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Author Topic: The Willet that Was  (Read 2190 times)

Josh Engel

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The Willet that Was
« on: July 27, 2012, 03:22:52 PM »
I went to Montrose yesterday after work to look for the avocet and willet that had been reported throughout the day. The avocet was easy to find, but I couldn't find the willet. When I got home and started looking through my photos--oops!--there was the willet, in the background of an avocet photo, and not looking too healthy.


avocet and willet by NRG_energy, on Flickr

It was getting dark, but I decided to hurry back over there to check up on it. I found it in basically the same place, looking even worse--in fact I thought it was dead until I picked it up. I brought it home and kept it in a box overnight, hoping to be able to pass it off to the collision monitors in the morning, but it was not to be.

I brought it to the Field Museum this morning, where we first checked it for lice as a favor to Jason Weckstein, who studies bird ectoparasites. Nathan Goldberg did the "ruffling," the term we use for searching for ectoparasites.


nathan ruffling by NRG_energy, on Flickr

It was loaded with lice--Nathan counted over 300 as he collected them--a likely sign of poor health. This is Nathan and Jason checking for lice and recording the data.


jason and nathan parasites by NRG_energy, on Flickr

We took the lice upstairs to Jason's microscopes to try and identify them.


Willet Lice by NRG_energy, on Flickr

At least two genera were present (Actornithophilus and Quadruceps), and we could see bloodmeals in some of them, like in the louse on the left below. The louse on the right eats feather barbs, which you can see in its gut in the photo.


ActornithophilusandQuadruceps bloodmeal by NRG_energy, on Flickr

I then prepared it as a specimen, but only after admiring its stunning underwing pattern.


willet underwing by NRG_energy, on Flickr

It turns out that it is the first specimen at the Field from Illinois, the first tissue sample in the collection, and the first Willet specimen added to the collection since 1988. The bird was thin, but not quite emaciated, and it did have a little fat, though not nearly as much as a migrating shorebird should have.


willet sturnum by NRG_energy, on Flickr


willet prep 2 by NRG_energy, on Flickr


willet prep 1 by NRG_energy, on Flickr

The bird was just beginning to molt out of juvenile plumage. The black dots are new feathers growing in, as seen from the inside of the skin.


willet molt by NRG_energy, on Flickr

I had guessed that the bird was male because the bill appeared relatively short to me, but I was wrong. The forceps are pointing at the smooth ovaries, a sign of an immature female. John Bates, one of the bird curators, stopped by and wanted to see the gonads.


willet ovaries by NRG_energy, on Flickr


john visit by NRG_energy, on Flickr

Finally it was time to fill the now empty body cavity with the cotton body.


willet cotton body by NRG_energy, on Flickr

Finally I sewed it back up and pinned it out. It will need a week or two to dry, then it will be added to the museum's collection.


willet specimen by NRG_energy, on Flickr

Thanks to Nathan, who took most of these photos and allowed me to use his Flickr site to post them.

Josh
« Last Edit: July 30, 2012, 09:50:09 AM by Josh Engel »

Fran Morel

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Re: The Willet that Was
« Reply #1 on: July 27, 2012, 03:31:47 PM »
Thanks for sharing, Josh.  That's an extremely interesting sequence of photos.  Any guesses why this young female died?

Fran

Josh Engel

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Re: The Willet that Was
« Reply #2 on: July 27, 2012, 04:30:35 PM »
It's hard to say, Fran. I didn't notice anything particularly unusual about it--no strange growths, no internal bleeding, no obvious signs of trauma. It was thin, but not emaciated. The weight (231g) was only slightly below the average weight for juveniles listed in Birds of North America. The stomach was empty, but birds have fast metabolism and that could have been a function of the overnight rather than not being able to eat. I think the heavy parasite load was a sign of poor health--healthier birds are able to preen off parasites, but that doesn't give us a cause of death. Indeed, we don't know whether the bird had a heavy parasite load because it was sick or it was sick because it had a heavy parasite load. That's a non-answer to your question, but the best I can do at the moment.

