Western Grebes, The Largest Grebes in North America

Western Grebe Swimming

Western Grebe, photographed by Dominic Sherony

A few minutes after hatching, juveniles will climb onto the backs of their parent’s to be carried across the water…

Identifying Them:

Western Grebes are medium-sized birds with black heads, grey wings, and white necks. Females and Males look about the same and are the same size (21-30 inches) with a wingspan of about 31-33 inches.

Habitat:

Western Grebes live in Central through Western America. The birds inhabit freshwater wetlands, marshes, coastal marshes and sometimes lakes, but in the winter they move to saltwater estuaries or bays (rarely in rivers at anytime of the year).

Behavior:

The Grebes are very social (year-round). In winter, the birds travel in large flocks and breed in large colonies. Western Grebes spend most of their time in the water, swimming and diving underwater like cormorants to find food, but also fishing above the surface, thrusting their long bills like spears to hunt fish and other aquatic animals.

Nesting and Nestlings:

Western Grebes are monogamous, and have an interesting courtship display. The display concludes of a complex, synchronized dance called, “rushing,” where the birds stand in an upright position and swim or “rush” across the surface of the water side by side, and at the end, diving underwater. Both partners make the nest together, which is a large, floating depression, made of plant materials like grasses, twigs and mosses, anchored to vegetation.

Females lay about 2-4 bluish-white eggs, which she incubates for about 24 days (3 1/2 weeks). A few minutes after hatching, juveniles will climb onto the backs of their parent’s to be carried across the water and the young will stay on their backs even when they dive. About 10 weeks after hatching, the nestlings learn to fly and no longer need to be cared for by their parents.

Diet:

During all seasons and in all habitats, Western Grebes eat small fish, crustaceans, insects, worms and sometimes feathers.

 

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American Dippers (Cinclus Mexicanus)

This mother’s day weekend, my family and I traveled to Sweet Creek Falls, which is a beautiful trail between Veneta, OR and Florence, OR. After walking along the trail for about a 1/4 mile, we walk down to a beautiful, large waterfall. The waterfall flowed very quickly, and on the other side of the stream, were two American Dippers whom appeared to be bobbing up and down a little, with their feet planted on a thick branch.

American Dipper, photographed by Dominic Sherony

American Dipper, photographed by Dominic Sherony

The dippers dip their heads into the water, (sometimes up to 60 times per minute) the dipping movement is what some people think, gives this bird their name, but really, they are named for their strange behavior, where they stand near or in the water and bob,  or “dip” up and down.

Identifying Them:

American Dippers are grey-brown, medium-sized, western birds. Both males and females are the same color and shape, with a length of 5-7 inches. American Dippers hunt for food underwater. Because of this, they have many adaptations that help them hunt for food underwater; they have an extra eyelid on each eye that enables them to see underwater, they have scales that close their nostrils when in water, and they produce more oil than most birds, which helps keep them a bit warmer when they’re searching for food in the water.

Habitat:

American Dippers live year-round in the western area of the United States. American Dippers are usually only found beside or near rivers or streams; that includes desert, coastal, mountain, or forest-trail streams. American Dippers mostly forage in rocky streams with fast-rushing water. These dippers aren’t migratory, though in winter they may move from icy streams, to ones that are less frosty, and sometimes in the spring or summer, they may move to where they can find more insect hatches.

Behavior:

These interesting dippers will wade, dive and swim in the water. American Dippers forage in the stream, walking about with their head in the water, moving pebbles and small stones around, looking for aquatic insects. The dippers dip their heads into the water, (sometimes up to 60 times per minute) the dipping movement is what some people think gives this bird their name, but really, they are named for their strange behavior, where they stand near or in the water and bob,  or “dip” up and down. Watch this video found on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qHbjNpLhvas Notice how the bird slightly bobs up and down, with his/her feet planted on the ground.
During courtship, one of the pair will stroll and sing in front of the other bird, with their wings drooped down and their bill pointed up.

Nesting and Nestlings:

American Dipper's nest, photographed by Owen Slater

American Dipper’s nest, photographed by Owen Slater

Lots of American Dippers are monogamous, but polygamy isn’t uncommon. Females build their nest which is upon a rocky, cliff ledge near or behind large rock formations, waterfalls or boulders. The nest is about 8-12 inches in diameter, made from mosses, grasses, and a bit of rootlets and twigs. Near the bottom of the nest, is the opening for them to fly up into.

Females usually have about 1-2 broods a season, with 4-5 nestlings per brood. Their eggs are small, white, and are incubated for about 1 – 1 1/2 weeks. Both parents feed their young until the leave the nest which is about 18-25 days after birth.

