What? No bird-related stuff? I know this is mostly a birding, bird conservation, ornithology blog, but occasionally I like to discuss other science topics as they relate to birds. Since Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom will be released a month from today, I've decided to write a blog post on one of its most blatant inaccuracies: featherless dinosaurs. Yup, I'm going to mantle the big question of which dinosaurs had feathers. This will be the first in a series on the connection between birds and non-avian dinosaurs: this one on feathers, several on the evolution of avialans throughout the Jurassic, Cretaceous (including on how they survived the mass extinction), Paleogene, and Neogene periods; one on lesser-known bird families that are now extinct, one on my thoughts on Fallen Kingdom if I ever see it (this most likely will happen), and possibly more. I'm not sure what I will call this mini-series, but I'm pretty sure I might go with "Paleobirding." This wasn't an easy decision to make, as I felt I've had to write this because unlike with most fictional creatures depicted in movies, dinosaurs are real and the general public often accepts inaccurate movie versions as fact without looking at the evidence. I'm writing this to stop those misconceptions from spreading and give an accurate view of how dinosaurs lived.
Before starting, I have one simple request: PLEASE keep discussions in the comments sections civil, I don't want to have to constantly deal with fanboys who don't like to see their childhood movie monsters ruined by science. If the comments get out of hand, I will have to shut this down. Science does not care about your opinions, so just admire the beauty of it. If you don't want to learn about the possibility of all dinosaurs having feathers, then don't read this blog post, or much of this series on dinosaurs in general. For those who don't think feathered dinosaurs are scary, I know many people who vehemently disagree, especially those who have seen cassowaries
Let's start with the big question: what are feathers?
In short, "feathers" are filament-like projections that first evolved from scales. C.M. Kosemen thinks feathers first evolved as sensory organs like whiskers and then diversified. It's unknown when feathers first evolved, but they may have been present in the earliest dinosauriformes. To appease the diehard Jurassic Park fanboys lurking on the internet, I will mention that feathers are actually a highly derived type of scale. The scutes on crocodylians, feathers in dinosaurs, and pycnofibres (the hairlike filaments in pterosaurs) all evolved from the same skin covering. It was originally thought that feathers and scales were made of two different forms of keratin, however, it is now known that the keratin that forms feathers is present in crocodilian embryos. The evolution of feathers is depicted in five stages, based on an analysis of feather evolution in a 1999 paper by Richard Prum. Each of these stages in feather evolution has been found on dinosaur fossils except for stage 3, which is known from cretaceous amber.
Feathers can be broken down into seven different structures:
Numerous speculative theories have been proposed on the purpose of feathers: The first one is that down and semiplume feathers (the feathers present in ratites) were used to regulate temperature (feathers are more efficient at trapping and shedding heat than hair is, according to a study on Red Kangaroos and Emus); which would most benefit dinosaurs living polar and alpine regions (see figure 2) or in deserts (Madagascar, Negmet). Wing and tail feathers were then likely used for courtship displays similar to ratites, pheasants, and birds of paradise, although most evidence of sexual dimorphism in non-avian dinosaurs is not conclusive (see the clip from Dinosaur Revolution featuring a pair of courting Gigantoraptor I attached as a speculative example). Pennaceous feathers would have been used on avialans and small dromaeosaurs like Microraptor and Sinornithosaurus to glide from branches, but this was not powered flight as they could not flap their wings. Powered flight would later evolve in enatiornith birds with the appearance of a breastbone or keel for flight muscles to attach to and give birds more lift when flying.
Now, let's talk about the direct evidence of feathers in each of the dinosaur groups, but before we dig in, it's worth mentioning that the traditional phylogeny of dinosaurs lists two branches: Saurischia (sauropodomorphs, herrerasaurids, and theropods) meaning "lizard-hipped" and Ornithischia (ornithopods) or "bird-hipped." However, in 2017, Matthew Baron, David Norman and Paul Barrett proposed that theropods were more closely related to ornithischans than to sauropods and herrerasaurs, leading to the formation of a new clade called Ornithoscelida.
Lastly, despite what many clickbait articles and videos on dinosaurs would say, pterosaurs are NOT dinosaurs. I will devote a full section of Paleobirding to the differences between birds and pterosaurs.
Part of the rationale of Baron et al for transferring theropods out of Saurischia and into the new Ornithoscelida is that herrerasaurids and sauropodomorphs noticably lacked any preservation of feathers at all. Quite the opposite was found on sauropods, in fact, since many scale impressions have been found that have been attributed to sauropod species. In other words: no feathers on sauropods
While most of the dinosaur groups (aside from sauropods) will be handled individually, I will address Ornithischia as a whole. The first ornithischian to be found with feathers was Psittacosaurus in 2002 (the genus has been known since 1923, for anyone who was wondering), which preserved bristle-like filaments on the tail. Then in 2009, a heterodontosaurid called Tianyulong which had long filaments on the back, tail, and neck of the animal. Originally, these two species led scientists to think feathers evolved in the (at the time of this discovery) two dinosaur groups independently. Then, in 2014, the discovery of a basal neornithischian found in Siberia was announced. Kulindadromeus, as the dinosaur would be called, suggested that the common ancestor of dinosaurs was feathered (except for sauropods and herrerasaurs, which may not be dinosaurs if you define a dinosaur by the presence of feathers).
When it comes to feather preservation, non-coelorusaurian theropods, which include coelophysids, allosaurs, megalosauroids, and ceratosaurs, are not as well studied. The arms of the carnosaur Concavenator had structures resembling quill knobs, but these may be attachment points for ligaments and not related to feathers at all. Sciurumimus is another interesting species, as the classification is not decided on. If it is a megalosauroid, that would support the hypothesis that this group of dinosaurs had feathers.
Tyrannosaurs were a family of theropods that first appeared in the Jurassic as medium-sized carnivores, and later evolved into the apex predators of Asian and North American formations during the late Cretaceous. Big tyrannosaurs like Tyrannosaurus and Tarbosaurus don't need an introduction, but some of their earlier relatives do. Two tyrannosaurids have been discovered with direct evidence of feathers: Dilong and Yutyrannus, both of which lived in China during the lower Cretaceous. These two species are important because Dilong provided evidence that tyrannosaurs had feathers in the first place, and Yutyrannus confirmed that even large tyrannosaurs likely had feathers. Another thing to note about Yutyrannus is that the Yixian formation, where it and many other feathered dinosaurs lived, would have been very cold during the Early Cretaceous when these animals lived
What about Tyrannosaurus rex? Once the discovery of Yutyrannus was announced in 2012, many people were scared that not even T. rex was safe from getting the feather treatment, leading to the "science ruined dinosaurs" movement. These fears were alleviated when a paper examining several tiny (the largest is 30 square centimeters across) scale impressions on the back of the neck, pelvic region, and tail of the well-preserved BHI 6230 specimen or Wyrex, claimed to have found conflicting patterns between gigantism in dinosaurs and feather integument and concluding that Tyrannosaurus was mostly scaly. When popular media outlets reported about the paper, they sensationalized the study by claiming it marks a return to the T. rex of Jurassic Park and that they were "still lizards" after people had "gotten used to the idea of giant fluffy killer birds." While it is true that rex would have been mostly scaly, these scales would give the animal a leathery appearance because of how small the scales are. Bell et al interpreted this find by suggesting more derived tyrannosaurs likely lost or did not have the filaments of their basal Asian relatives. The distribution of these scales lends support to the position that these animals were mostly scaly or featherless as adults, but does not mean they were featherless at all growth stages. The paper suggests that they might have possessed a feather cape or mohawk on the upper part of their body. These scales might actually be feathers, as the paper notes the scaly feet of modern birds are actually feathers that secondarily evolved back into scales. The authors suggest that this might have been the case with Tyrannosaurus, and as Mark Witton notes, everyone wins the scaly vs feathered debate. This opens up a variety of possibilities: Witton notes that avian skin is more dynamic than reptilian skin, and allows for tons of variations based on the animals life stages and time of year, changing between feathers and scales with the seasons. This could mean T. rex was born with feathers but lost them as it got older, or it could have grown a coat of feathers as an adult in fall and molted this coat in spring. In conclusion, the Bell paper concludes that T. rex would have been largely filamentless in life and would have possessed a leathery or smooth appearance, and does not disprove that it was completely featherless in all stages in life.
Before you accuse me in the comments of ruining your childhood hero (which I will probably delete), I will add that in the unlikely event of T. rex and Spinosaurus meeting, T. rex would likely win in a fight, either crushing Spino's neck with those bone-crushing jaws that deliver the highest bite force of any known animal or scaring the fish eater back into the water.
Sometimes known as "ostrich dinosaurs" for their resemblance to modern ratites, ornithomimids are a group of omnivorous theropods that lived during the Cretaceous and were prey for many large predators. To add to their resemblance to modern ostriches, we have found two ornithomimids with preservation of feathers: Ornithomimus and a pygostyle on the extremely large and unusual Deinocheirus.
Compsognathids, or "compies" as they are sometimes known, are small theropods that lived from the late Jurassic to the early Cretaceous and were small predators of insects, lizards, and early mammals. One species of compy, Sinosauropteryx, had preserved feathers so well, we even know what color it was! Microscopic pigment cells called melanosomes on the fossil of Sinosauropteryx was analyzed to find it had a reddish brown coloration like a fox or Red Panda, as well as a banded tail like many procyonids (raccoons, coatis, ringtail) or a Ring-tailed Lemur. To add to the resemblance to raccoons, analysis of the fossil found that Sinosauropteryx had a bandit mask over its eyes.
Therizinosaurs were large theropods that were most likely herbivorous, and used their long claws to hold branches closer to their mouths like pandas or sloths rather than to disembowel prey with. We know from many therizinosaur species that they had filamentous intigument covering their entire bodies, even the biggest ones. One of these, Beipiaosaurus, is one of the largest dinosaurs with direct evidence of feathers second only to Yutyrannus.
Oviraptorosaurs (or "chickenparrots" as paleontology fans sometimes call them) are dinosaurs that take the bird-like appearance of the ornithomimids a step further; looking like a chimera of a parrot, a galliform, and a non-avian dinosaur. Many species of oviraptorids have been found with direct evidence of feathers preserved such as wings and pygostyles. This means that all oviraptorids definitely had feathers, even the biggest ones like Gigantoraptor, although it can be argued from Bell 2017 that like Therizinosaurus, Gigantoraptor would have considerably reduced feathers, but not completely lost them.
Alvarezasaurs are small insect-eating theropods that due to their close relationship to other maniraptorans, we know definitely had feathers.
Scansoriopterygids are a testament to the amazing ability non-avian dinosaurs had to evolve and fill every niche imaginable, as many members of this group had a long finger used to probe trees for insects like that of an Aye-aye or the tongue of a woodpecker. All scansoriopterygids had four long feathers on the tail, composed of a central rachis and vanes. However, unlike in modern-style tail feathers, the vanes were not branched into individual filaments but made up of a single ribbon-like sheet. They also had simple feathers covering the body like many dinosaurs.
More famously known as "raptors," dromaeosaurids are birdlike theropods that lived during the Cretaceous period. Numerous species of dromaeosaur have been found with direct evidence of feathers, including complete feather preservation in Microraptor, Zhenyuanlong, and Sinornithosaurus, as well as quill knobs on Velociraptor, Rahonavis, and Dakotaraptor. In short, all dromaeosaurs regardless of how big they are had feathers preserved
What about Velociraptor, the antagonist of the first three films and semi protagonist of Jurassic World? Things are not looking good for this "walking medieval torture machine," as the JPlegacy website called the movie versions of this species, which are closer in size to Utahraptor and Achillobator than an actual Velociraptor, which was the length of a mountain lion and weighed as much as a turkey (in Michael Crichton's defense, he followed Gregory S. Paul's dromaeosaur taxonomy, which lumped Deinonychus, Saurornitholestes, and others into Velociraptor). Basically the fossils of many dromaeosaurs, as well as quill knobs on Velociraptor itself, mean this genus was undeniably feathered. As Brian Switek says, "A Velociraptor without feathers isn't a Velociraptor."
Troodontids are more closely related to birds than their cousins the dromaeosaurs. We know from the remains of Jinfengopteryx that troodontids had filamentous feathers covering their body and pennaceous feathers on the wings and tail
Lastly, we get to modern birds, which all are undisputedly feathered.
To summarize, heterodontosaurids, basal neornithischians, ceratopsians, and most ceolorusaurian theropods likely had feathers, while ceratosaurs (a group of theropods), sauropods, ornithopods, thyreophorans, and pachycephalosaurs did not. Coelophysids and carnosaurs are uncertain in their feather preservation, but would most likely have had quill knobs. Basal ceratopsians like Psittacosaurus most likely had elongate cylindrical integument analagous to feathers, which larger ceratopsians would have lost. Heterodontosaurids, basal neornithischians, early tyrannosaurs, comsognathids, and early tyrannosaurs had filamentous integument covering their entire bodies. Oviraptorosaurs and scansoriopterygids had complex feathers of multiple stages following the Prum model. Lastly, deinonychosaurs and avialans all had multiple stages of feathers including asymetrical flight feathers.
This post was inspired by a presentation given by Garret Van Gelder at the NYSYBC 2018 Kickoff Meeting, as well as the work of Nick Turinetti and Tom Parker for Saurian, a open-world video game where you play as a dinosaur and try to survive, and Trey the Explainer's "Which Dinosaurs Had Feathers?" and "Did T. rex have feathers?"
All copyrighted images belong to their respected owners. Please notify me if I neglected to credit your work. All copyrighted images in this post are protected under FAIR USE for reasons of Commentary, Education, Criticism, Parody, and Social Satire.
All About Feathers, academy.allaboutbirds.org/features/all-about-feathers/.
Bell, Phil R., et al. “Tyrannosauroid Integument Reveals Conflicting Patterns of Gigantism and Feather Evolution.” Biology Letters, vol. 13, no. 6, 2017, p. 20170092., doi:10.1098/rsbl.2017.0092.
Caspermeyer, Joseph. “Finding Their Inner Bird: Using Modern Genomics to Turn Alligator Scales into Birdlike Feathers.” Molecular Biology and Evolution, vol. 35, no. 2, Nov. 2018, pp. 523–524., doi:10.1093/molbev/msx330.
“Everything You Need To Know About Feathers.” Bird Academy • The Cornell Lab, academy.allaboutbirds.org/feathers-article/.
“FAQ.” Saurian, sauriangame.squarespace.com/2/.
“Kulindadromeus Zabaikalicus: Feathered Herbivorous Dinosaur Discovered | Paleontology.” Breaking Science News | Sci-News.com, www.sci-news.com/paleontology/science-kulindadromeus-zabaikalicus-feathered-herbivorous-dinosaur-02079.html.
“List of Dinosaur Species Preserved with Evidence of Feathers.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 3 Mar. 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_dinosaur_species_preserved_with_evidence_of_feathers.
Naish, Darren. “Ornithoscelida Rises: A New Family Tree for Dinosaurs.” Scientific American Blog Network, 22 Mar. 2017, blogs.scientificamerican.com/tetrapod-zoology/ornithoscelida-rises-a-new-family-tree-for-dinosaurs/.
Panciroli, Elsa. “Scientists Reveal Most Accurate Depiction of a Dinosaur Ever Created | Elsa Panciroli.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 14 Sept. 2016, www.theguardian.com/science/2016/sep/14/scientists-reveal-most-accurate-depiction-of-a-dinosaur-ever-created.
Persons, Walter S., and Philip J. Currie. “Bristles before down: A New Perspective on the Functional Origin of Feathers.” Evolution, vol. 69, no. 4, 2015, pp. 857–862., doi:10.1111/evo.12634.
Swenton, Trey. “Did T.rex Have Feathers?” YouTube, YouTube, 12 Mar. 2016, www.youtube.com/watch?v=uM5JN__15-g
Swenton, Trey. “Which Dinosaurs Had Feathers?” YouTube, YouTube, 15 June 2015, www.youtube.com/watch?v=sGAixpQcqdU.
Switek, Brian. “Tianyulong: An Unexpectedly Fuzzy Dinosaur.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 20 Mar. 2009, www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/tianyulong-an-unexpectedly-fuzzy-dinosaur-41045210/.
“They Had Feathers: Is the World Ready to See Dinosaurs as They Really Were?” All About Birds, 22 Nov. 2017, www.allaboutbirds.org/they-had-feathers-is-the-world-ready-to-see-dinosaurs-as-they-really-were-2/.
Witton, Mark. “Revenge of the Scaly Tyrannosaurus.” Mark Witton.com Blog, markwitton-com.blogspot.co.uk/2017/06/revenge-of-scaly-tyrannosaurus.html.
Xu, Xing, et al. “A Gigantic Feathered Dinosaur from the Lower Cretaceous of China.” Nature, vol. 484, no. 7392, Apr. 2012, pp. 92–95., doi:10.1038/nature10906.
“Yutyrannus, a Giant Tyrannosaur with Feathers.” Not Exactly Rocket Science, 4 Apr. 2012, blogs.discovermagazine.com/notrocketscience/2012/04/04/yutyrannus-a-giant-tyrannosaur-with-feathers
Lifers denoted in bold
Remember how Max, Ryan, and I could not solve the ID of a mystery Catharus thrush in Central Park seen in the same area as a Bicknell's Thrush? We concluded our first day in Manhattan more determined than ever to find the Bicknell's while it was still in the area.
The plan was to look for the Bicknell's Thrush if it was still around in the morning then take the ferry to Governor's Island, and later in the afternoon meet up with Ryan again to get more warblers and if he wanted, to find the Bicknell's. Max and I were checking every thrush (and I was having trouble getting my camera to focus), so when we came across several other birders that claimed to hear a Bicknell's song, we joined the group to hopefully confirm this. Several of us followed the thrush around in an effort to get it to sing again and thus confirm it's id. We trailed it for a while and heard it call several times. James Muchmore was in this group, and got pictures that he would ask me what I thought about the bird. I replied: "I think we got it." Satisfied with both of us having Bicknell's Thrush as a lifer, we headed back to prepare for more adventures.
On the way down to Governor's Island, we stopped at Madison Square Park in search of Prothonotary and Kentucky Warblers reported hopping around the lawn in the center. I had gotten Prothonotary the day before I left ESF, but Max still needed Prothonotary and we both needed Kentucky for life. Unfortunately, neither was in the area, but we did find a female Hooded Warbler on the lawn with several yellowthroats and many other warblers in the surrounding trees.
When we got to Governor's Island, there were not too many birds around (well, not too many birds we haven't seen in Central Park or elsewhere in NY this week). However, there were some surprises, one being a flyover Solitary Sandpiper identified by call and a Common Nighthawk which both Max and I heard, but did not see.
After lunch, Ryan met us at the entrance of the park and we headed towards The Ramble to look for the Bicknell's Thrush again, which he needed for his county list. We were checking all the thrushes we saw, as usual, when we heard the Bicknell's type song. Later we saw the bird in a tree and got a recording of the song. The bird flew past us and we alerted Deborah Allen, who was also in the area, of its presence. On the ground, it was just as cooperative and allowed us to get many pictures. Also in the area were White-crowned and Lincoln's Sparrows.
We then set out for the Pinetum, an area with lots of warbler activity. Max needed Blackburnian Warbler for life and both of us needed Cape May as well. There were several Yellow and Magnolias, a Canada, and a Blackpoll. Then Ryan picked out a Cape May Warbler, which Max and I quickly got on (though it took me a minute to get it). Also in the Pinetum was an empid, which after hearing it call, we confirmed as a Willow Flycatcher. Ryan also found a Blackburnian Warbler. Moving on to the Reservoir, our next target were Bank and Cliff Swallows before Ryan had to leave. We got one of the Cliff Swallows, but not the Bank Swallow. Also, a large brown bird flew across the path that we were not able to safely identify.
The first spot we went to in Brooklyn was Prospect Park. Many of the birds we saw were similar to those we had seen in Central Park so far, with the addition of a Prairie Warbler that Max saw but I didn't, a Wood Duck in a Tree, and a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher which we both saw, but could not get pictures of (many empids are flagged in Kings County).
The last spot in Brooklyn we went to was the entrance to Green-wood Cemetery, which has become famous for an unusual reason: parakeets. As absurd as the idea of looking for parakeets in New York sounds, it is not that farfetched. In the 1970s, a shipping crate at JFK airport containing Monk Parakeets, a native of South America, was damaged and broken giving the birds a chance at freedom. They managed to survive, and have persisted enough to be countable on the ABA Checklist (I had seen them in Florida this year as well). It didn't take us long to spot them on top of the entrance.
