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Birds of Prairie Ridge (Part 1)

July 7, 2018

This blog post is brought to you by Richa Patel, Prairie Ridge’s YAIO summer intern.  Richa will complete her degrees at NC State in aerospace engineering and political science this fall.  Thanks Richa!

On the dim, early morning of June 23, I arrived at Prairie Ridge Ecostation at 6:30 AM to observe that week’s bird banding. I thought I was up early, but, upon reaching bird banders John Gerwin and Holly Ferreira, I learned that banding leader Keith Jensen had arrived long before to set up the mist nets. Former NCMNS intern Hanna Rogers wrote a great primer on how mist nests are used and bird banding is done at Prairie Ridge, which can be read here.

Once all of the expected banders arrived, regular rounds were made to check on all of the mist nets scattered around the prairie and arboretum. The first bird found was a beautiful male Indigo Bunting at a net near the lake. Further along, a Red-Bellied Woodpecker was also picked up during the round.

Male Indigo Bunting held in a photographer’s grip. This Bunting had a previous band, indicating it had been caught and banded before. Pictures by Anna Slayton and Richa Patel.

Here, in its breeding plumage, this Indigo Bunting is an iridescent blue, an indicator that it’s a male. Female Indigo Buntings, on the other hand, are a light brown, although some do have a tinge of blue. A juvenile will look similar to a female, with the addition of faint white streaks on its back and breast. Once breeding season is over, this Indigo Bunting will molt for the winter until it becomes predominantly brown again. An interesting thing to note is that there is no blue pigment in the feather of these birds; the bright blue you see is actually created by a refraction of light. If it’s cloudy, an Indigo Bunting may appear black instead!

Left: Bander Holly Ferriera posing with the woodpecker.  Right: Checking the molting of the Red-Bellied Woodpecker. Pictures by Anna Slayton and Richa Patel.

Where the Indigo Bunting remained calm during the health measurements, the Red-Bellied Woodpecker was feistier. The red patch on the woodpecker’s head indicates that this young bird is most likely a male, as female Red-Bellied Woodpeckers usually just have red on their napes. A closer look at its abdomen would show a small patch of pale reddish-orange feathers that give the bird its name.

Around thirty minutes after the first round, another round was made. This round brought forth a northern cardinal and a brown thrasher.

Brown Thrasher being held in a bander’s grip for health measurements. Pictures by Anna Slayton and Richa Patel.

This surprised looking fellow is a Brown Thrasher. These birds are reddish brown and the adults, like the one above, have yellow eyes. These birds eat acorns, wild fruits, and berries, but they also dine on lots of beetles and caterpillars. Although acorns are a significant part of their diet, the thrashers’ beaks are not well adapted to shelling them, so they often dig the acorns into the ground to break them open, just as if they were using a tool!

A Northern Cardinal getting its wings measured (left) and being prepared for release (right). Pictures by Anna Slayton and Richa Patel.

If you live in North Carolina, you’ve probably seen a Northern Cardinal before (or twenty!). Northern Cardinals are the state bird of North Carolina and a common permanent resident. These are our only red birds in the Carolinas to have a prominent crest, which are the feathers on the top of its head, like a funky hairstyle. The one captured above is a male, which have brighter, redder feathers than the brownish females. Listen carefully when you see one! They’re calls are often found to sound like “pretty-pretty-pretty,” which, when you see one, you can’t disagree!

These weren’t the only birds banded that morning! Make sure to keep your eyes out for Part 2 of Birds at Prairie Ridge, and, as always, keep up with the things happening at Prairie Ridge Ecostation on our Facebook or the Museum’s event page.

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