A key component to bird studies is bird banding, in which each bird has a band with a unique number placed on the bird. Sometimes, larger birds will also have colored bands placed on them which allows the individual to be recognized without recapturing them. This allows changes in populations, dispersal, survival and migratory movements to be studied. Banding birds also gives insight into natural history, particularly, on body conditions during taxing periods of their life cycle like breeding and migration. As part of my undergraduate studies, my class did an activity on bird banding at my professor’s house. Since he is a master bander we were able to sample birds in mist nets.
The study was conducted on November 21st, 2013 at Dr. Beaudry’s house in Alfred, New York from 9:15 am to 11:00 am. Mist nets (which are large thin nets that birds can’t see in flight and therefore fly into and get caught) were set up near feeders and the collected birds had data recorded about their body and they were banded and released. Data collected included age, sex, wing length, weight, and furcular fat score.
In total there were 16 birds captured from 4 species; Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus), White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis), American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis), and Purple Finch (Haemorhous purpureus). The details of each individual are recorded below (table 1).
*disclaimer*This post is based on a paper I wrote for an animal nutrition class, so it’s a bit long.
Parrots are primarily found in the tropics and often are associated with tropical paradise imagery. There are over 350 species in the order Psittaciformes, which are commonly referred to as parrots. This order is divided into 2 families (Koutsos 2001), Cacatuidae and Psittacidae. Cacatuidae contains cockatoos, cockatiels and corellas. Psittacidae contains lores, lorikeets, parrots, macaws, parakeets, rosellas, and love birds. Psittaciformes are some of the most common birds kept in captivity due to their high level of intelligence and distinctive physical form. A large number of zoos have parrot collections, and at large pet store retailers they are available as companion animals. Unlike other birds, they are not used for commercial use of their eggs, meat, or feathers. Therefore only the maintenance values are important in the feed formulation of these birds.
All of these parrots have specialized nutritional needs. As a result, most common cause of vet visits is improper diet (Torregrossa 2005). Therefore this paper will focus on the basic nutritional needs of parrots. Similar to horses, these diets have become adapted to human needs, and thus is not reflective of parrots in the wild. In the wild parrots eat roughly 70 percent seeds (Gilardi 2012) but their diets range from nectarivores to granivores (Matson 2006). Renton (2001) also observed a high flexibility in the diet of wild parrots. Pullianen (1972) found that birds do not select the foods based on their nutritional needs. Because these diets are so varied it is hard to produce a feed that meets the nutritional needs of all parrots.
I attended a lecture by Dr. Susan Smith on her research related to migrating birds and berry nutrition. Migratory birds spend up to four months a year in the process of migration. These migrations are to wintering grounds and breeding grounds. During these trips, physiological demands are much greater. These trips require very large energy reserves. 79 percent of these reserves come from fats.
These stores of energy are depleted and then restored at migratory stopovers. At these sites, refueling occurs. This must be rapidly done due to time constraints (must get to wintering ground before winter). Bird’s diets change during migration to be able to rapidly refuel. Birds eat large amounts of fruit. The benefits of eating fruit in place of their normal diet are fruit is high in fat and fruit is easier to hunt. There are limits birds have to eating fruit. One type of limitations are digestive. Bird’s digestive systems can only handle a certain amount of seed load. Also, some fruits contain a certain amount of toxins and the system can handle only so much. Other limitations are nutritional.
Fruit varies in energy and protein content. Some contain up to 40 percent fat, most of these include native species. As fat content increases, energy density also increases. A hermit thrush (Catharus guttatus) (that on average weighs 31.2 grams) would have to eat 18.8 grams of bayberry (Myrica sp.) (high in fat) or 90.7 grams of pokeweed (Phytolacca decandra) to fill the daily energy needs. Eating this much pokeweed is clearly not possible.
One of Dr. Smith’s studies tried to see if birds prefer certain fruits during autumn migration time. Nets were placed around berry bushes and the amount that natural falls off was measured. The nets were removed and the amount of berries eaten during different times of the year was measured. The amount of arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum) (high in fat) eaten increased during migration, were as the amount of chokeberry (Aronia sp.) (low in fat) eaten stayed the same.
Another study was done by Dr. Smith using the plasma metabolic profile (blood samples). These samples provide information on metabolic fuel use and energetic condition. Lipid metabolites indicate how mass has changed over the last several hours (showing refueling). Other metabolites provide more information. Plasma was also sampled at two different stopover sites to compare them.
These sits were the Braddock Bay Bird Observatory and Rochester Institute of Technology Bird Observatory. At Bradock Bay Bird Observatory there was 200% more ripe fruit and this was 83% native berries (tend to be higher energy). At Rochester Institute of Technology, there were only 10% native berries. Birds were sampled the same day and same time at these locations. It was found that at Braddock Bay Bird Observatory those birds had higher triglyceride levels. This proves that fruit is helpful in birds refueling.
