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

Birds of Michigan

Blackpoll Warbler, Setophaga striata

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.

Blackpoll Warbler, Setophaga striata

The blackpoll warbler (Setophaga striata) is a New World warbler. Breeding males are mostly black and white. They have a prominent black cap, white cheeks and white wing bars. The blackpoll breeds in forests of northern North America, from Alaska, through most of Canada, the Great Lakes region and New England. They are a common migrant through much of North America. Come fall, they fly South to the Greater Antilles and the Northeastern coasts of South America in a non-stop long-distance migration over open water, averaging 2500 km, one of the longest distance non-stop overwater flights ever recorded for a migratory songbird. Rare vagrants to western Europe, they are one of the more frequent transatlantic passerine wanderers.

The blackpoll warbler is a fairly small bird which attains the weight of a ball point pen. However, it is one of the larger of the diverse genus Setophaga (formerly Dendroica). In the species, body length can vary from 12.5 to 15 cm (4.9 to 5.9 in) and wingspan can range from 20 to 25 cm (7.9 to 9.8 in). Body mass can vary from 9.7 to 21 g (0.34 to 0.74 oz), with an average bird anywhere between 12 and 15 g (0.42 and 0.53 oz). Among standard measurements, the wing chord is 6.6 to 8 cm (2.6 to 3.1 in), the tail is 4.5 to 5.4 cm (1.8 to 2.1 in), the bill is 0.8 to 1.2 cm (0.31 to 0.47 in) and the tarsus is 1.8 to 2 cm (0.71 to 0.79 in). The summer male blackpoll warblers have dark-streaked brown backs, white faces and black crowns. Their underparts are white with black streaks, and they display two white wing bars. The adult females essentially resemble washed-out versions of the summer males, and in particular, the females lack the strong head patterns, and their crowns and faces are shades of gray. Another outstanding physical characteristic of the species are the bright orange, pink legs.

Non-breeding birds of this species have greenish heads, dark-streaked greenish upperparts and yellowish breasts, with the yellow extending to the belly in young birds. Their wing bars are always present.

In the southern portion of their breeding range, blackpoll warblers can be found on the higher elevations of mountains in woodland or brushy areas. They also spend their summers on the wooded coastal islands of Maine and the Maritime Provinces. Farther north they have been reported throughout the boreal coniferous forest. Blackpolls breed nearer to the tundra than any other warbler.

Although fairly large for a warbler, blackpoll warblers are fairly easy to miss because of their relatively inactive foraging style and tendency to perch in dense foliage near the canopy of the trees. They are more often heard than seen, though their song is one of the highest pitched known. Their songs are simple repetitions of high tsi notes.

The blackpoll has a deliberate feeding style with occasional flitting, hovering and hawking around branches. They are primarily insectivorous. The species appears to be quite a generalist, preying on a great diversity of adult and larval insects and spiders. Documented insect prey for the species includes lice, locusts, cankerworms, mosquitoes, webworms, ants, termites, gnats, aphids and sawflies. It has been suggested that this species may be a spruce budworm specialist, but there is no obvious connection between population trends of the two species. The blackpoll will opt for berries in migration and during winter. They often forage high in trees, and sometimes catch insects while in flight.

Their breeding habitats are coniferous woodlands, especially those in which spruce trees grow. The bird’s breeding ranges extend to the taiga. Blackpoll warblers commonly nest in a relatively low site of a conifer. They lay 3–5 eggs in a cup-shaped nest, rarely up to 9. The eggs are incubated for around 12 days and the young leave the nest when they are only 10 days old, before they can fly well. Their parents feed them for a total of around two weeks. Mated females usually begin second nests right away and leave post-fledging parental duties to their mates. The high incidence of double brooding, coupled with and partly a function of low nest predation and parasitism rates, results in high annual productivity for this species.

The blackpoll warbler’s transoceanic flight has been the subject of over twenty-five scientific studies. Sources of data include radar observations, bird banding and weights taken, dead birds recovered from field sites and fatal obstacles. It is unknown if they feed on insects while in flight. Blackpoll warblers have the longest migration of any species of New World warbler. This is likely the reason that they are one of the later warblers to appear in spring migration, after one or more short overwater flights and a relatively prolonged movement overland after through North America anytime from early May to mid-June. The peak of their migration is in late May, when most warblers are on their breeding grounds.

In the fall the birds migrate from their breeding grounds across the northern latitudes. They converge on the Northeastern United States south to Virginia starting in mid-August. Most blackpolls fly directly from northeastern North America over the Atlantic Ocean to their winter range. Data from nocturnal accidents, banding stations and sightings have shown that blackpolls are rare autumn migrants south of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, whereas north of Cape Hatteras they are common. Part of the fall migratory route of the blackpoll warbler is over the Atlantic Ocean from the northeastern United States to Puerto Rico, the Lesser Antilles, or northern South America. Island stopovers at Bermuda and other places are evidence of migratory pathways. To accomplish this flight, the blackpoll warbler nearly doubles its body mass in staging areas and takes advantage of a shift in prevailing wind direction to direct it to its destination. When they fly southward over the Atlantic they burn, 0.08 g of fat every hour. This route averages 3,000 km (1,900 mi) over water, requiring a potentially nonstop flight of around 72 to 88 hours. They travel at a speed of about 27 mph (43 km/h). Blackpolls can weigh more than 20 g (0.71 oz) when they leave the United States and lose 4 or more grams by the time they reach South America. Some of the blackpolls land in Bermuda before going on. Some birds, often with lower body weights, do not make it.