Back in Manhattan, Max and I took the subway all the way up to Inwood Hill Park to find one of the two Eastern Screech-Owls in the park. Ryan was giving us directions remotely to the spot (he was in class), so while we were able to locate the spot it usually hangs out in, we could not actually see the owl.
Ryan couldn't join us in Central Park this time (more on why later), so Max and I set out for the Pinetum on our own where we had a Tennessee Warbler and several Black-throated Greens. Our main destination was the North Woods area, where an Acadian Flycatcher was recently seen. Along the way we stopped at the reservoir where all the swallows were reported from and managed to get pictures of the Bank. In the Ravine, we got the Acadian, as well as another Yellow-bellied, and a Black-billed Cuckoo singing which we heard at the top. On our way out of the park, we stopped at an area of high warbler activity near the playgrounds, including several Ovenbirds, a male Cape May, and a Prairie Warbler, this time I was able to get on quickly enough to add to my state list.
The next morning, Ryan and my father met us outside the hotel we were staying at to head to Doodletown (this is why Ryan couldn't bird with us the day before). Upon getting there we immediately saw a Black-billed Cuckoo (only one we saw this week) before setting out on the trail. Heading up, we saw a Worm-eating Warbler (one of two) close to us on the trail. In the forest, we saw a female Cape May Warbler and a male Scarlet Tanager. At the dam, we went down to check for Louisiana Waterthrushes, with no luck. As we were descending the trail, we saw a Cerulean Warbler perched in a tree providing excellent looks. In total, we got two Worm-eating Warblers, three Hoodeds, and four(!) Ceruleans as well as Yellow-billed Cuckoo and Blue-headed Vireo.
The next spot we went to was Ironwood Drive in Sterling State Forest, a known spot for both Blue-winged and Golden-winged Warblers, as well as their hybrids. After a short hike through the shrubby envarea of a powerline cut, we heard a Blue-wing type song, but to our surprise, it came from a Golden-winged Warbler! We then saw a Blue-wing and Golden-wing (one of four at the spot) chasing each other. We also saw and heard more Blue-wings, a Prairie Warbler, a Cerulean Warbler, an Eastern Bluebird, and a Blue-winged x Golden-winged hybrid.
The last spot we went to was Croton Point Park in Westchester where Max, Ryan, and I saw several Purple Martins, Bobolinks, and Willow Flycatchers before headed back to Manhattan to drop Ryan off then back home to Long Island. In total, Max and I saw 147 species and 9 other taxa.
I originally planned to look for a Tricolored Heron at Marine Nature Study Area again after dropping Max off at the airport, and was even en route to the spot, when I got an alert about an American Golden-Plover at Lido Beach Passive Nature Area. Golden-Plovers are typically pass through New York in fall, so a spring sighting is one definitely worth chasing. Fortunately, my grandmother and I were able to change my route and after scanning a distant flock of Black-bellied Plovers, I identified what I determined to be a solid candidate for the American Golden-Plover. While I was there, a breeding plumaged Tricolored Heron flew by as well, making this a win-win situation.
Satisfied with this chase, we then went back to Nickerson in the hopes of seeing any rare terns, with no success.
To be continued...
Lifers indicated in bold. Also, I have a few announcements:
After the chaos of nonstop birding in the last chapter, you would think I would give my parents a break on Mother’s Day. However, you would be wrong. The day before my club's big day, a Kirtland's Warbler was reported in Central Park (we even got it for the big day). My mom and I took a train into the city just to chase this bird, and unfortunately, we missed it. By an hour. It wasn't all bad, as I got my lifer Bay-breasted Warbler and four additional birds for my year list: Olive-sided Flycatcher, American Redstart, and Magnolia and Blackburnian Warblers; all of which were in pretty much the same tree (except the flycatcher). I also ended up meeting two fans of The Young Birder Odyssey as well: Tyler Connell and James Muchmore, the latter of the two re-found the Kirtland's Warbler this morning.
The next morning, we started by birding around my yard, which, thanks to Max's help, gets a lot of good migrants in the spring. One of the best birds we found was a Mourning Warbler we both heard sing, but could not locate. Other species we had included a male Rose-breasted Grosbeak below our feeders and a Swainson's Thrush.
