Field Guide/Birds/Western US and Canada

The range maps presented here are color-coded, with yellow indicating the summer range, blue indicating the winter range, and green indicating the year-round range. Some of the range maps do not follow this color code, but it is not difficult to decode them.

Passerine (perching birds)Edit

Mimus polyglottos (Northern Mockingbird)
Northern Mockingbird
Range
Description
The Northern Mockingbird builds a twig nest in a dense shrub or tree, which it aggressively defends against other birds and animals, including humans. When a predator is persistent, Mockingbirds from neighboring territories, summoned by a distinct call, may join the attack. Other birds may gather to watch as the Mockingbirds harass the intruder. This bird is mainly a permanent resident, but northern birds may move south during harsh weather. Mockingbirds have a strong preference for certain trees such as maple, sweetgum, and sycamore. They generally avoid pine trees after the other trees have grown their leaves. Also, they have a particular preference for high places, such as the topmost branches of trees. Although many species of bird imitate other birds, the Northern Mockingbird is the best known in North America for doing so. It not only imitates birds but also other animals and mechanical sounds.


Turdus migratorius (American Robin)
During the breeding season, the adult males grow distinctive black feathers on their heads; after the breeding season they lose this eye-catching plumage.
Range
An American Robin nest with eggs
Juvenile Robin
Description
The American Robin has gray upperparts and head, and orange underparts, usually brighter in the male. Robins are frequently seen running across lawns, picking up earthworms by sight. In fact, the running and stopping behavior is a distinguishing characteristic. When stopping, they are believed to be listening for the movement of prey.


Sitta carolinensis (White-breasted Nuthatch)
White-breasted Nuthatch
Description
These birds are permanent residents, sometimes moving south in winter.

They forage on the trunk and large branches of trees, and are well-known for descending head first, a behavior unique to the white-breasted nuthatch. Their principal diet consists of insects and a few varieties of seeds. They often travel with small mixed flocks in winter.


Sialia (Bluebird)
Male Eastern Bluebird
Range
Mountain Bluebird
Mountain Bluebird range
Description
These are one of the relatively few thrush genera to be restricted to the Americas. As the name implies, these are attractive birds with blue, or blue and red, plumage. Female birds are less brightly colored than males, although color patterns are similar and there is no noticeable difference in size between sexes. There are three species of bluebird; the Eastern Bluebird, the Mountain Bluebird, and the Western Bluebird. The Western Bluebird is very similar to the Eastern Bluebird in appearance.


Agelaius phoeniceus (Red-winged Blackbird)
Male
Female
Description
The Red-winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus, is a passerine bird found in most of North and much of Central America. It breeds from Alaska and Newfoundland south to Florida, the Gulf of Mexico, Mexico and Guatemala, with isolated populations in western El Salvador, northwestern Honduras and northwestern Costa Rica. It may winter as far north as Pennsylvania and British Columbia, but northern populations are generally bird migration, moving south to Mexico and the southern United States.

The common name for this species is taken from the mainly black adult male's distinctive red shoulder patches, or "epaulets", which are visible when the bird is flying or displaying. At rest, the male also shows a pale yellow wingbar. The female is blackish-brown and paler below. The female is considerably smaller than the male, at 17-18 cm (7 inches) length and 36 g weight, against his 22-24 cm (9.5 inches) and 64 g. Young birds resemble the female, but are paler below and have buff feather fringes. Both sexes have a sharply pointed bill.

The Red-winged Blackbird feeds primarily on plant seeds, including weeds and waste grain, but about a quarter of its diet consists of insects, spiders, mollusks and other small animals, considerably more so during breeding season (Srygley & Kingsolver 1998). In season, it eats blueberries, blackberries, and other fruit. These birds can be lured to backyard bird feeders by bread and seed mixtures.

When migrating north, these birds travel in single-sex flocks, and the males usually arrive a few days before the females. Once they have reached the location where they plan to breed, the males stake out territories by singing. They defend their territory aggressively, both against other male Red-winged Blackbirds and against birds they perceive as threatening, including crows, Ospreys, hawks, and even humans.

The call of this species is a throaty check, and the male's song is scratchy oak-a-lee (see below).

Red-winged Blackbirds prefer marshes, but will nest near any body of water. Pairs raise two or three clutches per season, in a new nest for each clutch. The nests are cups of vegetation, and are either built in shrubs or attached to marsh grass. A clutch comprises three to five eggs. These are incubated by the female and hatch in 11-12 days. Red-winged Blackbirds are hatched blind and naked, but are ready to leave the nest ten days after hatching.

Red-winged Blackbirds are polygynous, with territorial males defending up to 10 females. However, females frequently copulate with males other than their social mate and often lay clutches of mixed paternity.

When the breeding season is over, Red-winged Blackbirds gather in huge flocks, sometimes numbering in the millions. In some parts of the United States, they are considered to be pests because these flocks can consume large amounts of cultivated grain or rice. This bird's numbers are declining due to habitat loss and the use of poison to prevent this loss of crops.

Despite the similar names, the Red-winged Blackbird is not related to the European Redwing or the Old World Blackbirdthrushes (Turdidae).


Corvus brachyrhynchos (American Crow)
American Crow
Range
Description
The American Crowis a common bird found throughout North America. Entirely black, it is an easily recognized bird.

The American Crow is a distinctive bird with iridescent black feathers. Its legs, feet and bill are also black. Several regional forms are recognized and differ in bill proportion and overall size from each other across North America, generally being smallest in the southeast and the far west. Averaging 18 inches (46 cm) in length, it is smaller than the Common Raven. American Crows have a lifespan of 7 to 8 years. Captive birds are known to have lived up to 30 years.

