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Tag Archive | "Christmas bird count"

Common Grackle may no longer be common


 Photo by Phil Hauck.

Photo by Phil Hauck.

Prior to European settlement the Common Grackle was likely not common. It wasn’t until settlers started clearing land for agricultural uses that the species start expanding, and rapidly. By 1974, the species global population had reached 190 million individuals (National Audubon).

The Common Grackle is part of the blackbird family and if you live in an urban area chances are you have seen one or an entire flock. This grackle looks black from a distance but up close they display a glossy purple head, a bronzy-iridescent body and bright golden eyes. In Michigan, they prefer larger cities including Detroit, Lansing, Jackson, Grand Rapids, Gaylord, Clare and Sault Ste. Marie. The species is most often found in open to partially open areas with scattered trees, usually along forest edges. The Common Grackle particularly prefers human-altered habitats.

Although once widespread, the species has witnessed a 61 percent decline in population numbers since 1974, making the current global population roughly 73 million individuals (National Audubon). In Michigan, the decline is not as drastic, with a 2.5 percent decrease annually from 1988 to 2008 (Michigan Breeding Bird Atlas I & II). Partners in Flight estimates that in the state the Common Grackle population is around 1.6 million individuals, making it one of the more common birds in Michigan.

Its commonality along with its current population decline has landed the Common Grackle on National Audubon’s list of “Top 20 Common Birds in Decline”. The species decline is due to two different elements.

Common Grackles often roost in large numbers around agricultural food sources such as corn, soybeans and cherries, which has caused the species to be considered an agricultural pest allowing it to be legal to eliminate the bird in some areas. According to the Michigan Breeding Bird Atlas the depredation order, “allows the control of Common Grackles in agricultural situations when found committing or about to commit depredations upon ornamental or shade trees, agricultural crops, livestock, or wildlife, or when concentrated in such numbers and manner as to constitute a health hazard or other nuisance.” (Depredation 2008). When grackles roost at the same site for several consecutive years the site has a chance of harboring the fungus, Histoplasma capsulatum, which can be fatal in humans because it causes histoplasmosis, an infection of the lungs.

The second reason for the population decline is due to the bird’s shrinking habitat. In the late 1800’s and into the 1900’s land was being cleared at an astonishing pace, opening up an abundance of habitat for the grackle. Now with reforestation in full swing, the Common Grackle is witnessing a large, quick habitat loss.

To help the Common Grackle improve its population numbers check into the federal, state and local regulations on agricultural pests. If you live in an area with large numbers of blackbirds investigate what the protocol is regarding blackbird control and then contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or your state wildlife office; if permits have been issued report the information to the stateofthebirds@audubon.org.

Additionally, participating in bird surveys such as the Christmas Bird Count, Great Backyard Bird Count and the North American Breeding Bird Survey will help scientist get a better idea of the species overall population. Lastly, if you submit checklists to Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s citizen scientist project eBird, make sure to include all birds you observe, even the species you think are common, you never know when they will be in decline.

 

 

 

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Christmas Bird Count


Christmas-bird-countFifty-one participants observed 60 species of birds (Table 1) on the Kent County Bird Count. With the addition of a Snowy Owl, 4 species of owls were recorded this year. No additional bird species were reported during count week. Total individuals sighted were 8725.

Carolina Wrens were big news with 17 sighted. Until this year only 37 have been sighted since 1953. About one third of the wrens sighted in 60 years were sighted this year. Carolina Wrens have been expanding their range northward. Robins sporadically began appearing on the Christmas Count beginning in 1965 with one and by 1977 17 occurred. Their numbers varied from zero to 27 until 1998 when 228 stayed for winter. Numbers were fewer than 25 annually until 2002 when we reached at high count of 238. Robins have been yearly regulars since 1997 and this year reached 105.

Canada Geese were not observed until 1975 and have been present every year since. In the early part of the 20th century Aldo Leopold noted Canada Geese were headed for extinction. Thanks to groups like Audubon, Ducks Unlimited and Federally funded programs, Canada Geese decline was reversed along with that of many species. The Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act, Clear Air Act, and establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency have improved environmental health for people, birds and economy. The establishment of conservation reserve easements on private farmlands and establishment of National Wildlife Refuges have been significantly important.

