Kingbird Project, August 14th-15th 2016
We got a call from the Florida Keys Wild Bird Center informing us that they recieved an abondnoned nest of juvenile kingbirds and that they were looking into how they could introduce the birds to insects that would consist of their natural diet prior to releasing them into the wild. Up to this point, their diet had consisted of mealworms and other things that made up a non-native diet for this species. They knew that if they were to survive on their own, they would have to have become familiar with insects that they would encounter in the Keys.
This is where we come in! We were asked if we could put some lights out and get some insects for them so that the birds could get used to eating things that they would encounter in the wild on Key Largo. The folks from the Wild Bird Center wisely asked us to bring them species that were not rare, threatened or endangered in any way. So my dear friend, Jeff Denis, and I set out for North Key Largo to set up our mercury vapor lights to see what we could find for our feathered friends to eat. Upon being mauled by salt marsh mosquitoes during the twighlight hours in a hammock we quickly began seeing insect activity at the sheet. Within 20 minutes of nightfall, we had already collected 50-60 dragonflies which quickly came to the light.
By the next morning, we had collected over 100 large insects including dragonflies, cicadas, katydids, grasshoppers and, of course, moths. Moth species that were harvested for bird food were of the following common species; Carter's Sphinx or Streaked Sphinx (Protambulux strigilis), Pluto Sphinx (Xylophanes pluto), Tersa Sphinx (Xylophanes tersa), Ello Sphinx (Erinnyis ello), Grote's Sphinx (Cautethia grotei) and several species of Notodontids that are common to the Keys.
When we got to the bird center, we were excited to see how the kingbirds would respond to the live, flying insects. Upon releasing them into the cage where the kingbirds were being housed, they quickly became aroused and highly interested however it was clear that they didn't quite know what to do. A live, Carters sphinx is certainly way more intimidating than a mealworm! We used tweezers to hand-feed the live insects to the birds and then we quickly saw them grab the moths and dragonflies and begin to eat!
In all, it was a fantastic experience being involved with preparing these birds for release. It's my understanding that in weeks to come, they will be released into the wild to go catch insects on their own!!! The following pictures are photots of the moths that we brought for kingbird food.