The very is a member of the thrush family that breeds in the swampy forests of the northern United States and southern Canada. They are much less common then the American thrush, otherwise known as the American robin. They are a spotted thrush but have less spots then other species of spotted thrush. As an insect eater they do not hang around on their breeding grounds during the winter. Instead they migrate down to the northern and central portions of South America, primarily Brazil. Like most passerines they migrate at night and can travel distances up to 160 miles per night.
As an environmentalist I am happy that small steps have been made to transition our energy needs to cleaner sustainable sources. New sources like wind, solar and wave technologies lessen our dependency on sources like coal, oil, natural gas, and nuclear. These older technologies pollute the environment and can be very dangerous.
Unfortunately good intentions can sometimes have bad side effects. That has been the case with wind energy. A study by the Us Fish and Wildlife Service reports that at least 85 golden and bald eagles were killed at wind farms between 1997 and 2012. That may not sound like a huge number over 5 years, however the study relied mainly on volunteered reports of fatalities by the wind energy companies. So it is possible the number may be much higher. The study also did not include all US wind farms. The Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area in California was not included in the study. It is located in an area with a high population of golden eagles and may be responsible for as many deaths as reported in the study every year.
Most of the concern is about eagles but other types of raptors also collide with windmills. Raptors typically watch the ground when they fly because they are looking for food. By the time they notice the structure it is too late as the blades which can be spinning in excess of 150 mph create wind currents that can suck the birds in. Most of the deaths happen at older facilities. While the UFAWS report has sparked awareness on this issue from concerned citizens a 1 million dollar fine that was recently levied against a wind energy company in Montana has gotten the attention of the wind industry. Some Wind energy companies now hire people to do impact studies before building new farms. Unfortunately the best location for wind farms are often great habitat for eagles. Other technologies, such as radar that can turn of turbines when it detects an eagle in the area, are also helping us to create a cleaner environment while minimizing our impact on eagles and other birds of prey.
The three-toed woodpecker are found in the boreal forests of North America, Europe and Asia. At one time they were considered one species but in 2003 the species was split into the American three-toed and Eurasian three-toad. The three-toed woodpecker breeds farther north then any other species of woodpecker. The American version is found through out Canada, Alaska, and the Rocky Mountains. Typically they stay on their territory year round foraging for the larva of bark and wood boring beetles. Unlike most other species of woodpeckers they find their prey by pealing the bark off of trees instead of boring holes into them.
The three-toed woodpecker gets its name because it is one of the only woodpecker species that has three toes on each foot instead of four. Other then the two varieties of three-toed only the black-backed woodpecker has three toes. The black-backed are also found in boreal forests, although they do not breed quite as far north. The black-backed is very similar in appearance to three-toed except as its name would suggest it has a black back where the three-toed woodpecker's back is mottled black and white. The top photo in the post is a three-toed where the second is a black back. As you can see they look very similar. These are both males which you can tell by the yellow crown on the top of their heads. The female three-toed woodpecker has a mottled black and white crown where the top of the female black-back's head is all black.
The orange sulphur is a common yellow butterfly that can be found through out most of North America. They are very similar in appearance to the clouded sulphur when perched, as in the photo above. However when they open their wings the upper surface is more of an orange color where the clouded sulphur is yellow on the tops of their wings.
It is possible to tell the difference between male and females by looking at the black border on the upper side of the wings. With the male the border is solid black, like in the photos above, while the females have yellow spots in the border. Orange sulphurs larval host plant is alfalfa, clovers, and other legumes.
The snowy owl is a large species of owls found in the tundra of Alaska, Canada, Europe and Asia. They are the largest owl species, by weight, in North America and slightly smaller then the Eurasian eagle owls that are found through out much of Europe and Asia.
Snowy owls are white with varying amounts of black mixed in. Males are typically mostly white while females and young birds have more of a black and white mottling. The bird in the top photo appears to be a young bird while the one in the photo above is probably a mature male.
Snowy owls have thick feathers that completely their body including their feet and toes. This provides insulation that allows them to survive on their territory in the tundra year round. Unlike most species of owls snowies are primarily diurnal, active during the daytime. They eat rodents, primarily lemmings, and some birds, such as ptarmigan.
Occasionally during the winter there is a shortage of prey. This can be due to a crash in the prey base or a very successful year of raising young which increases the population. When this happens snowies may migrate south in search of food. Typically these are young birds who do not yet have an established teritory. Here in Minnesota we see snowy invasions every three to five years. When they come south the most common place that we see them is at the airport. The airport is similar to their natural habitat on the tundra. It is large and flat and usually has a good amount of rodents for the owls to hunt. As you can see by the above photo the planes do not seem to bother them much.
The pine Grosbeak is one of the largest members of the finch family, Fringlilidae. They are found in the boreal forests of Alaska, Canada, Rocky Mountains, and Eurasia. Most pine grosbeaks stay on territory year round but they will migrate south, into southern Canada and northern United States in North America, when there is a shortage of food. They eat seeds, fruit, tree buds and some insects.
Males and females are distinctive in color. The top photo here is a female while the red bird in the second photo is a male. They breed in coniferous forests, often building a cup shaped nest in the fork of a conifer tree. They are strongly territorial during the breeding season but during the winter they often feed in flocks, staying near trees with fruit until it has all been consumed. They are also not very wary of people and will come to feeders mostly to eat sunflower seeds.
The roseate spoonbill is one of six species of spoonbills found around the world. They are all a part of the Threskkiornithidae family which also includes ibises. According to DNA studies the roseate spoonbill, which is the only spoonbill in the Americas is most closely related to the yellow-billed spoonbill that is found in southeast Australia. It is believed that these two species evolved from a common offshoot of the ancestors of the other four species.
The roseate spoonbill is found primarily in tropical regions of South America and the Caribbean. There are also small numbers of this species that breed in North America. The North America birds breed along the Gulf Coast in southern Texas, Florida, and Louisiana. They seem to prefer fresh water habitats but are also found in coastal saltwater areas. They swing their odd shaped beak from side to side to sift through the water and silt on the bottom and forage for crustaceans, aquatic insects, frogs, and small fish. Their food provides the carotenoid pigments which give the birds their pinkish coloration.
The clay-colored sparrow is one of the most numerous songbirds found on the central plains of North America. They breed in central Canada and the north Central United States and winter primarily in Mexico. They breed in shrubland habitats. The breeding territory is smaller then most other species of sparrow because they forage away from their breeding territory. They forage on the ground and eat a variety of seeds, grasses, leaf buds, and insects.
Males typically come back to the same nesting territory each year but females usually choose a different territory and mate each year. Their nest is usually located on the lower branches of a bush near to the ground. Females build the nest, which is cup shaped, but males help by bringing nesting materials like twigs and grass. The eggs take a week and a half to two weeks to hatch. The chicks are born helpless and with out feathers. In 7-9 days after hatching they leave the nest. They are still not able to fly at this time but they will spend the next week on the ground in the bushes where they will be fed by their parents.
The queen butterfly is a member of the Nymphalidae or brushfoot family. They are found in temperate, tropical and semi tropical areas of North, Central, and South America. In the warmer portions of their range they can be found year long and in the northern portions of the range they are found July-August. They are in the same family as the monarch and soldier butterflies and can be difficult to distinguish from the soldier without class inspection.
Adult queens roost communally at night. During the day males patrol for willing females. Courtship and mating typically take place in the afternoon. A pair may remain coupled for an hour or more. Females can mate up to 15 times before they are through. The female lays the eggs individually typically on something in the milkweed family, their primary larval host plant. When the larva, caterpillars, hatch they eat the milkweed which makes them unpalatable to many of their would be predators. The caterpillar will go through six growth stages, called instars, in which they will shed their outer skin. During the six instar they will find a place to pupate. They will send 7-10 days in their pupae and then emerge as an adult butterfly. The butterflies are still toxic to most predators primarily from the milkweed that they ate during the larval stage.
For the past several years I have had the pleasure of putting together the calendar for The Raptor Center. Each year it has been a struggle trying to figure out how to photograph the birds, after all most of my experience has been with birds that do not sit still let alone pose. This picture is my favorite so far. This was the October photo in the 2013 calendar. The photo was taken in a small pumpkin field at the University of Minnesota St Paul Campus, where The Raptor Center is located. The UofM St Paul Campus houses the School of Agricultural and the School of Veterinary Medicine, which is why it is one of the few places in Minnesota where you can find a barn owl and a pumpkin patch. Whisper is one of our education birds. She came to TRC from the World Bird Sanctuary. The World Bird Sanctuary raises barn owls as part of a release program in Missouri but Whisper was slated to become an education bird.
There are a number of species of birds around the world that have names that are difficult to pronounce and spell but the pyrrhuloxia has to be near the top of the list. The name is actually a combination of two genus names Pyrrhula, which roughly means flame-colored, and Loxia, which roughly means crooked. The name refers to the red color primarily on the males and the crooked shape of the beak.
The pyrrhuloxia is a relative of the northern cardinal. They are year round inhabitants of the deserts and scrublands of the extreme south western United States and Mexico. They are omnivorous who typically forage on the ground for seeds, grasses, and insects. They will also feed on cactus blooms and fruit. Most of the moisture that they need comes from the foods that they eat.
I am sure that most people have heard the story f the ugly duckling. How a chick that looks different then all the other duck chicks grows up to become a beautiful swan. Well there are some species of birds that go through a similar metamorphosis each year. Take the eared grebe for example. The subject of both of these photos are eared grebes. Other then the red eye they do not look the same and I bet that if you spotted the two of them right next to each other that most people would think that they were two different species.
Of course spotting these two next to each other would be highly unlikely. The top photo is the eared grebe in its winter plumage. This photo was taken in California in February. Eared grebes migrate to the Pacific Coast, southwestern United States, and Mexico. The second photo is an eared grebe in its breeding plumage. I guess that it is hard to find a mate when you are in black and white. This photo was taken in Montana in May. Eared grebes breed on inland lakes in the western half of the U. S. and Canada.