Different Habitats Fit Different Birds

Different Habitats Fit Different Birds

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

I know all the fowls [i.e., birds] of the mountains; and the wild beasts of the field are Mine.    (Psalm 50:11)

And Jesus said unto him, Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay His head.   (Luke 9:58)

Western-Tanager.WildBirdsUnlimited

WESTERN TANAGER perching   (Wild Birds Unlimited photo)

God loves variety, including variety in bird life. In order to facilitate bird variety, unsurprisingly (to creationists), God has provided a variety of avian habitats.

Just as humans have different preferences, for where they choose to live – whether that may be a neighborhood that is urban, suburban, or rural, or even in a wilderness – birds have preferences regarding which “neighborhoods” they prefer to call home.

In fact, this ecological reality is not limited to birds – habitats are diverse for animals in general, just as animals themselves display God-designed biodiversity.

God chose to fill the earth with different kinds of life. All over the world, we see His providence demonstrated in ecological systems. Different creatures live in a variety of habitats, interacting with one another and a mix of geophysical factors—like rain, rocks, soil, wind, and sunlight.

But why does this happen? And how does it happen? These two questions are at the heart of ecology science—the empirical study of creatures interactively living in diverse “homes” all over the world.

Why did God design earth’s biodiversity the way that He did? Two words summarize the answer: life and variety. Even in this after-Eden world, cursed and groaning as it is under the weight of sin and death, we still see a prolific and diversified creation.

God loves life. God is the essence and ultimate origin of all forms and levels of life.

God loves variety. God’s nature is plural, yet one, and He is the Creator of all biological diversity anywhere and everywhere on earth.

Because God loves life and variety, we can understand why God favors different kinds of life forms, causing them to be fruitful—increasing their populations generation after generation.  . . . .

For creatures to successfully “fill the earth,” there must be both population growth and creature diversity within a geographical context—the earth. . . . .

Different Homes for Different Folks

Different types of habitats all over the planet collectively host an ecological smörgåsbord of alternative habitat opportunities. Consider how [countless] examples of very different habitats are filled by aptly “fitted” creatures—providentially prepared creatures living in providentially prepared places. . . . .

Some ecological conditions might work for a world full of just a few kinds of animals and/or plants, but God did not want a monotonous planet. So He designed an earth that could and would host a huge variety of life-form kinds.

Befitting God’s own divine essence—the ultimate source of (and ultimate logic for) all created life and variety—God’s panoramic plan was for many different kinds of creatures to populate and fill His earth.

And because God loves beauty, God even chose to integrate His eye-pleasing artistry into the variety of His creatures and the wide array of their respective habitats.

[Quoting JJSJ, “God Fitted Habitats for Biodiversity”, ACTS & FACTS, 42 (3): 10-12 (March 2013), at https://www.icr.org/article/god-fitted-habitats-for-biodiversity  .]

Northern-Flicker-redshafted.Evergreen-edu

NORTHERN FLICKER  (Red-shafted variety)   —   Evergreen.edu photo credit

For an example of bird with a montane habitat, consider the Northern Flicker, reported in “Want a Home in the Mountains?  Some Birds have One!” [at https://leesbird.com/2015/09/24/want-a-home-in-the-mountains-some-birds-have-one/ ].

Or, for an example of a bird with an https://leesbird.com/2015/09/24/want-a-home-in-the-mountains-some-birds-have-one/, notice the Green Heron, reported in “Flag that Green Heron Nest!” [at https://leesbird.com/2019/02/01/flag-that-green-heron-nest/ ].

Many more examples could be given — see generally www.leesbird.com !

WillowPtarmigan-Alaska-variety.Wikipedia

WILLOW PTARMIGAN  (Alaska variety)   —   Wikipedia photo credit

Scripture alludes to this reality of avian ecology: birds live in different habitats.

Of course, every bird needs to live near a source of freshwater, so brooks and streams, as well as lakes and ponds, are good places to look for birds (1st Kings 17:4).

Some birds prefer mountain habitats (Psalm 50:11; 1st Samuel 26:20; Isaiah 18:6; Ezekiel 39:14; Psalm 11:1).  Other birds prefer the valleys or open fields, including farmlands (Proverbs 30:17; Ezekiel 32:4; Matthew 13:4 & 13:32; Mark 4:4; Luke 8:5).

Ground fowl, such as partridges, live in scrublands, sometimes near bushes that fit their camouflage plumage (Deuteronomy 22:6-7; 1st Samuel 26:20).

Some birds prefer desert wilderness habitats (Psalm 102:6; Isaiah 13:21 & 34:11-15), including rocky places like crags atop high rocky cliffs or in desolate canyons (Jeremiah 48:28 & 49:6; Obadiah 1:3-4; Song of Solomon 2:14; Job 39:27).

Birds are famous for appreciating trees, dwelling in and/or under trees branches (Psalm 104:17; Ezekiel 17:23 & 31:13; Daniel 4:12-14 & 4:21; Luke 13:19).

WesternScrubJay-PinyonPine-Snow.RonDudley

WESTERN SCRUB JAY in snow-adorned evergreen   (Ron Dudley photo)

Some birds seem to prefer to build nests in and around houses and other buildings made by humans (Psalm 84:3 & 102:7), while other birds, such as poultry, live lives of domestication (Numbers 6:10; Proverbs 30:31; 1st Kings 4:23; Nehemiah 5:18; John 2:11-16).

Of course, migratory birds are famous for having a “summer home” and a “winter home”, traveling to and fro twice a year (Jeremiah 8:7; Song of Solomon 2:12).

What variety! With these thoughts in mind, therefore, we can better appreciate the diversity of bird habitats, as we watch (and value) the fine-feathered residents and migrants that frequent our own home neighborhoods.

In other words, we not only identify (and appreciate) birds according to their physical appearances, we can also match their physical needs to their habitats.

Black Skimmer (Rynchops niger niger), Northern subspecies
BLACK SKIMMER with young   (Michael Stubblefield photo)

Accordingly, consider what Dr. Bette J. Schardien Jackson (ornithologist of Mississippi State University, also president of the Mississippi Ornithological Society) says, about differences in avian habitats.

HABITATS. A [bird’s] habitat is an environment – a portion of an ecosystem – that fulfills a bird’s needs for food, water, shelter, and nesting.  If a species habitually chooses a particular habitat – and many do – it is known as a habitat specialist.  Even widespread species may be extremely narrow in their choice of habitat.  For example, the Killdeer is common through most of North America, but within the varied ecosystems of the species’ range it specializes in [i.e., tends to prefer] one habitat:  open areas with patches of bare ground. The Killdeer particularly favors habitats close to bodies of water.  The widespread Blue Jay, in contrast, always requires groves of trees.

Plants are often the most important element in any habitat. Fruit, berries, nuts, sap, and nectar completely satisfy the dietary needs of some birds.  Because plants provide nourishment for insects, they [i.e., the insect-hosting plants] are also essential to insect-eating birds.  Additionally, plants provide various nest sites and shelter from weather and enemies.  In arid environments, plants are an important source of moisture.

Some species are intimately associated with a particular plant. The Kirtland’s Warbler, for example, nests only in young jack pine trees that spring up after a fire.  When the trees grow large enough to shade the scrubby growth beneath, the warblers will no longer use them.  This specific habitat requirement is one reason why the Kirtland’s Warbler is now [i.e., as of AD1988] an endangered species – probably fewer than a thousand remain [in America].  They live on Michigan’s lower peninsula where the U.S. Forest Service periodically burns jack-pine forest to provide the young trees that the birds need.  . . . .

A [bird] species’ habitat is predictable because it has traditionally provided food, nest sites, defendable territories, and conditions conducive to attracting mates [and successfully raising young]. Through our efforts to find birds, we learn about their habitats; we learn both quality and quantity are important.  Pileated Woodpeckers, for example, may require 200 acres of mature forest.  . . . .

In central Wyoming, for example, Western Meadowlarks often place their nests in the midst of a dense patch of prickly-pear cactus where the [cactus] pads are spread close to the ground.  Once you have found one [such] nest, the mental image of that nest helps you to find a dozen more in a short time.  But that [mental] image would be of little help in searching for Western Meadowlark nests in a Nebraska prairie, where there are no cacti, but where the species is just as common.  There each nest is a little tent of grass, often with an opening to the south.

[Quoting Jerome A. Jackson & Bette J. Schardien Jackson, “Avian Ecology”, THE BIRDS AROUND US (Ortho Books, 1986, edited by Robert J. Dolezal),  pages 91 & 93.]

NorthernShoveler.male-and-female
NORTHERN SHOVELER male & female, in wetland waters   (Wikipedia photo)

So, when it comes to choosing a neighborhood, to live in, even the birds have their own preferences!


 

Flag that Green Heron Nest!

Flag that Bird Nest!  (Reporting on Green Herons and their Boat-tailed Grackle Neighbors)

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

As a bird that wanders from her nest, so is a man that wanders from his place.  (Proverbs 27:8)GreenHeron-nest-1hatchling-3eggs.JeffreyPippen

GREEN HERON nest:  1 hatchling, 3 unhatched eggs, parent AWOL!

(Jeffrey Pippins photograph)

Along a tidal creek at Port Lavaca, on the southeastern coast of Texas, on the west side of Lavaca Bay (where Hurricane Harvey storm-surged during August AD2017, with tidal flooding up to 6 feet deep), a “colonial” population of nesting Green Herons (Butorides virescens) was studied by Nate L. Trimble, for his M.S. thesis (AD2016, at Texas State University), with much of that study (co-authored by the M.S. committee chairman, M. Clay Green) being reported in last year’s issue of the BULLETIN OF THE TEXAS ORNITHOLOGICAL SOCIETY.

GreenHeron-with-fish.NedHaight-ChesapeakeBayProgram

GREEN HERON with fish (Ned Haight / Chesapeake Bay Program)

Most of that study focused on the nesting success (i.e., successful egg-laying, incubation, hatching, and fledging) of Green Heron babies, but one detail caught my eye (and is noted below), reminding me how birds think for themselves, sometimes in ways that ornithologists don’t expect.

But first, the context:  the journal article’s abstract provides a contextual overview of the Green Heron study:

Green Herons (Butorides virescens) are small herons found throughout much of the United States and southwards into Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean.  The species generally forages solitarily and often nests singly [i.e., in single pairs], with a breeding pair defending a breeding territory but sometimes form loose breeding colonies [i.e., neighborhood populations] presumably as a function of habitat availability and/or predator pressure.

We monitored a breeding colony of at least 35 Green Heron pairs along a tidal creek in Port Lavaca, Texas.  Our study sought to examine the nesting ecology of colonial Green Herons and to investigate [mathematical] relationships between nest density, nearest neighbor distance and nest success. …

[Quoting Nate L. Trimble & M. Clay Green, “The Influence of Nearest Neighbor Spacing on Nesting Success of Green Herons (Butorides virescens) in Texas”, BULLETIN OF THE TEXAS ORNITHOLOGICAL SOCIETY, 51(1-2):32-41 (December 2018), at page 32.]

GreenHeron-EastTexas.YouTube

GREEN HERON, Eat Texas shoreline (YouTube)

The habitat of these studied Green Herons, according to Trimble & Green is as follows:

The location of the breeding colony [of Green Herons] near Port Lavaca, is a treeless tidal wetland with the shrub Marsh Elder (Iva frutescens) lining the banks of a small tidal [saltmarsh] creek offshoot of the much wider Garcitas Creek near Port Lavaca [Texas].  These shrubs are utilized by the Green Herons for placement of their nests.  Iva frutescens at this location ranges from 1-2 m[eters] in height and is the tallest foliage and the only woody vegetation in the immediate vicinity of the colony.  This shrub has a relatively high tolerance to salinity, but a relatively low tolerance to flooding, causing it to grow in narrow bands in upper regions of salt marshes.  …  The shrub Iva frutescens was also utilized as nesting substrate for other birds in the vicinity of the Green Heron colony at Garcitas Creek, including … [Red-winged Blackbirds, Boat-tailed Grackles].

[Quoting Nate L. Trimble & M. Clay Green, “The Influence of Nearest Neighbor Spacing on Nesting Success of Green Herons (Butorides virescens) in Texas”, BULLETIN OF THE TEXAS ORNITHOLOGICAL SOCIETY, 51(1-2):32-41 (December 2018), at page 34.]

