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 by emquirk emquirk, March 25, 2019 20:13

Observations

Photos / Sounds

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What

Mute Swan Cygnus olor

Observer

emquirk

Date

March 9, 2019

Photos / Sounds

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What

Red-winged Blackbird Agelaius phoeniceus

Observer

emquirk

Date

March 9, 2019

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White-throated Sparrow Zonotrichia albicollis

Observer

emquirk

Date

March 9, 2019

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White-breasted Nuthatch Sitta carolinensis

Observer

emquirk

Date

March 9, 2019

Photos / Sounds

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Northern Cardinal Cardinalis cardinalis

Observer

emquirk

Date

March 9, 2019

Photos / Sounds

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What

Northern Cardinal Cardinalis cardinalis

Observer

emquirk

Date

March 9, 2019

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What

Mallard Anas platyrhynchos

Observer

emquirk

Date

March 9, 2019

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Canada Goose Branta canadensis

Observer

emquirk

Date

March 9, 2019

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Wood Duck Aix sponsa

Observer

emquirk

Date

March 9, 2019

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