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Tag Archive | "National Audubon"

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.

 

 

 

Posted in Featured, OutdoorsComments Off

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.

 

Posted in Ranger Steve's Nature NicheComments Off


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