Happy Lunar New Year!

It’s the first day the Lunar New Year. Known as the Spring Festival, the Lunar New Year occurs on the second new Moon after the Winter Solstice. Although Lunar New Year is celebrated in many Asian countries, the most popular version of this celebration is Chinese New Year.

An important part of the new year is the Chinese Zodiac. The Chinese zodiac is a repeating 12-year cycle. Each year is represented by an animal and its characteristics. The 12 animals (in order) are: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig. 2018 is the Year of the Dog, and 2017 was the Year of the Rooster.

Luck plays an large role in Chinese culture. Many Chinese believe in surrounding themselves with lucky symbols and objects to increase their prosperity and joy. It’s said that you are unlucky during your animal year, but there are things you can do to increase your luck.

We have one bird in the Chinese Zodiac: the Rooster (last year’s animal). The Rooster is a lucky bird because it sound similar to the Chinese word for lucky, or . Roosters represent loyalty, courage, confidence, honesty, and being hard working. These birds also epitomize the Sun God, since they crow every morning when the Sun rises.

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Rooseter By Žiga (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Here are a three more important birds in Chinese culture:

Phoenix:

In Western cultures, the mythical phoenix rises from the ashes and exemplifies rebirth. However, the Chinese phoenix is not related to the Western one. In Chinese culture, the phoenix is the king of all birds. They are messengers of happiness and only appear in times of prosperity and peace. The phoenix consists of the wings of a golden cockerel, the head of a peakcock, and the body of a swan. The name of phoenix, feng hunag, means “male bird, female bird”. As a result, the phoenix represents the union of masculinity and femininity, or ying and yang.

The phoenix is often pictured with another important mythical Chinese creature, the Dragon. These creatures together represent the Emperor and Empress. This bird is also extremely docile and signifies high moral standards.

Fenghuang
Fenghuang (Image via ficspecies.wikia.com)

Crane:

Cranes are one of the culture’s most favored birds, second only to the phoenix. They represent longevity, wisdom, purity, and peace. Two cranes together means a wish for a long marriage and a crane flying towards the Sun means social advancement or ambition. Cranes also signify authority, so cranes were embroidered onto the robes of Imperial officials. According to Chinese legend, cranes carry departed spirits to heaven.

red-crowned crane
Red-crowned Cranes (Image via tumbler)

Mandarin Duck

Mandarin Ducks are said mate for life, so they represent long term love and marriage. They also symbolize happiness, especially if lotus flowers are depicted along with the ducks. These birds are very common on wedding gifts and cards.

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Mandarin Ducks (Image via factzoo.com/birds)
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Image via christmas-new-year-quotes.com

 


The birds listed above are only some of the many important bird symbols in Chinese culture. If you like this topic, let me know and I can highlight some more of them. 

 

 

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Mind. Blown.

I read a fact the other day that blew my mind.

I was reading an article on Audubon’s website called “Who Wins the Feeder War?” by Nell Durfee. In this article, Durfee explains about a new study in feeder hierarchy. The author then presents 5 “duels” you may observe at a feeder along with some facts about each bird. You can read the article at http://www.audubon.org/news/who-wins-feeder-war.

I am reading and enjoying this article and get to Mourning Dove vs. House Sparrow. I click on the Mourning Dove and read a really crazy fact. And I quote:

“Store large amounts of food in crop (record is 17,000-plus seeds in one dove)”

17,000-plus seeds?! Woah!! Mind blown.

Mourning Dove
Mourning Dove at Amico Island (Image by BirdNation)

So of course I needed to investigate this amazing fact further. I stumbled upon a Washington Post article from January 2012 called “Mourning doves: Gluttons of the bird feeder” by Patterson Clark (you can read that article here).

In one day, a Mourning Dove can consumes as much as 20% of their own body weight. In order to do this, they need to store food in a crop. A crop is a specialized area that is found in some bird species. It is an enlargement of the lower esophagus that aids in food storage so that the bird can move safely. The food will stay in the crop until the bird is ready to either pass the food into its stomach or regurgitate it to its young. In some birds, cells in the crop lining will help produce a “crop milk” that is rich in lipid to feed to their young.

It’s fascinating that this record-setting Mourning Dove fit over 17,000 seeds in its crop! The avian body is amazing. Mourning Doves love seeds and will happy devour as much food as possible from your feeder. They prefer platform feeders, ones with a perch, or just simple flat ground.

Next time you check your feeder, keep a careful lookout for the gluttonous Mourning Dove. They might try to eat you out of house and home using their crops!;-)

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Mourning Dove at my feeder (Image by BirdNation)

 

Starting Right at the Light

Dave and I took our first Barnegat Light trip of 2018 on Sunday, February 4. It was a chilly, windy, and overcast day. We left right before the afternoon rain started to fall, but we did see a decent amount of species.

On the jetty we came across this young gull with a sea urchin test. A test is a skeletal structure made of calcium carbonate. It contributes to the sea urchin’s five-fold symmetry and helps protect the internal organs. After a minute or two the gull dropped the test and flew away, since it turns out that it was already empty.  As far as the gull itself, I’m going to venture and say 2nd winter Great Black-backed Gull, but I’m not 100% (don’t quote me on it, I’m still studying my gulls! They’re tricky to id lol).

gull with test

Other birds found on the jetty included other Great Black-backed Gulls, Herring Gulls, Ruddy Turnstones, and Purple Sandpipers.

Dave took a few pictures of a Purple Sandpiper taking a bath on one of the rocks.

In Barnegat Inlet we watched Common Loons, Red-breasted Mergansers, Common Goldeneye, Common Eiders, and Harlequin Ducks float and feed.

On the beach there were a few American Crows and a small flock of Snow Buntings zipping around.

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Snow Buntings (Image by David Howoritz)
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American Crow (Image by David Horowitz)

It was a nice way to start off our Barnegat Light trips for 2018.

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

Strange Ducks

Imagine you are at your local pond and all the ducks are out and about. You scan through a flock of Mallards with your binoculars.

Mallard…mallard…mallard…wait, what is that?

You spot a duck that looks…strange. It kind of looks like a Mallard, but something is not quite right. It’s possible that you found a hybrid.

Hybridization is common in birds, but especially so in waterfowl. When two birds of different species mate they can produce a hybrid offspring. The hybrids will usually display characteristics of both parents to some degree. Two of the most common hybridizing species in North American waterfowl are the Mallard and Wood Duck. In fact, scientists have identified around 400 different waterfowl hybrid combinations.

In general, many hybrid offspring are infertile. This is not always the case. Sometimes a hybrid can reproduce, but usually with not as much success as a pure-breed duck. This may occur in species that are more closely related in the same genus. The more evolutionary distant two species are, the more likely their hybrid will have low fitness (relative success of an individual in passing along their genes) or be sterile. Female hybrids are more likely to be inviable than males, due to the fact that sames have two different sex chromosomes and males have two of the same sex chromosomes (the opposite of mammals).

Hybrids actually tend to be rarer than people think. This is because there are many barriers to reproduction between unique waterfowl species. Examples of these barriers include songs/calls, habitat preference, physical attributes, and courtship behaviors. However, when everyone arrives at the breeding grounds and all those hormones get going, well….just about anything can happen.

It’s pretty interesting seeing a hybrid duck. It’s fun to try and figure out what species the parents were. Although interesting, unfortunately sometimes hybridization can lead to a decline in population of a species. Let’s use our Mallards again as an example. Over time, habitat changes in some duck species has led to Mallards expanding their range. In the case of the American Black Duck, their shrinking range has been encroached by Mallards and since these species interact more often,  they result in more American Black Duck x Mallard hybrids. Species threatened by Mallards also include the Mottled Duck of Florida and the Hawaiian Duck.

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American Black Duck x Mallard Hybrid (Image by BirdNation)

Other common duck hybrids include Mallard x Northern Pintail, Gadwall x American Wigeon, Eurasian Wigeon x American Wigeon, and Wood Duck x Mallard.

There’s also the good possibility that the odd duck you saw at the pond could be a domestic duck. It’s not uncommon to find domestic ducks mixed into the waterfowl flock. If a strange duck seems comfortable with/approaches people or has large white patches where you don’t expect it, then it is most likely a domestic duck. We have seen plenty of these domestic ducks at Haddon Lake over the years.

 

And last but not least, my favorite: Puff Duck ( aka “Puffy”, R.I.P. You can read his story, “The Tale of the Three Amigos”, here).

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Puff Duck and friend (Image by BirdNation)

Keep an eye out for strange ducks! Happy duck watching!

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

Gadwall Wednesday

Today’s waterfowl of the week is the Gadwall. This duck may not be as colorful in appearance as other ducks, but Gadwalls have a simple elegance that makes them hard to ignore.

Gadwall (Anas strepera)

Description:

  • Roughly the same size as Mallards
  • Squarish heads with high foreheads
  • White secondary feathers sometimes visible
  • Males: Gray-brown with black tail patch and silver tertial feathers (innermost flight feathers to the wing), black bill 
  • Females: Brown and buffy, orange bill with black spot
  • Juveniles: Gray-brown, plain face, thin black bill with orange sides
Gadwalls
Gadwalls, male (front) and female (rear) (Image by BirdNation)

Range:

  • Resident: Mid-Atlantic Coast, Pacific Coast, Pacific Northwest, Great Plains region
  • Breeding: Upper Great Plains, Great Lakes, parts of Central Canada
  • Winter: Southern regions of United States, Mexico
  • Migration: Medium-distance migrant. Northeastern United States, Midwest region, Ontario, nothern parts of Quebec and Newfoundland

Habitat:

freshwater or alkali lakes, coastal marshes, estuaries, inter-mountain valleys

Diet:

Aquatic vegetation, mollusks, crustaceans, invertebrates, insects. Forages by dabbling or taking food off the water’s surface. Will sometimes scavenge and steal food from other birds, especially American Coots.

Breeding/Nesting:

  • Courtship: Occurs in the fall and pair bonds are monogamous during breeding season. Displays included showing off white patches by making head and tips of tail meet, rearing up with bill in water while whistling. Pairs will face each other and bob heads or hide their bill under the wing as if preening.
  • Nesting Site: A shallow depression about 200 yards from open water in grasses/brush or on small islands.
  • Young: Females incubate 8-11 for about 3 weeks. Chick are precocial so they quickly leave the nest, and are tended to by the mother but can feed themselves. First flight occur around 50 days after hatching.

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 Gadwall Nest By USFWS Mountain-Prairie; Credit: Char Binstock / USFWS (2012) (Flickr: Gadwall Nest) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Vocalizations:

Females quack similarly to Mallards, though they sound more nasally and higher-pitched. Males give a deep call during flight that is referred to as a “burp”.

Conservation:

Gadwall populations have actually increased over the years due to conservation programs.

Fun Facts:

  • Sometimes females will act as brood parasites and lay their eggs in another female’s nest.
  • Gadwalls are the third most hunted duck in North America (after Mallard and Green-winged Teal respectively)
  • Gadwalls also breeding in parts of Asia and northern Europe.
  • Females will consume more invertebrates than males do to get more protein while laying her eggs. She will lay one egg each day until she completes the brood.