Santa Cruz Nature & Heritage Festival 2013

April 19, 2013 by  
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This exciting wildlife festival includes two birding trips to Mexico and five trips in the Southern Arizona region where birders will have the opportunity to see a host of nesting migratory birds, particularly hummingbirds, along with permanent feathered residents. For more in formation visit www.santacruznatureheritage.org

Dates: 2-5 May 2013
Venue: Rio Rico
State: Arizona
Country: United States

Yucatan Birding Festival 2012

October 31, 2012 by  
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Organized by the Mesoamerican Ecotourism Alliance, the Yucatan Birding Festival offers birders the opportunity to view the birds of the Celestun Biosphere Reserve. Home to the American Flamingo and more than 300 bird species (resident, migratory and endemic), the reserve boasts tropical forest, sand dune vegetation and mangrove forest habitats. For more information visit www.travelwithmea.org

Dates: 13-18 December 2012
Venue: Celestun Biosphere Reserve
Country: Mexico

Ashy Storm-Petrel (Oceanodroma homochroa)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Ashy Storm-Petrel (Oceanodroma homochroa) is a relatively rare little bird that can be found in colonies on small islands off the coast of California and Mexico. The bird is part of the storm-petrel family Hydrobatidae and it is currently an endangered species. The Ashy Storm-Petrel is also one of 6 species of storm-petrel which feed off the California Current system. Both sexes are similar in appearance and they are fairly easily confused with other storm-petrel species.

The most notable difference between Ashy Storm-Petrels and other storm-petrels is that the Ashy Storm-Petrel does not have a white rump. They are also smaller in size with shallower wingbeats than Black Storm-Petrels, while the Least Storm-Petrel has even shallower wingbeats than the Ashy, and a wedge-shaped tail. The Ashy Storm-Petrel is medium-sized with a length of 7 inches and a wingspan of 16 inches. Its body coloring is a sooty brown – hence the name – and it has a dark rump and forked tail. The underwings are somewhat paler than the rest of the bird and the bill is dark in color with a tube on top. The Ashy Storm-Petrel has a somewhat ‘fluttering’ style of flight and its upstroke is not as high as certain other members of the storm-petrel family. It feeds on a variety of sea creatures such as cephalopods, fish, krill and other organisms which might be found near the sea’s surface.

Ashy Storm-Petrels are nocturnal and they have a long breeding cycle. They make their nests in rock burrows on offshore islands and it takes about five months from the time the egg is laid to fledging. Both male and female tend to show fidelity, mating with the same mate for many years. They usually only change their mate if they change their nesting site. Records show that the Ashy Storm-Petrel is a relatively long-lived bird with current records allowing for a lifespan of approximately 30 years. Currently most Ashy Storm-Petrel breeding colonies fall within protected areas and wildlife refuges whose legislative protection has helped to ensure the survival of this beautiful little endangered bird.

Collared Plover (Charadrius collaris)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Collared Plover (Charadrius collaris) is commonly found throughout the year in Mexico, Northern Argentina and central Chile, with a few being recorded in Guatemala. They are both coastal and inland birds, and frequent beaches, wetland areas, rivers and even ponds. Adult Collared Plovers are white on their bellies, with a black band across their chests. Male Collared Plovers have white on their foreheads with chestnut coloring on their midcrown and nape. Their legs are yellow in color and in flight, plumages are dark featuring a white wing bar. The females look very similar to their male counterparts, except for having a brown tinge to their black feathers.

These coastal and inland birds are extremely wary and are generally loners, very rarely being seen in flocks. They have a unique manner of scavenging for food, which is referred to as a run-and-pause technique. Most wader groups will use probing to find the insects and invertebrates, but the Plover prefers to keep moving, only stopping at intervals at the sight of movement. Nests are either built in the ground just above the tide line, or more inland. Female Collared Plovers lay two to four eggs at a time that are cream in color and have brown blotches. The males will engage in ground displays, to catch the eye of a suitable partner. Collared Plovers do not change plumage during or between breeding seasons.

As research has shown that the number of individual Collared Plovers is estimated at approximately 10,000, there is no cause for concern in regard to the conservation of the species. Due to the minimal decline in the population over ten years, these birds are not expected to reach the threshold of extinction any time soon. Conservationists are constantly monitoring the populations, but it is safe to say that these fast running birds will be seen along the shores for many years.