The first spot we went to was Jamaica Bay. It was high tide, so shorebird numbers were lower than we were hoping for, but nevertheless we saw some good birds. Some highlights from the West Pond were a late staying Snow Goose, possibly injured and couldn't make it north, close looks at Magnolia Warblers, Carolina Wrens, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, and hatchling terrapins. Outside of the visitor center, we heard a Yellow-billed Cuckoo song, but our main target was a Black-billed Cuckoo at the East Pond. After a few minutes, we heard the call but could not locate it visually.
The next spot we went to was a small park in Nassau County, where we didn't see many notable species, but afterwards, we went back to the coast guard station where I had to do a shorebird count. Other than the regular species, three Red Knots were the main highlight.
Originally, I suggested that we go to Fuchs Pond to look for an Alder Flycatcher reported there, a scarce migrant on Long Island in spring (I've only seen them upstate). This would've also been a lifer for Max, but my mom suggested we go to Caumsett State Park instead. Among the highlights were several interesting butterflies and Max got his lifer Scarlet Tanager.
Later that afternoon, we went to Fuchs pond preserve to search for the aforementioned Alder Flycatcher. Unfortunately, we did not see the Alder, so as a consolation, we went to a known Bald Eagle nest in Centerport.
Before we headed out, Ryan Zucker notified us about a Bicknell's Thrush in Central Park that was actively singing. We would get to that, but first, we were headed to Marine Nature Study Area, a known spot for Saltmarsh Sparrow and Tricolored Heron. We didn't see the Tricolored Heron, but we found two Saltmarsh Sparrows and a Clapper Rail.
Afterwards, we went to Nickerson Beach. While there were no rare terns or any nesting behavior seen from the expected species, we did find a Lesser Black-backed Gull loafing with several Great Black-backs. In typical birding fashion, neither of us had our camera when a rare bird was found, this time because of the rain.
After we set up "base camp" (a hotel one block away from Central Park), we set out for the Bicknell's Thrush in Central Park and to find Ryan. We got lost at first by accidentally taking the main road through the park, then backtracked. Eventually, Ryan found us in the Ramble area, and we all tried to find the Thrush. We saw several of all the normal thrushes, Ovenbirds, and several other birders, including Kevin Topping, the birder who found the Kirtland's Warbler earlier this week. We found an interesting Catharus which we figured out to be a Gray-cheeked/Bicknell's type, but despite many attempts to get it to sing, we decided to move on because without hearing it singing, it was best to leave the mystery bird unidentified. Other notable birds included Max's lifer Canada Warbler and Chimney Swifts headed to their roost.
Ryan had to leave around 7, so by then Max and I went back to the hotel to see if we could figure out which thrushes we got... We decided that we would go back to the Ramble the next morning to see if we could refind the Bicknell's after all. Will we ever get it before it leaves for its breeding grounds in the Adirondacks? Find out next time
To be continued...
In the interest of replicating the rapid style of birding on a big day, I will be giving a brief overview of the birding at each spot I birded on the NYSYBC big day. I don't have any photos, unfortunately, so this might be my shortest chapter yet
Time spent here: 48 minutes
Distance covered: 1.34 miles
Highlights: Blackpoll Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, Nashville Warbler, Veery
Time spent here: 44 minutes
Distance covered: 1.15 miles
Highlights: Breeding adult Black-bellied Plovers, Clapper Rail, Saltmarsh Sparrow, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
Time spent here: 18 minutes
Distance covered: 0.62 miles
Highlights: Large numbers of Brant
Time spent here: about 20 minutes
Distance covered: 12(?) miles
Highlights: 3 Common Loons, Piping Plover, Black Skimmers, Ruddy Turnstone
Time spent here: 23 minutes
Distance covered: 1.19 miles
Highlights: White-crowned Sparrow, flyover Common Loon
Time spent here: 31 minutes
Distance covered: 1.24 miles
Highlights: Chestnut-sided Warbler
Time spent here: 6 minutes
Distance covered: NA
Highlights: Breeding plumage Dunlins
En route to the next spot after a break at home, a Yellow-billed Cuckoo flew right over our car!
