Friday, September 7, 2012

August banding

Fall banding 2012 started on August 17. As I suspected, things have been slow. The very hot, dry summer seems to have resulted in low reproductive productivity for our most common local breeding bird species, such as American Robins. It's just difficult for them to find ground-dwelling invertebrates to feed their young when it is so dry.

Rather than just summarize numbers this fall banding season, I'd like to focus more on one of our current research projects: the fall diet of birds. As regular followers know, RRBO's research focus is on the fall stopover ecology of migrant birds, in particular what kinds of fruit birds are eating in this urban forest patch. We do this by collecting seeds passed by the birds that we band when they poop in the bags we transport them in. This is the 6th year we have collected samples from Catharus thrushes (Swainson's, Gray-cheeked, and Hermit), and the 4th year we have done expanded sampling on all bird species.

Through 2011, we have collected samples from over 1,000 birds of 17 species. Of the nearly 6,400 individual seeds in these samples, only nine have gone unidentified (I'll describe in detail in a future post how we identify all the seeds). Twenty plant taxa are represented in the samples, and most seeds have been identified to species. Thus, we have a great picture of which species of fruit are being eaten by birds.

Pokeweed fruit.
In August, we collected samples from 18 birds. Pokeweed was the most common seed, showing up in 11 samples. We had our first ever sample of poison ivy from a catbird. Usually, this is consumed by woodpeckers or Yellow-rumped Warblers, and nearly always in October. Like quite a few plant species, poison ivy seems to have flowered (and thus set fruit) earlier this season. Other plants may have budded or flowered early (given the long stretch of hot weather in March), then failed to fruit either due to frost in April, or because of the long dry period in summer. We have virtually no crop of wild grapes or relatives such as woodbine/Virginia Creeper. A number of other shrubs that are staples in the diets of fall birds here are ripening late; some portion of shrubs did not set fruit at all.

Poison ivy flowers

Our data for this hot, dry growing season should be an interesting contrast to last year's exceptionally wet summer and add substantially to our picture of what birds eat during fall in an urban natural area.

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