Tag Archives: bird

Northern Flicker – Colaptes Auratus

Northern Flicker

 

The Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus,) is a widespread and common species that can be spotted foraging along the ground for insects in your backyard or in woodlands across much of North America. Like all woodpeckers, they are often heard before they are spotted, capable of producing loud drumming on wood or metal. Their striking coloration sets them apart from other woodpecker species, flashing brilliant yellow or red highlights depending on geographic location. While Northern Flickers are widespread and listed as Least Concern on theNorthern Flicker IUCN Red List, populations across much of their geographic range have been experiencing declining numbers.

Description: The Northern Flicker is a large species of woodpecker, easily distinguished by their white rumps, black-scalloped plumage, and striking black chests. They reach a mature size of 11” to 12” in length, and 4oz. to 6oz. in weight with a 16.5” to 20” wingspan and 4.5” to 5” long flared tail (which tapers to a point1.) They have slender, round heads and 1.5” long bills that curve slightly downward. Their barbed tongues are used to capture insects, reaching a length of 2” when thrust out of their bills.

The Northern Flicker is the only woodpeckers to have white rumps and gray-brown barred backs marked with black scallops. Their undersides are pale buff to white with black spotting and their chests feature black crescents. Northern Flicker males have tan heads, gray faces, red or black moustaches, gray crowns and red or black napes and are generally more colorful than females2. Geographic color variations occur. The flight feathers, underwings and beneath the tail are highlighted with bright yellow (in eastern populations) or salmon-red (in western populations.)

Northern Flickers in eastern regions are referred to as ‘Yellow-Shafted,’ known for the bright yellow coloration that appears on the flight feathers, underwings, and below the tail. They also have red napes and black moustache stripes. Western populations, known as ‘Red-Shafted,’ have salmon-red coloration on flight feathers, underwings, and below their tails. They lack the red nape found in other populations, have red moustaches, paler undersides and broader crescents on their breasts. In the Great Plains region on the edges of eastern and western habitats, hybrids can occur. These individuals typically have a combination of the characteristics of eastern and western populations

Northern Flickers are one of the only North American woodpecker species that is migratory. Northern populations move to southern portions of their geographic range between September and October and return to their northern habitats between March and April. Some populations have been observed migrating to Cuba, the Grand Cayman Islands, or as far south as Nicaragua.

Northern Flickers prefer to forage on the ground but may also be found climbing tree trunks or perched upright along horizontal branches. In flight, they use an undulating flight pattern, alternating heavy wing flaps with periods of gliding to create a bouncy, slow flight3.

Male Northern Flickers can be quite aggressive, especially in the defense of a mate or territory. Displays of aggression can include “bill poking,” which consists of pointing and pecking their bills in the direction of an opponent, “head swinging, and “head bobbing.” Aggression may also be communicated through fanned out tails4.

In addition to body posture, Northern Flickers communicate with a variety of sounds. Their calls include a piercing rattle, which has an undulating volume and lasts for around 8 seconds. This call is made by individuals establishing mating pairs and territories and can be heard in the spring and early summer. Another sound consists of a single, piercing note (which lasts half a second) that is made year round called a kyeer. Interacting Northern Flickers often make a soft, slow wicka-wicka sound. Most often associated with woodpeckers is the loud, rhythmic drumming they produce by hammering on wood, or metal. This drumming is used as a means of communication and defense. Northern Flickers are capable of 25 evenly spaced beats per second, often interspersed with long series of wick-wick-wick sounds5. You may also hear the incessant calls of young Northern Flickers in the late summer.

Northern Flickers have been known to live to over 9 years old but in the wild most Northern Flickers survive only a few years.

Habitat: Northern Flickers can be found in woodlands, flooded swamps, along forest edges or marsh edges, in city parks, suburban backyards and birdbaths, open fields amongst scattered trees, and in western mountain ranges in all stages of forest (as high up as the tree line.)

Within their habitats, Northern Flickers are vulnerable to birds of prey, including Cooper’s Hawks. Raccoons, snakes, and squirrels prey on their young. However, when approached by a predator, Northern Flickers show little response. They may fly tentatively around the predator or thrust their bill in the direction of the threat6.

Location: The geographic range of the Northern Flicker stretches across much of North America, from Alaska to Quebec and south across the entire United States. As a migratory species, some populations of Northern Flickers migrate to southern areas of their geographic range or as far south as the Grand Cayman Islands, Cuba, and the highlands of Nicuargua7.

Diet: Northern Flickers are omnivorous and are often found chiseling into the ground in search of insects. Like other woodpeckers, Northern Flickers also chisel into wooden surfaces for boring insects. First, a Northern Flicker will tap on a surface to listen for insect activity within. After chiseling a hole with their curved bill (in the ground or in wood) they insert their 2” long barbed tongue to snare their meal. Their diets consist mainly of ants, beetles, and beetle larvae. They also consume fruit (including wild cherries, grapes, elderberries, hackberries, and bayberries,) seeds, nuts, flies, moths, butterflies, caterpillars, aphids, wasps, termites, crickets, grasshoppers, snails, and a variety of vegetation (including poison ivy, oak and sumac, Virginia Creeper, Dogwood, and Hackberry.) During the fall and winter their diets consist mainly of fruit.

Reproduction: Northern Flickers tend to breed once annually during their breeding season, which occurs between February and July (although these birds have been known to breed twice within one breeding season.) Individuals return to the same breeding area year after year.

Beginning in the early spring, male Northern Flickers participate in rival displays to attract potential mates. These shows, called “fencing duels,” are preformed in front of females and may include head bobbing (in males use their raised bills to draw figure-eight patterns in the air,) and wicka sounds.

After mating pairs have been formed, both males and females begin excavating a nest. These nests are often built in cavities in trees (sometimes within a nest formerly used by those birds or other birds,) within ground burrows (previously built by other bird species such as Belted Kingfishers,) in old utility or fence posts, or within house siding. Northern Flickers are unlike other woodpecker species in their tendency to reuse their nesting cavities from previous breeding seasons or cavities made by other species8. Nests are excavated to a depth of 13” to 16” and lined with woodchips, widened at the bottom to accommodate eggs and incubation. Nests have entrances that are 3” in diameter and are generally 6’ to 15’ off the ground, although occasionally nests are built substantially higher9.

Between 3 to 12 glossy white eggs (measuring .7” to 1.5” in length) are laid and incubated by both parents for 11 to 13 days. The chicks are born (using their egg teeth to break through their shells,) pink, naked, and clumsy with closed eyes. Both parents feed the chicks even after they have fledged. The chicks begin clinging to the nest walls by 17 days old and begin following their parents out to forage before they are ready to leave the nest at 24 to 27 days old (or by mid-July10.) The chicks molt and develop their adult coloration between June and October. Sexual maturity is reached by one year of age.

Notes of Interest: Northern Flickers are protected under the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Footnotes
1. http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/northern_flicker/id
2. http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Colaptes_auratus/
3. http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/northern_flicker/id
4. http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Colaptes_auratus/
5. http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/birding/northern-flicker/
6. http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Colaptes_auratus/
7. http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Colaptes_auratus/
8. http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/northern_flicker/id
9. http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/northern_flicker/id
10. http://wdfw.wa.gov/living/woodpeckers.html

Ring-billed Gull – Larus delawarensis

Ring-billed Gull – Larus delawarensis

General:Ring-Billed Gulls are flocking birds. They can readily be seen along rivers, lakes, farm land and unfortunately fast food restaurants. There is an island on Lake Ontario that can hold as many as 85,000 pairs during breeding season. (1)

Although it is considered a typical large white-headed gull, the Ring-billed Gull has been known to hybridize only with smaller, black-headed species, such as Franklin’s, Black-headed, and Laughing gulls. (2)

Many, if not most, Ring-billed Gulls return to breed at the colony where they hatched. Once they have bred, they are likely to return to the same breeding spot each year, often nesting within a few meters of the last year’s nest site. Many individuals return to the same wintering sites each winter too. (2)

In the late 19th century, this bird was hunted for its plumage. Its population has since rebounded and it is probably the most common gull in North America. In some areas, it is displacing less aggressive birds such as the Common Tern. (3)

As mentioned, these birds nest in colonies. A nest is made from a scrape in the ground and filled with twigs and sticks. The female lays 1–4 buff/olive eggs with dark brown speckles. Both the male and the female incubate the eggs. Incubation is about 28 days. The chicks are hatched covered in down. They fledge in about 30 days.

Identification: The Ring-billed Gull is a medium sized gull that is approximately 16”–21” long with a wingspan of between 41”*46”. They weigh between 10 – 25 oz. ( ¾ – 1 ½ lbs.). It has a short, bright yellow bill with a black ring at the tip. Wingtips black with white spots. It has white head, neck, chest and under-parts and a soft gray back and upper wings and the legs are yellow. Young birds are mottled brown with blackish tail band and flesh colored legs.

Habitat: Found around fresh water, landfills, golf courses, farm fields, shopping areas, and coastal beaches and water ways.

Territory: Depending on time of year, these birds can be found on either coast, on inland water ways from Alaska to Labrador into the Great Lakes, south to the Gulf of Mexico.

Migration: For spring and breeding season Ring-Billed Gulls migrate north to Alaska to Labrador down to New England into the Great Lakes. They are migratory and most move south to the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of North America, the Great Lakes and Cuba.

Food: Ring-Billed Gull is an omnivore that eats insects, seeds, grain, fish, mollusks, rodents and garbage. These birds are opportunistic and have adapted well to taking food discarded or even left unattended by people.

(1)    Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds.

(2)    Cornell University

(3)    Wikipedia

Turkey Vulture – Cathartes aura

General: The Turkey Vulture, the most widespread of the New World Vultures, is found throughout most of the Americas (North and South). In certain areas it is called “buzzard” and “Turkey buzzard”. The Turkey Vulture received its common name from the resemblance of the adult’s bald red head and its dark plumage to that of the male Wild Turkey.1 Its life expectancy in the wild ranges upward of 16 years, with a captive life span of over 30 years being possible.2

turkey vulture

Turkey Vultures breed in March and into late spring. Eggs are generally laid in a protected location such as a cliff, a cave, a rock crevice, a burrow, inside a hollow tree, or in a thicket. Clutch Size is typically 1 – 3 eggs that are 2.6” – 3” long and 1.7” – 2.1” wide. The eggs are cream-colored, with brown or lavender spots. Incubation is 38 – 41 days. Chicks fledge between 65 – 90 days.

The Turkey Vulture, like most other vultures, has very few vocalization capabilities. Because it lacks a syrinx, it can only utter hisses and grunts. It usually hisses when it feels threatened. Grunts are commonly heard from hungry young and from adults in their courtship display.

turkey vulture

Their sense of smell is incredibly unique in the avian world and they are particularly good at picking up the scent of ethyl mercaptan (a gas produced by animals beginning to decay). The olfactory lobe of a turkey vulture is well developed when compared to other avian species which helps allows a turkey vulture to actually detect odors up to 12 miles away.3

Turkey Vultures hold their wings in a shallow V-shape while soaring and riding thermals.

Identification: Turkey Vultures are large dark birds, 25” long with long, broad wings that measure approximately 72” from tip to tip. The Turkey Vulture’s head is red and unfeathered. The yellowish bill is hooked. The plumage is dark brown except for paler flight feathers, appearing black and gray. They have short, thick legs

Habitat: With its substantial distribution throughout the Americas, the Turkey Vulture is a generalist in its habitat choices and can be found in open and semi-open areas, including subtropical forests, shrub lands, pastures, and deserts. They typically like to stay in areas with open land with nearby areas such as forests for roosting. In the northeastern US, Turkey Vultures can be seen riding thermals over open farmland, the Adirondacks and along lake and ocean shorelines. They are particularly noticeable along roadsides and at landfills.

Territory: Generally, Turkey Vultures can be found from Southern Canada to the southern tip of South America. Certain of its populations do migrate. In upstate New York, Turkey Vultures show up in early Spring and generally leave in early winter.  These northern birds may migrate as far south as South America. In the southern United States the Turkey Vulture is a permanent resident.

Diet: The Turkey Vulture is a scavenger and feeds almost exclusively on carrion which can be almost any animal – mammal, reptile, fish, etc. Turkey Vultures almost never attack living prey.

 

 
3. http://twcdoc.blogspot.com/2011/10/vehicle-versus-vulture.html

White-crowned Sparrow – Zonotrichia leucophrys

White-crowned Sparrow

General: I set a feeder up in front of a window in a garden close to the house and was surprised to see a White-crowned Sparrow scurrying through the brush borders. After research I found that their presence would be short lived since they were migrating north into Canada. After doing research I found this is a flocking bird and seeing a flock is common.(2) This is a stunning bird with really distinct markings.

The White-crowned Sparrow is a large sparrowWhite-crowned Sparrows will share their territories with Fox Sparrows, but chase Chipping Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos until they leave. (1)

The White-Crowned Sparrow migrates across northern Canada and the western United States where it breeds. They nest either low in bushes or on the ground under shrubs. Females build nests out of twigs, coarse grasses, pine needles, moss, bark, and dead leaves. The female lays 3–7 pale green eggs spotted with brown. Incubation is 10 – 14 days. The chicks are born with sparse down feathers with closed eyes. They fledge in 8 – 10 days.

Identification: The White-crowned Sparrow is a large sparrow with a small bill and a long tail. White-Crowned Sparrows are approximately 5.9”–6.3” long and have a wingspan of about 8”-9.5”. They weigh between .8 – 1 oz. The head can look distinctly peaked or smooth and flat, depending on the bird’s attitude. The White-Crowned Sparrow has a black-and-white head, pale beak (pink or yellow), and crisp gray breast. The wings are brown with bars and the under-parts are grey. They are similar in appearance to the White-throated Sparrow but do not have the white throat markings or yellow marking on head.

Habitat: Look for White-crowned Sparrows in places where safe tangles of brush mix with open or grassy ground for foraging. For much of the United States, White-crowned Sparrows are most likely in winter (although two races live year round in the West, along the coast and in the mountains). (1)

Territory: Depending on time of year (see migration below) they are residents or transients in much of the US and Canada.

Migration: White-Crowned Sparrows migrate north to Alaska and northern Canada – from Manitoba to Newfoundland and into the western US mountain Areas (Washington and Oregon) in the spring. Their southern migration in the fall is to Southern US from Gulf States through to California north to New Jersey. They are year round residents in New Mexico and Arizona.

Food: The majority of foods White-crowned Sparrows eat are seeds, grains, fruit and insects such as caterpillars, beetles and other insects. (2)

 

(1)    Cornell University

Audubon Society Field Guide To North American Birds