Using a tiny light level geolocator biologists have proven that the black poll flies an average of 2540 km (2270 to 2770 km) non-stop over an average of 62 h, up to 3 days, corresponding to about 41 km/h. In 2013, 37 blackpolls from Vermont and Nova Scotia carried a miniaturized geolocator weighing 0.5 g with harness on their back. The device recorded light-levels, from which longitudes and latitudes could be estimated, and in 2014 the scientists recovered five of the original 37. Four of the five birds departed from western Nova Scotia between September 25 and October 21, and traveled at speeds between 10.7 and 13.4 meters per second. The study revealed that the spring migration overland and the autumn routes overwater were “dramatically different”. When the flight distance per body mass was compared to other birds, only the ruby-throated hummingbird might travel more kilometres per gram (estimated around 210–280 km/g vs. 233 km/g for blackpolls).

On to my photos:

These images were shot in the spring of 2018.

Blackpoll Warbler, Setophaga striata, male

 

Blackpoll Warbler, Setophaga striata, male

 

Blackpoll Warbler, Setophaga striata, male

 

Blackpoll Warbler, Setophaga striata, male

 

Blackpoll Warbler, Setophaga striata, male

 

Blackpoll Warbler, Setophaga striata, female

 

Blackpoll Warbler, Setophaga striata, female

 

Blackpoll Warbler, Setophaga striata, female

 

This is number 210 in my photo life list, only 140 to go!

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

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Bay-breasted Warbler, Setophaga castanea

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.

Bay-breasted Warbler, Setophaga castanea

The bay-breasted warbler (Setophaga castanea) is a New World warbler. It breeds in northern North America, specifically in Canada, into the Great Lakes region, and into northern New England.

This species is migratory migratory, wintering in northwest South America and southern Central America. It is a very rare vagrant to western Europe.

This species is closely related to blackpoll warbler, but this species has a more southerly breeding range and a more northerly wintering area.

The summer male bay-breasted warbler is unmistakable. It has a grey back, black face, and chestnut crown, flank and throat. It also boasts bright yellow neck patches, and white underparts and two white wing bars.

Breeding females essentially resemble washed out versions of the male. The females are greyish above and white below, with much weaker head patterns. The females also only have chestnut markings on small flank patches, although tiny tints in their grey crowns have been observed.

Non-breeding birds have greenish heads, greenish upperparts and yellowish breasts. The yellow extends to the belly of young birds. The two white wing bars are always present in every stage of life. These birds differ from non-breeding blackpoll warblers in the absence of breast streaks.

Their breeding habitats are coniferous woodlands. Bay-breasted warblers nest 5–20 ft (1.5–6.1 m) up in conifer trees, laying 3–5 eggs in a cup-shaped nest. Incubation is 12 days. More eggs are laid in years when high numbers of spruce budworm are present.

These birds feed on insects, and the numbers of these birds vary with the abundance of the spruce budworm. These birds will also feed on berries and nectar in wintertime.

Their songs are a repetitive high-pitched si si si.

On to my photos:

These images were shot in the spring of 2018.

Bay-breasted Warbler, Setophaga castanea

 

Bay-breasted Warbler, Setophaga castanea

 

Bay-breasted Warbler, Setophaga castanea

 

Bay-breasted Warbler, Setophaga castanea

 

Bay-breasted Warbler, Setophaga castanea

 

Bay-breasted Warbler, Setophaga castanea

 

This is number 209 in my photo life list, only 141 to go!

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

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Common Nighthawk, Chordeiles minor

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.

Common Nighthawk, Chordeiles minor

The common nighthawk (Chordeiles minor) is a medium-sized  crepuscular or nocturnal bird within the nightjar family, whose presence and identity are best revealed by its vocalization. Typically dark (grey, black and brown), displaying cryptic colouration and intricate patterns, this bird is difficult to spot with the naked eye during the day. Once aerial, with its buoyant but erratic flight, this bird is most conspicuous. The most remarkable feature of this aerial insectivore is its small beak that belies the massiveness of its mouth. Some claim appearance similarities to owls. With its horizontal stance and short legs, the common nighthawk does not travel frequently on the ground, instead preferring to perch horizontally, parallel to branches, on posts, on the ground or on a roof. The males of this species may roost together but the bird is primarily solitary. The common nighthawk shows variability in territory size.

This caprimulguid has a large, flattened head with large eyes; facially it lacks rictal bristles. The common nighthawk has long slender wings that at rest extend beyond a notched tail. There is noticeable barring on the sides and abdomen, also white wing-patches.

