Course Info / question of the week

Question Guidelines

A correct answer submitted to before the answer is posted earns 1 extra credit point. A new question will be posted every Monday morning. Submit a question that is chosen as the question of the week and earn 2 extra credit points. Submit a question that is posted and remains unanswered for 1 week and receive 5 extra credit points.

Note: If you submit an incorrect or incomplete answer, you will not be able to submit another answer for credit. You are welcome to continue to figure it out and talk to us, but no extra credit will be provided.

Week 1

This "nest" was found in the mountains of eastern Tennessee. Two eggs is a normal clutch size for this species. For 1 point, identify the family of the bird that layed these eggs.

Congratulations to Amanda Dougherty, Byron Levan, and Samantha Byerley for correctly identifying this nest as belonging to a member of the Caprimulgidae family. These eggs belong to the Whip-poor-will (Caprimulgus vociferus), a bird that lays its eggs on the ground with no nest structure, not even a scrape!

Week 2

Name the family that this bird belongs to, identify the species, and discuss the conservation implications of this photograph.

Congratulations to Chris Inscore and Amanda Dougherty, for identifying the family of this Least Tern. The family is Laridae, and the conservation implications refer to driving on the beach. Chicks of a number of species will use tire ruts to hide when approached. Recent work with American Oystercatchers suggest that %16 of their chicks die from human activity. Byron Levan and Ryan Southard also recieve credit for thier submissions of Charadriidae, because the uploaded image failed to show the yellow bill that identifies this bird to the correct family.

Week 3

Name the family, genus, and species of both the snake and the bird. Identify a trait for each that may help to explain the predicament we see in this photo.

Congratulations to Courtney Behrle and Carter Ricks for correctly identifying the Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis, Family Accipitridae) and the Eastern Black Rat Snake (Elaphne Obsoleta, Family Colubridae) seen in the picture above. We can only speculate as to whether the snake was in a tree (as Black Rat Snakes are known to do) or wether the juvenile hawk (yellow eyes) made a poor decision about who to prey upon.

Week 4

Name three passerine species that migrate between multiple breeding sites during a single breeding season. I am looking for evidence that an individual nests at two distinct lattitudes in a single season. The response must be supported by a journal article from a primary literature source. Provide a citation and attach a copy of the article with your submission.

Congratulations to Ryan Southard for tracking down a paper that reports migratory double breeding. The authors of the paper use a combination of isotope analyses and breeding condition to identify species captured in west Mexico during the breeding season as migratory double breeders. Individuals with nests or physiological evidence of breeding at that location also had isotope signatures within muscle tissue that suggested they had recently bred further north within their breeding range. Three of the species they identified as migratory double breeders were Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Cassins Vireo, and Hooded Oriole.

Week 5

What species (with family and order) did Dr. Simons study for each of his graduate theses (Masters and PHD)?

Dr. Simons received both of his graduate degrees from the University of Washington, studying the Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel (Hydrobatidae, Procellariiformes) for his M.S. and the Hawaiian [Darkrumped] Petrel (Procellariidae, Procellariiformes) for his Ph.D. Congratulations to Ryan Southard for identifying them both correctly.

Week 6

What record does this bird hold?

The Ruppell's Griffon Vulture holds the record for the highest recorded flight. One of these birds collided with a commercial aircraft at 11,277m over West Africa. At this height, human beings would die from lack of oxygen. Congratulations to Ryan Southard, Chris Inscore, Courtney Behrle, Byron Levan, and Stephanie Krasteva for correctly answering the question.

Week 7

Name the family, genus, and species of both of the birds in this picture. Why is the smaller bird standing on the head of the larger?

Laughing Gulls (Laridae, Luecophaeus atricilla) have a reputation for being kleptoparasites. This bird is waiting for the Brown Pelican (Pelecanidae, Pelecanus occidentalis) to raise its head and bill and swallow its' catch. When the pelecan opens its' bill, the gull has an opportunity to grab the fish. Congratulations to Amanda Lafferty and Chris Inscore for correctly identifying the players in this drama.

