the Kansas border.  This is from a bit before 6:00 am, and nobody moving north through our state kept on moving through that!  This is a classic setup for a “fallout” of birds.  More storms today followed by strong north winds tomorrow will likely keep some staging migrants around for a few more days.

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20 March 2017 – trapped Northern Cardinal

Spring kicked off today with the first collision victim of 2017: a trapped Northern Cardinal at the northeast alcove.

 

He was a bit stunned, but alert in the hand and he perched strongly in the dense cover where I moved him away from the building.  Beautiful ASY male; I hope he makes a full recovery!

30 October 2016 – 2 Grasshopper Sparrows

I found a trapped Grasshopper Sparrow at the main North entrance to the NRC today, and then a second dead bird at the southeastern alcove.  The trapped bird took quite a bit of effort to eventually guide away from the building, but the time was worth it if I was able to keep it from ending up like its comrade.

 

 

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13 October 2016 – trapped Lincoln’s Sparrow

Today I found a stunned Lincoln’s Sparrow on the south portico (no photo).

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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.

17 September 2016 – trapped Northern Waterthrush

So far, it’s exclusively been the southwestern alcove causing the problems this fall. That’s a bit ironic and potentially problematic, as I’ve completed more window treatments there than anywhere else on the building.  However, none of the four birds that has ended up there has been found in front of a treated window, leaving open the suggestion that the treated windows have not cause any casualties, even if casualties have occurred at the partially treated alcove.

This morning, I found the first bird actually in front of a treated window pane: a Northern Waterthrush. The hopeful difference is that this bird was ALIVE.

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Above right – Yep, that little white dot in the photo on the right is waterthrush splay in front of the window where I first encountered the bird.

12 May 2016 – The story of Layla

Today was a first for me, and I’ve been doing this almost daily for 6 years . . .

I rounded the corner to enter the northwest alcove and was greeted by the sound of a very angry cardinal.  This one, in fact:

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She was chipping nonstop – her mate was there too but hanging back a bit – at another lady cardinal who looked like she’d been having a bad day.

The corner was strewed with her feathers; she was mostly bald on the back of her head.

Here’s what seems to have taken place.  The disheveled female smacked the window and got stunned and then, as a “trapped” bird, couldn’t figure out how to turn around and escape. Then, like taking a wrong turn down an alley and getting trapped by local street thugs, the pair of birds didn’t take kindly to this interloper and they tried to drive her off their territory.  The poor stunned bird just sat there and endured quite a pummeling by the female of the pair.

Window collision leads to intraspecific aggression in Northern Cardinal.  This note practically writes itself.

Despite her rough morning, however, the female weathered the abuse pretty well, and I even had a bit of difficulty in catching her.  Here’s where the story takes on a more heartwarming aspect.

One delightful feature of life in Stillwater, OK is that we play host to the Special Olympics each May. Thousands of athletes with their families and support crews in the planet’s brightest T-shirts were on campus today, and heading over to the football stadium for Opening Ceremonies.  One such group approached me just after I had caught the cardinal and inquired if they could cut through the building on their way to the stadium.  I checked the door, determined that it was unlocked, and invited them to pass through the alcove, much like so many birds think they can do but, sadly, cannot.

Of course, when some Special Olympians and their squad are approaching you whilst you’re holding a disheveled lady cardinal in your hand, you make sure they get a chance to see her up close, and I did! 

It’s always fun for people to see birds up close, but there’s something about the times when I’ve worked with differently-abled folks that I’ve noticed that their sense of wonder and appreciation for such things is on a whole other level.  Their excitement did not disappoint!  They were really gentle, though, and very careful to ask first if they could touch the bird.  (I told them “no” just because I wasn’t sure they’d have a chance to quickly wash their hands after doing so, and that’s always the first thing I do after handling a wild bird.)

Then came the questions, and the first one knocked me for a loop:  “What’s her name?”  The first thing this little girl wanted to know was not the strange set of circumstances that led to some guy walking around with a cardinal in his hand, she first wanted to personalize the cardinal.  It was a startlingly beautiful reaction to the situation!

