Northern Mockingbird Information

Northern Mockingbirdmockingbird

Recently, on a visit to Long Island, NY, I sat in a kitchen listening to what seemed like a flock of different song birds singing away right outside a window in a holly bush. It was no surprise to walk outside and see a Northern Mockingbird sitting on the top of the bush switching its tune over and over.

Description:

The northern mockingbird is a medium-sized songbird, a bit more slender than a thrush with a longer tail. Mockingbirds have small heads, a long, thin dark bill with a downward curve at the tip and long legs. Their wings are short, rounded, and broad, making the tail seem particularly long in flight. Both males and females look alike.

The Mockingbird is overall gray-brown, paler on the breast and belly. As the picture indicates, mockingbirds have two white wingbars on each wing. A white patch in each wing is often visible on perched birds, and in flight these become large white flashes. The white outer tail feathers are clear when the birds are in flight.

Mockingbirds are approximately 8.3” – 10.2” long with a wingspan of 12.2” – 13.8”. They weigh about 1.6 – 2 oz. As a comparison, northern mockingbirds are slightly smaller than a common grackle

Habitat:

The northern mockingbird can be found in towns, suburbs, backyards, parks, forest edges, and open land at low elevations. They usually reside in fields and forest edges, usually seen in farmlands, roadsides, city parks, suburban areas, and open grassy areas with thickets and brushy deserts

Food:

The northern mockingbird is an omnivore. They eat mainly insects in summer but switch to eating mostly fruit in fall and winter. Among their animal prey are beetles, earthworms, moths, butterflies, ants, bees, wasps, grasshoppers, and small lizards. They eat a wide variety of berries and fruits. They’ve been seen drinking sap from the cuts on recently pruned trees.

Territory:

The mockingbirds’ breeding range is from Maritime provinces of Canada westwards to British Columbia, practically the entire Continental United States, and the majority of Mexico to eastern Oaxaca and Veracruz. The mockingbird is generally a year-round resident of its range, but the birds that live in the northern portion of its range have been noted further south during the winter season. The bird can most frequently be found in the Southern United States

 

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Purple Gallinule – Porphyrio Martinica

the Purple Gallinule can be see walking on top of floating vegetation or clambering through dense shrubs

Purple Gallinule

General

The Purple Gallinule (Porphyrio martinica) sometimes referred to as a ‘swamp hen,’ is a brightly colored bird that can be the Purple Gallinule can be see walking on top of floating vegetation or clambering through dense shrubsfound gracefully walking across floating vegetation in southern and tropical marshlands.

Description

Purple Gallinules are chicken-sized birds that reach a mature length of approximately 14”, with a wingspan of 20” to 24”, and a mature weight of 7.3 oz. to 10.2 oz. They have red eyes, a short, triangular red bill with a yellow tip, and a light blue or white frontal shield (located on the forehead.) Some of their most unique features are their tall, thin yellow legs and long toes (used to navigate across floating vegetation.) PG’s are perhaps best known for their striking coloration. Purple-blue plumage covers the head, neck, breast, short tail, and underside. The back and wings are green-blue and their undertail coverts are white. Chicks are born covered in black down. Juveniles are buff to brown in color, with some green on their backs, yellow legs, and dull facial features.

Purple Gallinule movements on land have been likened to those of a chicken while in the water, they’re said to move like a duck. Their long toes enable then to gracefully move across floating vegetation, but make it difficult for them to clamber through dense shrubs.1 While walking or swimming, they move their head and tail in a constant jerking motion. The flight of the PG has been described as labored and slow, with dangling legs. Despite this, PG’s have been known to fly great distances from their home ranges and have been sighted as far north as southern Canada and Maine.

Purple Gallinules are vocal and make squawking, cackling, and guttural grunting noises.

Habitat

Purple Gallinue is essentially a tropical marshbird that just makes its way into the United States.PG’s can be found in freshwater marshes, wetlands, lakes, waterways, or bayous where there is a presence of floating vegetation (such as lily pads.)

