Marsh Sandpiper (Tringa stagnatilis)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Marsh Sandpiper (Tringa stagnatilis) is a small wader and looks similar to the elegant Greenshank, which has very long yellow legs and a long fine bill. The coloring of the two birds is also similar, both have a greyish brown plumage that is pale in winter and has a white line running up its back, which can easily be seen in flight. The Sandpiper breeds between the months April through to August and only in temperate zones. They will go from South-eastern Europe all the way through Russia to Western Siberia and Ussuriland. The courtship song of the sandpiper is a repeated tu-ee-u, tu-ee-u, but when they are on the breeding grounds and something alarms them, then they will make a sharp chip sound.

The Marsh Sandpipers will nest in grassy areas and by muddy shores of freshwater pools, thick grassy vegetation and boreal wetlands and if worse comes to worse they may tolerate brackish water. Their nests are never in large groups, mostly solitary or in loose colonies where the nests are far a part from each other. Both the male and female will take turns in incubating eggs and raising the juveniles.

Sandpipers will either spend their winter in sub-Saharan Africa and in India or they will head to Europe and a few will go to Southeast Asia and Australia. These birds are not scared by distance and will fly for long times with no stops at passage sites on their migration route. The birds that are not breeding may prefer to stay at their winter grounds throughout the year or spend summer at different sites.

The Marsh Sandpipers are threatened specifically by the overuse of herbicides and insecticides because of their tendency to forage in cultivated wetlands like rice fields. The Sandpiper is closely related to the Wood sandpiper and the Common Redshank. These birds find their food by probing in wet mud or shallow water and eat a large amount of insects and other similar type prey. The Marsh Sandpiper is one of the many species to which the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Water Birds applies.

American Avocets (Recurvirostra americana)

February 9, 2009 by  
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American Avocets (Recurvirostra americana) are beautiful, elegant birds which are found in water-filled areas such as marshes, coastal bays, mudflats and saline lakes. During the summer months the American Avocet makes its way to the western Great Plains of America and are dotted through Saskatchewan, Alberta, Montana, North and South Dakota, New Mexico and Texas. In the winter months they migrate to California and Mexico as well as along the coast that runs from North Carolina to Texas. American Avocet’s are listed with the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act as being a threatened species due to habitat destruction.

The American Avocet is a shorebird with a distinctive long, upward curving black bill. Its long legs are grey-blue in color and thus it has received the nickname “blue shanks”. Its back and sides are clearly marked with white and black stripes. It measures about 43-47 cm, with a wingspan of 72 cm. Its eyes are dark brown. When it is breeding season, the head and neck turn a pink-tan color, but are usually gray-white. Female American Avocets are a bit smaller than the males and the bill is more curved and shorter. When bird watching along the shoreline, listen out for the call of the avocet, a high-pitched “kleek” sound.

American Avocets feed on aquatic invertebrates found in their habitat. They will forage in shallow water, whilst wading or swimming. The avocet will swing its unusual bill along the ground under the water so as to disturb the aquatic prey, grabbing it for a tasty meal.

American Avocets engage in complex courtship displays when breeding season arrives. This display involves the male avocet preening himself with water. The intensity increases into a massive splashing and then he mounts the female to mate. Following copulation the avocet pair run along with their necks intertwined. American Avocet nests are simply a scrape in the ground that is carefully lined with vegetation, feathers and so forth. Between 3 and 4 little green-brown eggs with dark spots are laid in the nest. Whilst in the nesting phase the avocets become very aggressive, even attacking intruders. They will use a number of methods, such as dive-bombing, to distract predators from the nest. Incubation lasts 22 – 24 days and is carried out by both the male and female. The young hatchlings are able to fend for themselves immediately after making their way out into the world.

American Avocets had a major drop in numbers during the 1960s and 70s due to wetland destruction and contamination. In 1995 special provision was made to protect the wetland habitats of California. The avocets are battling to get their numbers up, but it is hoped that they will flourish in the future.

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) is the largest of the heron family. They are approximately 38 inches in length, with a 70 inch wingspan. The male and females are similar, with white faces and crowns, and blue-gray and black plumage covering the rest of their bodies. These birds also have long legs and necks that enable them to walk into the water to fish for food. The Blue Heron can be found across North America, the Caribbean, Central America and most of Canada. They are not generally migratory birds, but some do migrate to South and Central America during the winter months. Great Blue Herons are located near watery areas such as lakes, swamps, marshes, rivers or any area that has a water source. Although some can be seen along the coastal areas, the Blue Heron prefers living inland.

