My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

Archive for January, 2018

Great Black-backed gull

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

Great black-backed gull (Larus marinus)

The great black-backed gull (Larus marinus), mistakenly called greater black-backed gull by some, is the largest member of the gull family. It breeds on the European and North American coasts and islands of the North Atlantic and is fairly sedentary, though some move farther south or inland to large lakes or reservoirs. The adult great black-backed gull has a white head, neck and underparts, dark grey wings and back, pink legs and yellow bill.

This is the largest gull in the world, noticeably outsizing a herring gull (Larus argentatus). Only a few other gulls, including Pallas’s gull (Ichthyaetus ichthyaetus) and glaucous gull (Larus hyperboreus), come close to matching this species’ size. It is 64–79 cm (25–31 in) long with a 1.5–1.7 m (4 ft 11 in–5 ft 7 in) wingspan and a body weight of 0.75–2.3 kg (1.7–5.1 lb). In a sample of 2009 adults from the North Atlantic, males were found to average 1,830 g (4.03 lb) and females were found to average 1,488 g (3.280 lb). Some adult gulls with access to fisheries in the North Sea can weigh up to roughly 2.5 kg (5.5 lb) and averaged 1.96 kg (4.3 lb). An exceptionally large glaucous gull was found to outweigh any known great black-backed gull, although usually that species is slightly smaller. The great black-backed gull is bulky and imposing in appearance with a large, powerful bill. The standard measurements are: the bill is 5.4 to 7.25 cm (2.13 to 2.85 in), the wing chord is 44.5 to 53 cm (17.5 to 20.9 in) and the tarsus is 6.6 to 8.8 cm (2.6 to 3.5 in).

The adult great black-backed gull is fairly distinctive, as no other very large gull with blackish coloration on its upper-wings generally occurs in the North Atlantic. In other white-headed North Atlantic gulls, the mantle is generally a lighter gray color and, in some species, it is a light powdery color or even pinkish. It is grayish-black on the wings and back, with conspicuous, contrasting white “mirrors” at the wing tips. The legs are pinkish, and the bill is yellow or yellow-pink with some orange or red near tip of lower bill. The adult lesser black-backed gull (L. fuscus) is distinctly smaller, typically weighing about half as much as a great black-back. The lesser black-back has yellowish legs and a mantle that can range from slate-gray to brownish-colored but it is never as dark as the larger species.

Juvenile birds of under a year old have scaly, checkered black-brown upper parts, the head and underparts streaked with gray brown, and a neat wing pattern. The face and nape are paler and the wing flight feathers are blackish-brown. The juvenile’s tail is white with zigzag bars and spots at base and a broken blackish band near the tip. The bill of the juvenile is brownish-black with white tip and the legs dark bluish-gray with some pink tones. As the young gull ages, the gray-brown coloration gradually fades to more contrasting plumage and the bill darkens to black before growing paler. By the third year, the young gulls resemble a streakier, dirtier-looking version of the adult. They take at least four years to reach maturity, development in this species being somewhat slower than that of other large gulls. The call is a deep “laughing” cry, kaa-ga-ga, with the first note sometimes drawn out in an almost bovid-like sound. The voice is distinctly deeper than most other gull species.

This species can be found breeding in coastal areas from the extreme northwest portion of Russia, through much of coastal Scandinavia, on the Baltic Sea coasts, to the coasts of northwestern France, the United Kingdom and Ireland. Across the northern portion of the Atlantic, this gull is distributed in Iceland and southern Greenland and on the Atlantic coasts of Canada and the United States. Though formerly mainly just a non-breeding visitor south of Canada in North America, the species has spread to include several colonies in the New England states and now breeds as far south as North Carolina. Individuals breeding in harsher environments will migrate south, wintering on northern coasts of Europe from the Baltic Sea to southern Portugal, and regularly down to coastal Florida in North America.During the winter in the Baltic Sea, the bird usually stays close to the ice boundary. North of the Åland islands, the sea often freezes all the way from Sweden to Finland, and then the bird migrates to open waters. Exceptionally, the species can range as far south as the Caribbean and off the coast of northern South America.