Time spent here: 19 minutes
Distance covered: .5 miles
Highlights: Male Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Yellow-throated Warbler
Time spent here: 2 minutes
Distance covered: N/A
Highlights: Bald Eagle nest
Time spent here: 3 minutes
Distance covered: N/A
Highlights: Spotted Sandpiper, Bank Swallow
Global Big Day fell right in the middle of finals for me at school, so I couldn't go birding for too long or travel too far from my apartment. Otherwise, I saw nothing really notable.
The first spot my mom and I went to was the Wildlife Drive at Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge. A Ruff had been seen there a few days earlier and I wanted to see if it would still be around. Unfortunately, it was not there (not like a male in breeding plumage would be mistaken for anything. There was a good number of shorebirds there, however, as I was able to identify both species of Yellowlegs, Pectoral, Spotted, Least, and Solitary Sandpipers in good numbers. Other good birds were Eastern Kingbird and both Red-eyed and Warbling Vireos
The next spot we tried was at Armitage Road on the border of Seneca and Wayne counties. This is a known spot for Prothonotary Warblers, and I was hoping to get them here instead of tracking down ones that stray into southern NY every spring. First we walked along the road, which yielded Pileated Woodpecker, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Wood Ducks, a Lincoln's sparrow, and many warblers (including Cerulean), but no Prothonotary. We drove further up to the exact location of a nest box set up to attract Prothonotaries (Prothonotary and Lucy's Warblers are the only species of wood-warbler to nest in cavities). I first heard the "sweet, sweet, sweet" song and then after it repeated a few times, a male Prothonotary Warbler flew over our car before disappearing, not without me getting a photo first. On to the net spot...
The last spot we went to was the Martens tract, where we heard Virginia Rails and American Bitterns calling as the sun set.
On the way home, we stopped at Shawangunk Grasslands NWR, where several Bobolinks had arrived and were displaying
The next day, my mom and I went to Upland Farm on what wasn't supposed to be for birding, but I still got Blue-winged and Chestnut-sided Warblers for the year
To be continued...
Hello everyone, while I mostly blog about my adventures and science topics I find interesting, I'm writing this because I need YOUR help. I have done a big day for the New York State Young Birders club for the past two years, but unlike last year, we are asking donors to send money directly to the club. First, a little bckground information
NYSYBC members have done big days as a fundraiser for the NYSYBC Scholarship program, which provides young birders the opportunity to participate in many young birder events such as those hosted by the ABA and Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
This year, I'm doing a team big day with two other young birders: NYSYBC Vice President Avery Scott and club secretary Jordan Spindel. Jordan will bird Manhattan, Avery in Queens and Brooklyn, and I will cover Nassau and Suffolk counties.
Last year, we saw a combined 174 species.
Because of the short notice, we are asking people to donate directly to the NYSYBC this year instead of creating a GoFundMe page like the previous year. To donate, follow these instructions:
1 - Click Donate below.
2 - On the secure PayPal screen, enter the amount of your donation, click Update Total, and enter your other information.
3 - Before you click the Donate $... Now button, enter special instructions by clicking the Add instructions for NYSOA/NYSYBC link to the left of the Total.
If you are donating as a Big Day sponsor, please do the following once you are on the PayPal screen:
Click the Add instructions link on the "please review your donation" screen and type in: Big Day followed by the name(s) of the specific young birder(s) you are sponsoring, if applicable. You will then receive a receipt via email
If I've thoroughly convinced you to donate, you can do so at nybirds.org/membership/NYSYBC/donation.html. Normally, we'd have a Gofundme link, but since we're pressed for time, we're asking friends to donate directly to
The YB Odyssey Facebook Page
My Flickr site
Leica Nature Observation Blog
Young Birders of the Round Table
crazed4birds (Drew Beamer)
Blue Ridge Birding (Max Nootbaar)
Whimbrel Birders Club
The Eyrie (ABA Young Birders)
The Birding Place (Aidan Place)
Lost In Nature (Jared Gorrell)
Bird Boy Canada (Ethan Denton)
Prairie Birder (Charlotte Wasylik)
Wing Tips (Tessa Rhinehart)
Soar Birding & Nature Tours (Noah Kuck)
Is yours not featured? Let me know