I was a bit proud of myself for maintaining my composure rather than simply crying and hugging this little girl, so I responded,”I don’t know.  What do you think we should name her?”

Without missing a beat:  “Layla.  Her name is Layla.”

“Layla it is, then!”

For the next few minutes, I explained to them that Layla hit the window and got confused and that the local cardinals were angry with her.  On cue, the male started singing robustly. “See?  That’s the male up there on the roof.” I told them that I was taking Layla to the row of trees nearby where she could rest a bit and then get on with her day. She was going to be just fine.  In the span of a few minutes, they learned a lesson in window collisions for birds, territoriality, and intraspecific aggression. They didn’t need a lesson in empathy or compassion – they already knew that stuff.

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11 May 2016 – 2 Painted Buntings

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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.

 

2015 in Review

The pictures tell the story:

We found 35 casualties at the Noble Research Center in 2015, plus 11 trapped birds. From 2010–2015, the NRC has averaged 35.5 victims.

I conducted 10 scavenging trials in 2015, with an average carcass survival time of 10.40 days. We ran 265 surveys in 2015, which works out to a carcass search every 1.38 days.

22 March 2015 – trapped Northern Cardinal

In the first action at the NRC since a trapped Orange-crowned Warbler way back on Oct. 28, I found this Northern Cardinal in the southwest alcove this morning.  He let me grab him but judging from his squawking and the strength with which he flew away he’s just fine.

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28 October 2014 – trapped Orange-crowned Warbler

I found this feisty little warbler at the southwest alcove and released him to a nearby oak where he flew pretty strongly from my hand, scolding me the entire time.  Although it looks pretty Tennessee-y, the yellow undertail coverts you can’t see in the photos indicate Orange-crowned (although I’m happy to be corrected on that by those who might have more experience with these species).

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14 September 2014 – trapped Wilson’s Warbler

This morning, I found a Wilson’s Warbler at the north entrance.  This example illustrates well the difficulty in ascribing a bird as a casualty or as merely “trapped”.  In this case, it is clear that the bird was stunned from an apparent collision as opposed to merely exhausted from repeatedly trying to fly through what looks like an open passage. Check out its tightly shut eyes until I was right up next to him.

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Had I been a bit quicker or more stealthy (like a cat), this moment of surprise would have been the bird’s last.

I had almost got my hand on him when the bird flew to the back of my left pant leg (where he stayed for a second or two), before he flew (a bit wobbly, but airborne nonetheless) to the “Recuperation Tree” where so many birds stunned by collisions with the NRC spend some time.  Despite his obvious closed-eyed distress, he flew and perched strongly in the tree, so I count him as trapped and survived rather than as a casualty.  He’s not out of the woods yet, however, and he’d certainly be an easy meal for even a clumsy and inexperienced predator.

This is the indirect cost of building collisions.  So far in 2014 I’ve documented 26 birds killed at the Noble Research Center, but I’ve had 11 trapped birds as well.   Of those 11, surely some would have survived the experience without my intervention, but how many?  What is their prognosis after escaping the the NRC?  For many of these birds with whom I have the ability to interact for a few moments, I can tell that they are not nearly 100% just because they’re too fast for me to catch or can sort of perch normally.

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17 June 2014 – trapped Carolina Wren (again?)

I found this morning what looked very much like the same Carolina Wren as on June 15, trapped at the “bunting door” on the south side of the NRC.  Again, the bird was panting but when I picked it up it screamed and when released it flew strongly away. I guess I need to start banding these trapped birds. (Mourning Dove carcass from 6/10 remains evident.)

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“Trapped” birds – how to count collision victims that survive the initial impact?

<This is an update to a post composed in 2013. We know a bit more now about injuries sustained by birds from window collisions. No, their necks still aren’t breaking and yes there still is a lot of beak damage. Brain hemorrhage can be difficult to determine from normal pooling of blood that can happen anytime a bird carcass lays on its back, however, so we might be overestimating brain injury incidence. Internal injuries, especially fractures of the coracoid (avian bone joining sternum to shoulder) that puncture air sacs, might actually be more common than generally appreciated. Stay tuned for updates from ongoing research in this area.

