King Eider (Somateria spectabilis)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The King Eider (Somateria spectabilis) is a magnificent bird, receiving its name due to the male’s orange knob on the bill and marvelous blue crown. Whilst the female doesn’t compare to the male in physical attractiveness, both genders are remarkable sea-faring birds and certainly worth looking out for.

With the silhouette of a large diving duck, the King Eider measures in at 18 inches in length with a wingspan of 37 inches. The males and females are distinctly different in appearance. During breeding season the male is easily identified by his gentle blue crown and bright orange bill and knob. His back, flanks, tail and belly are black, whilst the neck and breast are white with a spot of white near the tail. Female King Eiders are well camouflaged in gray-brown feathers with fine barring in black. When breeding season is over the males slowly change to a color similar to that of the females but with black wings and a noticeable white patch upon the fore-wing. You are likely to hear the King Eider before you see it. Males call with a low “croo croo crooo”. Females have a diversity of sounds including grunts and croaks.

The King Eider bird species has a cicumpolar distribution. Nests are built all along Canada’s Arctic Coast, on Arctic Islands and through Alaska. During winter these birds migrate towards the Atlantic and Pacific oceans to the north of the USA. A gregarious bird, King Eidera form large migration groups, some numbering up to 10 000 birds. The King Eider is also found through Russia and Greenland, wintering in the Bering Sea.

King Eiders are marine ducks and thus are found feeding in the ocean’s waters. Their diet consists of invertebrates and mollusks such as mussels, sea urchins and sand dollars. They have even been known to dive to depths of 50 m whilst foraging. When breeding season arrives for the King Eiders the pairs will come onto land, but they will not nest in colonies. Nesting begins in mid June. The female bird will create a scraping in the ground with some shelter from vegetation. The female then incubates the clutch of 3 to 6 eggs for a period of about 23 days. The offspring are either left on their own after hatching or gathered up by remaining females.

Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)

February 9, 2009 by  
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Also known as the ‘Redbird’ the Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) is one of the most popular birds in the United States. Easily identified by its bright red coloring, this pretty little bird is a common sight on snow-covered bird feeders across most of eastern USA. Its range even extends as far as southeastern Canada, Mexico, Belize and even Hawaii, though it has spread to New York, New England and Hawaii in more recent years. The less colorful female is generally more vocal than the male; however, both sexes sing and can be heard year round. The Northern Cardinal is a nonmigratory bird, though some movement may occur in summer and autum.

The Northern Cardinal is fairly easy to identify. It is a small bird with a length of 21-23 cm. The wingspan may vary between 25-31 cm and the bird weighs between 42-48 grams. In general the bird has a large, conical bill, a crested head and along tail. It is the male that bears the bright red plumage that is so commonly associated with the species. This plumage is dullest on the back and wings of the bird. The male has black coloration around his face and at the base of his bill. The bill is also a brilliant red. The adult female, in contrast, is mainly a greyish-tan color. Only her crest, wings, tail and bill show some red and this is much less bright than the red found on the male. Juvenile birds are similar to the female in colour but they have a darker bill and crest.

When it comes to nesting, it is the female that usually starts building the nest. The nest is reasonably small and made of small twigs and grasses. It is usually built in a shrub or brushy tangle and once it is built, the female will lay between 3 and 4 eggs in it. These are incubated by the female in just under two weeks. After this, the male shares in the responsibility of raising the young. A pair may raise as many as four broods in one breeding season with the male tending one brood while the female starts incubating the next one. Male Northern Cardinals are fiercely territorial and those with brighter red plumage generally have better breeding grounds and greater reproductive success.

Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) is a songbird that measures nine inches in length, has a gray coloring to its head and upper body parts and a white belly. It has a long black tail that has white feathers to the outside, a white patch on its wings that is clearly seen during flight and white plumage on its wing bars. The Northern Mocking Bird has black legs and a very slender bill. It is generally, naturally, found in Florida, the Gulf Coast and in Texas. Mockingbirds are also found in San Francisco, Oregon, Hawaii, Canada and in the East. Most of these populations have been formed due to the release of caged birds, and due to human destruction of habitat the Mockingbird has found other regions to survive in.

The near extinction of the Northern Mockingbird in areas such as St Louis and Philadelphia was caused by the market for caged Mockingbirds in the 18th and 19th century. These amazing little birds were captured for their vocal talents, and it is now known that the Northern Mockingbird is capable of 200 different songs, sounds and noises. It can mimic other birds, make amphibian sounds and even copy the noises that are made by insects. The Northern Mockingbird is also known as the American Nightingale. The diet of the Northern Mockingbird can vary with the seasons but generally incorporates wild fruits such as prickly pears, blackberries, holly, poison ivy and pokeberry. They will also live close to cultivated areas to feed on grapes and other fruits that are farmed. Mockingbirds will feed on arthropods and insects through the year, but favor these food sources mostly during breeding season.

