Owls, Bluebirds, Pipits and more - the migrants of November.

November 15, 2017

15 November 2017
Special Corncrake issue

One of the rarest foreign migrants (a vagrant!) of the last generation, a Corncrake (a type of Rail) was discovered on Long Island on 7 November. See below for photos, history and detailed information. Indeed there is a lot of info we provide below...because we have the most curious and smart readers.

SCHEDULE NOTES! This Sunday (19 November), and all subsequent Sundays until March, the Sunday bird walk will meet at 9:30am (only). Also, in the upcoming weeks the bird walks will be venturing further afield on Saturdays: to the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx (NYBG) on 25 November and 9 December; and Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx on 2 December and possibly 16 December. Check the web site for the schedule, or the info provided in these emails.

Our bird photos come from Deborah Allen (see her links below), and show the Corncrake on Long Island, as well as Eastern Towhee (Central Park), and Eastern Bluebird and American Pipit at Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx.

Meanwhile, have you seen the recent photo by Ryan Bass of a Virginia Rail on a Lexus [car] on East 45th street near Park Avenue? https://www.photo.net/photo/18436126

This week's historical notes include extensive info on the Corncrake from 1833 to the present. It is a lot - but we aim high, believing that for those who want more, and the complete historical record - you have it before you. Good luck!
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October 2017 Becomes Warmest October on Record

"The unseasonably mild fall weather that began in the middle of September persisted throughout October, resulting in a month that was 7.2 degrees warmer than average. With an average high/low of 71f/57f this was the warmest October on record, finishing ahead of 2007 and 1947 by 0.5 degree. 14 days were 10+ degrees above average; 19 days had highs of 70f or warmer - second only to October 1947's 22; and just three had chillier than average readings. Until the end of the month it appeared October would also be characterized by a lack of rain as less than an inch fell in the first four weeks. However, that story-line ended on 29-30 October when a nor'easter drenched the City with 3.28" of rain - more rain than fell in the previous 60 days. This was New York's biggest rainstorm in three-and-a-half years (since 30 April 2014 when 4.97" fell)."

"Although it reigns as the mildest October on record, eleven other Octobers had more days with highs of 80f+ (this year's had four).  The warm days of these eleven months were balanced by cold periods that this October didn't experience.  Speaking of which, this October tied October 1984 and 1949 for the fewest days with lows below 50f - just five. For the first time since 1990 October was milder than May.  Typically, May is five degrees warmer but this year it was three degrees cooler.  Finally, October joined four other months that, since the beginning of 2015, became the warmest on record: Feb. 2017, Dec. 2015, Nov. 2015 and Sept. 2015.  And five other months became the second or third warmest.  (An outlier was Feb. 2015, which was the third coldest on record.)"
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Deborah Allen sends photos

Ocean Parkway near Overlook Beach, Suffolk Co, NY:

Corncrake, a rare vagrant to the USA, 8 November 2017:
https://www.photo.net/photo/18436173/Hatch-year-Corncrake
https://www.photo.net/photo/18436153/Hatch-year-Corncrake

Central Park:

Hatch-year Male Eastern Towhee, near Boathouse, 12 Nov. 2017:
https://www.photo.net/photo/18436199/Hatch-year-Male-Eastern-Towhee

Pelham Bay Park, Bronx, NY:

American Pipit, Orchard Beach, 11 November 2017:
https://www.photo.net/photo/18436176/American-Pipit
https://www.photo.net/photo/18436175/American-Pipit

Eastern Bluebird, Turtle Cove, 12 November 2017:
https://www.photo.net/photo/18436177/Eastern-Bluebird

Link to Deborah Allen photos on Agpix site: http://tinyurl.com/ydflkdp4
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Good! Here are the bird walks for mid-November - each $10***

All walks in Central Park:

1. Friday, 17 November - meet at Conservatory Garden (105th street and Fifth Ave) at 9am.

2. Saturday, 18 November - 7:30am and again at 9am - Boathouse. $10***

3. Sunday, 19 November – 9:30am (only) - Boathouse (74st/East Drive)

4. Monday, 20 November - 8am and again 9am. Strawberry Fields (Imagine Mosaic). $10***

 

***on Saturdays and Mondays you can do two walks for the price of one: Pay $10 and do both walks (or either one). On Fridays there is only one walk.

