Friday, March 15, 2019

Updated annotated Dearborn bird checklist available now

The metro Detroit area has a long and rich history of documented bird sightings. A number of early ornithologists documented birds early in the 20th century. The Bird Survey of the Detroit Region began in 1946, and formed the basis for Alice Kelley's book Birds of Southeastern Michigan and Southwestern Ontario, which left off around 1978.

I reviewed thousands of those available records (including source material) plus many more contemporary ones, and published my book The Birds of Southeast Michigan: Dearborn in 1996.
It is now out of print, but copies are often available on Amazon.

As more records were accumulated, especially from the standardized surveys and banding records of the Rouge River Bird Observatory, a refresher was needed, and I put out The Birds of Dearborn, An Annotated Checklist in 2007.

Now that RRBO has closed, I decided that I needed to completely re-do the annotated checklist with another 11 years of records. I won't be looking to publish it as a book, but am making the document available for download at a modest price.


A Checklist of the Birds of Dearborn (as well as The Birds of Dearborn, An Annotated Checklist, or a bundle of both publications) is now available here


The checklist describes residency status, relative abundance, dates of occurrence, and sighting locations of 264 species plus two hypothetical species. While focusing on Dearborn, status and dates for most species, especially songbirds, will be applicable to much of southern Michigan.

The bulk of the records represent the period 1978-2018, but many date from as far back as the late 1800s. The majority of the records are from the campus of the University of Michigan-Dearborn, but hundreds are from elsewhere within current city limits, including before Dearborn was incorporated in 1929. Data is based on published reports, museum specimens, bird banding records, and vetted checklists; many tens of thousands of records were examined to compile this document.

Here's an example of a few species accounts (the document includes definitions of all terms, locations, etc.):


The PDF document includes “bookmarks” to all bird families and relevant sections for easy navigation. Access to the bookmarks varies among PDF readers. Many species accounts contain hyperlinks to additional online information, which may also include photographs, references, and other documentation. They are designed to be clickable and “live” if your reading device is online and your PDF reader permits them. 

Price is $5 for this document, $7 for the 2007 The Birds of Dearborn, An Annotated Checklist, or $9 if you choose them both in the bundle. Payment is via PayPal or credit card. If needed, I will compile updates and provide periodic supplements for free to the email address provided when you download.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Yellow-crowned Night-herons: Setting the records straight

The Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (Nyctanassa violacea) is generally thought of as a southern species that sometimes wanders north -- particularly during the post-breeding period but occasionally as a nesting species. The first Michigan breeding record was a pair that nested along the Rouge River at the UM-Dearborn campus in 1971. This record is credited to William Fisher. Here are his original notes from his submission to the Bird Survey of the Detroit Region:


Later that year, he published a short note in Michigan Audubon's Jack-Pine Warbler (Fisher 1971) describing the successful nesting:

Curiously, there is never another mention that this sighting involved at least one or maybe two additional birds. He says they followed one of three herons into the woods, where it ultimately flushed a mate from the nest. Two herons initially flew off. One may have ended up being the mate that was flushed from the nest, but it doesn't sound that way. Presumably, the two initial birds that flew off were also night-herons, which is quite intriguing. There is no clue about this in his original notes.

In any event, Fisher's claim that this was the first sighting of this species in the county (Wayne) was incorrect. A pair (the pair?) of Yellow-crowned Night-Herons was first observed in the same location by Gerald Kleis several weeks earlier, on 6 May 1971. His notes are below:

Kleis is acknowledged for this find in the Michigan Bird Survey for Spring 1971, published in the Jack-Pine Warbler (49:99): "Two were seen near Rouge River, Wayne Co., on 3,4 May by Kleis; the pair was found in the same area on 30 May by Fisher, with a nest." This is the only time Gerald Kleis has been given credit for his discovery, although all the dates given are wrong. A letter included with his survey forms reveals that Kleis was off to Africa for anthropological research. He was gone at least a few years and thus not around to correct the record.

Those were the first in a string of errors connected with these sightings. A note published in the Jack-Pine Warbler (Greenhouse and Kleiman 1972, below) stated that Fisher took the authors to the Dearborn nest on June 4, 1971 and that a month later they (the authors) found another nest in Monroe County. However, this June 4 date crept into Wolinski's (1988) review of the status of this species in the state, providing that date for the Dearborn nest discovery.

Finally, Reinoehl's (1994) account gives this incorrect chronology: "First nestings were confirmed in Wayne and Monroe counties in 1971 and 1972, respectively."

