Recent Research Publications on Birds and Project Feederwatch

1. Abstract - "Atmospheric black carbon has long been recognized as a public health and environmental concern. More recently, black carbon has been identified as a major, ongoing contributor to anthropogenic climate change, thus making historical emission inventories of black carbon an essential tool for assessing past climate sensitivity and modeling future climate scenarios. Current estimates of black carbon emissions for the early industrial era have high uncertainty, however, because direct environmental sampling is sparse before the mid-1950s. Using photometric reflectance data of >1,300 bird specimens drawn from natural history collections, we track relative ambient concentrations of atmospheric black carbon between 1880 and 2015 within the US Manufacturing Belt, a region historically reliant on coal and dense with industry. Our data show that black carbon levels within the region peaked during the first decade of the 20th century. Following this peak, black carbon levels were positively correlated with coal consumption through midcentury, after which they decoupled, with black carbon concentrations declining as consumption continued to rise. The precipitous drop in atmospheric black carbon at midcentury reflects policies promoting burning efficiency and fuel transitions rather than regulating emissions alone. Our findings suggest that current emission inventories based on predictive modeling underestimate levels of atmospheric black carbon for the early industrial era, suggesting that the contribution of black carbon to past climate forcing may also be underestimated. These findings build toward a spatially dynamic emission inventory of black carbon based on direct environmental sampling."

- DuBay, S.G., Fuldner, C.C. 2017. Bird specimens track 135 years of atmospheric black carbon and environmental policy. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Sooty Feathers tell the history of Pollution in our cities.
 Red-headed Woodpeckers lined up from the late 1800's to 2017, show the dramatic difference in black carbon/soot and pollution on their feathers. 
Field Museum in Chicago. Photo: Tristan Spinski.

Read the full research paper HERE

2. Abstract - "Each year, millions of songbirds concentrate in coastal areas during fall migration. The choices birds make at the coast about stopover habitat use and migratory route can influence both the success of their migratory journey and fitness in subsequent life stages. We made use of a regional-scale automated radio telemetry array to study stopover and migratory flights and migratory routes of Blackpoll Warblers Setophaga striata and Red-eyed Vireos Vireo olivaceus during fall migration in the Gulf of Maine, USA. We focused on differences between species, sexes, age groups, breeding origins, and time of year. Both species made within-stopover relocations (i.e. ‘stopover flights’) from the coastal capture site. Stopover flights were primarily oriented inland, and were more frequent for blackpolls (87%) than vireos (44%). By studying migratory behavior at a broad spatial scale, we demonstrated that most blackpolls and vireos took coastal and offshore routes through the Gulf of Maine, despite initially relocating inland from the capture site. Though we captured blackpolls and vireos from a broad breeding range, more than 70% of migratory flights from the capture site were oriented for coastal or offshore travel for both species, suggesting that birds actively chose coastal and offshore routes, and were not simply displaced by wind drift. Later vireos oriented offshore more frequently during migratory flights from the coast, indicating that they may be more inclined towards time-minimizing overwater flight routes and thus more exposed to coastal and offshore collision hazards than earlier conspecifics."

-Smetzer, J.R., King, D.I., Taylor, P.D. 2017. Fall Migratory Departure Decisions and Routes of Blackpoll Warblers (Setophaga striata) and Red-eyed Vireos (Vireo olivaceus)at a Coastal Barrier in the Gulf of MaineJournal of Avian Biology.

Read the full research paper HERE.

3. Abstract - "Gray-cheeked Thrushes breeding on Newfoundland are purported to be a distinct subspecies (Catharus minimus minimus) and have declined precipitously since the 1980s. To assess the validity of Gray-cheeked Thrush subspecies we collected blood samples and morphological measurements from 51 individuals captured at 15 sites in Newfoundland and Labrador (2013–2015). Analysis of mitochondrial (ND2) and nuclear intron (ADAM-TS 6, FIB7) sequences from these and additional samples from Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Labrador, Quebec, Alaska, and Siberia showed low genetic variation at both nuclear loci, and shallow mitochondrial divergence between subspecies; there were no shared haplotypes between thrushes from Newfoundland / Nova Scotia (n = 41) and those from western Labrador and further west (n = 24). Thrushes from Newfoundland also had shorter wing chords, tails, and culmens and less black in the mandible compared to those from western Labrador and Quebec. Samples from the southeast coast of Labrador (n = 13) included ND2 haplotypes both from Newfoundland and western Labrador plus one putative hybrid that was phenotypically a Gray-cheeked Thrush but that had a Bicknell’s Thrush (C. bicknelli) ND2 haplotype and was heterozygous at a segregating site in FIB7. We detected thrushes during point counts at 7 of 24 sites on Newfoundland, but failed to detect them at 10 historically occupied sites on Newfoundland or in the reported distribution gap between subspecies in Labrador. Sites where thrushes have apparently disappeared had less shrub habitat within 1250 m and more large broadleaf trees within territory-scale areas compared to sites where they persist. Additionally, red squirrels (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) are an introduced species on Newfoundland and thrush occurrence was > 3x higher at sites where red squirrels were not detected. Our results support previous designations of C. m. minimus from Newfoundland and southeastern Labrador as a subspecies distinct from C. m. aliciae found further west."

