Bayne lab flies high at ‘Birds in the Anthropocene’ ornithology conference in Michigan

In the first week of August a joint conference was held by the American Ornithological Society and the Canadian Society of Ornithologists in East Lansing, Michigan. The theme of the meeting was ‘Birds in the Anthropocene’, which aligns well with the research in the Bayne lab on understanding impacts of human-caused disturbance birds. Erin Bayne was invited as a plenary speaker and delivered an excellent talk entitled “How many birds will I kill in my lifetime directly vs. indirectly: Which matters more?” In this talk Dr. Bayne compared the estimated number of birds killed directly by window collisions and domestic cats to the number of birds killed due to habitat loss by forestry and other industrial operations. It was a compelling talk that forced us to think more critically about where to invest money for bird conservation.

Photo: Erin presenting some of the work from the Boreal Avian Modelling project during his talk on human-caused bird mortality.

Several students in the Bayne lab also presented their research at this conference including myself (Julia Shonfield), Emily Upham-Mills, and Natalie Sanchez. I presented my research in a symposium on ‘Mechanisms underlying avian responses to energy development’. It was a fascinating symposium with examples of impacts on birds from three regions of energy development in North America: Alberta, Wyoming and Virginia. The research I presented was on the impacts of energy development and disturbance in northeastern Alberta on barred owls, great horned owls, and boreal owls at multiple scales. Owls, unlike many songbirds, do not show avoidance of areas affected by industrial noise at the scale of a home range.

Photo: Julia presenting during the symposium on avian responses to energy development.

Natalie Sanchez presented part of her PhD research in her talk titled “Beak morphology predicts vocal features in songbirds: Understanding vocal responses to chronic industrial noise”. She presented in the session on ‘Communication and Song’. The main finding of her talk was the relationship between vocal features of birds commonly found close to compressor stations in Northern Alberta and those avoiding noisy sites with the shape of their beaks. She suggested the use of beak morphology as a trait to predict sensitivity to chronic noise in passerine birds.

Photo: Natalie presenting her talk on beak morphology and vocal features of songbirds.

Emily Upham-Mills presented part of her MSc research in her talk titled “Use of song rate to infer breeding status in the Olive-sided Flycatcher” in the ‘Breeding Behaviour’ session. Her presentation focused on how the amount and rate of singing declines as male flycatchers cycle through the breeding phases; pairing, incubation and feeding young. She also presented some initial results on using acoustic recording units to monitor song variation and the application of this knowledge in avian conservation.

In addition to great sessions of scientific talks, the conference also organized a number of fun social events. There was a quiz bowl of bird trivia where only the biggest bird nerds stood any chance of winning! Followed that evening by a fantastic live band called ‘The Ragbirds’. The banquet on the final evening featured very local dishes, with dairy products and pork produced right on the Michigan State University campus.

Photo: Natalie, Emily and Julia at the banquet.

For Emily and myself, our final day in Michigan was spent on one of the field trips of the conference. We left early in the morning for Shiawassee National Refuge, a beautiful and extensive wetland complex with abundant wildlife. Certainly there were many interesting bird species with some of the highlights including indigo buntings, gray catbirds, green herons, a bittern, black-crowned night herons, and a peregrine falcon. A great way to cap off a fantastic conference!

Photo: A panoramic view of the wetland complex at Shiawassee National Refuge.

Post and photos by: Julia Shonfield



Field Fun Friday

A grizzly bear rubs against a tree in Clayton Lamb‘s British Columbia study area. Clayton uses hair samples from grizzly rub trees to identify individual bears and further our understanding of BC’s grizzlies. Bear claws are one way to identify the bear species. Black bear claws are short and have a darker color. Grizzly claws are long (about as long as human fingers!) and light-colored.

Photo by Clayton Lamb.

Previous Boutin lab student takes a first look, attempting to define habitat recovery for woodland caribou.

The public pushes for habitat restoration and protection to save caribou – one of our many conservation tools that can hopefully be a long-term solution while still managing in the short term. But, what does “restored” mean, and how can we evaluate it? Check out this paper that makes the first attempt at using a mechanism linking linear features like seismic lines to caribou declines: wolf movement on linear features.

Photo by: Craig DeMars

Linear features are thought to increase wolf movement speed, thereby increasing encounters with caribou and caribou predation. Presumably, when linear features are no longer linked to increased movement rates, the benefit of these human disturbances to wolves is decreased. Previous Boutin student Melanie Dickie used this logic to evaluate how much vegetation is needed on linear features before wolves slow down, and use them less. Dickie found that wolf speed dropped drastically when the shortest, sparsest path reached 50 cm tall. Beyond that, there were minimal effects of additional vegetation. However, wolves still moved faster on linear features until they exceeded 4.1 m. 

Photo by: Craig DeMars

So what does this mean to caribou? In a nut-shell, restoration should work to increase vegetation or other physical blocking (like fallen trees) up until 50 cm to mediate the largest effect of linear features on wolf speed. However, it will take time until linear features are fully recovered and are no longer perceived as a benefit to wolves. These results could be used to prioritize lines that have not yet reached 50 cm of regrowth, more efficiently using limited conservation resources. Additionally, restoration can be used in conjunction with other short-term management practices, until enough time has passed for vegetation to reach sufficient heights and densities. More research is needed to define final restoration goals, and this study takes the first leap.

Photos by: Melanie Dickie