Exciting news! The first birds ever to be fitted with Motus nanotags at Rushton Woods Preserve have been detected by a Motus receiving station in the Chesapeake Bay. The birds are adult female wood thrush migrating south for the winter, after having spent the breeding season at Rushton. Who knows where they are headed next? Hopefully the Motus network will tell us. Stay tuned!
The flutelike song of the wood thrush is emblematic of summer mornings at Rushton Woods Preserve. Unfortunately, both the wood thrush population and places like Rushton, with over 50 acres of deciduous forest, are rapidly disappearing. The loss is so dramatic that wood thrush are one of eight species of conservation concern identified for study by a recent Competitive State Wildlife Grant awarded to the Willistown Conservation Trust.
Under the direction of Lisa Kiziuk, the Trust’s Director of Bird Conservation, University of Pennsylvania graduate student Amanda Bebel is conducting research on wood thrush as her capstone project. Amanda’s work is contributing additional scientific information about the wood thrush’s complete life cycle. The focus of her research is to learn precisely where they go during the breeding season. Since they nest in Rushton Woods Preserve, it is an ideal place to conduct the study. And the newly expanding Motus network, which electronically tracks birds’ movement, is an ideal research tool.
By attaching tiny nanotags (small radio transmitters) to six adults and three juveniles at Rushton Woods Preserve in Willistown and several more at Bucktoe Creek Preserve in Kennett Square, Amanda followed these birds during their breeding cycle with incredible geospatial precision. Throughout the summer, she used a hand-held tracking device to zero in on the birds to their physical location while general detections were consistently picked up by the local Motus automated receiver stations at both Rushton and Bucktoe. As the birds migrate south this fall, the broader Motus network that extends to South America will pick them up.
This work contributes more information to conservationists about how to better protect and manage wood thrush habitat. Pennsylvania plays a critical role in the conservation of the wood thrush as it supports a significant portion (approximately 8.5%) of the entire nesting population of the species.
What type of plants do they need for survival? How far do they go after they fledge? How much contiguous forest do they need? Where do they stop to rest and refuel on their migration path? We hope to learn more about these questions when Amanda completes her research in spring 2020. Stay tuned!
Yesterday an alarming study in the journal Science was released, which detailed the dramatic and shocking decline of birds in North America. Three billion birds have been lost in the last 50 years. This staggering drop includes not only threatened species, but also common ones like Eastern Meadowlark, Wood Thrush, Barn Swallow, Blue Jay and even Baltimore Oriole (like the one pictured here, banded this year at Rushton Woods Preserve).
Meadowlarks rely on healthy grasslands for habitat, which have been disappearing as human development and agriculture spreads across the land. Making matters worse without those grasslands, which are also needed to filter stormwater runoff, waterways that birds also rely on are being contaminated.
For 40 years, Willistown Conservation Trust has been permanently protecting land to advance conservation, including the preservation of vital habitat. Our Bird Conservation Program has been using this land to help study birds and promote their protection, operating a banding station, studying their health. Most recently, the Bird Conservation Program and their partners have been among the leaders in expanding the Motus Wildlife Tracking System throughout the Mid-Atlantic and the Northeast United States. The Willistown Area has even been designated an Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society because of its habitat and biodiversity.
We will continue our fight to protect land and habitat that birds need to survive. And despite the frightening report, there are some things you can do to help. Here are a few simple actions you can take:
- Keep cats indoors. It is estimated that domestic cats kill millions of birds every year.
- Lobby your representatives in Washington, DC, to support the Migratory Bird Protection Act, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act and other legislation that protects the environment.
- Reduce (or better still eliminate) the use of pesticides (particularly neonicotinoids) and herbicides on your property.
- Create habitat for birds in your own yard by maintaining shrub scrub, planting native plants, and providing water sources.
- Participate in citizen science efforts to document bird populations.
- Provide financial support to organizations that support bird conservation, like Willistown Conservation Trust.
While we are disheartened by the findings of this report, Willistown Conservation Trust is more motivated than ever before to continue our work to protect the land and the birds that rely on it.
We (and the birds) thank you for your continued support!
Fall migration is just around the corner. And that means the banding station at Rushton Woods Preserve will be back in operation.
Bird banding is an important and powerful scientific tool in bird conservation. Understanding our reasons for banding and being able to relate those reasons to the public, along with proper training and the maintenance of high scientific standards is necessary for the success of our banding/outreach program.
Rushton Woods Preserve (RWPR) lies within an Audubon Important Bird Area (IBA), offering a great opportunity for banding and allowing us to study the seasonal and long term population patterns and species diversity of migratory and breeding birds. The RWPR banding project contributes to continent-wide monitoring efforts and exemplifies the benefits of low-impact land management practices on bird populations. The RWPR station also allows us to train committed volunteers in the basics of bird banding and creates a setting for responsible nature education and conservation outreach.
In 1595, one of Henry IV’s banded Peregrine Falcons was lost in pursuit of a bustard in France. The falcon showed up 24 hours later in Malta, 1,350 miles away; thanks to banding, they were able to calculate that the falcon averaged a speed of 56 miles per hour. Duke Ferdinand placed a silver band on a Grey Heron around 1669 and the bird was then recovered by his grandson in about 1728, indicating that the heron had lived at least 60 years. In 1803, John James Audubon tied silver cord to the legs of a brood of Eastern Phoebes near Philadelphia and was reportedly able to identify two of the nestlings when they returned to the neighborhood the following year.
These centuries-old records are not only amazing, but gave inspiration to naturalists and scientists interested in understanding the mystery of migration. Today, bird banding is helping to answer questions not only about migration and longevity, but also site productivity, dispersal of young, metapopulations , site fidelity, survivorship, behavior, ecotoxicology and many other population ecology questions important to bird conservation and management around the world. In North America, banding is overseen by the US Geological Survey’s Bird Banding Laboratory (within the Department of the Interior) and the Canadian Wildlife Service. These offices issue federal permits, distribute bands, and compile all the data collected from bird banding. All of the data collected at the RWPR is sent here and is made available to researchers and other banders. Learn more at https://www.pwrc.usgs.gov/BBL/homepage/history.htm.
If you would like to observe the banding process and learn about the science, banding activities at the Rushton Woods Preserve banding station are open to the public on Tuesdays and Thursdays. See our events calendar for dates, time, and other details.
All in all, it was an extraordinary season, thanks to an exceptional team of licensed banders, ornithologists, volunteers, visitors, students, photographers, and bird lovers. The grand total was 1,010 new birds and 162 recaps of our own. We’ll be out there again next spring, for the love of birds.
There’s a heck of a lot going on in the woods,
P.S. Stay tuned for a special owl report coming to a blog near you.