For BirdNation’s 100th post, we are featuring the most wide-ranging shorebirds in the world: the Whimbrel.
Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus)
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.
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.
Shores, beaches, mudflats, tundras, marshes, and grassy fields
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.
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.
Rapid, loud pip-pip-pip-pip-pip! Usually between 5-7 notes.
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.
The last few weeks have been about shorebirds, so today I wanted to write about a seabird.
Cory’s Shearwater (Calonectris diomedea)
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.
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.
Open oceans. Cory’s prefer warm waters. They nest on mountainous or rocky islands.
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.
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.
Silent when out at sea.
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.
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)
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.
Breeding (Summer): Alaska and Northern Canada; Migration: Canada, throughout United States; Winter: Pacific, Atlantic, and gulf Coasts, Caribbean Islands, and coast of South America
Shores, sandy beaches, mudflats, lake shores. Prefers open habitats and avoids flats with too much marsh vegetation
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.
Two-note whistle: tu-wee!
“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.
This summer turned out to be very different than I expected. I was hoping to go on more birding trips than I actually did, but we had a lot of heat waves (96 with a heat index of 111?! No thanks!). Now that the weather is starting to calm down Dave and I have been able to go birding again. So expect more bird trip posts in the near future!
On Wednesday we took Dave’s mother to Edwin B. Forsythe NWR. It was her first time and I was glad that she enjoyed it. It was our 3rd Forsythe trip since May, but as usual, it was a completely new experience and just as exciting.
We took the wildlife drive. There were a lot of “peeps”. People use the term “peeps” to describe species of small sandpipers. Sandpipers can be difficult to identify, especially now during molting and the start of migration. I believe we saw a lot of Semipalmated Sandpipers with some Semipalmated Plovers (who are not “peeps”) mixed in. In the distance were Mute Swans, Canada Geese, American Black Ducks, and a mix of gull species. We were surrounded by different flocks on both sides of the marsh and everyone was either resting, foraging, or preening.
Then The Frenzy happened. I’m not sure what changed, probably the wind, but all the flocks took off at the same time. Everyone was flying in different directions, either with their flocks or as individuals. It’s hard to describe what I refer to as “The Frenzy” in words, but if you’ve ever experienced thousands of birds flying around you at one time you know what I mean. It’s always a spectacular moment.
(I know that’s not the best quality picture, but I wanted to give you an idea of what The Frenzy looked like. Everyone was really high up and scattered, making it hard to get a good shot)
Another great thing about this trip: herons and egrets galore! Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, and Snowy Egrets dotted the landscape, usually in mixed flocks. We even saw our first Tricolor Herons! There were 3 of them hanging with a Great Egret and some Snowies. It’s fascinating to watch the different hunting styles. Tricolor Herons hunch down close to the water/mudflats, Great Blue Herons/Great Egrets are slow and meticulous, and Snowy Egrets look like they are in a rush and run all crazy (haha I love Snowies! I think if I was a Great Blue Heron I’d be frustrated hunting next to a Snowy. He would scare all my fish away!). The Tricolor Heron’s neck was a reddish color, so it’s a juvenile. Adults have darker necks both in breeding and non-breeding plumage.
We also saw 3 Black-crowned Night-herons hiding out in a tree with a variety of egrets. One was an adult and 2 were juveniles. It was our first time seeing Bc-Nh juveniles. They look very similar to juvenile Yellow-crowned Night-herons. Black-crowns have large white teardrop-shaped spots on their wings while Yellow-crowns have small dots. We went with Black-crowned because these guys seemed to have large spots. True to their names, Night-herons are active mainly at night. People usually tend to find them roosting in a tree during the day. They blend into the branches pretty well, so they can be tricky to spot.
But the highlight of the day for me were the Glossy Ibis. We’ve seen them multiple times, but this time was special because we counted 100 of them! Usually we see no more than 10 per trip. I don’t know where they were flying in from, but they just kept coming! All 100 were not in the same place at the same time, but they were spread out in flocks of about 30.
Other species on this trip included 11 Ospreys, Double-crested Cormorants, European Starlings, Red-winged Blackbirds, a variety of Terns (including I think at 1 Least Tern, he was teeny!), Willets, Crows, and Tree Swallows.
An Osprey calls from the ground (Image by David Horowitz)
A Laughing Gull molting his black hood (Image by BirdNation)
A Tern (Least?) preparing to dive (Image by David Horowitz)
Dave and I went to Cape May on Monday, so look out for that post soon!
Side note: After finishing this post, I found a pdf from the American Birding Association about identifying “peeps”. It’s calledIdentification of North American Peeps: A Different Approach to an Old Problem. If you would like to learn more about “peeps” you can click the link below. You can also download it to your computer (you know I did!) to reference it later.
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)
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.
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
Beaches, shallow lakes, and extensive mudflats. Avocets prefer wide open areas with very sparse vegetation. Birds that live inland prefer freshwater.
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.
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.
a loud repeated kwhep!
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.
Nonbreeding American Avocet (Image by Andy Jordan via allaboutbirds.org)
A Black-necked Stit
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.
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)
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.
Breeding adult Spotted Sandpiper (Image by ArthurMorris/VIREO via audubon.org)
Nonbreeding Spotted Sandpiper (Image via birdinginformation.com)
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
Rocky shores, streams, lakes, ponds, mudflats. Typically found in fresh water environments. One of the most widespread sandpipers in North America
Invertebrates, insects, and small fish. They forage by probing at the mud of sand and lunging at moving prey.
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.
Weet-weet call during breeding; a high whistled twii twii, a single peet
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.
This week we will be featuring the Black-necked Stilt, a member of the shorebird family. While you can find them at coastlines, you can also find Stilts inland at grassy marshes and mudflats.
Black-necked Stilt (Himantopus mexicanus)
Black-necked Stilts are large, slender shorebirds that are known for their extraordinarily long, thin red legs. They have black from their heads to their tails and white underneath. Their black bills are long and straight.
Year-round on the coast of California, Mexico, the Gulf Coast, the Caribbean, and parts of South America. Summer (breeding): parts of the Interior West of the United States and Southeastern Atlantic Coast Winters: Baja California Migration: Southwest and Northern Mexico, Central America
Wetlands, grassy marshes, mudflats, coastlines
Black-necked Stilts probe the water or mudflats for fish and aquatic invertebrates. They will also herd fish into shallow waters to trap them or plunge their heads underwater to catch food.
They are considered semicolonial, meaning they will nest in loose colonies of around a dozen pairs, as opposed to colonial birds who nest in the hundreds of pairs. Pairs choose the nesting site together, which is usually on the ground or on a surface slightly above water, such as a small island. Nest sites can be as simple as a scrape in the ground, or gently lined with grasses or small pebbles.
They have 1 brood per year with a clutch size of 3-5 eggs, usually 4. Pairs take turns incubating the eggs for about 25 days. The young are precocial, meaning they are relatively mature and mobile from the moment they hatch. Young can be seen swimming within hours after hatching. Both parents watch over the young, but they chicks feed themselves. They take their first flights around 4-5 weeks after hatching.
A repeated sharp pleek or taawh
Black-necked Stilts are strongly territorial. They whole colony will participate when it comes to scaring off predators. They will hop up and down, encircle the intruder, and flap their wings.
If it’s very hot during breeding, a bird may wet their belly feathers to cool down the eggs.
Black-necked Stilts have the second-longest legs in proportion to their bodies of any bird. They are only exceeded by Flamingos.