The great black-backed gull is found in a variety of coastal habitats, including rocky and sandy coasts and estuaries, as well as inland wetland habitats, such as lakes, ponds, rivers, wet fields and moorland. They are generally found within striking distance of large bodies of water while ranging inland. Today, it is a common fixture at refuse dumps both along coasts and relatively far inland. The species also makes extensive use of dredge spoils, which, in the state of New Jersey, comprise their most prevalent nesting sites. It generally breeds in areas free of or largely inaccessible to terrestrial predators, such as vegetated islands, sand dunes, flat-topped stacks, building roofs and sometimes amongst bushes on salt marsh islands. During the winter, the great black-backed gull often travels far out to sea to feed.

Like most gulls, great black-backed gulls are opportunistic feeders, apex predators, and are very curious. They will investigate any small organism they encounter and will readily eat almost anything that they can swallow. They get much of their dietary energy from scavenging, with refuse, most provided directly by humans, locally comprising more than half of their diet. The proliferation of garbage or refuse dumps has become a major attractant to this and all other non-specialized gull species in its range. However, apparently, in attempt to observe how much time they spend foraging at refuse dumps in Massachusetts, great black-backed gulls were only observed actively foraging 19% of their time there, eating less garbage than other common gulls, and spent most of their time roosting or loafing.

Like most gulls, they also capture fish with some regularity and will readily capture any fish smaller than itself found close to the surface of the water. Whether caught or eaten after death or injury from other sources, stomach contents of great black-backed gulls usually show fish to be the primary food. On Sable Island in Nova Scotia, 25% of the stomach contents were comprised by fish but 96% of the regurgitations given to young was made up fish. Similarly, on Great Island in Newfoundland, 25% of the stomach contents were fish but 68% of regurgitants were fish. The most regularly reported fish eaten in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland were capelin (Mallotus villosus), Atlantic cod (Gadus morrhua), Atlantic tomcod (Microgadus tomcod), Atlantic mackerel (Scomber scombrus), Atlantic herring (Clupea harengus) and sand lance (Ammodytes hexapterus). Other prey often includes various squid, Jonah crabs (Cancer borealis), rock crabs (Cancer irroratus), sea urchins, green crabs (Carcinus maenas), starfish (Asterias forbesi and Asterias rubens) and other echinoderms, crustaceans and mollusks when they come across the opportunity. From observations in northern New England, 23% of observed prey was echinoderms and 63% was crustaceans.

Unlike most other Larus gulls, they are highly predatory and frequently hunt and kill any prey smaller than themselves, behaving more like a raptor than a typical larid gull. Lacking the razor-sharp talons and curved, tearing beak of a raptor, the great black-backed gull relies on aggression, physical strength and endurance when hunting. When attacking other animals, they usually attack seabird eggs, nestlings or fledgings at the nest, perhaps most numerously terns, but also including smaller gull species as well as eiders, gannets and various alcids. In Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, 10% of the stomach contents of great black-backed gulls was made up of birds, while a further 17% of stomach contents was made up of tern eggs alone. Adult or fledged juveniles of various bird species have also been predaceously attacked. Some fully-fledged or adult birds observed to be hunted in flight or on the ground by great black-backed gulls have included Anas ducks, ruddy ducks (Oxyura jamaicensis), buffleheads (Bucephala albeola), Manx shearwaters (Puffinus puffinus), pied-billed grebes (Podilymbus podiceps), common moorhens (Gallinula chloropus), terns, Atlantic puffins(Fratercula arctica), coots (Fulica ssp.), hen harriers (Circus cyaneus), glossy ibises (Plegadis falcinellus) and even rock pigeons (Columba livia). When attacking other flying birds, the great black-backed gulls often pursue them on the wing and attack them by jabbing with their bill, hoping to bring down the other bird either by creating an open wound or simply via exhaustion. They will also catch flying passerines, which they typically target while the small birds are exhausted from migration and swallow them immediately. Great black-backed gull also feed on land animals, including rats (Rattus ssp.) at garbage dumps and even sickly lambs.

