Guest Post: What Do Blue Jays Say?

This post was contributed by Dustin Brewer, author of a recent paper in The Wilson Journal of Ornithology about the vocalizations of Blue Jays.

The author moments after catching his first Blue Jay (after much trial and error!). Photo by Dustin Brewer

Almost everyone who lives in or near the eastern half of the U.S. is familiar with Blue Jays. This species, with its striking blue and white plumage, often lives in close proximity to people and regularly visits bird feeders. In fact, many people are so familiar with Blue Jays that they have formed strong opinions about them, which they freely share. People often emphatically tell me that they don’t like Blue Jays because of how noisy or bossy they are. Some, though—these people I know I’ll get along with—wistfully smile and tell me that they love Blue Jays. And that Blue Jays “love peanuts.” You’ll soon see why I wish that people had told me that prior to my master’s project.

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Guest Post: A Love Affair With Brant

This post was contributed by Jim Sedinger, coauthor of a recent paper in The Wilson Journal of Ornithology about the effect of predation on nest site selection by Black Brants.

Brant T3E on the author’s head. Photo courtesy of Tutakoke Brant Project files.

It was late in the evening, but at the Tutakoke River Black Brant colony on the Bering Sea coast of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta (YKD) in western Alaska, where the sun sets for only about three hours each day during the nesting season, it was still light. I was checking the status of brant nests and recording the unique leg band codes of nesting individuals. In the part of the colony where I was working, many of the nests are on raised areas topped with grasses and sedges that are spread throughout mudflats otherwise by monthly high tides, which we called “mud islands.” As I approached one particular mud island I could see a male with the band code T3E peeking around the edge of the mud island that held his mate’s nest. When I kneeled down at the nest to check the eggs, he walked around behind me, walked up my back, and stood on my head. I had been expecting this, because this particular male’s mate had nested on the same mud island for the previous eight years, and his behavior had been the same every time someone approached his nest. I don’t know what caused this male to adopt this unusual (some might even say weird) approach to defending his nest, but from his perspective, his method was successful: every time he performed his ritual, his mate’s clutch of eggs was left intact when we left.

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Guest Post: How a Volunteer Role and a Class Assignment Unexpectedly Turned into a Research Project

This post was contributed by Chrisula Stone, a student at Northern Kentucky University and a 2020 Burtt Undergraduate Mentoring Grant recipient.

Chrisula presenting a poster on her research. Photo by Jessica Young.

I first became familiar with the iridescent, aerodynamic, and well-traveled Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor) as a park volunteer. In 2012, years before I began my second go-round as a 38-year-old “non-traditional” college student, I answered an ad in the local paper that was seeking volunteers to monitor nest boxes in our public parks.

The parks of Kenton County, KY, where I live, have a wonderful series of nest box trails that were established in 1998 by our former recreation programs coordinator, Steve Trauger.  In 1998, Steve, with the help of volunteers and the Scouts, established trails with beautiful handmade bluebird nest boxes throughout our parks. The boxes soon attracted not only Eastern Bluebirds, but also other cavity-nesting birds that are native to our region such as Tree Swallows, Carolina Chickadees, and House Wrens, and we now have established populations that return to them every year. I immediately fell in love with nest box monitoring when I came upon this new role in 2012, and it quickly became my favorite hobby. To me, it is just the perfect combination of hiking, birding and science. In 2014, with Steve’s support, I was able to set our nest box trails up as a NestWatch chapter (www.nestwatch.org), which allowed us to create and add to a long-term dataset on our nest box birds and contribute to science. Being a NestWatch chapter coordinator has allowed me to meet new people and form new friendships, and has opened so many doors for me.

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A Student Ornithologist Reflects on #WOS2022

This post was contributed by Kathryn Inkrott, a rising senior at Loyola Marymount University who attended this summer’s annual WOS meeting in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Left to right: Ivana Small, Kathryn Inkrott, and Isabella López.

Just before the end of March 2022, our advisor Dr. Kristen Covino came to us with the idea to attend the 2022 Wilson Ornithological Society annual meeting. The three of us were the most senior members of the Physiology and Hormonal Avian Biology lab at Loyola Marymount University, and knew we should be looking for some conference experience before the end of our undergraduate careers. My lab mates, Isabella López and Ivana Small, and I are rising seniors at Loyola Marymount University and are proud members of Dr. Covino’s “PHAB Lab.”

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Guest Post: Intersexual Aggression in the Brown-Headed Cowbird

This post was contributed by Francisco Magdaleno, lead author (with co-authors Steve Rothstein and Adrian O’Loghlen) of a recent paper in The Wilson Journal of Ornithology about the audio-visual song display of the Brown-Headed Cowbird.

Francisco observing cowbirds at the Animal Behavior Farm aviaries. Photo by Rebekka Dohme.

Why would male songbirds direct aggressive signals at females during courtship? This is an important unanswered question raised by our research on the audio-visual song display of the Brown-headed Cowbird.

We focused on a little-studied behavior, bill wiping, in the cowbird. While a graduate student studying this species’ behavior in aviaries at Andrew King and Meredith West’s Animal Behavior Farm, I noticed that cowbirds would often wipe their bills at the end of the elaborate wing-spread display that is done while singing. Although bill wiping is a common behavior in many birds, it has often been overlooked and assumed to not be related to communication. This is the case in the cowbird song display whose visual and auditory components have received a lot of attention from researchers over the years but not the bill wiping that accompanies the song displays even though early researchers noted its frequent occurrence.

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