The most usual call is a loud, short, and rapid "caah-caah-caah". Usually, the birds thrust their heads up and down as they utter this call. American Crows can also produce a wide variety of sounds and sometimes mimic noises made by other animals, including other birds.

Crows live in virtually all types of country from wilderness, farmland, parks, open woodland to towns and major cities. The crow is generally a permanent resident, but many birds in the northern parts of the range migrate short distances southward. Outside of the nesting season, these birds often gather in large communal roosts at night. American Crows are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.

The American Crow is omnivorous. It will feed on invertebrates of all types, carrion, scraps of human food, seeds, eggs and nestlings, stranded fish on the shore and various grains. American Crows are active hunters and will prey on mice, frogs, and other small animals. In winter and autumn, the diet of American Crows is more dependent on nuts and acorns. Occasionally, they will visit bird feeders.

Like most crows, they will scavenge at rubbish dumps, scattering garbage in the process. Where available, corn, wheat and other agricultural crops are a favorite food. These habits have historically caused the American Crow to be considered a nuisance. However, it is suspected that the harm to crops is offset by the service the American Crow provides by eating insect pests.

American Crows are monogamous cooperative breeding birds. Mated pairs form large families of up to 15 individuals from several breeding seasons that remain together for many years. Offspring from a previous nesting season will usually remain with the family to assist in rearing new nestlings. American Crows do not reach breeding age for at least two years. Most do not leave the nest to breed for four to five years.

American Crows build bulky stick nests, nearly always in trees but sometimes also in large bushes and, very rarely, on the ground. They will nest in a wide variety of trees, including large conifers, although oaks are most often used. Three to six eggs are laid and incubated for 18 days. The young are fledged usually by about 35 days.

Despite attempts by humans in some areas to drive away or eliminate these birds, they remain widespread and very common. The number of individual American Crows is estimated by Birdlife International to be around 31,000,000. The large population, as well as its vast range, are the reasons why the American Crow is considered to be of least concern, meaning that the species is not at immediate risk.


Dumetella carolinensis (Gray Catbird)
Gray Catbird
Description
The Gray Catbird is a medium-sized perching bird.

Adults are dark gray with a slim, black bill and dark eyes. They have a long dark tail, dark legs and a dark cap; they are rust-colored underneath their tail.

Their breeding habitat is semi-open areas with dense, low growth across most of North America. They are found in urban, suburban, and rural habitats. They build a bulky cup nest in a shrub or tree, close to the ground. Eggs are light blue in color, and clutch size ranges from 1-5, with 2-3 eggs most common. Both parents take turns feeding the young birds.

They migrate to the southeastern United States, Mexico and Central America.

These birds forage on the ground in leaf litter, and love freshly worked earth. Some may even visit a freshly turned garden while the gardener is still present. They mainly eat insects and berries.

In the United States, this species receives special legal protections under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.

The catbird is named for its cat-like call, but it also mimics the songs of other birds. A catbird's song is easily distinguished from that of the Northern Mockingbird or Brown Thrasher because the mockingbird repeats phrases 3-4 times, and the brown thrasher usually repeats each phrase twice, whereas the catbird sings each phrase only once. The catbird's song is usually described as more raspy and less musical than a mockingbird.

The catbird produces a variety of calls, including the familiar ones resembling a cat's meow, as well as an alarm call which resembles the quiet quacking of a male mallard.

In contrast to many songbirds which choose a prominent perch from which to sing, the catbird often chooses to sing from inside a bush or small tree, where they are obscured from view by the foliage.

The syrinx of gray catbirds has an unusual structure that not only allows them to make mewing sounds like that of a cat but also allows them to imitate other birds, tree frogs, and even mechanical sounds that they hear. Their unusual syrinx also allows them to sing in two voices at once.

Gray catbirds are not afraid of predators and respond to them aggressively to them by flashing their wings and tails and by making their signature mew sounds. They are also known to even attack and peck predators that come too near their nests.


Molothrus ater (Brown-headed Cowbird)
Male
Female
A Brown-headed Cowbird egg in an Eastern Phoebe nest.
Description
Adults have a short finch-like bill and dark eyes. The adult male is mainly iridescent black with a brown head. The adult female is grey with a pale throat and fine streaking on the underparts.

Breeding in open or semi-open country across most of North America, this bird is a brood parasite: it lays its eggs in the nests of other small perching birds, particularly those that build cup-like nests, such as the Yellow Warbler. The young cowbird is fed by the host parents at the expense of their own young.

Brown-headed Cowbirds are permanent residents in the southern parts of their range; northern birds migrate to the southern United States and Mexico. They often travel in flocks, sometimes mixed with Red-winged Blackbirds or European Starlings.

These birds forage on the ground, often following grazing animals such as horses and cows to catch insects stirred up by the larger animals. They mainly eat seeds and insects.

At one time, the Brown-headed Cowbird followed the bison herds across the prairies. Their parasitic nesting behavior complemented this nomadic lifestyle. Their numbers expanded with the clearing of forested areas and the introduction of new grazing animals by settlers across North America. Brown-headed Cowbirds are now commonly seen at suburban birdfeeders.

Brown-headed Cowbird females can lay 36 eggs in a season. Over 140 different species of birds are known to have raised young cowbirds. Host parents may sometimes notice the cowbird egg. Different species react in different ways. Gray Catbirds destroy the egg by pecking it. Some species may simply build a new layer over the bottom of the original nest. Brown-headed cowbird nestlings are sometimes expelled from the nest.


Piciformes (woodpeckers)Edit

Melanerpes erythrocephalus (Red-headed Woodpecker)
Red-headed Woodpecker
Description
The Red-headed Woodpecker, Melanerpes erythrocephalus, is a small or medium-sized woodpecker.

