Marian’s Wildlife Blog – August 2017

Black capped Chickadee by Doug Pederson

Do you have a large glass window or slider at your house? If so, chances are you have seen a bird strike that glass at some time. If the bird is lucky, it will just stun itself, perhaps need a few minutes to “come to” and then fly off. Sometimes, though, the bird is killed by the window strike. Living Bird, a publication of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, reported on this problem in an article titled “Glass Action for Birds”, in its winter 2014 edition. It has been estimated that up to a billion birds are killed each year by window collisions in the United States alone.

Scott Loss of Oklahoma State University has done bird strike research for the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He found, surprisingly, that the majority of annual bird deaths occur at residential and low-rise structures. The average family residence kills one to three birds a year. Loss found that six species seem to die of glass strikes most commonly: Ruby-throated hummingbirds, brown creepers, ovenbirds, yellow-bellied sapsuckers, gray catbirds, and black and white warblers. It seems that these long-distance migrants may be less familiar with the structures in areas they pass through on migration. I notice that at my house, however, the birds mostly likely to strike the glass are mourning doves, downy woodpeckers, chickadees and titmice. It seems that they do this when they are flying in panic to avoid a hawk predator.   read more….

Marian’s Wildlife Blog – July 2017

Eastern Cottontail by Marian Harman

Most of us enjoy seeing cottontail rabbit families in our yards (unless they are nibbling on our lettuce, of course). They’re definitely cute. The bunnies we see in our yard are almost certainly the hybrid Eastern Cottontail. The “real” New England Cottontail has become threatened here due to loss of habitat. It is very difficult to distinguish New England cottontails from Eastern cottontails. The native New Englanders are a bit smaller, and have ears trimmed with fine black fur. They lack the white forehead spots common on Eastern Cottontails.

The historic range of the New England Cottontail has always been small; southern Maine and New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and south to Rhode Island. These rabbits depend on small early succession forest patches within a larger habitat of forest and shrub wetlands. They eat the shrubby undergrowth that abounds in young forests. It is thought that historically they thrived in habitats along waterways, disturbed by hurricanes or fires. But due to development, forest fire suppression, and the introduction of alien invasive shrubs such as autumn olive, barberry and honeysuckle, New England Cottontails have lost 80 % of their former habitat. They are listed as threatened in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, endangered in New Hampshire and Maine, and extirpated from Vermont.

A recent article by nature writer Ted Williams entitled “Recovery: Second Chance for Yankee Cottontails” appeared June 7, 2017 in a Nature Conservancy blog called Cool Green Science. Williams states that the Eastern Cottontail is a hybrid mixture of cottontail breeds. It was introduced repeatedly from the late 1800’s through 1970 by hunting clubs and fish and wildlife services, and is so hearty that it has outcompeted our native cottontail. New England Cottontails are dependent on early successional forest, which we have pretty much run out of in New England. Eastern Cottontails, however, do well in all habitats, especially suburban yards and edges.   read more…

Birding Program at Miller School

Westford Conservation Trust founding member and Honorary Director Marian Harman recently presented her Feeder Watch birding program to all second graders at the Rita Miller Elementary School! Trust Directors Emily Edwards and Diane Duane were also present to donate three binoculars along with birding guides, bird feeder and feeding supplies. The observations will be recorded and sent to Marian for her Wildlife Watch column.

A huge thank you to Marian Harman for all her hard work and enthusiasm to help these budding citizen scientists!

Marian Harman presenting to Miller School 2nd graders