Field Observation 3: Social Behavior and Phenology

On March 11th at 3 p.m., I observed the bird species present at the Gateway National Recreation Area in Sandy Hook, New Jersey. The weather was very warm (about 54° F) with light cloud coverage and strong winds. Sandy Hook is a national park on the coast of the Jersey shoreline, so many gulls were seen. The first species I came across was the Canada Goose, where I saw a flock of them occupying a grassy area at the entrance of the park. Multiple flocks of Herring Gulls were seen throughout my time there, and a Turkey Vulture was spotted flying overhead.
The flock of geese was seen near a road, most likely because this species has evolved to live near human-altered landscapes. The individuals seemed to be calling to each other with the classic goose “honk.” This could be to signal a food source to one another or to find their mates. The individuals were walking slightly, but not moving very far from one another. This could be due to the fact that this species is monogamous and mates for life, so the geese kept each other in close company. A few minutes later, a Turkey Vulture was spotted flying overhead, identified by its dark plumage and large wingspan. This individual was most likely scavenging for food, possibly to bring back to its young.
I continued walking along the water and during that time, many flocks of Herring Gulls were seen. Although there were many flocks seen, at least a few in each flock exhibited a “keow” call, which signifies personal identification of individuals. This indicates that these individuals could be signaling to each other to find certain individuals, possibly mates. Some of the birds seemed to be showing lots of movement, flying short lengths along the coast, but they mainly stayed in a flock. This could be due to the fact that it may be easier to find prey in such an open, sandy area. As with Canada Geese, it is clear that this species likes to stick with other individuals of the same species because of the benefits of group living.
Every individual seen was fairly active, most likely because it was a sunny afternoon, which relates to the circadian rhythm of each individual. The amount of activity and foraging would most likely be different if it was late at night, when most individuals rest. The plumage of a Herring Gull is very light, which could be advantageous because of the habitat they occupy. These birds are normally seen by a coast, and in my case, they were all seen on the sandy shore of the beach. This lighter plumage blends in more with the light sand color, as opposed to the Canada Goose. The Turkey Vulture’s dark plumage stands out, but there is no evolutionary disadvantage since this species has very few natural predators. In regards to the “pishing” activity, there were no small flocks of foraging birds seen during the time interval, possibly because of the location.

Posted by mkerner mkerner, March 25, 2019 01:41

Observations

Photos / Sounds

No photos or sounds

What

Canada Goose Branta canadensis

Observer

mkerner

Date

March 11, 2019

Photos / Sounds

No photos or sounds

What

Turkey Vulture Cathartes aura

Observer

mkerner

Date

March 11, 2019

Photos / Sounds

What

Herring Gull Larus argentatus

Observer

mkerner

Date

March 11, 2019

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