Week 8

Many graduate projects in ornithology are generated to fill knowledge gaps identified by experts on particular species. The Birds of North America accounts (Cornell) are a good source for thorough descriptions of the state of knowledge for a species, but they often do not represent the most current scientific information. For example, the Yellow-billed Cuckoo account was last published in 1999 but much new work has been accomplished since then. Find a species (other than the Yellow-billed Cuckoo) for which one of the future research priorities listed in the BNA has been addressed since the account was published.

Send us the link to the BNA page on which you found the priority, tell us which one it is, and send a full citation (not a link) for the publication in which the priority has been addressed/answered. This should be a thesis, dissertation or article published in a scientific journal (i.e. primary source).

Nice work Amanda Lafferty for finding recent literature on the wintering habitat and range of the Thick-billed Parrot. Chris Inscore also identified a paper that explores the role of bird feeders as a source of trichomoniasis infections in Coopers Hawks. The BNA accounts are a great source of centralized information but it depends on dedicated scientists, often volunteering thier time, to keep them updated.

Week 9

Name the Order, Family, and species that this belongs to. In addition, name the characteristic that you used to identify the bird (I'm looking for a specialized term that describes both what and where the feature is.)

Despite the low quality image, Amanda Lafferty was able to correctly identify this Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross (Order Procelleriformes, Family Diomedeidae, and Species Thalassarche chlororhynchos) by noting the yellow culmenicorn on the top of the bill (Gray-headed Albatross have yellow on both the top and bottom of the bill). The term culmenicorn suggests both that the yellow stripe is bony (corn) and it is on the culmen (bill).

Week 10

What distinction of social importance do only eagles and pelicans share?

Bald Eagles and pelicans are the only birds portrayed on US State Flags. Bald Eagles appear on the flags of New York, Oregon, Michigan, Illinois, Pennsylvania, North Dakota, Utah, Iowa, and Missouri. Bald Eagle feathers appear on the Oklahoma state flag as well. The pelican appears on the Lousiana state flag.

Week 11

What species of bird is making this call?

Although the vocalization sounds like a Tufted Titmouse, the call in question is that of a Northern Mockingbird.

Week 12

Why might new world cuckoo eggs exhibit less variation in color and pattern than those of old world cuckoos? Find and submit at least one peer reviewed journal article that supports the idea.

Congratulations Amanda Lafferty for recognizing the relationship between nest parasitism and variation in egg color. There are very few records of nest parasitism among new world cuckoos. Because new world cuckoos are not generally parasitic, there is less selective pressure for eggs to mimic those of the host.

Week 13

Name the Family, Genus, and species of this bird, and suggest a month that this photo was likely taken. Justify your ID and month using physical characteristics of the bird.

Ryan Southard correctly identified this Bonaparte's Gull (Family Laridae, Genus and Species Chroicocephalus philidelfia). During the winter months this species loses its characteristic black cap. The all dark bill and pink legs help to identify this species.

Week 14

Many Common Ravens spend the winter in the forests of Canada and the northern US. Food is at a premium during this time. A dead deer or moose could feed a single raven for weeks. Interestingly, when a raven finds such a food bonanza it will often call loudly or even fly off and recruit other ravens to join in the feast. Why would a large bird with few predators voluntarily share such a valuable resource?

Well, you gotta be quick on the draw to get the question of the week. Chris Inscore recognized the work of Bernd Heinrich who studied ravens in the Maine woods. He came to the conclusion that recruiting ravens are generally young birds that would be driven off carcasses by resident pairs. The young birds recruit a large enough group to overwhelm the residents. Gathering at feeding sites probably also serves social functions such as courtship and establishing dominance.

Week 15

I want the Family, Genus, and Species of at least four differnt kinds of birds that you see in this picture.

A few options to choose from in this picture, though only two Families are represented (Recurvirostridae and Scolopacidae). Possible species include Black-necked Stilt, Red Knot, Ruddy Turnstone, Dunlin, and if you're really on your game a couple of Semipalmated Sandpipers. I accepted either Short or Long-billed Dowitcher despite the photo not being very convincing either way. The photo was taken by Morgan Parks on the birds wintering grounds in Puerto Rico. Congratulations to Courtney Behrle for identifying at least four of these.