Adults have a black back and tail with a red head and neck. Their underparts are mainly white. The wings are black with white secondaries. Non-birders often mistakenly identify the Red-bellied Woodpecker as this species.

Their breeding habitat is open country across southern Canada and the eastern-central United States. They nest in a cavity in a dead tree or a dead part of a tree.

Northern birds migrate to the southern parts of the range; southern birds are often permanent residents.

These birds fly to catch insects in the air or on the ground, forage on trees or gather and store nuts. They are omnivorous, eating insects, seeds, fruits, berries and nuts. Once abundant, populations have seriously declined since 1966 due to increased nesting competition from starlings and removal of dead trees (used as nesting sites) from woodlands. Many Northeastern states no longer have nesting red-headed woodpeckers.

They give a "tchur-tchur" call or drum on territory.

To see and hear the Red Headed Woodpecker please click this link, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ic6YPqC2wfU

The red-headed woodpecker is listed as a vulnerable species in Canada and as a threatened species in some states in the US. The species has declined in numbers due to habitat loss caused by harvesting of snags, agricultural development, channeling of rivers, a decline in farming resulting to regeneration of eastern forests, monoculture crops, the loss of small orchards, and treatment of telephone poles with creosote.


Dryocopus pileatus (Pileated Woodpecker)
Pileated Woodpecker
Range
Description
The Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) is a very large North American woodpecker.

Adults (40-49 cm long, 250-350 g weight) are mainly black with a red crest and a white line down the sides of the throat. Adult males have a red line from the bill to the throat and red on the front of the crown. In adult females, these are black. They show white on the wings in flight. The only North American birds of similar plumage and size are the Ivory-billed Woodpecker of the Southeastern United States and Cuba, and the related Imperial Woodpecker of Mexico. Both of those species are extremely rare, if not extinct.

Their breeding habitat is forested areas with large trees across Canada, the eastern United States and parts of the Pacific coast. They usually excavate large nests in the cavities of dead trees, and often excavates a new home each year, creating habitat for other large cavity nesters.

This bird is usually a permanent resident.

These birds mainly eat insects (especially beetle larvae and carpenter ants) as well as fruits, berries and nuts. They often chip out large and roughly rectangular holes in trees while searching out insects.

The call is a wild laugh, similar to the Northern Flicker. Its drumming can be very loud, often sounding like someone striking a tree with a hammer. This bird favors mature forests, but has adapted to use second-growth stands and heavily wooded parks as well.

  • The pileated woodpecker is also commonly known in the south as an "Indian Hen"
  • The roost of a Pileated Woodpecker usually has multiple entrance holes.
  • The sound that a Pileated Woodpecker makes when boring a hole in a tree is so loud that it can be heard over long distances.
  • Pileated Woodpeckers make such large holes in dead trees that sometimes the holes can cause a small tree to break in half.
  • Pileated Woodpeckers have been observed to move their eggs which have fallen off the nest to another site. This is a rare habit in other birds.


HummingbirdsEdit

CaprimulgiformesEdit

Caprimulgus vociferus (Whip-poor-will)
Whip-poor-will
Description
The Whip-poor-will or whippoorwill, Caprimulgus vociferus, is a medium-sized (22-27 cm) nightjar, a type of nocturnal bird. The Whip-poor-will is commonly heard within its range, but less often seen. It is named after its call.

Adults have mottled plumage: the upperparts are grey, black and brown; the lower parts are grey and black. They have a very short bill and a black throat. Males have a white patch below the throat and white tips on the outer tail feathers; in the female, these parts are light brown.

The Whip-poor-will's breeding habitat is deciduous or mixed woods across southeastern Canada, eastern and southwestern United States, and Central America. They nest on the ground, in shaded locations, among dead leaves, and usually lay two creamy eggs. This bird does not normally flush from the nest unless it is underfoot.

Northern birds migrate to the southeastern United States and south to Central America. Central American races are largely resident. These birds forage at night, catching insects in flight. They normally sleep during the day.

Galliformes (turkeys, chickens, grouse, quails, and pheasants)Edit

Columbidae (doves and pigeons)Edit

Columba livia (Rock Pigeon)
Rock Pigeon near the shore in Connecticut
Rock Pigeons in their natural habitat
Description
The Rock Pigeon (Columba livia), is a member of the bird family Columbidae, doves and pigeons. The bird is also known by the names of feral pigeon or domestic pigeon. In common usage, this bird is often simply referred to as the "pigeon". The species was commonly known as Rock Dove until the British Ornithologists' Union and the American Ornithologists' Union changed the official English name of the bird in their regions to Rock Pigeon.

The Rock Pigeon has a restricted natural resident range in western and southern Europe, North Africa, and into South Asia. Its habitat is natural cliffs, usually on coasts. Its domesticated form, the feral pigeon, has been widely introduced elsewhere, and is common, especially in cities, over much of the world. In Britain, Ireland, and much of its former range, the Rock Pigeon probably only occurs pure in the most remote areas. A Rock Pigeon's life span is anywhere from 3-5 years in the wild to 15 years in captivity, though longer-lived specimens have been reported.

The Rock Pigeon is 30-35 cm long with a 62-68 cm wingspan. The white lower back of the pure Rock Pigeon is its best identification character, but the two black bars on its pale grey wings are also distinctive. The tail is margined with white. It is strong and quick on the wing, dashing out from sea caves, flying low over the water, its white rump showing well from above.

The head and neck of the mature bird are a darker blue-grey than the back and wings; the lower back is white. The green and lilac or purple patch on the side of the neck is larger than that of the Stock Dove, and the tail is more distinctly banded. Young birds show little luster and are duller. Eye color of the pigeon is generally orange but a few pigeons may have white-grey eyes. The eyelids are orange and are encapsulated in a grey-white eye ring. Feet are red to pink.

