Northern Jacana (Jacana spinosa)

February 9, 2009 by  
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Its long slender toes stretch out across the floating water vegetation, it easily runs across the water in search of a tasty meal, this is the “lily trotter” or Northern Jacana (Jacana spinosa). Jacanas throughout the world are known for their remarkable body structure and walking on water skills. The Northern Jacana is found all along the coastline of Mexico, into western Panama, in Hispaniola, Jamaica, Cuba and even Texas of USA. This is a truly fascinating wading bird to observe, so keep an eye out for them on marshy waterways.

The Northern Jacana as with most Jacanas is easily identified by its long toes. Their bodies are about the same size as a robin. The body is mostly dark with black plumage on the head and neck. The Northern Jacana has pale green flight feathers and a distinctive yellow bill and frontal shield. Juveniles have white underparts. These unusual birds are also identified by their harsh “jik” call which progressively speeds up to a chatter. The large feet and claws of the Northern Jacana are what give it the ability to walk atop floating vegetation. In fact, the toes cover an area of 12 by 14 cm, thus dispersing the bird’s mass over a large area. They are particularly fond of lake and fresh-water marsh habitats.

Northern Jacanas are known for being quite aggressive and territorial. They frequently fight with each other using their weapons – spurs located on the bend of the wing. Floating nests are built on the water. Female Northern Jacanas are polyandrous and are often spoken of as the prostitute bird. A clutch of 3 to 5 eggs is laid in the floating nest which is built and cared for by the male. The male Northern Jacana incubates the eggs for a period of 22 to 24 days whilst the female guards her males. Once the young ones hatch, they will fledge in 28 days. The father will teach his precocial chicks how to forage for various foods such as insects, mollusks, worms and fish. Should danger approach, he will carry them under his wings. Its quite easy to understand why the unique Northern Jacana’s are popular amongst bird watchers.

Western Grebe (Aechmophorus occidentalis)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Western Grebe (Aechmophorus occidentalis) moves in large flocks and is found across the American western region and Mexico in the summer, migrating towards the Pacific Coast and Southwestern waters for winter. Both the males and females look similar, with black crowns, back, wings, nape and face. They have white plumage on their necks, throats and bellies, and have red eyes and bills that are a green-yellow color.

Being water birds, the Western Grebe can be found close to the seashore, freshwater lakes, ponds and swamp areas. They generally feed on fish, which is speared with their bills, but also eats crustaceans and insects. During the breeding season, both the male and female Grebe will assisting in building a nest that floats and is constructed from plant materials that are anchored to plants emerging above the shallow water. The female Grebe will lay three or four eggs, and both parents will take care of the eggs during the incubation period. The incubation period for the Western Grebe is 23 to 24 days. The eggs are a blue-white color and the male and female Grebes both feed the chicks after they have hatched. The Western Grebe, and the Clarke’ Grebe, population numbers were dwindling dangerously low, due to being hunted for their feathers. However, conservationists have been working to protect these species and the numbers have slowly been recovering. These birds are very sensitive during the breeding season, and if humans come too close to the nest, they will abandon the nest, leaving the eggs completely exposed to dangers.

The Western Grebe has one of the most amazing and spectacular mating dances – very elaborate and extremely entertaining. Both the male and female Grebes will lift their chests above the water and move together while gently letting the vegetation that they have in their bills, run over one another. The mating pair will then look at one another, before they suddenly leap from the water and run across the surface with wings outstretched and necks held rigid, before diving head first into the water together.

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.

Wood Thrushes (Hylocichla mustelina)

February 9, 2009 by  
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Known for their beautiful songs Wood Thrushes (Hylocichla mustelina) are more often heard than seen. These delightful birds are a medium-sized thrush and are the only member of the genus Hylocichla. They are migratory, and while their breeding grounds are in eastern North America, they generally fly south at night in mid-August. They may stop on the Gulf Coast for a few days in inclement weather before attempting to fly across the Gulf of Mexico to the tropical forests of southern Mexico and Central America. Wood Thrushes have been found in Western Europe but this is a rare occurrence and these birds are usually vagrants.