 

The fine print: In November starting on 19 November, our walks on Sundays meet at 9:30 at the Boathouse Restaurant (approximately 74th street and the East Drive on the lake; it is NOT one of the buildings on the nearby Model Boat Pond). Bathrooms are nearby and ok; they open at about 7am. On Saturdays we continue to meet at the Boathouse (74th street and the East Drive) at 7:30am/9am - but check schedule on web site just in case we are going further afield such as NYBG in the Bronx. You can do either or both Saturday walks for $10. On Mondays we meet at Strawberry Fields: find the Imagine Mosaic and we are sitting on the benches nearby...look for people with binoculars. The Friday walks meet at Conservatory Garden - enter at 105th street and 5th Avenue and walk down the stairs - we meet straight ahead at the end of long (75 meter) grassy area, and adjacent to the men's bathroom (women's bathroom on opposite side about 50 yards away). Our home phone is 718-828-8262...and Deborah's cell is: 347-703-5554. Email is above (= rdcny@earthlink.net). We have a new web site...if in doubt about whether a walk will take place or not, check the web site the morning of the walk: info will be posted on the main landing page as well as the "Schedule" page. If still confused, call us at home - if no one answers it means we left for the bird walk!

We end all our weekend and Monday Central Park walks at the Boathouse at about noon - you can get a cup of coffee and a muffin there (around $5 total - coffee is now $2.25).  Our Friday walks, we usually end up at (or very near) Conservatory Garden, most often at 106th street and 5th Avenue.
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Here is what we saw last week (selected highlights) with some anecdotal notes and observations. Not all species we saw are reported here - we list the best:

Friday, 10 November (start at Conservatory Garden [105th street] at 9am only) - what wind today! It began at about 3am in the morning so we were not expecting great diversity of new migrants. However, the folks on the walk including Sally Kopstein and Elizabeth Millard Whitman (and Louise Burns and Colman Rupp) saw a different duck mixed in with the Ruddy Ducks on the Harlem Meer that proved to be a female Ring-necked Duck - first of the season and a much-less-common waterfowl species for the park. Other highlights today included the first Fox Sparrows at the north end, along with a Brown Creeper, and Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned Kinglets too.

Deborah's bird list for the day: http://tinyurl.com/yatrd987
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Saturday, 11 November - (start at the Boathouse Restaurant at 7:30am and again at 9am; two walks for $10 total) - the wind had subsided substantially but now the cold was settling in. A record 24F (breaking to old 1933 record by 4 degrees!). The major (major) highlight today was Alan and Sue Young's find of THREE Orange-crowned Warblers foraging together at the Swampy Pin Oak area. The birds came right in to my calls on the tape so we had close and long looks at their eye-arcs and yellow vent area. This is the most Orange-crowned Warblers I have seen in Central Park on a single day...and certainly the most I have seen at any one place and time in NYC.

Deborah's bird list for the day: http://tinyurl.com/ya6o7mv3
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Sunday, 12 November (start at the Boathouse Restaurant at 9:30am only) - by 10am it was getting downright warm...but of course we were all dressed like astronauts, and had to yell through several layers of hoods/hats and balaclavas to hear one another. We had a young lady (nine years old) on the walk, Phoebe was her name and with her grandmother, they gave the group some purpose to find birds. So we had a nice time just viewing close-up birds including a male Eastern Towhee (Captain's Bench), a Chipping Sparrow (Sandra Critelli) just south of the Reservoir, and a Field Sparrow at sparrow ridge...and not to forget the two immature Cooper's Hawks in the Ramble (flying near the Oven) by Bina Motiram originally from Mozambique and who now runs a tech consulting company in California. Be on the lookout for a male Pine Warbler at the north end of the Pinetum! I swear I saw one there...

