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Michigan State UniversityWildlife Toxicology Laboratory

Tittabawasse River Wildlife Banner Photo

Songbirds (Passerines)

Student, Cassie, monitors species occupancy at a nest boxWhether you’re a backyard birder, avid ornithologist, environmentalist, or just enjoy listening to birdsongs over your morning coffee, birds can play an important part in your life.

Most people have seen the typical bird boxes referred to as "bluebird boxes", since they were popularized as a strategy to help cavity-nesting bluebirds by increasing the availability of nesting sites. In addition to eastern bluebirds, there are also other cavity-nesting birds, such as house wrens and tree swallows that are common nesters in these boxes on the Tittabawassee River floodplain.

The American robin, a songbird of the thrush family, is perhaps the most well known songbird in the nation, serving as the state bird for Connecticut, Michigan, and Wisconsin. As most people are aware, the American robin constructs its own nest and does not use artificial nest boxes.

These four species were selected as passerine receptors of concern for the site-specific, ecological risk assessment of furan and dioxin compounds because of their abundance, ease of study, limited feeding range during nesting, diversity of diet between species, and previous use in the risk assessment framework. To gauge overall population health and sustainability, we assessed their breeding success, occupancy, diet, survival, and the concentrations of compounds in specific tissues (eggs, nestlings, and diet).

We have placed approximately 300 nest boxes along the Tittabawassee River from Sanford, Michigan, to the Woodland Trail Access of the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge property and monitored them through 2009. If you happen to come upon some of our boxes, please enjoy observing the birds from a distance.