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GLC's Field Station Creates Habitats for Local, Migrating Birds

GLC's Field Station Creates Habitats for Local, Migrating Birds

Posted: September 6, 2019

For the nearly 200 species of birds who encounter the Great Lakes while migrating during the spring and fall, the expanse of the lakes presents quite a hurdle.

And while the city of Buffalo doesn’t offer much in the way of respite for weary birds, the Great Lakes Center Field Station is working to give them a place to rest and recharge on their respective journeys through the planting and building of various bushes, trees, and structures.

“The plantings aren’t targeting specific birds but rather are trying to provide a resting and feeding habitat for any birds moving through the area,” said Mark Clapsadl, fisheries biologist and manager of the Field Station. “Many of these birds rely on feeding and resting areas along the nearshore habitat of the lakes. Urban areas such as Buffalo offer limited habitat of this type; therefore, it seemed a natural choice to try and provide some food and cover here at the Great Lakes Center Field Station.”

The Field Station, located at the foot of Porter Avenue on the Niagara River, provides the center with hands-on research opportunities for faculty, staff, and students, as well as many affiliated organizations. About 35 students from Riverside High School assisted with the plantings last year, Clapsadl said.

The plants have done well, he said, and include native species that provide fruit and insects for the birds, as well as cover. The initial planting consisted of 25 varieties.

“These included species such as elderberry, chokecherry, and dogwoods as well as some larger trees like aspens and oaks, and perennial grasses and flowering plants,” he said.

Along with the plantings, the Field Station erected housing for purple martins. The gourd-like structures (pictured) provide a haven for the birds, the largest swallows in North America. In the eastern part of the United States, the bird is almost entirely reliant on man-made nesting areas, Clapsadl said. 

“They prefer to nest in colonies, in open areas with lots of flying insects available for food,” he said, noting that the Field Station makes for a good nesting site. “We felt that providing nesting structures for these birds would be a benefit both to the birds and the community as well as a teaching opportunity for visitors.”

An osprey nesting platform was also installed at the Field Station in hopes of attracting the local birds of prey. Ordinarily, ospreys would choose dead trees along the Niagara River to make their homes; however, rapid development of the waterfront along the river has left the ospreys with few places to nest, Clapsadl said.

“Therefore, these birds are, more and more, using structures that people have constructed, such as utility poles,” he said.

The GLC consulted with Connie Adams, senior wildlife biologist with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, who thought the Field Station would make a good place for the platform, which sits high above the site, Clapsadl said. The platform was funded through the Niagara River Greenway Commission’s “Osprey nesting platform and migrator habitat enhancement project.”

Faculty, staff, and students are invited to get a closer look at the new habitat during the Great Lakes Center’s annual open house from 3:00 to 6:00 p.m. Friday, September 13, at the Field Station. Staff members will present the 2018–2019 annual report as well as updates on the Great Lakes environmental science graduate program and current and future projects, including ongoing research involving invasive species in the Great Lakes, conserving threatened freshwater species, and ways to protect water quality in the area. RSVPs are encouraged.

See more photos from the Great Lakes Center Field Station on the Buffalo State Photography Services website.

Photos by Bruce Fox, college photographer

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