When circling overhead, the white under wing of the bird becomes conspicuous. In its flight, behavior, and voice, which is more of a dovecot coo than the phrase of the Wood Pigeon, it is a typical pigeon. Although it is a relatively strong flier, it also glides frequently, holding its wings in a very pronounced V shape as it does. Though fields are visited for grain and green food, it is nowhere so plentiful as to be a pest.

The nest is usually on a ledge in a cave; it is a slight structure of grass, heather, or seaweed. Like most pigeons it lays two white eggs. The eggs are incubated by both parents for about 18 days.

The nestling has pale yellow down and a flesh-coloured bill with a dark band. It is tended and fed on "crop milk" like other doves. The fledging period is 30 days.


Columba oenas (Stock Pigeon)
Stock Pigeon
Description
The Stock Pigeon (Columba oenas) (formerly Stock Dove) is a member of the family Columbidae, doves and pigeons.

In the northern part of its European and western Asiatic range the Stock Pigeon is a migrant, elsewhere it is a well distributed and often plentiful resident.

The three western European Columba pigeons, though superficially alike, have very distinctive characters; the Wood Pigeon may at once be told by the white on its neck and wing, but the Rock Pigeon and Stock Pigeons are more alike in size and plumage.

The former, however, has a white rump, and two well-marked black bars on the wing, but the rump of the Stock is grey, and the bars are incomplete.

The haunts of the Stock Pigeon are in more or less open country, for though it often nests in trees it prefers parklands to thick woods. It is common on coasts where the cliffs provide holes. Its flight is quick, performed by regular beats, with an occasional sharp flick of the wings, characteristic of pigeons in general.

It perches well, and in nuptial display walks along a horizontal branch with swelled neck, lowered wings, and fanned tail. During the circling spring flight the wings are smartly cracked like a whiplash.

The Stock Pigeon is sociable as well as gregarious, often consorting with Wood Pigeons, though doubtless it is the presence of food which brings them together.

Most of its food is vegetable; young shoots and seedlings are favoured, and it will take grain.

The short, deep, "grunting" Ooo-uu-ooh call is quite distinct from the modulated cooing notes of the Wood Pigeon; it is loud enough to be described, somewhat fancifully, as "roaring".

The nest, though it is seldom that any nest material is used, is usually in a hole in a tree, a crack in a rock face, or in a rabbit burrow, but the bird also nests in ivy, or in the thick growth round the boles of linden trees.


Patagioenas fasciata (Band-tailed Pigeon)
Band-tailed Pigeon
Description
The Band-tailed Pigeon, Patagioenas fasciata, is a medium-sized bird of the Americas.

It ranges from British Columbia, Utah, and Colorado south in higher elevations through Mexico and Central America to northern Argentina. In autumn it migrates out of the part of its range north of California, New Mexico, and west Texas. Populations from Costa Rica south are sometimes considered a separate species, the White-naped Pigeon, C. albilinea. It is found at altitudes from 900 m to 3600 m, generally in oak, pine-oak, and coniferous forests. It feeds on seeds, notably acorns.

It is the biggest pigeon in North America, averaging 34 to 36 cm14-15 inches long and weighing 250-450 grams0.55-1 lbs. The plumage is gray, somewhat darker above. The head and underparts have a faint pink cast, especially in the adult male; the belly is nearly white. The distal half of the tail is also pale (except in the subspecies of Baja California), whence the English name. The bill and feet are yellow, good identification marks at sufficiently close range. Adults have green iridescence on the back of the neck, adjacent to a thin white collar on the nape. Juvenile birds have white feather edges above, giving a scaly appearance.

This species is relatively quiet for a pigeon. Its voice is low-pitched and owl-like, often in two-syllable calls that rise and than fall (huu-ooh) with even spacing between calls.

It builds a rudimentary platform nest out of twigs, in which it lays one or two eggs. Outside the breeding season it forms flocks, sometimes over 50 birds, and often becomes nomadic, following the acorn crop or moving to lower altitudes or other areas outside its breeding range. It often visits bird feeders.


Leptotila verreauxi (White-tipped Dove)
White-tipped Dove
Description
The White-tipped Dove (Leptotila verreauxi) is a large New World tropical dove. It is a resident breeder from the southernmost Texas in the USA through Mexico and Central America south to western Peru and central Argentina. It also breeds on the offshore islands of northern South America, including Trinidad and Tobago.

The White-tipped Dove inhabits scrub, woodland and forest. It builds a large stick nest in a tree and lays two white eggs. Incubation is about 14 days, and fledging another 15.

The White-tipped Dove has an approx. length of 28 cm (11 in) and a weight of 155 g (5½ oz). Adult birds of most races have a grey tinge from the crown to the nape, a pale grey or whitish forehead and a whitish throat. The eye-ring is typically red in most of its range, but blue in most of the Amazon and northern South America. The upperparts and wings are grey-brown, and the underparts are whitish shading to pinkish, dull grey or buff on the chest. The underwing coverts are rufous. The tail is broadly tipped with white, but this is best visible from below or in flight. The bill is black, the legs are red and the iris is yellow.

The White-tipped Dove resembles the closely related Grey-fronted Dove, Leptotila rufaxilla, which prefers humid forest habitats. The best distinctions are the greyer forehead and crown, which contrast less with the hindcrown than in the Grey-fronted Dove. In the area of overlap, the White-tipped Dove usually has a blue (not red) eye-ring, but this is not reliable in some parts of Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay and Uruguay, where it typically is red in both species.

The White-tipped Dove is usually seen singly or in pairs, and is rather wary. Its flight is fast and direct, with the regular beats and clattering of the wings which are characteristic of pigeons in general.