Gray Hawk (Asturina nitida)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Gray Hawk (Asturina nitida) is a small raptor that is 15 inches in length and has a wingspan of 35 inches. It is predominantly gray in color, with its throat and belly being white with barred gray coloring. Its upper tail coverts are white and it has very pale colored plumage under its wings. The Gray Hawk is resident to the southwestern United States regions, Mexico, Arizona, Central Argentina and Brazil.

Gray Hawks prefer to live in forests and woodland areas. It is not unusual to see them in agricultural fields, savanna trees and in open patches between forests. They prey on small animals, birds and snakes, and stalk their prey from perches in the trees. Once a prey animal has been sighted, the Grey Hawk will swoop down from the tree and catch its meal. Hawks are also known to hunt for prey, while gliding low to the ground, and are very agile hunters. They can maneuver themselves through the trees very swiftly. Nests are built high up in the trees from sticks, and are lined with leaves. Both the male and female will participate in the construction of the nest; of which the male will build the foundation of the nest, and the female will construct the bowl. The female hawk will lay between one to three white eggs that can sometimes be marked with red and pale blue. Only the female Grey Hawk takes part in the incubation of the eggs; however, the male provides her with food for the first two weeks. The incubation period is approximately 33 days. After the two weeks, the female is able to participate in hunting. It has not been established exactly how long it takes the chicks to be able to hunt. The  chicks fledge the nest at approximately six weeks.

In Texas and Arizona, the Gray Hawk is considered a threatened species, even though is does not have an official conservation status. It is the low population numbers that have led these areas to implement conservation programs around the Gray Hawk, and to monitor breeding pairs. These projects can be very beneficial to the over sensitive Gray Hawks. They are known to be very skittish, and will sometimes abandon their nests as a result of an innocent domestic disturbance, such as a picnic that is held too close for comfort.

Green Parakeet (Aratinga holochlora)

February 9, 2009 by  
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Native to Mexico, Central America and northern Nicaragua, the Green Parakeet (Aratinga holochlora) has also managed to establish itself somewhat in southeast Texas. As the Green Parakeet is generally considered to be non-migratory, it is unclear whether the self-sustaining population found in Texas is the result of breeding between feral released birds or whether they are the result of wild birds which have moved here from Mexico to take advantage of potential food supplies. Since feral populations of Green Parakeet have been found in other parts of the world, both explanations are quite plausible.

Generally speaking, the Green Parakeet is about 32 cm in length and bright green in color. Though the bird’s entire body is generally described as being ‘green’, one may find that the green on the upper parts is darker while the undersides have a yellowish-green coloring. It also has a long, pointed tail and has a fairly rapid wing-beat. The bird has a compact yellow beak which it uses to feed on seeds, nuts, berries and fruit. Unfortunately the Green Parakeet may sometimes choose to feed on corn and is therefore sometimes considered to be a crop pest. Wild parakeets are most often found in wooded habitats such as scrub, swampy forests, woodlands and forest clearings but they tend to stay away from tropical rainforests. In the cities they generally make use of palm groves and they may be found in flocks of up to 100 birds out of breeding season.

During breeding season the Green Parakeet will usually pair off and find a hole in a tree, crevice, termite mound or cliff face where it can nest. In urban areas they may also make use of holes in buildings. Here it may lay 3-4 eggs between January and April. After breeding season has ended, the birds will generally flock together again and will abandon their nests in favour of a large, communal roost. Unfortunately, populations of the Green Parakeet in the US and Mexico have dwindled somewhat due to the capture of wild birds for trade and the loss of habitat for agriculture. However, several protected areas have been established to ensure the continuance of the species, though more work must be done to prevent the bird from becoming a threatened species.

Montezuma Quail (Cyrtonyx montezumae)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Cyrtonyx montezumae, or as it is more commonly known, the Montezuma quail, is seven inches in length and is a small, shy, stocky bird with round wings. It also has a short, rounded brown tail and is basically a ground-dwelling bird. This bird is mainly a Mexican species and can be found along the entire length of the western side of the country. The northern range of its territory goes into southern Arizona and New Mexico where they can be found in many small groups scattered in different mountain ranges. There are also small groups scattered in West Texas.

The adult male Montezuma quail has an attractive black and white harlequin face patterning and a dark brown belly. The male has a reddish-brown crest that goes backwards and covers his entire nape. The side of his breast and his flanks are a grey color with white spots speckled all over and the main part of his breast being a rich brown. His back is a dark brown with many reddish-brown colored streaks painted on and his wing coverts are also a brown color but have solid black spots to break the brown. Although the male has such decorative and bold patterning he is still relatively hard to spot, let alone study and census.

