The Mississippi Flyway: An Essential Migration Route

December 18, 2012 by  
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Starting in central Canada and stretching to the Gulf of Mexico, the Mississippi Flyway is the name given to the route followed by birds migrating from their breeding grounds in North America to their wintering grounds in the south. The flyway includes Canada’s Mackenzie River which flows north through uninhabited forest and tundra into the Arctic Ocean, with tributaries reaching southwards, feeding into and out of a number of lakes, including the Great Slave Lake, Great Bear Lake and Lake Athabasca. As the name suggests, the Mississippi Flyway follows the route of the Mississippi River in the United States – North America’s largest river system. Originating in northern Minnesota, the slow-flowing river travels southwards for a distance of 2,530 miles, cutting through, or forming a border for, the states of Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Kentucky and Tennessee to before emptying into the Mississippi River Delta at the Gulf of Mexico.

According to Audubon, nearly half of the bird species and up to forty percent of the waterfowl of North America spend part of their lives in the Mississippi Flyway. With spectacular forests, grasslands and wetlands, the route provides good sources of food and water, with no mountainous areas to navigate along the entire route. The greatest elevation above sea level along the route is below 2,000 feet. The route is used by large numbers of geese, ducks, shorebirds, sparrows, blackbirds, thrushes and warblers, the majority of which cut across the Gulf of Mexico, providing excellent birding opportunities along the coasts of Louisiana and Texas.

Unfortunately, years of exploitation of natural resources by man has taken its toll on the environment, with waterways being diverted for irrigation having an impact on the habitat that birds and other wildlife rely on. A combination of dams, locks and levees have reduced the Mississippi to less than ten percent of its original floodplain with an estimated nineteen square miles of delta wetlands disappearing annually. Thanks to the efforts of Audubon, which has offices in Minnesota, Indiana, Ohio, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi, efforts to preserve habitats along the Mississippi Flyway are making a difference to the birds that make use of the route each year. Audubon is currently focusing intensive conservation efforts on twenty-seven bird species along the Mississippi Flyway, namely: Mottled Duck; Greater Prairie-Chicken; Brown Pelican; Little Blue Heron; Reddish Egret; Swallow-tailed Kite; Clapper Rail; Snowy Plover; Wilson’s Plover; Piping Plover; American Oystercatcher; Upland Sandpiper; Ruddy Turnstone; Red Knot; Sanderling; Western Sandpiper; Short-billed Dowitcher; Least Tern; Black Skimmer; Prothonotary Warbler; Swainson’s Warbler; Cerulean Warbler; Grasshopper Sparrow; Henslow’s Sparrow; Seaside Sparrow; Bobolink; and Eastern Meadowlark.

Fraser Valley Bald Eagle Festival 2012

September 18, 2012 by  
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Taking place in one of the most biologically diverse and important birding areas in British Columbia, the very popular Fraser Valley Bald Eagle Festival offers a unique view of these majestic raptors which are drawn to the area by the countless numbers of spawning salmon making their way up the Fraser River. Birding enthusiasts will also had a good chance of veiwing trumpeter swans, ducks and other birds, as well as seals, bears, coyotes and deer. For more information visit fraservalleybaldeaglefestival.ca

Dates: 17-18 November 2012
Venue: Fraser Valley
City: Mission
State: British Columbia
Country: Canada

Wings Over the Rockies

February 16, 2011 by  
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The 2011 theme for Wings Over the Rockies is “Celebrating Our Valley, Celebrating the People. As the 15th anniversary the event, it will be honoring nature and the people who created and continue to support the festival. The festival schedule includes about 70 educational events, such as field trips, presentation, river paddles and an art exhibit. This is a thrilling an educational event for anyone interested in birds and the natural heritage of Columbia Valley Wetlands.

Date: 2 to 8 May 2011
Venue: Pynelogs Cultural Centre
City: Invermere
State: British Columbia
Country: Canada

The Americas IBA Directory

May 19, 2010 by  
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The conservation of rare birdlife has been the focus of Birdlife International for many years. In 1995 they began a project by the name of IBA, or Important Bird Area Program, to pinpoint areas across the globe that are home to endangered species, identifying the various species and protecting those areas to assist in conserving vital birdlife. At present, more than ten thousand of these areas have been identified, and conservation and environmental initiatives have been implemented. Now a new program has been established, namely the Americas IBA Directory.

