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.

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.

American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Eastern or American Goldfinch, Latin name Carduelis tristis, is a member of the finch, Fringillidae, family. It is a typical North American seed eating bird and so only starts nesting in mid to late summer, when weed seeds are available. Because they are late breeders the goldfinch stays in a flock for much longer than other species of birds that have already formed pairs and have begun breeding. Due to late nesting, only one single brood is raised every year.

The goldfinch is about 11 to 13 cm long, smaller than a sparrow. These little birds breed all over southern Canada and from Newfoundland to British Columbia, as well as in the northern and southern states of America. They like open spaces with trees spotted around, like orchards and alongside the road.

American Goldfinches have been studied quite extensively and it has been found that when they migrate they often hesitate before they fly over water, with some even returning to the mainland. It takes the main leader of the group to head out over the water before the others, one by one, will follow along. It won’t be long before they will return to the water’s edge, chatting away noisily to each other almost as if they are gathering courage. Again they will try head over the water and those that remain will return to land until winter forces the birds to complete their migration.

The breeding male is bright yellow in colour with a white rump and a black forehead. The wings and tail are black with a white outer edge; the wings differentiate from the tail because of having an extra splash of yellow on the bend of each wing. The male and female have a dull olive-gray winter coat with black wings, tail and white stripes on their wings. When spring comes around again the goldfinches lose all their dark winter feathers and once again regain their striking orange bill. The male American Goldfinch differs from the female in that the rest of his body goes a canary yellow with a black cap.

Common Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Common Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) is found almost worldwide and it is very adaptable to its environment, living in desert, tropical rainforest and polar regions. Also known as the Common Gallinule in North America, this bird tends to favour well-vegetated lakes as breeding environments. The birds are usually reclusive, but have been known be become quite tame in certain areas. Those that live in areas where lakes and other bodies of water tend to freeze over in winter generally migrate to more temperate parts of the globe during the colder months.

This bird has quite distinctive markings. The adult’s head, neck, breast and belly are slate grey while its bill is red with a yellow tip. There is a red frontal shield above the bill and the upperwings are a brownish color. The upper flank has a clearly visible white stripe, while the feet are a greenish yellow. Interestingly, while a juvenile has many of the same characteristics, it has somewhat less color on its body and wings. The head and underparts are a pale gray-brown while the upperparts are a dark-grey brown. The bill is not yet bright red, though the stripe on the flanks and other colouring is more or less present. The average Common Moorhen has a body length of 10.5 inches and a wingspan of 21 inches. The wings and tail are fairly short in comparison to other duck-like waterbirds and the bill is thick and short. They are comfortable in the air, on the water and on land and the sexes are similar in appearance.

The Common Moorhen makes its nest on the ground in amongst dense vegetation. Their nests take the form of a roofed basket and they may lay between 8-12 eggs in it. Both parents work hard to incubate the eggs over a period of 3 weeks and then they take it in turns to feed the young. They are capable of producing more than one brood in a year and so, despite certain environmental changes and other negative conditions, the bird has been able to remain fairly common and widespread.

Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Golden eagle’s scientific name is Aquila chrysaetos and it is part of the Booted or True Eagle family. These beautiful birds can be found throughout the northern hemisphere, living in prairie coulees, mountainous areas and in rugged terrains that create a profuse amount of updrafts.

The golden eagle is about 3 feet or just under a metre, weighing about 15 pounds or 7 kg’s and has a wingspan of about 7 feet or 2 metres. The colour of the eagle is a dark yellowish brown and the bird can live between fifteen and twenty years.

The golden eagle’s territory is in remote areas where it lives a solitary life even through winter. This great hunter, hunts in a large territory that can be up to 162 square miles or 260 square km in size. Due to its expertise in hunting it’s not very often that you will see it eating carrion. The golden eagle eats a wide variety of small animals like the marmots, groundhogs, snakes, pheasants, rabbits, cats, foxes, skunks, grouse, ground squirrel, meadowlarks, crows and tortoises.

The golden eagle will start mating at the age of four years and will stay paired with the same mate for as long as it lives. Occasionally they build their nest in a tree but prefer to nest on cliff faces or in rocky crags, returning every year to the same nest. The female golden eagle will lay between one to three eggs once every year and will do the majority of the 41 to 45 day incubation of the eggs. The male golden eagle’s job is to regularly supply the female with food and together they share the responsibility of looking after and raising the young. When the eaglets are first born they weigh about three ounces and will stay in the nest between nine to eleven weeks before they fledge.

Depending on the territory of the golden eagle, they will either live in their nesting territory throughout the year, or if there is a lack of food in winter, they will migrate a short distance away because of their excellent hunting abilities.