Powdermill Bird Banding
UPDATES for November 9 - 21
Fifteen of 357 birds banded over
these two weeks were Northern Saw-whet Owls! Our total, now at 19,
is (by far) Powdermill's highest fall total ever for this species.
NSWO, along with other northern owl species (Boreal Owls, Northern Hawk
Owls, Great Gray Owls, and Snowy Owls) have been making a push south this
fall in huge numbers. The other species of owls, however, tend to
have a fairly regular 4-year irruption cycle resulting from peaks in the
northern rodent population cycle that stimulate high chick production and,
consequently, crowded owl territories in the north. Saw-whets usually
show a different pattern, peaking every other year.
Although this year was supposed
to be a "down" year, banders across the east are reporting record numbers
of them. The explanation...nobody's sure. There is some speculation,
though. Adult captures are far outnumbering hatching year birds this
year (14 vs. 7 at Powdermill) and banders are also seeing some intersting
molt patterns on many of the adults, evidence of physiological stress in
the form of delayed or suspended flight feather molt. Scott Weidensaul,
a leading expert in ornithology and author of the acclaimed Living on
the Wind, recently posited on the the popular Pennsylvania birding
listserv, "we're seeing a population under unusual stress from prolonged
food shortages, in which there was virtually no reproduction this summer,
and the decent flight is solely the result of desperate owls coming south
in search of food."
The three owls pictured above were caught on Tuesday,
9. Excitingly, one was actually a foreign retrap! (photo below)--a
hatching year female banded nearly a month earlier on 10/12/04 by David
Hauber in NC PA. Perhaps this fairly slow pace of migration (ca.
140 miles in 28 days or 5 miles per day) supports Scott's contention that
the saw-whets moving south this year were in comparatively poor condition.
By the time they reached Powdermil, however, apparently most saw-whets
had begun to find the food they were searching for, because the owls we
have banded or recaptured have mostly had moderate fat deposits.
We have had repeat captures of birds that we banded this fall that also
suggest the birds are not moving steadily southward--one was caught within
a quarter mile south of its original capture location a week later, and
another was recaptured about a mile north of its original capture location
within a few days.
Wednesday, November 10:
We resumed normal banding operations bright and early, despite being up
late banding owls the night before, and caught this hatching year American
Robin with a surprising amount of retained juvenal plumage. Its wing
molt was very unextensive (bottom photo) with only a few lesser coverts
having molted (this species usually molts all lesser and median coverts,
some number of greater coverts and often even some secondaries)!
It still had juvenal nape feathers and even some juvenal (spotted) breast
feathers. We estimate that this bird actually may have hatched as
late as September.
Also on Wed., we recaptured this
Blue Jay, one of the most pristine and handsome individuals we've handled
in a while. It's simply an understatement to say the picture below
just doesn't do justice to this bird's extraordinarily deep purplish blue
feathering. Originally banded as an adult on December 4, 2001, this
bird is now, at least, four years old.
Saturday, November 13: five
of the 15 Northern Saw-whet Owls were added to this period's total and
we just couldn't resist one more picture. NSWO are typically pretty
docile in the hand, but the photo below of our Saw-whet
Owl sawing logs
gives new meaning to this person-owl-ity trait.
Monday, November 15: We
banded our second Rufous Hummingbird this fall! After having heard
reports for a couple weeks of a Rufous visiting a feeder near Erie, we
finally arranged to travel north to East Springfield in Erie County.
Once there, we were greeted by homeowner, Arla Parmerter, along with visiting
Pittsburgh birder, Carlton Schooley, and, within minutes, by the visiting
"guest of honor," the adult male Rufous Hummingbird in the photo below.
Mrs. Parmerter told us the hummingbird had first arrived
at her house on October 20th and since then had attracted a lot of attention
from people all over the state. In the photo below, Bob Mulvihill
tells Mrs. Parmerter and Carlton how banding N-43573 can contribute to
the study of these interesting birds. By adding one more individual
to the population of banded Rufous Hummingbirds migrating or wintering
in the eastern U.S., there always is the possibility that it may be seen
and captured by one of many in the network of banders involved in the Hummer/Bird
Study Group (or return to Arla's house next year!) and that we will learn
an important new piece of information about the species' survival and movements.
N-43573 was weighed (3.5g), measured, and molt data was
taken. Interestingly, like the bird we banded in late September of
this year, he was molting his primaries and secondaries, his outermost
5 retained primaries (yet to be dropped) showing extreme wear.
To Mrs. Parmerter, who's bird-friendly backyard provided
the oasis for this tiny traveler, went the honor of releasing N-43573.
Tuesday, November 16:
Normal banding operations were underway at Powdermill when we received
a phone call around nine o’clock from Mr. Gordon Hollingsworth of Brush
Valley, Indiana County (about 20 miles north of Powdermill). He thought
he’d been seeing a hummingbird in his yard for a week or more but wasn't
sure he believed his eyes, or at least that anyone else would believe his
eyes! When he told his brother, his brother remembered having read
an article we published in the local paper a few weeks before in which
we specifically requested that anyone who saw a late hummingbird call the
Powdermill banding lab right away! That’s just what Gordy did, and
we hurriedly closed nets, banded what birds we had, and headed straight
for Brush Valley. Could it be....two Rufous Hummingbirds in two days?!
By 11:30 that morning, proof that Gordy had not been
seeing things was in hand--this time an adult female. We banded her
with number N-43574, she weighed a hefty 3.8g and also was undergoing molt,
although at a much more completed stage than the adult male and not showing
the extreme wear of her unmolted feathers that the male showed.
In the photo below, homeowner, Gordy Hollingsworth (left)
and neighbor Charlie Stern (right) pose for a quick picture with N-43574
(hummingbirds usually will lie still on their backs for a photo like this
until they're rolled over) before sending her on her way.
We are sincerely grateful for the hospitality of hummingbird
hosts, Arla Parmerter and Gordy Hollingsworth, who’s simple act led to
the capture, documentation, banding, and release of what may prove to be
two more important pieces of the scientific puzzle of non-tropical wintering
hummingbirds in the eastern U.S.
Wednesday, November 17:
We banded the first Common Grackle of the season, this adult male who blinked
at just the right time in the photo below left to dramatically show the
bird's third eyelid, called the nictitating membrane. This membrane
is a thin transparent lid that serves the function to clean and moisten
the eye but without shutting out light. It is especially useful when
birds are flying, preventing their eyes from drying out from exposure to
drying air currents or being damaged by airborne particles.
Like the Blue Jay above, they just don't get much better
looking than this "Bronzed" grackle (the expected subspecies west of the
Alleghenies), and he knows it!
We caught our first Carolina Chickadee for the year on
November 18, a recaptured adult of unknown
sex. Number 2200-48166, this is your life!
You were first banded on December
3, 2000 as an After Hatching Year (AHY) bird,
making you at least five years
It was a little over a month before
we saw you again on January 12, 2001.
Throughout that winter, you proved
to be a trap happy individual, getting captured
9 more times.
Your latest spring capture was March
27, 2001 and your second earliest fall capture
(next to this year) was November
20, 2001 (at your lightest weight of 9.4g).
You were captured three more times
in 2002, your last being on March 21 when
you were at your heaviest (10.5g
and with a maximum fat load of three), and many, many times in the winters
of 2002-03 and 2003-04.
So, where do you go to spend your
summers?? Until we meet again...
Finally, we thank Mike Comley, Pam
Ferkett, Randi Gerrish, Felicity Newell, and Powdermill's Director,
Smith, for their help during this banding period.
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Last Updated on 11/27/04
By Adrienne J. Leppold
and Robert Mulvihill