More important, wildlife rehabilitators have made strides in the treatment of birds that have collided with windows, including those that have suffered a traumatic brain injury. Thus it’s a good idea to keep handy information on your nearest rehabber and specifically seek their advice in advance for best practices in giving birds that survive an initial collision the best chance to make a complete recovery.

Here in Stillwater, OK we have two great options: Nature’s Vein Wildlife Rescue and Education (405-665-0091) and the OSU Vet Hospital:

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Now then, back to that old post . . .>

 

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Black-throated Blue Warbler in passage on a clear night, by Tim O’Connell

Several things can happen when a bird approaches a building.  Some birds approach and, seeing either a reflection of the grass, trees, and sky behind them or the grass, trees, and sky on the other side of a visual pass-through, simply collide with the window at whatever speed they were flying.  Many of these birds (Dan Klem estimates about 50% of them) will suffer a severe injury and die immediately.  Others might be stunned, knocked out, or otherwise impaired to the point that they cannot fly.  Of these that don’t die immediately, some will recover fully and some will die some time later, either because they are easy pickings for a neighborhood cat while in their dazed state or because they’ve suffered too much brain damage for “time” to repair their wounds.  Some birds will be dazed from the initial collision and able to fly to some more protected perch nearby where they will either recover on their own or ultimately die, but at least they are better protected from predators if they can make it to the relative safety of a nearby tree. Klem estimates that 50% of those that die from windows succumb to their injuries sometime after they leave the site of the collision.

I find these injured-but-not-dead-birds rather frequently: 56 individuals since I started paying attention during the fall of 2009.  As of August 2012, I’ve also been recording the location I first encountered each of these live birds.  Some of them look pretty rough when I find them, but if when I grab the bird it makes a fuss and tries to escape from me, I consider that it’s got a fighting chance to recover from whatever injury was so severe that it allowed me to catch it by hand.  These feisty birds I carry away from the building and place in some dense shrubs or low branches.  This way, the bird is out of the direct sun and has some better cover from predators while it regains its wits.  If the bird is, when I leave it, alert and able to perch strongly, I usually will not count it as a “casualty”; I’ll assume that it’s one of the ones that would have survived its ordeal.

Some birds, however, are neither feisty or alert.  Their bodies droop, their eyelids sag, they might be panting heavily, they can neither hold onto a perch or stand up straight in the palm of my hand.  The prognosis for recovery is very poor for these birds, and I have euthanized 3 or 4 of them in this condition, and counted them as casualties.

There is another category, however.  Some birds are found in fine physical condition:  active, volant, and apparently not dazed in the least.  They are, however, out of place, like the Eastern Wood-Pewee I found this morning perched on the ground, on a sidewalk, in an exterior alcove of the Noble Research Center.  These birds are “trapped” in the sense that they are in inappropriate habitat and, like a classic funnel trap, for some reason unable to figure out that they simply need to fly back the way they came for 100 m or so so they can clearly see how to fly around or over the building.  Instead, they might spend hours flying back and forth against the back wall of the alcove.  In this way, I suspect that some birds die from the stress and exhaustion of this experience, and that they might never actually strike the window with enough force to cause injury.  It is the shape of the building as much as its windows that makes it deadly for migrant songbirds. This could be one reason that the dead birds that I find are so often in immaculate shape: they are perhaps dying from cardiac arrest or exhaustion as opposed to trauma from collision.

So I consider trapped birds to be either of the following:

* a live bird that I am able to catch and move to a secluded location where, based on my assessment of its condition, I judge that it can survive the experience,

* a live bird that I am able to “shoo” or herd away from the building.

13 September 2013: trapped Eastern Wood-Pewee and Mourning Warbler

I had two trapped birds at the Noble Research Center this morning, both of which presented identification challenges because they were in good enough shape that I never got to examine them closely.  I first found what turned out to be a wood-pewee (and I’m assuming it’s Eastern) at the northeast alcove and then found a warbler I’ve identified as Mourning at the northwest alcove.  I was able to steer both birds away from the building so I am hoping that I won’t find them dead there tomorrow morning.

