RHWO Citizen Science Projects & Protocols

 RHWO Citizen Science Projects

1.  Nest Location and Observation

2. a. Relationship between Acorn Production and RHWO Migration

         i) Predicting Acorn Production

        ii) Estimating Acorn Production

  1. Identification of Food Items Brought to RHWO Nests
  2.   Food Finding, Storage, and Retrieval by RHWOs
  3. i) Food Finding by Juvenile RHWOs
  4. ii) Food Storage by RHWOs

           iii)  Food Retrieval by RHWOs

  1. Parental Effort in RHWOs
  2. Cavity Use by RHWOs
  3. Cavity Use During the Breeding Season
  4. i)  Breeding Season Cavity Use by Adults
  5. ii)  Breeding Season Cavity Use by Fledglings
  6. Cavity Use Outside the Breeding Season
  7. Documentation of Nest Sanitation in RHWOs
  8. Relationship Between Cavity Area and Clutch Size in RHWOs

 

Red-headed Woodpecker Recovery Project 

Protocol for Estimating Acorn Production

 Our anecdotal observations indicate that whether the RHWOs at Cedar Creek migrate or attempt to overwinter at Cedar Creek is highly dependent on acorn availability. When flying insects are unavailable, all the birds seem to eat are stored acorn pieces. Overwintering appears to be associated with increased survival.  So, assessing the number of acorns available to the birds for storage in late summer and fall should be useful.  Acorn surveys have been done in the past at Cedar Creek.  We will attempt to use the same trees as have been used in past surveys.

Trees to be surveyed will be marked by RHWO Recovery with tags and GPS coordinates will be available. Acorn surveys should be done in late July and August before many of the acorns have been removed by birds or mammals or have fallen.

Protocol:

  1. For each assigned tree, on the acorn survey spreadsheet, record observer names, date, and tree number.
  2. For each assigned tree, each of a pair of observers should select an area of the tree canopy having a typical number of acorns and count the number of acorns visible within 15 seconds. Record these numbers on the acorn survey data sheet.
  3. Estimate the proportion of the total canopy area scanned. Record this number on the survey sheet.  The total number of acorns scanned divided by this proportion will be an estimate of the total acorns on the tree at that time.
  4. Estimate the percent of acorns already down or removed from the branches and record this on the survey sheet.
  5. Repeat the above procedure for each numbered tree to be surveyed.
  6. Completed survey sheets should be turned in to Keith Olstad either at a RHWO Recovery Project meeting or by mailing them to:

Keith Olstad

120 Valleyview Place

Minneapolis, MN 55419

 

Red-headed Woodpecker Recovery Project 

Protocol for Determining the Food Brought to Nestling Red-headed Woodpeckers

We have three breeding seasons where nest cameras have documented “brood reduction” in our RHWOs. That is, in every nest for which photos were taken of the eggs and nestlings, more eggs were laid than fledglings were produced.  One possible explanation for this loss of production is lack of food.  We have observed that our RHWOs feed primarily by flycatching, with some prey caught on the ground, and some gleaned from tree surfaces.  Plant material, such as fruit and acorns, appears to be of minor importance in nestling diet.  More information on what food items are fed to nestlings and food availability is needed.  The principal purpose here is to identify food items brought to the nest by RHWOs.

Protocol:

The observer or observers will stay at least 100 feet from the nest being observed to minimize disturbance of the nesting birds. Observing from a firebreak or a vehicle would be ideal.  Binoculars are probably inadequate for observations.  A spotting scope focused on the nest hole should be better.  Ideally, a long-lens camera would be focused on the nest hole and photos taken as an adult is about to enter the nest hole.  Photos should be examined later and any items carried to the nest hole noted, and if possible, identified.

Data to be recorded:

Name(s) of Observer(s)

Location of nest (GPS, nest number, or general description of nest location)

Identity (band combinations in banded birds) of the adults

Date

Weather: Temperature range, sky cover, precipitation, wind speed and direction

Times of observations

Length of time (in seconds) adult spends in nest

Identity of the adult making the food delivery (if possible)

Best guess as to the identity of the food item (if unidentifiable, just record what can be seen: size, color, legs if seen, wings if seen, etc.)

Notes as to apparent abundance of potential food items, e.g., juneberry availability, dragonfly hatches, cicadas heard, grasshoppers seen on firebreaks or kicked up while walking, etc.