Whew. I am here to clarify and correct the facts that have been published about the early history of this species in Michigan:
  • Gerald Kleis found a pair of Yellow-crowned Night-Herons along the Rouge River on the UM-Dearborn campus on 6 May 1971 (not 3 and/or 4 May). He did not locate a nest.
  • William Fisher and his wife found likely the same pair at the same location at a nest on 29 May 1971 (not 30 May or 4 June).
  • Fisher showed the nest to Jeff Greenhouse and Joe Kleiman on 4 June 1971. Later, on 10 July 1971 (not 1972), they found a nest in Monroe County.
The Dearborn nest site was apparently not used in subsequent years, although a Westland location (also in Wayne County) persisted from 1975-1982, and there were further sightings in Monroe County (Carpenter et al. 1994).

Tom Olkowski had the last dated Dearborn sighting of that era on campus on 30 April 1980, although there were some reports of sightings in 1984.

It took another 30+ years before another Yellow-crowned Night-Heron was seen in Dearborn. Someone reported one on campus along the shore of Fairlane Lake to Rick Simek on 17 June 2017. A number of us were able to see this lovely bird that day, after which it was not seen again.

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron at UM-Dearborn 17 Jun 2017.
Photo by Mike O'Leary, used with permission.

As I watched this bird I was thinking about the 1971 pair, and I'm glad to have the chance now to tell that convoluted story.


Literature and further reading:

Carpenter, T. C. 1991. Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (Nyctanassa violacea). Pp. 533-534 in The Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Michigan. R. Brewer, et al., eds. Michigan State University Press, E. Lansing.

Carpenter, T. W., A. L. Carpenter, and J. A. Fowler, Jr. 1994. Sightings and nesting observations of Yellow-crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax violaceus) in Wayne and Monroe Counties, 1975-1988. Mich. Birds and Nat. Hist. 1(4):2-6

Fisher, W. 1971. Yellow-crowned Night-Heron nests in Michigan. Jack-Pine Warbler 49:86.

Greenhouse, J. A., and J. P. Kleiman. 1972. Second nesting of Yellow-crowned Night Heron in Michigan. Jack-Pine Warbler 50:29.

Reinoehl, J. 1994. Yellow-crowned Night-heron. Pp. 19-20 in The Birds of Michigan. J. Granlund et al., eds. Indiana University Press, Bloomington.

Wolinski, R. A. 1988. Status of the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron in Michigan. Jack-Pine Warbler 66:117-119.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

The last Dearborn Barn Owl

Barn Owls (Tyto alba) are considered extirpated as breeding birds in Michigan. Although I suspect that occasionally a few persist, for the most part the lack of open, fallow land has decimated their numbers across the Midwest, a fate shared by many other grassland species. The fact that Barn Owls were probably very rare prior to Michigan's logging heydays when the state was mostly forested is little consolation for their lack of residency today.

The last (maybe the only) observation of a Barn Owl in Dearborn occurred on 6 May 1951 by Robert E. Mara, a frequent contributor to the Bird Survey of the Detroit Region into the mid-1950s. These surveys provided the basis for Alice Kelley's book Birds of Southeastern Michigan and Southwestern Ontario as well as material for my own books on Dearborn birds. On the original field sheets for the survey, I found Mara's notes:



The image below is from 1949. Mara resided at the Dearborn Inn (1 on the image below), across Oakwood Boulvard from what was (up to 1947) the Ford airport (2) and is now the Ford proving grounds. Many of his surveys were walks he took every Sunday up Rotunda Avenue to the Rouge River. The location of his sighting at Oakwood and Southfield is marked 3 on the map. It's incredible to see the difference 70 years makes!

The border between Dearborn and Allen Park is the Southfield Freeway (M39), a much sleepier road in 1951. Mara's sighting of the Barn Owl "in the woods near the intersection" could place it west of Southfield in Allen Park, although he designated his sightings for that day in Dearborn. At the time, Allen Park was not a city but a village of Ecorse Township, and customarily observers designated "Ecorse Twp" on survey forms if that was their location.

Any doubt that Barn Owls occurred in Dearborn was eliminated in 1991 when Jim Fowler, Jr. found a very old Barn Owl skull in a chimney near the clock tower at the Henry Ford Museum; the museum was well-established by the time of Mara's sighting. It was rumored that Barn Owls once nested there, and Jim found the evidence that they were at least present in the area some years in the past.

Postscript: There was a report of a "possible" Barn Owl seen in flight over west Dearborn on 27 June 2008.


Wednesday, February 13, 2019

The updated Dearborn bird checklist

I've now put up a revised version of the Dearborn bird checklist incorporating changes through 2018. A link is also in the sidebar.