Josh

Steve Spitzer

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Re: The Willet that Was
« Reply #3 on: July 27, 2012, 05:30:53 PM »
Unrelated, but on the subject of dead shorebirds: I found a dead peep on the beach. Not overly fresh, a few days or so. Anyway, had a very thin bill and black legs. Would you know if the legs of a Least Sandpiper would turn black at death?
Steve Spitzer

Marion Miller

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Re: The Willet that Was
« Reply #4 on: July 27, 2012, 06:29:49 PM »
When Rich and I were at Montrose last Saturday there was a dead Ring-billed Gull and a Sanderling that died before we left the area.  Is this amount of dying birds the usual?

Marion
"Our lives are enriched not only by the birds we see, but also by the journey we take to see them." ~ Team TLC

Steve Spitzer

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Re: The Willet that Was
« Reply #5 on: July 27, 2012, 06:36:31 PM »
When Rich and I were at Montrose last Saturday there was a dead Ring-billed Gull and a Sanderling that died before we left the area.  Is this amount of dying birds the usual?

Marion

Not an always thing, but not unusual. Sometimes I can find four dead birds in a day walking the full beach at either Loyola or Montrose, other times none.  My yard is a lot smaller than the beach and I can find a few dead birds in it now and then. In places where birds hang out; birds die.
Steve Spitzer

Aaron Gyllenhaal

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Re: The Willet that Was
« Reply #6 on: July 27, 2012, 06:53:12 PM »
Marion,
For some reason, Montrose is an attraction to dieing birds. The first couple that come to mind are Parasitic Jaeger and Black-Legged Kittiwake. Also, there was a Buff-Breasted Sandpiper that was injured that probably wound up as food for the Peregrine, but it wasn't confirmed.

profiles of nature

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Re: The Willet that Was
« Reply #7 on: July 27, 2012, 10:12:03 PM »
Could eating the trash along the shore be a possible cause of death?  The shorebirds tend to eat whatever washes up on the beach.  Here's a few shots of the Willet.

btw: 3 red bats @ Montrose this evening

Jerry Goldner
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Greg Neise

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Re: The Willet that Was
« Reply #8 on: July 28, 2012, 08:22:57 AM »
Marion,
For some reason, Montrose is an attraction to dieing birds. The first couple that come to mind are Parasitic Jaeger and Black-Legged Kittiwake. Also, there was a Buff-Breasted Sandpiper that was injured that probably wound up as food for the Peregrine, but it wasn't confirmed.

I don't know that Montrose attracts any more or fewer dying birds than any other place ... but it sure attracts more birders to find them!
"Only the impossible always happens"
- - R. Buckminster Fuller

Josh Engel

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Re: The Willet that Was
« Reply #9 on: July 28, 2012, 09:25:34 AM »
Great photos, Jerry. That wing pattern is just awesome.

It turns out of the Montrose Lesser Yellowlegs died as well. A volunteer picked it up this morning from the beach and I just got it from him. It's not fresh, so I'm guessing that's what happened when the two yellowlegs on Thursday became one on Friday (and none today...).

Josh

Josh Engel

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Re: The Willet that Was
« Reply #10 on: July 30, 2012, 09:55:12 AM »
Last night I found a dead Sanderling on the beach. Judging by its condition, it had been dead for a few days. I have a suspicion about how these birds died, and if I'm right then we shouldn't be finding more dead birds. I'll post more about that later.

I also watched a raccoon family (mother + five cubs) emerge from a hole in the fishhook pier. They spent a while washing off in the puddle next to the pier before ambling off through the dunes.

Josh

Bruce Heimer

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Re: The Willet that Was
« Reply #11 on: July 30, 2012, 12:38:56 PM »
Quote
It turns out that it is the first specimen at the Field from Illinois, the first tissue sample in the collection, and the first Willet specimen added to the collection since 1988. The bird was thin, but not quite emaciated, and it did have a little fat, though not nearly as much as a migrating shorebird should have.

Josh


Nice collection!

I think I'll stick to beer cans.
« Last Edit: July 30, 2012, 12:50:29 PM by Greg Neise »

profiles of nature

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Re: The Willet that Was
« Reply #12 on: August 02, 2012, 04:20:58 PM »
I ran into the raccoon family on the beach.


La Familia by Profiles of Nature, on Flickr
« Last Edit: August 02, 2012, 04:27:10 PM by profiles of nature »
Jerry Goldner
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"Try to become not a man of success, but
try rather to become a man of Value.
 ~ Albert Einstein

 

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