Southeastern Kestrel Management on Fort Polk

March 7, 2015 by  
Filed under Features

In 1992, Fort Polk banded its first juvenile kestrels, which were from a nest located in an enlarged RCW cavity. The kestrel nest tree was within 100 feet of an RCW nest tree, which indicates that RCWs and SAKs prefer the same type of nesting habitat. Both the RCW and kestrel had successful nests and fledged chicks.

The SAK often hunts over large openings in the forest. Fort Polk has a large number of openings in the forest, called firing ranges that are utilized by the SAK for hunting. Our most successful nest boxes are located on the edge or near firing ranges. Another favorite habitat on Fort Polk is Longleaf pine seedtree stands that have approximately 20 mature pine trees per acre. On Fort Polk, we thin our pine stands down to a basal area of 60, sometimes lower, and we have a three-year rotational prescribed fire program. Not only does this habitat management benefit the SAK and RCW, it also benefits other species of concern including Bachman’s and Henslow’s Sparrows, and the rare Louisiana Pine Snake.

Since 1993, we have placed 20-25 SAK nest boxes on Fort Polk. The boxes are placed 20 feet above the ground on pine trees. It is very important that a snag or telephone lines are located near the nest boxes; the SAK uses them for perching and hunting. Our nest boxes usually have 5-6 successful nests a year, producing 3-4 young each. In addition to our nest boxes, we usually find 3-6 nests located in natural cavities each year. Nearly all the nests are found in enlarged RCW cavities located in living or dead cavity trees. All chicks are banded with a U.S. Fish and Wildlife aluminum band and a combination of color bands. There is a lot of competition for the nest boxes from other bird species and squirrels. We usually have more Eastern Screech Owl nests than SAK nests. We have also found Great-crested Flycatchers, Tufted Titmice, and Eastern Bluebirds nesting in our boxes. If we find other bird species using the boxes, we leave them alone, but Fox Squirrels and Southern Flying Squirrels are removed. Flying squirrels are a big problem. It is not uncommon to find 4-8 flying squirrels occupying a nest box. The number one nest predator on nesting SAKs is the Texas Rat Snake, a great tree climber. We have found adults, young, and eggs consumed by the rat snake. To limit predation, we place aluminum sheeting (4 ft. wide) at the base of each nest box tree. The slick aluminum prevents the snake from climbing the trees and reaching the nest boxes.

With proper management, SAK populations should remain stable and possibly increase in the future on federal lands, including Fort Polk and National Forest Service lands. It is critical that regular prescribed fires and timber thinning continue into the future. Not only is this necessary for maintaining healthy populations of SAK, but for other rare species that share its habitat.

Contributed by: Kenneth Moore

Also by Kenneth Moore: Southeastern American Kestrel in Louisiana

Interesting Behavior of Black-billed Magpie – Part 2

August 6, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

This is an observation in August 2005 in west Lethbridge. I have made similar observations before at other places and times, but the observation was recorded on this date. Magpies to my understanding are absolutely fascinating to observe. They are an extremely intelligent species of bird for behavioral studies and what is more important to note is that they seem to observe human behavior and practices closely for their advantage. I was quite intrigued to observe that a black-billed magpie was working its beak through a plastic garbage bag loaded with garbage accidentally left outside a dumpster. As the bird successfully made its way through the soft plastic cover, I noted it started foraging across the contents of the bag occasionally feasting on the food items that it located within the torn bag. Once the feasting was over, possibly within 2-3 minutes, the bird kept on searching into the bag as if it was still looking for anything that may prove useful to it. After another minute or so, I saw that it flew away with something shiny, although it was difficult to decipher what the object was from the distance where I was standing and observing the bird. Anyways, I waited there for another 4-5 minutes and was about to walk towards the nearby London Drugs to buy some postage stamps from the Canada post outlet there, when I was amazed to hear the characteristic sharp calls of the magpies. To my surprise, I saw five other magpies (possibly varying between adults and sub adults) flocking round the torn garbage bag foraging and nervously jumping and fluttering wings. Since the previous bird foraging did not have any specific marking for identification, I was unable to determine if that bird communicated or invited the others to look into the booty, or whether by observing the success of the earlier bird, others in the vicinity have joined in the search and foraging to find things of interest for themselves. However, they flew away after a couple of minutes possibly being unable to find something of interest for them or any other available food items. After a minute or so, three more flew in investigating the bag and left again followed by a couple more in small flocks of 2-3 in the following ten minutes. The foraging was finally interrupted by the sudden visit of a herring gull when the magpies flew back, never to return in the next 10-15 minutes or so. After that I left for the London Drugs.

