November 7, 2015 - February 28, 2016
Over the winter we opened our nets and/or set traps on 32 days. We banded 335 new birds during these four months and processed almost twice as many recaptures (624) for a total of 959 birds.
Our top species for new birds were: American Goldfinch (124), Dark-eyed Junco (88), American Tree Sparrow (23), House Finch (14), Tufted Titmouse (14) and Fox Sparrow (10). Five species tied for seventh place, with six individuals banded for each: Black-capped Chickadee, White-breasted Nuthatch, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal and Mourning Dove.
In spite of the totals for new bandings, on a visit to our lab, one would have been most likely to meet a Black-capped Chickadee. Small but fearless, these spunky birds were a common visitor at the banding lab feeders throughout the winter.
Even though we only banded six, we encountered 42 individuals of this species over the winter (6 new + 36 recapped birds); the combined number of visits to the lab for these 42 individuals was 200 in total!
All but five of the chickadees were seen more than once, the average number of captures being five. Our most frequent chickadee visitor (#274037749) was captured 16 times- four times in December and six encounters in each in November and January.
Our oldest chickadee this winter (#246080457) was banded as a hatch-year bird at the end of August 2007, which means its age this winter was 8½ years!
This individual has been captured 42 times in its life (so far!), at least twice every year, most often in the winter months, but showing up in every month of the year except June and July.
In 2011, the only year that we saw this bird in May, it had a cloacal protuberance, an enlargement of the cloaca indicating breeding condition in males. So, it’s a male, and his territory is obviously NOT near our nets!
We are hoping to see this individual in the future. The oldest known Black-capped Chickadee, recovered alive in Minnesota in 2002, was 11½ years old!
Members of the Emberizidae family (sparrows), including the Dark-eyed Juncos, accounted for almost one-third of our captures this winter (306 new and recaps). Representing this group in our winter highlights is this American Tree Sparrow, banded on January 28th, one of 23 banded this season. Unlike the chickadees, only ONE of the 24 Tree Sparrows encountered was a recap, banded in 2015.
Although the American Goldfinch took top billing as our most frequently banded bird this winter, we thought we would share some pictures of a close relative of the goldfinch.
These two House Finches, banded on January 28th, were second-year birds (hatched last summer), a male (L) and a female. Interestingly, these two juveniles were caught in the net with an older female recap (2581-27957) originally banded on November 2, 2013. This was the first time she had returned to our nets. Perhaps with her children?
According to Cornell’s All About Birds website, the House Finch “was originally a bird of the western United States and Mexico. In 1940 a small number of finches were turned loose on Long Island, New York, after failed attempts to sell them as cage birds ('Hollywood finches').” They are now found in most of the eastern United Stated and southern Canada.
The extended wing of the male house finch shows the eccentric molt pattern exhibited in a little over half of all House Finches. In the Fall this bird replaced some of its inner and outermost flight feathers, with a block of juvenal feathers retained in the center. To compare these feather generations, look closely at the color of the feathers and rachis (shaft) as well as the shape and amount of wear.
The tail of the female also illustrates differences in juvenal (J) and adult (A) feathers as some of the tail has been replaced. Note the adult-like feathers (replaced at some point after leaving the nest) are more rounded, less faded and less worn that the retained juvenal feathers. This is an adventitious molt that the bird underwent as a result of accidentally losing those feathers, perhaps due to a predator.
Another member of the Fringillidae (finch) family is the Pine Siskin; with lovely yellow on the flight feathers and tail and zippy little songs they're easy to spot. Nomads of the fall and winter, they can boom or bust in our area: in 2015 we banded 12, 2014 = 163, 2013 = 0, 2012 = 326! This juvenile, banded on January 27th, was one of only two we would encounter this winter; the other was banded on February 2nd.
For decades, banding data has been an important way to document the movements of Pine Siskins. Of the 675,000 banded since 1960, less than 2,000 have been recaptured. Yet every data point gives us even more insight into their behavior. Eleven of the recaptures were ours and eight of our birds were recaptured elsewhere, from Quebec to Minnesota to Alabama.
Other rare captures for us this winter included this picture-perfect adult female Eastern Bluebird banded on February 4th. Although common winter residents in a field just over the hill from the banding lab, they only occasionally stray into the banding area, so it was a pleasant surprise to find this individual in one of our nets.
Note the uniform quality and color of all of the feathers on the wing, indicating her adult status.
Her tail also has the intense color and rounded shape of an adult.
The Mourning Dove is another species that, while not uncommon for our area, is not often captured. Since they are large birds with powerful wings, they are experts at self-extracting from our nets. They aren’t shy about enjoying some seed in our Potter traps though, which is where we found this adult female on the cold snowy morning of February 11th. Throughout the day she may eat 12 to 20 percent of her body weight to get her through the frigid winter nights. That strategy, along with fast flight and a large body size may serve her well, as the oldest Mourning Dove lived to be 31 years old.
This individual was one of six we banded this winter, all but one between February 11 and 19th. The outlier was from December 18th.
Lastly, we wanted to include in our highlights this very handsome (and very red!) Red-bellied Woodpecker.
First banded on November 26th, 2005 as a hatch-year, this striking male has since found his way into our nets or traps 19 more times. He is now 10 and a half years old. The last time he came to visit was two years ago, January 8th of 2014.
We catch this woodpecker, on average, twice a year; over the past ten years we have seen him at least once in all months except July through October. He is most often seen in January. The only year he missed us completely was 2015.
We hope he keeps visiting the banding area. Aside from being able to admire one of the reddest bellies we've seen, if he comes the winter of 2018 he'll be the oldest Red-bellied Woodpecker ever known. In fact, he may have been the oldest individual of this species ever captured and re-released, since the bands recorded for two 12-year-old birds on record were identified by sight.
A close-up of the white upper tail coverts with their delicate black trim. Also note the stiff tail with the thick central shafts that help prop up this bird while it clings to the tree.
Woodpeckers undergo complex molts throughout their lives. Particularly they have unique replacement patterns within their primary coverts (shown here, the small feathers covering the primary flight feathers).
Most birds replace all of these feathers annually starting with their second prebasic molt (primary coverts are usually retained through the first prebasic, the molt in its first Fall, just after hatching).
Woodpeckers do it a little differently. No primary coverts are replaced in their first Fall molt, just as with most passerines. However, in their second Fall they only replace a few outer primary coverts, creating a block of new feathers at the wing's leading edge. Thereafter, they can randomly replace primary coverts, resulting in an intermittent pattern seen here in this 10-year-old wing. Notice that there are different generations of feathers, but none is the shape or quality of a juvenile feather. This information allowed us to age this bird as an after-third-year.
Although often seen overwintering in nearby Ligonier perched along the Loyalhanna Creek, it is seldom that Bald Eagles grace the property of Powdermill.
Although we were not able to band these Bald Eagles (they are strong enough that they would just go right through our nets), it was a treat to have them visit the banding area on November 22nd.