Clay Graham: avian ecologist

Interview conducted by Erin Harrington, science communicator and bird ecologist

I recently interviewed Clay Graham, a Master’s student in the Biological and Environmental Sciences program at URI. He is part of a collaborative research project between URI and RI Department of Environmental Management that has been going on for about a decade now. Researchers are trying to learn all they can about a weird shorebird found in the forest called the American Woodcock. This bird uses young forest habitats for feeding, courting, and rearing its young. In the past, researchers have been studying woodcock movement during mating season, woodcock habitat use, and how those both connect when it comes to forest management. But, Clay’s research will be going a step further – he’ll be studying woodcock movement not only during breeding season, but also during migration. In Clay’s own words:

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“I study what habitats and resources Rhode Island American Woodcock use over the course of a year, how habitat and resource use change for woodcock in different landscapes, and what characterizes Rhode Island woodcock migratory behavior by using radio transmitters and GPS tags.”

-Clay Graham

Photo credit Steve Brenner

 Here is what I asked Clay about his research…

 How and when did you first become interested in birds?
One of my classmates in second grade gave a presentation on penguins, and despite including a range map, I looked for them in my backyard. While searching my backyard I noticed a Red-tailed Hawk in the oak tree behind my house and asked my mom for help in identifying the bird. This was my spark bird! After this, I spent a lot of time as a kid in my backyard and the Cuyahoga Valley National Park identifying trees, wildflowers, and wildlife and loved flipping through my Sibley guide my parents bought me, wondering how many of the species of birds might have passed through my backyard at one point in time. I may or may not have began conversations with friends growing up with, “so, have you seen any wildlife lately”?

American Woodcock wearing a VHF radio transmitter blending in with the forest floor.  Photo credit Josh Cummings

American Woodcock wearing a VHF radio transmitter blending in with the forest floor. Photo credit Josh Cummings

I also loved the hidden knowledge that CVNP [Cuyahoga Valley National Park] rangers, Ted Williams seasonal natural history column in Audubon magazine, and local naturalists had about natural history. They seemingly knew about all these incredible processes and local species distributions, and really knew the story and dynamics of a landscape. I still feel this as a 29 year old Master’s student working with the American Woodcock, a species which is incredibly easy to mistake as being part of the forest floor, and is often overlooked except for those who are familiar with their natural history. 

 When and why did you first become interested in woodcock, and this study specifically?
One of the first woodcock I saw as a kid was a bird migrating between buildings in lower Manhattan on a family trip in eighth grade; a highly unpredictable landscape for any bird to navigate.

For many shorebirds, including woodcock, I’ve always been interested in how shorebirds find suitable stopover habitat, what decisions they make during migration, and how they handle the unpredictable nature of finding suitable stopover.

Although woodcock have been mostly studied from a perspective around habitat selection, woodcock are a really interesting system to study migration especially as there are populations which are migratory, non-migratory, short and long distance migrants, counter to most birds they have a prolonged spring migration in comparison to a rather quick fall migration.

They also are really unique in that they have assumed a migratory behavior by tracking the invasion of non-native earthworms after the glacial retreat extirpated native earthworms from the north, which always blows my mind.

 What interesting things have you found out in your research so far?
Preliminarily, using data from my first field season, it seems that woodcock can make quick migratory leaps often travelling 400 miles in a night, or using one stopover site before arriving at their wintering grounds, as well as woodcock left Rhode Island anywhere from early November to early December.

In addition, it seems that birds from higher quality habitats tended to migrate earlier than birds from lower quality habitats and are mostly wintering along the coast, anywhere from Connecticut to Alabama.

