Monday, October 22, 2012

Our online seed guide

As regular followers know, RRBO's primary research focus is the ecology of fall migrant birds in urban areas, and one of our main project is examining the fall diet of birds at our urban site.

To do this, we collect fecal samples from the birds that we band, and identify and catalog all the seeds we find. We initially compiled a book of photos of seeds from plants known to occur in the area, as well as a large reference series of seeds collected on campus and nearby.  This has enabled us to identify all but 9 out of nearly 6,500 seeds we have collected in fecal samples from 2007 through 2011.

Although our big binder of seeds and photos was handy, we found we also wanted to have other reference material in it. We also found there was a lot of interest in this project from other researchers as well as land managers and homeowners interested in what birds are eating. We conceived an online reference guide that would include all this information in the form of species accounts.

Thanks to support from the Jimmy F. New Foundation and the Michigan Audubon Society, our web site is coming together. You can take a look at the first set of species accounts: Fruit Seeds of Southern Michigan.

The guide provides accounts of plants that produce fleshy, bird-dispersed fruits, with special emphasis on the identification of seeds. It will focus on fall- and summer-fruiting plant species found in southern Michigan, but since many of these species are widespread in North America, it will be useful for a broader region. Both native and non-native species are covered.

The financial support has provided a stipend for UM-Dearborn graduate Dana Wloch to work on the site. As a student, Dana worked for several years collecting and compiling seeds from our banded birds under two independent research projects. As the "Number 2 of Number 2" she is uniquely qualified for this task, and I'm grateful for her help and work on the web site, as well as sorting through, identifying, and compiling all the seeds pooped out by every species except the Catharus thrushes for the fourth year in a row.

Take a look at our site. It's a work in progress, so there will be many more species added, revisions to the existing accounts, and the bibliography and resource pages will be completed.

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