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 Dearborn. 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. In another rare bird report they completed, they noted the bird at the feeder was so close to their kitchen window that they couldn't use binoculars, so it was seen well. 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. (The description was not considered credible, however, by the state record keepers.)

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.

The neighborhood where Alice lived (and the surrounding area) were far less developed than today, of course. Below is an image from 1949. Her house is marked 1, Dearborn Country Club 2, and major roads marked.

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.