The typical Wood Thrush is 18.5 cm long and weighs about 48 grams. Their crowns, napes and upper back are a rusty-brown colour while their underparts are white with random black or dark-brown spotting. The rest of their upperparts are brown and they have a white eye ring and streaked cheeks. The bill is short and pointed with pink colouration near the corners and black colouration on the tip. The legs are also pink. All in all it is quite an attractive bird and both sexes are similar in appearance. The juvenile bird has pale spots on its upperparts but is otherwise difficult to distinguish from the adult. Wood Thrushes are famous for their beautiful flute-like voices and they are capable of combining two notes at once. Their singing is usually stronger and more elaborate just before sunrise and at dusk though they may sing throughout the day during mating season. They usually stop singing by the end of July.

Wood Thrushes generally favour well-shaded areas near water. They feed on beetles, flies, millipedes, earthworms, spiders and sow bugs which they usually find by overturning fallen leaves on the moist soil. They also feed on small fruits and berries. In the springtime, males return to their breeding grounds early to establish their territories. Before long, their beautiful songs attract a mate and a nesting sight that is well concealed and has plenty of shade is chosen. The female will usually build the nest in a fork in a tree, using mud, dead grass and dead leaves to create the structure. Once the nest is built, she will lay 3-4 greenish-blue eggs in it which she will incubate herself. She may have two broods in one season. Once the Wood Thrush chicks are hatched, both parents help to feed the nestlings.

Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus) is a relatively common bird species found in habitats extending from Oregon, California and Western Mexico, right through to the highlands of Central America as well as the Colombian Andes. Described as having a clown-face, the Acorn Woodpecker is a very social creature, with groups living together in a complex social system. A fascinating bird, the Acorn Woodpecker is worth looking out for.

Acorn Woodpecker’s can be quickly identified by the following distinctive features: a white eye ringed by black; black around the classic woodpecker bill; white on the cheeks and forehead; a red crown and a soft yellow throat. Other physical characteristics to look out for are the white rump, white belly with thin dark streaks along the flanks, a black tail and a body length of 8 inches. An adult male Acorn Woodpecker’s red cap merges directly with its white forehead. The females differ in that there is a black section separating the white forehead from the red cap.

As implied by its name, the Acorn Woodpecker’s preferred diet consists of acorns. They will also dine on insects, fruit, sap and nectar. They have also been known to feed on grass seeds, bird eggs and lizards. Foraging typically takes place near the tree canopy and the woodpecker species will seldom be found on the ground. The bird will either remove single acorns from a tree or they may remove an entire twig with up to 3 acorns attached. Sap is eaten as a group with all family members gathering at the sapsucking holes. Acorn Woodpeckers are known for storing acorns for the winter months. The nuts are carefully stored in what is referred to as a granary. A granary tree may be a dead tree or a very old tree with thick bark. Holes are drilled into the tree, some trees have had as many as 50,000 holes counted on them. By living in groups, the Acorn Woodpeckers are able to gather large quantities of nuts as well as defend their stash.

Due to their diet and method of storage, Acorn Woodpeckers are usually found in pine-oak woodlands, riparian corridors, hardwood forests and suburban areas with many trees. They are permanent residents and therefore do not migrate at all. Reproduction rituals can be quite complicated amongst Acorn Woodpeckers. Whilst some are monogamous, other groups engage in cooperative polygyny. Groups may have up to 7 breeding males and 3 egg-laying females. Females will lay their eggs in a joint nest cavity. Nest cavities are located within trees and are gently lined with wood chips. Eggs are white and elliptical in shape numbering up to 6 in a clutch (that of the entire group). The incubation period of Acorn Woodpecker eggs is 11-12 days with both females and males involved in incubation. Nestlings are ready to leave the nest cavity after 30-32 days.

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