Christmas bird counts across the continent help document seasonal abundance, population trends, and changes in distribution. Citizen science projects like this help provide data useful for scientists studying environmental quality and changes in things like climate. As always, you are encouraged to participate in the annual bird count.

Conditions were 100 percent sunny all day with temperatures between 25 and 44 F. A light southerly breeze blew. Snow depth was between 3 and 12 inches. Moving water was partly open and still water was frozen.

We totaled 84 hours in vehicles traveling 830 miles. On foot we spent 15 hours covering 22 miles. A total of 852 miles were on foot and driving. Total birding hours was 100 plus 5 hours owling for 26 miles. There were 18 birding groups in the morning and 13 in the afternoon.

I am grateful for the needed support from group leaders and many people that made the count a success.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433.

 

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Bird Opportunity


By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Join others for a last bird watching opportunity in 2013. Experienced birders will help you identify about 60 species on December 28, during the Christmas Bird Count sponsored by National Audubon, Michigan Audubon, and Grand Rapids Audubon Club.

This is my 27th year coordinating the Kent County event. It’s a time people enjoy seeing birds in their winter nature niches and celebrate the diversity of life that abounds around us. About 60 people gather and divide into small groups that venture to various areas within the count circle. Birds are counted in an area with a 7.5-mile radius surrounding the Honey Creek and Two Mile Roads intersection.

Some are surprised we annually find American Robins and Eastern Bluebirds. They are birds that stay provided berries are found in wetlands. More exciting are winter bird visitors that consider this area a southern wintering ground. Included are the Snowy Owl, Northern Saw-whet Owl, Snow Bunting, Purple Finch, and Common Redpoll. Other remaining here in winter that most of us do not notice are Great Blue Heron, Belted Kingfisher, and Song Sparrow. I saw a kingfisher here at Ody Brook along Little Cedar Creek last week.

Some winter migrants from the north have arrived indicating count day should be great. A Rough-legged Hawk flew over Ody Brook and I observed a Snow Owl west of here. Two Snow Bunting flocks made an appearance in farm fields.

The local Audubon Club hopes you join the free family activity for part or all day. Previous bird knowledge or experience is not necessary. Join experienced birders and carpool for a great birding experience. Meet at the Wittenbach/Wege Agri-science and Environmental Education Center (WWC) across the street from Lowell High School at 11715 Vergennes Rd on December 28. The WWC is a great facility to visit and see many live mounts of birds displayed or hike a trail. WWC is where I was director during the last years before retiring from fulltime work. I hold Federal and State permits to display birds through the Michigan Audubon Society at Howard Christensen Nature Center and WWC. Plan on visiting either facility if you want to learn identification, size, and postures for birds before count day.

We meet at 7:30 a.m. at WWC, organize into groups and are out birding by 8 a.m. Some people join for the morning and others stay for the day. A hot lunch will be provided for $5 or bring a brown bag lunch. Consider making a donation to support the National Christmas Bird Count. Money donated is sent to the National Audubon and is used to maintain the database for all bird sightings on the continent. Scientists as well as birders can view the data online. It is used to monitor population changes from year to year. This is the 116th year for the Audubon Count.

Come dressed in layers that can be removed or added as temperature changes. We are in and out of cars at many locations. Bring binoculars and bird books if you have them. People will share if you do not. It is best to call me ahead of time (616-696-1753) if you plan to participate but just showing up is fine. I can answer questions you might have about count day activities.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at the odybrook@chartermi.net Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433.

 

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Christmas bird count results


By Ranger Steve Mueller

The 2011 Christmas Bird Count for the Grand Rapids Audobon Club took place on December 31, 2011, at 2 Mile Rd NE and Honey Creek Avenue in Kent County. 62 participants observed 66 species of birds on count day. There were 59 counters in the morning and 32 in the afternoon. Four species of owls were recorded and that is up from zero last year. No additional bird species were added during count week. Table 1 lists the birds sighted for the count circle. Total individuals sighted were 13811.
A significant sighting was a Rufous Hummingbird. I received a call regarding the hummer presence while I was in Minnesota for family Christmas. I referred the call. Allen Chartier came and banded the bird before count day so we knew we had it for count week. Fortunately several of us were able to see it on count day.
Mark your calendars now for the December 29, 2012 count.
For more info, contact Ranger Steve at odybrook@chartermi.net or 616-696-1753.

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