Laysan Albatross (Diomedea immutabilis)

February 9, 2009 by  
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It has always been said that whilst on the ocean you could predict that land is near after sighting a bird. Which is true in most cases, however, sighting an Albatross is no sign of land. These birds are known to be the “nomads of the ocean” and will usually only go on land to breed. They can spend years out on the ocean. The Laysan Albatross is found in the northern parts of the Pacific Ocean, the islands surrounding Hawaii and at times it has been seen in the Gulf of Alaska.

The Laysan Albatross (Diomedea immutabilis) is predominantly white of color, with black upper wings and black mantle. There is dark plumage surrounding the eye, with a yellowish beak that has a dark tip. The Laysan Albatross is 79 to 81 centimeters in length and has a wingspan of 195 to 203 centimeters. These large ocean birds can weigh up to 11 kilograms.

Being surface feeders, the Laysan Albatross will feed on crustaceans, squid, flying fish eggs and fish. They are nocturnal feeders, and will generally hunt for food during the night. Although they are extremely awkward on land, due to them only going on land once a year, they are graceful and elegant in flight. The albatross is so in tune with the ocean winds, that it is able glide over the ocean without flapping its wings for hours or even days sometimes. It is also known that the albatross can sleep while in this graceful state of flight.

The Laysan Albatross mates for life. Each year the pair will meet at their nesting ground, and will only take a new partner if its mate happens to die. The albatross will construct the nest from shrubbery, grasses and dirt that is piled together to form a cup. The Laysan Albatross females will begin laying their eggs in mid-November. The female will only lay one egg and might incubate the egg for the first few days, but the incubation period of 65 days is generally taken care of by the male. If for some reason the eggs should break or be infertile, the female will not lay another egg for that year.

The albatross chicks will hatch in January or mid February. Both the male and female albatross will feed their chick. The chick is capable of surviving the absence of its parents, as the squid it eats and the chick’s stomach oil contains nutrients and fatty acids that prevents the chick from starving. The chick will fledge the nest at about 5 to 6 months, but most parents return to the sea long before their chick has grown its juvenile plumage. The first mating and nesting period takes place between the ages of 6 to 8 years, and the sub-adults will spend their first three to five years out on the ocean. The Laysan Albatross can live to the rich old age of about 40 to 60 years.

Merlin (Falco colombarius)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Merlin or as it is scientifically know as, Falco colombarius, is a falcon that breeds in many different continents like North America, Asia and Europe. In North America it is known as a pigeon hawk, and the Latin part of its scientific name, “columba”, means dove also indicating the falcon’s popular food choice. But the name is incorrect in that it is not a hawk but a falcon and so the name is not often used.

The Merlin is a small bird of prey that breeds in open areas like moor lands, birch scrub and taiga or willow scrub, coasts and desert areas. When temperatures become too cold the Merlin, like its larger counterpart the Peregrine Falcon, will migrate to more temperate regions. These northern European birds will go over to North Africa or to southern Europe, whereas the North American birds will head to southern USA and to northern South America. If the bird is found in Great Britain, one of its milder breeding ranges, it will leave high grounds and move to lowlands and the coast.

In Europe the Merlin is a social bird and will roost communally in winter, many times with Hen Harriers. However, in North America, communal roosting is rare because the Merlin is known for its aggression and it will go so far as to attack any bird of prey, even eagles. Throughout the Merlin’s territory range they will nest on the ground, for instance in the United Kingdom they will usually look for a shallow scrape on the heather moor land. They also enjoy long heather but because of the regular burning in that area they tend to be over managed.

The male Merlin’s coloring is specifically blue-gray with orange-tinted under parts. The female and the juvenile differ and have a dark brown back and a white belly with brown spots below. The American subspecies go from pale in the Great Plains to dark brown, black in the Pacific Northwest. This particular species is small in size and has dark under parts, and is distinguished from the Peregrine Falcon by its facial features, which are not as strongly marked.

These falcons prey on small birds like pipits, larks and large insects and because of this they rely heavily on their speed and agility to hunt prey. Merlin Falcons hunt by flying low, about one meter off the ground, and very fast catching their prey by surprise.

Mississippi Kite (Ictinia mississippiensis)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Mississippi Kite or as it is scientifically known, the Ictinia mississippiensis, is 12.5 inches long and has a wingspan of 36 inches, weighing between 7 and a half to 12 ounces. Both the male and female are similar in size. It is a medium-sized, long-winged hawk and is known for its graceful movements. The wings of the Mississippi kite are long and pointed and the tail is long and squared-off at the end. The beak is dark in color, short and hooked.

The adult kite has a pale grey head with a dark mask at the lores. The breast, under wing, belly and under tail coverts are also gray. The gray becomes darker on its back, primaries, upper wing coverts and upper tail coverts. Above the kite you can see its pale silvery grey secondaries and when it is flying you can notice its black flight feathers and black tail.

The juvenile Mississippi kite has a streaked, brownish head with a pale superciliary line. The young bird has a dark brown back and upper wing and a dark tail with distinct white bands going across it. The breast, under wing coverts and belly are streaked heavily with a rich brown colour. As the juvenile gets older its head and breast start looking grey like the adult bird with a few remnants of the brown colour. The under wing continues to be streaked heavily with brown and the dark tail and white bands remain.

Another species that is similar to the Mississippi kite is the Black-shouldered kite, which is also medium sized and shape but the breast and tail are whiter and not so grey in color. Kites have a similar body structure to the falcon but the head patterns differ a lot. From a distance the Northern Harrier can look similar and is differentiated only by its pale broad under wings and its white rump.

The Mississippi Kite can be found roosting and making nests in woodlands and in tree clusters. The kite prefers the edge of the woodland, grasslands, human-altered areas, savannas, farms and towns to hunt in. In summer you will find the Mississippi kite mainly in the Southern part of the United States and then in winter you will find it migrating as far south as northern Argentina.

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.