Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Northern Hawk Owl

Northern Hawk Owl
 The northern hawk owl is an unusual owl that is found through out the boreal forests of the northern hemisphere. They are the only members of the genus Surnia in the world. There are three subspecies. Two subspecies are found in the forests of Europe and Asia and the third subspecies is found primarily in Alaska, Canada and parts of the northern United States. Northern hawk owls are unusual in that the are more diurnal, active during the day, then most other species of owls.
Northern Hawk Owl
Like most owls the northern hawk owl remains on its breeding grounds year round. The habitat that they prefer is boreal forest, which is primarily coniferous. There they hunt a variety of prey including small mammals and birds. Their primary prey are voles, which are a type of field mouse. They usually use their acute vision to find their prey, although during the inter they often use their hearing to locate prey burrowing under the snow. During some winters food is scarce, either due to a crash in the prey species or an over abundance of owls raised that year, and the owls head south in search of prey. This is usually the time that we see these birds, most of which are immature birds who have just left their parents territory. These birds were photographed at the Sax Zim Bog in northern Minnesota.



Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Mallard

Mallard
 The mallard is the most common duck that we see here in Minnesota. They have a very wide range, which includes most of North America, Europe, northern Asia and northern Africa. They have also been introduced into Australia and New Zealand. They are a large duck weighing approximately 2 to 3 pounds. They are a dabbling duck so the can often be seen floating on the water like a bobber, with their tail on the air and their head underwater searching for aquatic vegetation to eat.
Mallard
There are several different varieties of mallards. There is the Mexican duck, which is found in Mexico and the southwestern United States, which is a subspecies of the mallard. The Hawaiian duck, found in the Hawaiian Islands is a separate species that is believed to have evolved from the mallard. Mallards will also hybridize with other species of ducks. Mallards with breed with other wild ducks or domesticated species, most of who's ancestries can be traced back to mallards. The duck in the front of this photo is a female hybrid between a mallard and most likely a domesticated duck.   



Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

Ladder-backed Woodpecker
 The ladder-backed woodpecker is a small woodpecker that is fairly common in the southwestern United States, Mexico and northern Central America. The ladder-backed woodpecker is a year round resident in these areas nesting in cavities in trees and cactus. They are typically found in desert scrub and thickets although, according to Cornell, they are found in Pinelands in Central America.
Ladder-backed Woodpecker
I have only photographed these birds on visits to Texas, where their numbers are in decline. This bird was foraging among dead trees in a city park. Ladder-backed woodpeckers are insect eaters that get their food primarily from gleaning it from the bark or plying the bark off and eating the insects underneath. They are rarely seen excavating holes in search of prey.



Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Killdeer

 The killdeer is a common plover found throughout North America, Central America and Northern South America. They typically nest in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Birds that nest in Canada and the northern US typically migrate as far south as Peru. Birds that nest in the southern and central US often are year round residents. Killdeer are ground nesters. The nest is a shallow depression in dry ground with little vegetation around. The bird above is on the nest and actually has chicks below her as well as the one visible out front.
Killdeer will sometimes nest in wetlands finding a slightly elevated dry spot for the nest. They have also been observed nesting on the gravel roofs of buildings, which can be disastrous.The typical clutch size for killdeer is four to six eggs. The eggs are incubated for three to four weeks. The eggs are buff colored with many speckles which makes them look like stones. When the chicks hatch they already have a covering of down feathers and are able to leave the nest and begin foraging right away.  Even though this chick was way to young to fly it still could run quite quickly and was an expert at hiding in the lily pads.
Although they are a shore bird killdeer are often found away from water in parks, farm fields, golf courses and along gravel roads. When a predator shows up near the nest or young the adult bird will often fake a wing injuring to try to lure the predator away. When the predator is far enough away from the nest or young or if it gets to close the adult will give up the rouse and fly away. This does not stop animals like cows that are not interested in eating the adult. In these cases the bird will puff itself up as large as possible and charge the larger animal, hoping to get it to change its path. The bird in the photo above is faking a broken wing.



Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Julia Butterfly

Julia Butterfly
The Julia butterfly is a tropical brushfoot butterfly that is a member of the Heliconiinae, or logwing, subfamily. They can be found from the southern United States, particularly south Texas and Florida, down through Mexico and Central America and into Brazil. On some years, depending on the weather, they will invade northward up as far as the Central United States. Their larval host plants are passion vines. 