The food of this species is mainly seeds obtained by foraging on the ground, but it will also take insects, including butterflies and moths. The call is a deep hollow ooo-wooooo.


Falconiformes (eagles, falcons, and hawks)Edit

Haliaeetus leucocephalus (Bald Eagle)
Adult Bald Eagle
Range
Juvenile
Bald Eagle and its nest
Description
The Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) is a bird of prey found in North America, most recognizable as the national bird of the United States.

The species was on the brink of extinction in the US late in the 20th century, but now has a stable population and is in the process of being removed from the U.S. federal government's list of endangered species.

An immature Bald Eagle has speckled brown plumage, the distinctive white head and body developing 2-3 years later, before sexual maturity. This species is distinguishable from the Golden Eagle in that the latter has feathers which extend down the legs. Also, the immature Bald Eagle has more light feathers in the upper arm area, especially around the 'armpit'.

Adult females have an average wingspan of about 7 feet (2.1 meters); adult males have a wingspan of 6 ft 6 in (2 meters). Adult females weigh approximately 12.8 lb (5.8 kg), males weigh 9 lb (4.1 kg). The smallest specimens are those from Florida, where an adult male may barely exceed 5 lb (2.3 kg) and a wingspan of 6 feet (1.8 meters). The largest are the Alaskan birds, where large females may exceed 15.5 lb (7 kg) and have a wingspan of approximately 8 feet (2.4 meters).

Bald Eagles are powerful fliers, and also soar on thermal convection currents.

In the wild, Bald Eagles can live about 20-30 years, and have a maximum life span of approximately 50 years. They generally live longer in captivity, up to 60 years old.

Bald Eagles normally squeak and have a shrill cry, punctuated by grunts. They do not make the "eagle scream" as often shown on the television. What many recognize as the call of this species is actually the call of a Red-tailed Hawk dubbed into the film.

Bald Eagles build huge nests out of branches, usually in large trees near water. The nest may stretch as large as eight feet across and weigh up to a ton (907kg). When breeding where there are no trees, the Bald Eagle will nest on the ground.

Eagles that are old enough to breed often return to the area where they were born. An adult looking for a site is likely to select a spot that contains other breeding Bald Eagles.

Bald Eagles are sexually mature at 4 or 5 years old. Eagles produce between one and three eggs per year, but it is rare for all three chicks to successfully fly. Both the male and female take turns sitting on the eggs. The other parent will hunt for food or look for nesting material.


Aquila chrysaetos (Golden Eagle)
Golden Eagle
Range
Adult and juvenile
Description
The Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) is one of the best known birds of prey in the Northern Hemisphere.

A pair of Golden Eagles remains together for life. They build several eyries within their territory and use them alternately for several years. The nest consists of heavy tree branches, upholstered with grass.

Old eyries may be 2 meters6.6 ft in diameter and 1 meter3.3 ft in height, as the eagles enlarge their nests every year. If the eyrie is situated on a tree, supporting tree branches may break because of the weight of the nest.

The female lays two eggs between January and May (depending on the area). After 45 days the young hatch. They are entirely white and are fed for fifty days before they are able to make their first flight attempts and eat on their own. In most cases only the older chick, which takes most of the food, survives, while the younger one dies without leaving the eyrie.

Adult Golden Eagles have an average length of 75-85 cm30-34", a wingspan of 150-210 cm59-83", and a weight of 3-5 kg7-11 lb. As in all birds of prey, the females are generally slightly larger than the males.

The plumage colors range from black-brown to dark brown, with a striking golden-buff crown and nape, which give the bird its name. The juveniles resemble the adults, but have a duller more mottled appearance. Also they have a white-banded tail and a white patch at the carpal joint, that gradually disappear with every moult until full adult plumage is reached in the fifth year.

Golden Eagles often have a division of labor while hunting: one partner drives the prey to its waiting partner. They have very good eyesight and can spot prey from a long distance. The talons are used for killing and carrying the prey, the beak is used only for eating. The talons of a Golden Eagle are thought to be more powerful than the hand and arm strength of any human being.


Falco peregrinus (Peregrine Falcon)
Peregrine Falcon
Description
The Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus), sometimes formerly known in North America as Duck Hawk, is a medium-sized falcon about the size of a large crow: 38-53 cm15-21 in long. The English and scientific species names mean "wandering falcon", and refer to the fact that some populations are migratory. It has a wingspan of about 1 meter40 in. Males weigh 570-710 grams1.3-1.6 pounds; the noticeably larger females weigh 910-1190 grams2.0-2.6 pounds.

The Peregrine Falcon is the fastest creature on the planet in its hunting dive, the stoop, in which it soars to a great height, then dives steeply at speeds in excess of 320 km/h200mph into either wing of its prey, so as not to harm itself on impact. In its stoop, the Peregrine Falcon attains the highest speed of any animal. The fastest speed recorded is 390 km/h242.3 mph.

The fledglings practice the roll and the pumping of the wings before they master the actual stoop.

Peregrine Falcons live mostly along mountain ranges, river valleys, coastlines, and, increasingly, in cities. They are widespread throughout the entire world and are found in all of the continents except Antarctica.

Peregrines in mild-winter regions are usually permanent residents, and some birds, especially adult males, will remain on the breeding territory. However, the Arctic subspecies migrate; tundrius birds from Alaska, northern Canada and Greenland migrate to Central and South America, and all calidus birds from northern Eurasia move further south or to coasts in winter.

Australian Peregrine Falcons are non-migratory, and their breeding season is from July to November each year.

