This may look like the fur of an animal, but it’s some sort of strange fungus growing on the forest floor. Photo and post by Julia Shonfield.
One of the perks of being a grad student is the opportunity to travel around the country, and even the world to attend conferences. These events give us the chance to share our research, find out about other research in our field, and network with other students and professionals. This July, myself (Scott Wilson) and my colleague (Anjolene Hunt) journeyed to the east coast to attend the 2015 Ornithology Meeting at Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia hosted jointly by the Society of Canadian Ornithologists, the Association of Field Ornithologists and the Wilson Ornithological Society.
The conference was well attended and hosted approximately 120 oral presentations on a broad range of ornithology related topics. Some of our favourite talks discussed bird-friendly glass prototypes (DeGroote et al.), differences in song types of paired and unpaired male Canada Warblers (Staicer et al.), and tern nesting on an ecological restoration site (Prosser et al.). Needless to say, much was learned from our peers on current research occurring in the field of ornithology. I presented preliminary findings from my project on the use of bioacoustic methods to understand how birds use reclaimed well sites. Anjolene presented research on the response of Canada warblers to forestry management practices in Alberta as part of a symposium on landbird species at risk. This was an excellent opportunity to inform others of our research, and to gain feedback and insight on our projects.
In addition to the fantastic talks and posters we attended, we got the chance to go on a few field trips to see some of the unique landscapes and wildlife that Nova Scotia has to offer. Particularly exciting was the pelagic bird and whale watching tour off the coast of Brier Island. Despite foggy conditions, we spotted minke and finback whales. Not to mention sighting countless seabirds that were new to us prairie dwellers – puffins, petrels, shearwaters, gannets, fulmars and many more. Upon our return to Brier Island, we visited a colony of black-backed and herring gulls in a very unique setting of wind swept spruce trees and rocky cliffs.
We are both very grateful for the opportunity to attend this conference, and thank our funding partners and the AFO / SOC-SCO / WOS for travel awards to attend this conference, as well as the support provided to Anjolene through the The James L. Baillie Memorial Fund of Bird Studies Canada and support for Scott through the Land Reclamation International Graduate School.
Post by Scott Wilson
This week Justine Kummer experienced the first bird-window collision at her house since she started on the Birds and Windows project three years ago, but instead of showing you that poor dead bird, here’s one of her favourite photos sent in by a friend of his cat eyeing up a little feathered friend.
Marcella Kelly, an Associate Professor at the Virginia Tech Dept. of Fish & Wildlife Conservation, will be presenting a seminar at the University of Alberta this week. Her talk will be in the Biological Sciences Building room M149 at 2pm on Friday, September 11.
Abstract: Remote camera trapping and molecular scatology have enabled researchers to gain valuable information on previously intractable, elusive top predators. For jaguars in Belize, camera trapping techniques have enabled us to examine the co-existence of multiple predators simultaneously to determine whether jaguars function as an umbrella species or whether meso-predators are suppressed by high numbers of the top predator. Additionally, using scat samples collected with the aid of detector dogs, combined with molecular scatology, we find evidence of a generally well-mixed jaguar population in Belize, yet a faint hint of population sub-structure exists, pointing to the importance of maintaining targeted wildlife corridors. For tigers in Nepal, camera trapping in the forested, hilly habitat known as the Churia, previously considered unsuitable, has revealed a healthy (albeit lower density) tiger population and a potentially thriving leopard population. Unlike Belize however, landscape genetics from molecular scatology in Nepal has revealed a highly structured tiger population with low levels of gene flow among tiger sub-populations. Habitat restoration or targeted translocations may be necessary to maintain genetic connectivity across the landscape.
This Friday, Wild49 lab member Dario Moreira will be defending his PhD thesis. His talk is open to the public and will be held in the University of Alberta Biological Sciences Building room CW313 at 9am.
Talk Summary: Mammalian carnivores inhabiting human-dominated landscapes often face reduced and more widely distributed in combination with greater exposure to humans and exotic species. I evaluated how habitat transformation and human activity shaped the spatio-temporal patterns of occupancy and prey selection of carnivores inhabiting a landscape dominated by exotic forest plantations in Southern Chile. Carnivore species responded to landscape attributes and the presence of domestic dogs. These effects were influenced by time of day as well as the spatial scale. For instance, the positive effect of native forest on occupancy probability was stronger during the night for the Darwin’s fox and cougar. Dogs negatively affected the occupancy probability of Darwin’s foxes, but this was independent of the time of day, compared to cougars, who were negative affected by dogs during day-time only. Vegetation structure derived from high-resolution LiDAR remote sensing systems improved the performance of occupancy models for mesocarnivores indicating that these species respond to fine-grained habitat heterogeneity. Prey selection of mesocarnivores differed between native forest and pine plantations and this was associated with changes in the abundance of prey species. The perceptions of carnivores by rural communities varied across species, with people being willing to adopt sustainable practices related to the husbandry of domestic animals, but they were unwilling to leash dogs or provide diurnal protection to poultry.
I write multiple blog posts each week for various websites and just last week wrote a paragraph in my thesis on the importance of communicating your science BUT amongst all that, I have failed to communicate my own science.