This checklist complies with all taxonomic changes made by the American Ornithologists’ Union to the 7th edition of the AOU Check-list of North and Middle American Birds, through the 59th Supplement, published in 2018.

The Dearborn bird checklist contains 264 species plus two hypothetical species, most of which were recorded on the University of Michigan-Dearborn (UMD) campus and adjacent green space. Records were compiled from over 50,000 banding records from programs that took place on the UMD campus (from 1971-1987, and 1992-2014 as the Rouge River Bird Observatory) and elsewhere in the city; thousands of standardized surveys, mostly by RRBO; published historical records, archived photographs, and documentation; and other material determined to be credible. Links to supporting information on some of the more interesting species are included in the checklist below.

If you are interested in the residency status, relative abundance, dates of occurance, and sighting locations of these species, detailed information, plus a guide to birding in Dearborn, references, article reprints, and data tables is in the book The Birds of Dearborn, An Annotated Checklist, published in 2007. A PDF is available for only $7.

I am currently considering work on a complete update of the annotated checklist portion of this book. It would include details on over a dozen new species recorded since 2007, hundreds of new dates on arrivals, departures, etc., and dozens of status changes.

If there is sufficient interest from people that would like to purchase a copy of an updated annotated checklist I can determine how much it will cost me to produce a final self-published PDF. It would likely be around $5-8. It would not include all the maps, detailed location information, and appendices of the currently published book. If you think you are interested, leave a comment on the form in the sidebar (just as feedback, no commitment!) or on the Facebook page so I can determine what to do. Please let me know your thoughts!

Monday, February 11, 2019

White-tailed Kite and King Rail in Dearborn: Hypothetical

NOTE: In anticipation of publishing a new Dearborn bird checklist, I am posting information on some of the city's more interesting sightings. 


There are a couple of hypothetical species on the Dearborn checklist, significant records that should really require further documentation to include in the list.

One is for White-tailed Kite (Elanus leucurus), seen on the University of Michigan-Dearborn campus on 15 May 1999 by a reliable observer.  His report is below:
On May 15, 1999 at approximately 12:30PM I observed a falcon shaped bird soaring and with intermittent flapping as it proceeded to climb starting at approximately 200 feet when first seen.  The first thing I noticed on this bird was the extremely light underparts with the secondaries lighter than the primaries and dark wrist marks and the tail length which set this bird apart from a gull.  The falcon shaped wings left no doubt that this was not a buteo.  Size of this bird was about that of a broad-winged hawk but appeared wider from wing tip to wing tip.  No distinguishing marks on underside of tail, appeared pure white.  Wings just slightly uplifted while soaring and banking.  After observing for approximately 5 minutes I dropped my glasses to see how high the bird had climbed.  By this time it was a mere dot in the sky, having moved up and north.  Prior to this I had noticed the bird banking and alternately flapping in a nighthawk like flight as if feeding on the wing.  In my recollection of white-tailed kites from seeing them in CA I don’t recall seeing this form of feeding.  Wingbeats were buoyant yet strong and coming high up as a nighthawk.  Viewing was optimal as the sun shown through the wings.
There are no records in Michigan for White-tailed Kite. Since the mid-1990s there have been increasing numbers of sightings in the eastern U.S., but the majority of the northernmost reports have been in the past 5 or so years and many are west of Michigan. This is a distinctive bird and a good description, but the single-observer report at a time when not many of these birds were noted in the region has prompted me to consider it hypothetical.

White-tailed Kite in California. Photo by Lee Jaffe under a
Creative Commons license.

The other hypothetical species is King Rail (Rallus elegans). The only mention I have of this species for Dearborn is from various reports from around 1911-1914 regarding the efforts of Henry Ford to create bird habitat on his land. At the time, he owned around 2,000 acres. In the location where he would build his Fair Lane estate beginning in 1914 he went whole-hog with feeding stations, fruit tree plantings, winter shelters, bird houses, and even a heated bird bath. Jefferson Butler, then president of Michigan Audubon, performed a number of bird surveys on the property at the time, and Ford's efforts were promoted by Butler (and no doubt Ford himself). A dam was constructed across the Rouge River at the site of Fair Lane in order to provide electricity; the adjacent powerhouse was on of the first structures on the site. Several reports in the popular press noted that areas upstream from the dam flooded, and about a mile upstream King Rails were mentioned as present.

King Rails are considered endangered in Michigan, but was much more common during that period. However, there are no details, dates, or formal reports on this species on the Ford estate so I leave it at hypothetical.