RI caught American Woodcock (circles) and their movements in during fall migration (November-December 15), informed by GPS transmitters.  Map created by Clay Graham

RI caught American Woodcock (circles) and their movements in during fall migration (November-December 15), informed by GPS transmitters. Map created by Clay Graham

What excites you most about your current research? What excites you most about Woodcock?
I think what’s exciting to me is how many unexplored questions there are for something that is seemingly so well studied, and especially how strange woodcock are as a system. For instance, woodcock are a really interesting system to study breeding behavior as they exhibit reverse sexual dimorphism [females are larger than males], are polygynous [1 male mates with multiple females], and fly to fields to perform aerial courtship displays.

Due to woodcock displaying in the evening (making them difficult to see), little is known about the presence or absence of females at each singing ground, male breeding success depending on site quality, the birds condition and, age and how breeding intensity and behaviors change over the course of the breeding season. This has implications in understanding which males are most or least likely to mate, and how females choose which display site to breed at, and there’s a ton of room to look at ethology in these birds. Or the fact that they are shorebirds that spend most of their time in forests.

I also love how dynamic they are. When tracking them over the summer, it would seem that just when you think a particular woodcock has settled into a location, the bird would move to another habitat within a landscape, especially as the water table drops in summer. It’s also really exciting to be working with novel tracking technology, and to hope that information from my research will be able to contribute to broader scientific discussions and management plans for woodcock.

 Could you describe what a typical day in the field is like?

[In the spring Clay catches individuals for the first time]: Depending on cloud cover and the moonphase, right at about 18-25 minutes after sunset, (or often I used when I can’t see details such as hairs on my outstretched hands or the print on a piece of paper), woodcock start ‘peenting’ and flying to fields to perform their aerial displays. I then usually wait until I see the poles wiggle a little bit, or an absence of displays to check the nets indicating that a bird might be in my mist net.  Sometimes we have to use speakers of ‘peent’ calls to catch woodcock as a last resort, as well.

My summers are spent tracking spring caught birds that had radio-transmitters attached to them, through swamps and thickets and scrubby habitat. This is in an effort to identify their diurnal [daytime] foraging locations, in order to build summer home ranges. Woodcock can be anywhere from deep, deep forest to industrial sites and peoples backyard, and some will periodically change their diurnal habitat. Sometimes you are walking through forest and wading through creeks for an hour to reach a bird, while other times the bird is right beside a road and take about two minutes to find and gather a location: each bird seems to have their own story.

Read more about how the McWilliams’ lab uses radio telemetry here

Gerald H. Krausse

What difficulties did you run across in your research? How did you surmount those challenges to reach your current insights?
Fall this year was pretty challenging in that I wasn’t sure I would be able to recatch woodcock I tracked over the summer in order to replace their radio-transmitters with GPS tags. The first two weeks of September I spent trying to catch a female I tracked over the summer, which loved to roost in log landings that had been clear-cut with intact logs  and briars. I never caught this female as it was in too difficult of an area to catch it, but after moving on to other birds I tracked over the summer, I managed to catch 9/12 birds that had transmitters on them.  

We tried all sorts of deigns and tactics, but what eventually worked best was to capture birds on nights with no ambient light where it was raining, using a speaker to make background noise to cover up my footsteps and to have three people tracking the bird to pinpoint it’s exact location and stop the bird. If conditions were right I would stay out all night to catch several birds, especially as September is the driest month, I had to be efficient with the best conditions for catching.

 What happens next? What still needs to be studied, and where will the research go next?
The hard work is done for this field season, with the Argos satellites doing much of the heavy lifting by downloading and sending information from our GPS tags. Winter will consist of entering data into GIS, and beginning some preliminary analysis of homeranges, and habitat selection. Next field season will be much of the same except I would like try to and catch more birds, as well as create a resource selection function for nocturnal roosts.

Anecdotally, it seems that birds are highly selective with roosting locations, and yet incredibly varied. This fall I encountered birds roosting next to rivers in open grassy floodplains, open fields, under holly bushes in clear cuts, along old abandoned roads in pepperbush thickets and in wetlands that were no longer inundated with water. We need to have a better understanding of roost site selection, as the lack of open fields and disturbed locations for roosting and breeding is one of the main reasons woodcock have been in decline.

Why is your research pertinent beyond informing us about the habitat woodcock need?
Woodcock have been found to be representative species of early successional [young forest] habitat, a critical and declining habitat throughout New England. As forests mature and humans limit their disturbance in New England, no longer clear cutting forests to maintain agriculture, the habitat and species associated with early successional habitat have similarly declined. Conservation of woodcock by proxy also conserves declining species like Wood Turtles, New England Cottontail, and many migratory species of birds which use early successional habitat  for both nesting, and providing food for nestlings, as well as adds diversity to a largely monotonous landscape.  

Is there anything else you would like to say? Are there any questions you would have liked to answer that I didn't ask you?
As part of a multi-state collaboration, URI has been working with the Eastern Woodcock Migratory Research Project, to understand eastern woodcock migratory movements.

 

Clay Graham is a master’s student studying the annual cycle movements of Rhode Island breeding American Woodcock, and how body condition affects fall migratory movements in  Scott McWilliams lab  at the University of Rhode Island  Photo credit Patrick Woodward

Clay Graham is a master’s student studying the annual cycle movements of Rhode Island breeding American Woodcock, and how body condition affects fall migratory movements in Scott McWilliams lab at the University of Rhode Island Photo credit Patrick Woodward

Interview conducted by Erin Harrington, a Ph.D. student studying science communication and avian ecology in the  Scott McWilliams lab  at the University of Rhode Island

Interview conducted by Erin Harrington, a Ph.D. student studying science communication and avian ecology in the Scott McWilliams lab at the University of Rhode Island

New England is a sea duck's winter wonderland

“Flapping in a winter wonderland”, slightly alter the lyrics to Richard B. Smith’s Winter Wonderland and now we’re talking sea ducks. If you’ve had the pleasure to be on a boat off the shores of New England in the not-so-balmy winter months then you have probably gazed upon rafts comprised of thousands of sea ducks bobbing in the waves. These ducks inhabit our coasts during the winter to take advantage of plentiful food sources while their more northern breeding areas are covered in ice, but just where do these birds go during the rest of the year and what routes do they take to get there? Dustin Meattey, a recently graduated masters student from the University of Rhode Island, partnered with three other wildlife agencies to answer that very question.

White-winged Scoter Movements and Habitat Use in Southern New England, original article published in RI DEM Hunting and Trapping 2018-2019 Regulation Guide

Sea ducks are some of the most prized waterfowl species for duck hunters, wildlife photographers, and birders. The coastal waters and offshore environments in southern New England provide crucial winter habitat for several species including Common Eiders, all three species of scoters (Black, White-winged, Surf), and Long-tailed Ducks. Over the past several decades, population declines of many sea duck species have highlighted the need for a better understanding of their habitat preferences, migration patterns and timing, and linkages between important geographic areas throughout their life cycle. Reasons for these declines remain poorly understood, but habitat conditions and disturbance on the wintering grounds may have carry-over effects impacting annual survival and breeding productivity during subsequent seasons. Because sea ducks spend much of their annual cycle in non-breeding areas where human-induced threats are often greatest, understanding habitat use on their wintering grounds is crucial for conservation planning. As the development of offshore wind power moves closer to large-scale implementation in the northeastern United States, particularly in areas used by sea ducks during winter, identifying important habitats used by wintering sea ducks informs the planning process and helps avoid displacement of sea ducks from preferred habitats.

White-winged Scoter with a satellite transmitter,  Photo credit:  Josh Beuth

White-winged Scoter with a satellite transmitter, Photo credit: Josh Beuth

One species of sea duck that inhabits New England coastal waters during the wintering period is the White-winged Scoter (Melanitta fusca). White-winged Scoters are a long-lived sea duck species that winters along both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of North America, with increasing numbers also wintering on the Great Lakes. White-winged Scoters nest throughout the interior boreal forest from Alaska to central Canada, with geographically separate eastern and western populations, although some studies have suggested that birds from Atlantic and Pacific coasts may overlap on the breeding grounds. Like most other sea duck species, White-winged Scoters have apparently experienced a long-term population decline throughout the last half-century.