 

Red-headed Woodpecker Recovery Project 

Protocol for Investigating Food Acquisition by Juvenile Red-headed Woodpeckers

 Little information is available in the published literature on how newly-fledged RHWOs acquire the skills necessary to survive once they become independent of their parents. According to the literature, RHWOs find much of their food by flycatching, a procedure presumably requiring considerable skill.  They also catch prey on the ground and glean prey from tree surfaces.  In winter, stored hard mast is their major food source.

The goal here is to follow RHWOs from fledging to independence, noting what they eat, how adept they are at finding and acquiring prey, and whether, what, and where food items are stored.

Protocol:

The observer or observers should locate a juvenile RHWO. If the bird was color banded as a nestling, its age and the nest from which it fledged should be known.  The observer should stay at least 100 feet from the focal bird so as not to affect its behavior or that of the adults.  If possible, the observer should take up a position so that the bird is easily seen with the sun at the back of the observer.  Note and record what the bird is doing.

Fledglings:

If the bird is newly fledged, it may well be doing nothing and waiting (perhaps for more than an hour) for a parent to feed it. An older fledgling may follow a parent around or hang around with another juvenile or two, possibly its siblings.  Note how often it is fed by an adult.  Note any attempts by the focal fledgling to find prey on a branch or trunk, the ground, or by flycatching. 

Independent Juveniles:

A juvenile (mostly brown plumage perhaps with some red feathers visible through binoculars) seen late in the season, say August or September, is likely independent of its parents, and may have fledged from a nest close to its present location or many miles distant. If independent, the juvenile must have acquired some survival skills.  The key question is whether the bird will be in the area just briefly, migrate and return the following spring, migrate and breed elsewhere, or attempt to overwinter in the area.  Look for any indication that the bird is storing food.  If any apparent food storage is observed, follow the protocol for food storage.

Record:

Name(s) of Observer(s)

Date

Identity of Focal Juvenile (Band # or Color Band Combination)

Time of Each Observation

General Activity of Focal Bird (Loafing, Flycatching, Soliciting Food from Adult, Pecking, etc.)

Specific Activity Resulting in Food Acquisition (Flycatching, Begging, Pecking, etc.)

 

Red-headed Woodpecker Recovery Project 

 Protocol for Investigating Food Storage by Adult Red-headed Woodpeckers

 Protocol:

When acorns are on the oaks, possibly in late July, but more likely in August and September, watch for a woodpecker flying to an oak, into the leaves. After a few seconds the bird will emerge with something in its mouth, an acorn cluster.  Often the oak may be off its normal territory and into a woods or on private property.  This can be a focal bird.

The bird may repeatedly fly to the same perch and break apart the acorn. Carefully note what the bird does with the bits of acorn.  The bird likely will store the acorn bits in cracks or small holes in stumps or live trees.  Note every storage tree or post used by the bird.  Do not disturb the bird but be able to recognize the storage sites.  Photos of the trees will be a good start.  Try to identify the focal bird if it is color banded.  Seeing even one band may be enough to identify the bird if the bird is on its territory.

The goal is to obtain an estimate of the total food stored by the bird. We can approximate the energy needs of the birds using some metabolic formulas and the caloric value of acorns from values in the literature.  This could tell us how many acorns a bird needs to store to survive a winter and whether it has stored enough acorns.  Of particular interest is how many trees are used for acorn storage, whether the storage trees are on the bird’s nesting territory, and whether mated pairs share storage trees or have separate storage areas. 

Record:

Name(s) of Observer(s)

Date

Identity of Focal Bird (Band # or Color Band Combination)

Time of Each Storage Observation

Method of Handling (Did the bird break up the acorn or just store the whole thing?)

In summary, how many acorns did the bird store in the time spent watching it?

How much time did the bird spend doing other things like flycatching, interacting with other birds, and loafing?

Did the bird appear to store anything besides acorns, such as grasshoppers or peanuts?

Record any other observations of interest.

When the bird is doing something else, take photos of stored acorns.

Later in the season, we may well decide to try and count the acorns stored by focal birds. Knowing where the acorns are stored will be crucial to do this.

 

Red-headed Woodpecker Recovery Project 

Protocol for Investigating Retrieval of Stored Food by Red-headed Woodpeckers

Despite five years of field work on RHWOs, we have almost no data on what the birds eat during the winter. Similarly, we have precious few observations of RHWOs retrieving and eating stored food.  Birds chosen to observe could profitably be ones for which food storage sites are already known.

