About half of eastern North America’s Monarch butterflies migrate to the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in Mexico each fall. Their arrival usually coincides with the local corn harvest around November 1, leading to the local name “harvester butterfly”.
The colonies of overwintering butterflies have in the past numbered up to a billion individuals, and the counts at the reserve are used to gauge population levels across North America. This year, however, the monarchs arrived about a week late and number only 3 million - just a tiny fraction of their usual numbers, around 350-450 million. In fact, just a fraction of the 60 million that arrived last year, which itself had been considered an alarming decline.
Four factors have been blamed for the crash: continuing habitat loss, widespread pesticide use, changing gardening approaches, and climate change, which has resulted in more numerous and more severe weather events that affect both the adults’ survival and their reproductive success. You can help by providing milkweed and nectar-rich plants in your garden, by reducing your use of pesticides, by leaving some of your property to naturalize, by planting wildflower meadows, and/or by encouraging your local municipality to cut back on mowing along roadsides and other wildflower-rich areas.
Of monarchs and milkweeds: How one species’ pest is another’s repast
by Nathanael Johnson
The monarch butterfly is a prime example of charismatic minifauna. Charismatic megafauna — bears, sharks, wolves — evoke feelings of awe, but there’s a subtle contradiction in sheltering species that sometime eat us. With charismatic minifauna, however, that contradiction disappears. It may be harder to empathize with insects, but nurturing them comes a bit more naturally.
People like Debbie Jackson, a conservation specialist with Monarch Watch, have been nurturing the insects for decades.
“I started this as a little girl the cornfields of the Midwest, just enjoying them,” she said. “Feeding the caterpillars on milkweed and watching them grow.”
Now monarchs are in trouble — in part because there’s not much milkweed left in the cornfields of the Midwest(herbicides…).
“The numbers are astronomically horrible,” Jackson said. The monarch overwintering spot in the mountains of Mexico once hosted a billion butterflies. But just 3 million have shown up so far this year, she said.
Yellow-billed Cuckoos and Red Knots Proposed for Endangered Listing
by Brianna Elliott
What could the western yellow-billed cuckoo, a river-loving songbird, and the rufa red knot, an East Coast shorebird, possibly have in common? Both are Audubon Priority Birds, and they’ve been in steep decline since the late 20th century, adversely affected by habitat degradation and declining food supplies. Climate change has taken its toll on each, too: Extended droughts have affected cuckoo habitat, while rising sea levels have damaged red knot feeding grounds. But now, after years of intensive monitoring by Audubon and many partner organizations, there’s a glimmer of hope on the horizon for these birds.
In early October the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed listing the birds as threatened under the Endangered Species Act; a final decision is anticipated next summer. If the verdict favors the birds, the resulting habitat protection could give them a greater chance at rebounding.
Endangered species listing isn’t always the most effective strategy, and Audubon and other conservation favor using it judiciously. In the case of the greater sage-grouse, for instance, Audubon and its partners figured—correctly, as it turned out—that working with government agencies and private landowners would be the most effective way to conserve the species. With the yellow-billed cuckoo and the rufa red knot, however, listing could be the last, best hope…
Any amateur phenologist can tell you that migratory birds seem to be returning earlier and earlier every spring. Rising temperatures due to climate change is presumably the culprit, but until recently, the mechanism that selects for that early arrival was unknown. For a long while, it was suggested that individual birds were changing their individual schedules to take advantage of a northern hemisphere that was getting warmer earlier in the year.
But that turns out not to be the case. With the help of thousands of volunteer birders working over two decades, researchers at the University of East Anglia in the UK have found that individual shorebirds – specifically Black-tailed Godwits nesting in Iceland – are still arriving on their breeding grounds at roughly the same date every year regardless of temperature or weather. However, the peak migration of the population of Black-tailed Godwits, was arriving earlier every year. How could this be? …
Red Knots Need Protecting Under the Endangered Species Act
Red knots (Calidris canutus) have seen their population plummet by more than 75 percent in North america. A threatened or endangered listing would make critical resources available for red knot protection. There is no time to lose as this bird plunges toward extinction.
Experts met last week at Savannah National Wildlife Refuge, in South Carolina, to share information about the Black Rail (Laterallus jamaicensis) - a secretive bird that for many represents one of the “Holy Grails” of North American birding. Seen by few and studied by fewer still, its status is poorly known and feared to be tenuous. It is not known if the dramatic losses in the mid-Atlantic region in recent years extend to the south Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Participants reviewed methods most likely to give good answers.