March to May are the general months to spot the population of the Great Blue Herons that are located in the northern areas, and they breed in the southern hemisphere from November to April. Nests are made high up in trees that are on the edge of the body of water. The female Great Blue Heron can lay between two to seven eggs, that are light blue in color. The females that are in the northern regions are known to lay more eggs. Male and female Blue Herons both assist in the incubation of the eggs that varies between 26 to 30 days. The chicks fledge the nest after two months, as they are completely independent and will become sexually mature at approximately twenty-two months. Even though the chicks are ready to live and survive on their own, they are most vulnerable during the first year, with more than half not surviving the first year. Great Blue Herons have a life span of about fifteen years, although it has been recorded that the oldest wild heron lived to the age of twenty-three.

The best times to spot the Great Blue Heron is in the early mornings and just before sunset. These are the best fishing times. Even though the herons will sleep and live in great flocks, they prefer to hunt alone and are very aggressive in regard to their nests. They feed on aquatic insects and fish and their spear-like bills assist them in catching fish, and other food sources such as lizards, snakes, frogs, crabs, dragonflies and grasshoppers. Food is swallowed whole and it has happened that herons have choked to death because of their catch being too big to swallow. The Great Blue Heron assists in controlling the insect and fish populations and fish farmers used to see them as a threat. However, it has been shown through research, that the herons eat the sickly and near-dead fish that are located close to the surface.

Wood Duck (Aix sponsa)

February 9, 2009 by  
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Considered by many to be the most beautiful of all waterfowl, the colorful Wood Duck (Aix sponsa) is somewhat unique in that it is one of the few North American ducks that nest in trees. Also known as the Carolina Duck, the Wood Duck can be found in eastern North America and the west coast of the US, as well as in western Mexico. They usually select wooded swamps, marshes, ponds or shallow lakes as a breeding habitat and will nest in tree cavities close to water. Despite their popularity, these birds are shy and skittish and they are quick to make an escape if disturbed or threatened.

The average Wood Duck is 47-54 cm in length with a wingspan of 66-73 cm. This makes them a medium-sized duck with long, broad wings. They also have a crest on their heads and a long tail. The male is most spectacular during breeding season. Between fall and summer he has a red bill, red eye and green head with striking white stripes around his face and chest. These stripes start as a white throat patch which then grow into ‘finger-like’ extensions which can be found at the base of the neck and the bottom of the cheek. His breast becomes a strong chestnut colour and there is a white vertical strip at the lower margin. His flanks are a golden colour which are bordered at the top with a white flank stripe. His belly is also white and his wings and back become a shiny dark green-blue. There is also an iridescent blue-green speculum on the rear of his wings with a white edge. When he is not breeding, the male looks quite similar to the female, except that he retains his distinctive white neck patch and red bill. The adult female is much less colourful and has a grey bill, a white teardrop patch around her eye and a white throat. Her head and neck are a grey-brown colour and her grey-brown breast is stippled with white which fades into a white belly. Her back and wings are a dark brown.

Generally speaking, the Wood Duck eats seeds, acorns, fruit and both aquatic and terrestrial invertebrates. They peck and dabble on the surface of the water and may dive under for food. When they nest, they may make use of nesting boxes if these are available. The nest is lined with down from the female and she lays between 6 and 15 eggs in a clutch. Soon after hatching, the down-covered ducklings jump out the nest and make their way to the water where they put their natural swimming talent to good use.

Purple Gallinule (Porphyrula martinica)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Purple Gallinule (Porphyrula martinica) is a truly beautiful wader bird. Their brightly colored feathers makes it hard to take your eyes off them. They are 10.5 inches in length with a wingspan of 21 inches, and do not fly very well. This water bird is quite big with a very short tail and a short bill. The Purple Gallinule has purple-blue plumage over its neck, breast, head and its belly. They have red eyes, yellow legs and their bills are red with a yellow tip. The frontal shield, that is located just above the bill, is pale blue and the back and upper wings are covered in green and blue plumage. Both the males and females are similar in appearance.

They are generally located in the areas of the southeastern and northern United States, Argentina, Northern Mexico and the Gulf Coast. However, they have been sighted across Europe and in South Africa. During the breeding season they will migrate to the southeastern parts of the United States.

The Purple Gallinule is a marsh bird that feeds on spiders, water plants, frogs, grasshoppers, dragonflies, fruits, seeds and other insects. It therefore prefers to live in freshwater marshes that have lily pads and pickerelweed as vegetation. Being a wader, the Gallinule is able to distribute its weight evenly to enable them walk on lily pads.

Nests are constructed from leaves and tree stems, and are built in a thicket, sawgrass or on a tussock that floats on the water. The purple Gallinules female will lay approximately 6 to 9 eggs that are cream in color with brownish spots. Both parents will assist in the 18 days incubation period, and have a strange ritual regarding this. When it is time to change over the incubating duties, the one Gallinule will bring the bird presently incubating the eggs a leaf. The leaf will then be placed within the nest, before the shift is changed over. Both the male and female will assist in feeding the chicks once they have hatched. The young are able to walk on the lily pads almost immediately and can enjoy a lifespan of approximately 22 years.

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