Researchers from Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM), University of Rhode Island, Biodiversity Research Institute, and the Canadian Wildlife Service partnered together between 2015 and 2018 to study the movement ecology of White-winged Scoters.  We deployed over 50 satellite transmitters in adult females on their wintering grounds in southern New England and at a molting area in the St. Lawrence River Estuary in Quebec. We were able to follow the movements of many individuals for over two years, as they traversed thousands of miles between wintering areas on the East Coast to breeding grounds across the northern boreal forest from Quebec to the Northwest Territories of Canada, on their return migration to important molting and then wintering areas, and for some back again to the breeding grounds.

Fig. 1. Estimated probability of use by adult female White-winged Scoters in nearshore and offshore waters in southern New England based on movements of satellite-tagged birds. For information on the most current wind energy areas, visit  BOEM: Offshore Wind Energy

Fig. 1. Estimated probability of use by adult female White-winged Scoters in nearshore and offshore waters in southern New England based on movements of satellite-tagged birds. For information on the most current wind energy areas, visit BOEM: Offshore Wind Energy

The data gathered from these birds allowed us to calculate the size and habitat characteristics of winter home ranges, and to identify specific areas in southern New England during winter that were preferred by White-winged Scoters (Fig. 1). Our results suggested that offshore sites predicted to be most used by scoters had minimal overlap with currently leased and proposed wind energy areas in southern New England (shown in blue). However, many birds made long-distance flights throughout the winter between areas like Montauk Point, NY and the Nantucket Shoals south of Nantucket Island, therefore they were likely often crossing wind energy areas as they moved between their preferred sites. This suggests that future wind energy development in the currently proposed lease areas could act as a deterrent or barrier to these important within-winter movements.

Using the movement data from these scoters, we were also able to identify and document their primary migration routes between breeding and wintering areas and the timing of these movements (Figs. 2, 3). This information is important for biologists responsible for designating hunting seasons and for protecting key areas used during migration, and for others responsible for managing offshore wind farms and other potential sources of disturbance. White-winged Scoters wintering in coastal New England bred throughout northern Canada from northern Quebec to the Northwest Territories. After leaving the breeding grounds, scoters underwent a month-long wing molt primarily in James Bay and the St. Lawrence River Estuary before continuing their fall migration back to their primary wintering grounds in southern New England. An important finding from this research was that migration timing was consistent among all birds in our study, regardless of where they bred or molted, and regardless of what route they decided to take. Essentially, the eastern portion of the continental White-winged Scoter population seems to function as a single, continuous population with little evidence of any geographically distinct sub-populations. This suggests that our current harvest of White-winged Scoters should not disproportionately target any particular segment of the population.

Our hope is that this project provides helpful information to policy makers, developers, and biologists to best conserve and manage this important species. This study was part of the Atlantic and Great Lakes Sea Duck Migration Study, a multi-partner collaborative project initiated by the Sea Duck Joint Venture.

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About the author:
Dustin Meattey studied Spatial ecology of sea ducks in the Scott McWilliams lab at the University of Rhode Island and is currently a wildlife biologist with Biodiversity Research Institute.

Its fall, so its time to chat about songbird migration in New England!

Migration is a particularly vulnerable time of year for songbirds. Birds are facing novel habitats, exhausting exercise, and are encountering more predators and human modified environments. Why do some bird species take this risk? Birds are in search of predictably abundant resources to eat through the winter, and on their breeding grounds food becomes scarce and highly coveted as temperatures decrease . Birds also spend a large chunk of their annual cycle migrating (see below for a Blackpoll Warbler’s annual cycle to see what I mean). So studying how birds are making these journeys, what they are eating on the way, where they go, when, and in what direction is important and can lead to better decisions about how to help them on their way.

A Blackpoll Warbler’s annual cycle: notice how much time each year it will spend traveling between breeding and wintering locations

A Blackpoll Warbler’s annual cycle: notice how much time each year it will spend traveling between breeding and wintering locations

Understanding how physiological condition (how much fat and/or antioxidant capacity a bird is able to store) influences a bird’s behavior can help us to better understand their needs during this susceptible time. Further, physiological and behavioral actions during spring and fall migration can have consequences that spill over into the winter or breeding seasons (called carry-over effects). We are in the midst of a manipulative field experiment that is trying to tease apart whether fat stores and antioxidant stores are important drivers of decisions birds make during their travels.

But before I start talking just about birds and how cool they are, I want you to take a second and think about an animal that embodies athleticism to you. Did you think of the sprinting cheetah, or the fast swimming sailfish, or maybe the remarkable dive of a hunting peregrine falcon? Well, of course you would be right! All those species are incredibly fast athletes.

However, when I think of any sort of endurance athleticism in the animal world, I tend to think of animals that are migrating – especially migratory birds. Every year thousands of birds make long migrations around the globe, moving from areas of declining resources to areas of abundant resources. And, these birds fly hundreds to thousands of miles in the process, which is a crazy feat of endurance exercise. Among migrating birds, there are definitely some rock stars. The Arctic Tern is pretty famous (to us bird people) since it flies almost 60,000 total miles during migration. As is the Bar-tailed Godwit that migrates nonstop from Alaska to New Zealand or Australia, covering more than 6,000 miles in about 8 days of continuous flying (which is exhausting for me even to contemplate). However, although some birds are able to migrate in one flight, birds have many different strategies to help them travel these enormous distances and there is a lot of variation in how these journeys are made.

First, there could be variation in the routes a bird may take - in North America a songbird breeding in the arctic and wintering in South America may take a completely overland and direct route to get there, or they could fly east and then down the coast and across the gulf or straight across the ocean.

Possible migratory routes birds can take on their way south.

Possible migratory routes birds can take on their way south.

Second, most migrations are not non-stop flights, and therefore, during migration, short periods of endurance flight are traded off with periods of feeding and rest at stopover sites. There may be many stopovers on a bird’s migration from their breeding location their wintering location.

Migration = short endurance flights punctuated with longer periods of rest and refueling with native berries and fruits at stopover sites along the way

Migration = short endurance flights punctuated with longer periods of rest and refueling with native berries and fruits at stopover sites along the way

Migratory stopover sites are crucial for birds to rebuild energy stores, and the time a bird spends on a stopover can influence the timing and success of its overall migration. Additionally, during flight, birds have an elevated metabolism leading to an increase in the production of a byproduct we call reactive species. Reactive species can cause damage to cells, tissues, or DNA if not balanced by antioxidants**. Luckily for the birds, during the fall, there are a ton of seasonally abundant fruits around that are full of dietary antioxidants and fats. Birds that normally eat insects during the rest of the year generally switch to eating these fruits during migratory stopovers. However, the quality of stopover sites and the amount of fruit available to birds varies among sites and across a migratory season. We were curious about whether birds that have more fat and/or antioxidants in their diet can spend less time on a stopover site, and whether they are more likely to depart in a seasonally appropriate (southerly) direction.

To examine these differences, we headed out to Block Island, Rhode Island, an offshore stopover site that is popular for migrating birds and performed a field experiment. We caught four species of birds (Blackpoll Warblers, Hermit Thrushes, Red-Eyed Vireos, and Myrtle Warblers) that varied in their migration patterns, and manipulated their physiological condition.

Looking at multiple species of birds will allow us to compare how important condition is for birds with different migration strategies (land-based vs. over the sea) and migration distances (short vs long). Myrtle Warblers (Setophaga coronata coronata), migrate shorter distances than many of the other species passing through Block Island in the fall, and winter farther north than any other wood warblers. Hermit Thrushes (Catharus guttatus) are medium distance migrants that travel from Block Island to winter in the southern United States and Central America. Red-Eyed Vireos (Vireo olivaceus) are long-distance migrants that regularly stopover on Block Island during the fall. After leaving Block Island they are more likely to migrate overland until they reach the Gulf of Mexico, which means they will probably stop many more times as they travel south. In contrast, after leaving Block Island in the fall, Blackpoll Warblers (Setophaga striata) make an insane journey out across the open ocean for 3-5 days of non-stop flight before reaching a wintering destination in the Caribbean or South America.

We used mist nets to capture these four species and and then kept them in an outdoor aviary for a couple of days to manipulate their physiological condition. Once caught, we either gave the birds a diet rich in fat and/or antioxidants (we called this the ad lib diet) or a diet without extra fat and/or antioxidants (we called this the maintenance diet since birds, well, maintained the weight that we caught them in). We wanted to fatten the birds up (ad lib diet) and give them a lot of dietary antioxidants so that they were in better condition to simulate birds on a stopover site that would be abundant with fruits. We contrasted that diet treatment with the maintenance diet to simulate birds that wouldn’t have as much access to fruits on stopover. We predicted that birds that were able to stuff themselves with fat and antioxidants would be in better condition and would be more likely to migrate sooner and, potentially, reach their wintering grounds sooner than birds that were unable to do so.

We also took blood samples to look at their antioxidant capacity. A bird’s blood can tell us all sorts of levels of circulating antioxidants or other metabolites, kind of like when you go get checked for your cholesterol at the doctor. We predicted that birds given dietary antioxidants would have increase their circulating levels of antioxidants during captivity. After several days in captivity, birds on the fat rich diet had gained a lot of fat, where birds on the maintenance diet were still in the condition that we had caught them in. We then attached small radio-transmitters called Nanotags to these birds. Each nanotag sends out a unique signal every 10 seconds that can be picked up passively by receiving stations in the MOTUS network. We built one of those receiving stations on Block Island, but it was a part of the network of towers that extends from Canada down into South America. If any of our tagged birds fly along the Atlantic flyway then there is a good chance we’ll know about it.

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Automatic Receiving

Station on Block Island

This 40ft tower is a part of the MOTUS network and will passively pick up the signals from any Nanotag within it’s range

Nanotags will help us determine whether birds on an ad lib diet or one that was given dietary antioxidants can leave Block Island sooner and in a more seasonally appropriate direction than those on the maintenance diet or ones not given dietary antioxidants.

Linking behavioral decisions and physiological condition of songbirds together can help us to understand the types of habitats and food resources different bird species need on stopover sites. In turn, that could help to determine how we can best conserve those areas, or how we can restore them by planting native fruits and berries (see this helpful guide on what to plant!) to help these incredible athletes on their way.


**Antioxidant Definition: Animals have a multifaceted antioxidant system made up of endogenous antioxidants, micromolecular sacrificial molecules and dietary antioxidants that work synergistically to protect against oxidative damage (from those pesky reactive species). For birds in migration, the relationship between reactive species production, antioxidant protection and oxidative damage is not straightforward, and various aspects of the antioxidant system may respond differently depending on the type of damage, the duration of flight or the physiological state a bird. Dietary Antioxidants: Antioxidants produced by plants and consumed by animals in their diets. The two broad classes of dietary antioxidants include lipophilic antioxidants (vitamin E or carotenoids) and hydrophilic antioxidants (vitamin C or polyphenols). In this study we specifically examined polyphenols.


 
About the author:   Clara Cooper-Mullin  is a PhD student studying the impacts of diet and body condition on songbird migration the  Scott McWilliams lab  at the University of Rhode Island

About the author:
Clara Cooper-Mullin is a PhD student studying the impacts of diet and body condition on songbird migration the Scott McWilliams lab at the University of Rhode Island

 

Winner of the Big biology category in the ScienceSeeker Awards 2019

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Don't go into the long grass!

