Arctic Loon (Gavia arctica)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Arctic Loon (Gavia arctica) is of medium size, between 56 – 71 centimeters in length, with the male and female being similar in plumage. The males are just slightly larger than the females. The Arctic Loon has gray coloring on its head and nape, and its back is black with white spots. The neck is striped in black and white with white flanks and it is often difficult to see, but there is either green or purple plumaged on the throat. Its bill is straight, almost dagger-like, and it has black eyes.

Being a coastal bird, the Arctic Loon can be found near the ocean or open lakes and will often be seen around tundra lakes in the summer. It feeds on aquatic foods such as crustaceans, fish and mollusks and is known to eat certain amphibians. They are often seen diving into the water, from the surface, to catch small fish. They will also fly to bigger waters, to find food. The Arctic Loons are migratory birds, and will migrate to the coastal areas around western Alaska for breeding. Arctic Loons are very awkward on land, and take to flight only from the water.

During the breeding season, Arctic Loons will construct their nests on the ground, and use soil and plants as building material. The female can lay up to three eggs, that vary between an olive green to brown color, and have black spots. Both parents assist in the incubation period of the eggs, which is approximately 28 to 30 days.

The Loon species has been divided into two categories, namely the Artic Loon and the Pacific Loon. Both are very similar in plumage, and were therefore considered to be the same specie for many years. The difference can be seen on their throats. Arctic Loons have a greenish plumage and the Arctic Loons that originate from Eurasia have a purple plumage, which is the similar purple color that can be seen on the Pacific Loons. It was also not unusual to see Pacific and Arctic Loons, working together off Japans’ coast, in order to secure food during the winter months. The fishermen used to call them heaven’s messengers, as they would locate the schools of fish, making life a lot easier for the fisherman. Due to the decline in the loon population, these amazing coastal birds no longer practice this survival skill. It is also believed that the change in fishing methods have also influenced this practice.

Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica) is a small sea bird which spends most of its life living on the open ocean. It is also known as the Common Puffin and it is the only puffin species which occurs in the Atlantic Ocean. All three other puffin species are found in the Pacific. When they are not mating and nesting, Puffins spend their time flying, swimming or riding the vast watery ocean, regardless of the weather. They feed primarily on fish, although they have also been known to eat crustaceans and molluscs. When diving for fish, they make use of their specially adapted wings as a means of propulsion while their webbed feet steer them. They are able to catch several small fish in their bills during the course of one dive, making use of their tongue to trap the fish while their mouths are open. Amazingly, these small pigeon-sized birds can dive to depths between 50 and 200 feet.

The species is primarily characterised by their brightly-coloured orange bills which only gain colour before the mating season. The male is slightly larger than the female and their bodies are mainly black on the top with a white underbelly. Their faces are grey and they have short, red-orange legs. Their bodies average between 28-34 cm in length and they have a wingspan of between 50 and 60 cm. During the winter months, these puffins may travel as far south as the Mediterranean and North Carolina. When it is mating season, the Atlantic Puffin can be found off the coasts of northern Europe, the Faroe Islands, Iceland and the eastern parts of North America. They also occur in the Arctic Circle and in northern France and Maine.

Every year near April, puffins start to grow brightly coloured bill plates as they move north towards their breeding grounds. These bills are used in courtship rituals and a pair will usually tap their bills together. After the mating season these brightly coloured bill plates are shed. The male puffin will clear out the nest area for the female he has found before she arrives at the nesting ground, lining it with suitable materials. The female then lays a single egg and the pair share incubation responsibilities. After between 39-45 days, the chick will hatch and then after a further 49 days, will be ready to fledge. When it is old enough it will venture out to sea alone and begin life as a young puffin adult. At about 5-6 years of age, the young puffin will become sexually mature and be ready to mate and produce offspring.

Emperor Goose (Chen canagica)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Emperor Goose (Chen canagica) is a beautiful bird species that can be found in Alaska as well as certain areas in Russia. Whilst it breeds in Alaska and Russia, the geese spend winter in the Aleutian Islands and occasionally a few end up on the Pacific Coast. When in the area, you certainly will want to keep your eyes peeled for these fine birds.

The Emperor Goose is about 18 inches in length with a wing span of 43 inches. The body is gray and the feathers are tipped in black and white. The feet and legs are distinctively orange. Adult Emperor Geese have a notable white head and nape with a black throat and pink bill. The black throat of the Emperor Goose distinguishes it from the Blue Goose. Oftentimes the neck and head will be stained a rust color from the iron of the tundra waters.

Nest sites are chosen by the female Emperor Goose just before she is ready to lay an egg. The nest is carefully lined with dead vegetation and down feathers later added in. The male Emperor Goose keeps a watch on the nest and female, chasing other males off from the nest area. The brave males will even attack predators or distract their attention from the nest. Clutch size for Emporer Geese ranges from 3 to 8 eggs. Incubation by the female lasts 23 to 27 days. Young ones leave the nest in about 50 to 60 days. In the breeding season, Emperor Geese will feed on plant matter. In winter their diet changes to mostly marine vegetation and invertebrates.

As the population of Emperor Geese is reduced and their range is limited, this bird species is vulnerable to a number of threats, including oil spills. Their lower numbers could also be due to subsistence hunting. A number of conservation management guidelines have been created for the preservation of the species. One such guideline states that, should the population drop below 60,000 for a period of 3 years, all hunting must be halted. Large sections of breeding sites are under the protection of the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge. Winter habitats are under guard by the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. If you are interested in assisting in maintaining populations of Emperor Geese, there are a number of conservation initiatives which you can support.

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.

Migration Flights Test Bird Stamina

October 27, 2008 by  
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It has long been known that migrating birds embark on particularly long and grueling journeys when they cross the oceans. What hasn’t been known for sure is whether or not they somehow stop along the way – until now that is. A Bar-tailed Godwit has been bestowed with the title ‘endurance champion of the animal kingdom’ after completing his epic 7,200 mile flight across the Pacific Ocean nonstop.

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