Old Man Plover

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“Old Man Plover” (Image by Alice Van Zoeren via audubon.org)

Meet BO:X,g (pronounced box gee). He’s 15 years old, making him the oldest Piping Plover in the Great Lakes population. But BO:X,g is better known for his endearing nickname, “Old Man Plover”.

There are 3 populations of the Piping Plover in the United States: the Great Plains, the Atlantic Coast, and the Great Lakes. Plovers on the Atlantic Coast and Great Plains regions are considered federally threaten, while the Great Plains population is considered federally endangered. A strategy used to help keep track of threatened bird populations in banding. Each bird in the population has a unique combination of colored bands that researchers can use to identify individuals. Old Man Plover’s real “name”, BO:X,g, are the letters that are found on his leg bands.

Old Man Plover has lead a long and interesting life so far. Many Piping Plovers don’t live much longer than 5-years-old, so the fact that Old Man Plover is 15 an amazing feat. He was born in 2002 in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Seashore in Michigan. Old Man Plover is not the oldest current living Piping Plover (the oldest is 17 and lives in the Atlantic Coast population), but he has played a large role in the revival of his population.

Like many other Piping Plovers, Old Man Plover is loyal to not only his birthplace breeding grounds, but also his wintering grounds in Cape Romaine National Wildlife Refuge in South Carolina (where our American Oystercatcher friend, M3, from Cape May winters too). He is also very punctual; every year he’s arrives at Sleeping Bear Dunes on exactly April 13 to rendezvous with his current mate. His current mate is actually his 3rd. His first mate (referred to as his childhood sweetheart in the article I read haha!) died in 2002 and his second mate died in 2013.

Over the years, Old Man Plover has successfully fledged 36 chicks, averaging around 3 or 4 chicks per breeding season (as compared to the normal rate of 1.5). The biologists who study him believe he is well represented in his population. The Great Lakes population has been slowly increasing, but there is still a long way to go to get to the goal of 150 breeding pairs. As of last spring (2016), there were 75 breeding pairs in the region and 28 of them nested in Old Man Plover’s Sleeping Bear Dunes area.

There’s been some more great news recently about the Great Lakes Piping Plover population. Last year, Piping Plovers nested in Lower Green Bay, Wisconsin, for the first time in 75 years. It was also announced as of July 24, 2017, that two Piping Plover nests have been found along Lake Erie in Pennsylvania. This is the first time Piping Plovers have nested in Pennsylvania in 60 years.

Old Man Plover is an inspiration, not just to me, but to the people who want to help conserve vulnerable species. This cute little plover doesn’t even know it, but he has made such a positive impact on his population and is a symbol of hope. I firmly believe one of the keys of conservation is to educate yourself and others, so I wanted to share his story with you.

If you’d like to learn more about Old Man Plover, about the Piping Plover populations, or about what you can do to help check out the links below:

Meet Old Man Plover, the Pride of the Great Lakes by Meaghan Lee Callaghan on Audubon.org

Success! Piping Plovers Nested in Pennsylvania for the First Time in 60 Years by Andy McGlashen via Audubon.org

Piping Plover Fact Sheet, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Red-cockaded Woodpecker Wednesday

Last week we learned about the Nuttall’s Woodpecker, who is endemic (restricted to) to California. This week, we are heading to the opposite coast to learn about the Red-cockaded Woodpecker. The Red-cockaded Woodpecker has been on the Endangered Species List since 1970. Because of this, they are one of the best-studied woodpeckers in North America and are intensely managed.

Red-cockaded Woodpecker (Picoides borealis)

Description:

Red-cockaded Woodpeckers are medium-sized with short, straight bills. They are “zebra-backed” (like the Nuttall’s) and have bright white cheeks with black malar stripes. Males have a small red patch of feathers on the rear of their crown and above their cheeks. This is the “cockade” that this species is named for.(A cockade is a small ornament or ribbon worn on a hat). However, the cockade is almost invisible in the field, making it extremely difficult to distinguish the sexes. Juveniles are duller than adults.