Deborah's bird list for the day: http://tinyurl.com/yax6r5cb
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Monday, 13 November (start at Strawberry Fields [Imagine Mosaic] at 8am and again at 9am/$10) - Light rain overspread NYC beginning at 7:45am and ending about 12:30pm. We had cancelled the walk the night before. Always check our web site Schedule page if you are worried about the weather, and if a bird walk will take place. We usually post info by 7:30pm the previous evening.

Deborah's bird list for the day: RAIN! No bird walk today.
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HISTORICAL NOTES

The CORN CRAKE in Massachusetts [1833].

This interesting bird, which visits the north of England and Scotland in summer, and keeps up in the meadows its cry of crake, crake, is well known, but is not easily seen. It runs with great rapidity, and is loath to take wing. When found it has the instinct, in common with some other animals, and especially insects, to feign death. A gentleman had one brought to him by his dog. It was dead to all appearance. As it lay on the ground, he turned it over with his foot, and was convinced it was dead. Standing by, however, sometime in silence, he saw it open an eye. He then took it up; its head fell; its legs hung loose; it appeared again totally dead. He then put it in his pocket, and before long he felt it all alive, and struggling to escape. He took it out; it was as lifeless as before. He then laid it upon the ground, and retired to some distance. In a few minutes, the bird warily raised its head; looked round, and then run away at full speed.
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An English Corn-Crake in Rhode Island [1857]. Being recently called to name a portion of the birds in the Franklin Society collection, I found among them one of this species. On the bottom of the stand was written Land Rail, Cranston. As this collection was made by Mr. Newton Dexter, and by him presented to the society, I made inquiry of him. He says it was killed in Cranston about the year 1857. and taken by the sportsman to Mr. Pertia Aldrich, from whom he received it in the flesh.

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CORN CRAKE Crex crex [1886]. In the shop of Messrs. Lucau & Buck, of Sag Harbor [Long Island], I found a mounted specimen of this species which I purchased. They bought it about August 15, 1885 while in the flesh, from a farmer residing near Amagansett, Suffolk Co. It was, when shot, on an upland or dry meadow, in company with some Meadow Larks (Sturnella magna). The sex was not ascertained.
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Crex crex. Corn Crake [1888]. -- Since my previous record [see previous note] of this bird on Long Island, I have had a mounted specimen presented to me by Mr. A. A. Fraser, who "bagged the bird, 2 November 1880. It was at the foot of the uplands, where they join the meadows, in heavy cover, with springs running from it."
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Corn Crake ­ Crex crex [1890]. ­ Capt. Scott gave me the greater portion of the skin of one of these birds, that had been shot by a boy about 1 Nov 1888 while shooting quail. It was secured on a low marshy meadow about three miles west of the point, near the Conklin farm house. This is the third specimen of this species that I have in my collection from Long Island. The number of records of this species from the middle Eastern Atlantic Coast would seem to indicate that Crex would soon have to be removed from the list of stragglers and placed among the rare class.
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The Corn Crake in Connecticut [1887]. BY HON. JOHN N. CLARK, SAYBROOK, CONN. In looking over a Check List made from the A. O. U. Code I find the names of fifty-one species or varieties of birds enclosed in brackets, and upon investigation discovered by Rule 3 "that stragglers or accidental visitors not regarded as components of the North American fauna were to be distinguished by having their respective numbers in brackets," so that these fifty-one species are regarded as stragglers or accidental visitors, and every capture of one of them by an ornithologist is regarded as an interesting event to be triumphantly recorded for publication.
 
But how few such triumphs are there in the records! Probably but a small portion of such captures fall to the lot of the ornithological student. Seventy-five in a hundred of the sportsmen would dress the rare bird for the pot, with the common ones, and discuss its flesh instead of its plumage.
 
