Saturday, August 25, 2018

Help Birds on Their Migratory Journey


by Anna Autilio
Lead, Environmental Educator

In 2018, we mark the centennial of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the most powerful and important bird-protection law ever passed. In honor of this milestone, nature lovers around the world are joining forces to celebrate 2018 as the “Year of the Bird.” September’s call to action is to help birds along on their migratory journey, discovering small ways changing our habits can make a big difference for birds…

Each year around this time, our Broad-winged Hawk ambassador, Northfield, gets fidgety. Soon the other birds begin to catch it—Bridport the Rough-legged Hawk, too, seemingly develops ants in her famous rough-legged “pants”. They are experiencing a feeling that English doesn’t have a word for, but German ornithologists termed zugunruhe, or “migratory restlessness”.

Migration is a phenomenon that was long poorly understood. Migration is defined as the seasonal, directed movements of organisms back and forth between where they raise their young, and where they spend the winter. Many species of animals migrate, and the reasons they undertake these arduous, sometimes multiple 1,000-mile journeys are varied. Seeking warmer temperatures, more plentiful food, reduced disease exposure and competition, migratory birds rely on multiple habitats spread across a wide geographic range in order to survive to breed every year.

A new field within conservation biology studies “migratory connectivity” looking at the demands of a single migratory species for these diverse habitats, and aims to bring communities and countries together under the common cause of protecting land for birds. As an example, although birds of prey are protected by law in the United States, they are often not in the countries they inhabit in the winter months, in Central and South America.

How can we here in Vermont help birds on their journey? Here are a few easy actions we can all take to ensure the safety of these creatures while they pass through our woods:

1.       Opt for shade-grown coffee and chocolate. This action supports the cultivation of habitats that are safe for birds in Central and South America, and encourages others to adopt sustainable farming practices.
2.       Avoid using chemicals outdoors. Pesticides and rodenticides are leading killers of many migratory birds, an accidental side effect of our efforts. Try snap-traps instead, or biodegradable solutions.
3.       Turn off the lights at night. Some migrating birds navigate using starlight, and can become disoriented and thrown off course by artificial lights.
4.       Keep cats indoors. Domestic cats kill over 3 billion birds per year. It is safer for birds, and safer for cats, to be kept indoors where they don’t run the risk of catching disease, or becoming injured.
5.       Prevent window collisions. The second leading cause of bird deaths year-round is collisions with windows or buildings. You can make windows easier to see and avoid by sticking up UV-reflective decals (available at the VINS Nature Store!) or hanging soft screens over the glass.
6.       Plant native grasses, flowers, shrubs, and trees. In this way you will be providing food and shelter for migratory birds that stop by your yard.
7.       Keep bird feeders and bird baths clean. Don’t simply refill them—take them in for a good scrub whenever they get empty. This will prevent the spread of diseases between bird populations that cycle through your yard.

Let us know what actions you are taking to help birds this fall!

Friday, August 17, 2018

NestWatch 2018 Report

by Anna Autilio
Lead, Environmental Educator

Nestling Eastern Bluebirds
Another season of nesting birds at the VINS Nature Center is behind us, and the world is full of young fledglings learning to make their way in the wide open world. It was quite a busy summer here, between the rush of baby birds needing care at the Center for Wild Bird Rehabilitation, and the wild birds being raised by their wild parents right next door in our meadow nest boxes (and under the eaves of our buildings!)

Eastern Bluebird eggs
Through the citizen science project NestWatch, run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the staff at VINS spent a little time each week checking on some 30 nest sites, observing the hard-to-reach ones with a bent mirror on the end of a broomstick. We collected data on the number of eggs, the ages of the hatchlings, and the behavior of the parents and reported this information to the NestWatch website. There, Cornell scientists pool our data with others from thousands of other NestWatch volunteers all across the country to learn more about breeding bird distribution and abundance.

American Robin eggs

Here's a brief summary of the 2018 Season at VINS:

Number of nesting attempts monitored: 19
Number of species nesting at VINS: 6
Number of eggs laid, total: 72
Number of young hatched, total: 58
Number of young fledged, total: 48
Number of fledglings per nesting attempt, average: 2.5

Nestling Eastern Bluebird
The six species nesting here were the expected resident Tree Swallows, American Robins, and Eastern Phoebes, but we also had a family of Black-capped Chickadees take up residence in a nest box, a Red-eyed Vireo build a tiny, delicate nest in an oak tree behind the Bald Eagle exhibit, and an Eastern Bluebird family, the first in several years, fledge 5 young out of one of our nest boxes in two separate nesting attempts, a phenomenon called “double-clutching”.

Our Eastern Bluebird nest was actually one of only 10 monitored in Vermont this year, and our Black-capped Chickadees were one of 5 monitored. Do you know of a nest near you? Join the effort! You can participate in NestWatch too! It’s free and help contribute to real science. Check out nestwatch.org and create your free account. You’ll learn how to safely monitor nests in your yard, and hopefully join other NestWatchers all across the country next year!