Hundreds of bird species will benefit from the Americas IBA Directory, as it will be a guideline for both conservationists and for authorities. The directory covers 57 different countries and has 2 345 of the most significant areas listed that need to be protected at all costs. Authorities will be able to refer to the directory to find out which of their areas are vital to the survival of birdlife, which bird species are located in that area and the biodiversity of the area, to enable them to take the right steps in protecting the natural habitat and the birds. Some areas that have been listed are significant in the migratory patterns of certain species, while others are crucial nesting sites for numerous endangered birds. Due to a number of these areas being inhabited by local communities, also relying on the natural resources such as water, authorities can assist these communities with sustainable development that will not only benefit the communities but the birdlife as well.

Hundreds of organizations have provided support and assistance in the compiling of the Americas IBA Directory. President of Bird Studies Canada, George Finney, explained: “From breeding grounds in Canada, to wintering sites in the south, and all points in between, it is imperative that we understand what is happening to bird populations and the forces that drive change. Bird Studies Canada is proud to work closely with our international partners on this issue, so that better management decisions and conservation actions can be taken.” A large number of agencies will be working together as IBA Caretakers, tracking migratory patterns and data in regard to bird populations, to note changes being made by the birds, and keeping the IBA Directory as up to date and accurate as possible.

Birding at Algonquin Park in Ontario

February 9, 2010 by  
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The Algonquin Provincial Park was established in the year 1893 to protect the headwaters of the area’s five major rivers. The beauty and biodiversity of the park has inspired many books and paintings, and thousands of visitors are welcomed to the park each year. Located in one of the most picturesque areas of Ontario, Canada, the Algonquin Provincial Park offers tourists tranquility, beauty and a large variety of activities. One particularly popular activity in the park is bird watching.

The fact that Algonquin Provincial Park has approximately seven thousand insect species in the park might sound insignificant to some, but without the insects, the pollination of plant life would not happen and the habitats in which the birds and animals live would no longer exist. The varied vegetation provides both animal and bird life with vital resources. Also found in the park, are two forest types, namely the coniferous forests and southern hardwood forests, creating a home for a vast number of different birds. Visitors and avid bird watchers can therefore look forward to seeing birds such as the Brown Thrasher, Indigo Bunting, Spruce Grouse, Wood Thrush, Boreal Chikadee, Gray Jay, Common Loon and many others that form part of the 272 species in the park. In addition, the Algonquin Provincial Park offers bird related programs such as Birds in Winter, Owl Prowl and Bird Adaptations. Talks are also held in the evenings in the park’s outdoor theatre, covering a wide variety of topics related to the park. Guided tours are available as well as a bird species checklist.

After a day of bird watching visitors can explore other features at the park, such as the picnic areas, stores, bookstore, backpacking trails, museum, art centre, restaurants and beaches. There are also a few lodges in the park enabling visitors to extend their stay and maybe explore the breathtaking bird life found along the rivers on the canoe routes. Bird watching in Canada is a rewarding experience and the Algonquin Provincial Park offers visitors everything they could need for an unforgettable bird watching adventure and family vacation.

Common Redpoll (Carduelis flammea)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Common Redpoll (Carduelis flammea) is a fairly small bird that is commonly found in open subarctic coniferous forest and scrub during the breeding season. In winter it favours open woodland, scrub, weedy fields and suburban areas. It generally avoids dense forests, and displays an irregular migratory pattern, migrating only every few years during the winter months when wild food may be scarce on their normal winter grounds. Though they generally spend most of the time in the upper half of North America and Canada, they have been known to fly as far away as Europe and Asia.

This little bird is between 12-14 cm in length and has a wingspan of 19-22 cm. They weigh only about 11-20 grams and have highly variable plumage characteristics. Generally speaking, the Common Redpoll is a small finch with a small, conical-shaped yellow bill. It has a black chin and lores, red forehead and pale brown body with streaks. The eye line is dark and the cheeks are a paler in colour than the rest of the head and nape. The wings and tail are dark in colour and there are two white wingbars on each wing. Flight and tail feathers are grey with buff-colored edges while the rump is pale and also streaked with grey. Males may have a pink to deep rose wash across their chest. Females do not have this pink colouration.