The female quail has an overall duller brown plumage in comparison to the male, with dark upper parts. She has the same black and white face patterning as the male but it is a more mottled brown and reddish-brown color. Like the male she also has a reddish-brown colored crest that covers the nape and she is touched all over with reddy-white streaks. The Montezuma quail is unlike any other quail because of its plumage and head shape. The female is however similar to the female Northern Bobwhite but the Montezuma quail has a darker belly.

These quails are secretive birds and it takes one quite a while to spot them in the grassy oak woodlands in the American Southwest and western Mexico. These beautiful birds in America are under threat because of the extensive habitat degradation and destruction that has taken place as well as the increased hunting that is taking place. Conservation efforts are being made to ensure the survival of a number of species of quails, including the fascinating Montezuma Quail.

Muscovy Duck (Cairina moschata)

February 9, 2009 by  
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A common sight in Central America, South America and Mexico, the Muscovy Duck (Cairina moschata) is popular both as a captive and wild animal. It is said that Muscovies originated in Brazil but today small populations can be found as far away as California. Muscovy Ducks are non-migratory creatures that prefer to live in forested swamps, lakes and trees due to the abundance of food present at such sites. They generally eat plant material and some small vertebrates and insects. Muscovy Ducks get most of their food by grazing and dabbling in shallow water. When they are not nesting, these ducks often choose to roost in trees at night. Domesticated Muscovy Ducks are the only such ducks not to originate from mallard stock.

The average bird is 64-86 cm long with the male being quite a bit bigger than the female. Traditional wild Muscovies are strictly black and white in colour though domestication has resulted in several color variations. Hence, you may find blue, blue and white, brown, brown and white, white, black, lavender and calical coloured ducks amongst the traditional black and white colored birds on farms and at zoos. It is interesting to note that domesticated Muscovy Ducks are commonly known as ‘Barbary Ducks’. The male Muscovy Duck has a bare red face and a low crest of feathers which he can raise and lower at will. There is a pronounced caruncle at the base of the bill and his bill is yellow in color. The feet of the Muscovy have strong, sharp claws which can be used for roosting in trees and which are webbed for swimming. However, the Muscovy Duck does not swim as much as other ducks do because their oil glands are not as well developed as other those of other duck species.

Muscovy Ducks are not particularly monogamous and males and females do not form stables pairs. Hence, sexual intercourse between the two sexes may on occasion be forced. The hen will usually make use of a tree hole or hollow for a nest and in certain countries, such as Mexico, nest boxes have been frequently used. The average clutch size varies from 8-21 eggs which are incubated for a period of 35 days. The hens are capable of having three broods a year. Many consider these birds to be of value as they consume pesky insects in their natural environment. However, they are even more popular as a food source and this has resulted in them becoming quite scarce in some parts of their natural territory.

Northern Jacana (Jacana spinosa)

February 9, 2009 by  
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Its long slender toes stretch out across the floating water vegetation, it easily runs across the water in search of a tasty meal, this is the “lily trotter” or Northern Jacana (Jacana spinosa). Jacanas throughout the world are known for their remarkable body structure and walking on water skills. The Northern Jacana is found all along the coastline of Mexico, into western Panama, in Hispaniola, Jamaica, Cuba and even Texas of USA. This is a truly fascinating wading bird to observe, so keep an eye out for them on marshy waterways.

The Northern Jacana as with most Jacanas is easily identified by its long toes. Their bodies are about the same size as a robin. The body is mostly dark with black plumage on the head and neck. The Northern Jacana has pale green flight feathers and a distinctive yellow bill and frontal shield. Juveniles have white underparts. These unusual birds are also identified by their harsh “jik” call which progressively speeds up to a chatter. The large feet and claws of the Northern Jacana are what give it the ability to walk atop floating vegetation. In fact, the toes cover an area of 12 by 14 cm, thus dispersing the bird’s mass over a large area. They are particularly fond of lake and fresh-water marsh habitats.

Northern Jacanas are known for being quite aggressive and territorial. They frequently fight with each other using their weapons – spurs located on the bend of the wing. Floating nests are built on the water. Female Northern Jacanas are polyandrous and are often spoken of as the prostitute bird. A clutch of 3 to 5 eggs is laid in the floating nest which is built and cared for by the male. The male Northern Jacana incubates the eggs for a period of 22 to 24 days whilst the female guards her males. Once the young ones hatch, they will fledge in 28 days. The father will teach his precocial chicks how to forage for various foods such as insects, mollusks, worms and fish. Should danger approach, he will carry them under his wings. Its quite easy to understand why the unique Northern Jacana’s are popular amongst bird watchers.

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.

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