Most foods are swallowed whole, including most fish and even other gulls. When foods are too large to be swallowed at once, they will sometimes be shaken in the bill until they fall apart into pieces. Like some other gulls, when capturing molluscs or other hard-surfaced foods such as eggs, they will fly into the air with it and drop it on rocks or hard earth to crack it open. Alternate foods, including berries and insects, are eaten when available. They will readily exploit easy food sources, including chum lines made by boats at sea. They are skilled kleptoparasites who will readily pirate fish and other prey captured by other birds and dominate over other gulls when they encounter them. At tern colonies in coastal Maine, American herring gulls (L. smithsonianus) occasionally also attack nestling and fledging terns but in a great majority of cases were immediately pirated of their catch by great black-backs. In one observation, an adult great black-back was seen to rob a female peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) of a freshly caught gadwall (Anas strepera). In another case, a third-year great black-back was observed fighting an adult female northern goshawk (Accipiter gentilis) off its kill, although the goshawk attempted to strike the gull before leaving. Due to their method of using intimidation while encountering other water and raptorial birds, the species has been referred to as a “merciless tyrant”. Naturally, these gulls are attracted to the surface activity of large marine animals, from Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) to humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae), to capture fish driven to the surface by such creatures.

This species breeds singly or in small colonies, sometimes in the middle of a Larus argentatus colony. Young adult pair formation occurs in March or April. The following spring the same birds usually form a pair again, meeting at the previous year’s nest. If one of the birds doesn’t appear, the other bird begins looking for a new mate. Usually a single bird does not breed in that season.

They make a lined nest on the ground often on top of a rocky stack, fallen log or other obstructing object which can protect the eggs from the elements. Usually, several nest scrapes are made before the one deemed best by the parents is selected and then lined with grass, seaweed or moss or objects such as rope or plastic. When nesting on roofs in urban environments, previous year’s nests are often reused over and over again. The female lays usually three eggs sometime between late April and late June. When only two eggs are found in a nest, the reason is almost always that one egg, for one reason or another, has been destroyed. It takes around one week for the female to produce the three eggs, and the incubation doesn’t begin until all three eggs are laid. Hence all three chicks are hatched the same day. The birds are usually successful in bringing up all the three chicks.

The eggs are greenish-brown with dark speckles and blotches. Both parents participate in the incubation stage, which lasts for approximately 28 days. During this time, the birds attempt to avoid being noticed and stay silent. The breeding pair are devoted parents who both take shifts brooding the young, defending the nest and gathering food. Young great black-backed gulls leave the nest area at 50 days of age and may remain with their parents for an overall period of around six months, though most fledglings choose to congregate with other immature gulls in the search for food by fall. These gulls reach breeding maturity when they obtain adult plumage at four years, though may not successfully breed until they are six years old.

Mortality typically occurs in the early stages of life, when harsh weather conditions (including flooding) and starvation can threaten them, as well as predators. Chicks and eggs are preyed on by crows (Corvus ssp.), cats (Felis catus), other gulls, raccoons (Procyon lotor) and rats (Rattus ssp.). The bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), white-tailed eagle (H. albicilla) and golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) are the only birds known to habitually predate healthy, fully grown great black-backed gulls. A great skua (Stercorarius skua) was filmed in Scotland unsuccessfully attempting to kill a second or third year great black-backed gull. On the other hand, the slightly smaller pomarine jaeger (S. pomarinus) has been observed to have been predated by great black-backed gulls. In Norway, great black-backed gulls have been reported to fall prey to Eurasian eagle-owls (Bubo bubo). Killer whales (Orcinus orca) and sharks also reportedly prey upon adult and juvenile birds at sea. In some biomes, where large eagles are absent the great black-backed gull may be considered the apex predator.

On to my photos:

These photos were shot at Grand Haven, Michigan State Park in December of 2014.

Great Black-backed gull


Great Black-backed gull, juvenile and adult


Great Black-backed gull, adult


Great Black-backed gull in flight


Great Black-backed gull in flight


Great Black-backed gull


Great Black-backed gull with herring gulls


Great Black-backed gull with herring gulls


Great Black-backed gull

This is number 205 in my photo life list, only 145 to go!

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!



Looking forward to 2018

In my last post I wrote that I was beginning to plan and to set goals for myself in the coming year. But, before I move on to those topics, I thought that a look back at the year 2017 was in order.

