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.


Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Eurasian Tree Sparrow: historical report

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


On 21 October 1999, a Eurasian Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus) was reported at a residential feeder in west Dearborn, about a block from Snow Woods near Snow Avenue and Rotunda. The bird was seen over several days, but due to an email glitch I did not get the original report until about a week had passed. The observers were well known to me, and frequent participants in Christmas Bird Counts and breeding bird surveys in Michigan. Here is their original description, written the first day they saw this bird:
At 8 AM this morning, my wife and I observed a different sort of sparrow for about 5 minutes off and on at our feeder. The feeder is about 7 feet from our kitchen window so we had lots of good hard looks at it. There is no doubt in our mind that it is a a Eurasian Tree Sparrow after consulting Petersons Field Guide ( page 263), Golden Field Guide Birds of North America (page 279) and Audubon Master Guide to Birding Book 3 (page 351).  The bird had a black patch on the ear covert as well as around the eye, a small black chin patch (smaller than the regular house sparrow), rich brown crown, faint white ring around the collar, was slimmer than the house sparrow and immediately left the feeder whenever the regular sparrows came in. It was more fidgity than the other sparrows--quite nervous. 
Eurasian Tree Sparrow in Europe. From a photo by Jan Rose, used under
a Creative Commons license.
Prior to the 1970s or so, a report of a Eurasian Tree Sparrow would be highly suspect. It is not native to North America, as the name indicates, but since 1870 a population has been established near St. Louis, MO. Twenty birds were imported from Germany and released there, and for decades did not expand much from this area. By the 1940s, the colonization extended only about 80 miles from their original point of establishment, mostly in a north and northwest direction. A more rapid expansion began in the 1960s, with birds showing up in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin. In the 1990s, multiple reports came from Wisconsin, Minnesota, Indiana, Iowa, and Ontario.

Good data on early records of introduced species can be difficult to dig up because these species are dismissed as "uncountable" by birders, and it's the birding community that usually documents these occurances. At some point, reports begin to get archived, and Michigan's first "official" record of Eurasian Tree Sparrow occurred in Cass Co. in 2005. Since then, there have been around 30 or more Michigan reports, including those of multiple birds.

The flurry of reports from Michigan beginning in 2005 and mostly in the Upper Peninsula coincides with a surge of reports of other European birds in this region. Between 2004-2006, Common Chaffinch, Eurasian Siskin, and European Greenfinch were all reported from the U.P. These birds were likely the result of releases from the same source that founded the population of European Goldfinches in the Chicago area. The same importer thought to be responsible for these birds also imported and sold Eurasian Tree Sparrows. From what I've been able to ascertain, the releases began sometime after 2000, likely around 2002. Thus, I would not be surprised if Michigan records after 2002 or so were derived at least in part from the Chicago-area releases. Earlier records (if there are any others besides the Dearborn bird) in Michigan and elsewhere would be attributable to expansion of the core Illinois/Missouri population. (You can read much more about European birds in the Midwest on my page regarding this research here.)

Back to Deaborn. Living in an urban area, the observers of the Dearborn bird were, of course, extremely familiar with the House Sparrows that were ubiquitous at their feeders. Their description seems wholly adequate, including their observations (also shared with me from subsequent sightings) that the Eurasian Tree Sparrow seemed skittish around House Sparrows -- a number of researchers have indicated that Eurasian Tree Sparrows do not compete well and are subordinate to House Sparrows. These facts, coupled with the expansion into the Upper Midwest in the 1990s, leads me to conclude that this is a reasonable, valid record for Dearborn.

A lot of interesting work has been done comparing the North American population of Eurasian Tree Sparrows with the German ancestral birds. Here are just a few papers on the history of the North American birds as well as their evolution and differentiation:

Barlow, J.C. 1973. Status of the North American population of.the European tree sparrow. Ornithol Monogr 14:10–23.

Barlow, J.C., and A.L. Lang. 1997. Cultural evolution in the Eurasian Tree Sparrow: Divergence between introduced and ancestral populations. The Condor: 99: 413-423.

Burnett, J.L., Roberts, C.P., C.R. Allen, M.B. Brown, and M.P. Moulton. 2017. Range expansion by Passer montanus in North America. Biol Invasions (2017) 19: 5-9.

Graham, J., C. Harnevich, N. Young, G. Newman, and G. Stohlgren. 2011. How will climate change affect the potential distribution of Eurasian tree sparrows Passer montanus in North America? Curr Zool 57:648–654.

St. Louis, V. L. and J. C. Barlow. 1988. Genetic differentiation among ancestral and introduced populations of the Eurasian Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus). Evolution 42:266-276. 

St. Louis, V. L. and J. C. Barlow. 1991. Morphometric analyses of introduced and ancestral populations of the Eurasian Tree Sparrow. Wilson Bull. 103:1-12.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Bewick's Wren in Dearborn: historical report

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


In my post about Michigan's second record of Bachman's Sparrow (Peucaea aestivalis), I introduced Alice Miller, a Dearborn bird bander and active contributor and compiler of bird surveys in the Detroit region into the early 1950s. Here is yet another of her interesting Dearborn sightings.

On her survey forms in 1948 she made a convincing although cautious report of a Bewick's Wren (Thryomanes bewickii) in her yard on 11 April 1948.

