Thom Smith | NatureWatch: Is this a green frog in my potted plant?

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Q. This rather beautiful creature set up residence in my potted cucumber plant near the pool. Because she hasn't moved much (but has a little so I know she is alive) in the past 24 hours I am guessing that she is perhaps laying eggs. But I thought frogs lay their eggs in water. She seems to have the skin of a frog rather than a toad. The pot is elevated so she had to really jump to get there. Can you tell me more?

— Marge, Pittsfield

A. The images you included with this note are of a green frog, and that is why the skin resembles that of a frog. Regardless of it being a male or female, you are correct, females, at least those outside the tropics, lay their eggs in water. The timing could be correct as green frogs in the north deposit their eggs between June and August. Green frogs, in general, are nocturnal and are less frightened by people as are other frogs.

One question I have gotten in the past revolves around distinguishing green frogs from bullfrogs. It is rather simple. Both have ridges on either side almost looking like a medium yarn was sewn beneath the skin. Bullfrogs have this ridge above and extending behind the ears, while the green frog has the ridge extends from above the ears almost the length of the body. Full-grown greens reach about 6 inches and bullfrogs about 7 inches.

SOMETIMES THE ANSWER IS VERY CLOSE TO HOME:

Hi Thom,

In your NatureWatch column today (published July 19), you posted a letter from Jan in Williamstown. Would you please share her email address with me? She contacted the Hoffmann Bird Club through our website, but did not leave a complete email address and I have been trying to reach her [in regard to a banded bird]. Most likely, the house finches were banded by Williams College students working with Heather Williams. She is interested in getting more info from Jan.

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— Audrey

To refresh our readers' memories, the question was: We have a male house finch that is at our feeders in Williamstown on a daily basis. It has both silver and red leg bands (both on the same leg). I have been unable to find out who might be doing the banding research and what they are looking for. I have contacted MA Audubon, two bird clubs, and the federal Wildlife Intervention Line.

Any other suggestions?

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— Jan, Williamstown

It is sometimes a story in itself how answers and connections come together, as in this color band query. Audrey Werner, an executive member of the Hoffmann Bird Club and a technical assistant at Williams College, connected Jan, Heather and me, with the resulting explanation of a house finch with a colored band appeared at a Williamstown bird feeder

Heather wrote the following:

"My students and I have an ongoing long-term study of house finches, based on the Williams College campus. We have feeders at which we catch the birds near Shapiro Hall and the Jewish Center; as you may know, house finches are not territorial, and so no bird "owns" the area around a single feeder and many will visit (as they do at your house!). Many of the birds I catch, measure, photograph and band with unique color combinations so that they can be identified later with binoculars nesting on campus. We record their songs in different social contexts and look at how they use their syllable repertoires and the way they order those syllables ("syntax"). We also are trying to determine whether the richness of individual males' songs is related to their plumage color: how red it is, and how much of the body it covers (quite variable in male house finches). These projects allow us to think about questions such as the relative importance of different kinds of signals (visual and sound), and how communication systems use syntax to convey meaning.

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As you may know, all work that involves handling and banding wild birds requires a permit from the federal government, which further states which kinds of bands can be used. The silver band you have seen is the official aluminum US Fish and Wildlife Service band, and it has, stamped into it, a unique number for identifying each bird banded in the US and Canada. Our permit also allows the use of plastic colored bands for individual identification, and we usually put three on each bird (two on one leg, and one on the other leg with the aluminum band). However, the plastic bands are less durable and sometimes come off.

In addition to the federal permit, all work with animals at Williams College requires approval by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, which must include a community member as well as a veterinarian. The process of getting permits and reviewing the research project is important, as it ensures that we are following the best practices in terms of being the least disturbing to the animals.

Please let me know if you have any questions, and of course I'd love to visit your feeder and see who's there!"

— Heather Williams, William Dwight Whitney Professor of Biology

An additional note from Heather to me:

"You are welcome to use what I sent you in your column. One point of possible interest: one of the Williams students who really did great work on the house finch project is Ivy Ciaburri, who is from the local area (Hoffman Bird Club people may remember her). Since graduating, she has worked on bird research projects in Central America, Australia, and several parts of the U.S., and is planning to focus on bird migration and how over-wintering ecology affects survival in her future work."

When it comes to bird questions I need help with, I am apt to contact Audrey and other members of the Hoffmann Bird Club. I first joined that organization when I was about 12 years old, and through the years have rarely needed to go elsewhere for feathered advice.


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