General: The Mute Swan was introduced to the United States in the late 19th century (1), primarily for its ornamental value. Like many such actions, it has manifested into unintended consequences and has become viewed by many as an invasive species due to its increasing population and aggressive behavior. Mute Swans have affected not only native bird species by displacing them but also aquatic animals due to their feeding on large amounts of aquatic vegetation used by fish and invertebrates.
Growing up on Long Island, NY, I had plenty of opportunities to view these birds. They can be very aggressive – I have watched Mute Swans chase dogs, geese and people not only from their nests but just because their “space” was invaded. These are easy birds to observe since they are use to people – yet they need their space. Even if you are motionless a bird that approaches should be treated with a lot of respect.
The male Mute Swan is known as a “cob” while the female is known as a “pen”.
Mute swans become sexually mature when they are two years old, but often will not begin breeding until they are three, four, or even five years old.
The Mute Swan is reported to mate for life. However, changing of mates does occur infrequently, and swans will remate if their partner dies. If a male loses his mate and pairs with a young female, she joins him on his territory. If he mates with an older female, they go to hers. If a female loses her mate, she remates quickly and usually chooses a younger male. (3)
In spring Mute Swans build nests that look like large mounds with waterside vegetation. Female Mute Swans lay an average of 6 off-white to pale green eggs but can produce as many as 11 (2). Incubation takes about 35 days. The hatchlings are called “cygnets”. Within a few days they leave the nest and are able to feed themselves. They stay with the parents for a few months. Cygnets can fly at about 4-5 months of age and are considered “juveniles” at that time.
Identification: Mute Swans are unmistakable; there is really no bird in the eastern US that look like it. They are the largest birds on the water measuring 50”–60” long with a wingspan that is between 80”-94” long (over 7’). They are also heavy weighing between 12 – 30 lbs. The coloration of a mature bird is all-white with an orange bill (with some scant black markings) and a black front to their face. Their legs are black. They have a black “knob” on the top of their bill.
Immature mute swans can be dirty gray or white. Their legs are gray to pink. The bill is gray or tan
Habitat: Lakes, Ponds, shallow coastal ponds, estuaries, ponds, bogs, and streams flowing into lakes.
Territory: The natural range of the Mute Swan is in temperate areas of Europe across western Asia.
Migration: In its natural range, Mute Swans do migrate to a point.
Food: Mute Swans feed on a wide range of vegetation, both submerged aquatic plants and grasses and grains such as wheat.
(1) Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds
The first time I watched laughing gulls in any great number my family was vacationing at the outer banks in North Carolina. It was early June and they were the predominate gull species. Their call sounds just like a laugh, at least one a gull would have. Continue reading Laughing Gull information indentification→
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.
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
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
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.
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
The Purple Gallinule (Porphyrio martinica) sometimes referred to as a ‘swamp hen,’ is a brightly colored bird that can be found gracefully walking across floating vegetation in southern and tropical marshlands.
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.
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.)
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
The Ruby-Throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris,) is one of m
y 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.
The Ruby-Throated Hummingbird is named for the metallic ruby-red throat patch found on the throat of the male hummin
gbirds. 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 Hummingbird is 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.
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. The Ruby-Throated Hummingbird selects 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.
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.
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:
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.
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.