Diet:

Like most dippers, these birds eat mostly aquatic insects like larvae or worms, but will definitely eat small fish or fish eggs if they come across them. Flying insects like mosquitoes, mayflies, midges, or dragonflies, are insects, preferred by these dippers.

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Rufous Hummingbirds (Selasphorus rufus)

Rufous Hummingbird, photographed by Tom Grey

Rufous Hummingbird, photographed by Tom Grey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Identifying Them:

Female Rufous Hummingbirds look a little different from males. They have a white neck with grey spots and green and brown colored wings. Both male and females’ height is approximately 3 1/2 – 3 3/4 inches tall with a wingspan of around 4 inches, but typically, females tend to be a little larger than males.

Male Rufous Hummingbirds have a sort of florescent, orange neck and light brown back / wings. Their upper chest is white and fully and the sides of their wings are a grey, brown.

Fun Fact: Rufous Hummingbirds look extremely similar to Allen’s Hummingbirds, and it’s incredibly difficult to distinguish the two birds.

Habitat:

Rufous Hummingbirds are found in many places. Parks, fields, open areas in forests, meadows, thickets and edges of forests are sites that Rufous Hummingbirds definitely visit. In July and August, these hummingbirds migrate to the Rocky Mountains and other places nearby. Why this particular site? During this time, it is wildflower season in that area. Migrants inhabit all, if not, most elevations but mostly see to lowlands during the spring, and meadows upon mountains during the summer and fall.

Behavior:

Insects are caught by flying out and capturing them in the air. These hummingbirds are aggressive at all ages, for instance, males will chase off a female drinking from a feeder (even during the breeding season). Note: Male Rufous Hummingbirds can be very aggressive towards females. If they get agitated or irritated, they may fan out their tail feathers, and or males will flash their shiny, orange throats.

During courtship, males perform a flight where they fly in a circular shape when a female enters their breeding territory, But if females perch somewhere, males will switch to doing figure eights, low to the ground.

Nesting and Nestlings:

Females (alone) build the nest, which is a cup-shape with grass, moss, and other small plant-materials, bounded together with spider webs, and camouflaged with moss and lichen. Their nest is built, within 3 days of arrival at their mate’s breeding territory. They place the nest up to 30 feet above the ground (usually in coniferous or deciduous trees like maples, Douglas-fir or birch).

Females typically lay 2-3 eggs per breeding season which are white with around a half inch in length. She incubates these eggs for a period of 15-17 days (2 1/2 weeks) She feeds and takes care of the nestlings on her own, until they leave the nest, which is about 21 days (3 weeks) after birth.

Diet:

Rufous Hummingbirds, mainly eat insects and nectar (like most hummingbirds). Brightly colored flowers like columbine, penstemon, Indian paintbrush, and lilies are favorited by these hummingbirds. Sometimes, these birds, will eat spiders and or will steal trapped insects from their webs.

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Anna’s Hummingbird (Calypte anna)

Male Anna's Hummingbird

Male Anna’s Hummingbird

Identifying Them:

Females are a light green-gold color and have a pink-purple coloring on their necks. Males’ bodies and wings are more of a darker green-gold color, and their head is almost entirely (not just their neck) pink-purple, as seen in the picture above. These birds are medium-sized compared to other hummingbirds. Both males and females are about the same height, with a length of 3-4 inches tall, and with wingspans of between 4 and 5 inches.

Habitat:

These hummingbirds are found in a large variety of habitats in both urban and suburban areas, like gardens, open-woodlands, and chaparral.

Behavior:

During courtship, the male flies up above 100 feet in the air, then dives making a loud, high-pitched noise at the bottom of the dive called the “dive noise.” Besides the “dive noise,” they have many calls that include various of buzzes, chips, and chatters. Both genders defend territories, although males do it for a longer period of time.

Nesting and Nestlings:

Females choose where the nest is made, which is usually on a branch, not too high off the ground (occasionally near a source of nectar). The nests are often built in oak, eucalyptus, or sycamore trees, but she also builds nests on shrubs and sometimes, poison oak. Females make the nest, which is made of feathers and thistle, and is bound together by spider silk. It usually takes about a week to complete the nest, which is about an inch high and an inch and a half in diameter.

Females have about 2-3 broods (about 2 eggs per each brood). The eggs are just white with no specks or other coloring, and she incubates them for about 20 days (3 weeks). The females feed their nestlings by sticking her long bill deep into their mouths and regurgitating insects that are sometimes mixed with nectar. About 2-3 weeks after they hatch they become fledglings and have their first flight.

Diet:

Anna’s Hummingbirds eat mostly just insects and nectar found in flowers or sugar-water found in hummingbird-feeders.

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Faith Sees Birds 100th Post: An Owl’s Journey

An Owl’s Journey

I would like to dedicate the 100th post of Faith Sees Birds to owls. The following post is just going to be owls around the world, not just in Oregon.

Barn Owl

Owls are magnificent creatures. Not only are they intelligent, but they are also graceful, and elegant too. Owls range in sizes from America’s smallest owl, the Northern Saw-whet owl, to the largest owl in America, the Great Gray Owl.

Great Grey Owl

Great Grey Owl

Northern Saw-whet Owl

Northern Saw-whet Owl

Did you know there are more than 200 different owl species on earth? Each with their different features and personalities. Lets start with the beloved Great Horned Owl (Bubo Virginianus).

Great Horned Owl Photo By Greg Hume

Great Horned Owl Photo By Greg Hume

Great Horned Owls are extremely fierce and have only a few predators.

These owls are colored different shades of brown to help with camouflage. They are a very large specie of owl, with the females being the larger one of the genders, sporting a wingspan of around 50 inches long.

Great horned owls’ eyes are incredibly large and powerfully acute. Did you know that owls’ eyes take up 70% of their head while humans’ eyes take up only 5%?

Click on the picture above to read more about Great Horned Owls. 

Lets talk about owls’ heads.

Burrowing Owl

Have you ever seen night vision goggles? They are very big and very expensive. Human hunters use night vision goggles to hunt at night, but there are a type of hunters who hunt at night but don’t have to use vision goggles: owls. Owls have amazingly large, keen eyes, with a high density of rod cells in their retinas. These details help to muster up enough available light, so they can hunt at night (without night vision goggles).

Another adaptation that helps them hunt is their hearing. In the middle of a cold, harsh winter, hunting is hard for many birds. A large layer of snow covers the floor, and rodents run in tunnels created beneath the snow. Many raptors cannot find the rodents, but that doesn’t include owls. Owls can hear the small rodents running, and will quickly pounce down on the area where the rodent is. Did you know that owls’ heads are shaped like a satellite to direct sound towards their hidden ears?

Owls’ wings:

Owls have another ability that helps them hunt without being detected: silent flight. Owls have feathers that are designed so that when they fly, you can barely hear it. Don’t believe me? Watch this amazing video.

Photo by Kersti Nebelsiek

Photo by Kersti Nebelsiek

If someone or something glides through air, it causes waves of vibration. We process these waves as sound. For something to move through the air without making any sound, we’d have to prevent the cause of vibration waves. The owls’ feathers have little hairs all over the side of the feather, which, when in the air, causes the air stream to break up the vibration waves into tinier air streams that are sent in all directions, preventing a single air vibration wave.

Quick Nesting Facts:

  • Owls lay eggs in intervals of 1 to 3 days, and rarely hatch at the same time.
  • The eggs are usually white, and range in size according to the size of the owl.
Photo found on Wikipedia

Long-eared Owl Chick, Photo found on Wikipedia

Owl Vocalization:

Owls have a variety of different calls. When we think of owls, we think of ”hoo-hoo-hoo,” but that isn’t the only call they have (some species don’t even hoot at all). Hooting is usually just them declaring their territory. Screeching, hissing, and screaming, are other calls that lots of owls have. Their calls travel far, enabling them to locate mates or declare territories. Listen to the Great Horned Owl calls.

Great Horned Owls advertise their territories with deep, soft hoots with a stuttering rhythm: hoo-h’HOO-hoo-hoo. The male and female of a breeding pair may perform a duet of alternating calls, with the female’s voice recognizably higher in pitch than the male’s. Young owls give piercing screams when begging for food, while adults may scream to defend the nest. Adults make an array of other sounds, including whistles, barks, shrieks, hisses, coos, and wavering cries.
~Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

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Short-tailed Albatross

Short-tailed Albatross photo by James Lloyd Place

Short-tailed Albatross (adult plumage) photo by James Lloyd Place

Identifying Them:

Their name was given to them because of their short white tail. Short-tailed Albatross are usually around 33-37 inches tall, with wingspans up to 91 inches long. These sea-birds’ bodies are white, with a tan-white head through neck. They have grey, webbed feet, pink beaks, and white and black wings. Juvenile Short-tailed Albatross have dark, brown, bodied with an almost fully pink beak.

