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Pine Grosbeak, Queen's U Biological Station, Ontario

Major Presentation Assignment

The goal of the major presentation is to:

(1) Introduce students to some of the most important aspects of the ecology of wintering birds in eastern Ontario.

(2) Provide each student an opportunity to become intimately familiar with one area of ecology research central to wintering birds.

(3) Provide students with experience in reviewing scientific literature, oral presentations, and answering questions.


Note: Please email me your topic selection (pm45@queensu.ca). Only one student per topic; I will assign topics to the person who emails me first. Once you have chosen a specific topic, I will send you papers to get you started with your research.

Description & Instructions             Rubric

Ecology of Birds in Winter Field Course - Presentation Topics

Plant-Herbivore Interactions in Winter - Foraging Grouse - this topic has been taken
Grouse commonly forage on tree leaves and buds
in winter. In response, trees have evolved secondary chemical defenses against herbivory by grouse. Discuss the broad interactions between trees and winter herbivorous grouse, and provide additional detail specific to Ruffed Grouse that winter in our region.

Boreal Bird Population Eruptions - this topic has been taken
Many boreal birds, including birds that eat seed, fruit, small mammals, and mid-sized mammals, show dramatic winter eruptions southward. These eruptions are periodic and illustrate important dynamics of the winter ecology of high latitude birds. Review evidence for boreal bird eruptions and the causes and consequences of erupting bird populations.

Cold and Thermoregulation in Birds - this topic has been taken
Birds are endothermic organisms, maintaining high body temperatures even in the face of cold environmental temperatures in winter. These cold winter temperatures set important limitations on energy balance for birds. Review the diverse adaptations that have evolved to deal with living on the "energetic edge" in winter.

Northern Distribution Limits of Wintering Birds and Climate Change - this topic has been taken
Recent changes in climate have already had dramatic influences on the wintering distributions of some birds in the northern hemisphere. Review the evidence and possible mechanisms behind these recent shifts in winter distributions. What can we expect for the future, both in terms of shifts in distributions and changes in winter bird species diversity? Why do some species of bird shift their distributions, while others do not?

Coevolution of Crossbills and Their Prey - this topic has been taken
The seeds of trees represent both the tree's offspring, and the resource supply necessary for germination and early growth. Seeds are an important food source for many wintering finches, including crossbills. Review adaptations to eating seeds in crossbills and adaptations in plants to reduce seed predation by crossbills. What makes crossbills such a unique wintering bird in our region? What do we mean by "left-handed" and "right-handed" crossbills?

Fruit as a Food Source for Wintering Birds - this topic has been taken
In contrast to seeds, many fruits are designed by the plant to be eaten by birds. Frugivorous birds in turn provide a service to the plant, dispersing their seeds. Review winter frugivory in birds. What adaptations do frugivores have for eating fruit? What plants fruit in the wintertime in eastern Ontario? How do fruit-bird interactions determine the distributions and movements of birds in winter?

The Importance of Large Mammal Mortality for Wintering Birds - this topic has been taken
Winter is an energetically difficult time for many organisms, including large mammals. Starvation and predation lead to winter mortality in White-tailed Deer (locally) and Moose (Algonquin), creating carcasses that are a critical resource for a surprising array of birds. Review evidence for the importance of large mammal carcasses for wintering birds, and discuss the interactions between large mammal predators, their prey, and scavenging birds.

Caching Food for the Long Winter - this topic has been taken
Food is a limiting resource for many species in winter, when primary productivity is low and snow and ice covers many food sources. Several species of birds solve the problem of low food availability by storing food for the winter. Review evidence for this behaviour in our local wintering birds (include boreal species if you wish), and discuss adaptations to caching, and the benefits and costs of taking such a strategy.

Mixed-Species Associations of Birds - this topic has been taken
Many species of bird, fish, and mammal move in groups with other species. These mixed-species assemblages are common in winter in eastern Ontario, and may confer important advantages to some wintering birds. Discuss the reasons why wintering birds may associate in mixed-species flocks, and evidence to support these ideas. What are the costs and benefits of mixed-species flocking in winter? How can we differentiate between species that are attracted to each other (e.g., mixed-species flocks) and species that simply come together to use a limiting resource (e.g., multiple species feeding on a mammal carcass or at a bird feeder)?

Winter Storm Events and Ecological Adaptations of Birds for Survival - this topic has been taken
Winter storm events, including blizzards and freezing rain, can result in high mortality for some birds. Why are winter storm events a problem for wintering birds in our region, and what strategies have birds evolved to deal with these events? What characteristics of winter storms are most difficult for birds to endure?

Roost Site Selection in Wintering Birds - this topic has been taken
Long winter nights can push the energetic limits of birds, particularly just before morning when temperatures are often the coldest. To compensate for these challenges, many winter birds select their roost sites carefully, and may alter their roosting behaviour depending on weather conditions. Review the diverse strategies used by roosting birds in winter, and discuss the benefits of different roost sites and strategies. Is competition for roost sites important? Do competitive interactions give way to mutualistic associations when temperatures become cold?

Adaptations of Predatory Birds to Winter - this topic has been taken
Predatory birds feeding on vertebrate prey encounter difficult conditions in winter. Prey populations rise and fall with time, move across the continent, and can become, at times, remarkably scarce. Worse still, snow conceals some prey, while other prey use a diverse array of adaptations to avoid their predators. Review adaptations of predatory birds that feed on vertebrate prey in winter. Be sure to include the families Accipitridae (hawks and eagles), Falconidae (falcons), Strigidae (owls) and Laniidae (shrikes). In your opinion, what adaptations are essential to survival of predators in winter?

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