Peregrine Falcons feed almost exclusively on birds, such as doves, waterfowl and songbirds, but occasionally they hunt small mammals, including bats, rats, voles and rabbits. Insects and reptiles make up a relatively small proportion of their diet. On the other hand, a growing number of city-dwelling Falcons find that feral pigeons and Common Starlings provide plenty of food. Peregrine Falcons also eat their own chicks when starving.

Peregrine Falcons breed at approximately two or three years of age. They mate for life and return to the same nesting spot annually. Their courtship flight includes a mix of aerial acrobatics, precise spirals, and steep dives. The male passes prey it has caught to the female in midair. To make this possible, the female actually flies upside-down to receive the food from the male's talons. Females lay an average clutch of three or four eggs in a scrape, normally on cliff edges or, increasingly, on tall buildings or bridges. They occasionally nest in tree hollows or in the disused nest of other large birds.

The average life span of a Peregrine Falcon is approximately eight to ten years, although some have been recorded to live until slightly more than twenty years of age.


Buteo jamaicensis (Red-tailed Hawk)
Red-tailed Hawk eating a vole
Description
The Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) breeds from western Alaska and northern Canada to Panama and the West Indies. Males are typically smaller than females, generally weighing between 800–1100 grams1.8-2.4 pounds and measuring 45–56 cm1'5.7"-1'10" in length. Females typically average between 1100–1300 grams1.8-2.9 pounds and measure 50–65 cm1'7.7"-2'1.6" in length.

This is one of three species colloquially known in the United States as the "chickenhawk". It is the most common North American hawk and the raptor most frequently taken from the wild (and later returned to the wild) for falconry in the United States.

Birds of this species have a dark mark along the leading edge of the underwing, between the body and the wrist. Most, but not all color variations have a dark band across the belly. In most, the adults' tails are rusty red above, and juveniles have narrow brown and pale bands. The main western North American population has bands on the adults' rusty tails as well and has varied plumage, organized into three main color types or morphs.

Immature birds, or birds that are only a few years old, can also readily be identified by having yellowish irises. As the bird attains full maturity over the course of 3–4 years, the iris slowly darkens into a reddish-brown hue.

The breeding habitat is open country with high perches. They build a stick nest in a large tree, in a cactus, or on a cliff ledge 35 m or higher above ground; they may also nest on man-made structures. Both sexes build the sturdy nest, made of different sized twigs and sticks, lined with fresh green foliage and evergreen sprigs. The fresh sprigs are regularly replaced during incubation. Up to four eggs may be laid at daily intervals. The shells are colored a dull or bluish-white with a granulated or smooth surface, never glossy. There may be some splotches of various shades of brown. Incubation is by the female from 28 to 35 days, during which time she is fed by the male. The young are able to fly at about 45 days.

In most of the United States, Red-tailed Hawks are permanent residents, but northern breeding birds migrate south in winter. Throughout their range in the U.S., Red-tailed Hawks receive special legal protections under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. They have a complex relationship with humans, capable of both controlling rodent and other mammalian pests, and on occasion taking valuable fowl (which has led to them being one of the species described as a Chickenhawk).

Red-tailed Hawks prefer to wait on a high perch and swoop down on prey; they also patrol open areas in flight. They mainly eat small mammals, birds and reptiles. Their favorite prey varies with regional and seasonal availability but includes most types of rodents, rabbits, pheasant, grouse, quail, rattle snakes, copperheads, lizards, and, when near the water's edge, carp and catfish. Those that live in cities may prefer pigeons and starlings, both of which are plentiful in many urban areas.

In flight, these hawks soar with wings in a slight dihedral, flapping as little as possible. They sometimes hover on beating wings and sometimes "kite", or remain stationary above the ground by soaring into the wind. When soaring or flapping their wings, they typically travel from 30 km/h to 65 km/h, but when diving may reach speeds as high as 195 km/h.

The Red-tailed Hawk is common and widespread, partly because it has benefited from the historic settlement patterns across North America. The clearing of trees in the east of North America provided hunting areas, and the practice of sparing woodlots left nest sites. Conversely, the planting of trees in the west provided nest sites where there had been none. The construction of highways with treeless medians and shoulders and with utility poles alongside provided perfect habitat for perch-hunting, so Red-tailed Hawks are now a common sight along highways.

A certain recording of the cry of the Red-tailed Hawk is probably one of the most often heard cinematic sound clichés. This high, fierce scream is often featured in the background of adventure movies to give a sense of wilderness to the scene. However, the cry is more commonly used for the Bald Eagle, whose own vocalizations are quite different.


Pandion haliaetus (Osprey)
A North American Osprey preparing to dive.
Description
The Osprey, Pandion haliaetus is a medium-large raptor which is a specialist fish-eater with a worldwide distribution. It occurs in all continents except Antarctica, but in South America only as a non-breeding migrant. It is often known by other colloquial names such as fishhawk, seahawk or Fish Eagle.

The Osprey is 52-60 cm20.5-23.6 inches long with a 152-167 cm5-5.5 ft wingspan. It has mainly white underparts and head, apart from a dark mask through the eye, and fairly uniformly brown upperparts. Its short tail and long, narrow wings with four long "finger" feathers (and a shorter fifth) give it a very distinctive appearance.

Juvenile birds are readily identified by the buff fringes to the upperpart plumage, buff tone to the underparts, and streaked crown. By spring, wear on the upperparts makes barring on the underwings and flight feathers a better indicator of young birds. Adult males can be distinguished from females from their slimmer bodies and narrower wings. They also have a weaker or non-existent breast band than the female, and more uniformly pale underwing coverts. It is straightforward to sex a breeding pair, but harder with individual birds.

In flight, Ospreys have arched wings and drooping "hands", giving them a diagnostic gull-like appearance. The call is a series of sharp whistles, cheep, cheep, or yewk, yewk. Near the nest, a frenzied cheereek!

