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Pictorial Highlights, Spring 2016

March 1 - May 31, 2016

Cedar Waxwing This Spring we were able to band on
61 days over the three month period. We encountered 3,645 birds of 104 different species (2,301 new and 1,344 recaptures). Our top ten species of newly banded birds for the season were: Ruby-crowned Kinglet (365), Cedar Waxwing (261), Magnolia Warbler (226), Ruby-throated Hummingbird (91), Gray Catbird (77), American Goldfinch (66), Dark-eyed Junco (66), Nashville Warbler (57), White-throated Sparrow (53) and Yellow Warbler (52).

The Cedar Waxwing pictured here was an after-second-year male with very well-formed red tips on all secondaries as well as yellow tips on most of its primary flight feathers. We thought an individual so particularly handsome would be a good start for our pictorial highlights.






Song Sparrow This season, 588 of our captures were sparrows, almost evenly divided between new (297) and recaptures (291). They range across 11 species, including the juncos and towhees.

Our top three sparrow species were the Dark-eye Junco (66 new), White-throated Sparrow (53) and, pictured here, the Song Sparrow (49). We thought this adult from March 16th posed quite nicely.
Lincoln's SparrowLincoln's Sparrow Less common, this adult Lincoln's Sparrow banded on April 30 was one of just seven we banded this Spring.

This is a species that one might confuse with the Song Sparrow, so we've included them both here for a
comparison.

Note that although each has a streaked breast, the Lincoln's Sparrow has a buffy band across the breast. And although the head patterns are similar, the Lincoln's Sparrow has more gray at the nape.
 
Barn Swallows On April 21st we had an opportunity for a male/female comparison when we caught these Barn Swallows in the same net. They were two of 18 we would band this Spring, although these were the only two caught in April; the rest were caught between May 10 and 22. The female (right) has less intense coloring overall and more brown in the  forehead.
A comparison of the outstretched wings also shows more intense color in the male (top photo).










In addition to plumage variations, we can use the depth of the fork in the tail to help determine the sex of these individuals.

The difference between the longest rectrix (tail feather) and the shortest is 26-38mm for females; that measure-ment in males in above 35 mm. While some fall in the overlap, most can be sexed using the tail and plumage. 

In this photo, the male is on the left.
Barn Swallow Barn Swallows have short, fragile legs and cannot be held in our typical "photographer's" grasp, but this profile gives you a good look at the stream-lined body and long wings and tail that make birds of this species exceptionally adept fliers.
Baltimore Oriole Our second male/female comparison came on May 13 with these two Baltimore Orioles, a good comparison of two second-year birds (hatched last
summer), with the male on the right.

We re-caught the male on May 24; the only other oriole caught this season was an already banded after-second year female we banded on May 9, 2015.


 
Brown Creeper Uncommon captures for us this Spring included this Brown Creeper banded on March 17, one of three banded this season.

A closer look at two of the adaptations that make this bird so good at creeping along tree trunks... proportionally large toenails and a nice stiff pointy tail.
Eastern Kingbird This Eastern Kingbird banded on May 1st was our only kingbird this season,
Olive-sided Flycatcher as was this Olive-sided Flycatcher from May 17th.
We banded two Pileated Woodpeckers; this after-third-year female was from May 19th.
Not an uncommon capture (we banded 36 this season), this Red-eyed Vireo was unique nonetheless due to the pink color of its eye!
 
And of course, there were a few warblers in the mix-- we banded 712 to be exact, of 29 different species and
one hybrid (more on that individual later). Our top three warbler species were Magnolia Warbler (226), Nashville Warbler (57) and Yellow Warbler (52).