Habitat:

During the breeding season, (late fall) it has been noted that Short-tailed Albatross have been nesting on just four islands. Most of them nest on Torishima, while mostly all of the rest nest on Minami-Kojima in the Senkaku Islands.

In the non-breeding season, they range across the North Pacific with the males and juveniles gathering in the Bering sea and the females ranging off the coast of Japan. They can also be found in the west coast of the USA, which includes California, Washington and Oregon.

Nesting and Nestlings:

These birds mate for life. Breeding starts when Short-tailed Albatross are about 7 or 8 years old. Females lay one egg each year which hatch about a month or more later (December or January). After hatching, the newborns stay by the nest for about 5 months, and they become fledglings in about June.

Diet:

Short-tailed Albatross’ main diet is squid, fish and shrimp, but will swim around ships and look for pieces of meat that fisherman discard. They hunt by alighting on the surface of the ocean to catch their prey.

Population Status:

“Over exploitation by humans is the main cause of endangerment of the short-tailed Albatross. Albatross of all kinds were once highly sought after by humans.” ~Bagheera.com

In Japan Short-tailed Albatrosses are called ‘Ahodori’ which means ‘fool-bird’, Why the demeaning name? They were given the nickname, because they would remain at their nests as humans walked through the breeding grounds hunting for them, to could kill them and take their feathers. The Japanese feather collectors killed so many of these birds, that it lead to the dramatic decline of their species during the 19th and 20th Centuries. Today, fishing industry practices, such as long lining, threaten these Albatross just as it does to many other species of seabirds. Some, believe that the species are now incredibly vulnerable to volcanic eruptions, one reason why the think that, is because the majority of the Short-tailed Albatross population breeds, where 125 people were killed at once by an eruption in 1902.

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Black-capped Chickadees

Black-capped Chickadee by Gary Luhm

Black-capped Chickadee by Gary Luhm

The flocks have many different calls with specific meanings, and the calls may actually contain some of the characteristics of the human language.

Identifying Them:

Black-capped Chickadees are small birds with a length of 5 inches and a wingspan of 8 inches. You can identify them by their “black caps” on their head and the black on their neck. You can also identify them by their song, which is a high-pitched, “chick-a-dee-dee-dee,”

Habitat:

Black-capped Chickadees are the most common chickadees seen. They are usually spotted in back yards and will appear at your bird-feeder. Chickadees are most commonly found in deciduous and mixed forest, but parks, open woods, cottonwood groves, wet lands and disturbed areas are also common places they can be found in.

Behavior:

Black-capped Chickadees hop along tree branches in search for food, sometimes hanging upside down or hovering; making short flights to catch their prey (insects) in the air. The courtship is a display of light calls, wing-shivering and the male actually feeding the female, and once the bond has formed between the pair, they establish their territory and defends it. In winter they form flocks which sometimes include other species of birds, but Black-capped Chickadees are typically numerically dominant. The flocks have many different calls with specific meanings, and the calls may actually contain some of the characteristics of the human language.

Nesting and Nestlings:

Black-capped chickadees are monogamous and form lifelong pair-bonds. The breeding season of Black-capped Chickadees begins in late March and proceeds through early July.
These chickadees nest in cavities and will sometimes nest in old woodpecker cavities or other natural holes and occasionally nest boxes. Black-capped Chickadees will also excavate or enlarge their own cavities in rotting wood. Both males and females excavate, but the female is the only one of the pair that builds the nest, which is usually just a foundation of moss, lined with soft hair.

Females lay about 6 to 8 eggs which are little white eggs with brown specks all over. She incubates their eggs for 12 to 13 days, during this time she is brought food to her by the male. After the nestlings hatch, the female broods the young almost continuously, but as the young grow, the female joins the male in providing food for them. At about 16 days after hatching, the young leave the nest, but stay on the breeding territory for about another 3-4 weeks before they head off.

Diet:

Black-capped Chickadees eat mostly insects, spiders, berries and seeds like sunflower seeds which are found at feeders. But how do they eat sunflower seeds regularly when they have such small beaks? Well, they take a seed in their bill and fly from the feeder to a nearby tree, then, they put the seed on a branch hammer the seed to crack it open. During the winter, vegetable matter, seeds and fruit make up half of their diet, but goes down to 10-20% of their diet during warmer months like in the summer, where caterpillars become increasingly important to their diet and takes priority over seeds and fruit. Though seeds, insects and berries is mainly all they eat, Black-capped Chickadees have also been seen eating fat from dead animals or roadkill.

 

 

 

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