Yet such a triumph has been mine; the first specimen of all that list of stragglers fell into my hands on the 20th of October [1887] last ­ a Corn Crake (Crex crex), a bird about the size and appearance (if not examined too closely) of a Woodcock, aside from the beak, which latter more nearly resembles that of the domestic fowl. Reddish tints predominate, especially on the wings, and a more critical examination reveals the somewhat flattened form peculiar to the Rallidae. It was a male, apparently fully mature in size and plumage, and was found in such a place as one would be likely to look at that season for Woodcock ­ a swamp thicket at the head of a marsh, the source of a small stream winding some two miles through salt meadows to its outlet into Long Island Sound.
 
Whence came this bird, and whither was it going? Are there others and have they a breeding ground in our county? Questions without solution are only conjecture. It would be interesting to me if someone acquainted with the habits of the species would present them at length. All the information I have been able to gather is comprehended in the brief "accidental on our coast." If a single specimen establishes the status of a species then the List of the fauna of Connecticut is increased by one. [The Corn Crake (Crex pratensis until lately, when Linnaeus's name has been adopted by the A. O. C. nomenclature, and we now have Crex crex), is quite a common bird in England, where it is found in the meadows and low lands where there is water. It is migratory, and arrives there from the European Continent about April or May.
 
It is of a shy and retiring disposition, and will not fly unless compelled to do so. The nest is constructed of dry grass, on the ground, in meadows, and from seven to ten eggs are laid. Their ground color varies from ecru drab to fawn, and they are spotted and blotched quite heavily with cinnamon and russet. There are also a few spots of purplish-gray. They measure 1.41 x 1.07 and larger, and the spots have a tendency to run lengthwise on the eggs. Specimens of this bird have been taken in Greenland, Long Island, New Jersey, and the Bermudas, and now Judge Clark has added Connecticut to these localities. It therefore has a far better claim to be included in our North American fauna than many other birds who have been admitted on the strength of a single specimen having been taken here. ­ J. P. N.]
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Crex crex in Maine [1896]. The occurrence of Crex crex near Portland, Me., was noted in an editorial paragraph of the 'Ornithologist and Oologist,' Vol. XV, p. 30, as follows: "H. H. Brock reports a specimen of the European Corn Crake (Crex crex) killed by John Whiting in Falmouth, Me., about four miles from Portland. Another was shot at the same time, but was so mutilated that it was thrown away."
 
I feel that the importance of this capture demands a more detailed statement, especially in view of the fact that the above notice seems to have been often overlooked. The bird is an unquestionable Crex crex in extremely fine plumage and of typical coloration. It not only agrees closely with printed descriptions, hut with the several European specimens with which I have compared it. The date of its capture was 14 October 1889, and the locality the ‘Dyke’ Marsh in Falmouth, where so many other rare waders have been taken. It was shot by Mr. John Whitney, -- not "Whiting." It came into my hands at once, was preserved by myself, and is now in my collection. Great importance should not, of course, be attached to the closing sentence of the paragraph above quoted, which was based on the statements of a gunner not skilled in identifying birds, though undoubtedly truthful. -- HENRY H. BROCK, Portland, Me.
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The Corn Crake in Nova Scotia [1899] -- During his visit to this city recently I had the pleasure of exhibiting to Mr. Frank M. Chapman a case of birds containing specimens which I have collected and mounted in years gone by and among which he recognized a specimen of the Corn Crake (Crex crex) which I had inadvertently identified as another species.
 
As regards the history of this bird, I may briefly mention that nearly a quarter of a century ago, in the month of October, while Snipe shooting in a boggy, swampy situation, my dog flushed the strange bird which, flying steadily, was readily brought down, and its like has never since been seen in this vicinity. James McKinlay, Picton, N.S.
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Another Corn Crake Record for Long Island. On 2 November 1963, a Corn Crake, Crex crex, was shot in Orient, Long Island by a pheasant hunter. The bird was shot on the ground at close range with large shot and was badly mutilated but enough of the bird could be preserved for an identification record. The bird, a female, was in a field of young rye 200 yards from salt marshes.
 