Survey forms including Bewick's Wren submitted by Alice Miller.
The penciled description on the back of thin paper are hard to read, so here is a transcription:
Bewick's Wren - probable
1st observation 4-11 Naked eye - on bare ground directly under living room window - brown - slender - positive white eye stripe (over) - whitish underparts - long tail - out of range
2nd observation - in spirea bush - extemely quick nervous movements up down in and about - out of range
3rd ob. atop low stone wall back of lot - same as 1st plus definite and prominent side to side tail movement. But never saw white in tail to make it positive - I had just returned previous week from Tennessee whre I saw Carolina's for positive study - This was not a Carolina and it's back was plain and not striped so it couldn't have been a marsh wren
This report did not get published in the spring 1948 bird survey. However, although this form was dated for summer 1948 (see top portion of photo above), all the records on the pages were from spring 1948. She notes she had been travelling, so perhaps she missed the spring deadline. Normally, significant reports that were omitted were mentioned in the following survey when published, but the summer 1948 survey itself was not published on schedule, and appeared in condensed form along with the fall 1948 survey.

Whether a paperwork foul-up or a decision not to publish the record due to uncertainty we will never know. Nonetheless, Alice Miller was an experienced and careful observer, and her description rings true and seems adequate to me. It's validity is supported by the fact that Bewick's Wrens were much more common in the eastern U.S. decades ago, and rare but regular in Michigan during that era. In their 1959 publication, A Distributional Check-list of the Birds of Michigan, Zimmerman and Van Tyne considered Bewick's Wren a "rare and irregular summer resident" with "most records in April and May". Alice Kelley noted 22 records in the region between 1945 and 1974 in her book Birds of southeastern Michigan and southwestern Ontario, while The Birds of Washtenaw County lists at least 7 records there up to 1970. There have been very few since then.

Based on these facts, I consider this a valid record for Dearborn.

Read more about the status of Bewick's Wren in the eastern U.S.:
  • This paper by Michael Hodge and Gary Ritchison appeared in the state journal The Kentucky Warbler in November 2007: Bewick's Wren in Kentucky and Tennessee: distribution, breeding success, habitat use, and interactions with House Wrens. It gives an interesting summary on the history of this species in the eastern U.S.
  • So does this earlier paper from 1978 from the Carolina Bird Club journal, The Chat: Ecological factors contributing to the decline of. Bewick's Wren as a breeding species in the southern Blue Ridge (PDF).

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Bachman's Sparrow in Dearborn, 1946

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


Alice Miller was a Dearborn bird bander and active contributor and compiler of bird surveys in the Detroit region into the early 1950s. She wrote several short papers on unusual bird sightings, and regularly submitted records to the Detroit Audubon Society which were subsequently published in Michigan Audubon's Jack-Pine Warbler for their regular seasonal bird surveys.  Her home was in west Dearborn near Ford Road and the Dearborn Country Club (established by Henry Ford in 1925). At the time, the neighborhood was not fully developed and had quite a bit of open land. 

On 8 May 1946, Alice Miller discovered a Bachman's Sparrow (Peucaea aestivalis) across the street from her home. It was a singing male, and present until 13 May when it was procured as a specimen by Ralph O'Reilly. This specimen is now in the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology (a photo can be seen here).

This was the second record of this southeastern sparrow for Michigan, the first being one taken as a specimen in Erie Township, Monroe County on 29 April 1944. According to The Birds of Michigan and other sources, there were only a few additional sightings: one in Ann Arbor (Washtenaw Co.) 23-24 April 1948; one in Livingston Co. on 27 July 1954; and one in Macomb Co. on 26 April 1964.

Miller wrote a full account of this sighting, with some background on vagrancy in this species, in the Jack-Pine Warbler; following that article is a short note by O'Reilly on both individuals. You can read the PDF here.

Bachman's Sparrow in North Carolina. Photo used under a
Creative Commons Public Domain license.

Friday, January 25, 2019

European Goldfinches and other cage birds in the Western Great Lakes

European Goldfinches in Kenosha, WI, April 2016
Photo by Darrin O'Brien
I have posted an updated page on European Goldfinches and other non-native cage birds in the western Great Lakes. I am still collecting follow-up data while the Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas is in its final year of surveys; southeast Wisconsin and northeast Illinois are the "epicenters" of the breeding population of European Goldfinches. I'm working on a summary paper -- read all about the history, identification, and how to submit reports here.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Some post-closing updates

RRBO has closed, but I am still working on several RRBO-related projects, as well as continuing to do urban ecology research independently and providing expertise and service to the scientific community. So whether you are interested in Dearborn and southeast Michigan birds; urban ecology with a focus on birds, insects, and plants in the Midwest; and/or similar endeavors, I hope you continue to follow along here!

Here are some updates:

First, I was asked to work on helping finish a really interesting bird conservation project by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. My involvement was just about squared away when the government shutdown occurred. While I'm pretty sure the project will be completed one day, I have no idea when or how this will happen until after the government reopens, the people involved catch up on their work, and how their budgets shake out.

Meanwhile, I am in the process of bringing the Dearborn bird checklist up to date. There have been some taxonomy changes, and I will move any material from the RRBO website on rare or interesting birds here to Net Results, link to those items on the checklist, and publish it here. I've also been working on a substantially revised annotated checklist. More on that soon.

In April 2019, hosting for the RRBO website will be up for renewal. I pay for this hosting myself, and therefore I'm going to let it lapse. At that time, the RRBO website will be no more, and the URL will point here. I have been and will be moving some material over here to the blog, including the entire section on European cage birds that have become established in the western Great Lakes. This is research I'm continuing, and I plan on publishing another paper. I'll be posting this section shortly.

Recently, a new paper came out that drew upon data I provided. "Species interactions limit the occurrence of urban-adapted birds in cities" was published in the journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States). You can read a news story about it here. I have always strongly believed in sharing data, so even when I have not had the chance to use it in my own publications, I've been  happy to contribute to the projects of others.

Finally, I also still post pretty regularly to the RRBO Facebook page, so feel free to engage there.