Surf Scoter: Waterfowl Wednesday

We are almost a month into winter, so I thought it would a great time for a Waterfowl Wednesday post. If you’ve been following me for awhile, you know that I love waterfowl, and winter is the best time to look for different species. For new readers, waterfowl is any bird that is a duck, goose, or swan. So without further ado, today’s featured species is Surf Scoter.

Surf Scoter (Melanitta perspicillata)


  • Black-and white, medium-sized sea duck
  • Has no white on wings
  • Wedge shaped heads
  • Males: distinct swollen bill of orange, white, red, yellow, and a dark black spot. Yellowish-white or blue-gray eyes. Red-orange feet with dusky webs. White patches on nape of neck and forehead.
  • Females: Dark crown on head and neck. White patches below and behind eyes. Plain, sloping greenish-black bill. Pale gray, yellow, or brown eyes. Brown to yellow-colored feet with black webs.
  • Juvenile: Similar to female, but has brown eyes, white belly and whiter face patches
Male Surf Scoter (Image by BirdNation)
Female Surf Scoter (Image by BirdNation)


  • Breeding: exclusively breeds in North America, specifically Alaska and Northern Canada
  • Winter: Pacific and Atlantic Coasts, sometimes Gulf Coast
  • Migration: Migrates in flocks over coastal waters, sometimes using lakes for stop-over sites. Migrates through parts of Canada, the Great Lakes, and some New England and Mid-Atlantic States.


In winter, oceans and salt bays. In summer, tundra, lakes, and semi-open terrains.


Mainly mollusks, aquatic invertebrates, crustaceans, aquatic insects, some plant material. Surf Scoters are diving ducks. 


  • Courtship: Many males will try to impress a female using display flights, swimming back and forth with neck up, or exaggerated bows. Pair bonds form on wintering grounds.
  • Nesting: Shallow depression on the ground away from water, usually well hidden.
  • Young: Female incubates 5-9 eggs and tends to the chicks after hatching. Chicks are precocial, meaning they leave the nest shortly after hatching and can feed themselves.
Female and male Surf Scoters at Barnegat Light, NJ (Image by BirdNation)


Usually silent, but sometimes guttural croaking. Wings in flight make a whistling sound.


Population trends are not well known, but are mostly stable.

Fun Facts

  • Egg hatching is synchronous among eggs, meaning they will all hatched around the same time.
  • Similar species to the Surf Scoter are Black Scoters and White-winged Scoters. However, Surf Scoters can be distinguish from other scoter species by their unique bills, white patches on the head, and completely black wings.
  • Flocks can vary in size from 2 to 500 individuals, but can be larger during migration. Surf Scoters frequently flock with Black Scoters, but most other species of ducks can be found among Surf Scoters. They tend to fly in disorganized lines that are constantly fluctuating.

Wisdom the Albatross

Exciting news! Wisdom, a Laysan Albatross who is at least 68-years-old, has laid another egg in December on Midway Atoll. This amazing Albatross is the world’s oldest wild bird.

Wisdom and her mate Akeakamai (Image by Kiah Walker via

Wisdom was banded on Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in 1956 by biologist Chandler Robbins. Wisdom was already around 5 or 6-years-old at the time of banding. 46 years later, in 2002, Robbins was back on Midway Atoll to study albatrosses and re-sighted Wisdom.

Scientists who have track Wisdom believe that she’s laid over 40 eggs in her over 6 decades. She had successfully raised at least 35 chicks.

Laysan Albatrosses are large seabirds with a 6-foot-wingspan and weigh between 5-9 pounds. They lay one egg per breeding season and spend 5 1/2 months raising their chick. Laysans mate with the same partner for life, usually at the same nesting location. These albatrosses typically take a year off after rearing a chick. However, Wisdom and her current mate, Akeakamai (whose name actually means “lover of wisdom” 😊), have raised an egg every year since 2006.

Albatrosses are master ocean travelers. They spend a majority of their lives out at sea. After fledging, young albatrosses will spend about 3-5 years exploring the oceans before returning to land to breed. It’s estimated that over her six decades so far, Wisdom may have flown over 3 million miles.

Seabirds are facing a number of challenges these days, including plastic pollution, warming oceans, and invasive predators at nest sites. To me, Wisdom is a symbol of resilience and hope in an ever-changing world. The fact that she has survived over six decades and is still raising chicks is a testament to how intelligent and adaptable seabirds can be in a world of increasing challenges.

I wish Wisdom and Akeakami the best of luck and safe journeys!

LaysanAlbatrosses are one of my favorite bird species. Check out some of my other posts about how amazing they are and what you can do to help them in the  face of plastic pollution.

Albie Love

Trouble in Paradise

The Waders: Wood Stork

This week’s featured Wading Bird is the Wood Stork. Last year on my birthday, we saw a juvenile Wood Stork in Cape May, NJ. Since the Wood Stork range is the southeastern United States, our Wood Stork was considered a rarity and delighted many excited birders for a few weeks in NJ.



  • Large bird, standing at about 3 feet tall
  • Mainly white with black flight feathers
  • Bald, scaly looking heads
  • Thick curved black bill with long neck

Wood Stork adult (Image by Wilfredo Lee/AP via



  • Similar plumage colors to adult
  • Pale bill that darkens with age
  • Grayish feathers on neck


South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, the Caribbean, coasts of Mexico


Cypress swamps, lagoons, marshes, ponds. Mainly freshwater habitats


  • Fish, reptiles, invertebrates, amphibians, aquatic insects, nestlings
  • Forages in shallow water with bill partially open; snaps bill close in contact with prey
  • Sometimes uses its feet to stir up prey or flaps to startle prey


  • Courtship: A male starts off aggressive towards a female, but once he accepts her into the territory will bring her sticks and preen her. Pairs stay together for one breeding season.
  • Nesting: Colonial nesters in trees above standing water. Nesting locations include mangroves, stands of cypress trees, or flooded impoundments. The pair will construct a nest of sticks that is lined with greenery and guano. The nest will end up being 3- 5 feet wide and take 2-3 days to construct.
  • Young: Both parents will incubate 3-5 eggs for 28-32 days. The young are fed by both parents and will be guarded in the nest by a parent for about 5 weeks. First flights occur around 8 weeks, but the young will usually stick around the nest to be fed and to sleep until about 11 weeks.

Wood Stork
Wood Stork juvenile (Image by David Horowitz)


Usually silent except during nest. Young makes clattering bill noises while adults make croaking sounds.


Wood Storks are considered uncommon. Their populations have declined over the years. Threats include changes in water levels, nest predation  from terrestrial animals, and habitat degradation.

Fun Facts:

  • The Wood Stork is the only native stork species in North America.
  • When temperatures  rise in the late afternoon, Wood Storks will soar high in the thermals just like raptors.
  • Wood Storks used to be known as the “wood ibis”, even though they are not ibises.


You can check out our previous Wading Bird post about Black-crowned Night-Herons here.

The Waders: Black-crowned Night-Heron

This week’s featured Wader is the Black-crowned Night-Heron. (You can check out last week’s featured Wader, the Roseate Spoonbill, here.)

Black-crowned Night-Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax)



  • Medium-sized, stocky heron
  • Large head, rarely extends neck
  • Whitish to pale gray belly
  • Gray wings
  • Black cap/back/bill
  • Red eyes
  • Short yellow legs
  • Long white plumes from head during breeding seasons
  • South American subspecies Dusky in plumage

black-crowned night heron 1
Black-crowned Night-Heron Breeding Adult (Image by David Horowitz)


  • Brown overall and heavily streaked
  • Thick neck and yellow and black bill
  • Large white spots on wing coverts
  • Immature/1st Summer a mix of Juvenile and Adult features


  • Year-Round: Atlantic Coast, Gulf Coast, parts of Pacific Coast, Florida
  • Summer: Most of the United States, parts of Canada
  • Winter: Mexico


Marshes, wetlands, swamps, wooded streams, lakes

Black-crowned Night-heron juvenile
Juvenile Black-crowned Night-Heron (Image by David Horowitz)


Amphibians, fish, small mammals, insects, crustaceans. Black-crowned Night-Herons forage most actively at night and early morning. They will stand in one spot and wait for prey before striking. Night-Herons will also slowly forage along the shoreline or from a perch. These birds have been known to steal chicks from the nests of other herons.


  • Courtship: Black-crowned Night-Herons start breeding around the age of 2. Males will choose a nest site to display from. To attract females, the male will raise his neck and ruffle his feathers. He may also bow while alternating lifting his feet.
  • Nesting Site: Night-Herons are colonial nesters who roost in trees. The female will build a nest of sticks with some assistance from the male.
  • Young: Both parents will incubate 3-5 greenish-blue eggs for 21-26 days. The young are fed by regurgitation. They begin to fly around 6 weeks of age, and will start to follow the parents for food shortly after flight.


A loud kwok!, mainly heard at night. In the breeding colony, a variety of barks and croaks


Although quite inconspicuous, due to their nocturnal nature, Black-crowned Night-Herons are fairly common. They are a good indicator species for the quality of the environment in which they live since they feed at the top of the food chain.

Fun Facts: 

  • Black-crowned Night-Herons are the most widespread heron in the world. They are found on every continent except for Australia and Antarctica.
  • Young Night-Herons don’t reach adult plumage until around the age of 3.
  • They are one of the seven heron species known to use bait-fishing. They will toss an object in the water to attract prey within their striking range.
  • The Black-crowned Night-Heron’s scientific name Nycticorax nycticorax means “night raven”.

Black-crowned Night-Heron (By Tom Grey via






The Waders: Roseate Spoonbill

This week’s featured Wading Bird is the gregarious and striking Roseate Spoonbill. (Last week’s wader, the Great Egret, can be found here). 

Roseate Spoonbill adult  (Image by Purio via

Roseate Spoonbill (Platalea ajaja)



  • Pale pink plumage with brighter pink on their rumps and shoulders
  • Distinct “spoon” at the end of a long bill
  • Long, partially-feathered, white neck that is an “S”-shape at rest
  • Small, yellowish-green heads with red eyes


  • Even paler pink than the adults, almost white
  • Completely feathered head for 3 years until adult plumage


  • Resident: Florida, the Gulf Coast of Texas and Louisiana, coasts of Mexico, the Caribbean
  • Short-Distance Migrant depending on changes in food source/water levels


Coastal marshes, mudflats, tidal ponds, lagoons, shallow water, both salt and fresh water.


Crustaceans, fish, aquatic insects. They forage by sweeping their partially opened bill in water less than 5 inches deep. They swallow their prey whole.

Juvenile Roseate Spoonbill By Andrea Westmoreland from DeLand, United States [CC BY-SA 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

  • Courtship: The males and females will begin their courtship with aggressive behavior, but later end up perching closely together. The pair will also clasp/cross their bills together and exchange sticks. Pairs last for one breeding season.
  • Nesting Site: Colonial, usually with other waders such as ibises, herons, and egrets. Nest on islands, mangroves, or over water in the shadiest part of the tree.
  • Young: 2-3 (sometimes 1-5) white eggs incubated by both parents for 22-24 days. 1 brood per year. Chicks are born with white natal down and fed by both parents. Young leave the nest around 5-6 weeks and flights occurs at 7-8 weeks.


Silent except at breeding colony. Grunting huh-huh-huh-huh. A low raspy rrek-ek-ek-ek. 


Uncommon, but population has slightly increased in recent years. Threats include habitat degradation, human disturbance due to boating, water quality, and salinity of the water.

Fun Facts: 

  • When a flock of Roseate Spoonbills flies over feeding spoonbills, the feeding birds will “Sky Gaze”, a posture where they lift their bills and point them towards the sky.’
  • They are pink in color due to their diet. The shrimp and other crustaceans they consume contain the carotenoind cantaxanthin. 
  • Roseate Spoonbills are the only spoonbill species (out of 6) to live in the Americas.


The Waders: Great Egret

Now that it’s springtime, the wading birds have arrived. Wading Birds are not the same as Shorebirds (although shorebirds wade through water too). Wading birds include herons, egrets, ibises, flamingos, storks, spoonbills, and night-herons. This week’s featured wader is the stunning Great Egret.

Great Egret (Ardea alba)


  • Large, slender white bird
  • Long, S-shaped neck
  • Dagger-like yellow-orange bill
  • Black legs
  • Green lores
  • Breeding adults display aigrettes, long feathery plumes its back

Great Egret (Image by BirdNation)


Great Egret range map (Image via Cornell Lab of Ornithology,


Marine, freshwater, and brackish wetlands. Ponds, lakes, marshes, impoundments, tidal flats, streams, rivers


Small fish, amphibians, reptiles, invertebrates, birds, small mammals. Wades through the water or stands still, and uses spear-like bill to catch prey. May forage alone or in small groups.

Great Egret Swallowing a Fish (Image by BirdNation)


  • Courtship: Breeding adults will grow large aigrettes (plumes) for display. Displays include preening, holding/shaking a twig in its bill, and neck stretching. Great Egrets are monogamous for the breeding season, but its unknown if pair bonds last multiple years.
  • Nesting Site: Males will begin constructing a nest, and the female will help complete it. Nests are usually over water in a tree, about 100 feet off the ground. Often found in mixed colonies of other wading birds.
  • Young: 1-6 eggs are incubated by both parents for 23-27 days. The chicks are covered in white down, and are tended to for 21-25 days. The chicks are fed by regurgitation. They will usually leave the nest about 3 weeks, and can fly within 6-7 weeks.

Great Egret with breeding plumage (Image by BirdNation)


Guttural croak.


In the nineteenth and early twentieth, 95% of the North American Great Egrets were hunted for their plumes. Plume hunting was banned around 1910, and the population has recovered considerably. Populations are now considered stable. Breeding ranges have been moving northward in recent years.

Fun Facts: 

  • Great Egrets are also found in part of Asia, Africa, South America, and Southern Europe.
  • The Great Egret is the symbol of the National Audubon Society.
  • A breeding colony can easily have over 1,000 Great Egret nests.

great egret 3
Great Egret (Image by BirdNation)


Happy World Penguin Day!

Happy World Penguin Day! There are 18 species of penguins in the world, so in honor of World Penguin Day, here is a fact for each penguin species.  (If you want to learn facts about penguins in general, check out our World Penguin Day post from last year.)


  • Adélie Penguins breed further south than any other bird in the world.
  • African Penguins use a donkey-like braying sound to communicate, earning them the nickname “Jackass Penguin”.
  • 99% of a Chinstrap Penguin’s diet is Antarctic krill.

Chinstrap Penguin (Image via

  • The largest of all penguins is the Emperor Penguin. Emperors can dive up to 1,850 feet, the deepest of all birds. A single dive can last up to 20 minutes.
  • Erect-crested Penguins are endemic to New Zealand. They have most extreme egg dimorphism of all birds. The second egg of a clutch tends to be around 81% bigger than the first egg.
  • It’s rare to find a Fiordland Penguin during the day. Since they are so timid, they tend to be more active at night.
  • Galápagos Penguins are the only penguins found north of the Equator.
  • Unlike their closest relatives, the Adélies and Chinstraps, Gentoo Penguins typically remain on their breeding grounds year-round.
  • Humboldt Penguins aren’t only black and white, they’re also pink! They have pink patches of bare skin on their face and under their wings to help keep them cool in their warm environment.

Humboldt Penguin (Image via Santa Barbara Zoo,

  • King Penguins take 14 to 16 months to fledge a single chick, which is the longest breeding cycle of all birds.
  • Little Penguins are also known as Little Blue or Fairy Penguins. These nocturnal penguins are only 13-15 inches tall.
  • The largest of all crested penguins, Macaroni Penguins spend up to 6 months foraging at sea.
  • Magellanic Penguins are the only off-shore foraging and migratory penguins of the genus Spheniscus. Other penguins in the genus Spheniscus include African, Humboldt, and Galápagos.
  • Not only are Northern Rockhopper Penguins extremely feisty, they are highly social and live in dense colonies.

Northern Rockhopper Penguin By Arjan Haverkamp [CC BY 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

  • Northern and Southern Rockhopper Penguins used to be considered the same species, but it turns out they are genetically different. Southern Rockhoppers are the smallest of the crested penguins, standing only slightly taller than Little Blues.
  • Royal Penguins are perhaps the most colorful of all the penguins. They have thick orange bills with pink around the base. Their crest is orange, yellow, and black. Yellow feathers can be found above the bill, forehead and eyes. They also have beige claws and light pink feet.
  • Snares Penguins are closely related to Fiordland Penguins. Both species have thick red short bills, but Snares have a pink patch at the base of the bill. They are found on the Snares Islands of New Zealand.
  • Yellow-eyed Penguins are known to the Maori of New Zealand as Hoiho, or “noisy shouter”. They are one of the rarest and most endangered penguins in the world, with estimates of only 4,000 individuals.

This photo of Penguin Place is courtesy of TripAdvisor

What’s your favorite penguin species? Tell me about it in the comments! (My favorite species is the Little Blue 🙂 )