So, for your viewing pleasure, here are a few of our photogenic warblers (in alphabetical order), starting with this stunning adult male Bay-breasted Warbler, banded on May 14th, one of six this Spring.
Blackburnian Warbler A young (second-year) male Blackburnian Warbler from May 15th, the only one of this species in our nets
this season.
Blackpoll Warbler A gorgeous adult female Blackpoll Warbler, one of five; she was banded on May 17th.
Blackpoll Warbler Contrast that lovely lady with this young male of the same species; Blackpoll, second-year male, May
22nd.
The Blackpoll male had an interesting molt pattern. Typically young warblers will replace (in their first Fall) all greater coverts, the carpal covert and the first alula feather. This individual skipped
the four outer greater coverts, then replaced the carpal and first alula coverts. He also replaced the tertiary flight feathers (the three closest to the body).
Golden-winged Warbler This adult male Golden-winged Warbler, banded on May 8th, was quite a nice surprise-- this is a hit-or-miss species for us. Not surprisingly, it was the only one in our totals this Spring.
Northern Parula A lovely lady from April 26th, this adult   Northern Parula, was one of seven this season.
Prairie Warbler On that same date (4/26), we were treated to a look at this second-year male Prairie Warbler, one of two
we saw this season; the other, also a young male, was from May 8th.
Worm-eating Warbler Our only Spring Worm-eating Warbler from May 19th, a second-year (hatched last summer). They are always a popular and more rare addition to our totals.
Western Palm Warbler
This second-year male Western Palm Warbler, while quite handsome in his own right, was definitely showing some wear and fading in his flight feathers and coverts-- the brown, shabby edges are noticeable even in this closed-wing picture. An adult's wing, while still worn by Spring, would not show such extreme wear.
Lawrence's Warbler And lastly, that rare hybrid in the mix-- this adult male Lawrence's Warbler from April 27th. This hybridization occurs when a Golden-winged Warbler mates with a Blue-winged Warbler.

This individual was just the 12th Lawrence's Warbler banded at Powdermill in our 55 years of banding. Other recent captures were in 2001, 2006 and in 2014 we banded two. 

 
Virginia Rail Without a doubt, the real highlight of this season's "Pictorial Highlights" (and our season!) was this individual, captured on April 30th in a net behind Crisp Pond, the largest pond on property.

This Virginia Rail was the first one captured at Powdermill since April 18th, 1975 (!) and one of just FOUR caught here in 55 years of banding (the other two were also Spring captures, 1968 and 1971).

Rails are secretive birds that live and hide in dense marshy habitats. To help them navigate the marsh, rails are "compressed laterally" or narrow from shoulder to shoulder. This adaptation has given rise to the idiom "thin as a rail". In addition, the feathers on the forehead of the Virginia Rail are adapted
to withstand the wear they're sub-jected to as they push head first through the marsh.
As you can see from the pictures, rails also have long toes to help them stay above water in the deeper areas of the marsh. For this and many more reasons, rails are amazing and this individual was a thrill to have banded at Powdermill!
 
We had two interesting recaps this season. The first, a female Northern Cardinal encountered on April 20 this year was originally banded on April 24, 2005 as a second-year bird (hatched in 2004), making her almost 12 years old this Spring.

Since her first encounter at banding, she has stopped at Powdermill 19 more times, once or twice a year every year except 2013; in 2015 she was captured four times, in March, April, June and August. Over the past 10 years we have seen her at least once in every month except May and October.

The longevity record for a Northern Cardinal is 15 1/2 years, so she has a few years to beat that, but who knows...perhaps she will!


 
Our other recap of note was also a female, but of a species we recapture far less frequently- a Ruby Throated Hummingbird.

First banded as an after-hatch-year on June 15, 2011, this frequent flier has been in our nets four more times-- May 25, 2013; May 15 and 18 in 2014; and then May 15 this year. At six years old, she is also three years away from the longevity record (nine years, 2 months). Here's hoping! 

Pictured at left, a hummingbird band, so small that the customary nine-digit band number is reduced to five digits with a letter prefix.
Ruby-throated Hummingbird We received word this Spring from the National Banding Lab about another Ruby-throated hummingbird that we banded in 2014. That individual (a young male) was here on September 18 and then recaptured three weeks later (October 10) in Lake Jackson, Texas!

A journey of 1,425 miles in three weeks is pretty astounding when one con-siders that this male weighed in at just 3.5 grams, not much more than a penny (2.5 grams). His wings measured 42 mm (a little over 1.5").