Protocol:

Find an RHWO at a time when there are no flying insects available and no acorns remain on the trees. Identify the focal bird from its color bands or at least its location.  If possible, the observer should take up a position so that the bird is easily seen with the sun at the back of the observer.  Watch the bird and record what the bird is doing.  This amounts to constructing a time budget for the bird.  Preliminary observations suggest that birds that overwinter at Cedar Creek do very little during the late fall and winter.  Any observations could be useful.

Record:

Name(s) of Observer(s)

Date

Identity of Focal Bird (Band # or Color Band Combination)

Activity (Loafing, Flying Around Territory, Calling, Excavating, Foraging, Eating)

Time Spent in Each Activity

When the bird appears to eat something, what do you think it ate? Where did it get it?  How often did it eat anything? 

Record the time of day of any food consumption. Perhaps the birds eat a lot just a few times a day or eat small amounts throughout the day.

 

Red-headed Woodpecker Recovery Project

Protocol for Investigating Relative Parental Effort of Male and Female Red-headed Woodpeckers  (Modified April 2017)

  1. Nest sites for volunteer monitoring of parental activity will be assigned by the RHWO Recovery Project team. The sites will be chosen based on the bands worn by one or both parents, allowing male to be distinguished from females.
  2. Before going to Cedar Creek, register on the Cedar Creek website or at the kiosk outside the Lindeman Center.
  3. Before going to the nest site, the volunteer/s should begin to fill out several of the log sheets provided with the volunteer/s name, the date and the nest site information, so that the log sheets are ready for use.
  4. Volunteers observing an assigned nest should not approach closer than fifty feet from the nest tree, so that there is minimal likelihood that observer presence influences the adult birds’ visits to the nest. If the birds appear hesitant to enter the nest, back off 100 feet or so, sit in a vehicle, or leave for a while.
  5. Record each time either parent enters or leaves the nest and whether the volunteer can or cannot see the distinguishing leg bands. It is critical that we learn both how often the individual birds can be identified and how often either the male or female visit. Once an adult’s identify is determined from observing the bands or lack thereof, it may be possible for an observer to keep track of that individual as it forages and infer its identity at the nest. With two observers, it may be easy to know where the male is and where the female is most of the time.
  6. Each visit by either parent should result in an entry on the log sheet provided.
  7. When the observation period is over, please enter the hours of the observation.
  8. Please record in the Comments section of the log sheet any observations of interest, for example, responses of the focal birds to other RHWOs, to potential competitors such as Blue Jays, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, or White-breasted Nuthatches, or to predators such as hawks, kestrels, or snakes. Also include observations such as whether the adults were foraging by flycatching, gleaning from trees, or catching prey on the ground. Did the birds feed the nestlings any plant material, such as juneberries, acorn pieces, or nuts? 
  9. Also provide your overall impressions of the observation period: How hard did the birds appear to be working? Which adult appeared to be doing most of the work? Did either bird spend time in the nest cavity, possibly brooding the nestlings?
  10. Were any nestlings audible? Were any nestlings visible at the cavity entrance? 
  11. Completed log sheets should be turned in to Keith Olstad either at a RHWO Recovery Project meeting or by mailing them to:

Keith Olstad

120 Valleyview Place

Minneapolis, MN 55419

 

Red-headed Woodpecker Recovery Project

Protocol for Determining Cavity Use by Red-headed Woodpeckers During the Breeding Season

 According to the literature, RHWOs nest in the cavity used by the male for roosting. We have roosting data from the fall and winter of 2015-2016.  Most males roosted in the cavity they used for nesting during the 2015 breeding season.  Seventeen males roosted in their nest cavity.  We found only seven roosting elsewhere.  For four of these seven males, roosting in the nest cavity was not an option.  Ten of the males nested in the cavity they used for roosting during the winter.  We have only anecdotal information on cavity excavation.  We do not know if the male and female contribute equally to nest cavity excavation.  Presumably, the male roosts in the nest cavity before incubation begins.  We have no information on this.  According to the literature, the male incubates at night and spends the night in the nest cavity after the eggs hatch.  We have no data on this.  We have no data on where the female roosts during the nesting season.  We have no data on where the fledglings roost.  Do they go back into the nest cavity for a few days?  Fledglings do not appear to have fully cornified beaks, so it is doubtful that they excavate roosting cavities.  We have no data on whether adults excavate roosting cavities.  Do RHWOs roost in cavities on migration or on their wintering sites?  We may need to know this is we are going to use light-sensitive geolocators to estimate where our RHWOs migrate.  We have no data on what time RHWOs go to roost during the breeding season and no data at all on when they emerge from roosts in the morning.

