With the end of June fast approaching, the bulk of our field season here in Tompkins County is already behind us. We still have a ways to go and plenty to do before our time in the woods comes to a close, but we have seen and learned a great deal over the months. We set out for this project with a clear goal in mind: studying the breeding biology of local Cardinalids. The species found in Tompkins County include Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus), Scarlet Tanager (Piranga olivacea), and of course Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis). Our primary interest was to build a better understanding of their behavior in the breeding season with regards to interactions within pairs and between pairs, nest location and construction, care of eggs and chicks, feeding, territoriality, dispersal, and more. The behaviors of these species are of particular interest due to the recent revelation that North American Piranga tanagers are not closely related to the other tanagers in Thraupidae, but are in fact more properly placed in Cardinalidae. Our hope is that by closely studying these birds, with the benefit of knowledge that they are related, we can find similarities or traits in common that link them more closely than science initially recognized.
The woodlot located behind Cornell’s Unit 1 Research Ponds afforded us a convenient opportunity to cover a wide area of suitable habitat with relative ease. The forest proved to be especially productive, populated with many tanagers and grosbeaks defending territories across the study zone. In addition to our target taxa, there is a wide variety of other interesting birds present, including warblers, thrushes, vireos, orioles, and mimids. Our encounters with them ranged from monitoring nests or fledglings to capturing them in mist nets for banding and data processing. The media and observational data on our species of interest have painted an interesting picture of the breeding season for woodland birds here in Tompkins County. As a group, we have grown a great deal, both in understanding of our subjects and in fine-tuning of the skills required for effective field biology. Even with all we have done, the learning continues as the study period marches on. This blog will recount the discoveries, progress, adventures and misadventures of our Summer ’12 Field Season, from the very beginning of the project onward into the days to come.