Avian Ecology & Behavior

Shrubland Bird Nest Success

In 2008 we began research on the ecology of shrubland birds at Kennekuk Cove County Park in Vermilion County, IL. Over the course of the last few years we have deployed an Automated Radio Telemetry System (ARTS) at the site. The ARTS is deployed to continuously track radio tagged individuals. The initial research was focused on Yellow-breasted Chats (M. Alessi thesis). However, T.J. Benson has expanded the research to investigate the nesting success of shrubland birds using video camera on nests. This research has been expanded to shrublands in urban landscapes. Scott Chiavacci studied the nesting success of shrubland birds at more than 10 sites in various landscapes. This research was funded by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and the Kane County Forest Preserve District.

Post-fledging Ecology

The post-fledging period—time between when a birds leaves its nest and when it migrates or disperses—is considered a critical life stage for birds, as the period is often characterized by high rates of juvenile mortality. Consequently, the behavior and survival of birds during this critical period has important implications for avian demographics, life history evolution, and population viability. Understanding the causes and consequences of post-fledging behavior and survival may therefore inform conservation science and policy, as well as advance our knowledge life history theories regarding the adaptive age at fledging, clutch-size evolution, energy expenditure, developmental strategies, and density dependence. Collaborating with T. J Benson (INHS), we have been conducting research examining the post-fledging behavior and survival of songbirds at Kennekuk Cove County Park (T. Jones PhD project), Fort Hood in Texas (E. Trumbo MS project), and local tree farms of Champaign-Urbana (N. Horsley MS project). In addition to using traditional radio-telemetry techniques, our research has also deployed automated radio-telemetry systems (ARTS) to look at the home ranges and activity rates of fledgling songbirds (T. Jones PhD project). Besides songbirds, we have also examined the post-fledging ecology of Sandhill Cranes in central Wisconsin and northeastern Illinois (J. Fox MS project).

Adaptive Age and Timing of Fledging

            When a bird leaves its nest (fledges) is a critical transition in the life of altricial birds, as the developmental state in which a bird leaves can have lasting effects for behavior a survival during subsequent life stages. Given the high rates of nest and post-fledging mortality found across altricial birds, the age and timing (i.e. time of day) of fledging have likely evolved to increase the survival of young and improve parental fitness. Unlike many other taxa of altricial birds, however, when, how, and why songbirds leave the nest remains unclear. In collaboration with T. J. Benson (INHS) and using cutting edge technologies (radio-transmitters and miniature nest cameras), we have conducted several studies examining when and why songbirds leave their nests at Kennekuk Cove County Park (S. Chiavacci PhD project; T. Jones PhD project). Additionally, we’ve collaborated with researchers outside of the University of Illinois to provide greater insight into this topic by comparing nesting and post-fledging survival rates within species (Jones et al. 2020, PNAS).

Common Yellowthroat (and a parasitic cowbird) nestlings force fledged by a snake.
Juvenile Indigo Buntings fledging the nest.