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A male with his red “cockade” (Image via alabamabirdingtrails.com)

Range:

All the southeastern United States from Texas to North Carolina. Small populations in Oklahoma, Arkansas, and southeast Virginia. In John James Audubon’s time (mid-1800s) he considered the Red-cockaded abundant from New Jersey southward to Texas, but it’s range has been drastically diminished, about an 86% decrease between 1966 and 2014            (according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey).

Habitat:

Old-growth pine forests, particularly longleaf pine. In order to thrive Red-cockadeds need pine forests that are extensive, living, and maintained by fire to clear undergrowth every 1 to 5 years. Mature trees that have developed red-heart fungus are also important so it’s easier for the woodpeckers to excavate.

Diet:

Mainly arthropods and insects (50% being ants) and some fruits and seeds. They forage by finding insects on tree barks. Females tend to forage on the lower trunk and males on the upper trunk and limbs. Family groups usually forage together.

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A female Red-cockaded Woodpecer (Todd Engstrom/CLO via melletteforestry.com)

Breeding/Nesting:

Mating pairs can form throughout the year, but mainly in early spring. Red-cockaded Woodpeckers are monogamous, but sometimes switch their partner between breeding seasons. Courtship displays include “corkscrew” flights will rapid calls and flutter-flights. Like the Acorn Woodpecker, Red-cockaded are cooperative breeders, meaning offspring will stay and help raise the new young after they fledge.

They are the only North American woodpecker to nest almost exclusively in live trees. Females lay between 2-5 eggs and are incubated by the parents and helpers for about 10-11 days. The young fledge between 26-29 days. Even though they can feed themselves, the young are usually fed by the male or helpers for up to 5 months.

Sounds:

Very vocal. A beewr or peew that starts hoarse and gets clearer the more excited the bird gets. A sharp peet!

Conservation:

Before European settlement of North America, it’s estimated that there were between 920,000 and 1.5 million breeding pairs. Populations have declined dramatically due to clear-cutting pine forests and fire suppression. It’s now estimated that there are around 14,068 (according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service). Red-cockaded Woodpeckers are intensely managed. Management strategies include prescribed fires and metal plates in nest cavities to restrict large species from taking over breeding spots, and habitat conservation by both federal and private land owners.

Fun Facts:

  • Red-cockaded Woodpeckers are known to be aggressive towards Hairy Woodpeckers, Downy Woodpeckers and Blue Jays.
  • Families have multiple nest cavity sites on their territory. The male roosts in the best one that has the most sap flow. This is where the female lays the eggs, and the male incubates them at night.

 

Protect the Puffins

Hello my friends! Today I wanted to share a petition from the National Audubon Society related to the Atlantic Puffin and other marine birds/creatures. It’s for the creation of of a Marine National Monument in the Atlantic Ocean. I also wanted to spread the word about Project Puffin and why I believe a Marine National Monument is necessary.

You can read and sign the petition at Audubon’s website here.

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Atlantic Puffins (Image via http://www.public-domain-images.com)

Project Puffin is a restoration program that was created by the National Audubon Society in 1973 and lead by Dr. Stephen W. Kress. Historically there were 6 islands off the coast of Maine where Atlantic Puffins had established breeding colonies. Due to hunting of their eggs, feathers, and meat for around 300 years following the colonial age, there were only 2 islands used for breeding by the 1970s. The original goal of Project Puffin was to establish a breeding colony on Eastern Egg Rock Island.

Atlantic Puffins, like many seabirds, typically return to the same breeding grounds that they were born at. Between 1973 and 1986, 954 Atlantic Puffins were transplanted from Great Island, Newfoundland to Eastern Egg Rock Island when they were between 10-14 days old. Audubon biologists essentially took the place of Puffin parents and tagged them before they fledged. 914 chicks successfully fledged in this time. Transplanted Puffins started returning to Eastern Egg Rock Island in 1977. They were lured with wooden Puffin decoys and in 1981 4 pairs bred on the island. There are now 150 breeding pairs on Egg Rock. As usually with all bird conservation projects, it is still an ongoing and active mission.

But there was a mystery. When the Puffins would leave the breeding grounds, nobody knew where they were going. They would spend as much as 8 months at a mystery location. Learning where the Puffins go would be important so that these birds and other wildlife could be protected all year round. In 2009 birds were tagged with geolocators. There ended up being issues with the equipment, so in 2013, 26 new Puffins were fitted with geolocators.

