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Posts Tagged ‘chick’

Greetings from Ship Island!

Bobby Brittingham here! As my time is coming to a close on Ship Island, I wanted a chance to post one more educational blog about our work before a farewell blog!

You may or may not have heard about “bird banding” before, it is an extremely common form of essentially tagging and releasing birds. Using specialized pliers, a small metal “C” shaped band is clamped shut around a bird’s tarsus (leg-like the shin bone equivalent to humans).

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BBL size 2 band, with the identification number, these are the bands used on all of the birds on Ship.

The banding database provides a lot of information on each bird, where they have been seen, where they nest, where they migrate, or even if the bird is alive, as long as the bird’s band is seen and read correctly by another researcher. These bands are essential to distinguishing one bird from another to perform other research procedures or to distinguish which bird belongs to which nest. On Ship we had very late nesting, so Collin and I have been banding as many chicks as possible with our limited time so that these birds can be identified on where they go over the next year.

banding chick

Collin banding with specialized pliers, one of Collin’s first banded birds!

Bands vary in size and number of letters based on the size, type of band, and/or species of the bird. For the common terns on Ship Island, a single size 2 “BBL” band is placed around their right leg; these bands each have a unique 9 digit number.  These bands are then entered in an online database through the United States Geological Survey (USGS), and the “status” of a bird can be updated by individuals all over the world. For example, a tern was banded on Petit Manan this summer, and it has already been spotted by another researcher in Venezuela all the way in South America!

band on chick

The chicks do not mind the bands as long as they’re put on correctly. When they are put on right, they even look stylish!

For me personally, it is the most fun protocol we perform out here, nothing beats the feeling of getting to meet hundreds of chicks that I have the privilege to watch over every day on this island. Not only that, but it is crucial for research purposes. With the late nesting that occurred this year on Ship, it will be interesting to see where these birds could have possibly gone earlier this year by resightings of the chicks that we band this summer. Be on the lookout for one more blog from the Ship Island crew later this week!

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Hello everyone, this is Bobby writing to you from Ship Island with some breaking news.

The bird word must have gone around, because as of Thursday, July 11th, 321 nests have been found and marked with more being discovered every day! The chaos on the tern nesting beach area is beginning; the eggs laid in late June have begun to hatch this week. Soon our island will be filled with extremely adorable fuzzy chicks who love to run and hide in whatever grass or shelter they can find!

fuzzy boy

One of the first chicks on Ship, easily one of the softest objects one could ever hold.

These toddler-like chicks are extremely curious and will wander away pretty far from their nests if given a chance. With them running around all over, it can be difficult to tell how the colony chicks are doing health wise and how many of these chicks are surviving to adulthood. This is answered through a protocol that all of the islands perform known as productivity plots. This may sound like a fancy term, but essentially Colin and I determined a group of nests with eggs that were laid earlier in the season (in our case in late June) that neighbored each other and constructed fencing around them to enclose this area.

 

COTE on colins head

Colin (pictured) and I constantly had terns going at our heads to protect their nests while we constructed productivity plots. This one very nicely went feet first to our heads instead of the usual sharp bill first.

This keeps the chicks from our nests of focus from running all over the beach getting into trouble, that way we can determine how many chicks are surviving to adulthood and the size increases of each chick from each nest within our plots. To determine which chick is which, we put stylish metal BBL bands on their right legs that give them a unique identification number for life in a large online database. Colin and I then check each nest in each plot every morning to monitor the eggs and chicks. I am not a parent, but I imagine how I feel when we look for the chicks every morning it is similar to the stressful situation of a parent trying to find their misplaced kids, as Colin and I are really attached to our chicks in the plots. It has been amazing to see the transformation from egg to chick, and soon from chick to fledgling. Watching them grow up has been so special for Colin and I, and we can’t wait to see each chick’s journey continue. More updates coming soon!

wet baby tern

One of the many chicks hatching this weekend, this one hatched within the hour before this photo with a big world to explore!

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While most of the other MCINWR islands are winding down for the season, Petit Manan is still going strong with major alcid trapping, island-wide guillemot and storm petrel checks, Arctic tern re-sighting, and our new-this-year project: Atlantic puffin feeding studies.

Atlantic Puffin with bill load

Atlantic Puffin with bill load through scope.

