Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga) is commonly known as the snakebird, black darter or American darter, and it is closely related to the darter species. The Anhinga has a wingspan of about 4 feet, and is between 32 to 36 inches in length. They are black in color, with smallish heads (almost snakelike), long bills and have patches of almost a silver color on their wings. The most common areas to find the Anhinga, would be South America, between the southeastern United States up to Argentina, and in specific warmer areas of North America.

The Anhinga does have a preferred diet of fish, but will also eat water snakes, tadpoles, frog eggs and young alligators. Therefore, they will live near streams, water canals, fresh water swamps, bays, lagoons or any watery area that can provide them with food. Anhingas have an extraordinary way of hunting for their food. The feathers of an Anhinga are fully wettable; this enables them to dive underwater for their catch, staying under water for quite lengthy periods at a time. They will either swim with only their heads sticking out and dive into the water, or dive down from the air. This significant feature also has its negative side, chiefly a loss of body heat. It is not uncommon to find a snakebird sitting in the sun with its wings open for hours, as they dry their feathers and warm up again.

Prey is often speared with their bills and either tossed into the air so that fish can be swallowed head first, or at times, the catch can get stuck on their bills, forcing the Anhinga to return to shore and hit the fish off against the rocks. When Anhingas’ are heading toward their breeding time, a blue ring forms around their eyes. They build their nests in trees above the water, and construction materials are usually sticks, after which nests are lined with leaves or moss. The female snake-bird will lay about three to five eggs, and the eggs are light blue in color. The incubation period for the eggs is approximately a month.

Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Arctic is a harsh environment and most birds that travel to this harsh environment do so in summer to breed, and then migrate back home. The Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus), Ptarmigan and the snow bunting are some of the few arctic birds that will live there all year round on the snowy tundra. It is not often that the snowy owl will move away from the arctic unless there is a particularly bad winter and their food is scarce. In that case they will leave the arctic and winter in northern Greenland, northern Eurasia, Canadian islands, Wrangel Islands and in North America.

Their name comes from their coloring, which is basically pure white when they are fully grown adults but will change in the summer to a brown with dark stripes and spots. Due to the icy cold environment that they stay in, the birds’ feet have extra thick pads and are covered with feathers to keep them warm. They are one of the largest owl species standing up to 27 inches high, with a wingspan of 45 to 60 inches.

Like other species of owls the Snowy owl has amazing day and night vision, allowing them to see their prey high up in the sky, from where they will swoop down silently and capture it. When the owl catches its prey it will either swallow it whole or it will tear it into big pieces and swallow. They eat hares, voles, lemmings and shrews and will sometimes eat small birds. During spring they will add eggs from swans and waterfowl to their diet.

When the female Snowy owl makes a nest she will stay on the 8 to 10 eggs while the male owl goes out to hunt for food for the both of them as well as protecting her from any danger. Once the owlets are born both the female and male will go out to search for food and at eight weeks of age the owlets will be ready to leave home. It is important that the owlets become independent quickly because the summer months are short and if they cannot look after themselves they will not survive the long icy cold winters.

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.