Bird Science Collaborations

Songbirds as Pollinators, the SaP Project

The SaP Project is a collaborative effort between Colorado State University, the Institute for Bird Populations (IBP), MAPS (Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship), individual bird-banders, and members of the public to collect pollen samples from songbirds, as well as document any flower-foraging behavior. Although some research on songbirds as pollinators has been done in Asia and Europe, the nature and frequency of pollination by North American songbirds has not been systematically investigated until now.

This year, Rocky Point Bird Observatory (RPBO) is participating in the SaP Project during our MAPS Monitoring program by collecting pollen samples from certain bird species. By partnering with banding stations and nature enthusiasts, this project will collect pollen samples in addition to observations. Using these pollen samples, they will search for angiosperm DNA and explore exciting, impactful questions about the relationships between North American songbirds and flowering plants. This will be cutting-edge DNA research on songbird pollination!

Birds provide a variety of benefits to nature and people such as pest control and seed dispersal, as well as aesthetic beauty and recreational opportunities. Many songbirds forage in flowers so they may provide yet another service – pollination! By collaborating with bird banders across western North America, this scientific study by Colorado State University will seek to understand the role of flower-foraging songbirds in pollination systems.

Using pollen collected by collaborators, the study will be able to draw inferences about what plants may be important to migrants. By sampling spring-migrating songbirds, they can determine the plants most frequently visited during migration, and use existing phenological databases to explore the sensitivity of songbirds to changes in flowering timing of those favoured plants.

In order to collect samples, banders will use swabs to gently wipe the faces and bills of target species when these birds are in the hand. These swabs are specifically designed to pick up small particles, such as pollen. The swab is then snapped into a small, pre-numbered tube, and put into an envelope where all the data are recorded (date, species, band number, age, sex, etc.). Each swab is associated with a single bird, which can then be used to make inferences about plants visited by that individual. The researchers will look for patterns across species and genera. For this project, RPBO will be taking pollen samples from warblers, hummingbirds, Bushtits, Warbling Vireos, and Western Tanagers during our MAPS banding season. RPBO is very excited about this cross-border partnership with Carolyn Coyle of the SaP Project.

To learn more about the SaP Project, please visit their website: https://carolyncoyle.wixsite.com/sapproject

Song Birds as Pollinators - Video

Pollen sampling Jannaca SaP project  Orange-crowned Warbler collecting pollen SaP project

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