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Inca Dove

Inca Dove
 The Inca dove is a species of  dove that is found in Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Mexico and parts of Central America. Since this bird nests in tropical climates it is not migratory. They can often be seen foraging on the ground for seeds. They are also known for perching together in a pyramid form with birds perched on the backs of others up to three levels high. In 2007 an Inca dove got really mixed up and ended up in Two Harbors Minnesota at the beginning of winter. Needless to say a tropical bird does not have much chance of surviving a Minnesota winter. So after a few weeks of being viewed and photographed by birders throughout the north the bird disappeared and presumably perished. That was my first experience with an Inca dove since then I have photographed them in Texas where they are fairly common.



Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Harlequin Duck

Harlequin Duck
 The harlequin duck is a colorful duck that is found in the northern regions of North America, Greenland, Iceland, and Russia. The harlequin is separated geographically into two populations. The eastern population nests in the coastal areas of Iceland, Greenland, and eastern Canada. They winter in the coastal waters as far south as Maine. The western populations nests from the Pacific coast to the Rocky Mountains in Alaska, Canada, and the northwestern United States. This population winters in the Pacific coastal waters as far south as California.
Harlequin Duck
 The harlequin nest is built in a well hidden spot on the ground usually near the rapids of a rushing river. They are diving ducks so they find their food, typically fish, water bugs, and other invertebrates, by diving under the water. They prefer to hunt in rapids or other switch moving rivers. The top photo was taken a few years back. We had this male that wintered in the Mississippi for 4 years in a row. The bottom photo was taken in the Yellowstone River in Wyoming. Both pictures are of male birds. The females are much less colorful, as is the case with most ducks.



Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Golden-winged Warbler

Golden-winged Warbler
 The golden-winged warbler is a colorful songbird that nests in the Eastern United States. They breed in tangles and shrubby habitats with a lot of cover. They nest on the ground usually using a plant to support the nest. The nest is typically made up of leaves, grasses, bark and other vegetation. The birds will often fly with food to fake nest sites to keep predators from locating the nest. They typically produce one brood per year. Once the youngsters fledge the family will typically move to a more mature forest habitat for the remainder of the summer then head down to Central and northern South America for the winter.
Golden-winged Warbler
 The population of the Golden-winged warbler has been decreasing by roughly 8% per year for the last 45 years. Like many bird species habitat loss is one of the primary causes of their population decrease. In particular the loss of shrub-scrub habitat for breeding has had a devastating effect. Females are also very sensitive to human disturbance and may abandon the nest when there are people around. Finally the golden-winged has also been hybridizing with the similar blue-winged warbler creating two unique plumages, the Brewster's and Lawrence warblers. The golden-winged warbler is very important here in Minnesota because approximately half of the remaining world population nests in northern Minnesota. The top photo was taken during migration in the southern part of the state and the bottom was taken on breeding territory in northern Minnesota.



Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Fox Sparrow

Fox Sparrow
 The fox sparrow is a large sparrow that is found in North America. They breed across northern Canada, Alaska and the western United States. They winter in the southern United States and along the Pacific Coast. Here in Minnesota we only see them during migration. To me fox sparrows are a sign that spring is not far off. They are one of the earlier migrants that I see. Actually I usually hear them much more often then I see them. Fox sparrows often forage through the old leaf piles exposed by the melting snow searching for seeds and insects to eat.
Fox Sparrow
Fox sparrows get their common name from their red color which is similar to that of the red fox. The truth is however, that there are different variations of fox sparrows living in different geographical regions. There are people that do consider them 4 different species. Most fox sparrows are considered red fox sparrows. These are the brightest in color and found throughout most of Canada and Alaska. The sooty version of the fox sparrow are darker and more brown then red. They are found along the Pacific Coast of Canada and Alaska. The slate-colored fox sparrow has a gray head and back and are found in the Rocky Mountain Region. The final version is the thick-billed which have a thicker bill then the others and are found in California.



Thursday, February 13, 2014

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Eastern Bluebird


Eastern Bluebird
The eastern bluebird is a small brightly colored song bird that is found in the eastern United States, Mexico, and parts of Central America. Birds living in the northern portion of the range are migratory and head south for the winter. Birds living in the southern portion of the range are year round residents. Eastern bluebirds prefer open habitat with some trees but very little undergrowth. They are often found in areas close to people, such as parks, golf courses, and farm fields. Because of this, and their bright color, they are commonly recognized by many people. They are also the state bird of Missouri and New York.
Eastern Bluebird
 Eastern bluebirds are cavity nesters. They nest in woodpecker excavations, tree cavities or nesting boxes. The female builds the nest by herself and it is made up primarily of grasses. Both parents help to raise the young and they often have two broods per year. They eat primarily insects, dropping down from a perch to grab an insect on the ground or snatch it from the air. They also eat berries and fruit, particularly during the winter when insects can not be found. Occasionally they will take larger prey such as a lizard or small snake.



Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Dickcissel

Dickcissel
The dickcissel is a small songbird that breeds in the open fields and grasslands in the central portions of the United States from the Dakotas to Texas in the west and Ohio to Alabama in the east. Like many passerines the male dickcissel is much more brightly colored then the female. Immature males look more like the females and usually do not breed until they get their adult plumage.
Dickcissel
Dickcissels eat seeds and insects and so most migrate into Central America and northern South America during the winter. In the fall individuals join together into large flocks in staging areas around the US. As the migrating birds begin to move south the flocks join together into larger flocks. On their wintering grounds it is not unusual to find flocks of millions of birds wintering together. Not all dickcissel migrate though. Small numbers typically stay in southern portions of the breeding range where some food is still available. Dickcissel do breed in parts of Minnesota primarily the southern and western portions of the state where the habitat is more open and flat.



Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Cinnamon Teal

Cinnamon Teal
The cinnamon teal is a colorful duck that is found in the western portions of North and South America. It is the only duck that has separate breeding populations on each of the continents. In North America they breed in the western United States and Mexico. Their breeding does not extend as far east as most other species of western ducks, ending before the center of the US. In South America they breed primarily in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, and Peru. Most of the birds that breed in the US migrate to Mexico or the California coast for the winter. Most the birds that breed in Mexico and South America are year round residents of theri breeding ground. 
Cinnamon Teal
As with many species of ducks the male cinnamon teal is much more colorful then the female. The ducks in the photos above are both male. The female is a mottled brown with a brown eye color. The female looks similar to the females of many other species of ducks. The reason that females are not as bright as the males is because they need to blend in while they are on the nest. The cinnamon teal nest on the ground near the water. The nest is covered from all sides by vegetation hiding it from predators on the ground and in the air. The female helps keep the nest hidden by accessing it through tunnels in the vegetation. Clutch size is about 4-15 eggs. The young leave the nest for the water with in days of hatching.



Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Burrowing Owl

Burrowing Owl
 The burrowing owl is a small owl that is found in the open fields, prairie grasslands, and desserts of the western half of North America, Mexico, Central America, South America, Florida and the Caribbean. As their name implies they live in under ground burrows. However most burrowing owls do not dig their own burrows, instead they use old burrows dug by ground squirrels, prairie dogs or other mammals. In Idaho where the photo above was taken the burrowing owls typically live in holes that are dug by badgers who are trying to dig out ground squirrels which they eat. The danger is that the badger might return and burrowing owls could be the next item on the menu. The burrowing owls hunt small mammals, such as mice and voles, as well as larger insects, such as grasshoppers.
Burrowing Owl Chicks
 In North America the burrowing owl mating season begins at the end of March or beginning of April. The owls are typical monogamous. Unlike most raptors their is very little difference in size between male and female burrowing owls. When she begins to lay eggs the female will lay an egg every day or two. Since ground nesters typically more chicks to predation they often compensate by having larger clutch sizes. The average clutch size of the burrowing owl is 9 eggs only about half of which will survive long enough to leave the burrow. The chicks in the photo above are only days old. You can see that they are covered with down and their eyes have not opened. The shiny spot on the end of their beak is their egg tooth. This is that they used to crack the shell when they were ready to emerge from their eggs. When the chicks get a little older they will hiss when a potential predator tries to invade the den. The hissing sounds similar to a rattle snake and will often make potential predators think twice about continuing.
Burrowing Owl
Their are approximately 22 subspecies of burrowing owls, although their is very little difference between them. In the United States there are only two subspecies, hypugaea (northern burrowing owl) and floridana (Florida burrowing owl). The northern subspecies is found from southwestern Canada down through the western U.S. down into Mexico and Central America. The Florida subspecies is only found in Florida. One of the key differences between the two North America subspecies is that the Florida subspecies typically digs its on burrow. This is because there are not really any mammals in the range of the Florida subspecies that digs burrows that they could use. Fortunately the Florida subspecies live in parts of Florida where the soil is very fine sand. This allows them to use their long legs to kick out the loose sand. The first two photos are examples of the northern subspecies where the last photo is an example of a Florida burrowing owl.