Kristen holding a young Eastern box turtle  (Terrapene carolina carolina)  too small to carry a tracking transmitter. So unassuming about the challenges she will soon face...

Kristen holding a young Eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina) too small to carry a tracking transmitter.
So unassuming about the challenges she will soon face...

It was an August morning on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, but instead of lounging on the beach with tourists I was gearing up to track down my Eastern box turtle friends. Eastern box turtles (Terrapene carolina carolina) are a beautifully patterned land dwelling turtle. Their populations continue to decline due to habitat loss, collection as pets, and road mortality, and they are globally listed as vulnerable to extinction. My task for the summer was to find turtles in their breeding habitat, glue a radio transmitter to their shells, and use that radio signal to track them to understand what habitat types are most important to protect. I followed turtles around all summer long, and it may surprise you that they do move extensively during their breeding season!

A gorgeously colored male Eastern box turtle. A bright red eye is one characteristic used to tell males from females. Duxbury, MA, summer,  Photo credit: Kristen DeMoranville

A gorgeously colored male Eastern box turtle. A bright red eye is one characteristic used to tell males from females. Duxbury, MA, summer, Photo credit: Kristen DeMoranville

Eastern box turtle carrying a tracking transmitter. Duxbury, MA, summer,  Photo credit: Kristen DeMoranville

Eastern box turtle carrying a tracking transmitter. Duxbury, MA, summer, Photo credit: Kristen DeMoranville

This August morning began like any other day in the field. It was time to track turtle 910, so I turned my dial to that frequency and headed towards its favorite place. This turtle, along with two others, frequented a spot that seemed to be a box turtle oasis. It was a small rocky depression lined and protected by large granite boulders and filled with green shrubs and young trees. It was located at the other side of a field roughly half the size of a soccer field. I stood at the edge of the field, pointed the antenna at the oasis, and picked up the turtle's signal! Great, just as I had expected. I strode confidently through the tall grass reaching up my torso with one thought, turtle 910. Whoa! Some...thing shot its head up through the grass just in front of me and snapped me out of my tunnel vision. I was so disoriented and startled that I couldn't recognize what this beady-eyed creature was. It charged directly at me, and that's when I realized I was being attacked by a wild turkey. "Forget turtle 910!", screamed my internal dialog. I ran as fast as I could in fear of that bill. I didn't look behind me until I was completely clear of the field, and to my delight the turkey had remained in the grass. To the turkey's delight I was no longer in the field heading straight for him. I learned first hand the valuable lesson that Jurassic Park (The Lost World) attempted to instill in me early on. In case some of you also missed it in 1997, I pass that message on to you: Don't go into the long grass (click here for video clip)! Yes, I now see turkeys as bloodthirsty velociraptors. Maybe not such a stretch since all birds are dinosaurs; birds today are reptilian descendants of an older group of dinosaurs, the therapods (I'm not too far off...velociraptors are therapods too!).

A gobbler in strut, or in other words a male turkey in breeding display. Note the dropped wings, vertical and fanned tail, puffed up body feathers, and tucked in neck position.  Photo credit: Mark Cooperman

A gobbler in strut, or in other words a male turkey in breeding display. Note the dropped wings, vertical and fanned tail, puffed up body feathers, and tucked in neck position. Photo credit: Mark Cooperman

 

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Sources and further reading:

Eastern Box turtle information
Eastern box turtle facts
Global IUCN status

Jurassic Park video clip
Don't go into the long grass!

Birds are dinosaurs
birds are dinosaurs


About the author:
Kristen J. DeMoranville @Kris10DeMo is a Ph.D. student researching the effects of diet and long-distance flight on a migratory songbird in Dr. Scott McWilliams lab at the University of Rhode Island

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