Going back through my Lightroom catalog month by month, I selected one image for each month. The image that I chose isn’t necessarily the best image that I shot that particular month, but I tried to include some variety in the subjects, as well as overall interest rather than the image that was technically the best of the month. When making the selections, it was difficult to choose just one image for the month. There were usually five or six images in the running to represent each month, and making the choices that I did often came down to my personal favorites, rather than if the image was tack sharp, or how well it represented the month for which it was chosen.

But first, here’s yet another photo of a snowy owl from my last excursion out. The remarkable thing about this day is that there was actually some sunshine.

Snowy owl

In fact, blue skies are such a rarity this time of year, that I shot this very poor landscape image just to help me remember what blue sky looks like.

Blue skies for a change

Okay then, let’s go back to last January, to begin the year in review. Since this was the year that I finally became somewhat proficient shooting birds in flight well, I’m going to start the year with this merlin in flight.

Merlin in flight

In February, I shot this common merganser taking off.

Common merganser

You may begin to see a pattern here, as March is also represented by a bird in flight, a male northern harrier.

Male northern harrier in flight

So, for April, I made sure that the subject of the image wasn’t moving for a change.

Green heron showing its crown

Once spring arrived, my choices became even harder, because there weren’t only bird photos to choose from, but also insects and flowers. So, I decided to combine the two for May.

Green bee on a milkweed flower

For June, I went back to birds, because it’s rare for me to get as close to a hooded merganser as I did this pair.

Hooded mergansers

But for July, I returned to a flower.

Purple coneflower

I had to choose a bird for August, since in many ways, this is the best image of a bald eagle that I’ve ever shot.

Bald eagle

For September, I chose one of the first asters of fall.


For October, I selected this one, not quite a landscape photo, not quite a bird photo.

Misty morning

That brings us to the final image of the year in review, this bald eagle in flight.

Bald eagle in flight

I know, too many birds, and not enough other subjects. That’s one thing that I hope to remedy in 2018.

Thinking back to when I began my blog, I think that I was a better story-teller back then. However, I was a poor photographer, so the photos that I shot to help tell the stories didn’t show the story that I was trying to tell very well. So, I set out to make myself a better photographer, and I believe that I have succeeded, at the cost of not telling many stories as I used to.

One thing that I hope to do in the coming year is to go back to story telling, even if the photos that I shoot to go with the story aren’t that good.

Here’s an example of what I mean. There are few birds in flight that are as graceful as a snowy owl, and I can’t think of another species of bird that makes flight look as effortless as snowy owls do. With just a few beats of their wings, they are airborne and moving at a pretty good clip, spending most of the their time in flight gliding just above the snow…

Snowy owl in flight

…with just an occasional flap of their wings to maintain their momentum.

Snowy owl in flight

Even then, they stay low to the ground most of the time.

However, all their gracefulness comes to an end when it’s time for them to land. I’ve been lucky to see a number of them land, either while they were hunting, or they were escaping from people trying to get too close to the owls. I would say that a snowy owl landing is more of a controlled crash than a landing. I continued to track the owl in the photos above, but I didn’t shoot any more photos until I saw it set its wings for a landing…

Snowy owl landing

…the owl was really too far away, but I couldn’t take my finger off from the shutter button…

Snowy owl landing

…it was looking good at that point, until the owl’s feet touched the snow…

Snowy owl landing

…the owl was sliding across the snow, you’d think that a bird that spent most of its time in the Arctic would know that snow and ice are slippery…

Snowy owl sliding across the snow

…but it ended up in a heap as it slid across the snow…

Snowy owl landing

…until its talons were able to grab on to something in the snow, at which time the owl popped up as if to say “I meant to do that”.

Snowy owl landing

Of course I wish that I had been much closer to the owl as it crashed, but I don’t always get what I want.

That holds true for the weather so far this winter, it’s been brutal here in Michigan, and I know that it’s been even worse in other parts of the U.S. I haven’t been outside with a camera since before Christmas, and that’s not likely to change in the future, at least as far as I can tell by the weather forecasts.

The cold temperatures and the nearly non-stop snow falling has made working as a truck driver that much more difficult. The company that I work for now has been leaving the trucks running 24 hours a day in some instances, because they can’t get the trucks started agin if they sit for very long as cold as it’s been. I’ve also hooked to a couple of trailers that the brakes were frozen on, which means sliding under the trailer to hammer or pry the brakes loose so that the trailer will move. It’s been no fun at all the past three weeks a I write this, with at least another week to go before there’s any sort of warm-up. Even then, we’ll be lucky if it gets above the freezing mark, but I’m sure it will feel like a heat wave as cold as it’s been.

