Common Tern: Seashore Saturday

This week’s seabird is the most widespread North American tern: the Common Tern.

Common Tern (Sterna hirundo)

Description:

Common Terns are are white with a black cap and considered medium-sized terns. Their tail feathers are forked up. Breeding adults have an orange-red bill that features a dark tip. Their backs are grays and legs are orange. Nonbreeding and first year birds have a dark carpal bar on their upper wings and black feet/tail feathers. Juveniles have an orange bill and a brown-striped back.

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Adult breeding Common Tern  (Image via animilia-life.com

Range:

Breeding (summer): Eastern Canada and Northeast Atlantic Coast Migration: Midwest, Atlantic and Pacific Coasts and some parts of Western United States Winters: coasts of South America and Caribbean Islands

Habitat:

Ocean beaches, bays, lakes, lagoons. Usually found on the coast but less common inland. Winters in tropical or subtropical waters.

Food:

Fish, crustaceans, insects, shrimp. Common Terns forage by hovering over the water and plunge diving. They may also catch insects in the air or steal food from other terns.

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A Common Tern defends its territory (Image by Michelle Kinsey Bruns via wikimedia commons)

Breeding/Nesting:

Common Terns breed in large colonies found on rocky or sandy islands. They usually start to breed between 3-4 years of age. Pairs of groups may perform aerial courtships where they fly high in the air. On the ground pairs will bow and strut. Males will present a fish to the females. Both sexes will participate in choosing a nest site. Nests are usually a scrape in the ground but may be lines with natural materials. Both parents will incubate 1-3 eggs for 21-25 days. Young will remain on the nest for a few days after hatching and take their first flights in about 22-28 days. The chicks will stay with their parents for about 2 months.

 

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An adult and chick (Image by Kevin T. Karlson via ny.audubon.org)

Sounds:

A high keeeyurr that descends in pitch; a short kip call

Fun Facts:

  • Common Terns who live at the coast drink saltwater. They have nasal glands that help excrete excess salt like many other seabirds do.
  • They are strongly migratory and are considered long-distance migrants. Populations usually move north before staring their migration southward.
  • Common Terns have circumpolar distribution. There are 4 subspeices that are found in subarctic and temperate regions of not only North America, but also Asia and Europe.
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Protect the Puffins

Hello my friends! Today I wanted to share a petition from the National Audubon Society related to the Atlantic Puffin and other marine birds/creatures. It’s for the creation of of a Marine National Monument in the Atlantic Ocean. I also wanted to spread the word about Project Puffin and why I believe a Marine National Monument is necessary.

You can read and sign the petition at Audubon’s website here.

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Atlantic Puffins (Image via http://www.public-domain-images.com)

Project Puffin is a restoration program that was created by the National Audubon Society in 1973 and lead by Dr. Stephen W. Kress. Historically there were 6 islands off the coast of Maine where Atlantic Puffins had established breeding colonies. Due to hunting of their eggs, feathers, and meat for around 300 years following the colonial age, there were only 2 islands used for breeding by the 1970s. The original goal of Project Puffin was to establish a breeding colony on Eastern Egg Rock Island.

Atlantic Puffins, like many seabirds, typically return to the same breeding grounds that they were born at. Between 1973 and 1986, 954 Atlantic Puffins were transplanted from Great Island, Newfoundland to Eastern Egg Rock Island when they were between 10-14 days old. Audubon biologists essentially took the place of Puffin parents and tagged them before they fledged. 914 chicks successfully fledged in this time. Transplanted Puffins started returning to Eastern Egg Rock Island in 1977. They were lured with wooden Puffin decoys and in 1981 4 pairs bred on the island. There are now 150 breeding pairs on Egg Rock. As usually with all bird conservation projects, it is still an ongoing and active mission.

But there was a mystery. When the Puffins would leave the breeding grounds, nobody knew where they were going. They would spend as much as 8 months at a mystery location. Learning where the Puffins go would be important so that these birds and other wildlife could be protected all year round. In 2009 birds were tagged with geolocators. There ended up being issues with the equipment, so in 2013, 26 new Puffins were fitted with geolocators.

In 2015, scientists were able to retrieve 19 devices and analyzed the data. They found that Atlantic Puffins spend the winter 200 miles east of Cape Cod, at the New England Coral Canyons and Seamounts. There is still more research to be done, and as technology improves, scientist will be able to retrieve more precise data. In the meantime, making the Coral Canyons and Seamounts a permanent Marine National Monument will help protect the Puffin’s wintering grounds. There are many Marine National Monuments protecting areas in the Pacific Ocean, but there are none in the Atlantic Ocean. At the moment, the New England Coral Canyons and Seamounts are pretty much undisturbed. By protecting them now, we can help make sure that this habitat is left untouched by fishing and oil industries so that all kinds of marine life can thrive.