The common nighthawk measures 22 to 25 cm (8.7 to 9.8 in) long, displays a wing span of 51 to 61 cm (20 to 24 in) weighs 55 to 98 g (1.9 to 3.5 oz), and has a life span of 4 to 5 years.

The common nighthawk may be found in forests, desert, savannahs, beach and desert scrub, cities, and prairies, at elevations of sea level or below to 3,000 m (9,800 ft). They are one of a handful of birds that are known to inhabit recently burned forests, and then dwindle in numbers as successional growth occurs over the succeeding years or decades. The common nighthawk is drawn into urban built-up areas by insects.

The common nighthawk is the only nighthawk occurring over the majority of northern North America.

Food availability is likely a key factor in determining which and when areas are suitable for habitation. The common nighthawk is not well adapted to survive in poor conditions, specifically low food availability. Therefore, a constant food supply consistent with warmer temperatures is a driving force for migration and ultimately survival.

During migration, common nighthawks may travel 2,500 to 6,800 kilometres (1,600 to 4,200 mi). They migrate by day or night in loose flocks; frequently numbering in the thousands, no visible leader has been observed. The enormous distance travelled between breeding grounds and wintering range is one of the North America’s longer migrations. The northbound journey commences at the end of February and the birds reach destinations as late as mid-June. The southbound migration commences mid-July and reaches a close in early October.

There are no differences between the calls and song of the common nighthawk. The most conspicuous vocalization is a nasal peent or beernt during even flight. Peak vocalizations are reported 30 to 45 minutes after sunset.

A croaking auk auk auk is vocalized by males while in the presence of a female during courtship. Another courtship sound, thought to be made solely by the males, is the boom, created by air rushing through the primaries after a quick downward flex of the wings during a daytime dive.

In defense of their nests, the females make a rasping sound, and males clap their wings together. Strongly territorial males will perform dives against fledglings, females and intruders such as humans or raccoons.

Frequent flyers, the long-winged common nighthawk hunts on the wing for extended periods at high altitudes or in open areas. Crepuscular, flying insects are its preferred food source. The hunt ends as dusk becomes night, and resumes when night becomes dawn. Nighttime feeding (in complete darkness) is rare, even on evenings with a full moon. The bird displays opportunistic feeding tendencies, although it may be able to fine-tune its meal choice in the moments before capture.

Vision is presumed to be the main detection sense; no evidence exists to support or refute the use of echolocation. The birds have been observed to converge on artificial light sources in an effort to forage for insects enticed by the light. The average flight speed of common nighthawks is 23.4 km/h (14.5 mph).

The common nighthawk breeds during the period of mid-March to early October. It most commonly has only one brood per season, however sometimes a second brood is produced. The bird is assumed to breed every year. Reuse of nests by females in subsequent years has been reported. A monogamous pattern has also recently been confirmed.

Courting and mate selection occur partially in flight. The male dives and booms in an effort to garner female attention; the female may be in flight herself or stationary on the ground.

Copulation occurs when the pair settles on the ground together; the male with his rocking body, widespread tail wagging and bulging throat expresses guttural croaking sounds. This display by the male is performed repeatedly until copulation.

The preferred breeding/nesting habitat is in forested regions with expansive rocky outcrops, in clearings, in burned areas or in small patches of sandy gravel. The eggs are not laid in a nest, but on bare rock, gravel, or sometimes a living substrate such as lichen. Least popular are breeding sites in agricultural settings. As displayed in the latter portion of the 20th century, urban breeding is in decline. If urban breeding sites do occur, they are observed on flat gravel rooftops.

It is a solitary nester, putting great distances between itself and other pairs of the same species, but a nest would more commonly occur in closer proximity to other species of birds.

Females choose the nest site and are the primary incubators of the eggs; males will incubate occasionally. Incubation time varies but is approximately 18 days. The female will leave the nest unattended during the evening in order to feed. The male will roost in a neighbouring tree (the spot he chooses changes daily); he guards the nest by diving, hissing, wing-beating or booming at the sites. In the face of predation, common nighthawks do not abandon the nest easily; instead they likely rely on their cryptic colouration to camouflage themselves. If a departure does occur, the females have been noted to fly away, hissing at the intruder or performing a disturbance display.

The eggs are elliptical, strong, and variably coloured with heavy speckling. The common nighthawk lays two 6–7 g (0.21–0.25 oz) eggs per clutch; the eggs are laid over a period of 1 to 2 days. The female alone displays a brood patch.

The chicks may be heard peeping in the hours before they hatch. Once the chicks have broken out of the shells, the removal of the debris is necessary in order to avoid predators. The mother may carry the eggshells to another location or consume a portion of them. Once hatched, the nestlings are active and have their eyes fully or half open; additionally they display a sparing cover of soft down feathers. The chicks are semiprecocial. By day 2, the hatchlings’ bodily mass will double and they will be able to self-propel towards their mother’s call. The young will hiss at an intruder.

The young are fed by regurgitation before sunrise and after sunset. The male parent assists in feeding fledglings and will also feed the female during nesting. No records exist to support a parent’s ability to physically carry a chick.

