The Waders: Wood Stork

This week’s featured Wading Bird is the Wood Stork. Last year on my birthday, we saw a juvenile Wood Stork in Cape May, NJ. Since the Wood Stork range is the southeastern United States, our Wood Stork was considered a rarity and delighted many excited birders for a few weeks in NJ.

Description:

Adult:

  • Large bird, standing at about 3 feet tall
  • Mainly white with black flight feathers
  • Bald, scaly looking heads
  • Thick curved black bill with long neck
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Wood Stork adult (Image by Wilfredo Lee/AP via nrp.org)

 

Juvenile:

  • Similar plumage colors to adult
  • Pale bill that darkens with age
  • Grayish feathers on neck

Range:

South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, the Caribbean, coasts of Mexico

Habitat:

Cypress swamps, lagoons, marshes, ponds. Mainly freshwater habitats

Diet:

  • Fish, reptiles, invertebrates, amphibians, aquatic insects, nestlings
  • Forages in shallow water with bill partially open; snaps bill close in contact with prey
  • Sometimes uses its feet to stir up prey or flaps to startle prey

Breeding/Nesting:

  • Courtship: A male starts off aggressive towards a female, but once he accepts her into the territory will bring her sticks and preen her. Pairs stay together for one breeding season.
  • Nesting: Colonial nesters in trees above standing water. Nesting locations include mangroves, stands of cypress trees, or flooded impoundments. The pair will construct a nest of sticks that is lined with greenery and guano. The nest will end up being 3- 5 feet wide and take 2-3 days to construct.
  • Young: Both parents will incubate 3-5 eggs for 28-32 days. The young are fed by both parents and will be guarded in the nest by a parent for about 5 weeks. First flights occur around 8 weeks, but the young will usually stick around the nest to be fed and to sleep until about 11 weeks.
Wood Stork
Wood Stork juvenile (Image by David Horowitz)

Vocalizations:

Usually silent except during nest. Young makes clattering bill noises while adults make croaking sounds.

Conservation:

Wood Storks are considered uncommon. Their populations have declined over the years. Threats include changes in water levels, nest predation  from terrestrial animals, and habitat degradation.

Fun Facts:

  • The Wood Stork is the only native stork species in North America.
  • When temperatures  rise in the late afternoon, Wood Storks will soar high in the thermals just like raptors.
  • Wood Storks used to be known as the “wood ibis”, even though they are not ibises.

 

You can check out our previous Wading Bird post about Black-crowned Night-Herons here.

The Waders: Black-crowned Night-Heron

This week’s featured Wader is the Black-crowned Night-Heron. (You can check out last week’s featured Wader, the Roseate Spoonbill, here.)

Black-crowned Night-Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax)

Description:

Adult:

  • Medium-sized, stocky heron
  • Large head, rarely extends neck
  • Whitish to pale gray belly
  • Gray wings
  • Black cap/back/bill
  • Red eyes
  • Short yellow legs
  • Long white plumes from head during breeding seasons
  • South American subspecies Dusky in plumage
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Black-crowned Night-Heron Breeding Adult (Image by David Horowitz)

Juvenile/Immature:

  • Brown overall and heavily streaked
  • Thick neck and yellow and black bill
  • Large white spots on wing coverts
  • Immature/1st Summer a mix of Juvenile and Adult features

Range: 

  • Year-Round: Atlantic Coast, Gulf Coast, parts of Pacific Coast, Florida
  • Summer: Most of the United States, parts of Canada
  • Winter: Mexico

Habitat:

Marshes, wetlands, swamps, wooded streams, lakes

Black-crowned Night-heron juvenile
Juvenile Black-crowned Night-Heron (Image by David Horowitz)

Diet:

Amphibians, fish, small mammals, insects, crustaceans. Black-crowned Night-Herons forage most actively at night and early morning. They will stand in one spot and wait for prey before striking. Night-Herons will also slowly forage along the shoreline or from a perch. These birds have been known to steal chicks from the nests of other herons.

Breeding/Nesting:

  • Courtship: Black-crowned Night-Herons start breeding around the age of 2. Males will choose a nest site to display from. To attract females, the male will raise his neck and ruffle his feathers. He may also bow while alternating lifting his feet.
  • Nesting Site: Night-Herons are colonial nesters who roost in trees. The female will build a nest of sticks with some assistance from the male.
  • Young: Both parents will incubate 3-5 greenish-blue eggs for 21-26 days. The young are fed by regurgitation. They begin to fly around 6 weeks of age, and will start to follow the parents for food shortly after flight.

Vocalization: 

A loud kwok!, mainly heard at night. In the breeding colony, a variety of barks and croaks

Conservation: 

Although quite inconspicuous, due to their nocturnal nature, Black-crowned Night-Herons are fairly common. They are a good indicator species for the quality of the environment in which they live since they feed at the top of the food chain.

Fun Facts: 

  • Black-crowned Night-Herons are the most widespread heron in the world. They are found on every continent except for Australia and Antarctica.
  • Young Night-Herons don’t reach adult plumage until around the age of 3.
  • They are one of the seven heron species known to use bait-fishing. They will toss an object in the water to attract prey within their striking range.
  • The Black-crowned Night-Heron’s scientific name Nycticorax nycticorax means “night raven”.
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Black-crowned Night-Heron (By Tom Grey via birdnote.org)

 

Sources:
https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Black-crowned_Night-Heron/overview
https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/black-crowned-night-heron
http://www.nhptv.org/natureworks/blackcrown.htm
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black-crowned_night_heron

 

 

 

The Waders: Roseate Spoonbill

This week’s featured Wading Bird is the gregarious and striking Roseate Spoonbill. (Last week’s wader, the Great Egret, can be found here). 

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Roseate Spoonbill adult  (Image by Purio via rio.wikia.com)

Roseate Spoonbill (Platalea ajaja)

Description:

Adults:

  • Pale pink plumage with brighter pink on their rumps and shoulders
  • Distinct “spoon” at the end of a long bill
  • Long, partially-feathered, white neck that is an “S”-shape at rest
  • Small, yellowish-green heads with red eyes

Juveniles:

  • Even paler pink than the adults, almost white
  • Completely feathered head for 3 years until adult plumage

Range:

  • Resident: Florida, the Gulf Coast of Texas and Louisiana, coasts of Mexico, the Caribbean
  • Short-Distance Migrant depending on changes in food source/water levels

Habitat:

Coastal marshes, mudflats, tidal ponds, lagoons, shallow water, both salt and fresh water.

Diet: 

Crustaceans, fish, aquatic insects. They forage by sweeping their partially opened bill in water less than 5 inches deep. They swallow their prey whole.

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Juvenile Roseate Spoonbill By Andrea Westmoreland from DeLand, United States [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Breeding/Nesting:

  • Courtship: The males and females will begin their courtship with aggressive behavior, but later end up perching closely together. The pair will also clasp/cross their bills together and exchange sticks. Pairs last for one breeding season.
  • Nesting Site: Colonial, usually with other waders such as ibises, herons, and egrets. Nest on islands, mangroves, or over water in the shadiest part of the tree.
  • Young: 2-3 (sometimes 1-5) white eggs incubated by both parents for 22-24 days. 1 brood per year. Chicks are born with white natal down and fed by both parents. Young leave the nest around 5-6 weeks and flights occurs at 7-8 weeks.

Vocalization:

Silent except at breeding colony. Grunting huh-huh-huh-huh. A low raspy rrek-ek-ek-ek. 

Conservation: 

Uncommon, but population has slightly increased in recent years. Threats include habitat degradation, human disturbance due to boating, water quality, and salinity of the water.

Fun Facts: 

  • When a flock of Roseate Spoonbills flies over feeding spoonbills, the feeding birds will “Sky Gaze”, a posture where they lift their bills and point them towards the sky.’
  • They are pink in color due to their diet. The shrimp and other crustaceans they consume contain the carotenoind cantaxanthin. 
  • Roseate Spoonbills are the only spoonbill species (out of 6) to live in the Americas.

 

The Waders: Great Egret

Now that it’s springtime, the wading birds have arrived. Wading Birds are not the same as Shorebirds (although shorebirds wade through water too). Wading birds include herons, egrets, ibises, flamingos, storks, spoonbills, and night-herons. This week’s featured wader is the stunning Great Egret.

Great Egret (Ardea alba)

Description:

  • Large, slender white bird
  • Long, S-shaped neck
  • Dagger-like yellow-orange bill
  • Black legs
  • Green lores
  • Breeding adults display aigrettes, long feathery plumes its back
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Great Egret (Image by BirdNation)

Range:

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Great Egret range map (Image via Cornell Lab of Ornithology, allaboutbirds.org)

Habitat: 

Marine, freshwater, and brackish wetlands. Ponds, lakes, marshes, impoundments, tidal flats, streams, rivers

Diet:

Small fish, amphibians, reptiles, invertebrates, birds, small mammals. Wades through the water or stands still, and uses spear-like bill to catch prey. May forage alone or in small groups.

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Great Egret Swallowing a Fish (Image by BirdNation)

Breeding/Nesting:

  • Courtship: Breeding adults will grow large aigrettes (plumes) for display. Displays include preening, holding/shaking a twig in its bill, and neck stretching. Great Egrets are monogamous for the breeding season, but its unknown if pair bonds last multiple years.
  • Nesting Site: Males will begin constructing a nest, and the female will help complete it. Nests are usually over water in a tree, about 100 feet off the ground. Often found in mixed colonies of other wading birds.
  • Young: 1-6 eggs are incubated by both parents for 23-27 days. The chicks are covered in white down, and are tended to for 21-25 days. The chicks are fed by regurgitation. They will usually leave the nest about 3 weeks, and can fly within 6-7 weeks.
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Great Egret with breeding plumage (Image by BirdNation)

Vocalizations: 

Guttural croak.

Conservation:

In the nineteenth and early twentieth, 95% of the North American Great Egrets were hunted for their plumes. Plume hunting was banned around 1910, and the population has recovered considerably. Populations are now considered stable. Breeding ranges have been moving northward in recent years.

Fun Facts: 

  • Great Egrets are also found in part of Asia, Africa, South America, and Southern Europe.
  • The Great Egret is the symbol of the National Audubon Society.
  • A breeding colony can easily have over 1,000 Great Egret nests.
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Great Egret (Image by BirdNation)

 

Waders Far and Wide

Happy Autumn everyone!

Autumn is my favorite season. I’m usually the first person to wish people a happy autumn. On the 22nd I actually forgot it was autumn until about 9 pm…probably because it was 90 degrees outside! We’ve had unseasonably warm weather the past week and a half, but of course that didn’t stop us from going birding. On Sunday Dave and I took a trip to Edwin B. Forsythe NWR for our first fall birding trip.

September is always a busy time at the refuge with a mix of fall migrants and summer stragglers. It’s also peak time for waders, who could be seen all over the wildlife drive. Wading Birds are not the same as Shorebirds. Shorebirds consist mainly of plovers, sandpipers, avocets, and oystercatchers. Wading Birds refer to herons, egrets, ibies, bitterns, spoonbills, and storks. Wading birds can be found at the shore, but they are actually listed in between Pelicans/Frigatebirds/Boobies and Hawks/Falcons in field guides, meaning they are more closely related to those families than shorebirds.

We saw 6 species of wading birds on this trip: Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Black-crowned Night-herons, Snowy Egrets and Glossy Ibis. There were 3 Black-crowned Night-herons hanging out on an island of shrubs. We actually found them in the same place I saw my very first Night-heron on my very first birding trip with Maria (my best friend/birding buddy), so that was special.

Black-crowned Nigh-Heron Immature
Black-crowned Night-heron Juvenile (Image by BirdNation)

The 6th species of wading bird was a bit of a surprise and the most interesting species for me on this trip. Dave and I were standing atop the Gull Pond Observation Tower when a medium-sized white wader landed in the water. At first we thought it was a Snowy because of its size, but then changed our minds and thought Great Egret. But the size seemed too small, and the legs weren’t quite the right color. A second bird of this species showed up.

They were also kind of, well, weird. Their movements while foraging were different compared to a Great Egret. They moved slowly, but would stretch out their necks and rock them from side to side. I feel like all the Great Egrets I’ve watched forage extremely carefully, while Snowy Egrets move quickly and erratically (sometimes I wonder if Great Egrets find it annoying to hunt next to a crazy-moving Snowy Egret lol). 

Then we noticed the bill and it all clicked. It was darker compared to the Great Egret’s bill and too light to be a Snowy.

Immature Little Blue Herons! Immature Little Blue Herons are in fact white, not blue like the adults. Why are they white? Ornithologists believe that blending in with the other egrets puts Little Blues at an advantage. Not only do they catch more fishing with the other species, but they get extra protection by blending into a mixed-flock. They are also better tolerated by Snowy Egrets, who can be aggressive towards Little Blues.  We’ve seen Little Blue Herons before (our first at Cloverdale Farm and second at Bombay Hook NWR), but these were our first juveniles. These Little Blues were fun to watch.

Little Blue Heron juvenile
Little Blue Heron juvenile (Image by David Horowitz)
Little Blue Herons
Little Blue Heron juveniles foraging (Image by David Horowitz)

Other highlights of our trip included a large flock of Greater Yellowlegs, Forster’s Terns in non-breeding plumage, Double-crested Cormorants, tons of gulls, a single Osprey, a Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Wood Ducks, and a Belted Kingfisher (our first for our Forsythe list) to name just a few from our 39 species total.

I’m glad autumn is finally here, but I can’t wait for the weather to finally cool down! I’ll miss the wonderful summer visitors, but am also looking forward to the winter birds. I’m happy we had the opportunity to enjoy all the waders before they migrate.

Shorebird Central

On Sunday we took a trip down to Edwin B. Forsythe NWR. Despite the flies, Forsythe is a wonderful summer birding location. I heard that there were White Ibis around, so we decided to see if we could find this rarity.

We left pretty early in the morning and it was quiet when we arrived. We spent a little time walk around the visitor center and towards Lily Pond. At the pond we found at least 5 Wood Ducks as well as some Gray Catbirds and Red-winged Blackbirds. At the visitor center we found a Chipping Sparrow being followed by a large (compared to the sparrow) juvenile Brown-headed Cowbird. Unfortunately that Chipping Sparrow was cursed with a brood parasite. Brown-headed Cowbirds always lay their eggs in other bird’s nests, although the parasitic egg isn’t always successful (check out my post on brood parasites here).

 

Next we went to the first observation platform. It was swarming with a large flock of Barn Swallows. In the distance we were able to see a few Osprey on their nest, while also spotting Laughing Gulls, Seaside Sparrows, and Marsh Wrens. There even was a little snail crossing the platform, so he was fun to see.  At Gull Pond Tower, we saw even more Wood Ducks, a Cooper’s Hawk, a Great Blue Heron, Eastern Kingbirds, and many more Barn Swallows. The surprise bird over at the Gull Pond for me was a juvenile Black-crowned Night-heron. It was our first juvenile BC-NH since our 8/23/16 Forsythe trip.

It was Shorebird and Wading Bird Central once we hit the wildlife drive. Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Greater Yellowlegs, Dunlins, and Semipalmated Plovers were everywhere you looked. There were a few surprises scattered around too. There was a lone American Avocet among the smaller plovers and sandpipers. It was the first time we’ve seen one at Forsythe (our firsts were at Bombay Hook NWR). We also ended up finding the White Ibis! There were 2: both juveniles. They had brown backs, white rumps, and orange bill/legs. They were foraging in a group of Snowy and Great Egrets. (Sorry the White Ibis picture isn’t that great, they were really far so it was basically so we can prove the rarity on ebird)

There were plenty of Seabirds around too. These included Forster’s/Common Terns (many of them juveniles), Laughing/Herring/Great Black-backed Gulls, Black Skimmers, and Gull-billed Terns.

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Juvenile Tern (Image by BirdNation)

 

As far as Raptors, there were at least 20 Ospreys throughout the drive. At one point we watched at least 3 of them chase one that was holding a fish. The poor guy being chased eventually lost his fish back to the water. There were also some Ospreys chasing after an adult Bald Eagle.

feeding ospreys.jpg

We actually found a second rarity: a lone Snow Goose. This poor little guy looked like his wing was messed up, which would explain why he was still here. He waddled along the trail and disappeared into the grass.

The second half to the wildlife drive brought some more interesting surprises. There were even more wading/shorebirds/seabirds already mentioned, but on this half added Short-billed Dowitchers, Double-crested Cormorants, a single Whimbrel, Glossy Ibis, and one Ruddy Turnstone. When we were watching the Whimbrel, a small bird swam across the water in the distance. It was hard to make out, but we could see it’s downturned bill and rump sticking out. It quickly disappeared into the reeds, but we were able to figure out that it was a Clapper rail, another life bird for us.

August at Forsythe NWR is beautiful. There marshes and pools were dotted with flowers, while butterflies and bees flew to the different plants. The variety of birds at this time of the year is fantastic. We ended our day with a total of 55 species (2 rarities: White Ibis/Snow Goose and 2 life bird: Clapper Rail/White Ibis).

Stay tuned: Dave and I have been birding yesterday and today in some surprise birding locations we didn’t expect to go to. I’ll have some posts about that in the upcoming days. 🙂