The Osprey is particularly well adapted to its fish diet, with reversible outer toes, closable nostrils to keep out water during dives, and backwards facing scales on the talons which act as barbs to help hold its catch. It locates its prey from the air, often hovering prior to plunging feet-first into the water to seize a fish. As it rises back into flight the fish is turned head forward to reduce drag. The 'barbed' talons are such effective tools for grasping fish that, on occasion, an Osprey may be unable to release a fish that is heavier than expected. This can cause the Osprey to be pulled into the water, where it may either swim to safety or succumb to hypothermia and drown.

The osprey breeds by freshwater lakes, and sometimes on coastal brackish waters. The nest is a large heap of sticks built in trees, rocky outcrops, telephone poles or artificial platforms. In some regions with high Osprey densities, such as Chesapeake Bay, USA, most ospreys do not start breeding until they are five to seven years old, and there may be a shortage of suitable tall structures. If there are no nesting sites available, young ospreys may be forced to delay breeding. To ease this problem, posts may be erected to provide more sites suitable for nest building.


Ciconiiformes (storks, herons, egrets)Edit

Ardea herodias (Great Blue Heron)
Great Blue Heron in flight
Range
Male (note the long black plume at the back of the head)
Female
Description
The Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias, is a wading bird of the heron family, common all over North and Central America as well as the West Indies and the Galápagos Islands, except in deserts and high mountains where there is no water for it to wade in. The Great Blue Heron is the largest heron in North America.

Adults have blue-grey wings and back and a white head with a black cap and a long black plume. The face is white, with a black streak extending from behind the eye to the back of the head. They have a long neck, streaked with white, rust-brown, and black, which is generally held in a s-curve while wading, and a short tail. The beak is yellow, long, and and tapers to a point. Legs are long, and greenish-yellow in color.

In flight, the head is held close to and aligned with the body by a downward bend in the long neck. The long legs trail behind. This bird flies with strong deliberate wing beats.

The males and females appear relatively similar, but males have a puffy plume of feathers behind their heads, and tend to be slightly larger than females.

It is found throughout most of North America, including Alaska, Quebec and Nova Scotia. The range extends south through Florida, Mexico and the Caribbean to South America. Great blue herons can be found in a range of habitats, in fresh and saltwater marshes, mangrove swamps, flooded meadows, rivers, lake edges, or shorelines, but they always live near bodies of water. Generally, they nest in trees or bushes that stand near water.

It feeds in shallow water or at the water's edge during both the night and the day, but especially around dawn and dusk. Herons locate their food by sight and generally swallow it whole. Herons have been known to choke on prey that is too large.It uses its long legs to wade through shallow water, and spears fish or frogs with its long, sharp bill. Its diet can also include insects, snakes, turtles, rodents and small birds.

It is generally a solitary feeder. Individuals usually forage while standing in water, but will also forage in fields or drop from the air, or a perch, into water. As large wading birds, Great Blue Herons are able to feed in deeper waters, and thus are able to exploit a niche not open to most other heron species.

This species usually breeds in colonies, in trees close to lakes or other wetlands; often with other species of herons. These groups are called heronry (more accurately than "rookery"). The size of these colonies may be large, ranging between 5 – 500 nests per colony, with an average of approximately 160 nests per colony.

Great Blues build a bulky stick nest, and the female lays three to six pale blue eggs. One brood is raised each year. If the nest is abandoned or destroyed, the female may lay a replacement clutch. Reproduction is negatively affected by human disturbance, particularly during the beginning of nesting. Repeated human intrusion into nesting areas often results in nest failure, with abandonment of eggs or chicks.

Both parents feed the young at the nest by regurgitating food. Parent birds have been shown to consume up to 4 times as much food when they are feeding young chicks than when laying or incubating eggs.

Eggs are incubated for approximately 28 days and hatch over a period of several days. The first chick to hatch usually becomes more experienced in food handling and aggressive interactions with siblings, and so often grows more quickly than the other chicks.

Birds east of the Rocky Mountains in the northern part of their range are bird migratory and winter in Central America or northern South America. From the southern United States southwards and on the Pacific coast, they are year-round residents.


Ardea alba (Great Egret)
Great Egret
Description
The Great Egret Ardea alba, also known as the Great White Egret, White Heron, or Common Egret, is a wading egret, found in most of the tropical and warmer temperate parts of the world, although it is very local in southern Europe and Asia. It is called Kōtuku in New Zealand. It should not be confused with the Great White Heron, which is a white morph of the Great Blue Heron found in Florida.

The Great Egret is a large bird with all white plumage, as much as 101 cm40 in long and weighing up to 950 grams2 lbs. It is only slightly smaller than the Great Blue or Grey Herons. Apart from size, the Great Egret can be distinguished from other white egrets by its yellow bill and black legs and feet. It also has a slow flight, with its neck retracted. This is characteristic of herons and bitterns, and distinguishes them from storks, cranes and spoonbills, which extend their necks.

The Great Egret feeds in shallow water or drier habitats, spearing fish, frogs or insects with its long, sharp bill. It will often wait motionless for prey, or slowly stalk its victim. It is a conspicuous species, usually easily seen.

The Great Egret is partially migratory, with northern hemisphere birds moving south from areas with cold winters. It breeds in colonies in trees close to large lakes with reed beds or other extensive wetlands. It builds a bulky stick nest. The call at breeding colonies is a loud croaking "cuk cuk cuk".

Charadriiformes (waders, gulls, and auks)Edit

Larus argentatus (Herring Gull)
Adult Herring Gull
Juvenile Gull
Description
The Herring Gull, Larus argentatus, is a large gull which breeds across North America, Europe and Asia. Some herring gulls, especially those resident in colder areas, migrate further south in winter, but many are permanent residents, e.g. those on the lower Great Lakes, on the east coast of North America or at the North Sea shores. Herring Gulls are also abundant around inland garbage dumps, and some have even adapted to life in inland cities.