Dr. Smith hopes to continue in researching the effects of fruit on birds. One study she wants to do is compare seasonal and site differences in fruits nutritional content. She also wants to look at if the bushes that provide fruit provide a year round value (such as a place to nest in or find insects). She wants to develop fruit fingers prints (light that comes off fruit when you shine a fluorescent light on it). This can be used to quickly tell if a fruit has high or low nutrients. Lastly, Dr. Smith wants to see if invasive species are so integrated into the system that removing then would cause harm to bird by removing a food source.
Unlike other species, passenger pigeons (Ectopistes migratorius) faced a recent extinction. This extinction took place at the turn of the 20th century, the last individual died in captivity in 1914. Based on morphology it was assumed that they belonged in the genus Zenaida (Fulton 2012). This genus consists of mourning doves. When the mitochondrial DNA was analyzed it was found that they are more closely related to Patagioenas which are the New World pigeons. They used mitochondrial DNA because there is a high number of copies of this DNA in the cells when you compare this to the 2 copies of DNA that are in the nucleus. For this reason, it is common to use this for the analysis of ancient DNA.
The Brown Headed cowbird (Molothrus ater) is a parasitic bird of North America. They used to follow the bison around and consume the insects associated with them. With the expansion of cattle in North American, the brown-headed cowbird populations have also expanded which has raised some interesting questions. Female cowbirds lay their eggs in the nests of other birds and allow those birds to raise their young. This type of parasitism is called brood parasitism. Because the cowbird is typically larger than these birds their young die in the process of raising the cowbird. Because the cowbird was not tied to a nest this allowed them to follow the bison which was a food rich source. It is unknown if they evolve this strategy to follow bison or were able to follow bison because of this strategy. They also are able to produce more eggs in a season than a typical bird, up to 3 dozen. Bird populations of the birds they parasitize have suffered as a result of this and efforts have been made to try to reduce this. Using feed designed for small birds, not spreading seed on the ground, and avoid feeding sunflower seeds, cracked corn, and millet will reduce the number of cowbirds in your area. It is important to note that the birds are covered by the Migratory Bird Act so it is illegal to remove their eggs from a nest or harm them in any other way without a permit. In some states, if they threaten an endangered species you can obtain a permit to trap the birds.
Many birds, more specifically passerines (order Passeriformes), rely on different sources of calcium for skeletal growth and store calcium in their bodies, a necessity for their ability to form strong eggs during the eggshell formation process. Near human settlements birds and in areas with high qualities soils, birds tend to have more access to the calcium that they need. Because of the importance of calcium passerines often ingest snail shells in areas in which the soil is calcium deficient. The most common source of calcium is snail shells followed by calcareous grit, bones, eggshells, and other sources. Soil can be calcium deficient can be caused by acid precipitation which removes calcium from the soil. Most passerines are unable to ingest their much-needed amounts of calcium due to the scare amounts of nutrients in the habitats that they live in. This results in the development of thin fragile eggs that are unable to hatch thus affecting the bird population in various habitats.
Recently I had the joy of going birding with a local group in a small park in Brookhaven, Georgia. We saw over 33 species.
I was surprised that members of the group were excited to see double-crested cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus). There is a common misconception about them that I have heard mostly due to the increase in their population, particularly on Lake Champlain in Vermont, where I grew up. When DDT was banned in 1972, it opened the door for the cormorant population to expand and it did. On Lake Champlain, the populations went from one breeding pair in 1981 to over 4,500 breeding pairs. Cormorants are piscivorous, meaning that they consume fish. Their population growth raised concerns with fisherman, one of which who told me that cormorants are an invasive species. To further this belief, the state of Vermont in 1999 began to oil the eggs of the birds. This prevents gas exchange and kills the birds in the eggs. The birds prefer to eat fish that are between 3 to 6 inches. On Lake Champlain, it has been shown that most of their diet is yellow perch (Perca flavescens) and alewives (Alosa pseudoharengus). Rarely are trout and salmon found in their stomachs, except when the fish are released annually into the lake from fish stocking facilities.
We also saw 17 tufted titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor), which I learned to identify by their classic peter-peter-peter call. They are year-round residents of this area and in most of the Eastern United States. They often flock with chickadees, nuthatches, and woodpeckers. Flocking means that predators are less likely to capture one as more birds are on the lookout for them. Food gathering efficiency is also increased by flocking behavior. In addition, there is reduced inter-species aggression which reduces competition. If you would like to attract tufted titmouse to your property they visit bird feeders and also benefit from nesting boxes. It is important to place a guard around nesting boxes to protect from predators and to place the boxes up well before breeding season.