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.

Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris)

February 9, 2009 by  
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Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris) are widely distributed through North America, and are the most common hummingbirds in eastern North America. They embark on a most difficult migration of 18 to 20 hours non-stop across the Gulf. A truly beautiful bird, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are frequent garden visitors and quickly become accustomed to human presence.

The Ruby-throated Hummingbird averages a length of 3.5 inches or 8.9 cm with a mass of 3.1 g. Adult males have an emerald green back with a ruby-red iridescent throat. The flanks are gray and his tail is forked. The larger female Ruby-throated Hummingbird also has an emerald green back, but has a white breast and throat. Her tail is rounded and tipped with white. Juvenile offspring resemble the female, the males developing the red gorget over time. Interestingly, as with other hummingbirds, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird’s wings beat extremely fast averaging 52 beats per second. Everything about these birds is fast, respiration is at 250 per minute and the heart rate reaches 1 200 beats a minute when feeding. Under normal conditions they fly at a speed of 48 km/h. In a dive they reach 101 km/h. The fast beating of the little wings of the hummingbird make a distinctive humming sound whilst they emit rapid chipping calls. The Ruby-throated Hummingbird has very short legs and has to shuffle across the item it is perching on.

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds feed only on nectar and insects (moths, butterflies and bees), using their long bills to reach inside flowers. They are easily drawn to garden bird feeders specially designed for their feeding habits. Males will even become very territorial over their feeder and guard it aggressively. Following an almost non-existent courtship the female will lay 2 tiny eggs in the minute nest built of bud scales. The nest is intricately designed with spider silk attaching it to a tree branch and lichen on the outside as camouflage. The inside of the nest is carefully lined with thistle down, cattail or dandelion. Incubation by the female lasts for about 60 to 80 days. Normally young ones will stay in the nest for 18 to 23 days, though this can vary greatly according to circumstances. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are fascinating birds, a wonder to the eye, so why not purchase a nectar feeder and draw them to your garden.

Black-Capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapilla)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Black-Capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapilla) is one of the most popular bird species in North America. This cute little bird with its cheerful hop can be seen frequenting bird feeders throughout the year. A marvelous little bird, the Black-Capped Chickadee has a number of fascinating behaviors and is a delight in any garden. Living throughout Canada, the range of the Black-Capped Chickadee extends from Newfoundland through to British Columbia and up to Yukon all across the North-west Territories. Be sure to look out for this lively bird when in those areas.

The Black-Capped Chickadee is a small bird species measuring about 5 inches, or 12 cm. They have a short bill and distinctive black crown and bib with bright white cheeks. The upper parts of the bird are gray whilst the wing coverts are edged in white. A rusty color marks the flanks whilst the underparts are gray-white. Black-Capped Chickadees have complex calls, forming their own language. Chickadees travel in small flocks and have a distinctive hierarchy. The more aggressive the bird, the higher the bird’s rank. High ranking birds receive privileges such as the best food, safest areas and they tend to have greater survival rates. Pairing also takes place according to rank.

Foraging begins at sunrise for Black-Capped Chickadees. Hopping along through the trees the little birds seek out tasty creatures in all the little cracks and holes. Their diet includes insect eggs, larvae, weevils, sawflies and other little creatures. During summer and fall, the Black-Capped Chickadees begin storing food, hiding it under bark, in lichen patches and so forth. These remarkable birds are able to remember thousands of hiding spots. In colder times they will dine on seeds which provide more energy.

Black-Capped Chickadee courtship begins in February and March. Slowly the flock pairs off in search of a nesting place. Males rigorously defend the area against intruders. The nest is made in a hole that the pair dig in a dead stump or rotting wood. The female chickadee will lay 5 to 10 eggs. Incubation lasts 13 to 14 days, and within 16 to 17 days, the young Black-Capped Chickadees can leave the nest, while being fed by their parents for another 2 to 3 weeks.

Black-Capped Chickadees are great garden pest controllers and friendly creatures to have around, so why not make efforts to protect this hardy bird species.

Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) is a very large bird at a length of 25 inches and a 72 inch wingspan. These broad wings allow the vulture to soar in the skies for great lengths of time. At intervals, the vulture will flap its wings slowly and then continue to soar. Both the males and females are similar in appearance, with the females generally larger than the males. They have bills that are of average length and are hooked at the tip. Their heads are red in color and have no plumage, with short red legs and are predominantly dark brown to black in color. Even though this scavenger of the sky is not much to look at, it is their graceful flight ability that attracts us to this species, as many of the practiced adult vultures rarely need to flap their wings, instead they are able to ride the wind elegantly while searching larges areas for food.

Turkey Vultures are commonly found throughout Northern America and Canada, and have also been sighted in South and Central America. These vultures are usually solitary hunters, and prefer rocky cliffs, open ranges, open forest areas, and can also be seen at near agricultural regions at times. The coastal shores will also be searched for any washed up fish or dead seals. But mostly they will feed on domestic and wild carrion, and eating takes place on the ground, as their claws are too weak to carry their food to another location. Vultures will often fly close to ground, as they use their sense of smell to pick up blood and other odors that can lead them to the dead animal. This ability to process smell makes it possible for the Turkey Vulture to locate food under the forest canopies. They will  only eat dead animals and contrary to popular belief, circling vultures do not necessarily mean that there is a dead animal. Vultures often circle the skies during play, to gain altitude and to search for their food.

Turkey Vultures will either nest on the ground or in caves. Nests are not built or constructed, but hollows are dug into the ground or in the cave soil. Vultures that live near agricultural lands will often use sheds or barns to offer protection to their nest. The female vulture can lay one to three eggs, but most commonly lays two. Both the male and female vultures will care for the eggs during the incubation period that can last for 38 to 41 days. Parents will feed the chicks regurgitated food, and chicks will fledge the nest between 70 to 80 days after hatching.

Cinnamon Teal (Anas cyanoptera)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Cinnamon Teal (Anas cyanoptera) is easily distinguished by its plumage, and the males and females can by determined by their coloring. Males have a cinnamon-red coloring over their belly, flanks, head and neck. Their backs are predominantly dark brown, with long bills and red eyes. The females have brown eyes, gray bills, and pale coloring over their heads. Their body plumage is somewhat mottled with browns and a dark back. They also have a light blue patch of plumage on the upper part of their wings. There is also a distinctive pale ring around their eyes. Juvenile males have a similar coloring to the females.

These dabbling ducks, are commonly found in western North America, including areas of California, Texas and Mexico. The Cinnamon Teals are always found in small flocks with female and male pairs. Flocks will generally frequent lakes, streams, small rivers and ponds. They need the water areas to have reeds or plants round the edges, as they feed in shallow waters and live off seeds, plants and on the odd occasion, insects. Cinnamon teals are extremely comfortable on the water, and can dive beneath the surface to find food and can also take off from the water, with quite astounding speed.

During the breeding period, females will find a suitable partner and swim in front of him. To attract the attention of the females, males will preen themselves to perfection and take quick flights to impress her. The female Cinnamon Teal takes care of building the nest, and uses plant stems, grass and other plant materials for construction. The nest is built with a tunnel that leads to it through the plants as she constructs her nest under reeds and plants to obstruct it from view. She will lay between nine to twelve eggs, and takes care of the three week incubation period. The chicks hatch already covered in down, which enables them to leave the nest within 34 hours of hatching. The female Cinnamon Teal will remain with her chicks until they fledge her protection, at the age of approximately one and half months.

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