Research: Birds

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Nature Center Hours

VINS Nature Center
10am to 4pm Daily

Wild Bird Rehab is Open
Accepting Calls Only
802.359.5000 x212
8am to 4pm

Bird Research at the VINS Nature Center

Our work with avian wildlife in both the rehab and educational settings puts us in the unique position to study wild populations throughout the state. Our experience allows us to create unique projects that increase our understanding of avian species. We freely share our knowledge with anyone who may be interested and collaborate with other organizations in their avian studies. Details of our current projects can be found below.

Center for Wild Bird Rehabilitation
VINS is banding rehab patients prior to release in an effort to follow patients’ return to the wild. The banding allows us to potentially follow a released bird’s movements and judge the success of treatments in the rehab center.

Bird Species Scientific Name Number Banded
American bittern Botaurus lentiginosus 1
American crow Corvus brachyrhynchos 1
American kestrel Falco sparverius 1
Bald eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus 1
Barred owl Strix varia 34
Broad-winged hawk Buteo platypterus 5
Cooper's hawk Accipiter cooperii 1
Great-horned owl Bubo virginianus 1
Merlin Falco columbarius 5
Northern harrier Circus cyaneus 1
Red-tailed hawk Buteo jamaicensis 5
Sharp-shinned hawk Accipiter striatus 1

VINS is conducting surveys each spring to create a long term record of breeding birds on our campus. Eighteen plots are located throughout the center where staff monitor birds that are present throughout the breeding season.

VINS conducts hawk counts during fall migration at Mount Ascutney State Park in Vermont.

Data will be submitted in near real time to HawkCount:

VINS is a local Audubon Climate Watch coordinator for the region and can help participants set up a survey. Our target species are red-breasted nuthatch and eastern bluebird. Participants can choose to survey one or both species and can choose to survey in summer, winter, or both.

Become a Climate Watch Volunteer at VINS. 

Learn more about Audubon Climate Watch.

The goal of our winter raptor ecology project is to determine how Red-tailed Hawks are using the habitat in Addison County. We will look at the timing of their migration, movements in relation to changing weather conditions, and abundance in relation to prey availability. We also hope to find the relationship between migratory and resident Red-tails that will coexist for the winter season and potentially the relationship between Red-tails and other similar species like Rough-legged Hawks.

To accomplish these goals we will map the size of our ten study birds home ranges through the winter to determine what factors drive the size and location. We will mount radio telemetry trackers on eight of our study birds and then relocate them throughout the winter.

We are also partnering with researchers from Cornell in their Red-tailed Hawk Project to mount GPS trackers on two birds. This data will aid in our project and help their researchers to look at the breeding success of Red-tails throughout their entire range.

Next winter in 2021, we hope to partner with researchers from The Idaho Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit in their Rough-legged Hawk Project. This will include mounting GPS transmitters to Rough-legged Hawks while they are in Vermont for the winter. The transmitters will provide year-round movement data for those birds.

Stay up-to-date on the Winter Raptor Ecology Project with Updates From the Field by Research Intern Kirsti Carr.

Winter Raptor Ecology Project

Updates from the Field

WinterRaptor-Season2-WrpaUp (1440 × 1007 px)
Updates from the Field

Season 2 Wrap Up

Updates from the Field

Season 2 Week 1

Center for Wild Bird Rehabilitation

VINS is conducting a large scale survey of blood parasites affecting Vermont birds. There are three genera of parasites that commonly occur in birds in the Northeast: Plasmodium, Haemoproteus and Leucocytozoon. All are capable of causing morbidity and mortality, and we treat a number of birds for infections with these parasites each year.

The purpose of the study is to help establish the frequency of infections and the species affected in Vermont. All three parasites are spread by insect vectors such as mosquitoes, so climate change is expected to change the range of these parasites as their vector and host species move as well.

Of particular interest is Plasmodium which causes avian malaria, and was first found causing death in Common Loons in the Northeast in 2017. We also found a 4th parasite, Trypanosoma, in one of our patients for the first time, although this is more of an incidental finding and probably does not have significant implications for bird populations.

So far we have collected about 300 samples from 59 species of birds, and are hoping to collect at least 60-70 more before the end of the calendar year when the collection period for the study ends. This is the first study in Vermont to look at such a wide variety of birds.

VINS is collecting blood samples from loons for genetic testing to look for Plasmodium. This is part of a larger Northeastern loon population monitoring effort involving biologists, researchers, veterinarians and others from organizations including VCE, Tufts, UNH, the Smithsonian Conservation Institute and New Hampshire Loon Preservation Committee (LPC).

We will also be helping Eric Hanson, the loon biologist from VCE, with performing necropsies and sample collecting on loons that were found deceased in the wild this summer, along with NH LPC. We will also be submitting samples from other species of birds that carry Plasmodium to help look for the specific lineages of parasites that are causing disease in loons.

VINS is sampling Ruffed Grouse for West Nile Virus. This is a Vermont Fish and Wildlife project led by Chris Bernier, and is also part of a larger study of Ruffed Grouse by the Southeast Wildlife Disease Cooperative. It is a large study that has been going on for a number of years in many states with the goal of assessing whether WNV is contributing to grouse population declines across the country. We are collecting samples from any grouse that come through our doors to supplement the sample collection from hunters that will be occurring this fall.