The hummingbird's wing beat has been measured at 50 times per second. Now we're not sure exactly when he left our banding area or if he was caught the day he arrived in Texas, but if he used every day in the interval to fly south, he would have averaged 65 miles per day. Pretty impressive!

Once the data was collected in Texas, the bird was released and probably spent a few days fattening up for the next leg of its migration- a non-stop crossing of the Gulf of Mexico!
 
  Of course a bird's life is fraught with danger and we also get reports of birds that have perished and are reported to the National Banding Lab. We had two such reports this Spring.

One was a Gray Catbird whose flight  across the Gulf of Mexico was unsuc-cessful. Banded here last Fall, this individual was found on May 11th on an oil rig 171 miles SE of Galveston, Texas. The radar at 3:11 that morning shows a strong storm moving north-southeast which may have been enough to force this bird out to sea, depleting his fat resources before he could retake land. 
Common Grackle Our second report from the National Banding Lab was of a  juvenile Common Grackle banded here on October 15, 2011 (our only encounter with it); this individual was recovered 18 miles to the east of Powdermill in Stoystown, Somerset County.

While these reports are sad news of a bird's demise, they do provide valuable information about the flight pathways and stopover sites of our feathered friends. Should you find a banded bird, the information can be reported here.

[Photo is a second-year Common Grackle banded this Spring on May 13]
 
How quickly do birds migrate? It's a mystery that's plagued us for decades. Now, recent technological advances are letting us unravel those mysteries.

This Spring, we were able to attach tiny transmitters called "nanotags" to birds to see how long birds "stop over" and how quickly they move in migration. The nanotags are radio transmitters that weigh between 0.6 and 1.2 grams. 



We put out 47 transmitters on five species (Magnolia Warbler, American Redstart, Northern Waterthrush,
Swainson's Thrush, and Gray Catbird).

This research is part of a collaborative effort, led by Bird Studies Canada,  known as the Motus Wildlife Tracking System. "Motus" is the Latin word for "Movement." The use of nanotags will shed new light on the movement of migratory species across taxa including bats, insects, amphibians, reptiles and of course, birds.

Twelve of our tagged birds were detected en route on their northbound migration. One Swainson's Thrush (like the one pictured here with a nanotag) went 368 miles in 2 days; a Magnolia Warbler went 753 miles in eleven days. These are just a few of the data points that will help us to unravel the migration mystery.







We can track birds both on the ground and with automatic receiving stations. Seen here, Luke DeGroote, our Avian Research Coordinator, secures the cables on our first Motus tower.

The detector attached to the tower will automatically record how long our "tagged" birds stay at Powdermill, and if/when any other researchers' "tagged" birds pass within approximately 10 miles of the tower.  

Visit the Motus Wildlife Tracking net-work website, to learn more.





 
In the middle of May we hosted two workshops-- one for Beginners (top photo, five participants) and another for more Advanced Banders (bottom, eight participants).

In spite of the fact that both sessions were plagued by rain, we were able to band 793 birds and process another 470 recaps over the two-week period.

Participants from as far as California to Massachusetts had the opportunity to learn new skills or improve their tech-niques in extracting from mist nets, and the identification, ageing and sexing of birds.

Of course we couldn't host this many workshoppers and carry out our normal banding without extra help. Many thanks to NABC trainers Annie Crary and Molly McDermott (standing, to the left of the sign in the photos from both workshops); and Jim and Debbie, our seasonal volunteers from Virginia (Advanced Workshop, kneeling in front).
 
Our Spring 2016 banding crew, from Left to Right: Eugene Hood (visiting 'ringer' from England), Lauren Horner (flight tunnel technician), Mary Shidel (Banding Assistant), Lauren Granger (seasonal Banding Assistant) and Luke Degroote (Avian Research Coordinator).

A big thanks to our 'regular' volunteers, who show up week after week and help us accomplish all that we do-- Andrea, Freya, Gigi, John, Mac, Nick, Phil, Rose and Zara. You guys are great!
And just one more photo highlight to share...

On May 17th, as Spring drew to a close, we banded this 'local' Eastern Phoebe, our first and only fledgling for the Spring season. It was one of ten phoebes we banded this season, our first arriving this year on March 16th.






 
 

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