On their 18th day, the young will make their first flight; by days 25–30, they are flying proficiently. The young are last seen with their parents on day 30. Complete development is shown between their 45–50th day. At day 52, the juvenile will join the flock, potentially migrating. Juvenile birds, in both sexes, are lighter in colour and have a smaller white wing-patch than adult common nighthawks.

Like other members of the caprimulgid clan, the nighthawk’s ground nesting habits endanger eggs and nestlings to predation by ground carnivores, such as skunks, raccoons and opossums. Confirmed predation on adults is restricted to domestic cats, golden eagles and great horned owls. Peregrine falcons have also been confirmed to attack nighthawks as prey, although the one recorded predation attempt was unsuccessful. Other suspected predators are likely to attack them, such as dogs, coyotes, foxes, hawks, American kestrels, owls, crows and ravens and snakes.

 

On to my photos:

These images were shot way back in the spring of 2013, in northeastern Michigan while I was on vacation. I had hoped to get better images, or to catch one perched, but I haven’t been lucky enough to do so.

Common nighthawk

 

Common nighthawk

 

Common nighthawk

 

Common nighthawk

 

Common nighthawk

 

This is number 208 in my photo life list, only 142 to go!

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

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Virginia Rail, Rallus limicola

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.

Virginia Rail, Rallus limicola

The Virginia rail (Rallus limicola) is a small water bird, of the family Rallidae. These birds remain fairly common despite continuing loss of habitat, but are secretive by nature and more often heard than seen. They are also considered a game species in some provinces and states, though rarely hunted.

Adults are mainly brown, darker on the back and crown, with orange-brown legs. To walk through dense vegetation, they have evolved a laterally compressed body and strong forehead feathers adapted to withstand wear from pushing through vegetation. Virginia rails have the highest ratio of leg-muscle to flight-muscle of all birds (25% – 15% of body weight respectively). They have long toes used to walk on floating vegetation. Their tail is short and they have a long slim reddish bill. Their cheeks are grey, with a light stripe over the eye and a whitish throat. Chicks are black. Juveniles are blackish brown on upper parts with rufous on the edge of feathers and brownish bill and legs. Their underparts are dark brown to black, while the face is grayish brown. Both sexes are very similar, with females being slightly smaller. Adults measure 20–27 cm, with a wingspan of 32–38 cm, and usually weigh 65-95 g.

The Virginia rail lives in freshwater and brackish marshes, sometimes salt marshes in winter. Northern populations migrate to the southern United States and Central America. On the Pacific coast, some are permanent residents. Its breeding habitat is marshes from Nova Scotia to Southern British Columbia, California and North Carolina, and in Central America. It often coexists with Soras.

The Virginia rail often runs to escape predators, instead of flying. When it does fly, it is usually short distances or for migration. It can also swim and dive using its wings to propel itself.

This bird has a number of calls, including a harsh kuk kuk kuk, usually heard at night. It also makes grunting noises. In spring, it will make tick-it or kid-ick calls.

The Virginia rail probe with its bill in mud or shallow water, also picking up food by sight. It mainly eat insects and other aquatic invertebrates, like beetles, flies, dragonflies, crayfish, snails and earthworms. It can also eat aquatic animals like frogs, fish and some small snakes, as well as seeds. Animal preys constitute the biggest part of this bird’s diet, but vegetation contributes to its diet in the fall and winter.

Courtship starts around May. The male will raise his wings and run back and forth next to the female. Both sexes bow, and the male feeds the female. Before copulation, the male approaches the female while grunting. Virginia rails are monogamous. Both parents build the nest and care for the young, whereas only the male defend the territory. The nest is built as the first egg is laid and consists of a basket of woven vegetation. The nest is made using plants like cattails, reeds and grasses. They also build dummy nests around the marsh. They nest near the base of emergent vegetation in areas with vegetation creating a canopy above the nest.

This birds lays a clutch of 4 to 13 white or buff eggs with sparse gray or brown spotting. The eggs generally measure 32 by 24 millimetres (1.26 by 0.94 in). They are incubated by both parents for a period of 20 to 22 days, in which the parents continue to add nesting material to conceal the nest. When the eggs hatch, the parents feed the young for two to three weeks, when the chicks become independent. The young can fly in less than a month. The pair bond between the parents breaks after the young become independent.

 

On to my photos:

These images were shot during the summer of 2016 during the course of several visits to the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve and over the course of several weeks. What is also notable about these images is that they were all shot with my Canon 7D Mk II, 300 mm L series lens, and with the 2 X tele-converter behind the lens.

Virginia Rail, Rallus limicola

 

These birds are very secretive and difficult to see as they never venture out into the open, this is a more typical view of one.

Virginia Rail, Rallus limicola

But, through perseverance and awaiting for the birds to step into more open areas, I was able to shoot a few good images of them.

Virginia Rail, Rallus limicola

 

Virginia Rail, Rallus limicola

 

Virginia Rail, Rallus limicola

 

Virginia Rail, Rallus limicola

 

This is number 207 in my photo life list, only 143 to go!

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

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Northern Pintail, Anas acuta

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.

Northern Pintail, Anas acuta

The pintail or northern pintail (Anas acuta) is a duck with wide geographic distribution that breeds in the northern areas of Europe, Asia and North America. It is migratory and winters south of its breeding range to the equator. Unusually for a bird with such a large range, it has no geographical subspecies if the possibly conspecific duck Eaton’s pintail is considered to be a separate species.

This is a large duck, and the male’s long central tail feathers give rise to the species’ English and scientific names. Both sexes have blue-grey bills and grey legs and feet. The drake is more striking, having a thin white stripe running from the back of its chocolate-coloured head down its neck to its mostly white undercarriage. The drake also has attractive grey, brown, and black patterning on its back and sides. The hen’s plumage is more subtle and subdued, with drab brown feathers similar to those of other female dabbling ducks. Hens make a coarse quack and the drakes a flute-like whistle.

The northern pintail is a bird of open wetlands which nests on the ground, often some distance from water. It feeds by dabbling for plant food and adds small invertebrates to its diet during the nesting season. It is highly gregarious when not breeding, forming large mixed flocks with other species of duck. This duck’s population is affected by predators, parasites and avian diseases. Human activities, such as agriculture, hunting and fishing, have also had a significant impact on numbers. Nevertheless, owed to the huge range and large population of this species, it is not threatened globally.

The northern pintail is a fairly large duck with a wing chord of 23.6–28.2 cm (9.3–11.1 in) and wingspan of 80–95 cm (31–37 in). The male is 59–76 cm (23–30 in) in length and weighs 450–1,360 g (0.99–3.00 lb), and therefore is considerably larger than the female, which is 51–64 cm (20–25 in) long and weighs 454–1,135 g (1.001–2.502 lb). The northern pintail broadly overlaps in size with the similarly-widespread mallard, but is more slender, elongated and gracile, with a relatively longer neck and (in males) a longer tail. The unmistakable breeding plumaged male has a chocolate-brown head and white breast with a white stripe extending up the side of the neck. Its upperparts and sides are grey, but elongated grey feathers with black central stripes are draped across the back from the shoulder area. The vent area is yellow, contrasting with the black underside of the tail, which has the central feathers elongated to as much as 10 cm (3.9 in). The bill is bluish and the legs are blue-grey.

The adult female is mainly scalloped and mottled in light brown with a more uniformly grey-brown head, and its pointed tail is shorter than the male’s; it is still easily identified by its shape, long neck, and long grey bill. In non-breeding (eclipse) plumage, the drake pintail looks similar to the female, but retains the male upperwing pattern and long grey shoulder feathers. Juvenile birds resemble the female, but are less neatly scalloped and have a duller brown speculum with a narrower trailing edge.

The pintail walks well on land, and swims well. It has a very fast flight, with its wings slightly swept-back, rather than straight out from the body like other ducks. In flight, the male shows a black speculum bordered white at the rear and pale rufous at the front, whereas the female’s speculum is dark brown bordered with white, narrowly at the front edge but very prominently at the rear, being visible at a distance of 1,600 m (0.99 mi).

The male’s call is a soft proop-proop whistle, similar to that of the common teal, whereas the female has a mallard-like descending quack, and a low croak when flushed.

This dabbling duck breeds across northern areas of Eurasia south to about Poland and Mongolia, and in Canada, Alaska and the Midwestern United States. Mainly in winters south of its breeding range, reaches almost to the equator in Panama, northern sub-Saharan Africa and tropical South Asia. Small numbers migrate to Pacific islands, particularly Hawaii, where a few hundred birds winter on the main islands in shallow wetlands and flooded agricultural habitats. Transoceanic journeys also occur: a bird that was caught and ringed in Labrador, Canada, was shot by a hunter in England nine days later, and Japanese-ringed birds have been recovered from six US states east to Utah and Mississippi. In parts of the range, such as Great Britain and the northwestern United States, the pintail may be present all year.

The northern pintail’s breeding habitat is open unwooded wetlands, such as wet grassland, lakesides or tundra. In winter, it will utilise a wider range of open habitats, such as sheltered estuaries, brackish marshes and coastal lagoons. It is highly gregarious outside the breeding season and forms very large mixed flocks with other ducks.

Both sexes reach sexual maturity at one year of age. The male mates with the female by swimming close to her with his head lowered and tail raised, continually whistling. If there is a group of males, they will chase the female in flight until only one drake is left. The female prepares for copulation, which takes place in the water, by lowering her body; the male then bobs his head up and down and mounts the female, taking the feathers on the back of her head in his mouth. After mating, he raises his head and back and whistles.

Breeding takes place between April and June, with the nest being constructed on the ground and hidden amongst vegetation in a dry location, often some distance from water. It is a shallow scrape on the ground lined with plant material and down. The female lays seven to nine cream-coloured eggs at the rate of one per day; the eggs are 55 mm × 38 mm (2.2 in × 1.5 in) in size and weigh 45 g (1.6 oz), of which 7% is shell. If predators destroy the first clutch, the female can produce a replacement clutch as late as the end of July. The hen alone incubates the eggs for 22 to 24 days before they hatch. The precocial downy chicks are then led by the female to the nearest body of water, where they feed on dead insects on the water surface. The chicks fledge in 46 to 47 days after hatching, but stay with the female until she has completed molting.

