Prairie birds

Insects and insectivores on the brink of extinction in the Adirondacks

In September, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service denied a petition to put the Bicknell’s thrush (Catharus bicknelli) on the federal list of endangered species. The Bicknell’s is a medium-size (6-7.5 inches) thrush—brown on the back with a white, spotted underside—that dwells in dense balsam-fir forests in high elevations in the Adirondacks. Following is a primer on other wildlife in trouble in the Adirondack Park.

The prairie-chicken has lost as much as 84 percent of its historic prairie and grassland

The lesser prairie-chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus) belongs to the grouse family of birds so iconic to prairie culture. This brown-barred, stocky species nests in shrubbery and grasses of the Texas panhandle, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado. David Hunter, owner of Hunter’s Livestock Supply in Woodward, recollected that the prairie-chickens were often spotted on his family’s 120-year-old farm in eastern Woodward when he was young. “There were just thousands of them everywhere,” the 57-year-old told me.

The Yellow-breasted Bunting suffered a 95 percent decline in the span of three decades

In the mid-1990s, the observed decline of the Yellow-breasted Bunting Emberiza aureola in Hokkaido, Japan alerted conservationists that another super-abundant species might be in trouble. Now we know it has suffered a huge decline, possibly as much as 95 percent of its population, in the span of just two to three decades.

Researchers suspect that nightjars are declining in Illinois

Once common, Whip-poor-wills (Caprimulgus vociferus) and other nocturnal nightjar (Caprimulgus europaeus) species are disappearing from Illinois forests as their habitats shrink and change, according to data from the Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS), a division of the University of Illinois’ Prairie Research Institute. “Because they are nocturnal, monitoring for nightjars can be challenging, but we suspect that they are declining,” said Tara Beveroth, an INHS avian researcher.

Prairie grouse are exposed to neonicotinoids

Sharp-tailed grouse and prairie chicken hunters can again this year voluntarily submit samples for study by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Ongoing DNR research is assessing prairie grouse exposure to chemicals called neonicotinoids. These are pesticides that, once applied, can move throughout a plant. Neonicotinoids are commonly applied to seeds before planting.

“We’re into our third year of this study assessing whether prairie grouse have been exposed to neonicotinoids by eating treated seeds or other ways,” said Charlotte Roy, DNR grouse project leader.

Canada’s wildlife are in trouble

The Living Planet Report Canada, published today, is the most comprehensive synthesis of Canadian wildlife population trends ever conducted. It shows that on average from 1970 to 2014, half of monitored vertebrate wildlife species in the study suffered population declines. Of those, average decline is 83 per cent since 1970. The picture is also worrisome for Canada’s federally protected species. Since 2002, when the Species at Risk Act became law, federally listed at-risk wildlife populations declined by 28 per cent, the report shows.

Red-headed woodpeckers are on decline

The red-headed woodpecker (Melanerpes erythocephalus) was once a very common woodpecker. These birds fly to catch insects in the air or on the ground, forage on trees or gather and store nuts. They are omnivorous, eating insects, seeds, fruits, berries, nuts, and occasionally even the eggs of other birds. In the mid-1800s, John James Audubon stated that the red-headed woodpecker was the most common woodpecker in North America. He called them semi-domesticated because they weren’t afraid of people. He stated that they were camp robbers and also a pest.

Imidacloprid may impact bobwhite quail embryonic development and chick survival

The goal of this research was to investigate the effects of the neonicotinoid imidacloprid on the morphological and physiological development of northern bobwhite quail (Colinus virginianus). Bobwhite eggs (n = 390) were injected with imidacloprid concentrations of 0 (sham), 10, 50, 100, and 150 mg/kg of egg mass, which was administered at day 0 (pre-incubation), 3, 6, 9, or 12 of growth. Embryos were dissected, weighed, staged, and examined for any overt structural deformities after 19 days of incubation. The mass of the embryonic heart, liver, lungs and kidneys was also recorded.

One of the West’s iconic birds is in trouble

Sage grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) are iconic birds in the West — including in Washington, Oregon and Idaho. But their numbers in 11 states have dramatically declined with their loss of habitat. It’s difficult to know exact sage grouse population numbers. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates somewhere between 200,000 to 500,000 sage grouse live across the range — a number conservation groups worry will now continue to decline.

No bugs no birds

When Ashtabula County Master Gardeners speak to local groups about creating bird-friendly landscapes, the volunteers are often asked why certain bird species are disappearing from backyard feeders. At times the answer is simply that some birds, like goldfinches (Carduelis carduelis), move from place to place within their territory to ensure a food source isn’t depleted. Another reason is not quite so benign. Many native bird populations are in serious decline because of the loss of habitat and subsequent food sources.