Nature's Experiment Revisited
The 2015 nesting season at Featherbed Lane
Hannah Suthers

In the Winter 2014/2015 issue of The Crossing, I wrote about the effects of the freak wet snow storm of 29 Oct 2011 and Hurricane Sandy of 29 Oct 2012 on the nesting season of 2013. Sandy caused 167 tree falls of cedars and hardwoods in the Featherbed Lane Bird Banding and Research Station study area of 108 acres and control woods of about 60 acres. Birds that prefer edges or gaps in woods for nesting occupied some of the spaces made available.

In the 2015 nesting season the trend continued with Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, White-eyed Vireos, Chestnut-sided Warbler and Common Yellowthroats in tree-fall gaps. The loss of nest cavity availability in the fallen trees did not affect woodpeckers, chickadees or titmice (they excavate their own). But numbers of White-breasted Nuthatches were reduced from 9 to 2, and Great-crested Flycatchers from 3 to 1.

The bitter cold and deep snow in Feb-Mar 2015 resulted in losses and reduction of resident numbers. Mockingbirds and Great-horned Owl were entirely gone. Carolina Wrens dropped from 11 to 1, Bluebirds from 4 to 1, White-breasted Nuthatches from 9 to 2. Though the species count is up, the substantial drop in numbers of the Neotropical breeders this year is startling; only 130 singing males this year compared with 273 last year.

It is hard to say specifically what happened and where, but natural and man-made causes take an unsustainable toll on birds every year. To name just a few in addition to habitat loss, it is extrapolated from data that every year free-roaming cats kill 2 billion, 912 million birds (American Bird Conservancy Oct. 2015); building strikes during annual migration kill 365 to 988 million (National Audubon 19 March 2014); pesticides kill 4.5 million yearly (US Fish and Wildlife Service 2005); wind turbines kill up to half a million every year (USF&WS, 5 Oct 2015). Is it any wonder?

43 birds returned from previous years, including an after-6-year Red-eyed Vireo, a 7-year-old Wood Thrush, 8-year-old Common Yellowthroat and Ovenbird, 10-year-old Catbird. The older birds have returned more than once; they are breeding-site faithful as long as they live.

The annotated roster of breeding birds can be found on our website. The numbers are singing/displaying males, implying a pair. The singing males were spot-mapped and listed below if they were seen/heard at least three times 5 days or more apart, or in three consecutive months of the breeding season. Birds banded 17 May through 23 August are in parentheses. Nets catch only those adults and their young in the territories that the nets traverse, thus the differences in numbers from singing males.

Resident birds, 24 species:
Canada Goose 2
Black Vulture flyover
Turkey Vulture 6
Red-shouldered Hawk, May 24, June 5
Red-tailed Hawk 2
Wild Turkey
Eastern Screech Owl 1
Barred Owl 1
Red-bellied Woodpecker 20, (1 fledgling)
Downy Woodpecker 9, (2 adults, 13 fledglings)
Hairy Woodpecker 3, (2 fledglings)
Pileated Woodpecker 1
American Crow 4
Carolina Chickadee 3
Black-Capped x Carolina Chickadee Hybrid 3 (4 adults, 3 fledglings)
Eastern Tufted Titmouse 30, (adult with fledgling)
White-breasted Nuthatch 4, (1 adult)
Carolina Wren 1, (1 fledgling)
Eastern Bluebird 2
Cedar Waxwing 1
Northern Cardinal 28, (5 adults, 3 fledglings)
House Finch 5
American Goldfinch 1
House Sparrow 1

Temperate (short distance) migrants, 19 species:
Great Blue Heron 7, June, farm pond
Cooper’s Hawk pair
Broad-winged Hawk, male brought a snake to female on nest
American Woodcock 4 displaying
Mourning Dove 13
Yellow-shafted Flicker 5, (1 adult, 4 fledglings)
Eastern Phoebe 1, (1 fledgling)
Blue Jay 26, (2 adults, 4 fledglings)
European Starling 1
American Robin 33, (4 adults)
White-eyed Vireo 2, (adult with 2 fledglings)
House Wren 7, (3 fledglings)
Eastern Towhee 28 (1 fledgling)
Chipping Sparrow 7 (1 fledgling)
Field Sparrow 2
Song Sparrow 4
Red-winged Blackbird 6
Common Grackle 2
Brown-headed Cowbird 3, (adult female)
Black-capped Chickadee 1

Neotropical (long distance) migrants, 28 species:
Yellow-billed Cuckoo 6
Chimney Swift 3
Ruby-throated Hummingbird 1 (1 fledgling not banded)
Eastern Wood-Pewee 4 (1 adult)
Willow Flycatcher 1 (1 fledgling)
Great-crested Flycatcher 1 (adult female)
Eastern Kingbird 1
Barn Swallow 5
Tree Swallow 2
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 2, (adult with 2 fledglings)
Gray Catbird 80 (33 adults, 35 fledglings of 3 broods)
Veery 10 (1 adult 4 fledglings)
Wood Thrush 33 (13 adults, 21 fledglings)
Red-eyed Vireo 11 (2 adult)
Yellow-throated Vireo 1
Warbling Vireo 1
Blue-winged Warbler 5 (3 adults, 1 fledgling)
Yellow Warbler 1
Chestnut-sided Warbler 1
Black-and-white Warbler 5 (1 fledgling)
American Redstart 2 (3 fledglings)
Ovenbird 38 (16 adults, 16 fledglings)
Worm-eating Warbler 1 (fledgling Aug 2)
Common Yellowthroat 28 (9 adults, 7 fledglings)
Scarlet Tanager 9
Rose-breasted Grosbeak 1 (3 adults)
Indigo Bunting 2
Baltimore Oriole 7 (1 adult)

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Last revision: Saturday, September 5, 2015