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Posted on Fri, Oct 5, 2012 : 5:59 a.m.

Hot, dry summer takes toll on bird populations in Ann Arbor area

By Amy Biolchini

An unusually hot summer and a severe drought have left Ann Arbor area bird populations struggling with more disease than usual and a reduced food supply, wildlife rehabilitators say.

Dry ground during what wound up being the second-warmest Ann Arbor summer on record forced worms several feet below ground and out of the reach of hungry robins, said Sherri Smith, a bird rehabilitator and membership chair for the Washtenaw Audubon Society.

Also, many plants that would have provided birds with seeds this fall didn’t do well this summer and some died, Smith said.

Finches, cardinals, sparrows, blue jays and junkos feed on those seeds, Smith said.

“People should feed birds like mad,” Smith said.

Carol Akerlof, executive director of the Bird Center of Washtenaw County, also advised people with dead flowering plants in their yards to not cut them down yet so birds can feed on them.

Birds that need food include some juvenile hummingbirds that haven't migrated south. Bird Center volunteers are encouraging people to keep their hummingbird feeders up until a hard freeze happens so the remaining young birds will have something to eat.

Fewer water sources during the summer also heightened the exposure of many birds to disease, as they gathered in larger than usual numbers at watering spots, Akerlof said.

Diseases like West Nile virus - which is carried by birds - and pests like Trichomonas protozoa are likely more prevalent with the hot weather, said Janet Hinshaw, bird division collection manager at U-M’s Museum of Zoology.

Volunteers at the bird center have also reported seeing a number of sick birds that don’t seem to get better.

“This year’s been so unusual, and we don’t know what next year will be like,” said

Statistics confirm Akerlof's assessment of the summer's weather. The average temperature of 74.2 degrees this summer was 3.2 degrees above normal, according to statistics kept by University of Michigan weather observer Dennis Kahlbaum. That ranked as the second-hottest summer since record-keeping for Ann Arbor began in 1880. The warmest was in 1934, when an average temperature of 74.3 degrees was recorded.

The summer also ranked as the 19th driest on record. Rainfall of 6.06 inches during June, July and August was 4.88 inches below normal, Kahlbaum said.

Henry Pollack, professor emeritus of earth and environmental sciences at U-M, said statistics like these are consistent with climate change models.

“In recorded meteorological records since we’ve been taking temperatures, we’ve never seen anything like this,” said

Pollack was a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former vice president Al Gore.

The warm trend is set to continue through the end of the year. Pollack said that without unusually cooler fall weather, 2012 is on track to be the warmest year on record.

Lisa Paull, an avid Bird Center volunteer, believes the unusually warm weather is affecting birds' habits.

“Everything’s four to six weeks pushed forward,” Paull said. “I noticed everything’s off.”

For the first time throughout this fall and winter, the Bird Center will be staying open to help migratory birds who may be injured or sick during their travels.

Typically, the organization shuts down its operations at the end of the summer.

“There is more demand for our services than can be met by one person trying to do this during the winter,” Akerlof said, noting that last fall, she took home 17 birds to tend to over the winter.

Because spring this year came so early, Akerlof said she and several volunteers were caring for 36 baby birds in May out of her own home before the bird center opened. Previously, Akerlof said she has only had to care for a couple before the center opens at the end of May.

Akerlof said the Bird Center sees about 65 different species of birds as they migrate through Michigan in the fall to points south.

“You always get something you’ve never had before,” she said.

Tuesday at the center, a volunteer and the center’s one full-time employee cared for about 12 birds.

A Tennessee Warbler that had broken his chest bone after flying into a window was almost ready to continue his migration south.

Perched on a stick inside a laundry basket covered by a mesh screen and partially shaded by a towel, the warbler entertained himself by feeding on some small mealworms and blueberries.

The birds - mostly goldfinches, pigeons, mourning doves, cardinals, robins and bluebirds - were quiet. Few flitted their wings inside their baskets; some chirped. The rehabilitation experience is stressful for them, Akerlof said.

By the time people bring in injured or sick birds to the center, Akerlof said it’s often too late and the bird is already dead.

The center, at 926 Mary St., is located in a nest-like building which also serves as a city polling place. It rehabilitates birds from much of southeast Michigan.

After this week, the center will be cutting back on its open hours to save money. Akerlof advised people with injured or sick birds to call (734) 761-9640.

Amy Biolchini covers Washtenaw County, health and environmental issues for Reach her at (734) 623-2552, or on Twitter.


Billy Bob Schwartz

Fri, Oct 5, 2012 : 9:06 p.m.

Home from FLorida this year, so will get the feeders up. The local association doesn't like it, but I, after all, am BillyBob Schwartz, and may what is right, regardless.

