Neotropic Cormorant (Phalacrocorax brasilianus)

February 9, 2009 by  
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Most commonly found in the American tropics and subtropics, the Neotropic Cormorant (Phalacrocorax brasilianus) is a fairly large bird that generally nests around well-watered areas or lakes and rivers. Besides being found on the mainland of North America as far up as Rio Grand and the Californian coast through to Mexico, Central America and the southern parts of South America, it can also be found on smaller landmasses such as the Bahamas, Cuba and Trinidad. Most of these birds are permanent residents, though some do wander north in the warmer months. Because the bird is so widespread, some ornithologists prefer to treat those found north as one species and those found in the south as another species. However, they can also be grouped into the subspecies Phalacrocorax brasilianus mexicanus (the northern birds) and Phalacrocorax brasilianus brasilianus (the southern birds) and the two are therefore often grouped together as one species of cormorant. The Neotropic Cormorant was formerly known as the Olivaceous Cormorant.

Neotropic Cormorants usually have a body length of 64 cm with a wingspan of 100 cm. They can weigh between 1 and 1.5 kg and those found in the south are usually bigger than those found in the north. Neotropic Cormorants are somewhat slender compared to other cormorants and they have a long tail, hooked bill and long, thin neck, which it frequently holds in an S-shape. The Gular region is pointed and dull yellow in colour and there is a thin pale border around this area. The adult bird has dark plumage covering its entire body, though the throat becomes whiter during breeding season with white tufts appearing on the sides of the head. Immature Neotropic Cormorants have dull brown upperparts and pale underparts.

The Neotropic Cormorant is somewhat different from other cormorants in that it often perches on wires. When it does perch, it is usually with wings spread wide open to dry. These birds feed mainly on small fish and also eat tadpoles, frogs and aquatic insects. They obtain their food by diving underwater and using their feet as a means of propulsion. The Neotropic Cormorant may also forage in groups, beating their wings in the water to drive the fish into the shallows. When it comes to mating, the birds are monogamous and they breed in colonies. They usually build their nest out of sticks in a depression. The centre is usually lined with twigs and grass and cater to as many as five eggs. Both parents sit on the eggs for a period of 25-30 days and then both work together to feed the young until the chicks reach independence at 12 weeks of age. Neotropic Cormorants raise only one brood a year.

Ring-necked Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus)

February 9, 2009 by  
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Also known as the Common Pheasant, the Ring-necked Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) originated in Asia but was introduced to North America and is now well established over much of the continent. It was also taken to Britain in the 10th century but had to be reintroduced in the 1830s as the original birds died out in the 17th century. Today it is also well established in that country. It is generally regarded as being a game-bird and is often bred for hunting purposes. However, there are several breeding facilities which not only supply hunters but restaurants with these birds. Since the meat can be tought and dry, farm-raised birds are prefereable for consumption.

Generally speaking the Ring-necked Pheasant is a distinctive and colorful species. Its body usually measures between 50-90 cm with the tail often accounting for half the total length. The bird has a chunky shape, round wings and a long tail. The head is small and set on a thin neck. The adult male has a green head with a pale bill and red facial skin around the eye. There is a bold white ring around its neck from which its name is derived. The rest of its plumage is somewhat golden in color with blue and green iridescence as well as black spotting randomly dispersed all over its body. The tail has long, pointed golden feathers with black barring while the legs are spurred. The adult female’s head and underparts are a buffy brown. Her back is dark brown and she has black spots and bars scattered around her head, neck and flanks. Her tail has no barring and she also does not have any spurs. Juveniles resemble females until about two months of age.

Generally speaking this ground-bird prefers cultivated agricultral lands that are interspersed with marshes, hedges and brushy groves. They prefer to run rather than fly and have a short wingspan of only 56-86 cm. Ring-necked Pheasants feed on seeds, grasses, leaves, roots, nuts, wild fruit and insects. They usually nest on the ground in amongst tall grass or weeds in a scrape which is sparsely lined with vegetation. The female may lay between 7-15 eggs in her nest and her chicks are able to leave the nest and feed themselves shortly after hatching. Males are polygynous and usually defend their harem of females from other males quite fiercely. When they are not nesting, Ring-necked Phesants usually roost in trees.