The Common Redpoll feeds on a variety of small seeds such as birch, willow, alder, grasses and weeds. They generally feed on small branches, using their feet to hold the food down while they pick it off with their beaks. They also have foodpouches which they can use to temporarily store seeds, allowing them to gorge themselves quickly before they fly away to a safer spot to enjoy their food at leisure. The Common Redpoll has also been known to frequent bird feeders. Their nests are made of fine twigs, rootlets and grasses which they weave together into a cup-like shape. They may use feathers or hair to line the nest which is usually found in a small tree or shrub. The female may lay between 4-6 spotted eggs out of which small, helpless and fairly featherless chicks hatch a few weeks later. Once they have lost their down feathers, the immature Common Redpoll resembles the adult bird.

King Eider (Somateria spectabilis)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The King Eider (Somateria spectabilis) is a magnificent bird, receiving its name due to the male’s orange knob on the bill and marvelous blue crown. Whilst the female doesn’t compare to the male in physical attractiveness, both genders are remarkable sea-faring birds and certainly worth looking out for.

With the silhouette of a large diving duck, the King Eider measures in at 18 inches in length with a wingspan of 37 inches. The males and females are distinctly different in appearance. During breeding season the male is easily identified by his gentle blue crown and bright orange bill and knob. His back, flanks, tail and belly are black, whilst the neck and breast are white with a spot of white near the tail. Female King Eiders are well camouflaged in gray-brown feathers with fine barring in black. When breeding season is over the males slowly change to a color similar to that of the females but with black wings and a noticeable white patch upon the fore-wing. You are likely to hear the King Eider before you see it. Males call with a low “croo croo crooo”. Females have a diversity of sounds including grunts and croaks.

The King Eider bird species has a cicumpolar distribution. Nests are built all along Canada’s Arctic Coast, on Arctic Islands and through Alaska. During winter these birds migrate towards the Atlantic and Pacific oceans to the north of the USA. A gregarious bird, King Eidera form large migration groups, some numbering up to 10 000 birds. The King Eider is also found through Russia and Greenland, wintering in the Bering Sea.

King Eiders are marine ducks and thus are found feeding in the ocean’s waters. Their diet consists of invertebrates and mollusks such as mussels, sea urchins and sand dollars. They have even been known to dive to depths of 50 m whilst foraging. When breeding season arrives for the King Eiders the pairs will come onto land, but they will not nest in colonies. Nesting begins in mid June. The female bird will create a scraping in the ground with some shelter from vegetation. The female then incubates the clutch of 3 to 6 eggs for a period of about 23 days. The offspring are either left on their own after hatching or gathered up by remaining females.

Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)

February 9, 2009 by  
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Also known as the ‘Redbird’ the Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) is one of the most popular birds in the United States. Easily identified by its bright red coloring, this pretty little bird is a common sight on snow-covered bird feeders across most of eastern USA. Its range even extends as far as southeastern Canada, Mexico, Belize and even Hawaii, though it has spread to New York, New England and Hawaii in more recent years. The less colorful female is generally more vocal than the male; however, both sexes sing and can be heard year round. The Northern Cardinal is a nonmigratory bird, though some movement may occur in summer and autum.

The Northern Cardinal is fairly easy to identify. It is a small bird with a length of 21-23 cm. The wingspan may vary between 25-31 cm and the bird weighs between 42-48 grams. In general the bird has a large, conical bill, a crested head and along tail. It is the male that bears the bright red plumage that is so commonly associated with the species. This plumage is dullest on the back and wings of the bird. The male has black coloration around his face and at the base of his bill. The bill is also a brilliant red. The adult female, in contrast, is mainly a greyish-tan color. Only her crest, wings, tail and bill show some red and this is much less bright than the red found on the male. Juvenile birds are similar to the female in colour but they have a darker bill and crest.

When it comes to nesting, it is the female that usually starts building the nest. The nest is reasonably small and made of small twigs and grasses. It is usually built in a shrub or brushy tangle and once it is built, the female will lay between 3 and 4 eggs in it. These are incubated by the female in just under two weeks. After this, the male shares in the responsibility of raising the young. A pair may raise as many as four broods in one breeding season with the male tending one brood while the female starts incubating the next one. Male Northern Cardinals are fiercely territorial and those with brighter red plumage generally have better breeding grounds and greater reproductive success.

Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) is a songbird that measures nine inches in length, has a gray coloring to its head and upper body parts and a white belly. It has a long black tail that has white feathers to the outside, a white patch on its wings that is clearly seen during flight and white plumage on its wing bars. The Northern Mocking Bird has black legs and a very slender bill. It is generally, naturally, found in Florida, the Gulf Coast and in Texas. Mockingbirds are also found in San Francisco, Oregon, Hawaii, Canada and in the East. Most of these populations have been formed due to the release of caged birds, and due to human destruction of habitat the Mockingbird has found other regions to survive in.

The near extinction of the Northern Mockingbird in areas such as St Louis and Philadelphia was caused by the market for caged Mockingbirds in the 18th and 19th century. These amazing little birds were captured for their vocal talents, and it is now known that the Northern Mockingbird is capable of 200 different songs, sounds and noises. It can mimic other birds, make amphibian sounds and even copy the noises that are made by insects. The Northern Mockingbird is also known as the American Nightingale. The diet of the Northern Mockingbird can vary with the seasons but generally incorporates wild fruits such as prickly pears, blackberries, holly, poison ivy and pokeberry. They will also live close to cultivated areas to feed on grapes and other fruits that are farmed. Mockingbirds will feed on arthropods and insects through the year, but favor these food sources mostly during breeding season.

Northern Mockingbirds mate for life, but on the odd occasion they will separate during the winter months to establish a winter territory. Territories are established surrounding a food source or for breeding. Both the male and female will viciously defend their territories, as they need to protect themselves from other birds that also feed on fruit. During breeding season, these little songbirds show no fear, and will dive at any intruders, animal or human.

Northern Mockingbirds can be heard singing throughout the day and most of the year. Single males are known to sing into the night, and males tend to sing louder than the females, with the females only singing loudly when the male has left the territory. In breeding season, nests are constructed from roots, grasses, leaves and twigs, and are built in trees or shrubs. The female can lay two to six eggs that are white in color and speckled with reddish brown. The incubation period of twelve to thirteen days is attended to by the female, after which both parents will attend to the feeding of the hatched chicks. Northern Mockingbird chicks are ready to fledge the nest within twelve days.

Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) is a well-known bird of prey throughout the world and amongst the largest in North America. Osprey populations decreased due to pesticide poisoning during the 1950s to the 1970s. Although their numbers improved after the ban of DDT, they remain on threatened species and endangered species lists in some localities.

Ospreys are short-distant migrants who reside along waterways. As a large raptor, the Osprey is identified from beneath by their white breast and belly as well as their angled wings and the dark patch on the wrist bend. The back and upperwings are black. The wings are long and taper into a rounded tip. It has a short hooked beak ideal for capturing prey. A dark eyestripe marks the face. The tail is brown with white banding. They measure in at approximately 54 to 58 cm with a wingspan of 150 to 180 cm. The distinctive chirping whistle calls of the Osprey will also assist in identification.

Ospreys feed purely on fish, hovering over a body of water before plunging down to grab a tasty morsel. They have special barbed pads on their foot soles for gripping the fish, which they carry to the nest. Nests are frequently built on artificial structures such as nesting platforms, telephone poles, duck blinds and so forth. The nests are constructed with sticks and debris. Preferred breeding habitat for Ospreys is open water and wetlands. The pair will mate for life. A single clutch of 3 to 4 eggs is laid each year. Incubation is for 32 to 43 days. The chicks hatch individually over a period of 5 days. The oldest will gobble the majority of the food supplied by parents. This is not a major problem in times of abundance, but when little food is available the younger chicks will likely starve to death. In 48 to 59 days the young Osprey with fledge.

A very popular bird of prey, the Osprey features as Nova Scotia’s (Canada) official bird as well as the official bird of Sudermannia of Sweden. The name Osprey has been used for several sporting teams and the bird has been the official mascot of various universities and colleges. Ospreys are truly beautiful birds, exceptional fish hunters and fine parents, certainly worthy of conservation action and protection.

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