Piping Plover: Seashore Saturday

Hello friends! It’s the most hectic time of the year for me: back to school (this year as a teacher and a student). Everyone is one the move again, and birds are no exception: fall migration is underway. There are so many exciting things going on this time of year. Autumn begins on Thursday the 22nd, and right now we are in the midst of warbler and shorebird migration. Yesterday was Plover Appreciation Day, which is a day to raise awareness of ground-nesting plovers around the world and how we can help them. Today there are two personal special things happening: the last Seashore Saturday of the season and my birthday! I decided to combine those last two events by choosing one of my favorite shorebirds to write about: the Piping Plover. Starting next week I’m going to kick off Woodpecker Wednesday for the autumn season. I also have a birding trip post coming soon and a book review, so stay tuned!

Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus)

Description:

Piping Plovers are small, stocky plovers. They have pale upperparts, white underparts, and short bills. Their legs are orange-yellow and they have black feathers on the tips of their tails and sides of their wings. During breeding season they have a black, narrow breast band while juvenile and non-breeding birds have a pale band. Their bills are orange with a black tip during breeding.

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Piping Plover on Long Beach Island, NJ (Image by BirdNation)

Range:

Breeding: northern Atlantic Coast, parts of the northern plains (mid-Canada, the Dakotas, Nebraska)/Great Lakes region (although population have dramatically declined there.) Winter: southern Atlantic Coast and Gulf Coast

Habitat:

Sandy beaches, sand bars, tidal flats, alkali lakes

Diet:

Insects, crustaceans, marine worms, invertebrates. Piping Plovers are ground foragers who run a few steps then stop to look for food and peck around.

Breeding/Nesting:

Piping Plovers are a threatened and priority bird, partly due to the fact that they breed on the ground. Piping Plovers lay their eggs in a scrape in the sand, usually some distance from water. The problem is that they blend in so well with their surroundings that their nests can easily be destroyed by beachgoers who are not aware the plover eggs are there. Because of this, many Atlantic Coast beaches have blocked off areas were Piping Plovers and other threatened shorebirds, such as terns and Black Skimmers, nest.

Piping Plovers lay on average about 4 eggs. The eggs are incubated by both sexes for 26-28 days. The young are downy and leave the nest a few hours after nesting to look for food. The parents brood the young, but the female usually deserts the chicks after a few days and the male cares for them. The chicks fledge between 21-35 days after hatching. Not much is known about the Piping Plover’s development.

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Piping Plover chick on Long Beach Island (Image by David Horowitz)

Sounds:

peep, peeto! or a series of pehp, pehp, pehp when agitated.

Fun Facts:

  • Sometimes Piping Plovers are seen in small groups, but they are usually solitary and don’t mix with other shorebirds often.
  • Piping Plovers are native to the United States and just barely disperse into Mexico. They also winter in The Bahamas.
  • Male Piping Plovers have thicker breast bands during breeding season, which is one of the only ways to tell the sexes apart.
  • During breeding, males display elaborate courtship ceremonies, such as flights that feature dives and stone tossing. Males create multiple scrapes in the ground for nest sites and female will choose the site she likes best to camouflage it.
  • Like, Semipalmated Plovers and Killdeer, Piping Plovers use the “broken-wing display” to distracted predators from their young.

Please be mindful of your surroundings while visiting beaches. Make sure to obey any signs you see, especially if they are telling you to avoid a shorebird nesting area. Piping Plover populations are under 10,000, so it’s important that we are taking proper precautions to protect their habit.

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Piping Plover parent and chick (Image by Johann Schmacher via audubon.org)

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.

 

Semipalmated Plover: Seashore Sunday

I woke up this morning (Sunday) and realized that I didn’t post a Seashore Saturday! I lost track of what day it was. So here’s another Seashore Sunday. This week’s bird is one that I’ve been seeing a lot of lately: the Semipalmated Plover. I saw this bird on my recent trips to Cape May and Edwin B. Forsythe NWR.

Semipalmated Plover (Charadrius semipalmatus)

Description:

Semipalmated Plovers are about 7.25 in length. They have brown upperparts, white underparts, and orange legs. They have a distinctive dark breast band, as well as dark cheeks. The base of their bill is orange while the bill tip is black. They are smaller than the similar-looking Killdeer, who have a double breast band.

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Adult Semipalmated Plover (Image by Mike Lentz via allaboutbirds.org)

Range:

Breeding (Summer): Alaska and Northern Canada; Migration: Canada, throughout United States; Winter: Pacific, Atlantic, and gulf Coasts, Caribbean Islands, and coast of South America

Habitat:

Shores, sandy beaches, mudflats, lake shores. Prefers open habitats and avoids flats with too much marsh vegetation

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In flight (Image by Mike Danzenbaker via avesphoto.com)

Diet:

Mainly insects, but also marine worms and crustaceans. Semipalmated Plovers forage by running in short spurts and pecking the ground when they spot food. Sometimes they shuffle their foot in the ground to startle prey into moving.

Breeding and Nesting:

To attract a mate in the air, males will flying in circles using slow wingbeats over their territories while calling. Another technique is to fluff his feathers, spread his tail and wings, crouch down, and call excitedly. Semipalmated Plovers build the nest on bare gravel or sand and line it with natural materials.

Both sexes incubate usually 4 eggs for 23-25 days. The downy young leave the nest shortly after hatching and feed themselves while being watched by the parents. Young plovers’ first flight occur between 23-31 days after hatching.

Sounds:

Two-note whistle: tu-wee!

Fun Facts:

  • “Semipalmated” refers to the fact that they have partial webbing in between their toes.
  • Semipalmated Plovers are the most numerous of the small plovers.
  • Like the Killdeer, Semipalmated Plovers use the “broken-wing display”, where they pretend to be injured to lure predators away from their chicks.

Greater Yellowlegs: Seashore Sunday

Hello everyone! I’m sorry that the weekly Seashore feature is late. It was my friend/bird teacher Maria’s wedding this weekend, so I was away for a few days. We will have Seashore Sunday instead. Since this was Maria’s weekend, I wanted to write about the Greater Yellowlegs, a bird she told me she wanted to learn more about.

Greater Yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca)

Description:

Greater Yellowlegs are medium-sized shorebirds that are part of the sandpiper family. True to their name, they have long bright yellow legs. Their upperparts are dark brown and underparts are white. Greater Yellowlegs have long necks and bills that curve up slightly. The term Greater is part of their name because they are the larger birds of the two Yellowlegs species.

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Greater Yellowlegs (Image by “Mike” Michael L. Baird via wikipedia)

Range:

Breeding (Summer): Northern Canada through Southern Alaska Migration: throughout a majority of the United States and parts of Central America Winter: Southern United States, Atlantic Coast up through New Jersey, Pacific Coast of California, Mexico and all of South America

Habitat:

Open marshes and beaches, tidal estuaries, mudflats, bogs, lakes, ponds, and riverbanks

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A Greater Yellowlegs at Ridgefield NWR, Washington (Image via ridgefieldbirds.com

Diet:

Small fish, invertebrates, insects, snails, marine worms, and frogs. Greater Yellowlegs forage by probing in shallow water and moving the tip of its bill from side to side.

Breeding/Nesting:

Male Yellowlegs attract a female by a flight display that includes a loud, whistling song. Nests are built nearby water on the ground and lined with moss, grass, and other natural materials. They usually have 4 eggs which are incubated by both parents for around 23 days. The young leave the nest soon after hatching and feed themselves but are also tended to by their parents. First flights usually take place between 18-20 days.

Sounds:

Greater Yellowlegs are known for their piercing alarm calls; 3 or 4 clear notes; teww-teww-teww-teww!

Fun Facts:

  • Unless they two species are side by side, it is difficult to tell the difference between a Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs. There are other ways to identify them. Greater’s bills are thicker, long, two-toned, and slightly upwards. Lessers have a very straight  dark bill that is needle-thin. Their voices are also distinct: Greaters give 3 to 4 loud calls while Lessers give 2 softer and shorter calls.
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Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs (Image by Tom Reed via njaudubon.org)
  • Although Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs look very similar, the Greater’s closest relative is actually the Common Greenshank of Eurasia.
  • Greater Yellowlegs are widespread, but since they breed in heavily mosquito-ridden areas and are low in density, they are one of the least-studied shorebirds of North America.

 

 

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.