Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Banded Black-crowned Night-heron

Dearborn has an interesting winter roost of Black-crowned Night-herons (Nycticorax nycticorax) at a pond near the Rouge River inside the Ford Rouge Plant complex (scroll down in this post for a map and description). Access to this site is restricted, but Mike O'Leary as a former Dearborn police officer and current Ford employee has been able to periodically survey birds, and consequently the night-herons get counted at least once a year on January 1, the day of the local Christmas Bird Count. They were first recorded on the count in the 1980s, and then were nearly annual beginning in 2003. Peak numbers occurred around 2006-2009, when over 30 were found each year. Numbers have averaged much lower in recent years, often around a dozen. They can be very hard to see tucked into the Phragmites and other vegetation, not moving because as their name indicates, they are not really active during the day.

On 23 December 2020, Mike was scounting for the upcoming count when he tallied 8 night-herons at the ugly pond. It wasn't until he was looking over his photographs that he noticed one preening (or sleeping) bird was standing on one leg, and the other leg sported a color marker! When he sent me the photo, I immediately knew this wasn't a new marker, because the letters should have been dark black on a bright yellow band (example here). 

The invisible leg would be the one with the standard USFWS metal band with its identifying 9-digit number. However, there is a way to report just a color marker at the federal Bird Banding Lab website, which Mike did immediately.

Black-crowned Night-heron in Dearborn, MI. Inset shows color marker.

Mike received a prompt response that the bird had originally been banded as an adult of unknown sex on 29 May 2014 under the banding permit of colonial waterbird expert Dr. Francie Cuthbert at the Detroit Zoo in Royal Oak, MI.

The Zoo has had a colony of nesting Black-crowned Night-herons since around 1997, when the first juveniles were found there by Doris Applebaum; this was the first documented breeding of this species in Oakland County. At least 6 nests were found the following year. In recent years the Zoo has had as many as 50 pairs. This is one of the significant colonies in the Great Lakes and I believe the largest inland colony in Michigan (see a map of colonies on page 12 of this Audubon Great Lakes waterbird report). These birds have been banded and/or color-marked for a number of years.

Once again, Mike comes through with a great, interesting bird find in Dearborn!


Applebaum, D. 1998. Oakland County nesting of Black-crowned Night-Herons. Michigan Birds and Natural History 5(1):12.

Applebaum, D. 1999. Follow-up on Black-crowned Night-Herons at the Detroit Zoo. Michigan Birds and Natural History 6(1):20-21.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

New Dearborn species: American White Pelican

Many years ago, a group of Dearborn birders and RRBO banders submitted lists of the five bird species they thought might be the next to land on the Dearborn bird checklist*. I don't even need to dig it out to know that American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) was not on that list.

On the evening of 16 October 2020, Mike O'Leary happened to be outside when 12 pelicans flew south over his yard. The Dearborn checklist now is now 266 species (which includes two extirpated and two hypothetical species).

Perhaps if we were compiling that list today, one of us might have thought to add pelican. This species has undergone a remarkable expansion in the Great Lakes over the past decade or so. Take a look at these two maps from eBird, showing reports from southern Michigan. The first map has all the sightings from 1900-2000 and the second just the past 20 years (with the caveat that eBird only launched in 2002, although many historical sightings have been added). 

The expansion of breeding populations is well-documented in the two best small society journals in this region: the Passenger Pigeon, the journal of the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology (2014 article here); and Ontario Birds, the journal of the Ontario Field Ornithologists (2019 article here, and summarized in this article). 

Keep looking up! 


*As a reminder, you can download the most recent (2019) annotated Dearborn checklist for $5. Applicable for most species for all of southeast Michigan, it gives residency status, relative abundance, and dates of occurrence for over 260 species. You can read the details about how the data were collected and what is presented in this blog post.

You can go to the download page here. You will find the 2019 version as well as the 2007 version, which contains maps, some photos and illustrations, and other material. A description for each is available by clicking on the titles; there is also an option to purchase both for a discounted price.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Common Gallinule in Dearborn

Common Gallinule (Gallinula galeata, formerly Common Moorhen, G. chloropus) is a wetland bird seen only once in Dearborn, along the Rouge River on the University of Michigan-Dearborn campus on 15 May 1983 by Jim Fowler, Jr.

On 3 May 2020, Mike O'Leary got a phone call from a friend about a strange bird in his west Dearborn back yard. Lo and behold, a gallinule:

This yard is in a dense residential area, a small space with no pond, or any type of wetland for a significant distance. It's not too unusual for birds in the rail family to land in wildly inappropriate habitat during migration. This bird appeared healthy and was able to fly, and was gone by the next day. This species is currently designated as Threatened in the state of Michigan. I am the chair of the state technical committee which reviews and develops the endangered and threatened species list, and based on recent data, we will be recommending it retain this status for the next list update.

As a reminder, you can download the most recent (2019) annotated Dearborn checklist for $5. Applicable for most species for all of southeast Michigan, it gives residency status, relative abundance, and dates of occurrence for over 260 species. You can read the details about how the data were collected and what is presented in this blog post.

You can go to the download page here. You will find the 2019 version as well as the 2007 version, which contains maps, some photos and illustrations, and other material. A description for each is available by clicking on the titles; there is also an option to purchase both for a discounted price.

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 over 260 bird 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.