October 26th – It’s Starting To Feel Like November

Red "wax" tips on the wing feathers of a moulting adult Cedar Waxwing.

A band of rain swept across the area during the night dropping 3 mm. in our area. But it had stopped shortly before it was time to open the nets so we got off to a good start. The temperature hovered around 9 degrees throughout the morning but around noon the wind picked up a little (NE) and it cooled off to 6 degrees. This, with the advent of a fine misty drizzle, made it feel quite raw – very much like November.

We caught birds steadily all day but without any big “hits”. Nevertheless, we banded 111 birds (qualifying for a another “big day”). Noteworthy was the diversity: we banded 24 different species and, when you add in the retraps, we handled 30 species. If you count Juncos (and you should), we banded 10 different species of Sparrows.

Liz honing her quickly-developing banding skills.

We handled a very large number of “retraps” (birds banded on previous days) – 57. This indicates that many of the birds that are around decided not to head out with the recent inclement weather – they’ll bide their time until the conditions improve….and there’s lots to eat at Ruthven.

Seen uncommonly: "wax" tips on the rectrices (tail feathers).

Cedar Waxwings continued to be the most numerous bird banded – we’ve now done just over 600 of them for the Fall! These are intriguing birds. They have evolved to exploit fruit. To that end, they move and live in flocks (sometimes very large flocks). They have delayed their nesting timing so that the young birds don’t hatch until wild berry crops are available. Further, even when nesting, they don’t defend a territory and, consequently, they have not developed a song (although they have a distinctive call). They have been called “waxwings” because of the red “drops” that may grow at the end of some of their wing (and, occasionally, tail) feathers. These are extensions of the rachis and are made from carotenoid pigments. The actual name – “waxwing” – comes from the fact that these red extensions reminded people of drops of sealing wax (remember, most bird names were assigned before glued envelopes came into being). One of the most noticeable plumage characteristics is the distinctive yellow terminal band of the tail. This is the result of its propensity to metabolize yellow carotenoids in its diet. However, with the introduction of exotic honeysuckle into eastern North America – with the red carotenoid pigment rhodoxanthin – we are seeing many birds with orange terminal tail bands. I’m not sure how much longer these birds will be with us this Fall. Between them and the other flocking fruit eaters (right now, blackbirds, robins and starlings), all of which we’re seeing in large, swirling flocks, the grapes and other wild fruit is noticeably diminishing. Although some Cedar Waxwings will remain in the area throughout the Winter, most move south, likely following the availability of ripening fruit; range maps show them as far south as Mexico.

Our Lady of Lourdes teacher, Mr. Troisi, with an Eastern Bluebird.

We had another large group of students visit this morning – from Our Lady of Lourdes school in Hamilton.

Banded 111:
4 Mourning Doves
1 Blue Jay
2 Ruby-crowned Kinglets
5 Eastern Bluebirds
4 Hermit Thrushes
10 American Robins
21 Cedar Waxwings
1 European Starling
1 Blue-headed Vireo
2 Myrtle Warblers
1 Northern Cardinal
1 American Tree Sparrow
1 Chipping Sparrow
1 Field Sparrow
1 Fox Sparrow
9 Song Sparrows
1 Lincoln’s Sparrow
3 Swamp Sparrows
6 White-throated Sparrows
5 Eastern White-crowned Sparrows
19 Dark-eyed Juncos
1 Rusty Blackbird
2 House Finches
9 American Goldfinches

Matt, fighting off a cold as a result of getting soaked yesterday, handled the retraps - an onerous job at the best of times.

Retrapped 57:
3 Mourning Doves
1 Downy Woodpecker
3 Black-capped Chickadees
1 Eastern Tufted Titmouse
1 Brown Creeper
2 Ruby-crowned Kinglets
2 Hermit Thrushes
2 Cedar Waxwings
2 Nashville Warblers
1 Song Sparrow
1 Swamp Sparrow
1 White-throated Sparrow
11 Eastern White-crowned Sparrows
14 Dark-eyed Juncos
1 Red-winged Blackbird
11 American Goldfinches

ET’s: 42 spp.

Birds banded per 100 net hours; 71


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