When I got back after another 10 minutes finishing my job, the bag was found left unattended and there were no birds seen close by. It appeared to me that black billed magpies may have a social communication system like the bees where they communicate among themselves about possible food and other resources among their family or clan or group members or neighbors. However, this is a hypothesis and needs to be verified under controlled experimental conditions. I do find these species of bird to be social and to have some sort of communal bonding and association for mutual benefits; could possibly be a part of their social life and structure too. It seemed to me that they do cooperate and coordinate in group activities while foraging and defending their territories against other intruders. Yet they are intelligent enough to pull back and assess the strengths of their opponents, thereby developing successful strategies of survival.

My other general observations on black billed magpie have been that they are devoted parents and they maintain distinct territories and respect their boundaries. I have seen more birds in the urban settlements compared to rural areas and farming localities. They also possibly use the same nesting sites over the years, however, that has to be verified by proper experiments. I have always seen the birds in the favored nesting sites along the university campus every year; but whether these are the same birds or different ones occupying favored nesting sites need to be verified. Possibly they are more used to city based food sources rather than the rural food sources in their diet preferences. They appeared to me as omnivorous species that are opportunistic in nature and will devour anything that they find useful for their survival under harsh conditions. They are possibly getting used to foods consumed by humans as I have seen that they eagerly accept chips, popcorns, hash browns, fried potatoes, apple, pear, watermelon, cheese and slices of jam bread, cheese cakes, salami and burger but rejecting carrots, broccoli, onion, cucumber, garlic, cauliflower, lettuce, celery, tomato, pepper and pumpkins that I have tried feeding them for my observation. It seemed to me that they possibly have preferences for food items with softer texture and sweeter taste. I have seen them often venturing into empty portico and balconies searching for food. They seem to have a special liking for shiny objects and they are possibly attracted to them as I have observed they often carry them in their beaks. The nests of black-billed magpie that I had the chance to look into often include plastics, thermocol, pieces of nylon wires, pieces of plastic garbage bags etc in addition to twigs and branches as constructing material. They seem to be opportunistic of their urban habitat and select items they feel that are useful for them from their immediate environment.

The birds are noisy, active, and energetic, but nervous and restless, always moving from one tree to another within their defined range. They are often aggressive with in-fights, in which the dominant bird pins the submitting one under its feet to he ground with its belly up and peck each other aggressively. However, I have noted they try and avoid confrontations as much as possible. Active from dawn to dusk, but usually prefer shade during midday or when the temperature is high, usually roost on branches of tall trees and shrubs during night. They are often seen foraging on the ground during active period and fly away at the slightest possible alerts. I have seen magpie catching insects and devouring small wild fruits and berries. They are often chased off by the small red winged black birds nesting along ditches and swamps if the magpie ventures too close to them. They are mostly tree inhabitants and terrestrial in their habitat preferences, however in hot summer evenings I have seen them flocking together and often taking a quick dip in the water of the canal or at the edge of a water body for cooling off.


Continued from Part One

Article contributed by Saikat Kumar Basu

Pacific Biodiversity Institute Research Expedition

February 13, 2014 by  
Filed under Events

Pacific Biodiversity Institute invites avid birders to join a research expedition December 2-15, 2014, in the provinces of Salta and Jujuy in northwestern Argentina.

These provinces are renowned for their rich biodiversity and beautiful landscapes. They are ecologically diverse, with imposing mountains, extensive sub-tropical and tropical forests, rivers, canyons, deserts, salt flats and high lakes. The area is extremely rich in bird life, and other wild fauna and flora. Salta and Jujuy also contain some of the most colorful and vibrant culture in Argentina. Evidence of Inca and pre-Inca civilizations are found throughout the landscape. These provinces also contain some of the most important unprotected wildlands in Argentina.

The purpose of the expedition is twofold: 1) to gather more information about this region to aid in its further protection, 2) to introduce new people to this area of incredible contrasts, immense biodiversity, spectacular beauty and great conservation opportunity. Those interested in joining this trip may contact PBI at expeditions@pacificbio.org. Further details can be found here: http://www.pacificbio.org/expeditions/salta_jujuy2014.html

Explore Berkshire’s Beale Wildlife Park

May 7, 2013 by  
Filed under Features

Referred to locally as “The Peacock Farm”, Beale Wildlife Park and Gardens was founded in 1956 as a private park by Gilbert Beale – a collector and breeder of peacocks, many of which still roam freely in the park today. Located alongside the River Thames between the villages of Lower Basildon and Pangbourne in Berkshire, England, Beale Wildlife Park offers a spectacular venue for a day of family fun, with landscaped gardens and woodland, children’s play areas and an impressive collection of farm animals, small exotic animals and a variety of birds, including some that are threatened with extinction, such as the Bali Starling, Green Peafowl and Mountain Peacock Pheasant.

The Bali Starling, also known as Bali Mynah and Rothschild’s Mynah (Leucopsar rothschildi) is a medium sized bird, almost completely white in color apart from black tips on the wings and rail. It has blue skin around its eyes, with grey-colored legs and a yellow bill. There is very little difference between the male and female. As the name suggests, the Bali Starling is endemic to the Island of Bali in Indonesia. It is the official fauna symbol of Bali and is featured on Indonesia’s coinage.

Found in the tropical forests of Southeast Asia, the Green Peafowl (Pavo muticus) is a strikingly beautiful bird. In breeding season, the male develops its colorful upper tail which extends up to two meters when fanned out and is decorated with ocelli “eye spots”. Outside of breeding season, the male and female are similar in appearance, but nonetheless still eye-catching with their iridescent coloring. The Mountain Peacock-Pheasant (Polyplectron inopinatum) is a blackish-brown pheasant with long graduated tail feathers and small ocelli. Endemic to the Malay Peninsula’s mountain forests, the numbers of these attractive and elusive birds are dwindling primarily due to habitat loss.

In addition to viewing these interesting birds, visitors to Beale Park will enjoy the many themed aviaries scattered around the venue, including the Madagascan aviary and the owlery, as well as African, Australian and Asian aviaries.

The zoological collection at the park has a number of unusual inhabitants, including Tamarinds, Meerkats, Capybaras, Wallabies and Arapawa Goats. The Beale Railway takes visitors on a tour of the park, while the play area keeps the little ones busy and the on-site restaurant provides refreshments. Be sure to check out the new Pirate Island at the park. Certainly, an outing to Beale Park Wildlife Park and Gardens offers an educational and entertaining outing for the whole family.

Create a Safe Haven for Birds in Your Garden

November 20, 2012 by  
Filed under Birding Tips

As urban areas become more and more built up, birds and wildlife are increasingly being forced out of their natural habitat. Gardeners can do much to alleviate the plight of birds by putting some thought into planning a garden that will make their feathered friends feel at home. This need not be complicated, and certainly need not be costly, as even a small bird-friendly spot in an urban garden can be a life-sustaining oasis that will more than reward the gardener for his, or her, efforts.

In planning a bird-friendly garden there are a number of points to bear in mind, one of the most important being to provide a clean source of water in a spot where birds have an easy escape route should they be disturbed by a predator, such as the neighborhood tabby. Recent statistics published by the RSPB noted that it is conservatively estimated that cats in the United Kingdom catch up to 55 million birds each year, with the most frequent victims being house sparrows, blue tits, blackbirds and starlings. A birdbath on a stand, placed beneath a tree, allows birds a view of their surroundings while they splash in the water, while giving them a quick escape route into overhanging branches should they feel threatened. Spiny and prickly plants such as holly can be grown around and beneath feeders and bird baths to discouraged cats from lurking there. Ensure that the bird bath is free of algae and filled with fresh water.

When choosing what to plant in your bird-friendly garden, it is best to go indigenous, as this will provide local birds with what they need, when they need it. Of course, birds are very adaptable and will make use of exotic plants as well, if it suits their needs. A good garden center in your area should be able to advise you on what to plant to attract birds, and a mix of indigenous and exotic plants can work well. Give consideration to including plants to provide food such as seeds, nuts, fruit and berries in all seasons, nesting materials and shelter. Food can always be supplemented with strategically placed feeders and nesting boxes are often welcome.

It should go without saying that pesticides should never be used in a bird-friendly garden. Given enough time, nature will take care of its own pests, and until ecological balance is reached, gardeners may need to put some extra effort into controlling pests organically and removing them by hand. Birds are great at keeping creepy-crawlies in check, so invite them into your garden and enjoy their company, while they enjoy the safe haven you have provided.

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