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Here’s the wood-pewee.  When I first came upon it, it was sitting on the ground, its long, low shape and attenuated bill had me momentarily thinking it was a swallow.  As I approached (within just a few feet) it was clear that I actually had a flycatcher, but it wasn’t until it flushed to perch on a nearby railing that I figured out that it wasn’t an Eastern Phoebe.

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This bird was intermediate in size between a phoebe and and Empidonax flycatcher.  It lacked the white throat of an Eastern Phoebe, it showed a bi-colored bill, and it did not wag its tail.  Relative to Empidonax flycatchers, this bird was larger and lankier, with a long primary projection, little to no greenish cast on the upperparts, no obvious eyering, and a dusky grayish vest.  All signs point to it being a wood-pewee, and I can only assume it’s Eastern as I wouldn’t be able to distinguish it from an extralimital Western in a photograph.  The buffy wingbars suggest a hatch-year bird. This is the first wood-pewee on the project, and here’s where Easterns have been reported this month:

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The Mourning Warbler on the northwest side of the Noble Research Center was also in good enough condition to fly off on its own, so I was left with my crude photographs to make the identification.  At first blush, the olive-green upperparts, yellow breast and throat, and grayish head suggested Nashville Warbler.  The structure didn’t fit well, however.  The bill wasn’t narrow enough for Nashville, and the pale lower mandible didn’t fit either.  The eye-ring seemed thin, and broken, unlike the bold, complete eyering on a Nashville.  The feet were big and pale, as opposed to a Nashville’s small, blackish feet.  The yellow throat pegged the bird as hatch-year, but I’m reluctant to call the sex.

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30 June 2013 – trapped Black-and-White Warbler

I found an apparent SY female Black-and-White Warbler at the northwest corner of the NRC this morning.  The bird had the stunned look of one who’d knocked into a window, but it wasn’t really trapped the way other birds I’ve found have been.  After a few minutes and as I began to approach, it flew strongly to a nearby tree. 

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18 June 2013 – trapped Common Yellowthroat

I found a trapped, yet feisty, male Common Yellowthroat today in the southwest alcove.  Here again is a bird that in June doesn’t occur within miles of the central OSU campus.  Why would one be on the move through such inhospitable cover at this time of year?

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I found the bird on the sidewalk in front of the doors.  He was standing and alert when I found him, and he got progressively more chipper as I approached, even calling several times.  I will count him as a trapped bird, but not as a casualty.

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As I watched and before I was able to herd him away from the alcove, the bird exhibited a behavior that I suspect affects many of my casualties here.  Rather than fly headlong into the window, the bird fluttered up against it, unable to determine why it couldn’t simply fly through to where it could be either vegetation through the window or daylight on the other side.  I think that some of my casualties are birds that simply exhaust themselves and die from this behavior as opposed to birds that receive immediate head trauma from a more dramatic collision.

Northern Cardinal carcass remains.

 

14 September – Trapped Sora!

First things first – the cheeseburger is gone.  Two days ago it was apparently swiped by a lawnmower but still remained (in two pieces) conspicuous on the sidewalk.  This morning it was gone.  So after about 2 weeks, a delicious-looking, fresh cheeseburger patty has finally been snatched up by something.

Next we had another highly unusual occurrence last night – rain!  Beginning around noon yesterday to just some drizzle this morning at 8 am, we’ve finally had a decent, persistent rain here in Stillwater.  We managed one or two storms this summer, but by my reckoning our last actual rainy day was June 2nd.

One surprise waiting for me this misty morning in the bushes by the north entrance was a Sora, the first for the project.  Soras are long-distance migrants, and they often show up in studies of collision mortality; this one was my first, however.  Here’s where Soras tend to be, year ’round:

Here’s where they’ve been reported recently:

Here’s where one was this morning:

The bird was in great shape.  I steered it away from the building and it flushed off to the left and landed near a nearby exterior wall.  I flushed it again and this time it gained altitude, flew over the top of the NRC and was winging its way south again when it flew out of my line of sight.  Right now, I don’t know if it even made it off campus, but I at least was able to “free” it from the NRC.