Puffin flying to burrow with fish that we have to identify as part of our feeding study

Puffin flying to burrow with fish that we have to identify as part of our feeding study

During our alcid checks, we discovered two little surprises in the form of Razorbill chicks! Only five pairs are breeding here on Petit Manan, so each new chick is very special to us. We even managed to capture one of his parents bringing food back to the burrow, an unusual sight here on PMI

Freshly banded Razorbill chick

Freshly banded Razorbill chick

Razorbill flying with food

Razorbill flying with food

Here are a few more snapshots of what else has been going on at PMI.

Black Guillemot chick being weighed during our weekly productivity checks

Black Guillemot chick being weighed every 5 days as part of our productivity checks

Leach's storm-petrel chick

Leach’s storm-petrel chick

PMI crew banding a puffin chick, minus Julia who took the photo

PMI crew banding a puffin chick, minus Julia who took the photo

A puffin undergoing the banding process

A puffin undergoing the banding process

Wayne and Julia with their first captured adult Razorbill!

Wayne and Julia with their first captured adult Razorbill!

Until next time,

Wayne and Julia

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Photo by Wayne MacCabe

Photo by Wayne MacCabe

This is the Captain, who lives on the walkway in front of the house. What makes him so special to us is he was rescued from freezing rain when he was still inside his egg. One rainy day the area where Captain’s nest was got flooded with collecting rain water. The whole nest and the three eggs inside it were completely submerged in the water and were floating around. The parent was hovering over the nest, unsure of what to do. After seeing this I quickly ran outside and scooped up the nest and re-located it to a nearby high-elevated area. Seconds later Captain’s mother was back on her nest. I was relieved to see this because terns can be sensitive to any slight change to their nest and can be spooked away if they feel something is wrong. Unfortunately, I still didn’t have high hopes for the chick’s survival. I didn’t know how long the eggs were floating in the cold water, they could have passed away from the cold temperatures or from the water sealing up the pores on the egg which lets the chicks breath oxygen from the air. But, to my surprise about a week later Captain hatched and soon after so did his brother, Sailor. I named the chicks this because the nest was floating around like a ship at sea. Now, both Captain and Sailor are fledging!

We have over 2,000 chicks on the island and just our presence here increases the survival rate for these chicks. This is because we deter predators like greater black back gulls, peregrine falcons, herring gulls, and more which will make a quick meal out of the fledging terns and chicks. Realistically, we can not 100 percent stop predation from these species, but we work hard to keep fatality numbers low. Without us working here on the island these birds would likely take over and would have a devastating blow to the tern population. It made me so happy to see that Captain had made it but I noticed I gained a lot more than just satisfaction from seeing him survive, I gained a new understanding of my time here on the island. This event encouraged me because it really showed how my time and work on the island present on the island.

-Laura Bollert

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Common Tern not liking that I am taking his picture!

Hello from Ship! Unfortunately, we don’t have any glorious food updates (though the adult terns are bringing in a lot of tasty fish!), but, we can report that we have little chicks everywhere! They come in all shapes and sizes, from seabirds, to shorebirds, to passerines, to ducklings.

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Savannah Sparrow fledgling; basically a little ball with mouth and feathers.

Like Petit Manan Island, we have been noticing the vast variety of plumage colorations exhibited by the chicks, even within one family! Featured below are two chick siblings with different colorations. Chicks range anywhere from a warm sandy tan, to seaweed brown, to a silvery tan. They can have very dark well-defined spots or hardly any spots at all. All of these colors help them blend into their environment. The two below are already getting their juvenile feathers and are around 15 days old. 

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Chick siblings exhibiting some of the plumage color variations.

Two of Ship’s posts ago, I posted a picture of an adult tern sitting on “Nest Two.” I am happy to report that they now have three little chicks! They are part of our feeding study. Here is a parent with one of the chicks.

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Nest 2 parent with chick.

And lastly, here is a spotted sandpiper nest with 3 chicks! One of them is very freshly hatched and is still wet from coming out of the egg. Sandpiper chicks are very mobile quite soon after they hatch, so we were lucky to witness these.

– Julia

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Spotted sandpiper chicks in the nest.

