Little Stint (Calidris minuta)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Little Stint (Calidris minuta) is located throughout Europe and Africa, and is generally found in areas that have water sources. It prefers mudflats, beaches, estuaries, island tundra and coastal tundra. This 13 to 18 centimeter little wader bird is part of the Sandpiper family and is a rusty brown color over its breast, face and neck, with spots of black. Its back and wings are scale-brown and it has a white belly. The back also has an extremely distinctive white “V” when the bird is in flight. Both sexes look similar and in winter the adult Stint changes in color to gray-brown streaks and dull brown wings and upper body parts. The Stint has black eyes and a dagger-like bill. This little bird only weighs a mere 23 grams and has a wingspan of about 28 to 30 centimeters. Flight is very swift, with extremely rapid wing beats.

There is sometimes a little confusion when identifying the Little Stints amongst the other wader birds. It is therefore important to take extra care in noticing the plumage pattern on the wings, coloring and being aware of the little hind toe that is visible on the Little Stints’ feet. Birds such as Sanderlings are generally paler in color and larger in size, while Timmincks’ Stints have yellow-green coloring on their legs. This wader bird feeds mostly on insects but will also feed on mollusks and crustaceans. Being a migratory bird, the Little Stint will migrate to Asia and Africa during the cold, winter months.

During the bird breeding season, nests will be constructed from a ground scraping, and is lined with dwarf birch leaves and willow. The female Stint will lay between three to five eggs, which are either olive green or yellow in color and have red-brown spots on the shell. Both the male and female will be active in the 21 to 23 day incubation period. It is not unusual for the Little Stint to incubate two nests at the same time. After the chicks have hatched, it takes approximately fifteen to eighteen days for the young chicks to learn to fly, and fledge the nest.

Northern Gannet (Morus bassanus)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The beautiful Northern Gannet (Morus bassanus) is one of the three gannet subspecies that are found in the world. While the Northern Gannet is commonly found in the North Atlantic, the other two species are found on the south coast of Africa and in Tasmania and New Zealand so it is unlikely that you will wrongly identify them. These birds are rather unique since they can see forward with both eyes (binocular vision) – something which not many bird species are capable of. They are also powerful and fast flying birds who are capable of gliding just above the surface of the water for hours – though they do not take off or land well. They are excellent divers and eat small fish such as herring, mackerel, capelin, sandlance and sometimes on squid which can be found near the surface of the water. Northern Gannets have also been called ‘solan’s’, ‘solan geese’ and ‘solant birds’.

The adult gannet has striking white plumage with narrow grey spectacles and jet-black wingtips that taper to a point. During breeding season their head and neck take on a delicate yellow tint that contrasts with their blue eyes and blue-grey bills beautifully. Males and females look the same and juveniles are brown with white flecks. These youngsters get progressively whiter each season until they get their adult plumage at the age of four or five. Adults are 87-100 cm in length with a wingspan of 165-180 cm. Gannets are migratory and normally spend their winters at sea. However, during breeding season they will head to their breeding grounds – usually to the same nest until it is simply too filthy to use – where they perform elaborate greeting rituals with their partner.

Gannets live in large groups called gannetries, which can be found on steep cliffs or offshore islands. This isolation from land or steepness means that nesting birds are usually safe from predators. Northern Gannets will often abandon their nests if they are disturbed. Often nesting birds will nest so closely at these colonies that the cliff may appear to be covered in snow. The female lays a single egg, which both parents incubate. After hatching both parents care for the chick until it is old enough to fend for itself. Once it has left the nest, it learns the specialised ‘plunge-diving’ technique through instinct.

Purple Martin (Progne subis)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Purple Martin (Progne subis) is generally recognised as being the largest North American swallow. Its body measures about 20 cm in length and it has a wingspan of 39-41 cm. The Purple Martin is an incredibly acrobatic flyer. Today they are commonly found nesting in backyard birdhouses. The Purple Martin has been making use of nesting boxes in eastern North America for well over a century. This is the case because Native Americans once hung up empty gourds for these birds to use as homes, starting a tradition that European settlers continued on their arrival. While those birds found in the eastern part of the country use birdhouses almost exclusively, those in the west tend to prefer natural cavities.

Purple Martins are not as easily identified as other bird species due to the fact that they display a lot of variance until about two years of age. The adult bird is a large swallow with a large head, thick chest and broad, pointed wings with a slightly forked tail. The male’s entire body is a bluish black while the underparts of the female are light in colour. Males approaching adulthood look similar to females but with solid black feathers randomly erupting on their chest. Females approaching adulthood do not yet have a steel blue sheen on their backs. While most of these birds are found in eastern North America, some can also be found between British Columbia and Mexico on the west coast. Those living on the west coast generally make use of woodpecker holes and cactus cavities as nesting sites. They are also somewhat paler than their eastern relatives.

Unfortunately Purple Martins are often targeted by House Sparrows and Common Starlings – two invasive species which kill Martins in order to make use of their nest cavities. In order to have these beautiful little birds breed successfully, these invader species must be actively controlled and removed from their nesting site. Purple Martins are migratory and they generally fly to the Amazon basin in the winter months. They feed mainly on insects which they usually catch in mid flight. They also drink their water by scooping it up whilst flying.

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