American Kestrel (Falco sparverious)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The American Kestrel (Falco sparverious) can be easily identified by its unique markings. They have a wingspan of 21 inches and measure 8.5 inches in length. The American Kestrel has a short, hooked beak, and the adult males have rust patches on their crown, tail, breast, back and nape. Their bellies are pale in color, and have dark feathers at intervals, which creates a spotted effect. Black spots can also be found on the wings coverts, flanks and on the scapulars. The immature males have streaked breasts and have predominantly rust and black coloring on their backs. The female American Kestrels are streaked with brown across their chests, and their wings and back are predominantly black. This tiny little falcon might not be colorful, but is the most commonly found raptor in North America.

American Kestrels can generally be found in the stretch of land between Alaska and Tierra de Feugo. These North American birds are also comfortable living in populated areas. American Kestrels are extremely interesting birds when it comes to their hunting tactics. A suitable perch to view the ground from is preferable, but they are not dependant on seating arrangements. These North American birds are very graceful during flight, and can reach high speeds quite rapidly. If an American Kestrel is hunting without being able to perch themselves, they are able to hover over a specific area. Hover-hunting is not favorable though, as they are easily spotted by their prey. American Kestrels are raptors, and therefore their prey usually consists of rats, mice, young squirrels and bats. They will also eat other birds, worms, beetles, crickets and dragonflies. Small reptiles and amphibians may also make it onto the American Kestrel’s menu.

During the winter months, it is believed that the females migrate south first, giving them the opportunity to find and establish territories during the winter months. The females prefer the open habitats, and the males are usually found in the more wooded areas. It seems that their winter homes are not by choice, but having to take whatever area is left unoccupied by the females.

The nesting period for American Kestrels starts approximately during mid-March, with the females laying their eggs, usually four to six, in the beginning of April. The incubation period for a female American Kestrel
is between 28 to 30 days. During this time, the male will hunt on behalf of the female. Another strange attribute exclusive to the American Kestrel, is its nesting habits. They are known to squirt feces on the walls of the nest cavity, which is left to dry. The feces together with the remains of half eaten prey does not make this nest the best smelling home in North America, and it is no surprise that the young kestrels decide to fledge the nest after 28 to 30 days.

Rock Ptarmigan (Lagopus mutus)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Rock Ptarmigan (Lagopus mutus) has features similar to a chicken with a small black bill. The tail is a square shape and it is between 11 to 16 inches long. The Ptarmigan’s legs and toes are feathered, which helps them walk through the snow and keep warm without a problem. During the summer periods the male Ptarmigan has as whitish belly and wings with a dappled grey and brown back. The male bird has a red comb that falls over their eyes. The females on the other hand are completely dappled grey and brown. In winter the Rock Ptarmigan’s coloring completely changes to a snow-white color, excepting for a black tip on its tail and a black line over its eyes.

The Ptarmigan’s territory is circumpolar, which means it spreads in a circle around the arctic. In North America they can be found in Northern Canada and Alaska and in other places like Scandinavia, Greenland, Finland and Russia. Their habitat is mainly in upland tundras that have willows, thickets and heath, and in alpine areas. They eat insects now and again but their diet is mainly made up of a variety of different plant parts, which include twigs, buds and berries.

The adult Rock Ptarmigan will look for a suitable breeding territory and once he has selected one he will protect it from other male birds. The male Ptarmigan will protect his territory with aerial displays, by chasing other males or by calls. Aerial displays consist of the male leaping into the air while flapping his wings; he flies straight up, then fans his tail out and gently glides back to the ground.

The Rock Ptarmigans‘ courtship is something to watch, the male will drag one of his wings on the ground, fan his tail out, raise his red comb and basically circle the female he is interested in. The female will make a nest out of a sheltered hollow and line it with pieces of moss and grass. Here she will lay between six and ten eggs. The male and female will stay paired up until incubation reaches half way, from then on the female Ptarmigan is on her own. After just under a month the chicks will hatch. A day after the chicks have hatched they are already searching for food in amongst the tundra. The chicks fledge after two weeks and are completely independent from about three months.

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.

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