Journal archives for March 2023

March 07, 2023

3/1 March Bird Ecology

Date: 3/01/23
Start Time: 7:00
End Time: 8:20
Location: Mansfield Ave where residential area meets woods
Weather: Cloudy, 37℉ with a slight SW wind
Habitats: A combination of street trees, and border forest with patches of brush and snags

This week I observed the birds around my neighborhood. I walked to the border of the residential area and the adjacent woods to get a sense of how birds spend their time in early March. The tree composition in the area is predominantly White Ash, Eastern White Pine, Paper Birch, Red Maple, and various street trees. This morning was very active for birds in the area. With chilly temperatures persisting, the birds are still utilizing adaptations and behaviors to survive. Birds conserve energy to keep warm by postponing breeding until later months. For the most part, they spend most of their time on maintenance, feeding, and resting.

One behavior that enhances winter survival is preening, which maintains feather structure and ensures that the bird is well-insulated. I watched an American Robin preening atop a street tree. Another robin was puffing out its feathers to maintain its body temperature. These robins were by far the most frequent birds that I encountered, with a total of around 8 birds. Their song indicated the arrival of Spring. Another warming behavior I observed was two House Sparrows huddling together atop a tree branch. This allowed them to share body heat and maintain sufficient temperatures.

As I continued on, I heard the laugh-like call and pecking sounds of the Pileated Woodpecker. These woodpeckers depend on hollowing out cavities in trees where they shelter in the cold. The excavation of these holes begins in the fall. Pileated Woodpeckers create separate cavities in the spring for nesting. I assume that the pecking I heard was either the woodpecker beginning its nesting cavity or foraging for insect larvae, such as those of ants and beetles.

Towards the end of my walk, I rapped a stick on a snag and a Black-capped Chickadee emerged. I would assume that the chickadee had finished its foraging for insect larvae and seeds for the morning and returned to the snag to stay warm. These hollows are extremely important for birds that do not have the anatomical capabilities (such as that of the woodpecker) to create caverns to stay warm. Snags like these protect birds as well as other animals from harsh winds and allow body heat to accumulate in frigid temperatures. For a bird like a Black-capped Chickadee, smaller snags would be ideal, as they allow less room for predators and allow less space for heat to dissipate. Other birds I saw and heard included the European Starling, Northern Cardinal, American Crow, 3 Tufted Titmouse, and 3 White-breasted Nuthatches.

Posted on March 07, 2023 08:51 PM by lhaigh lhaigh | 5 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

March 18, 2023

3/16 Birdwatching in Mansfield, MA

March 16 from 12:00 pm -1:00 pm
Sunny, 50°F, low wind
Habitats: clearing in a mixed coniferous forest adjacent to an open horse farm

I arrived at my birdwatching location a little before noon. While this is not an optimal time for birdwatching, I was successful in seeing and hearing birds due to the close proximity of many different habitat types. I observed the birds from a clearing that likely once served as an access road in the middle of a conifer-dominant forest. The forest was directly next to open shrubland and a large field that was once a horse farm. At first, I encountered several generalist species. I witnessed 2 American Robins chasing after each other, a typical behavior when establishing territory. This phenomenon tends to occur between 2 males or 2 females. I heard consistent calls from Tufted Titmouse, Northern Cardinals, Dark-eyed Juncos, Blue Jays, American Crows, and one Golden-crowned Kinglet. For the most part, these birds were not visible.

Red-tailed Hawks are active and highly visible during this time due to their ecological niche as a predator. While most songbirds forage in the morning and take shelter throughout the day, hawks are diurnal hunters with few predators. I spotted 2 Red-tailed Hawks circling over the open field searching for prey. I have heard their calls in this location rather frequently, but they were extremely quiet during their hunt.

While my attempts at “pishing” were unsuccessful, I was able to go back and forth with a Northern Cardinal by whistling. The responding cardinal drew closer and closer throughout the duration of the hour. At the end of my watch, the cardinal flew close to where I was watching, and turned out to be female. It is possible that she approached to mate, as March marks the start of the Northern Cardinal’s breeding season. The male Northern Cardinal’s bright red plumage is the most striking coloration I encountered on my trip. This plumage reflects sexual selection from female cardinals, who prefer the reddest males. This comes at a tradeoff, as the most sexually preferred males stand out the most to predators. The plumage of the Dark-eyed Junco, on the other hand, is useful for remaining camouflaged and undetected in its forest habitat. While their dark plumage is more discreet, these juncos perform courtship rituals in which they flash their bright white tail feathers.

Posted on March 18, 2023 08:48 PM by lhaigh lhaigh | 8 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

March 29, 2023

Late March

9:00-10:00 am
Behind the Shaws in Winooski
Sunny, 35°F, Little-No wind
Parking lot bordering forested cliffs

On today’s bird watch I observed several species that I have encountered throughout the past few months, including Black-capped Chickadees, European Starlings, American Crows, and American Robins. These species possess adaptations that allow them to withstand the frigid temperatures of Northern Vermont winters. One example of a cold adaptation can be found in the Black-capped Chickadee. These birds enter a nightly hypothermia, in which they decrease their body temperature by 12-15°F below their daytime body temperature. This physiological adaptation allows them to reduce their metabolic expenditures and conserve energy, greatly increasing their chances of survival through cold nights. Other year-round residents employ behavioral adaptations to withstand chilly temperatures. The American Robin fluffs its feathers to create a warmer coat. This behavior increases feather depth by three times which increases insulation by up to 50%.

While in my location, I heard the trilly call of the Red-winged Blackbird. The greater Burlington area lies at the southern end of the bird's breeding range. There is a good chance that the birds I heard singing have completed or were nearing the completion of their journey north. Red-winged Blackbirds spend the winter foraging on grains and seeds in Southern US states and Mexico preparing for their migration. They migrate in pursuit of greater food availability. Because of this annual movement, they are not especially well adapted to withstanding cold temperatures. As Spring begins, the Vermont landscape provides a wide array of new food opportunities. These blackbirds eat fruits, insects, and spiders, all of which are emerging this time of year. I saw several Canada Geese flying north from my location. These birds will reach some of the most northern parts of Canada during their breeding season. Canada Geese migrate to avoid competition, find suitable nesting habitats, and pursue both abundant food and more daylight. In total, the migratory birds (Canada Goose, Common Grackle, and Red-winged Blackbird) that I observed in an hour have a maximum combined migration distance of 5,470 miles.

Species List:
A group of about 20 Cedar Waxwings
3 Red-winged Blackbirds
10 Ring-billed gulls
2 Canada Geese
2 European Starlings
1 Common Grackle
3 Black-capped Chickadees
5 American Crows
5 American Robins

Posted on March 29, 2023 10:24 PM by lhaigh lhaigh | 9 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment