Archbold Biological Station, Biennial Report 1999-2000

Florida scrub-jay (Aphelocoma coerulescens); photo by Reed Bowman

       Accomplishments 1999-00
  • Published 5 papers about Florida scrub-jays, 4 about other bird species (blue jay, northern lapwing, short-eared owl, loggerhead kingbird), and one about an amphibian (narrowmouthed toad).

  • Presented research results with Bob Curry, John Fitzpatrick, and Reed Bowman at a national scientific meeting (American Ornithologistsí Union).

  • Presented invited lectures on scrub-jay and sooty tern biology to conservation organizations.

  • Served as advisor for 3 Masterís students and on the committees for 2 Masterís students at the University of South Florida.

  • Continued to serve on the Managing Committee of The Birds of North America, a joint publishing project of the American Ornithologistsí Union (AOU) and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

  • Continued as the AOU representative to the North American Bird Banding Council.

  • Retired from University of South Florida (1999); became full-time resident at Archbold Biological Station.

Scrub-jay research team, April 2000. Front L-R: Glen Woolfenden, Wendy Reed (Iowa State Univ.), Reed Bowman, Brent Sewell, Jan Woolfenden; Kim Brand & Tina Fleischer (Univ. South Florida). Middle L-R: John Fitzpatrick (Cornell Univ.), Larry Riopelle, Michelle Dent, Bob Curry (Villanova Univ.). Back L-R: Arthur Fleischer, Steve Schoech (Indiana Univ.), David Aborn (Univ. Tennessee), Matt Shawkey; photo by Reed Bowman.

 1999 Florida scrub-jay territory and nest distribution at Archbold Biological Station; map by Roberta Pickert

Bird Research

Project Director: Glen E. Woolfenden
Research Assistants: Arthur L. Fleischer (1999), Larry A. Riopelle (2000) supported by NSF Long-Term Research in Environmental Biology Program
Graduate Student Interns: Kimberly B. Brand, University of South Florida; Tina L. Fleischer, University of South Florida; Daniel Levitis, Bennington College
Volunteers: Janet A. Woolfenden, Venus; Sarh P. Hatfield, Cornell University; William J. Keating and Ralph G. S. Risch, University of South Florida
Outside Collaborators: Florida Scrub-Jay research: Robert L. Curry, Villanova University; John W. Fitzpatrick, Cornell University; Jack P. Hailman, University of Wisconsin; Ronald L. Mumme, Allegheny College. Research on other species: Jon Greenlaw, Cape Coral, Florida; Wayne Hoffman, National Audubon Society, Tavernier, Florida; Walter E. Meshaka, Jr., Everglades National Park; P. William Smith, Ocean Shores, Washington
Visiting Researchers: Hugh I. Ellis, University of San Diego; Stephan J. Schoech, Indiana University; Harrison B. Tordoff, University of Minnesota

[Biennial Contents ]

The Florida Scrub-jay. Our long-term study of the demography and behavior of the Florida scrub-jay (see photo, this page) continued. Basic to our research is following the approximately 60 families that occupy about 2 square miles of scrub at Archbold known as the Demography Tract. In this tract we conduct monthly censuses, find and monitor all nesting attempts (see map, page 11), and capture and band all immigrants. When a jay is captured and banded it is measured. When nestlings are banded and measured we take a blood sample. Part of the blood sample is used for sexing the individuals; the remainder, which is archived at Cornell University, is used for genetic studies. With a pan balance we regularly obtain weights of some individuals without having to capture them (see Kim Brand, page 38). Habitat measurements include counting acorns produced by approximately 2400 marked oaks annually and counting insect prey at about a dozen points in the scrub monthly.

In 1999 the jays fledged 2.02 young per pair, in 2000 they fledged 1.67; both years were near the long-term, 30-year average of 1.79 young fledged per pair. A drought began in 2000 that continues in 2001.

