Whimbrel: Seashore Saturday

For BirdNation’s 100th post, we are featuring the most wide-ranging shorebirds in the world: the Whimbrel.

Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus)

Description:

Whimbrels are large sandpipers that have a distinctive long down-curved bill. They are one of the eight species of the Curlew family (genus Numenius). They are buffy and streaky overall, with long necks/legs. They have a dark crown and an eye stripe. In flight they are mainly white with no visible field marks. They  have strong wing beats and their wings are very pointed.

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Whimbrel (Image by Terry Hartley of Due South Photography via outdooralabama.com)

Range:

Whimbrels are found in both the Eastern and Western hemispheres and winter on the coasts of 6 continents. Whimbrels in the Western Hemispheres winter from the coasts of the United States all the way down to the end of South America. They breed in Alaska nad Northern Canada.

Habitat:

Shores, beaches, mudflats, tundras, marshes, and grassy fields

Diet:

Invertebrates, crabs, insects, berries. Whimbrels use their long down-curved bills to probe just below the water or pick up food on the surface. When eating crabs they crush the shell and remove the legs.

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Feeding Whimbrel (Image by Ganesh Jayaraman via allaboutbirds.org)

Breeding/Nesting:

During courtship males perform circular aerial flights while whistling. Nests are a shallow depression on the ground in the tundra and lined with natural materials. 3-5 egg are incubated by both sexes for 24-28 days. Like many other shorebirds, the young will forage on their own while being watched by the parents. The parents are very protective and will even attack humans who are in their territories. The young’s first flight occurs between 5-6 weeks.

Sounds:

Rapid, loud pip-pip-pip-pip-pip! Usually between 5-7 notes.

Fun Facts:

  • Some Whimbrels migrate from Southern Canada to South America, which can be around a 2,500 mile non-stop trip.
  • Whimbrels are sometimes referred to as “Short-billed Curlews”. They look similar to Long-billed Curlews, but has a shorter bills.
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Whimbrel in flight (Image via birdinginformation.com)

 

Cory’s Shearwater: Seashore Saturday

The last few weeks have been about shorebirds, so today I wanted to write about a seabird.

Cory’s Shearwater (Calonectris diomedea)

Description:

Cory’s Shearwaters are the largest of the North American Shearwaters at around 19″.  They have sandy brown upperparts and white underparts. Their heads are mainly dark and their wings are broad and arched. Cory’s have distinctive, heavy yellow bills.

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Cory’s Shearwater (Image by Adin Vella via birdinginmalta.com)

Range:

Found along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts between March and October. . Cory’s have an extremely large range. They are native to North America, Africa, Europe, and many island nations. Savage Islands, Madeira, has the largest breeding colony of Cory’s Shearwaters.

Habitat:

Open oceans. Cory’s prefer warm waters. They nest on mountainous or rocky islands.

Diet:

Fish, crustaceans, and squid. Cory’s forage by plunge diving into the water and grabbing prey from below the surface. Like many other seabirds, Cory’s also scavenge for food near fishing boats and sometimes associate with whales who scare small schools of fish to the surface. Cory’s are usually solitary but will gather in flocks with other shearwaters where food is abundant.

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Cory’s Shearwater in flight (Image by Jeff Slovin via neseabirds.com)

Breeding/Nesting:

Cory’s Shearwaters breed between March and October in large colonies that are mainly active later in the day. During courtship pairs will sit close together and preen each others’ heads and bills. They mainly nest in crevices, burrows, or on the ground using shells and small pebbles. Females lay one egg per year that is incubated by both parents for 52-56 days. They parents feed the young primarily at night and eventually the chick goes out to sea to feed on their own. When tending to the young, parents switch incubation roles around every 6 days.  The young fledge about 90 days after hatching.

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A Cory’s Shearwater at its nesting site (Image by Coimbra68 via wikimedia commons)

Sounds:

Silent when out at sea.

Fun Facts:

  • This species of  shearwater was named after American ornithologist Charles B. Cory.
  • Cory’s Shearwaters are in the family Procellariiformes, more commonly known as tubenoses. Members of this family have have distinctive nostrils, that are covered by tubes on their upper bills. Since they drink salt water they have to excrete excess salt. The nasal glands are above the eyes at the base of the bill. This gland removes salt and creates as saline solution that drips out of the nostrils of their bills. Tubenose birds have a great sense of smell, which aids them in finding prey as well as their nest sites.

 

Brown Pelican: Seashore Saturday

Our seabird of the week is the Brown Pelican. The Brown Pelican is the smallest of the eight species of pelicans in the world. It is one of the three species who live in the Western Hemisphere.

Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis)

Description:

Brown Pelicans are large seabirds who stand about 51″ in length. They are gray-brown with long wings, necks and bills. An unmistakable feature of the Brown Pelican is their throat patch, which expands while foraging for food. Pacific Pelicans tend to be bigger with slate gray bodies and darker bellies. While breeding their throat patches are bright red and they have dark napes with a yellow crown. Atlantic Pelicans are smaller and their throats are a greenish-black during breeding. They have a white crown and the nape of their necks are dark brown.

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A Brown Pelicans flies over Bodega Bay, California  (Image by Frank Schulenburg via wikipedia)

Range:

Pacific Coast between Southern California and Southern Ecuador, Atlantic Coast between Maryland and Venezuela, and the Gulf Coast. Sometimes found north of typical breeding range

Habitat:

Oceans, beaches, and salt bay. Typically not found very far inland. Pacific Coast Pelicans breed offshore on dry rocky beaches. Gulf and Atlantic Coast Pelicans breed mainly on barrier islands or on islands in estuaries. They breed in mangrove islets in Louisiana and Florida.

Food:

Almost exclusively fish. Brown Pelicans and their relatives, the Peruvian Pelican, are the only two of the eight Pelicans that plunge dive for food. Brown Pelicans can plunge dive  from up to 60-65 feet in the air. They dive bill first and their throat patch expands in order to catch fish. During the dive, the pelican will twist its body to the left to protect its esophagus and trachea from impact. Its body will submerge under water briefly and the bird will surface with water and fish in its throat. Brown Pelicans tilt their head down to empty out the water in their throats before swallowing the fish.

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A Brown Pelican plunge diving (Image by Ingrid Taylar via baynature.org)

Breeding/Nesting:

Brown Pelicans nest in large colonies that include thousands of  pairs. They are monogamous during breeding season. Males will perch at a nest site for up to 3 weeks while trying to attract a female. Nests are built by the female with materials gathered by the male on the ground, in a low tree, or on a cliff. The nest is a scrape on the ground usually lined with natural materials.

Both sexes will incubate 2-4 eggs with their feet. They are essentially standing on their eggs. Incubation lasts up to 30 days and chicks are fed by both parents. When the young get slightly older they will gather in groups. The parents are able to pick out their young from the group for feeding. Young Pelicans typically take their first flights between 9-12 weeks of age, but are fed by their parents for some time afterwards.

Sounds:

Adults are nonverbal, while the young will make grunts and groans from the nest

Fun Facts:

  • Pesticides, such as DDT, caused a large drop in population in the 1950s to the 1970s. DDT was causing the lining of the pelican’s eggshells to become so thin that the eggs would break under the parent’s weight. Since the ban of these chemicals, Brown Pelican populations have improved drastically and stabilized. They are still considered a Priority Bird, but are an example of how conservation efforts can be successful.
  • American White Pelicans are larger than Brown Pelicans are usually fly higher in the air. Brown Pelicans fly slowly over the water’s surface, usually seen in single file or a “V”, with the birds flapping in unison.
  • A Pelican’s throat can fill with up to 2.6 gallons of water while fishing. Since Pelicans have to open their bills to empty out the water, Gulls tend to steal fish right out of the Pelican’s mouth. Sometimes Gulls are even seen perching on a Pelican’s head waiting for fish! Pelicans can be scavengers as well, sometimes following fishing boats or taking handouts from people.
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A flock of Brown Pelicans (Image via planetgreenrecycle.com)

 

 

American Avocet: Seashore Saturday

Today’s bird of the week, the American Avocet, was a suggestion from one of my best friends, Maria. Maria took me on my very first birding trip to Edwin B. Forsythe NWR a few years ago and was the person who started teaching me how to id birds. She also suggesting the Northern Harrier and Great Yellowlegs, so I will probably write about them sometime soon. If you ever have any suggestions of birds you would like to learn about, please let me know in the comments.

American Avocet (Recurvirostra americana)

Description:

The graceful American Avocet is a large shorebird that is a member of the sandpiper family. Its plumage is white and features black stripes on its back. During breeding season, the plumage on the Avocet’s head and neck are rust-colored, while in the winter they are gray. The Avocet’s most distinctive feature is their long, upcurved bill, which makes them unique among shorebirds.

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A pair of breeding American Avocets (Image via houstonaudubon.org)

Range:

Breeding (summer): Western United States and southwestern Canada Winter: Southern Atlantic Coast, Gulf Coast, parts of Mexico Migration: throughout the Western United States. Year Round on the coast of California and Eastern Coast of Texas

Habitat:

Beaches, shallow lakes, and extensive mudflats. Avocets prefer wide open areas with very sparse vegetation. Birds that live inland prefer freshwater.

Food:

Feeds on mainly crustaceans and insects found in shallow waters. Avocets forage by submerging their upturned bills in the water and sweeping it through to finding food by touch. They also can plunge their heads into the water or visually find food in mudflats.

Breeding/Nesting:

Male Avocets court females by preening themselves with water. By the end of the display he works himself into a splashing frenzy before mounting a female. After mating, pairs will intertwine their necks and run straight ahead to develop their territory. They will perform rituals, such as standing in a circle in pairs and pointing their bills up towards each other.

Avocets nest in loose colonies that are sometimes mixed with Black-necked Stilts. Like many other shorebirds, the nest is not much more than a scrape in the ground lined with materials found nearby. Some Avocets build a small mound that can be around a foot tall. Between 3-5 eggs are incubated by both parents for 23-25 days. The pair switches off during the day while the female incubates at night. Once hatched, the young are precocial, so they leave the nest within 24 hours and can feed themselves. The parents will tend to them until their first flight, which usually occurs between 4-5 week after hatching.

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An Avocet chick (Image by Artur Morris/VIREO via aubudon.org)

Sounds:

a loud repeated kwhep!

Fun Facts:

  • While in their non-breeding winter plumage, American Avocets look very similar to Black-necked Stilts. Avocets have an upturned bill and pale legs, while Stilts have pink legs and straight bills.
  • The female Avocet’s bill is more strongly upturned than the males. Nobody knows why this is the case.
  • American Avocets can be aggressive while defending their territory. They have been known to physically attack birds such as Common Ravens and Northern Harriers. While approaching an intruder, they may outstretch their wings while walking forward as if on a tightrope. They can also use a series of descending pitches to simulate a Doppler effect, making it seem to the intruder that they are closer to attacking than they really are.
  • Female Avocets have been known to sometimes parasitize the nest of others. They may lay up to 4 eggs in another female’s nest to be incubated. Sometimes single Avocet eggs have been found in the nests of Mew Gulls. There have also been cases of Black-necked Stilts or Common Tern eggs being found in Avocet nests.

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.

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)

 

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.