A Common Redpoll, one of several “northern finch” species that sporadically invade the conterminous U.S. With this study, perhaps those irruptions could be predicted in the future.
It was 2 winters ago that we had an incredible redpoll invasion. I’d never even had one in my yard before, and we’d lived in South Dakota for 20 years. However, in the winter of 2013/2014, we had Common Redpolls around for several months. A real thrill when one, and then another, Hoary Redpoll showed up at my feeders and stayed for a couple of weeks.
Such events are always a surprise, and it’s not just Redpolls. Both Red and White-winged Crossbills are equally unpredictable winter invaders across the U.S., as are Pine Siskins and Evening Grosbeaks. It was generally understood that large movements southward in the winter were due to poor seed crops for pines and spruces further north. A new study from the University of Utah attempts to explain the winter invasions, based on climatic variables. First, the study finds that favorable climate patterns tend to shift across the continent. When one region is favorable to seed production, other parts of the continent are more likely to have unfavorable conditions for seed production, resulting in periodic movements in birds as they key in on areas with the most food resources.
The other climate finding is that it may be possible to predict irruptions to south up to two years in advance! Seed production itself tends to be correlated with favorable conditions 2 or 3 years PRIOR to the actual growing season. So, for example, if 2015 has unfavorable climate conditions in much of Canada, it may mean reduced seed production in 2017, resulting an increased likelihood of a southward irruption of northern finches. One of the things I love about birding is the total unpredictability, as you never know what you may see when you head out, but it would be cool to be able to anticipate a great winter finch season.
One final aspect of the work I like…they relied very heavily on eBird data. A GREAT resource, but one that really isn’t being used for research nearly as much as other, more established monitoring programs like the Breeding Bird Survey. If found the eBird data to be invaluable for the bird/climate/land-use study I published, and I think you’ll see more papers like this finch study use eBird data in the coming years.
Greater Prairie Chickens live in areas with relatively high wind speeds. Not a good combination when wind farms have a negative impact on breeding.
A new research paper in The Condor: Ornithological Applications highlights yet another negative impact of wind energy on bird populations. It’s already been estimated that between 140,000 and 380,000 birds die each year due to collisions with wind turbines. The new study, led by authors from multiple universities, found that it’s not just collisions that can harm bird populations.
The authors looked at Greater Prairie Chicken populations near wind farms and found that nest abandonment was significantly higher on leks within 8 kilometers (~5 miles) from a wind turbine. They also found slightly lower weight birds closer to wind turbines. It’s not just the turbines themselves that are an issue, it’s increased human activity, and energy and transportation corridors connecting wind turbines.
So to summarize, fossil fuel burning results in carbon emissions and global warming and also severely impacts habitat at extraction sites. Solar energy has been implicated in the direct incineration of birds unlikely enough to encounter a solar farm. Wind farms now have been implicated not only in direct collision deaths, but negative impacts on successful breeding. In other words, you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t, regarding any “bird-friendly” choices for energy production.
To me there’s still no question that either solar or wind are much better environmental options than fossil fuels. Impacts for solar and wind are local, while fossil fuel burning causes both local habitat destruction, and global impacts on climate. It’s depressing to think that even birds 5 miles from a wind turbine could be negatively impacted, but to me wind farms are the lesser of the various energy evils out there.
ACK! My old blog, “Feathers and Folly”, was hacked! I started receiving notices from Google that my overall site had been hacked, but I had no idea what the issue was. I brought up all my web pages, and they looked normal. It wasn’t until I went onto a Google Forum and asked for help that someone pointed out the problem.
When you looked at my old pages, they seemed fine, just how I wanted them to look. But some searches involving my site on Google including some pretty awful stuff, links that would redirect you from my site to other, pretty nefarious sites.
I’m looking at this as an opportunity to start fresh! Given that I didn’t update my old blog very often, I’m starting anew. I deleted all “Feathers and Folly” material and this will be the new companion blog to South Dakota Birds and Birding. With a fresh start, I hope to post more often, including the following:
- Recent birding trips and photos
- Photo stories, describing the experience of getting a specific photo
- “In the News”, news stories involving birds and birding
- Conservation issues, involving news or related material about conservation of habitats and the creatures that live in them.
- Science/Research, highlighting new research in ornithology and related topics.
Check back soon and I hope to keep the NEW South Dakota Birds Blog updated frequently!!