Around three-quarters of chicks live long enough to fledge, but not more than half of those survive long enough to reproduce. The maximum recorded age is 27 years and 5 months for a Dutch bird.

The pintail feeds by dabbling and upending in shallow water for plant food mainly in the evening or at night, and therefore spends much of the day resting. Its long neck enables it to take food items from the bottom of water bodies up to 30 cm (12 in) deep, which are beyond the reach of other dabbling ducks like the Mallard.

The winter diet is mainly plant material including seeds and rhizomes of aquatic plants, but the pintail sometimes feeds on roots, grain and other seeds in fields, though less frequently than other Anas ducks. During the nesting season, this bird eats mainly invertebrate animals, including aquatic insects, molluscs and crustaceans.

Pintail nests and chicks are vulnerable to predation by mammals, such as foxes and badgers, and birds like gulls, crows and magpies. The adults can take flight to escape terrestrial predators, but nesting females in particular may be surprised by large carnivores such as bobcats. Large birds of prey, such as northern goshawks, will take ducks from the ground, and some falcons, including the gyrfalcon, have the speed and power to catch flying birds.

It is susceptible to a range of parasites including Cryptosporidium, Giardia, tapeworms, blood parasites and external feather lice, and is also affected by other avian diseases. It is often the dominant species in major mortality events from avian botulism and avian cholera, and can also contract avian influenza, the H5N1 strain of which is highly pathogenic and occasionally infects humans.

Pintails in North America at least have been badly affected by avian diseases, with the breeding population falling from more than 10 million in 1957 to 3.5 million by 1964. Although the species has recovered from that low point, the breeding population in 1999 was 30% below the long-term average, despite years of major efforts focused on restoring the species. In 1997, an estimated 1.5 million water birds, the majority being northern pintails, died from avian botulism during two outbreaks in Canada and Utah.

The northern pintail is a popular species for game shooting because of its speed, agility, and excellent eating qualities, and is hunted across its range. Although one of the world’s most numerous ducks, the combination of hunting with other factors has led to population declines, and local restrictions on hunting have been introduced at times to help conserve numbers.

This species’ preferred habitat of shallow water is naturally susceptible to problems such as drought or the encroachment of vegetation, but this duck’s habitat might be increasingly threatened by climate change. Populations are also affected by the conversion of wetlands and grassland to arable crops, depriving the duck of feeding and nesting areas. Spring planting means that many nests of this early breeding duck are destroyed by farming activities, and a Canadian study showed that more than half of the surveyed nests were destroyed by agricultural work such as ploughing and harrowing.

Hunting with lead shot, along with the use of lead sinkers in angling, has been identified as a major cause of lead poisoning in waterfowl, which often feed off the bottom of lakes and wetlands where the shot collects. A Spanish study showed that northern pintail and common pochard were the species with the highest levels of lead shot ingestion, higher than in northern countries of the western Palearctic flyway, where lead shot has been banned. In the United States, Canada, and many western European countries, all shot used for waterfowl must now be non-toxic, and therefore may not contain any lead.

On to my photos:

Although pintails are not rare in Michigan, getting close to one is a rarity because they are very wary of humans due to the hunting pressure that they endure during migration. In fact, pintails were one of the first species that I photographed for this project, but it has taken me almost 5 years to get a reasonably good photo of a male in full breeding plumage. These photos were shot in January of 2018 at the Muskegon County wastewater facility.

Northern pintail ducks

 

Northern pintail ducks in flight

 

Northern pintail ducks in flight

 

Male Northern pintail ducks in flight

 

Northern pintail ducks in flight

 

Northern pintail ducks

 

Northern pintail ducks

 

Northern pintail ducks

 

Northern pintail ducks

 

This is number 206 in my photo life list, only 144 to go!

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

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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!

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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!

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Bobolink, Dolichonyx oryzivorus

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.

Bobolink, Dolichonyx oryzivorus

The bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus) is a small New World blackbird and the only member of the genus Dolichonyx.

Adults are 16–18 cm (6.3–7.1 in) long with short finch-like bills. They weigh about 1 oz (28 g). Adult males are mostly black with creamy napes and white scapulars, lower backs, and rumps. Adult females are mostly light brown, although their coloring includes black streaks on the back and flanks, and dark stripes on the head; their wings and tails are darker. The collective name for a group of bobolinks is a chain.

The bobolink breeds in the summer in North America across much of southern Canada and the northern United States. It migrates long distances, wintering in southern South America in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil and Paraguay. One bird was tracked migrating 12,000 mi (19,000 km) over the course of the year, often flying long distances up to 1,100 mi (1,800 km) in a single day, then stopping to recuperate for days or weeks.