Location

They are year round residents of northern, central, and eastern-central South America, parts of Central America, southern Florida, and the Caribbean. Breeding ranges reach northward to Texas, Arkansas, the Carolinas, and the Gulf Coast. Some populations migrate short distances and winter along the Gulf Coast of the United States and in Central America.2 Although the PG is not a graceful flier, there have been sightings far from this species normal range (in the northern United States, southern Canada, Europe, and South Africa.)3

Diet

They are ground foragers whose diets consist of aquatic vegetation, grasses, seeds, fruit, water hyacinth flowers, grains, insects, and some invertebrates. They gather plant material while standing atop floating vegetation, climb brush for seeds or fruit, and collect insects off the bottom of lily pads (by rolling the edge over and holding it in place with their foot while collecting the insects with their bill.) Insects are fed to the chicks. PG’s are able to use their feet to hold food while eating.

Reproduction

Purple Gallinules breed between April and September. Nests are built using grasses and other aquatic vegetation and are attached to either a floating mat or a thicket of vegetation. Between 6 to 10 eggs are laid -one per day- that are creamy to buff with small irregular brown spots. Both the male and female incubate the eggs for 18 to 20 days. The chicks hatch over the course of 3 to 4 days, covered in black down. The chicks generally remain in the nest until all the eggs have hatched, but are able to leave the nest within a day of hatching if disturbed (already capable of swimming, diving, and running.) The chicks are fed by both parents for 8 to 9 weeks. By 7 weeks old, the chicks are capable of short flights and by 10 weeks old, they can make sustained flights (by this time the chicks have reached 1/3 their mature size.)4

Notes of Interest

There is a hunting season for PG’s in the United States; however, they are not a common game bird and by the time the season opens, local Purple Gallinule populations have often already started migrating south. For example, the hunting season in Arkansas includes a daily limit of 15 birds and lasts from September 1st through November 15th.5

1. http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Purple_Gallinule/id
2. http://birds.audubon.org/birds/purple-gallinule
3. http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Purple_Gallinule/id
4. http://txtbba.tamu.edu/species-accounts/purple-gallinule/
5. http://thecabin.net/sports/outdoors/2009-08-16/

http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Purple_Gallinule/id
http://birds.audubon.org/birds/purple-gallinule
http://txtbba.tamu.edu/species-accounts/purple-gallinule/
http://thecabin.net/sports/outdoors/2009-08-16/

 

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Northern Mockingbird Information

Northern Mockingbird

General

The Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos, is a common medium-sized songbird perhaps best known for its song. With its large repertoire of songs and capability of mimicking a variety of sounds and other species’ songs, these birds are musical almost to a fault. Laying awake on a summer night, you might be surprised to find out the symphony outside your window is the product of a single Northern Mockingbird.

Description

The Northern Mockingbird is a medium-sized bird. Males tend to be slightly larger than females, but on average, Mockingbirds measure between 8” and just over 10” in length and weigh between 1.5 to 2oz. They have long, thin, black bills that curve slightly downward and small heads. Their wings, with spans measuring 12” to over 13.5”, are broad and rounded and short in comparison to their long tails and legs.

Northern Mockingbirds have bilaterally symmetrical coloration. Their overall gray-brown plumage is accented by two white wingbars on each wing, a large white patch on the underside of each wing (flashed during flight,) white outer tail feathers and a pale breast and stomach.1 Females may be identified by their tail feathers that tend to be darker than males and juveniles by the brown spots on their undersides.

The mockingbird’s most notable characteristic is its ability to perform as many as 39 songs and 50 call notes and mimic any number of sounds ranging from the songs of other birds, to dogs barking, sirens, squeaky gates, and pianos.2 They sing throughout the day and into the night (unmated males are known to produce the most songs, especially at night during a full moon,) and from February through August and September through early November (some males have two distinct sets of songs, one for each season.) Over the course of its lifetime, a mockingbird may learn as many as 200 songs. It is believed that females prefer the males with the greatest number of songs. Females sing significantly less than males and at a lower volume. Females produce most of their songs in the fall for territorial purposes. Males also sing to establish territories as well as to attract mates.

Northern Mockingbirds are solitary animals that are often found alone, but may sometimes in found in pairs. They are known to be territorial throughout the year, especially during their mating seasons. Male mockingbirds tend to chase away male intruders and females tend to show more aggression towards female intruders. In defense of their territory, a mockingbird will chase an intruder to the edge of their territory and face-off, flying around them, prancing, hopping, and flashing their wings. This display may escalate to a physical fight that includes pecking and clawing if an intruding bird persists. Mockingbirds have also been known to chase away other species, including dogs, cats and humans.3 Within their habitats, adult mockingbirds are vulnerable to screech owls, great horned owls, sharp-shinned hawks, and scrub jays. Crows, blue jays, squirrels and snakes prey upon their eggs and young. If a predator is spotted approaching a nest, an adult mockingbird will emit an alarm call, sometimes causing a mob of mockingbirds to form to drive away the threat.4