Since it’s inception in 1973, Project Puffin has become much larger than just helping Puffins. It’s now a conservation program that benefits many other seabirds, such as terns and storm-petrels. As a result, there are now Puffins nesting on 5 Maine Islands and is also helping to restore Seal Island National Wildlife Refuge. Please consider signing this petition to help marine animals stay protected. If you want to learn more about Project Puffin, check out their website:

Project Puffin

There is a book called Project Puffin: The Improbable Quest to Bring a Beloved Seabird Back to Egg Rock by Stephen W. Kress and Derrick Z. Jackson. You can also “adopt” a Puffin on their website.

Thank you all for reading this! Every person who can help with this effort is much appreciated. To quote Audubon’s website, “Spread the word. It’s the least you could do.”

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(Book image via projectpuffin.audubon.org)

Spotted Sandpiper: Seashore Saturday

This week’s featured bird is the Spotted Sandpiper of the Shorebirds family. Many sandpipers breed only in the most northern parts of North America, but Spotted Sandpipers spend their summers across most of the continent.

Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius)

Description:

Spotted Sandpipers are medium-sized shorebirds that have long tails and short necks. Their bills are slightly shorter their heads and they look like they are always leaning forward. Breeding adults have brown back, orange bills with a black tip, and yellow legs. True to their name, they have dark spots on their white bellies. They also have a white stripe above their eyes and on their wings during flight.. Nonbreeding “Spotties” (as they are sometimes called) have the brown backs but lack the bold belly spots. The sides of their breast are brown and more of a pinkish bill.

Range:

Summer (breeding): Canada to Alaska, Northern United States Migration: Southwest to Southeast United State Winter: Southern United States, Mexico, Caribbean Island, most of South America Year Round: Pacific Northwest Coast

Habitat:

Rocky shores, streams, lakes, ponds, mudflats. Typically found in fresh water environments. One of the most widespread sandpipers in North America

Food:

Invertebrates, insects, and small fish. They forage by probing at the mud of sand and lunging at moving prey.

Breeding/Nesting:

Spotted Sandpipers have interesting breeding and nesting behaviors. In most bird species males are more aggressive and display courtship behaviors while females take care of the young. Spotted Sandpipers reverse these roles. Females will attract males by swooping flights where she makes a weet-weet call, or by strutting on the ground. They are usually monogamus, but some females may practice a breeding strategy called polyandry, where she may have up to four mates per season. She will leave the male to incubate and care for the eggs. Females also arrive earlier than males to choose a breeding site which she will defend. The nest, which is scraped out on the ground and lines with natural materials, is usually started by the female but finished by the male.

Spotted Sandpipers can have between 1 and 5 broods per year with a clutch size of 3-5 eggs. The male will incubate the eggs for 20-24 days. The chicks are precocial, so they leave the nest within hours of hatching able to walk and feed themselves. The young are usually tended to by the male and will take their first flights within 17-20 days of hatching.

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Spotted Sandpiper chick (Image by Nathan Banfield via birds.explore.org

Sounds:

Weet-weet call during breeding; a high whistled twii twii, a single peet

Fun Facts:

  • Although male Spotties have 10 times more testosterone than females, female’s testosterone increases seven-fold during breeding, making the females more aggressive.
  • A female can store sperm in her  body for up to a month, so a male tending to her egg may not necessarily be the father of the chicks he’s caring for.
  • Spotted Sandpipers are almost always doing a teetering motion, although scientists are not sure what purpose it serves.
  • In flight, Spotties skim low over the water with a rapid burst of fastwingbeats, then have stiff short glides.
  • Spotted Sandpipers are not usually seen in flocks. They are usually solitary.
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A foraging Spotted Sandpiper (Image via Missouri Department of Conservation nature.mdc.mo.gov)

 

Texas Hummers

If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you know that I love bird cams. So I was thrilled when I found out that last week the Cornell Lab of Ornithology started broadcasting the West Texas Hummingbirds cam again!

The West Texas Hummers cam is based out of Fort Davis, Texas. It is run by the West Texas Avian Research and sponsored by Perky-Pet. The cam site hosts 24 hummingbird feeders that are elevated at over 6,200 feet. West Texas Avian Research has been using this site for about 10 years to band and study hummingbirds that are migrating through the Davis Mountains. About a dozen of hummingbird species pass through the site during peak migration.

Some of the commonly featured birds on this cam are the Ruby-throated, Rufous, Black-chinned, Magnificent,  Calliope, Lucifer, Broad-tailed, and White-eared Hummingbirds. Rare visitors include Anna’s, Allen’s, Green Violetear, and Blue-throated Hummingbirds. You can hear other regional bird species in the background (and sometimes there are surprise visitors). Most of the time the cam is fixed on one feeder, but sometimes they change the angle so you can see more. If you want to watch the cam (which I highly recommend, of course) you can find it at the Cornell Lab’s Bird Cams page or just click here.