They often migrate in flocks, feeding on cultivated grains and rice, which leads to them being considered a pest by farmers in some areas. Although bobolinks migrate long distances, they have rarely been sighted in Europe—like many vagrants from the Americas, the overwhelming majority of records are from the British Isles.

The species has been known in the southern United States as the “reedbird,” or the “ricebird” from their consumption of large amounts of the grain from rice fields in South Carolina and the Gulf States during their southward migration in the fall. One of the species’ main migration routes is through Jamaica, where they’re called “butter-birds” and at least historically were collected as food, having fattened up on the aforementioned rice.

Their breeding habitats are open grassy fields, especially hay fields, across North America. In high-quality habitats, males are often polygynous. Females lay five to six eggs in a cup-shaped nest, which is always situated on the ground and is usually well-hidden in dense vegetation. Both parents feed the young.

Bobolinks forage on or near the ground, and mainly eat seeds and insects.

Males sing bright, bubbly songs in flight.

The numbers of these birds are declining due to loss of habitat. Bobolinks are a species at risk in Nova Scotia, and throughout Canada. In Vermont, a 75% decline was noted between 1966 and 2007. Originally, they were found in tall grass prairie and other open areas with dense grass. Although hay fields are suitable nesting habitat, fields which are harvested early, or at multiple times, in a season may not allow sufficient time for young birds to fledge. Delaying hay harvests by just 1.5 weeks can improve bobolink survival by 20%. This species increased in numbers when horses were the primary mode of transportation, requiring larger supplies of hay.

On to my photos:

These photos were shot at the Muskegon County wastewater facility, the first two in July of 2017, and the other one, a few years earlier as I tried to get close to one.

Male bobolink in full breeding plumage

 

Male bobolink in full breeding plumage

 

Male bobolink

This is number 203 in my photo life list, only 147 to go!

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

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American Woodcock, Scolopax minor

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.

American Woodcock, Scolopax minor

The American woodcock (Scolopax minor), sometimes colloquially referred to as the timberdoodle, is a small chunky shorebird species found primarily in the eastern half of North America. Woodcocks spend most of their time on the ground in brushy, young-forest habitats, where the birds’ brown, black, and gray plumage provides excellent camouflage.

Because of the male woodcock’s unique, beautiful courtship flights, the bird is welcomed as a harbinger of spring in northern areas. It is also a popular game bird, with about 540,000 killed annually by some 133,000 hunters in the U.S.

The American woodcock is the only species of woodcock inhabiting North America. Although classified with the sandpipers and shorebirds in Family Scolopacidae, the American woodcock lives mainly in upland settings. Its many folk names include timberdoodle, bogsucker, night partridge, brush snipe, hokumpoke, and becasse.

The population of the American woodcock has fallen by an average of slightly more than 1% annually since the 1960s. Most authorities attribute this decline to a loss of habitat caused by forest maturation and urban development.

The American woodcock has a plump body, short legs, a large, rounded head, and a long, straight prehensile bill. Adults are 10 to 12 inches (25 to 30 cm) long and weigh 5 to 8 ounces (140 to 230 g).Females are considerably larger than males. The bill is 2.5 to 2.75 inches (6.4 to 7.0 cm) long.
The plumage is a cryptic mix of different shades of browns, grays, and black. The chest and sides vary from yellowish white to rich tan. The nape of the head is black, with three or four crossbars of deep buff or rufous. The feet and toes, which are small and weak, are brownish gray to reddish-brown.

Woodcock have large eyes located high in the head, and their visual field is probably the largest of any bird, 360° in the horizontal plane and 180° in the vertical plane.

The woodcock uses its long prehensile bill to probe in the soil for food, mainly invertebrates and especially earthworms. A unique bone-and-muscle arrangement lets the bird open and close the tip of its upper bill, or mandible, while it is sunk in the ground. Both the underside of the upper mandible and the long tongue are rough-surfaced for grasping slippery prey.

The primary breeding range extends from Atlantic Canada (Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and New Brunswick) west to southeastern Manitoba, and south to northern Virginia, western North Carolina, Kentucky, northern Tennessee, northern Illinois, Missouri, and eastern Kansas. A limited number of woodcock breed as far south as Florida and Texas. The species may be expanding its distribution northward and westward.

After migrating south in autumn, most woodcock spend the winter in the Gulf Coast and southeastern Atlantic Coast states. Some may remain as far north as southern Maryland, eastern Virginia, and southern New Jersey. The core of the wintering range centers on Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia.

Woodcock eat mainly invertebrates, particularly earthworms (Oligochaeta). They do most of their feeding in places where the soil is moist. They forage by probing in soft soil in thickets, where they usually remain well-hidden from sight. Other items in the diet include insect larvae, snails, centipedes, millipedes, spiders, snipe flies, beetles, and ants. A small amount of plant food is eaten, mainly seeds. Woodcock are crepuscular, being most active at dawn and dusk.

Woodcock migrate at night. They fly at low altitudes, individually or in small, loose flocks. Flight speeds of migrating birds have been clocked at 16 to 28 miles per hour (26 to 45 kilometers per hour). However, the slowest flight speed ever recorded for a bird, 5 miles per hour (8 kilometers per hour), was recorded for this species. It is believed that woodcock orient visually using major physiographic features such as coastlines and broad river valleys. Both the autumn and spring migrations are leisurely compared with the swift, direct migrations of many passerine birds.

In the North, woodcock begin to shift southward before ice and snow seal off their ground-based food supply. Cold fronts may prompt heavy southerly flights in autumn. Most woodcock start to migrate in October, with the major push from mid-October to early November. Most individuals arrive on the wintering range by mid-December. The birds head north again in February. Most have returned to the northern breeding range by mid-March to mid-April.

Migrating birds’ arrival at and departure from the breeding range is highly irregular. In Ohio, for example, the earliest birds are seen in February, but the bulk of the population does not arrive until March and April. Birds start to leave for winter by September, but some remain until mid-November

In Spring, males occupy individual singing grounds, openings near brushy cover from which they call and perform display flights at dawn and dusk, and if the light levels are high enough on moonlit nights. The male’s ground call is a short, buzzy peent. After sounding a series of ground calls, the male takes off and flies from 50 to 100 yards into the air. He descends, zigzagging and banking while singing a liquid, chirping song. This high spiralling flight produces a melodious twittering sound as air rushes through the male’s outer primary wing feathers.

Males may continue with their courtship flights for as many as four months running – sometimes continuing even after females have already hatched their broods and left the nest.

Females, known as hens, are attracted to the males’ displays. A hen will fly in and land on the ground near a singing male. The male courts the female by walking stiff-legged and with his wings stretched vertically, and by bobbing and bowing. A male may mate with several females. The male woodcock plays no role in selecting a nest site, incubating eggs, or rearing young. In the primary northern breeding range, the woodcock may be the earliest ground-nesting species to breed.

The hen makes a shallow, rudimentary nest on the ground in the leaf and twig litter, in brushy or young-forest cover usually within 150 yards (140 m) of a singing ground. Most hens lay four eggs, sometimes one to three. Incubation takes 20 to 22 days.

The down-covered young are precocial and leave the nest within a few hours of hatching. The female broods her young and feeds them. When threatened, the fledglings usually take cover and remain motionless, attempting to escape detection by relying on their cryptic coloration. Some observers suggest that frightened young may cling to the body of their mother, who will then take wing and carry the young to safety.

Woodcock fledglings begin probing for worms on their own a few days after hatching. They develop quickly and can make short flights after two weeks, can fly fairly well at three weeks, and are independent after about five weeks.

The maximum lifespan of adult American woodcock in the wild is 8 years.

The woodcock population remained high during the early and mid-twentieth century, after many family farms were abandoned as people moved to urban areas, and cropfields and pastures grew up in brush. In recent decades, those formerly brushy acres have become middle-aged and older forest, where woodcock rarely venture, or they have been covered with buildings and other human developments. Because its population has been declining, the American woodcock is considered a “species of greatest conservation need” in many states, triggering research and habitat-creation efforts in an attempt to boost woodcock populations.

Creating young-forest habitat for American woodcock helps more than 50 other species of wildlife that need young forest during part or all of their life cycles. These include relatively common animals such as white-tailed deer, snowshoe hare, moose, bobcat, wild turkey, and ruffed grouse, and animals whose populations have also declined in recent decades, such as the golden-winged warbler, whip-poor-will, willow flycatcher, indigo bunting, and New England cottontail

On to my photos:

These photos were shot in April of 2017, near the headquarters for the Muskegon State Game Area.

American woodcock

 

American woodcock

 

American woodcock

 

American woodcock

 

American woodcock

 

This is number 202 in my photo life list, only 148 to go!

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

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Orange-crowned Warbler, Oreothlypis celata

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.

Orange-crowned Warbler, Oreothlypis celata

The orange-crowned warbler (Oreothlypis celata) is a small songbird of the New World warbler family.

These birds are distinguished by their lack of wing bars, streaking on the underparts, strong face marking or bright colouring, resembling a fall Tennessee warbler and a black-throated blue warbler, both of which are also members of the New World warbler family. The orange patch on the crown is usually not visible. They have olive-grey upperparts, yellowish underparts with faint streaking and a thin pointed bill. They have a faint line over their eyes and a faint broken eye ring. Females and immatures are duller in colour than males. Western birds are yellower than eastern birds.

Their breeding habitat is open shrubby areas across Canada, Alaska and the western United States. The nest is a small open cup well-concealed on the ground under vegetation or low in shrubs. The female builds the nest; both parents feed the young.

These birds migrate to the southern United States and south to Central America.

They forage actively in low shrubs, flying from perch to perch, sometimes hovering. These birds eat insects, berries and nectar.

Four to six eggs are laid in a nest on the ground or in a low bush.

The song of this bird is a trill, descending in pitch and volume. The call is a high chip.

On to my photos:

These photos were shot at the local park that I used to walk in daily when I had the time.

Orange crowned warbler

 

Orange crowned warbler

This is number 201 in my photo life list, only 149 to go!

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

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