Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker
The pileated woodpecker is the largest woodpecker in North America. That is unless you believe that the ivory billed woodpecker, which has not had a verified sighting in about 40 years, is not extinct. they are found in wooded areas of the eastern half of the United States, the Pacific Northwest and the boreal forests of Canada. They prefer an old growth forest habitat with a good number of larger trees. They are non-migratory and stay on their breeding territory all year long. They are very defensive of their territory and will often drum, pound their beaks loudly on a hollow tree, to warn other birds to stay out. They also have a loud call, that sounds like laughing or cackling, that can also be a warning to invaders. During the winter they are a little more forgiving and will let other pileated into the territory to feed.  
Pileated Woodpecker
Pileated woodpecker primarily eat ants and wood boring insect larva. They do this by excavating large holes into trees and then using their long tongue to slurp up their prey. Pileated excavations are easily identified because they are typically larger than other woodpeckers and often somewhat rectangular. Frequently song birds and smaller woodpeckers will feed inside pileated excavations. They will also eat fruit, berries and nuts. They will sometimes forage on the ground through dead leaves or on fallen trees, where there are a lot of insects. If you are lucky they may even come to a suet feeder, especially during a rough winter. 
Pileated Woodpecker
Pileated begin nesting in April. The male will make a nesting cavity, usually in a dead tree, in hopes of attracting a female. It can take weeks for him to excavate the cavity. The hole to the cavity is an oblong shape and the inside is unlined except for leftover wood chips. Pileated typically have one brood per year which consists of a clutch of 3-5 eggs. Both parents incubate the eggs which take between two to three weeks to hatch. Both parents care for the young which are born helpless and without feathers. After they raise the young the pileated woodpeckers abandon the nest. They will not use the same nest again in the future. These abandon cavities provide nesting habitat for many other types of birds including wood ducks and owls. Pileated will also sometimes nest in man made nesting boxes.



Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Olive Sparrow

Olive Sparrow
 The olive sparrow is found primarily in Mexico and Central America. The northern portion of their range does stretch into southern Texas which is the only place in the United States where they can regularly be found.
Olive Sparrow
 They are a somewhat secretive bird which are usually found in dense under growth. Their preferred habitat consists of chaparral and thornscrub thickets.They eat a combination of seeds, insects and larvae, which it gleans from the undergrowth and ground.
Olive Sparrow
 Olive sparrows do not typically migrate. Their nesting season is from march to September. They build their nest low to the ground in a shrub or cactus. The nest is usually dome shaped and made from sticks, bark, grass and leaves. They usually lay from 2 to 5 eggs per year.



Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Merlin Falcon

Female Merlin Falcon Eating a Junco
 Most people think of an old guy with a beard and a staff when they hear the name Merlin, however merlin is also the name of a species of small falcons. merlins are a circumpolar species, which means that they are found in the Northern Hemisphere in North America, Europe and Asia. In North America they breed in Alaska, Canada and the northern potions of the United States. Most migrate south for the winter into the southern and western United States, Mexico, Central and northern South America. Birds in the Pacific Northwest and along the Pacific coast of Canada and Alaska often stay on the breeding territory all year long.
Male Merlin Falcon with a Junco
 As with most raptor the male merlin is smaller than his female counterpart. However unlike most raptors there is also a difference in color between the male and female. The males have more of a blue-gray tinge to the feathers on their wings and backs where the female are brown. The photo above is a male where the other two are females. The females coloration helps to camouflage her while she is on the nest. The male does not spend much time on the nest so he is brighter which probably helps him to attract a mate.
Female Merlin Falcon Eating a Dragonfly
 Merlins are primarily bird eaters. About 80% of the merlin's diet is comprised of small song birds. The birds in the top two photos have caught dark-eyed juncos. They typically catch their prey by running them down in a high speed chase, often coming from below the prey. The other 20% of their diet is made up of small rodents and large insects. The female above captured and was eating a large darner dragonfly.


Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Long-billed Thrasher

Long-billed Thrasher
 The long-billed thrasher is a medium sized passerine that is found in south Texas, eastern Mexico and parts of northern Central America. They are typically found in arid, scrubby habitat. where they forage in the scrub and on the ground for spiders and insects. They will also eat fruit to supplement their diet.
Long-billed Thrasher
 Even though they are called a long-billed thrasher their bill is not very long. There are even other species of thrashers that have longer bills, however the more common brown thrasher overlaps the long-billed thrashers range and the long-billed thrasher does have a longer bill than the brown thrasher. Even though they are a part of the mimid family of birds they are not known for their mimicry. At times though they will leave their scrub hiding places to come out and sing their song, which is long, rich and complex.



Monday, September 15, 2014

Eat or be Eaten

Furrow Orbweaver Captures a Whiteface Dragonfly
While dragonflies are fierce predators of the insect world they are often also prey. Many are eaten by larger predators such as birds, but other predators are not any larger than the dragonfly. This furrow orbweaver spider has captured a whiteface dragonfly that will feed it well for quite a while. Since orbweaver spiders do not have very good vision they use a web to ensnare prey. Other spiders with better vision, such as wolf spiders, do not use webs for hunting.


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Hoary Redpoll

Hoary Redpoll
 Redpolls are small northern finches that breed in the arctic and tundra regions. They are circumpolar, meaning that they are found in northern portions of North America, Europe and Asia. During the winter they head south down to southern Canada and the northern United States. They are primarily seed eaters.
Common Redpoll
The hoary redpoll is related to the common redpoll. Both species inhabit a similar breeding range, although the hoary redpolls range extends further north. Often during the winter hoary redpolls will mix in to flocks of common redpolls. As you can tell by the pictures above, the hoary is the first pic and the common is the lower, both species look very similar. The hoary usually appear more white than their common cousins. 




Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Ferruginous Hawk

Ferruginous Hawk
 The ferruginous hawk is a large hawk that lives in the central plains of the United States. They are the largest species of buteo, soaring hawks, living in North America. They are fairly easy to identify because of their size, large mouth, and their rusty red color. The color is where they get the common name ferruginous from. It is a variation on the Latin word ferrgin which means iron rust.
Ferruginous Hawk
The ferruginous hawk is one of only three diurnal raptors in North America that have feathers that reach all the way to their feet. The other two species, the rough-legged hawk and the golden eagle, have ranges that are further north or in higher elevations than the ferruginous. The breeding range of the ferruginous only extends into southern Canada with many of the birds breeding in the northern half of the range migrating to the southwestern U.S. and Mexico for the winter.


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Eastern Towhee


Eastern Towhee
The eastern towhee is a passerine found in the eastern half of North America. They nest from the Mississippi River to the Atlantic Coast and as far north as southern portions of Canada. Birds in the northern portion of the range migrate to the southern United States for the winter while birds in the southern portion of the range stay on territory year round.
Eastern Towhee
At one time the spotted towhee, from the western United States, and the eastern towhee were considered the same species and were called the rufous-sided towhee. It was decided that there were enough differences between the two to break them into two different species. There ranges do still over lap in central North America and the species will still interbreed with each other. This is the female eastern Towhee.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Rose-breasted Grosebeak

Rose-breasted Grosebeak



Dainty Sulphur

 Dainty Sulphur
The dainty sulphur is a small member of the sulphur butterflies. Sulphur butterflies are easy to identify because they are typically mostly yellow in color. The only other primarily yellow butterflies in North America are swallowtails but they are much larger and have "tails" on their hindwings.
Dainty Sulphur
 The dainty sulphur is typically found in the southern United States and Mexico, however on some year they invade northward out of their normal range and can be seen as far north as Canada. In 2012 it was an invasion year and I was able to photograph dainty sulphurs around home. Males are often found on the ground in sand or dirt where they are looking for salt which they can present to a female.


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Chestnut-sided Warbler

Chestnut-sided Warbler
The chestnut-sided warbler is a colorful passerine that is easy to identify. They nest in the southeastern half of Canada and in the north eastern and north central United States.They spend winters in Central America, Northern portions of South America and the Caribbean. each inter they often go to the same territory where they mix with tropical warblers and other birds in foraging flocks. Most of their diet is made up of insects.
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Chest-nut sided warblers typically nest in deciduous forests. They make a cup shaped nest made of bark, grasses, and other plant material usually located in a bush or small tree within 6 feet of the ground. Immature birds do not have the maroon streak of their parents. I photographed this immature in northeast Minnesota where they bread. The top shot was taken during migration when they pass through southern Minnesota on their way to the breeding grounds.  


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle
 The bald eagle is one of the largest raptors in North America. They are one of two species of eagles found on the continent but they are the only eagle that is unique to North America. This is one reason that it is fitting that the bald eagle is the symbol of the United States. The bald portion of the name bald eagle comes from the old English word balde which meant white. When the word balde fell out of use it was shortened to bald eagle.
Bald Eagle
 The bald eagle is a type of sea or fish eagle. The feathers on the legs of sea eagles stops at the top of their legs and the lower portion of the legs and feet are covered with scales. Sea eagles are designed to pluck fish from the water, which is why bald eagles are typically found around water. Although fish are a main part of the bald eagles diet, they are opportunistic feeders and will eat whatever prey is easiest to obtain. This often leads to a lot of scavenging.
Bald Eagle
Immature bald eagles do not look very much like their parents. They start out life with dark feathers on their heads and tails, black beaks and brown eyes. When they get to about five years old they begin to change. As they molt over the next 2 or 3 years some of the dark feathers that are lost from the head and tail will be replaced with white feathers. The beak will begin to change from black to gray to pale yellow. Finally after a few years it will end up the bright yellow. The eyes also gradually change from brown to bright yellow. The three birds in this post represent the three different stages. The bottom photo is an immature bird probably around 3 or 4 years old. It has not yet begun to change. The middle picture is a bird in transition between immature and adult. It is probably about 5 to 7 years old. The top photo is a mature bird that could be anywhere from around 8 or older. In the wild a bald eagle does well if it makes it to 25 years old.



Wednesday, July 16, 2014

American Gold Finch

 American Gold Finch
 The American goldfinch is a common, brightly colored, visitor to backyards across North America. Because of their diet, which consist almost entirely of seeds and vegetation, they are fairly easily attracted to feeders, especially during the winter. They are often found hanging off of tube feeders filled with thistle seed, which is one of their favorites.
American Gold Finch
American goldfinch breed through out the central and northern United States and southern Canada. They tend to breed later than most other birds, waiting for the thistle and milkweed seed. They often use the little parachute fibers from these seeds to line their nests. The abundance of seeds help to feed the chicks. Their typical habitat is open fields where plenty of weeds are growing.
American Gold Finch
During the winter birds that breed in the northern portions of their range migrate to the southern US and Mexico. Prior to migrating the gold finch will molt into its winter plumage. This is one of two molts per year. The first molt occurs at the end of winter when the goldfinch changes to its bright yellow breeding plumage.