…a species of New World warbler (not a thrush!) that is native to eastern North America, and winters in Central America and the West Indies. Louisiana waterthrushes feed alongside running streams and other flooded areas for small crustaceans, small fish, salamanders, and aquatic and flying insects. They are very territorial and will defend their streams from intruders.
After they winter down south Louisiana waterthrushes will return in late March to breed. Males typically arrive before the females and will set up a territory. Once the females arrive they will begin singing as a courtship display. They will nest from late May to mid-June and typically a clutch of five eggs are laid.
Climate Change Shifts Bird Migration—One Generation at a Time
Biologists unravel how warming weather causes some birds to migrate earlier.
By Daisy Yuhas
(11/12/2013) - In the last few decades birders and biologists alike have noticed that spring migration is changing. Species are arriving on their breeding grounds earlier each year. It’s clear there’s a link between climate change and shifting travel dates, but a new study reveals that individual black-tailed godwits are very consistent in their migratory timing, challenging assumptions about how warmer weather shifts behavior.
These leggy, reddish shorebirds winter in Spain and Portugal. They return to their Icelandic breeding grounds each spring, between mid-May and mid-April, often nesting a month after arrival. A team of biologists who closely track their movements have noted that the birds arrive two weeks earlier today than they did twenty years ago.
To figure out why, they first tackled the long-held assumption that balmier weather might trigger individual birds to take flight sooner each season. Poring over 14 years of records for 54 individual godwits, they discovered something curious: Each bird returned year after year on roughly the same day…
Baltimore Orioles take their name from the colorful black and orange heraldic crest of England’s Baltimore family, for which Maryland’s largest city is named. The species is a familiar sight in parks and yards across its breeding range, having adapted well to living in proximity to people.
This oriole overwinters largely in the tropics and follows the flowers in flocks of 30 to 40 birds, pursuing nectar—an important winter food.
Traditional shade coffee farms in Central and South America are magnets for Baltimore Orioles in the nonbreeding season. These farms produce the highest-quality coffee and also provide important habitat for many migratory birds…
Arguably North America’s most widely familiar waterfowl, the Canada Goose can now be encountered, in one season or another, across nearly all of the continent.
Their noisy, V-shaped flocks are commonly viewed as a symbol of the seasons changing - the poem Something Told The Wild Geese by Rachel Field is a lovely tribute to this, for instance. The V formations are actually a behavior designed to minimize energy expended during long migrations by using the same principle of drafting that race car drivers and military aircraft do; birds cycle through the lead position (which doesn’t benefit from the upwash created by wingtip vortices) so no one individual ends up doing all the extra work - this strategy can result in an increase in flight range of up to 71%.
As they migrate, Canada Geese often stop over at crop fields, which can provide easy nutrition in the form of waste grain left behind after the harvest. Breeding from the mid-latitudes of the United States north to the Arctic Sea, there is a broad range of phenotypes across the species’ range. Seven subspecies of Canada Goose are recognized, with a further four recently split off into a new species, Cackling Goose, a tundra breeder averaging half the size of the average Canada.
Study Documents Effects of Road Noises on Migratory Birds
by Ralph Poore
A first-of-its-kind study by Boise State University researchers shows that the negative effects of roads on wildlife are largely because of traffic noise.
Biologists have known that bird populations decline near roads. But pinpointing noise as a cause has been a problem because past studies of the effects of road noise on wildlife were conducted in the presence of the other confounding effects of roads. These include visual disturbances, collisions and chemical pollution, among others.
We present the first study to experimentally apply traffic noise to a roadless area at a landscape scale, thus avoiding the other confounding aspects of roads present in past studies,” said Christopher J. W. McClure, post-doctoral research associate in the Department of Biological Sciences…
A Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres) and a Red Knot (Calidris canutus) share a meal and a special moment amongst a bunch of fucking sandpipers that i’m not going to even bother identifying, fuck those sandpipers…
Audubon and Bahamas National Trust to Establish National Park on Joulter Cays
The National Audubon Society is working alongside the Bahamas National Trust to establish a new national park on the Joulter Cays, a group of small uninhabited islands and intertidal sand flats to the north of Andros Island in the Bahamas. The area was recently discovered to provide critical winter habitat for the threatened Piping Plover and Red Knot.
This week, Audubon staff visited the site with the Honorable Kenred Dorsett, minister of environment and housing for the Bahamas, other senior government officials for the Island of Andros, the board of the Bahamas National Trust and local sports fishing guides to highlight the site’s significance for migrating and wintering birds, marine wildlife and local economies.
“The Joulter Cays are rich in birds, fisheries and other wildlife. This is true paradise, a treasure for the Bahamas and it deserves protection for all that it has to offer,” said Matt Jeffery, deputy director of Audubon’s International Alliances Program…