In 2015, scientists were able to retrieve 19 devices and analyzed the data. They found that Atlantic Puffins spend the winter 200 miles east of Cape Cod, at the New England Coral Canyons and Seamounts. There is still more research to be done, and as technology improves, scientist will be able to retrieve more precise data. In the meantime, making the Coral Canyons and Seamounts a permanent Marine National Monument will help protect the Puffin’s wintering grounds. There are many Marine National Monuments protecting areas in the Pacific Ocean, but there are none in the Atlantic Ocean. At the moment, the New England Coral Canyons and Seamounts are pretty much undisturbed. By protecting them now, we can help make sure that this habitat is left untouched by fishing and oil industries so that all kinds of marine life can thrive.

Since it’s inception in 1973, Project Puffin has become much larger than just helping Puffins. It’s now a conservation program that benefits many other seabirds, such as terns and storm-petrels. As a result, there are now Puffins nesting on 5 Maine Islands and is also helping to restore Seal Island National Wildlife Refuge. Please consider signing this petition to help marine animals stay protected. If you want to learn more about Project Puffin, check out their website:

Project Puffin

There is a book called Project Puffin: The Improbable Quest to Bring a Beloved Seabird Back to Egg Rock by Stephen W. Kress and Derrick Z. Jackson. You can also “adopt” a Puffin on their website.

Thank you all for reading this! Every person who can help with this effort is much appreciated. To quote Audubon’s website, “Spread the word. It’s the least you could do.”

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(Book image via projectpuffin.audubon.org)

Happy Earth Day!

Today, April 22, 2016, marks the 46th year of Earth Day. Earth Day began in 1970 when the founder, Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson, had an idea to have a national day that focuses on environmental issues and awareness. He announced the event to the media and promoted it across the country. The event was scheduled for April 22. More than 20 million Americans assembled in various locations across the United States to demonstrate and demand a focus on the environment. Since the first Earth Day many environmental laws and acts have been created and April 22 is now observed worldwide. Many organizations hold events on and around Earth Day to educate the public, as well as events like tree-planting and clean-ups of natural areas.

So what does Earth Day have to do with birds? If you are reading this blog, you obviously think birds are important. Birds do matter, and everyone who loves them have their different reasons for doing so. Of course, learning about and watching birds fills us with joy and makes the world a more beautiful and exciting place. But many people don’t realize that birds are very important environmental indicators.

In a world where we are dealing with climate change there is a lot of uncertainty. But one thing people who study birds know is this: birds are extremely sensitive to changes in their environment. Their behaviors give scientist clues to what is happening in their ecosystem. Birds are great indicators of the quality of a habitat, biodiversity, and pollution. Thousands of bird species have populations that are declining, especially species that are dependent on very specific environmental factors.

I thought Earth Day would be the perfect opportunity to list some ways we can help with bird conservation. The best part about conserving birds is that by helping them, we are helping the rest of the environment and all the world’s creatures, including ourselves. Here are some thing that you can do to help:

  • Reduce, reuse, recycle!
  • Become a citizen scientist: There are many ways to do this: report data of the birds you see on sites such as Ebird (run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology), participating in local/national bird counts such as Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count and The Great Backyard Bird Count, reporting data about nests and banded birds that you watch.
  • Be a responsible pet owner. Please do not let your cat live outside. According to an article by National Geographic (“North American Birds Declining as Threats Mount”) between 1.4 and 3.7 billion birds are killed by cats annually in the United States.
  • Don’t forget to clean your feeders! Keeping your feeding stations clean can help reduce avian diseases.
  • Support conservation efforts of both local and national environment/bird groups
  • Reduce your energy usage and make an effort to waste less water
  • Plant native flowers and plants in your backyard
  • Educate your friends and family (or anyone really!) about these issues. Knowledge is power my friends!

This is just a small sample of things we can do to help our birds and our environment. I hope this post helped inspire you, my fellow bird lovers, to think about how you can help our environment.

If you want to learn more you can check out some of the links I used to write this blog: