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Ruby-crowned Kinglet. (Kristen Covino / Special to the American Press)

Ruby-crowned Kinglet. (Kristen Covino / Special to the American Press)

Johnson Bayou sees record breaking bird migration

Last Modified: Sunday, June 02, 2013 8:25 PM

By Kristen Covino / Special to the American Press

Each spring since 1993, the Migratory Bird Research Group of the University of Southern Mississippi has run a long-term migration monitoring and research site in Johnson Bayou.

Since this time, the research group, under the direction of Dr. Frank Moore, has captured and tagged more than 46,000 songbirds as they migrate through the area. The work done at Johnson Bayou has led to nine graduate student thesis projects, 29 publications and countless presentations at professional meetings.

The movement of birds across the Gulf of Mexico each spring and fall is a prominent feature of the Nearctic-Neotropical bird migration system. The coastal woodlands and narrow barrier islands that lie scattered along the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico probably provide important stopover habitats for Neotropical landbird migrants. They represent the last possible stopovers before fall migrants make a nonstop flight — 18-to-24 hours — of greater than 621 miles. It’s also the first possible landfall for birds returning north in spring.

The 2013 field season was, by any definition, an overwhelming success. The hard-working crew not only caught 4,547 birds, most in one season at the Johnson Bayou site, but they also broke records for highest number of birds caught for several species, including Scarlet and Summer Tanagers — 72 and 126 respectively — Swainson’s Thrush (207), Black-and-white Warbler (170), Gray Catbird (612), Tennessee Warbler (295) and Ruby-throated Hummingbird (269).

In addition to the long-term banding effort, the crew also contributed to several focal projects throughout the season. Will Lewis, a master’s student at USM, is studying gut microbiota of migrants as they arrive after their trans-gulf flight. His field work involves obtaining fecal samples from several species which will be later analyzed in the laboratory to determine the diversity of the microbial community and differences in relation to energetic condition.

Dr. Margaret Hatch, who visited the site from the University of Pennsylvania-Scranton, is comparing immune function of migratory birds during migration when they stopover at Johnson Bayou and upon arrival at the breeding grounds in Pennsylvania. Kristen Covino, a doctoral student at USM, is investigating the patterns of circulating breeding hormone levels in songbirds during their spring migration.

The Migratory Bird Research Group is grateful for the continued support of the Johnson Bayou community. Sherry Seat, Lisa Hunt, the Johnson Bayou Branch of Cameron Parish Library, and the Tennessee Gas plant workers have been especially helpful and supportive of our work.

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