Shelbyville-Milroy BBS 2017 Thoughts

Shelbyville Breeding Bird Survey 2017As I did last year, I thought I’d give some general impressions on the Shelbyville and Milroy Breeding Bird Surveys I run in Indiana. Both routes are similar along their 24.5 mile distance comprising mainly farmland with interspersed wood lots. Milroy’s does have a little more pasture land though. Shelbyville’s route was completed on 6/11 and Milroy on 6/17. And like last year these are not scientific results but my impressions from the runs. I’ll share thoughts from the Colorado BBS’s I ran in early June at a later date but wanted to write-up Indiana’s while they’re still fresh in my mind. So without further ado Shelbyville-Milroy BBS 2017 thoughts.

A typical view of both runs. Farmland with a spattering of tree lots.

The weather was similar on both runs compared to last year. Shelbyville’s seemed somewhat muggier, quieter. Birds didn’t “seem” to be calling as much. But that’s subjective.

Both runs took 4.5 hours which is the listed average. Funny how much quicker they go when you know the stops. Unlike Colorado which took all morning.

As I wrote last year the grassland bird numbers – Northern Bobwhite, Grasshopper Sparrow, Song Sparrow, and Eastern Meadowlark – were less than the initial runs in the 1960-80’s. No surprise there. Where there were hay fields, those species were present. I even saw Bobolink at one field.

Dickcissel numbers were higher but that might be a two-year anomaly. I need to run the routes a few more years to see if that holds.

It appeared forest birds had increased. Species like Eastern Wood-Pewee, Great Crested Flycatcher, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, and Wood Thrush. There aren’t many woods on the runs but every wood lot had birds calling from them. But are there more wood lots than 40-50 years ago? That’s something I should see if I can find out.

Another observation was the reduction in European Starling, House Sparrow, and Rock Pigeon. My thought is the reduction in small farms and the associated grain elevators that go with them. The farm houses are still present but the farms are gone. The few remaining farms on the route did have those species present.

Very few farms any longer have grain silos.

Birds that like corn fields were less than the runs in the 60-80’s. Red-winged Blackbird, Common Crackle, and Brown-headed Cowbird numbers are all down. Farming practices and GMO Corn? But Horned Lark numbers are up. Do they know how to breed and succeed in that environment?

Shelbyville-Milroy BBS 2017 Thoughts
Horned Larks were the only species present at several stops. What was it like 50 years ago with hedge rows and pastures?

Both runs show a large increase in Turkey Vultures. I wasn’t into birding 50 years ago but I was outside constantly. I don’t remember¬†Turkey Vultures as a kid. Sounds like a blog post topic!

And finally Chipping Sparrows were at every farm-house stop. Something that doesn’t show in the numbers from the earlier runs.

There are a couple of other trends I see developing but I’ll address those after I run the routes a few more years.

So no surprises here. Grassland/farm birds are declining and ones that adapt to humans are maintaining or even increasing. Birds that can survive on small disjointed wood lots are holding their own, ones that need vast woods aren’t.

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