Five papers (see Appendix A) reporting on various aspects of scrub-jay ecology and behavior were published in 1999-00. Peter Midford, a University of Wisconsin graduate student, Jack Hailman, and Glen Woolfenden published on social learning (see Ethology, page 16). Young jays were allowed to watch more experienced individuals search for peanuts buried within a plastic ring set out in their territory. Afterwards we determined if the observing jays copied the behavior they witnessed. As expected, young learn from watching adults in this family-oriented bird species. Using jays living in the Experimental Tract, which lies south of the Demography Tract, Ron Mumme (see page 15), Steve Schoech, John Fitzpatrick, and Woolfenden demonstrated that scrub-jays living along a rural, high-speed road do not survive as well as those that live with no such road along their territory. These results have important conservation implications. Jim Quinn (McMaster Univ.), John Fitzpatrick, Brad White (McMaster Univ.), and Woolfenden published on the relationships between behavioral and genetic parents in the scrub-jays. The answer is straightforward, the behavioral parents are the genetic parents. Unlike its close congener the Mexican jay, Florida scrub-jay helpers never produce any young of their own. Dave McDonald (Univ. Wyoming), Wayne Potts (Univ. Utah), John Fitzpatrick and Woolfenden showed that greater differences in genetic structure occur between scrub-jays in Florida living relatively near each other, but on different ridges, than between scrub-jays in California that exist farther apart, but in continuous habitat. Joanna Burger, Mike Gochfeld (both at Rutgers Univ.), and Woolfenden published on metal concentrations in the eggs of scrub-jays. Levels were lower than those that cause abnormalities in birds.

Reed Bowman (see pages 12-13) and Woolfenden submitted a paper comparing the breeding of scrub-jays in natural scrub with those in suburban housing areas embedded in scrub. Although they start earlier in the spring and have more attempts, suburban scrub-jays are a population sink; they do not produce enough breeders to replace themselves. Furthermore, immigrants do not come from natural scrub source populations. They are investigating this important finding further.

Other Projects. Keith Tarvin and Woolfenden wrote the life history of the blue jay for The Birds of North America series. Many of their conclusions come from field work on the species done at Archbold. In this paper they suggest that the social system of the blue jay includes small territories that surround the active nest of a pair, and otherwise the species lives in small groups of breeding pairs, which may defend these areas from intruders.

Bill Pranty and Woolfenden reported on the first occurrence of the northern lapwing in Florida. It was present for several days during December-January 1997-98 in a pasture near the southeastern shore of nearby Lake Istokpoga. By wintering in Florida this individual was wintering about as far south as it does when wintering in its normal range in the Old World.

Wayne Hoffman, P. William Smith, and Woolfenden reported on an invasion of southern Florida by short-eared owls from the West Indies. They characterized the external differences between this form of short-eared owl, using nine specimens that have been added to the collections at Archbold, and the one that visits Florida in winter from northern North America. Almost no overlap occurs in the time the two populations occur in Florida; the northern one being here in winter, the West Indian form, representatives of which probably come from Cuba, is here in spring and summer following post-breeding dispersal.

Bill Smith, Sandy Sprunt (National Audubon Soc.), and Woolfenden published a paper arguing against the evidence that the loggerhead kingbird has occurred in Florida. They reviewed the photographic evidence and concluded they were not pictures of a loggerhead kingbird, but perhaps of the giant kingbird. If their opinion is followed the loggerhead kingbird is deleted from the list of birds known to have occurred in North America.

Based on specimens taken from the swimming pool at Archbold, Walter Meshaka and Woolfenden reported on the breeding season of the narrowmouthed toad in south-central Florida. The numerous specimens are now housed in the herpetology collections at Archbold.

Research on sharp-tailed sparrows continues. Using study skins borrowed from various museums, Jon Greenlaw and Woolfenden are determining the wintering ranges of the five recently recognized forms, the salt-marsh sharp-tailed sparrow with two races, and the Nelsonís sharp-tailed sparrow with three races. The salt-marsh species breeds along the Atlantic coast from Maine to Virginia; Nelsonís species breeds from Maine inland across northern North America to the prairie provinces. Combined, the two species winter along the maritime coasts of the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico west to Texas. Does the maritime breeding salt-marsh sharp-tail ever cross to the Gulf coast to winter? How far north along the Atlantic coast does the inland breeding Nelsonís sharp-tail winter? These are among the questions they hope to answer.

Curt Adkisson (see page 14) continues his research on blue jay caching behavior. Currently he is focusing on individuals that harvest from Archbold oaks and cache in adjacent citrus groves.

The Collection. Valuable specimens continue to be added to the collections housed at Archbold Biological Station. Among others added were study skins of Florida specimens of scrub-jays, blue jays, short-eared owls, band-rumped storm-petrels, sharp-tailed sparrows, and calliope and broad-tailed hummingbirds. Bob Duncan, Mike McMillian, Wayne Hoffman, and Ron Smith were among the donors.

The Bird Lab lost a long-time friend and collaborator on 28 January 2000 when William B. Robertson, Jr., died at home in Homestead, Florida.

Biennial Contents | Top

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