By Jim Cox, Vertebrate Ecology Program Director
The prolonged drought could rob us of one of our most colorful winter visitors this year. Henslow’s Sparrows can usually be found in the moist pine flats of our region in areas with an open structure and ground cover species such as warty panic grass, toothache grass, and other plants associated with intermediate soil moisture. From 2006 to 2009, we banded and average of just over 3 individuals per day in areas with suitable habitat, but the drought of 2010 rendered these areas uninhabitable last year. Extensive efforts to locate sparrows kept coming up empty, and we netted about 25% of the total numbers banded in previous years. We expect to see much the same this year unless the rains start to come soon.
Prospects elsewhere in the wintering range are much better this year. Central Florida, where some of the largest wintering populations of Henslow’s Sparrows can be found, has received a fair amount of rain in recent weeks. It’s conceivable that some of our Red Hill’s birds might bypass us this year and head for areas where drought conditions are less severe. If so, our banding efforts could help yield some important information about how this migratory species finds areas with preferred combination of soil moisture and vegetation structure. With a global population less than 100,000 individuals, we hope this is the strategy that the birds we can’t find any more are using.
In other Vertebrate Ecology news, staff put together a short video segment that shows how artificial cavities for the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker are constructed. The video involved Tall Timbers Research Station volunteers Mike Keys and Tara Tanaka and can be found on-line. Construction of artificial cavities has helped to brighten the future for this species, and Mike Keys is one of the best practitioners anywhere.