25 Mallaphaga, all one species, were collected from the bird. These lice were determined as Rallicola ertygometrae ertygometrae by K. C. Emerson in the Department of Entomology, Washington, D. C. This apparently is the fourth record of the Corn Crake on Long Island and the fifth for New York State. It is of interest to note that this bird was recorded on the same date, November 2, and that the first record was established for this species on Long Island in 1880, the year of the writer's birth. Ed. note: Although the fifth record for the state, it is the first this century. This decrease of occurrence may be related to the decline of the species in Northern Europe due to the destruction of nests by modern agricultural methods. Roy Latham, Orient, Long Island.
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Corncrake in Newfoundland 2002:

Once in every birder's life time you find a huge rarity. One that out shines everything else in the past by miles. Something never to be matched again. It happened for Ken Knowles and I at 08:15, Nov. 2, 2002 at Cape Race with Crex crex a.k.a CORN CRAKE. KK was walking the chain link fence surrounding the weather station by the Cape Race lighthouse. I was near the lighthouse walking toward KK 100 m away. Birds were next to nil so when I saw some movement near Ken I got my binos on it. It was a largish bird, as opposed to a passerine flushed from the grass. I was excited to see a rail like bird flying low along the fence line toward me. It seemed smaller than a Clapper / King Rail which was recorded here a few years ago. It was light coloured. When it turned to round the end of the fence I was shocked to see deep ruddy red colour on the under wing coverts contrasting very sharply with the rest of the pale grayish under wing coverts and body. It landed outside the fence on the south side. I called out to Ken but he couldn't hear me. I ran closer and got his attention. I told Ken I'd just seen a rail with red underwing coverts that really might be a Corn Crake! We had actually been talking about this species on our drive down to the Cape.

We walked to the approximate area where it went down. Horrible memories of hopeless searching for the probable King Rail at the exact spot several years ago resurfaced. We walked slowly to the spot and sure enough the bird popped up in front of us. A mid size rail with big bright rufous upper wing coverts, intricate yellowish markings on an olive back, thick short yellow bill, dangling legs. It seemed to float in the air in front of us so close there was an instinctive urge to reach out and catch it. In slow motion it fluttered weakly past us at waist height. I followed it for a few steps with my arms out trying to grab it in mid air. The brilliant low early morning sun was at our back. The look was stunning for a bird in flight.

It was the real thing - a CORN CRAKE. The large rufous upper wing coverts, the olive back interlaced with golden marks, the short yellowish bill and the size in between a Virginia Rail and Clapper Rail. Perhaps realizing the monster behind trying catch it, the bird picked up speed and flew across the road and down the gulch disappearing on a direct line toward the ocean.

At this time the wings appeared surprisingly long and were decurved. The bird flew surprisingly fast and seemed quite agile, very unlike the nearly hovering flight when we flushed it from the grass.

We made the phone call to St. John's to alert the birding community, and then commenced a search along the immediate coastline. No luck in 90 minutes. On our way out the Cape Race Road we met three car loads of birders (nine individuals). The first car reportedly hit speeds of 150 kil/hr on the Southern Shore Hwy. It is 3:30 pm as I type so we don't know if it has been relocated. Corn Crakes are notoriously difficult to find. As one European Guide says - 'notoriously hard to flush, sneaks away cleverly'. Ken and I were lucky in that respect.

Corn Crake is a Eurasian species that has been recorded in North America about 20 times. Half of those records in the 1800s! Most of the rest in the early 1990s. There are two Newfoundland records, both from St. Shotts - 1859 and 1928. Nineteen of the twenty records are of birds shot, probably by snipe and duck hunters. Basically the only Corn Crake seen by birders in North America was one at Shelburne, Nova Scotia Nov 28-30. Only a half dozen people or so got to see this bird which amazingly was photographed.

The only other recent Corn Crake was one killed at St. Pierre et Miquelon on Oct 22, 1989. Numbers have decreased dramatically in Europe because of changes in agricultural practices.

The immediate question now is what favour of beverage to celebrate this bird tonight. Probably something from Ireland or Scotland, the closest breeding sites, would be appropriate.