GreenHeron-nest-AD2017.MoDeptConservation

GREEN HERON chick in nest, AD2017 (Missouri Dep’t of Conservation)

The Green Heron colony territory was visited by Boat-tailed Grackle (which are “conspecific” with the Great-tailed Grackle,  —  i.e., both grackle varieties hybridize, proving that they both descend from and belong to a common reproductive “kind” that God created on Day #5 of Creation Week), some of which preyed upon the Green Heron nest eggs, according to Trimble & Green [id., page 34].

GreenHeron-flying.AllAboutBirds-CornellLabOrnithology

GREEN HERON flying (All About Birds / Cornell Lab of Ornithology)

In order to collect quantifiable data, the researchers needed to repeatedly observe the nest sites, to see if eggs were successfully laid and incubated, and to see if any of the hatchlings were successfully fledged.

GreenHeron-TX-breeding-plumage.ChristopherCunningham

GREEN HERON   (Christopher R. Cunningham, Texas)

In order to facilitate the data collection process (which covered the timeframes of April-August of AD2014 and April-July AD2015), the researchers needed to repeatedly monitor the heron nests, using boats, due to the logistics of accessing nests, amidst dense vegetation growing alongside the monitored creek area.

Observations were taken from a 3.5 m[eter] boat with an outboard motor [which may have frightened the birds, possibly skewing the reported observations].  All nest were marked with flagging.

[Quoting Nate L. Trimble & M. Clay Green, “The Influence of Nearest Neighbor Spacing on Nesting Success of Green Herons (Butorides virescens) in Texas”, BULLETIN OF THE TEXAS ORNITHOLOGICAL SOCIETY, 51(1-2):32-41 (December 2018), at page 35.]

Green Heron

GREEN HERON, spread wings (Peggy Coleman photo)

Plastic flags, with numbers, are often used by ornithologists, to identify specific nests being investigation (which prevents accidental re-sampling of the same sites), although some ornithologists prefer to use quiet boats, poled in coastal waters, in order to avoid frightening the birds they are studying.  [See, e.g., William Post & Carol A. Seals, “Bird Density and Productivity in an Impounded Cattail Marsh”, JOURNAL OF FIELD ORNITHOLOGY, 62(2):195-199 (spring 1991), at page 196.  See also, e.g., William Post & Carol A. Seals, “Nesting Associations of Least Bitterns and Boat-tailed Grackles”, THE CONDOR, 95:139-144 (1993), at page 139.]

Flagging?  Surely this would be a difficulty-free aspect in this habitat investigation.

However, birds will be birds – and God has gifted each birds with an animal “soul” (Hebrew: NEPHESH) with which it can think for itself!  And so the researchers encountered a complication that they likely never planned for   —  birds with agendas of their own!  This is casually noted in the report’s coverage of research challenges.

We were also unable to measure nearest neighbor estimates for some nests in 2015 because the flags were lost either to flooding or by grackles taking the flagging for nest material.  There were four nests in which the nest and flag disappeared and could not be included in the analysis.

[Quoting Nate L. Trimble & M. Clay Green, “The Influence of Nearest Neighbor Spacing on Nesting Success of Green Herons (Butorides virescens) in Texas”, BULLETIN OF THE TEXAS ORNITHOLOGICAL SOCIETY, 51(1-2):32-41 (December 2018), at page 40.]

But why would these researchers suspect that grackles may have pilfered their nest-monitoring flags

Grackles are famous for their eclectic approach to nest-building, sometimes incorporating cloth scraps, paper shreds (including toilet paper!), reeds, woody stems, horsehair, cattail material, bark strips, weds, plastic (including pieces of plastic bags), ribbons, flagging tape, feathers, mud, leaves, twigs, grass, string, bovine manure, and even corn husks!   [See, accord, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, “Great-tailed Grackle”, posted at https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Great-tailed_Grackle/lifehistory .  See also, accord, Animal Diversity Web, “Quiscalus quiscalus Common Grackle”, posted at https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Quiscalus_quiscula/ .]

BirdNest-with-flagging

bird nest incorporating plastic flagging    (photographer unknown)

Apparently, even saltmarsh-dwelling grackles like to have nests with a little “interior decorating” bling, such as the colorful accent provided by ornithologists’ plastic ribbon-like flags.