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An almost full feeder (Image via West Texas Hummers Twitter)

Here are 10 interesting facts about hummingbirds.

  • The heart rate of an average hummingbird is over 1,200 beats per minute!
  • Their feet are so tiny that they can’t walk on the ground, they can only perch.
  • Hummingbirds can beat their wings 60 to 200 times per second.
  • Hummingbirds are only found in the Western Hemisphere from southeastern Alaska to southeastern Chile. They are mainly found in the tropics. 16 species of hummingbirds breed in the United States, but other species considered vagrant will visit as well.
  • There are over 320 species of Hummingbirds.
  • Hummingbirds go into a state of torpor at night, where they lower their metabolism to 1/15 of normal. Their body temperature drops and their heart rate lowers to just a few beats per minute.
  • The smallest Hummingbird in the world is the Bee Hummingbird, which weighs only 2.2 grams.
  • Hummingbirds can fly between 25-35 miles per hour and up to 60 miles per hour in a fast dive.
  • They can fly in any direction, and are the only bird that can fly backwards.
  • Hummingbirds need to consume 50% of their body weight in nectar per day.

Do you see Hummingbirds in your area? What’s your favorite Hummingbird species? Tell me in the comments.

Brown Booby: Seashore Saturday

This week’s featured bird is a rare visitor to North America. It’s usually found at the southern tips of North America when it does visit, but is causing quite a stir here in New Jersey right now. It’s the Brown Booby.

About a week ago, a female Brown Booby showed up at Merrill Creek Reservoir in Warren County, New Jersey. It’s been showing up on the NJ Rare Bird Alert and people have been posting pictures of the Booby on the New Jersey Birders Facebook group. This is a very exciting event since New Jersey is extremely far from this bird’s normal range, but it’s not the first time there’s been a Brown Booby here. There was one a few years ago in Cape May.

We’ve had some pretty cool rare birds here in NJ recently. In the late winter it was a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher at Edwin B. Forsythe NWR, and recently Mississippi Kites have been nesting in Waretown, NJ. Unfortunately, I probably won’t have the opportunity to see this Brown Booby (Merrill Creek is about 2 hours away for me), but if this bird sticks around for a bit a trip may be possible.

I figured since Sea-shore Saturday is about either a seabird or a shorebird, it would be cool to learn about this interesting rare visitor.

Brown Booby (Sula leucogaster)

Description:

Brown Boobies are seabirds that stand around 30 inches. They have long necks, bodies, and wings. Adult Brown Boobies have brown heads/necks/upperparts and white bellies/vents/wing linings. The white contrast is very obvious and well-defined. Juveniles are browner overall.

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Adult Brown Booby (Image via endlessocean.wikia.com)

Range:

Tropical waters in the pantropical (a term that covers tropical regions of all continents) Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. They breed in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico islands. The only United State that they breed in is Hawaii. Brown Boobies are regular visitors of Dry Tortugas, Florida and rare visitors California.

Habitat:

Tropical oceans. Nests on sandy and rocky islands

Food:

Mainly squid and  fish, especially flying fish. They are aerial divers, so they plunge headfirst in the water to catch food. Sometimes they may hover in the air before diving or use a perch. They also catch flying fish above the water.

Breeding and Nesting:

Brown Boobies start to breed around the age of 4 and stay with their mate for many seasons. They have many courtship rituals, such as bill-touching, pointing bills skyward, and bowing. Nests are located on islands either on cliffs or on the ground. The nest is usually a shallow depression but may be lined with with materials found in the area. Both sexes assist in making a nest.  Brown Boobies are colonial breeders.

Brown Boobies lay 1-2 eggs per year, which are incubated by both parents for 40-47 days. The second egg that is laid usually will not survive. Young are fed by regurgitation. The time which a chick has its first flight varies from 84-119 days after hatching. The juvenile will return to the nest site to beg for food after its first flight for many weeks.

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Brown boobies stake out positions atop the posts of an old pier at Johnston Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in the Pacific. (Lindsey Hayes/USFWS)

Sounds:

Usually silent. During breeding they may give grunting or screeching calls.

Fun Facts:

  • Like other large seabirds, Brown Boobies are amazing and strong fliers. However, they are pretty clumsy at landing and take-off. They rely on the wind and perches to help them take-off from land.
  • Brown Boobies can plunge-dive from up to 50 feet in the air and dive up to 6 feet below the water’s surface.
  • They are known to follow fishing vessels and steal food from other birds.

 

My New Avian Neighbors

One thing I enjoy about birding is that you can do it anywhere. There are no specific places you need to be. You can find all sorts of interesting birds, and don’t even have to leave your own backyard.

