Friday, August 17, 2007

Avian Range Expansions: Part Two

Arguably the most beautiful passerine in North America, the sight of a male Painted Bunting delights the most uninterested observer. Recently while viewing one at an area limestone quarry, an employee pulled up in a large gravel truck to ask me what I was doing. I said that I was trying to get a picture of the Painted Bunting. He replied, "What's that?" I said, "Well, take a look." He stepped up to the scope and peered through. "Wow, he said, "what's that bird called again?" I went on to explain to him the contents of this post. He asked if I had a picture of that bird. I showed him the field guide. He left excitedly, eager to share the rare gem that he had found on the lip of the quarry cliff.

With the exception of an isolated pair or two that is periodically reported in the riparian zone of the Mississippi River near St. Louis, Painted Buntings have historically inhabited the glades of extreme southern Missouri. However, the population is rapidly expanding to the north. This year the reported sightings in and around Springfield exploded, all in or on the edge of limestone quarries. Apparently, these manmade habitats offer just what the Painted Bunting needs.

But what is it about the limestone cliffs that attract the birds? That's where I appeal to the birders out there. Does anyone understand why it is that Painted Buntings in our area are almost exclusively reported, and in significant numbers, from two limestone quarries in our area? What requirements of their survival are met by the cedar lined, fenced off, heavily traveled quarry areas? Any ideas?
photo taken by Marvin D.

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