Northern Mockingbirds mate for life, but on the odd occasion they will separate during the winter months to establish a winter territory. Territories are established surrounding a food source or for breeding. Both the male and female will viciously defend their territories, as they need to protect themselves from other birds that also feed on fruit. During breeding season, these little songbirds show no fear, and will dive at any intruders, animal or human.

Northern Mockingbirds can be heard singing throughout the day and most of the year. Single males are known to sing into the night, and males tend to sing louder than the females, with the females only singing loudly when the male has left the territory. In breeding season, nests are constructed from roots, grasses, leaves and twigs, and are built in trees or shrubs. The female can lay two to six eggs that are white in color and speckled with reddish brown. The incubation period of twelve to thirteen days is attended to by the female, after which both parents will attend to the feeding of the hatched chicks. Northern Mockingbird chicks are ready to fledge the nest within twelve days.

Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) is a well-known bird of prey throughout the world and amongst the largest in North America. Osprey populations decreased due to pesticide poisoning during the 1950s to the 1970s. Although their numbers improved after the ban of DDT, they remain on threatened species and endangered species lists in some localities.

Ospreys are short-distant migrants who reside along waterways. As a large raptor, the Osprey is identified from beneath by their white breast and belly as well as their angled wings and the dark patch on the wrist bend. The back and upperwings are black. The wings are long and taper into a rounded tip. It has a short hooked beak ideal for capturing prey. A dark eyestripe marks the face. The tail is brown with white banding. They measure in at approximately 54 to 58 cm with a wingspan of 150 to 180 cm. The distinctive chirping whistle calls of the Osprey will also assist in identification.

Ospreys feed purely on fish, hovering over a body of water before plunging down to grab a tasty morsel. They have special barbed pads on their foot soles for gripping the fish, which they carry to the nest. Nests are frequently built on artificial structures such as nesting platforms, telephone poles, duck blinds and so forth. The nests are constructed with sticks and debris. Preferred breeding habitat for Ospreys is open water and wetlands. The pair will mate for life. A single clutch of 3 to 4 eggs is laid each year. Incubation is for 32 to 43 days. The chicks hatch individually over a period of 5 days. The oldest will gobble the majority of the food supplied by parents. This is not a major problem in times of abundance, but when little food is available the younger chicks will likely starve to death. In 48 to 59 days the young Osprey with fledge.

A very popular bird of prey, the Osprey features as Nova Scotia’s (Canada) official bird as well as the official bird of Sudermannia of Sweden. The name Osprey has been used for several sporting teams and the bird has been the official mascot of various universities and colleges. Ospreys are truly beautiful birds, exceptional fish hunters and fine parents, certainly worthy of conservation action and protection.

Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus) is a tiny shore bird that measures 5.5 inches in length, with orange legs and a stubby little bill. Generally, the adults have white faces with a black stripe across their forehead and a thick band of black across their breast. Some adults have paler breast bands, and at times they are not complete. Their bills can range between an orange bill that becomes dark at the point to just a dark bill. They have white bellies, while their upper body parts such as wings are gray to sandy colored, and it is the complete coloring of the Piping Plover that allows them to blend in with their surroundings.

This shore bird is treated as an endangered bird species in Canada and the United States. It only breeds in three geographic areas in North America, namely the East Coast, the Great Lakes region and on the Northern Great Plains. Piping Plovers prefer gravel beaches, coastal areas, prairie lakes and specific saline lakes and river sandbars. The nesting habits of the Piping Plover greatly depend on the level of water and the surrounding vegetation. Human activity along the coastal areas has also interfered with the nesting. Artificial nesting sites have been established to encourage nesting, but these have not proven to be successful. Although Piping Plovers are known to be able to live for 14 years, most Plovers don’t survive for more than five.

Piping Plovers feed on aquatic invertebrates, which the Plovers pick up with their bills by probing the shore-lines and pecking alternatively as the run and stop. Nests are created by scraping hollows into the ground and then lining these with bits of seashells, bone fragments and small pebbles. Piping Plovers will only have one partner during the breeding season, and will only select a new partner in the next season. Females are able to re-nest if the eggs are destroyed. She will lay about four eggs that are pale with black speckles. The 26 to 28 day incubation period is shared between the parents and within 20 to 25 days the chicks will be able to take short flights, with full flight capabilities at 27 days. If a Piping Plover feels that its nest is being threatened by any form of predator, they will fake injury to lead the danger away. Chicks will crouch into a motionless position to avoid detection from the danger. The female will leave the nest before the family disperses, leaving the male to attend to the chicks until they fledge the nest.

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