Protocol:

Find a focal RHWO some time prior to when the bird goes to roost. It is unlikely that the birds are in their roosts an hour before sunset and unlikely that they are still out half an hour after sunset, but who knows?  If the nest of the focal bird is known, take a position so that the cavity entrance is visible, but not so close as to disturb the bird. Try to identify the focal bird using its color bands or lack thereof.  With luck, it may be possible to identify the bird roosting in the nest cavity, presumably the male, and see where the other member of the pair goes to roost.

Record:

Name(s) of Observer(s)

Date

Identity of Focal Bird (Band # or Color Band Combination)

Nest Number or Location

Time of Going to Roost

Roost Site of Male (If known)

Roost Site of Female (If known)

Time of Local Sunset

Sky Cover at Roost Time

Light Level at Time of Going to Roost (Using light meter if possible)

Notes on Behavior of the Bird(s)

 

Red-headed Woodpecker Recovery Project

 Protocol for Observing Roosting Behavior of Fledgling Red-headed Woodpeckers

 Since nothing is known about where fledglings roost, any observations will be welcome.

Protocol:

About an hour before sunset, find a fledgling and if it has color bands, try to identify it. Concentrate on the bird as sunset approaches.  The bird may return to the nest cavity to roost, roost in another cavity, spend the night clinging to a tree trunk or branch, or be obscured by leaves high in a tree.  Be warned that birds can just disappear in the evening, though finding roosts in the open habitat used by RHWOs may be feasible.

Record:

Name(s) of Observer(s)

Date

Identity of Focal Bird (Band # or Color Band Combination)

Nest Number or Location

Time of Going to Roost

Description of Roost Site

Time of Local Sunset

Sky Cover at Roost Time

Light Level at Time of Going to Roost (Using light meter if possible)

Notes on Behavior of the Bird

 

Red-headed Woodpecker Recovery Project

Protocol for Determining Cavity Use by Red-headed Woodpeckers Outside the Breeding Season

 Suitable RHWO habitat must contain a nest cavity. RHWOs appear to prefer habitats with multiple cavities.  Outside the breeding season, both male and female RHWOs spend the night roosting in a cavity.  Juvenile RHWOs also roost in cavities during the winter.  Roosting in a cavity likely saves a bird energy because the cavity is warmer, and heat loss due to wind is reduced.  Cavity roosting is likely safer than roosting in the open due to reduced predation risk.  RHWOs commonly roost in old nest cavities, though these may not be optimal for roosting.  A smaller roost cavity may be warmer than one large enough for an RHWO nest.  Some RHWOs do roost in cavities in limbs too small for nesting. 

It is not known whether pair bonds in RHWOs persist outside the breeding season. If both members of a pair roost together or at least on the same territory, the likelihood of pair bond persistence is higher.

RHWOs apparently subsist during the colder months primarily on stored acorns. The birds could save energy by spending more time roosting and less time out in the cold.  Construction of RHWO time budgets requires accurate data on time spent roosting.

Protocol:

Find a focal RHWO some time prior to when the bird goes to roost. Based on roosts found in fall and winter 2015-2016, arriving on the territory of the desired bird an hour before sunset is always adequate and within half an hour generally adequate.  Identify the bird from its color bands or lack thereof.  Males usually roost in the nest cavity of the previous summer.  Females generally roost within a few trees of where the male roosts.  Once the focal bird is found, take a position from where the bird and the former nest tree can be seen.  If possible, have your back to the setting sun as you look at the bird.  With luck the bird will fly to its roost before it becomes ominously dark.  The bird may fly to and away from its eventual roost tree a time or two before eventually going to roost.  On an especially good evening, it is possible to find both members of a pair going to roost.

Record:

Name(s) of Observer(s)

Date

Identity of Focal Bird(s) (Band # or Color Band Combination)

Nest Number or Location

Time of Going to Roost

Description of Roost Site

 

Red-headed Woodpecker Recovery Project

 Protocol for Determining the Extent of Nest Sanitation in Red-headed Woodpeckers

 Prologue:

In five years of studying Red-headed Woodpeckers, we have little evidence of nest sanitation. Most altricial bird species remove fecal sacs from the nest until the young leave the nest.  Wastes could produce odors that attract predators or could increase risk for disease or parasites.  Furthermore, RHWOs frequently reuse nest cavities, even using the same nest cavity for a second brood within the same breeding season.  So, RHWOs would be expected to maintain spotlessly clean nests.  We know that at least in some cases wastes build up at the bottom of the nest as the nestlings grow.