 

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Hello once again from the Brothers! I am sure many of you are wondering how Reggie is doing with his harem of decoys. Well exciting news; the other day Reg was spotted presenting a nice big fish to a real live lady tern! Unfortunately having spent so long with the decoys Reg forgot his manners and was a little too insistent our new lady tern take his fish. She flew off, but not to worry, she was back the next day so Reg has an opportunity to try again.

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An example of a chick who had a little too much rock gunnel.

In the area of guillemot chick checks we have chicks from two days old weighing in at 37g to Alfonso a tubby 27 day old chick at 345g. There is quite a size difference between some of our chicks which their parents do not seem to take that into account. In taking measurements on our two day old chicks we found that half of the size of the chick could be accounted for by its crop that was stuffed full of delicious nutritious rock gunnel. The poor chick looked as though he wished he would have stopped eating rock gunnel long before he had. We all feel for you little chick!

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A Leach’s storm petrel, presented here as a popsicle bird.

We at the Brothers are very pleased to announce that we have a Leach’s storm petrel who has decided to take up residence on Western Brothers. The Leach’s Storm Petrel is nocturnal. We have heard them calling several times during the night but until now we have not been able to find if they have actually been nesting here. Our petrel was incubating a single egg deep inside a burrow of loose dirt. Storm petrel’s have a very distinctive odor which you may be able to smell at the entrance of the burrow if it is active. The odor is not entirely unpleasant as they smell very much like old books.

One last update for you. We have finally found some young Savannah sparrows. We had known that they were breeding here but we had not been able to find a successful nest until now. As you can see at this age they are almost perfect spheres with over-sized mouths. Adorable!

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Savannah sparrow sphere with giant mouth.

~SK

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A black guillemot chick grubbed from underneath the boardwalk

One of our most exciting endeavors on this lovely seabird island is monitoring the Alcid burrows around the perimeter of the island. Alcidae is a family of seabirds that includes Atlantic Puffins, Razorbills, and Black Guillemots, all of which breed here on Petit Manan. Unlike the terns that lay their eggs on the exposed ground, each of these species raise their chicks in a protective burrow. Razorbills and puffins always have one egg, while guillemots often have two.

Puffin chick!

Usually burrows are in the crevices between the pink granite rocks that border the island, but sometimes our Alcids choose some unconventional sites, like in the foundation of a fallen building, or under the boardwalk that stretches the length of the island from the boathouse to the lighthouse. In addition to rock burrows, puffins are able to dig burrows in the sod that can be over 6 feet long! Because Petit Manan is a tiny island with an incredible number of breeding birds, we also provide artificial burrows made from wooden boxes or overturned plastic buckets with tubes attached to the entrance so that the birds can crawl into a protected space like they would in their granite or sod burrows.

Alcids establish burrows in early May, around the time we arrive on the island. At the beginning of the season, once the birds have laid eggs, we do a survey of the burrows to determine which ones are active, peering in but trying not to disturb the birds while they are incubating. Later in the season (now!), once most of the chicks have hatched, we do another thorough investigation during which we “grub” the puffin, guillemot, and razorbill chicks and adults.

Applying metal identification bands to an adult puffin’s legs

We remove them from their burrows so that we can put small metal identification bands around their legs, each with unique number/letter combination so that we can resight individuals later and determine how often they return to the island and what other locations they might be visiting year-to-year. We also weigh chicks now and again at the end of the season to monitor their growth. Many of the puffin and guillemot chicks won’t fledge until after we’ve left the island in the middle of August.

Linda Welch (lead biologist) and Jordan (field tech) grubbing a razorbill chick.

“Grubbing” an Alcid can be quite a surprising experience, as it often involves reaching blindly into a dark, slimy crevice and feeling around until you find a fluffy little chick… or until your fingers meet the sharp vice grip of an adult puffin’s powerful bill!

So far this season we’ve noticed that the number of breeding guillemots on the island is on the rise, but there seem to be fewer breeding puffins this year than in years past. We have one confirmed Razorbill chick, and two more possible sites. We’ll keep you posted as we collect and analyze more data about our awesome Alcids!

Linda with a freshly grubbed razorbill chick that is nearly ready to fledge. While puffin chicks take up to 50 days to fledge, razorbills are ready to go in only 16-20 days!

When a razorbill chick is ready to fledge, its dad leads it out of the burrow under cover of night and takes it to the ocean.

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