I don’t actually have a “backyard” but I because I live in an apartment complex. But I do have a nice large balcony that looks out over a lawn with some trees and live next to a wooded area, so I see a decent amount of birds.

I don’t really know my human neighbors that well, but I certainly know my avian neighbors. Over time I get to know the resident birds and their habits and am excited when new species move into our area. This spring/summer a new couple has moved into the neighborhood: the House Wrens.

Every morning, one the the wrens (I like to call him my “little friend Wren” haha) sings out from my balcony. I was honored that Wren chose our balconies of all the ones he could have chosen from. Then I noticed that Wren had a plan, and it was sneaky. (Below is a fuzzy cell phone picture of Wren on my balcony)

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My little friend Wren on my balcony 🙂 (Image by BirdNation)

Wren is trying to take over my nest box. He likes to sneak in but doesn’t succeed for very long. The male House Sparrow who resides there always kicks him out. Wren is pretty persistent though and usually will try multiple times before flying off. He’s not afraid to put up a fight either. It makes for quite a spectacle.

This has been the summer of the wren for me. I have been seeing Carolina, House, and Marsh Wrens pretty frequently, but my neighbor House Wrens are my favorite so far. So in honor of my little friend Wren and his mate, here are some fun facts about House Wrens.

  • Despite being a plain-looking brown bird, House Wrens are anything but dull. House Wrens are energetic and bubbly little birds. They move quickly, fluttering about with their tails straight up in the air. Their songs are just as lively as their personalities. They let out an exuberant, trilling song that ascend then descends. (If you’ve never heard a House Wren, I suggest you look up their songs. It’s delightful!)
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House Wren (Image via animalia-life.com)
  • They may only weight about the size of two quarters, but if you’re a bird you better watch out! House Wrens are fierce competitors when it comes to looking for nest sites. If they want a certain spot they will harass larger birds, sometimes even killing the young that is already in the nest.
  • Breeding House Wrens choose new mating partners each season. To persuade a female to court with him, a male will prepare multiple nests. Single males may try to steal a female from another male after nesting has already begun. If the single male succeeds, he will get rid of the former male’s eggs so he can have his own. Females may leave the male to take care of the chicks to start a nest with a new male.
  • House Wrens have the largest range of any New World songbird. Their range extends from Central Canada and all throughout North/Central America and can go down to the southernmost tip of South America.
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(Map via the Cornell Lab of Ornithology)
  • House Wrens earned their names because they tend to live close to humans and in man-made structures.

Who is your favorite avian neighbor? Tell me about them in the comments.

 

Black-necked Stilt: Seashore Saturday

This week we will be featuring the Black-necked Stilt, a member of the shorebird family. While you can find them at coastlines, you can also find Stilts inland at grassy marshes and mudflats.

Black-necked Stilt (Himantopus mexicanus)

Description:

Black-necked Stilts are large, slender shorebirds that are known for their extraordinarily long, thin red legs. They have black from their heads to their tails and white underneath. Their black bills are long and straight.

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Black-necked Stilt (Image by Dan Pancamo via wikimedia commons)

Range:

Year-round on the coast of California, Mexico, the Gulf Coast, the Caribbean, and parts of South America. Summer (breeding): parts of the Interior West of the United States and Southeastern Atlantic Coast Winters: Baja California Migration: Southwest and Northern Mexico, Central America

Habitat:

Wetlands, grassy marshes, mudflats, coastlines

Food:

Black-necked Stilts probe the water or mudflats for fish and aquatic invertebrates. They will also herd fish into shallow waters to trap them or plunge their heads underwater to catch food.

Breeding/Nesting:

They are considered semicolonial, meaning they will nest in loose colonies of around a dozen pairs, as opposed to colonial birds who nest in the hundreds of pairs. Pairs choose the nesting site together, which is usually on the ground or on a surface slightly above water, such as a small island. Nest sites can be as simple as a scrape in the ground, or gently lined with grasses or small pebbles.

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Black-necked Stilt chick (Image by Shravans14 via wikimedia commons)

They have 1 brood per year with a clutch size of 3-5 eggs, usually 4. Pairs take turns incubating the eggs for about 25 days. The young are precocial, meaning they are relatively mature and mobile from the moment they hatch. Young can be seen swimming within hours after hatching. Both parents watch over the young, but they chicks feed themselves. They take their first flights around 4-5 weeks after hatching.

Sounds:

A repeated sharp pleek or taawh

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A Stilt in flight (Image by Joe Fuhrman/VIREO via audubon.org)

Fun Facts:

  • Black-necked Stilts are strongly territorial. They whole colony will participate when it comes to scaring off predators. They will hop up and down, encircle the intruder, and flap their wings.
  • If it’s very hot during breeding, a bird may wet their belly feathers to cool down the eggs.
  • Black-necked Stilts have the second-longest legs in proportion to their bodies of any bird. They are only exceeded by Flamingos.