So, I’ve had some time on my hands, but not much to do. I was really looking forward to 2018, but making plans has been harder than I thought, since it’s so miserable outside so far this year.

I also remember that I had made big plans for 2017, none of which came to fruition. Ending up in the hospital for nearly a week last April derailed most of my plans for the spring and beyond. I’m still paying off the bill from that episode, but I’m making good progress on it. However, it puts a crimp on making plans that require spending very much money for the near future.

With some time on my hands due to the cold, I’ve been doing what I did the past few winters, watching how-to videos online and researching possible new camera gear. As far as camera gear, it will be a year or more, but all that I really need is a full-frame camera body and the Canon 24-105 mm lens. With a Canon 5D IV body, the lens that I want, and what I already have, I can get by carrying just two cameras as I do now, and two lenses, rather than the five lenses that I try to carry now. The reasons for the full-frame body are reduced noise at higher ISO settings, and wider field of view when shooting landscapes, as I’ve said before.

Many of the how-to videos that I’ve been watching were on how to edit photos, more so than videos on how to shoot better photos in the first place. Not to brag, but as far as sharpness and exposure, I do all right when it comes to shooting the photos that I do.

I will say this about editing images, there are a lot of people who put hours of work into editing the photos that they shoot. I’ll never get to that point, I don’t have the patience to sit in front of my computer for hours working on getting the perfectly edited version of an image that I’ve shot. I’m not one to lighten the eye of a bird by using the brush tool in Lightroom, or do all of the other painstaking editing that some people do for what I would say are minor improvements in the final image. But, I would like to get better at using Lightroom, so I suffer through the videos anyway.

Between watching those videos, and time to go through my Lightroom catalog, I have done some weeding out of photos that will never make the grade for one reason or another. I have thousands of images on my computer that no one will ever see, but I can’t bring myself to delete them despite that. They are memories for me to look back on during cold winters like this one.

So, with all of that in mind, my goals for this year are quite humble when compared to the plans that I’ve made in the past.

One is to use my tripod and the gimbal head that I purchased last year more often. I still shoot handheld most of the time, when I know that using the tripod would result in even better images. I do use the tripod for 95% of the landscape images that I shoot, so there’s no reason other than laziness not to use the tripod more often for other subjects. If I were to use the tripod more often for birds, I could go lower with the ISO settings to gain resolution in my images, since I could lower the shutter speed and not worry about camera movement. It only takes me a minute or two to set the tripod up, so there’s no excuse not to use it.

That goes with my second goal for the new year, shooting more video and getting better at it. That’s going to require that I use the tripod more often so that my videos are steadier and not so shaky as they have been. I really want to capture the courtship displays of some species of ducks, especially buffleheads and mergansers, as those displays would bring a smile to any one that watched them. I wanted to do that last year, but it was around the time in the spring when I ended up in the hospital, so I missed the courtship displays of the waterfowl completely.

I’m also planning on going back to many of the places that I haven’t been visiting as often, or not at all, that I used to go. I’ve gotten stuck in the rut of going to just a couple of places in the Muskegon area, hoping to add species of birds to the My Photo Life List project that I began several years ago. Also, some of that was due to health issues last year, as it took me most of the summer to fully recover my health to the point where I could cover longer distances as I used to walk. In fact, I’m still not 100%, but that’s mostly because I took it too easy last summer, when I should have pushed myself harder.

I’m not going to worry about posting to any schedule in the coming year, I’ll do a post when I get enough photos to do a good post, rather than trying to post once or twice a week, every week as I have been doing up until this winter. It helps that this winter has been so cold and snowy as to keep me inside most of the time, so I don’t have any new photos to share.

Well, almost another full week has gone by since the last time I worked on this post, and even though I have the day off from work, I won’t be venturing out to shoot any photos today. Even though we may set a record high temperature for the day, rather than a record low as we have been lately. That’s because there’s a dense fog advisory issued by the weather service, and it’s raining, not snowing for a change.