Observations during hatching could be particularly valuable, as egg shell removal might be seen. After hatching, observations might be made of an adult carrying off a dead nestling or an unhatched egg or a fecal sac.  Still later during the nestling phase, observations might be of an adult carrying out excrement.

Protocol:

The observer or observers will stay at least 100 feet from the nest being watched to minimally disturb the nesting birds. Observing from a firebreak would be ideal.  Binoculars may be adequate for observations.  A spotting scope focused on the nest hole should be better.  Ideally, a long-lens camera would be focused on the nest hole and photos taken as an adult exits the entrance hole.  The photos could be examined later and any objects taken from the nest hole noted, and if possible, identified.

Data to be recorded:

Location of nest (GPS, nest number, or general description of nest location)

Identity (band combinations in banded birds) of the adults

Date

Times of observations

Length of time (in seconds) adult spends in nest

Did the adult appear to be carrying anything out of the nest?

 

Nest stage (as accurately known as possible) (see below)

Is there always an adult in the cavity?

Does one adult arrive and change places with the adult in the cavity?

Can chipping from inside the cavity be heard?

Does an adult toss wood chips from the cavity?

Does an adult carry away wood chips from the cavity?

Does an adult carry anything (likely food) into the cavity?

Can nestlings be heard vocalizing from within the cavity?

Does the intensity of nestling vocalization increase when an adult is present?

Are any nestlings ever visible at the cavity entrance?

Do any nestlings look out of the cavity entrance?

Are there any fledglings present, as well as nestlings?

The answers to these questions will help determine where in the nesting cycle the nest is on the given day. It is possible that nest camera observations may better pinpoint the nesting stage.

 

Red-headed Woodpecker Recovery Project

 Protocol for Determining the Relationship of Cavity Area and Clutch Size in Red-headed Woodpeckers

Prologue:

We have noticed that many of the Red-headed Woodpeckers at Cedar Creek nest in snags and limbs that are what we consider narrow, for example 12 cm in diameter. This would seem to limit the room the incubating bird has and certainly limit the area available to the nestlings.

We have three years of nest camera data, 2013, 2014, and 2015. Eggs are clearly visible in the photos of nest contents and final clutch size obvious for most of the nests observed.  Eggs are 25.14 mm by 19.17 mm (Birds of North America RHWO account).  Assuming this figure is correct, measuring cavity area should be possible.

Protocol:

From the photographs available from 2013, 2014, 2015, and any subsequent year, determine for each nest wherever possible:

  1. the clutch size (the largest number of eggs in any photo). Ignore any nest in which fewer than three eggs can be seen.
  2. Measure in mm the image of the long axis of an easily seen egg = E.
  3. Measure in mm the longest dimension of the area at the apparent bottom of the cavity in the photo = L.
  4. Measure in mm the shortest dimension of the area at the apparent bottom of the cavity in the photo = W.
  5. Use the Excel Spreadsheet “Cavity Area and Clutch Size” to estimate the relationship between the size of the nest cavity and the number of eggs laid. The spreadsheet will do the calculations automatically once the data are entered.  Alternatively, do the calculations by hand:
  6. a. Calculate the length in cm of the bottom of the cavity as L x 2.514/E.
  7. b. Calculate the width in cm of the bottom of the cavity as W x 2.514 /E.
  8. c. Calculate the area of the bottom in cm2 of the cavity as A = π x L x W

(Area of an ellipse).

  1. The Excel spreadsheet should automatically add the data to the chart and calculate the regression coefficient (r2). The closer this number is to one, the stronger the relationship is between the size of the cavity and the number of eggs laid.
  2. Use repeated measurements of different eggs within a clutch, in different photos of the same nest, and different measurements of cavity dimensions in different photos to check for repeatability of measurements.
  3. Check for the presence of any noticeably smaller eggs. These are known as “runt eggs”. 
  4. Calculate the frequency of runt eggs as the number of runt eggs observed divided by the total number of all eggs in all clutches.
  5. If interested, use the same analysis to see if there is a relationship between cavity area and number of nestlings.