Adult Herring Gulls are similar to Ring-billed Gulls but are much larger, have pinkish legs, and a much thicker yellow bill with more pronounced lower bill. First-winter Herring Gulls are much browner, but second and third-winter birds can be confusing since soft part colors are variable and third-year Herring Gull often show a ring around the bill. Such birds are most easily distinguished by the larger size and larger bill of Herring Gull.

Adults are easily identified by their size, pale grey back and the red spot on the beak. Legs are pink at all ages. The bird depicted is the western European race Larus argentatus argenteus. The Scandinavian race L. a. argentatus is slightly larger and darker, with more white in the wing tips.

The North American American Herring Gull is similar to argentatus, except that immature birds tend to be darker and more uniformly brown.

These are omnivores like most Larus gulls, and will scavenge on rubbish tips and elsewhere, as well as seeking suitable small prey in fields or on the coast, or robbing plovers or lapwings of their catches.

Eggs, usually three, are laid on the ground or cliff ledges in colonies, and are defended vigorously by this large gull. The loud laughing call is well-known in the northern hemisphere.


Calidris pusilla (Semipalmated Sandpiper)
Semipalmated sandpiper on St Lucia
Semipalmated Sandpiper
Semipalmated sandpiper on Barbados
Description
The Semipalmated Sandpiper, Calidris or Erolia pusilla, is a very small shorebird.

Adults have black legs and a short stout straight dark bill. The body is dark grey-brown on top and white underneath. The head and neck are tinged light grey-brown. This bird can be difficult to distinguish from other similar tiny shorebirds, in particular the Western Sandpiper; these are known collectively as "peeps" or "stints".

Their breeding habitat is the southern tundra in Canada and Alaska near water. They nest on the ground. The male makes several shallow scrapes, the female chooses one and adds grass and other material to line the nest. The female lays 4 eggs; the male assists in incubation. After a few days, the female leaves the young with the male; the young feed themselves.

They are long distance migrants and winter in coastal South America with some going to the southern United States. They migrate in flocks which can number in the hundreds of thousands, particularly in favored feeding locations such as the Bay of Fundy and Delaware Bay. This species is a rare but regular vagrant to western Europe.

These birds forage on mudflats, picking up food by sight and feel (bill). They mainly eat aquatic insects and crustaceans.

Although very numerous, these birds are highly dependent on a few key stopover habitats during their migration, notably, Shepody Bay, an arm of the Bay of Fundy.

During the months of July and August you can go to one of two information centers run by the Nature Conservancy of Canada about the shorebirds in either Johnson's Mills or Mary's point.


Anseriformes (ducks, geese, and swans)Edit

Branta canadensis (Canada Goose)
Canada Goose in flight
Range
Breeding pair
Female with goslings
Description
The Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) belongs to the Branta genus of geese, which contains species with largely black plumage, distinguishing them from the grey species of the Anser genus.

The black head and neck with white "chinstrap" distinguish this goose from all except the Barnacle Goose, but the latter has a black breast, and grey, rather than brownish, body plumage. There are seven subspecies of this bird, of varying sizes and plumage details, but all are recognizable as Canada Geese. Some are hard to distinguish from the Cackling Goose (Branta hutchinsii), with which the Canada Goose was long assumed to form one species; the name Lesser Canada Goose is, confusingly, often applied to B. hutchinsii.

This species is 90-100 cm long with a 160-175 cm wing span. Males weigh 3.5–6.5 kg8–14 pounds, and can be very aggressive in defending territory. The female looks virtually identical but is slightly lighter at 3–5.5 kg7–12 pounds, and has a different honk. Exceptionally, weights of 11.3 kg25 pounds and a wingspan of 224 cm88 inches have been recorded in the largest race.

These birds feed mainly on plant material. When feeding in water, they submerge their heads and necks to reach aquatic plants, sometimes tipping forward like a dabbling duck. Flocks of these birds often feed on leftover cultivated grains in fields, especially during migration or in winter.

During the second year of their lives, Canada Geese find themselves a mate. Most couples stay together all of their lives. If one is killed, the other may find a new mate. The female lays 4-8 eggs and both parents protect the nest while the eggs incubate, but the female spends more time at the nest than the male. During that time, they lose their flight feathers, so that they cannot fly until after their eggs hatch. This period lasts for 25-28 days.

Adult geese are often seen leading their goslings in a line, usually with one parent at the front, and the other at the back of the "parade". While protecting their young, parents often violently chase away nearby creatures, from small blackbirds to other geese, to humans that approach, after warning them by giving off a hissing sound. The young do not leave their parents until after the spring migration, when they return to their birthplace.

This well-known species is native to North America. It breeds in Canada and the northern United States in a variety of habitats. However, the nest is usually located in an elevated area near water, sometimes on a beaver lodge. The eggs are laid in a shallow depression lined with plant material and down. The Great Lakes region maintains a very large population of Canada Geese.

Like most geese, the Canada goose is naturally migratory with the wintering range being most of the United States. The calls overhead from large groups of Canada Geese flying in V-shaped formation signal the transitions into spring and autumn. In some areas, migration routes have changed due to changes in habitat and food sources. In mild climates, such as the Pacific Northwest, due to a lack of former predators, some of the population has become non-migratory.


Anas acuta (Northern Pintail)
Male Northern Pintail
Range
Description
This dabbling duck is strongly migratory and winters further south than its breeding range, as far as the equator. It is highly gregarious outside the breeding season and forms large mixed flocks with other ducks.
Last modified on 14 October 2010, at 23:15