GOOD LUCK (Bruce Mactavish and Ken Knowles)

Comments from Paul Linegar [2002]:

After Bruce called about the Corn Crake I did the phone around to the local birding community and posted the sighting. Anne Hughes, Doug Phelan, Chris Brown and I blasted down to Cape Race. We passed Bruce and Ken only to learn that they did not see the bird afterwards. The desperate search began.

Corn Crakes are very secretive and hide in the grass. I knew it would be extremely difficult to relocate it unless we happened to step on it. We formed a line a few feet apart from each other and walked along the coastline in the direction it was last seen. After 40 minutes of searching I flushed it. Either its wings, or the wind created by its wings, brushed against my ankle. It lifted off and did a long sweeping flight around the edge of the cliffs. Bruce's description says it all. A magnificent discovery. We bashed about with the assistance of six other birders but it was not relocated by the time I left. Good luck. Bring an Irish Setter. Bring some Irish whisky.

Paul Linegar
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ABSTRACT. [2013]: A juvenile Corncrake Crex crex was photographed on Fernando de Noronha Island [BRAZIL] on 28 November 2012. The reservoir where the bird was found also held two male Pintails Anas acuta, also photographed. Fernando de Noronha is a known locality for vagrants from the Palearctic and/or Africa, Crex crex being an addition to a growing list.
 
The Corncrake Crex crex is a strongly migratory rail with a broad Palearctic breeding range including a broad swathe from coastal north-western Europe to Sinkiang in Western China (Taylor 1998). In those countries Corncrakes inhabit tall pastures and meadows, including hay fields, both dry and wet, with a preference for cooler and damper habitats with dense grass and herb cover 20-50 cm high (Taylor 1998). The conversion of such areas, formerly used for extensive grazing and to produce hay, into intensive, mechanized agriculture has led to a serious decline of the species throughout western Europe (BirdLife International 2004).
 
After the breeding season Corncrakes migrate mostly to eastern Africa (Walther et al. 2012), but there are sparse records covering most of the continent and vagrants have been found in Tibet, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Australia (Bräulich & Rank 1998, Taylor 1998).
 
A few birds sometimes cross the Atlantic, with several records in the eastern seaboard of North America from Newfoundland, New Scotia, St. Pierre et Miquelon, Maine, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Bermuda and Greenland (AOU 1998). Here we present the first record of Corncrake for Brazil and South America (cf. SACC 2013).
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“The other mind-bender for the week was in Pennsylvania (January 2016), where a Corn Crake (5) was rescued from the jaws of a cat in Wayne. Remarkably, this is the 2nd record for the state (Pennsylvania must have the strangest rail list in the ABA Area, as it also boasts Spotted Rail). Unfortunately, the bird eventually succumbed to its injuries, and the specimen is on its way to a museum.”
 
ABA Rare Bird Alert: January 8, 2016
By Nate Swick
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From: Joseph Bopp
Sent: Nov 8, 2017
To: Deborah Allen
Subject: RE: [nysbirds-l] Corn Crake - History
 
Deborah
 
There is another corn crake NY State record that didn't make it on your list.  One was shot in Cohoes NY (which is just north of Albany), near the Mohawk River in November 1883.  Both this bird and the one from Orient are in the collections of the New York St. Museum.
 
Joseph Bopp
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Data specifically on the 2017 bird on Long Island:
 
Subject: Corncrake data for those interested
Date: Nov 9 2017
From: Paul Sweet
 
Several people have asked about cause of death. The bird was clearly hit by a car with a fractures in both hind limbs and the pelvis.
 
Jonas Lai has skinned the bird and we have obtained the following data.
 
The bird was a male with testes 5 x 2.5 mm
 
It weighed 110g which is rather light for this species. Published weights range from 135-210 g ((Handbook of the Birds of Europe the Middle East and North Africa). There was no fat but the pectoral muscles did not appear atrophied.
 
Stomach contained tiny insect parts which have been persevered but not identified.
 
A moderate parasite load of Acanthocephalans was identified by AMNH parasitologists Mark Siddall and Michael Tessler
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Deborah Allen and Robert DeCandido PhD 
www.BirdingBob.com

Follow us on Twitter: @DAllenNYC

 

 

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