-FitzGerald, A.M., Whitaker, D.M., Ralston, J. et al. 2017. Taxonomy and Distribution of the Imperilled Newfoundland Gray-cheeked Thrush (Catharus minimus minimus). Avian Conservation and Ecology.

Read the full research paper HERE.

4. Abstract - "Lower-cost tropical forest restoration methods, particularly those framed as win–win business-protected area partnerships, could dramatically increase the scale of tropical forest restoration activities, thereby providing a variety of societal and ecosystem benefits, including slowing both global biodiversity loss and climate change. Here we describe the long-term regenerative effects of a direct application of agricultural waste on tropical dry forest. In 1998, as part of an innovative agricultural waste disposal service contract, an estimated 12,000 Mg of processed orange peels and pulp were applied to a 3 ha portion of a former cattle pasture with compacted, rocky, nutrient-poor soils characteristic of prolonged fire-based land management and overgrazing in Área de Conservación Guanacaste, northwestern Costa Rica. After 16 years, the experimental plot showed a threefold increase in woody plant species richness, a tripling of tree species evenness (Shannon Index), and a 176% increase in aboveground woody biomass over an adjacent control plot. Hemispheric photography showed significant increases in canopy closure in the area where orange waste was applied relative to control. Orange waste deposition significantly elevated levels of soil macronutrients and important micronutrients in samples taken 2 and 16 years after initial orange waste application. Our results point to promising opportunities for valuable synergisms between agricultural waste disposal and tropical forest restoration and carbon sequestration."

- Treuer, T. L. H., Choi, J. J., Janzen, D. H., Hallwachs, W., Peréz-Aviles, D., Dobson, A. P., Powers, J. S., Shanks, L. C., Werden, L. K. and Wilcove, D. S. (2017), Low-cost agricultural waste accelerates tropical forest regeneration. Restoration Ecology. doi: 10.1111/rec.12565

Read the full research paper HERE. 

5. Abstract -  "Increasingly, the species that we discover will be uncommon, area restricted, and vulnerable to extinction. I describe the natural history of a newly discovered seed-eating finch from the Rocky Mountain region, the South Hills crossbill (Loxia curvirostra complex). It relies on seeds in the closed cones of the fire-adapted Rocky Mountain lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta latifolia) and is found only in the higher elevations of two small mountain ranges in southern Idaho. Here crossbills and pine are engaged in a coevolutionary arms race. Although most of the seeds remain secured within the cones for decades until the heat of a stand-replacing fire causes the cone scales to separate, seeds become accessible to crossbills slowly as cones weather and gaps form between some of the scales. However, hot days (≥32°C), especially four or more hot days, seem to mimic the effect of fire, apparently causing the immediate release of a fraction of the seeds. Such events caused a 20% annual decline in crossbills that lasted up to 4 years and an 80% decline in the population between 2003 and 2011. This is an example of a novel trophic mismatch between a consumer and its resource caused by a shift in the phenology of the resource arising from climate change. Not only do these phenological shifts have the potential to cause seed consumers to decline, these shifts are also likely to cause reduced recruitment of the plants. The South Hills crossbill is especially vulnerable and will likely go extinct this century before lodgepole pine is extirpated from the South Hills." 

Read the full research paper HERE.

- Craig W. Benkman, "The Natural History of the South Hills Crossbill in Relation to Its Impending Extinction," The American Naturalist 188, no. 6 (December 2016): 589-601.

6. Also, if you like watching birds at your backyard feeders why not join Bird Studies Canada's "project feederwatch" that begins Nov, 11. The valuable data collected helps out scientists and bird conservation.

Watch a new video on this Canadian project below:


Popular Posts

Dowitcher Identification

Hawk Identification Tips from every angle (Sharpie vs Cooper and Red-tailed Subspecies)


*Updated - The most famous Red-tailed Hawk is eating fish on the ground just like a Bald Eagle!

My First Mother's Day Without My Mother