Billy Bob Schwartz

Fri, Oct 5, 2012 : 9:06 p.m.

May do what is right. Not may write what is right, do it.


Fri, Oct 5, 2012 : 8:40 p.m.

The Bird Center of Washtenaw County does an outstanding job and has some very dedicated volunteers. I have taken three birds to the center in the last two years, and thanks to them, they all recovered.


Fri, Oct 5, 2012 : 3:39 p.m.

Please donate to the bird center--they need money always!!!!


Fri, Oct 5, 2012 : 3:23 p.m.

The Bird Center desperately needs a better building. The very old, unheated polling center they use in the summer is no use in the winter, and too small. The drought seems to be causing sandhill cranes to form their pre-migration groups early. The counts at the Haehnle Crane Sanctuary are higher than they have ever been for this time of year. Last time they were any where near this high in October, they set a record for the most cranes ever, over 5,500 in one count. It's well worth a trip out there to see them come in to the marsh in late afternoon.

Robert D. Mosley

Fri, Oct 5, 2012 : 2:39 p.m.

Thanks for this article. I am a bird feeder and this article encourages me more! I did not know about the need to continue feeding the hummingbirds, so thanks again for this wonderful alert and information!

Susan Cybulski

Fri, Oct 5, 2012 : 2:25 p.m.

Carol Akerlof and Sherri Smith are truly dedicated to rescuing injured birds, and go to heroic ends to help. A few years ago, they me with a yellow-bellied sapsucker who flew into a window at my house. We are lucky to have selfless citizens like these women in our community. Thank you, Carol and Sherri!


Fri, Oct 5, 2012 : 2:06 p.m.

"In recorded meteorological records since we've been taking temperatures, we've never seen anything like this," Except 1934, when the average was higher, as noted earlier in the article.


Fri, Oct 5, 2012 : 3:25 p.m.

I'm not sure Professor Pollak was referring to the summer average high that was exceeded in '34, when he said that. I think he was talking about the annual average for 2012, which is expected to exceed 1934. Unfortunately the article is unclear.


Fri, Oct 5, 2012 : 12:46 p.m.

Incidents like the one where the Tennessee warbler hit the window are very, very common. And unfortunately, most of the ones injured doing this die. I found an Ovenbird below one of my windows several weeks ago, no doubt migrating southward. One way to help reduce window-strike incidents is to put some sort of reflective decals on the outside of the window to break up the reflection of the yard (which the bird sees in the window and not a hard surface).


Fri, Oct 5, 2012 : 12:31 p.m.

What happened to the bird center that was in Saline way down Waterworks road? I thought that as the Washtenaw County Bird Center or something? I've dropped birds off at that one at least 3 different times.


Fri, Oct 5, 2012 : 5:26 p.m.

They close at 9. Another bird person told us to put the bird back where we found it. The bird died. So at this point, now that I know that bird stress and tree stress go hand in hand with drought stress I am now ready for next summers hotness. Glad winter is coming on. Thanks for this information.


Fri, Oct 5, 2012 : 12:42 p.m.

That was actually a different organization at the time - Bird Rescue of Huron Valley. Some years back that organization ceased operations and the Bird Center of Washtenaw County took over much of the bird rehabilitation work.


Fri, Oct 5, 2012 : 12:27 p.m.

Went for a drive with the family around the county yesterday since it was so nice out. The one thing we noticed was that all the areas that are normally swampy were completely dried out. Never seen that before around here.


Fri, Oct 5, 2012 : 12:11 p.m.

I'm pretty sure the pictures of the dove depict a "Mourning" dove, not a "Morning" dove as the captions say.

Cindy Heflin

Fri, Oct 5, 2012 : 3:29 p.m.

Those captions have been fixed.


Fri, Oct 5, 2012 : 3:04 p.m.

Well I'll be darned.I at first I thought you were doing a little word play as the dove was sad and mourning.But I googled it.I always thought it was a " morning " dove because of the noise they make in the morning.Never thought I'd actually learn something on this site

Unusual Suspect

Fri, Oct 5, 2012 : 12:34 p.m.

You are correct.


Fri, Oct 5, 2012 : 11:49 a.m.

I've been inside that building to deliver an injured bird. The cacophony of noise from the birds was almost deafening, not to mention the heat (tiny, poorly ventilated building). The volunteers do amazing work, some giving round-the-clock care. Donations are gladly accepted, and they could really use a bigger building.


Fri, Oct 5, 2012 : 11:20 a.m.

It is important to think of putting a water source near your feeders, changing it frequently enough to prevent it from becoming a mosquito nursery.