The creative study of birds through art, photography, and writing

Published in the Wilson Journal of Ornithology: First record in birds of nestling relocation following nest collapse

by Bryce W. Robinson

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Photo of a female Gyrfalcon holding a surviving nestling following partial collapse of the nest. Photo published in Robinson, B. W., N. Paprocki, D. A. Anderson, and M. J. Bechard. 2017. First record of nestling relocation by adult birds following nest collapse. Wilson Journal of Ornithology 129 (1) 216-221 

Since I’ve been hard at work in central America for the past month, I haven’t had the time to share a recently published article from my Gyrfalcon work. The article details the behavioral response of a female Gyrfalcon following the partial collapse of a nest. The photo above shows her holding the only surviving nestling following the partial collapse of their nest on a cliff side in Alaska. Just moments later, the female took the nestling to safety at another ledge farther down the cliffside. This behavioral response to threat is the first documented case in altricial birds!

Read the full article: 

Robinson, B. W., N. Paprocki, D. A. Anderson, and M. J. Bechard. 2017. First record of nestling relocation by adult birds following nest collapse. Wilson Journal of Ornithology 129 (1) 216-221

Singing Brewer’s Sparrow (Spizella breweri) on Sagebrush

by Bryce W. Robinson

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Singing Brewer’s Sparrow (Spizella brewer) on sagebrush. Gouache on watercolor paper.

One of the best parts of spring in the Sagebrush landscape of western North America are it’s singing inhabitants. The Brewer’s Sparrow may be my favorite, because of its subdued but beautiful plumage and distinct trill song. On a spring morning at sunrise, one can walk through a healthy stand of sagebrush, songs erupting all around, as multiple males sing atop their sagebrush posts.

Brewer’s Sparrows have a distinct buzzing song, that sounds superficially simple and distinct. But, their songs can be variable and have multiple types as described in Rich (2002). See the figure below to gain a familiarity with the variability.

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Song types of the Brewer’s Sparrow, long (A) and short (B). Figure taken from Birds of North America Online, adapted from Rich (2002). 

Rich (2002) found that the variability seen above seems to follow no geographic trend or isolation, nor does there seem to be any song sharing among neighbors. High turnover among territories and potential for natal dispersal could limit the development of local dialects, etc. Interesting stuff…

If you’re unfamiliar with the sound of a singing Brewer’s Sparrow, be sure to visit Xeno-Canto and explore.

My friend Eli is wrapping up some research investigating the impacts of anthropogenic noise on sagebrush inhabitants in southwest Idaho. Breeding Brewer’s Sparrows were among a few focal species of her study. She’s currently working through the publication process, and when her work comes to surface in print, I’ll be sure to share. I expect that anthropogenic noise has some masking impacts on a Brewer’s Sparrow song, and in turn could potentially change the dynamics of song structure under anthropogenic noise blankets, etc. More research and time will tell.

Here is a short clip of a singing Brewer’s Sparrow in Idaho that I took through my Zeiss scope. The song is barely audible because of how distant I was from the singing bird:

Referenced Literature:

Rich, T. D. 2002. The short song of Brewer’s Sparrow: individual and geographic variation in southern Idaho. Western North American Naturalist 62(3): 288-299.

Orange-breasted Falcon Painting

by Bryce W. Robinson

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Orange-breasted Falcon (Falco deiroleucus). Gouache on watercolor paper. ©Bryce W. Robinson.

In a short time I’ll be heading south to northern Central America (primarily Belize and Guatemala) to research Orange-breasted Falcons (Falco deiroleucus). I’ll be working with The Peregrine Fund on their Orange-breasted Falcon project. My main focus will be assessing occupancy at historical territories, investigating potential territories, nest monitoring, banding nestlings, and assessing nest success. All work that I’m familiar with, but in a completely different system.

With the new system comes new opportunities to start fresh and learn. As a birder, my mouth is watering from the anticipation of learning new birdlife to a degree I have yet to experience. Field work with the falcon will be a great vehicle for learning this new bird life, as I’ll be immersed in the system daily, always paying attention to what is around me.

Alaska is an exciting place for an ornithologist, because it is still somewhat a frontier in our basic understanding of some of its birdlife. The Neotropics are similar, but to a greater degree. Due to the nature of the system, and the magnitude of its biodiversity, there is much work still to be done to fill in gaps in our basic understanding of the natural history of some species. This frontier is where I want to be, so I consider myself quite fortunate to begin a potentially five month stint in a place where so many opportunities lay.

I’ll be blogging birdlife along the way, including videos, photos, field sketches and stories. It’ll be a content heavy time, and I’m looking forward to it.