I also have too many other things that I have to do today, some banking to take care of, and I must have blood tests done ahead of a doctor’s appointment next week, and far enough in advance so that the results are available for the doctor to review them.

And, since I’ve been working nights, I’m normally going to bed shortly after sunrise on most days. That’s the pits for right now, but once spring and summer get here, that schedule could work out well for me. As it is now, it’s not light enough for photography until nearly 9 AM on most days in the winter here. But, I prefer to be on the location where I’m planning on going by 4 AM in the spring and summer months, because sunrise is so much earlier then. If I keep the same schedule then, it will work out very well for me. I’ll be able to sleep in on my days of from work, and still arrive at my destination as the sun rises.

Until then, I’m not sure how many of these regular posts I’ll be doing, but that will give me time to get caught up with the posts that I have to do towards the My Photo Life List project that I’ve been working on. I just finished another draft of a post towards the project, and the photos that I had of the species of bird for that post were just over three years old. They were shot when I was still using the Canon 60D camera and Sigma 150-500 mm lens, and before I had begun shooting in RAW or using Lightroom to edit my photos.

As I’ve done in the past, if I shoot better photos of the same species, I can go back and edit the post later to include the better quality photos.

Oh, and speaking of Lightroom, I’ve just read that Adobe has ended support of the standalone version of Lightroom that I’ve been using. I think that I can get by using the version that I have now for another year or two, but if I want to upgrade, I’ll have to sign up for the monthly fee version of Lightroom, that also includes Photoshop as well. I’m not happy about that, but what can one do, I’m sure that I’m not the only one that’s sorry to see the standalone version of Lightroom go away.

It’s now the middle of January, and I still haven’t been out with a camera since Christmas. We did have a short warm-up, but that brought rain and fog to the area, and my work schedule prevented me from getting out even in the low light. So, I’m going to finish this post with one more snowy owl photo…

Snowy owl

…this red-shouldered hawk seen on my way to Muskegon the last time I visited…

Red-shouldered hawk

…along with another leftover from last summer.

Great crested flycatcher

The weather people are forecasting another week in the deep freeze for us here, but after that, it should begin to warm up to close to average temperatures here for at least a week or two. That means high temperatures around freezing, but it will seem like a heat wave around here.

I put some of the free time that I had this morning to use by figuring out how to get the weight of my cameras with a battery grip and the long lenses that I have to balance better on the gimbal head of the tripod. The set-up I used before worked, but it left all the weight on just the quick release plate, with the foot of the tripod mount of the lens forward of the support base of the gimbal head. By reversing the tripod collars on the lenses, I was able to get the weight of the set-up above the support base of the gimbal head, therefore I don’t have to worry about one of the quick release plates breaking, sending my camera and lens crashing to the ground. I also learned a few other little tricks that may or may not come in handy, I’ll be able to tell for sure when I’m able to get out into the real world to test them.

At this time, I don’t know what else to say. I’m ready for spring to arrive, but that’s still well over a month away. I do plan on getting out before that, how often will depend on the weather, my work schedule, and a few other things. I’m not going to post something just to do a post on a set schedule, I’ll wait until I have photos or videos worth posting. As I said earlier, I’ll use the time to get caught up on the My Photo Life List project, even though I know those posts bore many readers.

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

Short-eared Owl, Asio flammeus

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

Short-eared Owl, Asio flammeus

The short-eared owl is a species of typical owl (family Strigidae). Owls belonging to genus Asio are known as the eared owls, as they have tufts of feathers resembling mammalian ears. These “ear” tufts may or may not be visible. Asio flammeus will display its tufts when in a defensive pose, although its very short tufts are usually not visible. The short-eared owl is found in open country and grasslands.

The short-eared owl is a medium-sized owl measuring 34–43 cm (13–17 in) in length and weighing 206–475 g (7.3–16.8 oz). It has large eyes, a big head, a short neck, and broad wings. Its bill is short, strong, hooked and black. Its plumage is mottled tawny to brown with a barred tail and wings. The upper breast is significantly streaked. Its flight is characteristically floppy due to its irregular wingbeats. The short-eared owl may also be described as “moth or bat-like” in flight. Wingspans range from 85 to 110 cm (33 to 43 in). Females are slightly larger than males. The yellow-orange eyes of A. flammeus are exaggerated by black rings encircling each eye, giving the appearance of them wearing mascara, and large, whitish disks of plumage surrounding the eyes like a mask.

