Journal archives for March 2019

March 09, 2019

Field Observation 2: Physiology

On Thursday, March 7th at approximately 9:00 A.M., I ventured out for a campus bird walk before my later afternoon classes. It was a chilly morning at approximately 19 degrees, but the birds were still out and about and were making their presences known with their calls. In total, I saw about six American Robins and 11 American Crows but heard the calls of Black-capped Chickadees and Tufted Titmice in the distance as well. All of the birds I saw were budgeting their time by searching for food on the ground in patches where snow wasn't present, it appeared. On campus, I can imagine many of the smaller birds may attempt to build nests in the crevices of the parking garage, as it most likely limits the harsh winds and precipitation.

I began by leaving my dorm of WDW and immediately noticed an American Robin (pictured in the attached image) sitting in a small adjacent tree littered with berries (similar to the tree the Cedar Waxwing I viewed a couple of weeks ago). The bird was not doing anything too special; it merely sat on a branch, not making any sounds, almost as if it was just observing its surroundings I approached the bird until I came to a surprisingly close two feet or so, and I was incredibly shocked that it didn't even flinch with my presence. I noticed that the bird appeared to be eating very well, but then I remembered our lecture a while back on how birds attempt to adjust to the weather they endure. It's a bit difficult to tell in the picture, but this Robin had its feathers fluffed out extensively to retain body heat. I still found it odd at how close the bird let me stand near it, but after about ten minutes of watching the bird, I moved on.

I walked over back beyond the lacrosse and soccer field to the trees behind it to search for dead snags. I only analyzed a small portion of the woods but saw about two snags. These snags had several small holes and a couple of holes on the larger side. Snags are incredibly important to wildlife, especially birds, as it can provide a place for nesting and can harbor many bugs that birds rely on as a food source. Woodpecker species are well known to take advantage of snags and drum on them for food. Though important for birds, these snags didn't seem to have any active inhabitants.

After my walk, I went to attend my classes and then walked back to return to my dorm. On my way back, I passed by the tree that I had spotted the American Robin in earlier that day. I was absolutely stunned to see the bird in almost the exact same position (only on a branch half a foot higher) four and a half hours later. I was so perplexed and I observed him again; he still did not appear to be doing anything but his feathers were still fluffed to retain all the heat he could. I watched for another ten minutes until I got too cold and retreated inside. I would absolutely love to know why this American Robin let me get so close to him and why he had not changed his position for several hours, even on an extremely cold day.

Posted on March 09, 2019 04:17 by emquirk emquirk | 1 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

March 25, 2019

Field Observation 3: Social Behavior and Phenology

Over spring break, I decided to go birding in my hometown of Longmeadow, Massachusetts. In my town, there's an area called Fannie Stebbins Memorial Wildlife Refuge located over several hundred acres of mostly floodplains, but also forests and old fields. This reserve is a hotspot for a variety of wildlife and it's a place that I have failed to really take advantage of growing up until this very point. I drove over to Fannie Stebbins Wildlife Refuge at approximately 1:00 PM on Saturday, March 9th. The sky was clear, the wind ceased to exist, and the temperature was in the mid-forties.

I came across a spot in the refuge along the Connecticut River teeming with all types birds (it also probably helped that there were a few people feeding them). This spot was located on the Connecticut River with some banks of untamed brush. There was a pair of Mute Swans, a pair of Wood Ducks, dozens of Canada Geese, dozens of pairs of Mallards, about three Northern Cardinals, approximately five Red-winged Blackbirds, a White-breasted Nuthatch, and several kinds of sparrow, including the White-throated Sparrow pictured.

The first thing I noticed was how aggressive and confrontational the Mute Swans were toward some of the visitors observing them. One man pulled out a chair to sit in along the riverbank and the Mute Swan pair was visibly irritated by his actions; one of them even refused to move or seemingly break eye contact from the man for more than twenty minutes. The Swans weren't the only birds that seemed to be irritated that day with others. However, some of the Canada Geese seemed to have issues with their own kind and would honk or seemingly nip at other Canada Geese if they swam or walked too close. I imagine that this behavior is now due to the fact that it has become spring and flocks have started to split to start defending territories.

Two species of bids that I saw on my walk were the Wood Duck and the Northern Cardinal. Both of these species are considered sexually dimorphic. A male Northern Cardinal's plumage is a consistently brilliant red color whereas a female is more beige in coloration with some red tinges along their wings. I would imagine that females select males to mate with most strongly on the basis of how bright their plumage is. On the other hand, male Wood Ducks have a very fancy looking plumage with a reddish brown body with other intricate markings and a green crested head. To contrast this, female Wood Ducks are far duller and are mostly gray with a patch of navy blue along the wing. Like the Northern Cardinal, I feel as though it's fair to assume that females choose to mate with Wood Ducks with the most vibrant and distinct coloration.

Lastly, I attempted the mini activity that involved "pishing" to attract some smaller birds. I gave it several shots to try and attract the White-throated Sparrow I came across. Unfortunately, I didn't seem to notice any changes in its behavior. I'm not sure if it was because there were several other people around observing birds, if it was because the sparrow was alone, or if I just wasn't loud enough. I imagine that this sound might attract smaller birds into thinking that there's a stranger in their territory and might bring them around to the noise to see what's going on. Or, perhaps if a bird hears this noise and is within another individual's territory, it might signal that the bird should remove itself from that territory.

Posted on March 25, 2019 20:13 by emquirk emquirk | 9 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment