Ruby-throated Hummingbird: Migration Monday

Hello! Today is the finally Migration Monday of the spring season. Can you believe that summer begins in one week? Next week I will start a new weekly feature about Summer Shorebirds (not sure which day of the week yet). The migrant I picked for today is a great lead-in to summer: the Ruby-throated Hummingbird. I plan to write more about hummingbirds in the upcoming months, but I specifically chose Ruby-throated today because it is the only hummingbird I get in my area.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris)

Description:

Ruby-throated Hummingibrds are aptly named; males have a brilliant patch of ruby feathers on their throats that glisten in the sun. These tiny hummingbirds, who are about 3.75 inches tall, rapidly buzz from one nectar source to another. Rubies have emerald green bodies and slightly down-turned bills. While sitting, their wings do not reach all the way to their tail. The red throat of the males may seem dark when they are not in good lighting. Rubies are precision flyers that can stop instantly and hover while adjusting their bodies with amazing control. They are common summer visitors to flower gardens and nectar feeders.

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A  beautiful male Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Image by Paula Cannon/VIREO via audubon.org)

Range:

Medium to long-distance migrants. Winter: Central America and the southern part of Florida. Migration: Mexico, Texas, and the Great Plains region of North America. Breeding: Eastern North America and parts of Canada. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are the only Eastern hummingbird. Some migrate across the Gulf of Mexico to their wintering grounds in a single flight. Many will migrate along the coast of Texas. In the spring, males migrate north earlier than the females.

Habitat:

Deciduous wooded areas or the edge of woods, orchards, meadows. They prefer to be near flowers for their food source, so they are common in gardens and backyards. They spend time in open or dry tropical scrub while at their wintering grounds in Central America.

Food:

Nectar from orange and red tubular flowers such as honeysuckle, jewelweed, red morning glory, and trumpet creepers. They will also eat insects from spider webs or grab them from mid-air. Rubies will put their bills into flowers and extend their long tongues to eat nectar while hovering.

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Male Ruby-throated using his tongue at a flower (Image via aspensongwildbirdfood.com)

Breeding/Nesting:

To attract a female, males will make looping,  U-shaped dives from as high as 50 feet above a female while making a whirring sound. The female will construct a nest in either a shrub or tree on a horizontal branch 10-40 feet above the ground. Females will use grass, spiderwebs, and plant down to construct a nest that is the size of a large thimble. Rubies can have 1-3 broods with a clutch size of typically 2 eggs. Females incubate the eggs for 11-16 days and the young will fledge after 20-22 days. The nest stretches as the young grow.

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A female feeds her young (Image by Scott Bechtel, National Georgraphic You Shot)

Sounds:

In flight, the male’s wings create a faint high buzz. At daybreak males will make a series or monotonous chips. During the courtship dive displays, males will make a high rattling t-t-t-t.

Fun Facts:

  • Ruby-throated males will aggressively defend flowers, and may get in fights and chases over them.
  • Although they are the only hummingbird in the East, Rubies occupy the largest breeding ground of all North American hummingbirds.
  • Ruby-throated Hummingbirds can beat their wings about 53 times per second.
  • They have extremely good color vision and can see on the ultraviolet spectrum.

I have a favorite Ruby-throated moment: last summer I went river tubing at a campground. While waiting for the shuttle I discovered 6 hummingbird feeders behind the office building. There were at least 40 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds buzzing all over! I was bummed though because my phone was in the car so I couldn’t take a picture (wasn’t bringing my phone on the river!). I will never forget that moment though.  It was an amazing sight! Do you get Ruby-throated Hummingbirds in your area? Do they visit your feeder or garden? Tell me about it in the comments!

 

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Ovenbird: Migration Monday

Hello friends! It’s almost summer, so we will be wrapping up Migration Monday next week and starting a new summer feature. Today we will feature the Ovenbird.

Ovenbird (Seiurus aurocapilla)

Description:

Ovenbirds are larger members of the Wood Warbler family. They are chunky songbirds who usually points their tails straight up. Ovenbirds have olive-green upperparts and dark streaking on their white underparts. They have a white eyering, rufous/black crown streaking on their heads, and pink legs. Ovenbirds are unusual from other wood warblers because they spend most of their times on the ground strutting deliberately with their short tails pointed up.

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Ovenbird (Image by Cephas via wikipedia)

Range:

Long distant migrant. Summer (breeding): Eastern United State and Canada. Winter: Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, northern Venezuela, and Florida. Migration: Southeastern and Midwestern United States

Habitat:

Ovenbirds spend most of their time near the ground, making them hard to spot in the field. They breed in mixed or deciduous forests. In the winter they live in the tropics in habitats ranging from dry highlands to wet forests in lowlands.

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Image by Greg Lavaty via houstonaududon.org

Food:

Ovenbirds forage through the leaf litter looking for insects and other invertebrates. In the winter they will add seeds to their diets. Sometimes they will forage higher in the trees or in mid-air.

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An illustration of an Ovenbird Nest (Image via the Cornell Lab of Ornithology)

Breeding/Nesting:

Males sing to attract females to their territories. The males defend their territories by dropping their wings, pointing up their tails, and stomping the ground with their feet. Female Ovenbirds build their nest on the ground in a dome shape with a side entrance. They were named “Ovenbirds” because their nests resemble dutch ovens.

Ovenbirds will lay 4-5 and have 1-2 broods per year. Sometimes Cowbirds paratisitze Ovenbird nests, but the chicks usually survive even with the cowbird intruders. The female incubates the eggs for 11-14 days and the chicks fledge 7-10 days after hatching. When the chicks fledge they can only flutter and hop, so the parents will continue to them for 10-20 days. Some years Ovenbirds can have up to 3 broods depending on spruce budworm outbreaks.

Songs and Calls:

A rapid and staccato “teacher” song. tea-cher, tea-CHER, TEA-cher! that gets louder over the first few repetitions.

Fun Facts:

  • Ovenbirds mainly migrate at night.
  • They are one of the few birds that will sing throughout the heat of mid-summer afternoons.
  • Males who live near each other will often sing together. One male will start singing immediately after the other finishes, making it sound like only on male is singing. They may alternate up to 40 songs.
  • Once Ovenbird chicks start to leave the nest, the parents will split the brood in order to care for them. The male keep his chicks in the territory while the female brings her chicks to an adjacent area. The chicks don’t fledge until they are around day 30 and will stay on the breeding territory after their parents leave for the wintering grounds.

Scarlet Tanager: Migration Monday

Scarlet Tanager (Piranga olivacea)

Description:

Scarlet Tanagers are medium-sized songbirds that spend their summers in the Eastern United States. They have bright plumage but are actually hard to find since they spend their time singing high up in the tree tops. Male Scarlet Tanagers are brilliant red with black wings and females are greenish-yellow with olive wings. Tanagers are finch-like with thick bills, stocky bodies, and short tails. In the fall, males molt to look more like the females, but retain their black wings.

Range:

Long-distant migrant. Summer (breeding): Eastern United States. Migration: Southeastern United States, the Caribbean Islands, and parts of Central America. Winter: South America.

Habitat:

Mainly deciduous forests, sometimes pine-oak woods or coniferous woods. Scarlet Tanagers prefer to breed in oak trees. In the winter they spend time in the tropic rain forest or lowlands near the Andes.

Food:

Scarlet Tanagers are foliage gleaners who mainly eat insects. They either perch or hover when grabbing insects and will swallow smaller insects whole. They will press larger insects into a branch. They will mainly forage towards the canopy but may also forage on the ground.

Breeding and Nesting:

Males will display their contrasting colors to the female by standing on a branch below her and drooping his wings/spreading his tail. Scarlet Tanagers are monogamous during the breeding season but choose new mates each year. Females will build the nest in a deciduous tree on a horizontal branch that is usually away from the trunk. Scarlet Tanagers have 1 brood per year with the average clutch size of 3-5 eggs. The female will incubate the eggs for 12-14 days and chicks will be fed by both parents (but mainly the female). The chick will fledge 9-15 days after hatching, but will be cared for by the parents for about 2 weeks after fledging.

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A pair at their nest (Image via yucatanadventure.com.mx)

Sound:

A repetitive, hurried warble. Many people say that a Scarlet Tanager sounds like an American Robin that has a sore throat.

Fun Facts:

  • Scarlet Tanagers migrate mainly at night and fly across the Gulf of Mexico to reach their breeding and wintering grounds.
  • Scarlet Tanagers sometimes fall victim to Cowbird parisitism. If the Tanagers sees the female Brown-headed Cowbird approaching they will attack it to keep it away. However, if the Cowbird is not spotted, it will throw out the Tanager’s egg and replace it with their own. The Tanager cannot tell that it is not their egg and will unknowingly raise the Cowbird chick.
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Male Scarlet Tanager (Image by the National Park Service via nhptv.org)
  • They are one of the few birds where the female also sings. She can answer the male’s song similarly , but in a shorter and softer manner.
  • Scarlet Tanagers are the only North American birds that has the combination of red bodies and black wings.

Indigo Bunting: Migration Monday

Time for Migration Monday! Today’s featured migrant is the Indigo Bunting.

Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea)

Description:

Indigo Buntings are stocky, finch-like birds that are actually part of the Cardinalidae (or Cardinal) Family. During breeding season male Indigo Buntings are a brilliant blue, with darker blue plumage on their heads, and have a silvery-gray bill . The male’s wings have black plumage. Females are a drab brown with a whitish throat. Females have faint streaking on their breast and some may have a slight touch of blue on their rumps, wings, or tail. Immature male buntings are a patchy blue and brown. In the fall males will molt their blue plumage and become more brown like the female.

Range:

Long distance migrant. Summer (Breeding): Midwest to Eastern North America and parts of the American Southwest. Winter: Central America and the Caribbean Islands. Migration: parts of New Mexico, Texas, and Mexico

Habitat:

Indigo Bunting tend to like the edges of habitats: edges of woodlands, roadsides, swamps, and old fields near bushes. They breed in brushy and weedy pastures.

Food:

Mainly insect, seeds, berries, and buds. Indigo Buntings forage on all levels, from the ground to up in the trees. In the summer they usually forge alone, but form large flocks to forage at their wintering grounds. Upon arrival to their breeding grounds, they may eat on twigs and leaves from various trees.

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Male Indigo Bunting (Image by animals.nationalgeographic.com)

Breeding/Nesting:

Males will start to defend their territories in the spring by song. A male may have more than one female breeding in his territory at a time. Females will build a nest in a low tree or shrub using twigs, weeds, bark, and other materials to form an open cup. Indigo Buntings may have between 1 and 3 broods per year (usually 2) with a clutch size of 3-4 eggs. The female will incubate the eggs for 11-14 days and nestlings will fledge between 9-12 days after hatching. Sometimes the male will take over care of the young while the female starts a second brood.

Sounds:

Males sing a lively and cheerful song of short phrases that are each repeated twice. For example, a song may sound like what! what! where? where? see it! see it!”. They form what is referred to as “song neighborhoods” because young males will learn songs from other males in their area. As a result, neighboring males will have similar songs and males from a few hundred yards away will have very different songs.

Fun Facts:

  • Indigo Buntings migrate at night and use the stars to help them navigate.
  • Indigo Buntings, like other blue birds, are not actually blue. Microscopic structures in their feathers refract and reflect blue light.
  • They can migrate around 1,200 miles from their breeding grounds to their wintering grounds. They tend to migrate due south, meaning if an Indigo Bunting breeds in the western part of their range they will migrate to the western part of their wintering grounds and vice versa.
  • Indigo Buntings and their western cousins, the Lazuli Bunting, may share ranges and even interbreed. Male Lazuli Buntings may also learning songs from the Indigo Buntings.

Warbling Vireo: Migration Monday

Hi everyone! I’m back! It’s been about a week, but I have a good excuse for why I’ve been away. I was on vacation fulfilling one of my birding dreams. What might that be you ask? You’ll have to wait and see in tomorrow’s post!

In the meantime, it’s Migration Monday! Today’s featured bird is a new edition that I added to my life list yesterday. Dave and I were at Maria B. Greenwald Park and we kept hearing  very rapid, jumbled songs from high in the trees. The songs were coming from all over the place. They  were hard to spot, but we finally found the crooner: a small gray and white bird. It was very plain, so I became concerned. My first thought was: how are we going to id this gray and white bird that has no distinguishing features? So I used my iPhone to make an audio recording hoping it would be useful. And it was; after searching it on Merlin (my Cornell Lab birding app) we had a match: a Warbling Vireo. Turns out its lack of features helped us with this id as well. So without further ado:

Warbling Vireo (Vireo gilvus)

Description:

Warbling Vireos are small songbirds with white underparts and gray-olive upperparts.They lack wingbars, but have pale lores (the region between the eyes and nostril) and faint yellows flanks on the sides of their breast. They have a black stripe through their eyes and white stripe above their eyes. Don’t let their plain plumage fool you; these birds are anything but dull. Warbling Vireos live up to their names. They sing a rambling song from high in the trees which is their most distinctive and one of their most interesting features. Western Vireos and Eastern Vireos were once considered different species.

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Warbling Vireo (Image by Garth McElroy/VIREO via Audubon.org

Range:

Warbling Vireos are medium to long-distant migrants, who mainly travel at night. You can find them in the summers breeding in Western Canada and most of the United States, except for the Southeast. They migrate through Texas and Mexico to reach their winter residence of Central America.

Habitat:

Deciduous and mixed woods, usually near some source of water. Western populations tend to breed in canyons, prarielands, and trees of mountains. Eastern populations breed in isolated groves with water nearby. In the winter they spend time in mixed flocks throughout open woods.

Food:

Mainly caterpillars, but eats other insects as well. They will add  berries and fruits to their diets in fall and winter. Warbling Vireos are foliage gleaners who search for food high in the treetops. They search methodically on one leaf before moving on to the next.

Breeding/Nesting:

Males will attract females by spreading his wings, fanning his tail, and strutting/hopping around. Female vireos in the east will build their nests high up in trees, while females in the west build them in shrubs or shorter trees. The nest is made up of different plant fibers and bark. Warbling Vireos have 1-2 brood per year with an average clutch size of 4 eggs. Both parents will incubate the eggs for 12-14 days. The male will usually sing while incubating. Warbler Vireos are a species that are frequently parasitized by Brown Cowbirds. When this occurs the vireos will unknowingly raise the cowbird chick as their own. However, some females in Eastern populations have figured out that there is a cowbird  egg in their nests. These females will puncture the invading egg and roll it out of the nest. Vireo chicks will fledge from the nest 12-16 eggs after hatching.

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Warbling Vireo on its nest (Image by Gary L. Clark via wikimedia commons)

Sounds:

Males sing  a cheerful and dizzying series of notes. The highly-variable songs are approximately 3 seconds long and usually end on a high note. If you want to hear it, check out the sound links on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Warbling Vireo page. The second sound clips sounds like what I heard the other day. You can find the sound clips here.

Fun Facts:

  • Due to the fact that Warbling Vireos avoid areas that are not unbroken forest, it is believed that their populations are larger than they ever were.
  • Warbling Vireo populations throughout the country are so variable that ornithologists have recognized 6 separate subspecies.
  • Some scientists believe that the Warbling Vireo’s song is partly learned as opposed to instinctual. They believe that their jumbled song is partly due to mistakes in the development process of learning the song.

 

Baltimore Oriole: Migrant Monday

Welcome to another edition of Migration Monday! Our featured bird this week is the Baltimore Oriole.

Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula)

Description:

Baltimore Orioles are medium-sized songbirds that visit the Eastern United States in spring and summer. The males have bold plumage- flaming orange underparts contrasted with black upperparts. They have slender bodies, thick necks, and sharp blackbills. They also have white marking on their wings. The females are more of a duller yellow-orange with an olive-gray head and backs. Their bills are a silvery-gray and their tails are orange. The females also have white wingbars.

Range:

Medium to long-distant migrants who travel in flocks. Winter: Central America and South America. Summer: Eastern to Midwestern United States and parts of Canada. Migration: Southeastern and parts of Midwestern United Station.

Habitat:

Open woodlands, deciduous trees, orchards, backyards, parks, and along rivers.

Food:

They mainly eat insects, nectar, and fruit. Their diet varies by season. In the spring and fall  they eat a lot of nectar and fruits since these sugary foods give them energy for migration. In the summer and while raising young they mainly eat insects.

Breeding/Nesting:

During courtship a male will face the female, stretches upright, then bow down deeply with his tail and wings spread. He will sing to defend his territory.The female will weave a hanging nest in a deciduous tree. She will position small fibers and randomly poke at the fibers will her bill. Although she is not deliberately making knots, poking the fibers will cause them to make knots. She builds the nest in a span of a week in 3 steps: weaving the outer bowl, weaving the inner bowl, and finally adding a soft down lining. Sometimes the male will bring her new nest material, but the female will usually recycle material from an old nest.

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Male at a hanging nest (Image by Gary Tyson via allaboutbirds.org)

Baltimore Orioles have one brood a year with a clutch size of 3-7 eggs. The female will incubate the eggs between 12-14 days. Both parents will feed the nestlings, who will fledge in around 12-14 days after hatching.

Song:

Clear, flute-like whistles that vary by individuals. Like the Northern Cardinals female Baltimore Orioles will sing. Her songs are shorter, and sometimes the male and female will communicate as a duet.

Fun Facts:

  • The Baltimore Oriole was named after England’s Baltimore family, whose crest colors were orange and black. This is the same family that the Maryland city of Baltimore is named for.
  • Young male Baltimore Orioles do not molt into their bright orange until they are around two years old. Young males will be a drab yellow-orange like the females. However, even without bright breeding plumage, some first year males have been successful with mating.
  • Baltimore Orioles and their cousins, the Bullock’s Oriole of the west, were once considered one species called the Northern Oriole. Since their range overlaps they sometimes interbreed, but Bullock’s are distinct because they have orange faces instead of black faces.
  • Baltimore Orioles will sometimes use their bills to make a movement called gaping. They will stab their closed bills into a piece of fruit, take off a small juicy piece, then drink from it with their brushy tongues.
  • They prefer dark-colored ripe fruits. They will ignore bright fruits even if they are ripe in favor for dark-colored ones.
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Baltimore Oriole (Image by Garrick Fields via fallsoftheohio.org)

Have Baltimore Oriole migrated to your area yet?

 

Eastern Kingbird: Migration Monday

Today’s long-distance migrant has attitude to spare: the Eastern Kingbird. It’s Latin name, Tyrannus tyrannus, means “tyrant of tyrants”. “Kingbird” is an apt description; these birds are very aggresive and fearless when it comes to defending their “realm”. They even sport crowns of a sort: a stripe of red (sometimes orange or yellow) on top of their heads that is rarely exposed; except for during breeding and acts of intimidation.

Eastern Kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus)

Description:

Eastern Kingbirds stand at 8″ tall. They have black upperparts, white underparts, and a thick black bill. They have a square-tipped tail, large heads, and straight posture. The Kingbird’s black tail has a white tip. There is a narrow stripe of red (sometime yellow or orange) feathers on their crown which are usually concealed. They spend a lot of time perched on tree branches, poles, or telephone wires. Eastern Kingbirds are extremely territorial. They do not hesitate to attack any bird flying over their territories. Eastern Kingbirds have been seen attacking birds much larger than themselves such as Red-tailed Hawks, American Crows, and Great Blue Herons. They will raise their red “crowns” when spotting a potential predator, widely open its bill to reveal a red gape, and dive-bomb the intruder.

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The Mighty Eastern Kingbird (Image by Rick and Nora Bowers/VIREO via audubon.org)

Range:

Long-distant migrant. Eastern Kingbirds winter in South America and migrate through Central America. They spend the summers throughout most of North America, except for the West Coast. Many songbirds migrate by night, but Eastern Kingbirds mainly migrate by day.

Habitat:

Winters: tropical forests near rivers. Summer: fields, grasslands, orchards, farmland, wetlands, and wood edges.

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Kingbird in flight (Image by Howard Powell via the Cornell Lab of Ornithology)

Food:

Mainly insects. Kingbirds will look for prey on high perches and grab insects mid-air. They eat a variety of insects, such as bees, beetles, flies, grasshoppers, and wasps to name a few. They prefer larger insects though, which they will usually take back to their perch and beat into submission before swallowing. They will sometimes hover by fluttering while hunting. Eastern Kingbirds also eat wild fruit and berries.

Breeding/Nesting:

To attract a mate, male Kingbirds display their acrobatic prowess. They will do backwards somersaults, zig-zags, and up and down fights to impress females. The red patch of crown feathers  will become visible during courtship. The nest is primarily constructed by the female in a deciduous tree or shrub. The male will watch over his mate while she constructs the nest. Scientists are not sure why the male watches but to there are two theories: to protect the female from predators while nest-building or to prevent her from mating with other males.

The female will have one brood a year with a clutch size between 2-5 eggs. Incubation takes about 16-18 days and is done entirely by the female. Both parents will feed the nestlings, who will fledge after 16-18 days. The chicks will usually be fed by their parents for about 7 weeks, which is why Kingbirds only have one brood a year.

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Eastern Kingbird nest (Image by Anc516 via wikimedia commons)

Sounds:

Songs: a complex dawn and evening song that consists of high buzzy repeated zeers. Calls: a sharp dzeet.

Fun Facts:

  • Although extremely territorial in the summers, Eastern Kingbirds will surprisingly form flocks to find food while spending the winters in the Amazon.
  • Eastern Kingbirds may also catch frogs and give them the same treatment as large insects: beating them on perches and swallowing them whole. You won’t normally see a Kingbird drinking water; they get all the moisture they need from their diet of berries and insects.
  • It takes between 1 and 2 weeks for females to construct their nests.
  • Eastern Kingbirds will usually reunite with their former summer mates in the same territory. However, sometimes they will mate outside the pair bond. Eastern Kingbirds have also been known to parisitize each other’s nests. This means that they will sometimes lay eggs in other Kingbird’s nests, so that the unsuspecting pair will raise those chicks.
  • According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Eastern Kingbirds have been known to knock unsuspecting Blue Jays right out of the trees they are perched in!