Over much of its range, short-eared owls occurs with the similar-looking long-eared owl. At rest, the ear-tufts of long-eared owl serve to easily distinguish the two (although long-eared owl can sometimes hold its ear-tufts flat). The iris-colour differs: yellow in short-eared, and orange in long-eared, and the black surrounding the eyes is vertical on long-eared, and horizontal on short-eared. Overall the short-eared tends to be a paler, sandier bird than the long-eared. There are a number of other ways in which the two species the differ which are best seen when they are flying: a) short-eared often has a broad white band along the rear edge of the wing, which is not shown by long-eared; b) on the upperwing, short-eared owls’ primary-patches are usually paler and more obvious; c) the band on the upper side of short-eared owl’s tail are usually bolder than those of long-eared; d) short-eared’s innermost secondaries are often dark-marked, contrasting with the rest of the underwing; e) the long-eared owl has streaking throughout its underparts whereas on short-eared the streaking ends at the breast; f) the dark markings on the underside of the tips of the longest primaries are bolder on short-eared owl; g) the upperparts are coarsely blotched, whereas on long-eared they are more finely marked. The short-eared owl also differs structurally from the long-eared, having longer, slimmer wings: the long-eared owl has wings shaped more like those of a tawny owl. The long-eared owl generally has different habitat preferences from the short-eared, most often being found concealed in areas with dense wooded thickets. The short-eared owl is often most regularly seen flying about in early morning or late day as it hunts over open habitats.

The short-eared owl occurs on all continents except Antarctica and Australia; thus it has one of the most widespread distributions of any bird. A. flammeus breeds in Europe, Asia, North and South America, the Caribbean, Hawaii and the Galápagos Islands. It is partially migratory, moving south in winter from the northern parts of its range. The short-eared owl is known to relocate to areas of higher rodent populations. It will also wander nomadically in search of better food supplies during years when vole populations are low.

Sexual maturity is attained at one year. Breeding season in the northern hemisphere lasts from March to June, peaking in April. During this time these owls may gather in flocks. During breeding season, the males make great spectacles of themselves in flight to attract females. The male swoops down over the nest flapping its wings in a courtship display. These owls are generally monogamous.

The short-eared owl nests on the ground in prairie, tundra, savanna, or meadow habitats. Nests are concealed by low vegetation, and may be lightly lined by weeds, grass, or feathers. Approximately 4 to 7 white eggs are found in a typical clutch, but clutch size can reach up to a dozen eggs in years when voles are abundant. There is one brood per year. The eggs are incubated mostly by the female for 21–37 days. Offspring fledge at a little over four weeks. This owl is known to lure predators away from its nest by appearing to have a crippled wing.

Hunting occurs mostly at night, but this owl is known to be diurnal and crepuscular as well. Its daylight hunting seems to coincide with the high-activity periods of voles, its preferred prey. It tends to fly only feet above the ground in open fields and grasslands until swooping down upon its prey feet-first. Several owls may hunt over the same open area. Its food consists mainly of rodents, especially voles, but it will eat other small mammals such as mice, ground squirrels, shrews, rats, bats, muskrats and moles. It will also occasionally predate smaller birds, especially when near sea-coasts and adjacent wetlands at which time they attack shorebirds, terns and small gulls and seabirds with semi-regularity. Avian prey is more infrequently preyed on inland and centers on passerines such as larks, icterids, starlings, tyrant flycatchers and pipits. Insects supplement the diet and short-eared owls may prey on roaches, grasshoppers, beetles, katydids and caterpillars. Competition can be fierce in North America with the northern harrier, with which the owl shares similar habitat and prey preferences. Both species will readily harass the other when prey is caught.

Because of the high pH in the stomach of owls they have a reduced ability to digest bone and other hard parts, they eject pellets containing the remains of their prey.


On to my photos:

These photos were shot at the Muskegon County wastewater facility in the fall of 2017.

Short-eared owl in flight


Short-eared owl in flight


Short-eared owl in flight


Short-eared owl in flight


This is number 204 in my photo life list, only 146 to go!

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!