Mockingbirds are diurnal and spend their time conspicuously perched on tall vegetation, poles, fences, or wires. On the ground, mockingbirds move by walking, hopping or running with their tails cocked, while hunting for insects. To collect fruit or hanging food, they are able to hover in mid-air. They tend to have a leisurely flight style with flashy wing beats, but are known to sometimes dive from their perches with folded wings.5

Northern Mockingbirds are protected by the US Migratory Bird Treaty Act. It is estimated that there are 45,000,000 Northern Mockingbirds worldwide and this species is not considered to be at risk.6 Approximately 83% of Northern Mockingbirds are believed to live in the United States, 16% in Mexico, and 6% in Canada.7

Northern Mockingbirds are susceptible to a number of ectoparasites, such as fleas, mites, and blowfly larvae. In the wild, Northern Mockingbirds have a life expectancy of 8 years. In captivity they may live up to 20 years.

Location

Northern Mockingbirds inhabit nearctic and oceanic habitats across the continental United States, in southern Canada, northern and central Mexico, and the Caribbean. They were introduced to Hawaii where they have experienced success. Northern Mockingbirds are a partially migratory species. Populations that breed in northern parts of the range tend to migrate south for colder months, while populations that breed in southern parts of the range tend to be non-migratory.8

Habitat

Northern Mockingbirds can be found in a variety of habitats at low elevations, including brushy deserts, forest edges, suburbs, parks, and farmlands. They prefer habitats that include open grassy areas for foraging,9 shrubby vegetation, and high perches (such as trees, poles, etc.) Within their habitats, Northern Mockingbirds play a vital role in seed distribution and the maintenance of insect population.

Diet

Northern Mockingbirds are omnivores that forage on the ground or while perched in vegetation. Their diets are insect and animal heavy in the summer, consisting of ants, bees, wasps, spiders, grasshoppers, moths, beetles, and sometimes small lizards and crustaceans. During the fall and winter, they adapt their diets to include fruit and berries such as mulberries, raspberries, holly, brambles, figs, and grapes.10 Northern Mockingbirds source water from the edges of rivers, lakes, and puddles, collect dew from leaves, and have been known to drink sap from freshly trimmed trees.11

Reproduction

Northern Mockingbirds are typically monogamous and remain in breeding pairs for the duration of one mating season. Occasionally, mockingbirds may practice polygyny or bigamy or remain in a breeding pair for life. The spring and early summer mating seasons commence with males establishing their territories to attract females.12 Within their territories, males select several nesting sites and construct bulky, cup-like twig nests that are usually 3’ to 10’ off the ground (although these nests can be built at heights up to 60’.)13 After entering a male’s territory, a female is chased by the male, who performs songs, flight patterns and wing flashes in a showy display. By the end of the chase, the female will have been shown all the potential nesting sites within the territory and will choose one. Prior to laying her eggs, a female mockingbird lines the twig cup constructed by the male with grass, leaves, and sometimes bits of trash. Mating pairs will have two to four broods a year.14

Females lay between 2 to 6 eggs, which are pale blue or green with red or brown spots. The eggs are .8” to 1.1” long and .6” to .8” wide. The female incubates the eggs for 12 to 13 days. Chicks are born helpless, naked, blind, and covered in light grey down. Both females and males participate in feeding and caring for the chicks. After a nestling period of 12 to 13 days, the female mockingbird leaves the nest to lay her next brood in a new nest while the male remains with the fledglings, continuing to care for and feed them and teaching them to fly.15 The young are independent by 15 days old and reach sexual maturity by a year old. Northern Mockingbirds rarely reuse a nest.

There are three species of Cowbirds, Molothrus, that parasitize Northern Mockingbirds. They lay their eggs in a mockingbird’s nest, where the eggs will be incubated, hatched, and cared for by the mockingbirds. The cowbird chicks sometimes overcrowd the nest, resulting in the loss of mockingbird chicks.16

Notes of Interest

Mockingbirds were kept as caged novelties during the 19th century. Chicks were taken from nests or adults were trapped and sold for upwards of $50. This practice was so popular in cities such as New York, St. Louis, and Philadelphia that mockingbird populations nearly vanished from areas along the East Coast.17

According to the North American Breeding Bird Survery, Northern Mockingbird populations are on the decline. Between 1966 and 2010, this species experienced a 20% decrease.note

1. http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/northern_mockingbird/id
2. http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Mimus_polyglottos/
3. http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/northern_mockingbird/id
4. http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Mimus_polyglottos/
5. http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/northern_mockingbird/id
6. http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Mimus_polyglottos/
7. http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/northern_mockingbird/id
8. http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Mimus_polyglottos/
9. http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/northern_mockingbird/id
10. http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Mimus_polyglottos/
11. http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/northern_mockingbird/id
12. http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Mimus_polyglottos/
13. http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/northern_mockingbird/id
14. http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Mimus_polyglottos/
15. http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/northern_mockingbird/id
16. http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Mimus_polyglottos/
17. http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/northern_mockingbird/id

http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/northern_mockingbird/id
http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Mimus_polyglottos/

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Ruby-Throated Hummingbird – Facts and Information

ruby-throated hummingbird
ruby-throated hummingbird

Picture from FSW taken by: Robert Burton

Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

General:

The Ruby-Throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris,) is one of my favorite backyard sightings, due to its brilliant plumage and spirited behavior. Before you can catch a glance, this acrobatic and energetic bird is usually on its way to the next blossom. This hummingbird has the greatest breeding range of all hummingbirds in North America and occupies much of the eastern United States and Canada during the spring and summer months. By providing the right vegetation and features in your backyard, you may be lucky enough to share your yard with this lovely species.

Description:

The Ruby-Throated Hummingbird is named for the metallic ruby-red throat patch found on the throat of the male hummingbirds. Both sexes have iridescent green plumage on their backs and heads and white undersides. This species of hummingbird has the lowest number of feathers ever found on any bird1. Females may be distinguished from males by their dull gray throats. The tails also differ between sexes, with forked tails present on males and white-tipped square tails on females. Young Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds are similar in appearance to adults, except for fewer red feathers on the throats of adolescent males.

Adult hummingbirds reach 3” to 4” in size, averaging 3.5 grams in weight2. Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds have long bills and tongues, used to drink nectar at an average of 13 licks a second. The tongues are grooved to aid in nectar collection and have fringed edges to help collect insects. This acrobatic flyer has short legs relative to their body length, making walking and hopping difficult and inefficient. Possibly the most unique physical attributes of the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, besides for the red plumage on the males, are the wings. These tiny and delicate appendages are able to beat an average of 53 times per second, creating this bird’s distinctive “humming” noise. During flight the number of beats per second may be 78 times a second and as high as 200 times a second during a dive (a display used in mating)3. Because of these extreme levels of activity and the tendency to ‘hover’ while eating, Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds have very high metabolic rates. The metabolic rate of these birds at rest is estimated to be 20.6 calories per gram per hour. In addition to their signature hovering, these petite birds are able to fly upside-down and backward.

On average, adult male hummingbirds live to 5 years of age and females live to 9 years in the wild. This species experiences a high mortality rate possibly because of the extreme energy demands of behaviors including breeding displays, migration, and defense of territory, leading to extensive weight loss4.

Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds are a solitary species and typically only interact for breeding or territorial purposes. Male hummingbirds are territorial, using vocalizations to ward off intruders. If an intruder enters another male’s territory, the defending male will make a single note, repeating at higher and higher volumes until the intruder retreats. If the vocal warning is not successful, male hummingbirds are known to chase and physically attract other males (using their beaks and feet.)5 In addition to vocalizations, male and female Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds may communicate with and understand olfactory and visual cues. These birds can see the visible light spectrum as well as the blue-violet range. Developed vision along with their sense of smell helps these hummingbirds identify food sources.

Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds are diurnal, most active during the day. When temperatures drop below optimal levels, hummingbirds enter hypothermic torpor in order to conserve energy. Hypothermic torpor is a state similar to hibernation, allowing a hummingbird to conserve energy through a lowered body temperature and slowed body functions6.
Populations of Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds are wide spread and numerous, with an estimated 7.3 million birds worldwide. This species has never experienced any serious threats and is protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty between the U.S. and Canada. As with all hummingbird species, the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird is part of Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species7.

Habitat:

Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds fulfill an important role in their habitats, pollinating flowers, shrubs and vines. This symbiotic relationship is so strong that some species of plants have adapted to cater specifically to these small birds. Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds are migratory, inhabiting northern habitats during their summer breeding season and tropical habitats after migrating south for the winter. Preferred habitats include deciduous and pine forests, mixed woodlands, orchards, flowering gardens, parks, overgrown pastures, and citrus groves. Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds select habitats that are close in proximity to water sources such as marshes or streams, to ensure abundant insect supplies8.

Males establish territories that offer food supplies, protection and mating opportunities. Some males have been known to establish a breeding territory distinct from their primary territory when food sources in the primary territory were not sufficient to support mating activities. These separate areas may be as far as two miles apart. Males are defensive of their territories and typically locate their territory at least 50’ away from a territory of another male Ruby-Throated Hummingbird. Territories of Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds may overlap with those of other hummingbird species. In these instances, the male Ruby-Throated Hummingbird will become submissive9.

Within their habitats, Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds are vulnerable to birds-of-prey (including blue jays which feed on nestlings) and, most often, house cats.

Location:

Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds are a migratory species. Between February and May these petite birds fly north to their breeding grounds located across the eastern United States and Canada, east of the 100th meridian. Between July and October Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds embark on a southern migration to their winter grounds that extend from southern Florida south to Panama and the West Indies. This species primarily winters in Central America. Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds are capable of a nonstop, 500-mile flight across the Gulf of Mexico and may go so far as to double their body weight in preparation. The migration of this species coordinates with the blooming schedules of flowers.

Diet:

Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds are omnivorous, feeding on flowers and nectar as well as insects. Adult hummingbirds require an immense amount of calories to support their behaviors and must consume approximately twice their body weight a day. They are most often spotted hovering over flowers as they lick the nectar, consuming approximately half their body weight in sugar a day, spread between five to eight feedings10. Preference has been shown for red flowers, but hummingbirds consume a variety of other flowers and nectar from wildflowers and flowers from shrubs and vines, as well as tree sap (collected from wells excavated by tree-boring bird species.) Insects are collected from sap wells and vegetation and include mosquitoes, small bees, gnats, small flies, aphids, spiders, caterpillars and insect eggs11.

If you are looking to attract hummingbirds to your garden, here is a variety of plantings you may consider:

Flowers:

Begonia, Century Plant, Butterfly Weed, Columbine, Delphinium, Fox Glove, Dahlia, Geranium, Impatients, Lilly, Petunia, Phlox, Snapdragons, Verbena, Sweet William

Vines, Trees, Shrubs:

Honeysuckle, Trumpet Vine, Morning Glory, Butterfly Bush, Rose of Sharon, rosemary, Tulip Poplar

Hanging a hummingbird feeder is also a great way to attract these beautiful birds. Fill your feeder with a concentrated sugar solution (roughly 4 parts sugar to 1 part water.) Boil the mixture until the sugar is fully dissolved. Remember to clean your feeder often, especially during extreme heat. The sugar solution should be changed every few days, especially during high temperatures because heat can cause this solution to spoil.
*Do not use artificial sweetener or honey in your feeder. Honey can ferment and cause hummingbirds to become sick and sweeteners contain no nutritional value13.

Reproduction:

Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds breed while in their northern habitats between March and July, the height of breeding occurring in mid-May. This species inhabits a larger breeding range than all other hummingbird species in North America and is the only species of hummingbird that breeds east of the Mississippi14.

Both male and female Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds take several breeding partners during a given season, although no long-term breeding pairs are established. After copulation pairs separate and females assume all parental duties.

Male Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds return to breeding areas in the spring to establish their territories prior to females’ arrivals. Upon entering a male’s territory, a female will be courted with an acrobatic display: a showy display of red throat plumage and diving displays with males flying in loops above the females. If a female shows interest by perching, the male will proceed by flying in fast horizontal arcs just feet in front of the female. Females may give their final consent by emitting a “mew” and displaying a posture of cocked tail feathers and lowered wings15.

Females are solely responsible for selecting the site for and building a nest. Nests are typically attached to a down-sloping branch by pine resin, below a shelter of leaves, 5’ to 20’ off the ground or a stream. Common trees to find hummingbird nests in are oak, maple, poplar, birch, beech, spruce and pine. Nests are constructed of thistle, ferns, young leaves, moss, dandelion and milkweed down, spider and caterpillar webs, and bud scales and decorated on the exterior with lichen (possibly to provide camouflage.)

Females lay, on average, 1 to 3 small white eggs. After two weeks of incubation, the young birds are born and will be fed by their mothers in the nest for approximately 3 weeks. The chicks leave the nest about 20 days after hatching and reach sexual maturity at 1 year of age. In a single breeding season a female may have several broods.

Notes of Interest:

While hummingbirds don’t require a source of water for drinking, providing a water feature in your garden may help attract these beautiful birds. Including a fountain, pond, birdbath, waterfall or mister in your garden may increase insect populations and make your space more attractive.

Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds were a prized specimen in the nineteenth century due to their beautiful plumage. Although these birds were commonly hunted and a coveted prize, this species never became threatened and numbers stayed strong and stable16.

Footnotes

1. http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Archilochus_colubris/
2. http://plants.usda.gov/pollinators/Ruby-throated_hummingbird.pdf
3. http://www.wvu.edu/~agexten/wildlife/hummer.htm
4. http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Archilochus_colubris/
5. http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Archilochus_colubris/
6. http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Archilochus_colubris/
7. http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Archilochus_colubris/
8. http://plants.usda.gov/pollinators/Ruby-throated_hummingbird.pdf
9. http://plants.usda.gov/pollinators/Ruby-throated_hummingbird.pdf
10. http://www.wvu.edu/~agexten/wildlife/hummer.htm
11. http://plants.usda.gov/pollinators/Ruby-throated_hummingbird.pdf
12. http://www.wvu.edu/~agexten/wildlife/hummer.htm
13. http://www.wvu.edu/~agexten/wildlife/hummer.htm
14. http://plants.usda.gov/pollinators/Ruby-throated_hummingbird.pdf
15. http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Archilochus_colubris/
16. http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Archilochus_colubris/

http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/birds/ruby-throat-hummingbird/
http://plants.usda.gov/pollinators/Ruby-throated_hummingbird.pdf
http://www.wvu.edu/~agexten/wildlife/hummer.htm
http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Archiloch

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House Sparrow – Passer domesticus Information and Description

General: The House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) is one of the most common bird species in North America, although it is a non-native species. These sociable and tame birds can be The House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) is a bird of the sparrow family Passeridae, found in most parts of the worldspotted in backyards hopping along the ground pecking at seed as well as on city streets feeding on crumbs. This species has a long running relationship with humans and has come to rely heavily on human populations for survival. House Sparrows have healthy and stable populations across a wide geographic range and are listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List.

Description: House Sparrows are unrelated to other species of sparrows that are native to North America and, therefore, differ in appearance. They may be identified by their shorter, stockier appearances, accentuated by full chests, shorter tails and legs, large round heads and shorter, thicker beaks. House Sparrows reach a mature size of 5.9” to 6.7” in length and 27g to 29g in weight. Their wingspan, when full grown, is 7.5” to 9.8”1. Geographic variations exist due to the House Sparrows immense range. Colder climates tend to produce larger birds with shorter wings and legs, whereas populations with darker plumage tend to be found in humid climates2.

Coloration may differ between sexes and during different seasons. Both sexes generally have buff, brown and black stripes on their backs, although males tend to be more brightly colored, with gray heads, black patches or “bibs” on their necks and white cheeks. Females are generally dull tan-gray, with gray undersides, buff eye-stripes, and a bill that is more yellow than males. During the summer, breeding males will display a black bill, mask, throat and chest, a gray cap, and a white stripe on their shoulders. Their main coloring is a reddish-brown with black streaks. Non-breeding males lack the vibrant reddish-brown coloration because those feathers become obscured by gray feather tips. Non-breeding males also have less black on their throats and chests, and yellow at the base of their bills3. This seasonal variation is due to an annual molt. Juveniles are plain in color, in appearance to females.

House Sparrows are generally tame and sociable birds, within their flocks and with people, especially during the winter. Because these birds live in social communities, methods of communication have been developed to relay dominance, submissiveness, nervousness, courting and aggression. They often feed together to minimize predation and their flocks have social structures that are similar to that of chickens. Male House Sparrows with larger black throat patches tend to be dominant over males with smaller bibs. During the courting and breeding season females tend to be more assertive, but males are the dominant sex in the flock throughout the rest of the year. Nervousness is indicated by a flick of the tail. Aggression is communicated by a crouched posture with thrust-forward head, spread wings, erect tails and ruffled feathers (in extreme situations.) In a courting display, a male will puff up his chest and open his wings and tail, hopping stiffly and bowing up and down in front of the female4. In addition to social dominance and behavioral communication, House Sparrows are a noisy species that uses a number of simple vocalizations to verbalize warnings, threats and defense, or to attract a mate. The most common sounds include a chatter (often used by females toward her mate or to chase away competing females,) a cheep (used in a series to attract mates and in a flock to communicate submissiveness,) wheezy calls, and chirps.
House Sparrows tend to have more direct and higher flight than native species of sparrows. Their flight is continuous and lacks periods of gliding5. Because of their stature and short legs, House Sparrows can most often be seen hopping on the ground rather than walking.
House Sparrows tend to have life spans of just a few years. However, there are recorded instances of wild House Sparrows living as long as 13 to 15 years.

Habitat: House Sparrows tend to be found in areas inhabited or affected by humans, including cities, towns, suburbs, farms, and parks. Because of their dependency on humans, House Sparrows are unable to survive in areas such as uninhabited woodlands, alpine forests, grasslands, or deserts. In extreme climates House Sparrows must maintain a close proximity to human populations for survival.

In their habitats House Sparrows (and their eggs and young) are vulnerable to a number of predators, such as hawks, owls, cats, dogs, raccoons and snakes. House Sparrows tendency to forage in flocks increases their awareness and survival rates.

Location: House Sparrows are year round residents of their native environments of Eurasia and North Africa. Introduced, invasive populations are also non-migratory and thrive in South Africa, South America, New Zealand, Australia, and North America. Their lack of migration increases survival rates because of a diminished demand for energy and exposure to predators.
The House Sparrow was introduced to Brooklyn, New York in 1851, when 100 birds from England were released. This may have been done to control certain insect populations or to make the area more familiar to European immigrants. By the turn of the century, House Sparrow populations had spread to the Rocky Mountains. Additional populations were released in San Francisco and Salt Lake City in the 1870’s, expanding this species range across North America (excluding Alaska and northern parts of Canada6.)

Diet: House Sparrows are omnivorous ground foragers that spend much of their time hopping along the ground pecking at food. House Sparrows have also been known to steal food from larger species of birds and drink nectar from flowers. Their diets consist mainly of grain and seed (corn, oats, sorghum, wheat,) crumbs and food waste, ragweed, grasses, buckwheat, commercial birdseed, and insects.

Reproduction: House Sparrows are monogamous and form breeding pairs each season, with nesting beginning in late winter and courtship occurring in early spring. Nesting may begin only a few days before the first egg is laid. House Sparrows prefer to build their nests in manmade structures such as the walls of buildings, on streetlights, in nest boxes or in the eaves of houses. They have been known to evict other birds from their nests, destroying existing eggs and physically attacking the opposing birds. House Sparrows tend to reuse their nests. And have been known to aggressively defend their nesting areas.

Both males and females construct the nests by stuffing their nesting cavities with dry vegetation until the hole is nearly full and then lining the interior with softer materials such as string, paper, and feathers. House Sparrows often nest in close proximity to each other, the nests sometimes sharing a common wall.

House Sparrows may lay up to 4 broods in a year, each containing between 1 and 8 white/light-green/blue-white eggs, speckled with gray or brown and approximately 7/8” in length. Parents alternate incubating the eggs for a period of 10 to 14 days. Young chicks are born naked and uncoordinated, with closed eyes. During the nestling period of 10 to 14 days both parents feed the chicks through regurgitation. House Sparrows reach sexual maturity by around 9 months of age.

Notes of Interest:

House Sparrows enjoy dust baths and can often be spotted coating their bodies with dust and dirt. They also take baths in puddles or shallow water, using a similar flicking motion to coat their feathers.

Because House Sparrows are so numerous and tame, they are often the subject of avian biological studies and have been the subject of nearly 5,000 scientific papers7.

Although House Sparrows are common and numbers are stable, some populations have experienced a sharp decline, possibly due to farming practices, and changes in land-use. Despite this, they are not considered threatened and are not protected under any laws or regulations.

Footnotes

1. http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/house_sparrow/id
2. http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/birding/house-sparrow/
3. http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/house_sparrow/id
4. http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/house_sparrow/id
5. http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Passer_domesticus/
6. http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/house_sparrow/id
7. http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/house_sparrow/id

http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/house_sparrow/id
http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/birding/house-sparrow/
http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Passer_domesticus/
http://www.thepoultrysite.com/articles/848/understanding-and-control-of-house-sparrows

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