A few months ago I wrapped up my experiment looking at bird feeders and their effects on bird-window collisions. The data is now analyzed and the results all written up. Here’s what we learned:
In recent years many people have turned to bird feeding as a simple way to interact with nature. More and more people are living in cities than ever before and here interactions with wildlife are limited. Feeding wild birds has created this opportunity.This increase in bird feeders has created a new problem: collisions with buildings. The general public enjoys feeding the birds in their yard but they want to know how to do so safely.
This led to the development of the Birds and Windows Project: Bird Feeder Experiment. The project relied entirely on citizen science and the dedication of the 43 homeowners that were recruited within Edmonton, Alberta and the surrounding area.
The design of this experiment was quite simple. A bird feeder was present at 1 m, 5 m or absent from a study window for one month and then removed or added for the second month. The study was conducted over an entire year and the homeowner searched the study window for evidence of a bird-window collision every day of each trial. A total of 284 trials were completed at 55 windows.
Throughout the study there were 145 bird-window collisions. There were 51 collisions when there was no bird feeder present and this increased to 94 when a feeder was added in front of the window. The mean number of collisions was 0.64 per trial when the feeder was 1 m from the window and 0.72 when the feeder was 5 m from the window.
Comparing each window in its back-to-back trials (feeder vs. no feeder), we found 11 windows had a greater number of collisions when there was no feeder present while 16 windows had more collisions when there was a bird feeder present. 26 windows did not report any collisions at all, but the top 5 windows reported 24, 19, 15, 11 and 9 collisions while participating in the project.
Surprisingly, there was a lot of variation in the number of collisions when looking at the season the trial was conducted in. There was a mean of 0.11 collisions in the winter and this increased to 0.79 during spring migration, 0.54 in the summer breeding months, and 1.08 through fall migration.
This study does support the results of previous studies. The highest mean number of collisions was seen when the bird feeder was the greatest distance from the window. However, there was a lot of variation between houses. This shows that the effect of a bird feeder is largely dependent on the individual home and window being evaluated.
Seasonality was seen to cause a lot of the observed variation in window collision rates. This wasn’t entirely surprising as more than 80% of the birds in Alberta are migratory. They’re just simply not as many birds present in the winter months to collide with windows.
Our results suggest that homeowners can reduce some window collision risk by altering feeder placement. However, this will likely not reduce collisions to zero, particularly at houses where collisions are common. Feeders are only one of many factors, including vegetation and house characteristics that influence whether a residence is likely to have a large number of collisions.
In conducting this study a number of participants provided updates on the activity at their bird feeder and at the end of the project a handful kept their feeder. Homeowners enjoy having birds in their yards and being able to feed them. Feeding wild birds creates an important link between the general public and nature and improving this relationship will continue to promote biodiversity and conservation. Finding successful ways for them to do so could be beneficial to both birds and the millions who feed them.
Post by Justine Kummer
Bayne, E. M., C. A. Scobie, and M. Rawson-Clark. 2012. Factors influencing the annual risk of bird-window collisions at residential structures in Alberta, Canada. Wildlife Research 39:583-592.
Klem, D., D. C. Keck, K. L. Marty, A. J. M. Ball, E. E. Niciu, and C. T. Platt. 2004. Effects of window angling, feeder placement, and scavengers on avian mortality at plate glass. Wilson Bulletin 116: 69-73.
Kummer, J. and Bayne, E. 2015. Bird feeders and their effect on bird-window collisions at residential houses. (submitted to Avian Conservation and Ecology)
Machtans, C. S., C. H. R. Wedeles, and E. M. Bayne. 2013. A first estimate for Canada of the number of birds killed by colliding with building windows. Avian Conservation and Ecology 8:90-104.
Natasha Annich finally crossed paths with her focal species, the Canadian toad (Bufo hemiophrys). Her research focuses on using bioacoustics technology to monitor boreal amphibians in northeastern Alberta.
When people ask what I do for a living and I say “I follow birds around the forest”, I often get strange looks. In reality, that is only a small part of what I do. Research in Ecology and Conservation often involves fieldwork (the running around the forest part) and/or lab work, data analysis, and writing of results. In my case, my main research goal is to investigate how a threatened forest songbird species (the Canada Warbler) selects habitat in areas affected by forestry activity. I hope to provide information on what habitat features need to be protected, and recommend best management practices to forestry companies to aid in the recovery of this species at risk.
Here is what a typical day of fieldwork looks like for a Canada Warbler researcher:
3 AM: We are up with the birds and taking our breakfast by the light of a headlamp.
4 AM: We quad, hike and bushwhack through dusty, muddy, log-strewn trails, cutlines, and thick forest to reach our study sites.
5 AM: We enjoy misty sunrises by the lake while trying to pick out the melodious song of the Canada Warbler among tens of other songbird species.
7 AM: We use recordings of territorial male Canada Warbler songs to lure other males into a net. We gather information such as the bird’s age, weight, and wing length. To distinguish between individual males, we attach specific combinations of tiny colour-bands to their legs.
10 AM: Armed only with our binoculars and GPS units, we follow each marked bird throughout the summer, taking GPS locations, and observing them find food, find mates, and raise their young. These tracking bouts, combined with habitat surveys, help us to determine home range sizes and gain insights into the habitat types they use.
Evening: We enjoy the simple comforts of camp-cooked meals, guitar music, and naps in the great outdoors!
All in all, wildlife ecology fieldwork makes for an unconventional, but unbeatable career! Stay tuned for the results of this study….
Post by Anjolene Hunt