Johnson Bayou sees record breaking bird migration

By By Kristen Covino / Special to the American Press


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.

For more information and to view pictures, visit