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.

Description:

Adult:

  • 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
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Wood Stork adult (Image by Wilfredo Lee/AP via nrp.org)

 

Juvenile:

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

Range:

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

Habitat:

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

Diet:

  • 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

Breeding/Nesting:

  • 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.
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Wood Stork juvenile (Image by David Horowitz)

Vocalizations:

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

Conservation:

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)

Description:

Adult:

  • 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
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Black-crowned Night-Heron Breeding Adult (Image by David Horowitz)

Juvenile/Immature:

  • 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

Range: 

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

Habitat:

Marshes, wetlands, swamps, wooded streams, lakes

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

Diet:

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.

Breeding/Nesting:

  • 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.

Vocalization: 

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

Conservation: 

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”.
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Black-crowned Night-Heron (By Tom Grey via birdnote.org)

 

Sources:
https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Black-crowned_Night-Heron/overview
https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/black-crowned-night-heron
http://www.nhptv.org/natureworks/blackcrown.htm
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black-crowned_night_heron

 

 

 

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). 

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Roseate Spoonbill adult  (Image by Purio via rio.wikia.com)

Roseate Spoonbill (Platalea ajaja)

Description:

Adults:

  • 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

Juveniles:

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

Range:

  • 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

Habitat:

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

Diet: 

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

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Juvenile Roseate Spoonbill By Andrea Westmoreland from DeLand, United States [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Breeding/Nesting:

  • 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.

Vocalization:

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

Conservation: 

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)

Description:

  • 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
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Great Egret (Image by BirdNation)

Range:

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Great Egret range map (Image via Cornell Lab of Ornithology, allaboutbirds.org)

Habitat: 

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

Diet:

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.

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Great Egret Swallowing a Fish (Image by BirdNation)

Breeding/Nesting:

  • 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.
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Great Egret with breeding plumage (Image by BirdNation)

Vocalizations: 

Guttural croak.

Conservation:

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.
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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.)

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  • 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.
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Chinstrap Penguin (Image via bioexplorer.net)
  • 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.
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Humboldt Penguin (Image via Santa Barbara Zoo, sbzoo.org)
  • 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.
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Northern Rockhopper Penguin By Arjan Haverkamp [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, 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 🙂 )

E-A-G-L-E-S Eagles!

I’m not much of a football fan, but I do have enjoy watching the Super Bowl. Many bird sites like to post about SuperbOwl Sunday,  but this year the Philadelphia Eagles are in the championship game. I live close to Philly, so I’m right in the middle of Eagles country. So in honor of the fact that the birds are in the Super Bowl, here are some fun facts about Bald Eagles, the team’s mascot.

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Bald Eagles (Image by Pasquale Gabrielli via picanimals.com)
  • Bald Eagles are known for their distinctive white heads/tails, dark bodies, and yellow bill/legs. This is actually the adult plumage. Juvenile eagles are all brown and mottled on their body to various degrees. Each year they gain more white feather until the reach their full adult plumage around the age of 5.
  • Fish is the main staple of the Bald Eagle. They are opportunistic and will eat carrion, as well as birds, mammals, amphibians, and invertebrates. They will also try to pirate food off Ospreys or fish-eating mammals.
  • The Bald Eagle has been the national emblem of the United States since 1782.
  • Mate selection begins around the age of 4, and breeding pairs will stay together for life. Both sexes will contribute to making a nest, with the female focusing on stick placement.
  • Bald Eagles construct some of the biggest nests in the world. They can be as tall as 2-4 feet and as wide as 5-6 feet. An eagle pair use the same nest for many years, often adding sticks to it each year.
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Juvenile Bald Eage (Image by CleberBirds via allaboutbird.org)

 

  • The record for the largest Bald Eagle nest was 9 feet, 6 inches in diameter and 20 feet deep! It was located in St. Petersburg, Florida.
  • Bald Eagles are usually solitary birds. In the winter, they will congregate in large groups, especially if there is a salmon spawn.
  • Bald Eagles are known for one of the most dazzling mating displays. A pair will lock talons and rapidly descend to the ground in a dizzying spiral. They will release their talons before hitting the ground.
  • While diving, eagles can reach speeds of up to 100 miles per hour.
  • Bald Eagles represent one of the greatest success stories in bird conservation. In the 1978, these birds were added to the Endangered Species Act, mainly due to exposure to the harmful chemical DDT.  After DDT was banned, populations began to rebound through the 1980s. By the 1990s breeding populations started to become more established. They were removed from the Endangered Species List in 2007. However, they still face threats from overdevelopment, lead ammunition, and collisions with vehicles.
  • Alaska is home to the highest number of Bald Eagles in North America, with a population of around 70,000. Other states with high Bald Eagle populations include Florida, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.

Here’s hoping the birds win! Either way, Bald Eagles are still majestic and amazing birds. Fly, Eagles, fly! 🦅

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Bald Eagle By AWWE83 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The Whistler

Sorry I missed Waterfowl Wednesday this week! It was my first night of my Bio 2 Lab, so I didn’t get home until late. To make up for it, I wanted to share some facts about my newest life list addition, the Common Goldeneye.

  • Hunters sometimes refer to the Common Goldeneye as the “whistler”. Goldeneyes are rapid flyers, so their wings make a whistling sound when they fly away. They can reach speeds of around 40 mph in flight.
  • Common Goldeneyes are part of the genus Bucephala, which is derived from the Greek word boukephalos, meaning “bull-headed”. The other two living species of this genus are the Barrow’s Goldeneye and the Bufflehead.
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Common Goldeneye female and male (Image via pinterest)
  • Goldeneyes have up to 14 different movements that they can use during courtship displays. One common display is when the male stretches out his neck, suddenly whips it back over his body, and kicks his feet up to cause a splash while making a two-note call. Many males will try to court a single female. (I recommend searching “common goldeneye courtship” on Youtube and watching some of the cool display videos).
  • Common Goldeneyes sometimes act as brood parasites  and lay their eggs in another Goldeneye’s nest, particularly when nest sites are in short supply.
  • Like Wood Ducks, Goldeneye females lay their eggs high up in tree cavities. They commonly use Pileated Woodpecker holes, but will use artificial nest sites if readily available. Chicks will leave the nest cavity one day after hatching. They have quite a fall to endure: some Goldeneye cavities can be as high as 60 feet from the ground!
  • During breeding season, Common Goldeneyes are found in the taiga through Alaska and Canada. They spend the winter throughout a majority of the “lower 48” of the United States.
  • The Common Goldeneyes are obviously named for their gold-colored eye, however their eyes change colors many times before adulthood. All chicks are born with gray-brown eyes. By five months of age, their eyes will have transitioned from purple-blue, to blue, to green-blue, to pale green-yellow. Males will have their eyes change to golden by adulthood, while females will have a range from yellow to white.
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The Beautiful Golden Eye By Francis C. Franklin (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons