I have given this Bird the above Name, because it comes pretty near the Bird we call a Buzzard, or Pottock, in its Shape, Magnitude, and partly in its Colour, tho' it differs in many Respects, which shews it to be specifically different from our's in Eng-land, which see described in Willoughby's Ornithology, p. 70. Tab. 6. It seemed to me of the Bigness of a middle-sized Hen or Cock; its Shape and due Proportions I have, as well as I could, expressed in the Figure. The Bill is of a blueish Lead-Colour, cover'd with a Skin of the same Colour, from the Nostrils to the Point an Inch and a Quarter, from the Angles of the Mouth to the Point of the Bill two Inches ; The Head, and Fore-part of the Neck, are covered with Feathers, having dark brown Spots in the Middle, the rest of the Feathers being white, which make a pretty Appearance of White spotted with dark Brown ; from the Angles of the Mouth is drawn on each Side under the Eyes a dusky Line; the dark Spots on the Breast are larger than those on the Head, the Sides and Belly are covered with dark brown Feathers, spotted with round or oval Spots of White; the Thighs are covered with soft, loose, white Feathers, with long irregular Dashes of dark Brown down their Shafts ; the covert Feathers on the under Side of the Tail are barr'd transversly with Black and White ; the whole upper Side, Neck, Back, Wings, and Tail, are covered with brownish ash-coloured Feathers, darker in their middle Parts, their Edges becoming gradually lighter, which is most manifest in the smaller covert Feathers of the Wings, their very Edges being almost white. The outer Webb of the first Quill is spotted with a light Colour : the inner Webb on the under Side is Ash-colour, indented with White very distinctly, which Indenture becomes more and more confused and broken till the twelfth Quill, where it wholly disappears, the rest of the Quills within being Ash-colour: The covert Feathers, within-side of the Wings, are of a dark, dirty Brown, sprinkled with round Spots of White: The upper Side of the 'Tail is barr'd a-cross with narrow Bars of Clay-Colour ; as are the Feathers that cover the upper Side of the Tail : The under Side of the Tail is Ash-colour, barr'd accross with White: The Legs and Feet are of a blueish ash-colour; the Claws black: the fore Part of the Legs are cover'd half Way to the Feet with dusky Feathers.
[I kept the caption much as it was in 1747 English, keeping the capitalization, just changing the funny S character to a regular s]
Osprey landing in its nest with food for its young
Great Blue Heron
Altho protected by the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty, this heron often finds himself the target for thoughtless hunters. Not that he would make a tasty dish, but any bird which stands 4 feet high with a wing spread of almost 70 inches is in constant danger. His favorite feeding grounds are wet meadows or pastures, ponds, lakes or streams. Most of his food consists of rough fish which he catches expertly, either standing patiently in shallow water until a fish appears, or walking slowly along the edge of some shallow pond until he discovers his prey. Snakes, frogs, insects, mice, eels, or even small birds are not safe from a hungry heron.
The American or Common Goldfinch often is called “wild canary.” Altho he is not a canary, his small size, color and twittering notes remind people of their pets. While smaller than sparrows, these birds are rugged and winter over much of their nesting range. Their habit of flocking and tendency to feed on weed seeds makes them easily found.
The male of this species is a rich lemon yellow with a small black mark above the bill, black wings and tail. The wings show distinct white bars especially in winter when the yellow has faded to the more somber hue of the female. The tail is forked with white tips on the outer feathers and coverts. The bill is yellow.
Goldfinches are noted for their cheerful dispositions. A feeding flock can be heard uttering twittering conversational notes even in winter. Spring brings the notes of their beautiful but varied song which usually can be identified as “tzee,” or “per-chic-o-ree,” which is the song heard when the birds pass overhead.
This slate-gray bird with white bill and white patch under the tail, belongs to the rail family but spends more time with ducks. He swims with a jerky motion of the head, dives like a grebe, walks out on the shore and eats grass like a goose. Yes, the “mudhen,” for that is what he is commonly called, is quite versatile. When taking flight, he either runs into the breeze or skitters across the water for a short distance until he can gain sufficient speed to gain altitude, then away to safety.
Coots feed largely on underwater vegetation and prefer algae or musk grass. Small fish or other aquatic animals are eaten on occasion while grass, grain or weeds are not overlooked. When diving for food, these birds often are robbed by the American Widgeon, or Baldpate, which relishes such juicy morsels but does not dive. Coots take such invasions as a matter of course.
The adult male of this species wears a black mask over his eyes and is only 5¼ inches long. The female lacks the mask but has a yellow throat, white belly and olive-brown head, back, wings and tail which identify the birds.
They nest over a wide area, favorite habitat being bushy thickets near water. He is quick to resent any invasion of his privacy and uses a variety of scolding notes to let you know how unhappy he is. His movements are wren-like and hurried and his black eyes fairly sparkle to show his excitement. He soon vanishes into the undergrowth but you will have a chance to learn his call which sounds like “witchity, witchity, witchity,” or “witcheree, witcheree, witcheree,” usually repeated 3 times.
This slim, long-tailed bird is far more common than people suspect for he seldom is seen. He prefers to move slowly thru the heavy foliage, peering under each branch and leaf for the leaf-eating worms which form his diet. Wooly worms, which other birds seem to shun, are relished by him. His long bill is a perfect tool for breaking into webs where he creates havoc with the wiggly inhabitants.
Cuckoos are larger than Robins and their long tails make them look even longer than the 12¼ inches which they measure. They fly directly from the center of one tree to the next, thus giving us a chance to check the rufous coloring of the wings and the large white spots on the ends of their black tails. The back is dark gray while the breast and belly are white. The yellow lower bill, the rufous wings and larger white spots on the tail are the main difference between this and the slightly smaller Black-billed Cuckoo. Both have a series of clucking notes but the Yellow-billed Cuckoo song gets slower, then runs down the scale, different from his relative’s long efforts.
Vultures play an unusual part in nature’s drama. They, along with Sexton Beetles, other insects and animals, form the sanitary unit. When we consider the heavy toll of wildlife along our highways, we can appreciate the usefulness of such a unit. Lacking talons, vultures are not equipped to catch their prey, but feed on whatever nature provides.
This vulture is almost eagle size, with a wingspread of 70 inches and can be identified by his long tail, small head, 2-toned wings, and habit of soaring, the wings forming a dihedral or open V-shape. On close inspection, you will find the head bare and a reddish color. The young have blackish heads which is one of the marks of the Black Vulture, but the latter is smaller with a square tail and shows white spots under the wing when flying. This is a southern cousin.
This sparrow-size cousin of the chickadee has a tuft of feathers which gives him a striking appearance. The tuft, nape, back, wings and tail are slate gray, while the cheek, throat, breast and belly are white with a pinkish-brown patch just below the wing. Habits are similar to chickadees and he often can be found feeding in loose flocks with these and other small birds such as Downy Woodpeckers, nuthatches and Brown Creepers. Together they form a useful team for what one species misses by his method of feeding, one of the others will find by a slightly different method.
They nest in holes in trees or even a bird box to their liking. They are noisy birds and their song is much louder and clearer than you would expect to hear from such small singers. The song consists of a series of whistled notes which sound like “pet-er” or “pet-o,” the first note usually slightly higher. Other notes remind you of a Carolina Wren or a Kentucky Warbler but the phrasing and tempo soon lead you to proper identification.
A titmouse enjoys a well-stocked feeder and is a nice neighbor for he enjoys singing and the clear whistled notes add a touch of nature to a cold winter day.
The rosy red plumage of the male Summer Tanager is helpful in identification for he is smaller than the Cardinal and lacks the tuft and black face patch of the latter. Females, which resemble orioles, do not have the sharply pointed bill of the oriole and are richer colored than the female Scarlet Tanager, being almost an orange-yellow below. She is olive-yellow above with no wing bars. The wings are greener than those of her near relative. Young males often show a mottled pattern of reds and yellows before attaining the rosy red hue of the adult.
They prefer a rather open forest such as is found on hillsides. A dead treetop makes an ideal perch while singing or catching insects on the wing. The song is a rather melodious series of notes which reminds one of a Robin. Alarm notes are a distinctive series of chippy-tuk-tuk notes.
These birds feed rather deliberately thru the trees and destroy many insects and leaf-eating larvae which they encounter. Their nest is usually far out on the limb and at least 10 feet above the ground. They spend winters in South and Central America. The breeding range does not extend as far north as that of the Scarlet Tanager.
Previous to 1890, this bird was unknown in America. Then a few pairs were released in New York City and now look at them! Starlings are everywhere. When walking around your yard or field he appears to be black with a short tail, pointed wings and a sharp pointed beak which is yellow in summer and brownish-black in winter. On closer inspection you will find that he is a little smaller than a Robin, greenish with speckled plumage in fall and winter, which develops into greenish-purple in spring. In flight he flaps and sails much like a Meadowlark but his short tail and wing pattern are distinctive. The young are brownish with lighter throats.
Many of the Starling’s feeding habits are beneficial for he eats many worms and insects which he finds by turning over leaves or probing with his sharp bill. The fact that he likes fruit on occasion is not in his favor for he likes to travel in flocks and it takes a lot of fruit to feed a flock of Starlings.
Any pond, lake or stream will be visited sooner or later by these little sandpipers. You find them teetering along shores, picking up insects and small crustacea which form the diet. Mud banks, sandy shores, pebbly mountain streams, half-sunken logs, all furnish happy hunting grounds.
The teetering tail is distinctive and no other sandpiper has the round black spots on his breast and none has the fluttering flight. They seem to tip-toe thru the air with very short wingbeats. Young and adults in winter plumage do not show the spots but continue to teeter. They often show a white spot just above the bend of the wing when in this plumage. Their usual note is a 2-tone “peet-weet,” which it utters when flushed from its feeding ground.
This little falcon, about the size of a Robin, is also known as Kestrel. Calling him a Sparrow-hawk is misleading, for insects and spiders, along with a generous portion of mice, go to make up his daily fare. Grasshoppers seem to be a special delicacy. Like other birds, he feeds on whatever is available. In cities, this includes English Sparrows.
The smallest of the hawk family can be found along highways where he uses telephone poles, wires or dead trees, while scanning the fields and fence rows for prey. Dressed in colorful plumage with spotted breast, slate-blue wings, red-brown back and tail, with head showing 2 black lines and a dot, he easily is seen and readily identified. The female is slightly larger, shows more banding on the tail and lacks the blue wings, hers being browner.
This medium-size goose is the most abundant member of the family and can be identified by white plumage and black wing tips. He is often called “wavy,” in the northern part of his range, while southern hunters refer to him as a “white brant.” His Latin name describes him as “a goose beyond the north wind.” We see him only as a migrant, either going to nesting grounds in Northern Canada or returning to his winter home on the coast of Louisiana and Texas. A somewhat larger relative known as the Greater Snow Goose, nests in Northern Greenland and winters along our Atlantic coast.
This bird feeds on roots and bulbs of water plants found in his wintering area. Grasses, grains or other vegetation bring huge flocks where they can be seen grazing like tame geese. Feeding flocks are not welcome to the wheat grower who has fields near lakes which are used as resting places for migrating birds.
The sparrow-size Slate-colored Junco or the “snowbird,” as he frequently is called, is only a winter visitor in most areas. But what a welcome guest he is! The white belly and outer tail feathers add distinctive marks to his slate-gray plumage. The bill is pinkish white. Females and immature birds are duller and sometimes show a pinkish-brown tinge on their backs and sides.
Juncos can be found around weed patches, hedges or sheltered corners of fields, where they spend much time in feeding on weed or grass seeds which provide their winter diet. Even fallen seeds are not overlooked for these birds do much of their feeding on the ground. They sleep in evergreens, sheds or other protected areas which shelter them from the cold and snow. They often visit feeders for small seeds provided by bird lovers.
Their notes are hard to describe but have a musical smacking or clinking note or series of notes which once learned, are easily remembered. Their song is a series of chipping notes much like those of a Chipping Sparrow, but with more variation and more of a musical quality. This song is heard when the first warm days of spring arrive. They nest in either mountainous or northern regions for they enjoy cool climates.
The Screech Owl is the smallest of the eared owls, about robin size. In fact he often nests in holes built by larger woodpeckers such as flickers. Like other owls, he hunts at night when his quavering call blends with the murmur of the night breeze. Mice, shrews, beetles, moths, crayfish, frogs and small birds seem to furnish a well-rounded diet.
These small owls have 2 distinct color phases, one a rich brown, the other a soft gray. Both blend with the bark of trees thus giving them protection. This is one of the mysteries of the bird world. Just why do these owls wear different colors? Both colors are often found in the same brood.
Even tho small, they give a good account of themselves and soon let you know when they have young in the vicinity. The parents defend their young against all comers and often surprise innocent persons who may stroll too close to the young only to be attacked by the irate parents.
This, the smallest bird found in the area, can be confused only with large moths such as the sphinx or hawk moths. Both the moths and hummingbirds like to feed on deep-throated flowers such as honeysuckles, petunias and trumpet-vines but the moths prefer late evening or early morning while the hummer never passes up a chance to explore such flowers with his long brush-like tongue with which he gathers nectar. This combined with small insects and spiders goes to make up his diet. Brightly colored phials filled with sugar water will attract him to your yard.
Hummingbirds are among the best fliers of the bird world and can hover, fly backward or forward or straight away, whatever meets their fancy. The male has a green back and in some lights the throat patch looks black only to flash ruby red when the bird changes position so the light is reflected. The female is duller and has white feather tips on the tail.
There is no reason to tell you this bird is robin-size except that we would like you to remember he is 10 inches long. This helps when making a comparison with other birds. This medium-size member of the thrush family makes himself at home on your lawn, in your garden, pastures or fields. There you will see his reddish breast, dark head and back, all distinctive in sunlight or shadow. Yes, you can spot a Robin anywhere. The young have spotted breasts which is typical of the thrush family.
Robins are early risers and start singing as soon as the first faint glow shows the approach of a new day. Robins do most of their feeding on the ground. There you will see them making a short run, then stop, look and listen. They seem to be able to hear their prey, for you will notice them digging worms and insects from depths which would make them impossible to see. These birds sometimes add small snakes, minnows or frogs to their diet of worms, insects and fruit. Hackberries, persimmons and red cedar seeds help carry them thru the winter.
Robins often winter rather far north and are one of the first migrants to make an appearance in spring.
A black bird with a bright red shoulder patch identifies the adult male. Females and young are a heavily streaked gray-brown while young males are brown with an orange wing patch. In fall and winter the brilliant red shoulder patch is not so apparent, sometimes reduced to only a line.
These numerous birds are slightly smaller than Robins and are abundant along ditches, ponds, lakes or other marshy areas where they nest in rushes, cattails or small bushes surrounding water. Irrigation has increased their habitat until they are one of our common birds. Vast flocks spend the winter in southern marshes.
While nesting in swamps or other low areas, they range widely in search of insects and larvae and account for many which would be injurious to crops. In fall they feed heavily on weed seeds and waste grain. Huge flocks are not welcomed in the unharvested rice fields of the south.
Feeding habits make him a good neighbor to everyone in his northern range before he joins the flocks of Starlings and other birds which flock to the southern areas.
The male is a bigamist on occasion and often entices more than one mate to share his chosen marsh.
Red-tails, like other hawks, show a great variation in plumage. The dark phase of a Western Red-tail compares favorably with the plumage of an adult Golden Eagle, but the smaller size and the reddish upper tail surface which reflects the sun as the bird soars, furnishes the clue. Typical plumage shows a dark belly-band with bright, reddish upper tail, while some birds show a light breast and belly.
This bird prefers open woodlands or a dead tree with fields adjoining. There he may sit for hours, but ever watchful for some movement which might indicate the presence of a gopher, field mouse, rat or even a snake. All add to his varied menu. Rodents soon become pests when these hawks are scarce. This bird often is killed by farmers and poultry raisers when the real culprit, the Cooper’s Hawk, lives on to enjoy the flock.
The Red-tail’s size and habit of perching in exposed places make him a ready target for anyone who carries a gun. Slow flight combined with his habit of soaring also add to his high death rate.
Unlike some of his relatives which prefer low bushes and shrubs, the Red-eyed Vireo prefers heavily-wooded areas. Where forests occur, he is the commonest bird. Clearing of timber reduced much of his habitat, but any grove of trees will furnish a home for this species. His numbers are limited only by the area of the wooded section.
Vireos are more often heard than seen for they feed slowly thru the tops of high trees, but have an endless series of notes and sing during the hot summer days when other birds seek shelter. The song consists of a series of short phrases sometimes rising, sometimes falling, as if the bird were talking to himself, even answering his own questions, with a distinct pause between. Some of these notes have a robin or tanager-like quality, but the repeated song soon places the bird.
When you see this sparrow-size bird, you will find that he has a clear white line over the eye, bordered with black. This is his only outstanding mark for he has no wing bars. His general appearance is greenish-gray above, white below with a greenish-yellow tinge on the sides and flanks. His red eye is not distinct enough to make a good field mark. His main diet consists of leaf-eating worms.
With others hushed
This, the largest member of the swallow family, has adopted the many-roomed apartments which man is glad to furnish. For there are few people who do not take pleasure in watching the graceful flight of this bird as he flaps and sails above your trees. His low-pitched, gurgling notes help to identify him.
They arrive from their winter homes rather early in spring and often are heard or seen by the latter part of March. Heavy mortality can result when late snows or icy rains cut down the quota of flying insects which are his food. As soon as family cares are over, they gather in huge flocks and soon leave for their winter home in South America. They usually are gone by the last of August.
The male is entirely blue-black which may look purple in some lights, while the female and young birds show lighter breasts with duller head and back.
Those who live near prairies and brushy grasslands have a chance to become acquainted with this brown hen-like bird which formerly ranged over much of the middle west. Cultivation and hunters have reduced the numbers until they no longer are common. The large size, the short, dark, rounded tail, the heavily barred underparts, the rounded wings, all are descriptive of this bird. In flight he reminds you of king-size Meadow Larks, flapping then sailing, as he journeys to and from favorite feeding grounds.
In early spring these birds gather in a selected location known as a “booming ground”; there the males defend a certain area against other males, yet welcome the hens by strutting, inflating their yellow throat sacks and erecting the feathers over their heads until they resemble ears. These antics are accompanied by clucks and a series of 3-noted hoots which make up their love songs. The males often engage in fighting to protect their area.
It makes little difference to this bird whether you call him “Water-witch, Hell-diver, Dabchick or Pied-billed Grebe,” for these are only a few of the names by which he is known. His only concern is finding a pond, lake or other water, well supplied with crayfish, minnows or insects on which he feeds. Leeches are a favorite morsel.
The short, thick bill of this grebe is distinctive, even in winter when the black encircling band from which it gets its name, is missing. General appearance is brown, being brownish-black above, lighter brown and white below. On water the short tail usually is carried high enough to show the white under-tail coverts.
He’s not a hawk, but like other members of the Goatsucker family, often feeds at night. This gray-brown, robin size bird with white bars across the wings, often is called a “bull-bat.” Early morning and late evenings seem to be favorite feeding times for then insects on which he feeds, are on the wing. During the day you will find him sitting horizontally on some sheltered limb, his colors blending perfectly. He looks more like a knot or broken stub than a bird. He leaves his resting place with a glide and then goes into his distinctive flight.
The Nighthawk often ascends high in the sky with a series of quick wing beats, each accompanied by his call of a nasal “peent.” When the desired height is attained, he folds his wings slightly and dives with a booming sound. This is a part of the breeding display.
The Myrtle Warbler is a member of a colorful family of American birds most of which are smaller than sparrows, have thin pointed bills, are more active than vireos. They are often referred to as the butterflies of the bird world. The Myrtle Warbler is presented because he is the first to arrive in spring, often before the leaves arrive to hide him from view. This 5½-inch bird has 4 yellow marks which will identify him: the crown, rump and each side of the breast. He appears darker than most warblers, being blue-gray above, white below with black marks across the breast and back beneath the wings. The white throat and 2 white wing bars offer contrast. Females and young lack the brilliant markings of the male, but the yellow rump patch will identify the birds. The white throat distinguishes this from other warblers which show a yellow rump.
This bird is a migrant since he prefers to nest in the evergreens of Northern United States and Canada. He feeds on insects and larvae which infest our trees but captures many flying insects when available. Often he winters farther north than you would expect to find warblers and then feeds on small berries. Myrtle or bayberries are a favorite food and the name of the bird indicates its fondness for these berries.
There is something about a dove which makes you want to know him better. Could it be his low mournful call? (And why do we call it mournful? Someone described it in that manner, and while it is not as colorful as other bird notes, it has a restful and pleasing quality.) Could it be the graceful flight which shows the pointed tail with the white trimming? Could it be dainty steps which seem to fit his personality? Perhaps the way he drinks by inserting his bill and swallowing water until he has his fill. It might be the way he builds his nest: no time wasted when this bird constructs a home. It might even be the way he jerks his head, as if trying to get a better focus on the sights of the world.
Some call him brown; if so, where did we get the description, “dove colored”? In good light, the head and neck have a rich sheen which blends with the rest of the body. All in all, he is a beautiful bird.
A trim, robin-size pale gray bird which shows extensive white patches on the wings and outer tail when in flight. These markings will identify this bird in winter when you find him feeding on whatever fruits or berries he can locate. He does not choose to migrate when a good supply of red cedar, bush honeysuckle, multiflora rose, persimmon, bittersweet or other such seeds are available. Raisins or currants will entice him to your feeder but he is too big a bully to make a good guest for he chases other birds away.
In summer he adds other little habits which soon bring him to your attention. First, his song, a medley of rich notes which include not only his own song, but a mimicked version of other songs and sounds which he has heard. These are usually repeated 2 or 3 times and then he goes to a new series, which may be harsh or pleasing. His song has more variety of notes than the Brown Thrasher or Catbird. He prefers high perches when singing, such as aerials, chimneys, windmills, trees, buildings or water towers. He always is doing unusual things like leaping into the air or going thru other antics which show his well-marked plumage.
He likes to nest in arbors, shrubs or trees which offer protection to his bulky home which is often only a few feet above the ground.
A gray bird with a black mask over the eyes, black wings which show a white patch when flying, and a black tail with white margins, all help identify this shrike. His head seems large when compared to his trim body, he has a hooked beak, the under plumage is white. If there is any doubt, watch him fly from one perch to another. He drops down near the ground, flies rapidly and then zooms up to his next location. Another habit is flicking his tail like a Phoebe when he alights.
This bird likes open fields, pastures, grassy or weedy grounds with handy perches where he can get a good view of his surroundings. He has good eyes and any small snake, mouse or grasshopper will cause him to investigate. He often hovers before striking and catches his prey with his strong beak, for his feet are not equipped with heavy claws like most predators. This also makes it necessary for him to impale his prey on thorns, barbed wire or some other pointed object where he can cut it with his sharp bill.
Shrikes seem to prefer thorny trees for nesting, but will use whatever is available. Most nests are rather low and are bulky structures.
These birds kill more food than they consume and would be held in better repute except for the habit of killing other birds.
Most Americans seem to have fallen in love with the House Wren. It could not be his beauty for he lacks the distinctive markings found on other birds, even other wrens. Even in good light you see only a small grayish-brown bird with lighter underparts. It is surely not his size for he is smaller than a sparrow. His song is a sort of spontaneous outburst of notes which give you more quantity than quality, with a liberal helping of scolding notes, so it is not his vocal efforts. He is not a good bird neighbor for he often punctures the eggs of other nesting birds in his area. It must be his independence that has won him favor.
No other bird finds such an assortment of nesting boxes, all sizes, shapes and colors, some homemade, others purchased. Some he will use, while others offer no attraction. He may pass up a well-placed wren house to build in the pocket of an old coat hung in a shed. He likes boxes 8 to 10 feet above ground, not hidden by limbs.
He prefers low shrubs, piles of brush or wood, or even open spots in heavy timber, for there he finds the insects and small spiders which form the major part of his food. Most of his hunting is either on or near the ground while nesting sites are seldom above 12 feet. He runs to large families and more than one brood is reared.
The killdeer is the common plover which we see in pastures, meadows, fields or on shores of ponds and lakes. Freshly mown alfalfa fields, short grass or stubble, even newly plowed fields attract them. They gather in loose flocks to feed on exposed insects or worms. Their usual pace consists of a short run, a quick stop to check for some juicy morsel, then another short run. All stops are accompanied by a jerky movement as if undecided whether to spring into the air or stay on the ground. Even the spindly legged young have this bobbing habit.
This bird is only a little bigger than the Robin, but longer legs and tail make him appear larger. White collar with 2 black bands across the lower neck and upper breast, chestnut back and tail, white lines in the wings in flight, all make this plover easily identified. If there is any doubt you will soon hear his “kill-dee,” or “kill-deer” notes, for he is a noisy bird, quick to resent any intrusion in his territory. These calls alert other birds, much to the disgust of duck hunters who are trying to make a quiet approach to their blinds.
Whether you call him an English Sparrow or a House Sparrow, makes little difference. He is not a sparrow, nor can we blame the English for the vast population of these birds found within our borders. The fact that it is a weaver-finch would indicate that Africa was the original home of this species. This bird has been introduced into many countries and he soon adapts himself to any surroundings. The record shows that 8 pairs were introduced in Brooklyn in 1850 but did not survive. Two years later, more were imported and now they are at home over a wide range.
Since we have referred to this bird for comparative size, it is well that we keep him in mind. His length runs from 5½ to 6¼ inches with a wingspread of 9½ to 10 inches. The male is rather colorful with his gray crown, chestnut nape, white cheeks, black throat and chest, brown back and gray-white belly. The thick finch-like bill, the slightly notched tail which they flick often, the habit of hopping when feeding on the ground—all help in identification. The young and winter males resemble the female which is a dull-brown above with gray-white below and a pale stripe over the eye.
They consume quantities of insects but will eat almost anything available.
A sparrow-size bird with black tail, which flushes from the road while you travel along, is the Horned Lark. When you travel slower you will find that he walks when he moves around, never hopping like birds which prefer trees. Other marks to look for are a black crown, black line extending from the beak, curving back and down over the cheek and a black patch below the white or yellow throat. A white or yellow line, depending on the subspecies of the bird you see, separates the crown from the black facial pattern. The horns, from which the bird gets his name, consist of 2 tufts of feathers extending up from the crown, but sometimes are hard to see. Body color is brownish above with light belly.
Horned Larks prefer short-grass country with barren hills or other open spots such as the sandy shoulders of highways. There you will find them walking or running in their search for small seeds or insects. When snow covers the ground they flock to the highways where graders and snowplows have removed the icy covering.
Energetic little birds, smaller than House Wrens, the Golden-crowned Kinglets spend the winter busily engaged in searching the twigs and branches for insect eggs or larvae. There they join mixed flocks of chickadees, Brown Creepers, nuthatches and Downy Woodpeckers, all working together to protect our trees. He is easily identified for he has the habit of flicking his wings as he moves thru the branches. His short, slightly forked tail, white line over the eye, distinct wing bars, all seem dull when compared to the golden crown, edged with black. This gives an artistic touch to his olive-gray plumage. The female shows a yellowish crown. The only bird with which he can be confused is the Ruby-crowned Kinglet which shows a distinct eye ring. He flashes his ruby crown only when excited.
Like the Brown Creeper, this bird has a faint lisping call which usually is given in a series of from one to 3 notes, not the single note of the creeper.
Unlike many of the flycatchers, this bird which is only a little larger than the English Sparrow, is easily identified. His black bill, lack of wing bars or eye ring is distinctive but his habit of jerking or waving his tail is conclusive. The habit of repeating his name over and over in a low but emphatic tone gives little doubt of his presence. Some people might confuse this call with the high notes of the Black-capped Chickadee but when once learned there is little resemblance.
The Phoebe is one of the hardiest of his clan, often wintering in the southern portion of its nesting range and returning in spring so early that we often wonder how he can find sufficient flying insects to sustain life.
This chunky robin-size bird is perfectly at home in fields and pastures. There he is easily recognized as a plump brown-streaked bird with yellow underparts and a black crescent on the breast like a black V. The short tail shows white on each side and is flicked nervously. The crown shows black and white stripes. They fly low over the fields with a series of flaps and sails and walk around short-grass meadows in their search for insects.
They are not larks but are closely related to Starlings, as shown by their scientific name and their resemblance to the invading flocks of these aliens. Unlike their relatives, Meadowlarks have no bad habits and feed largely on cutworms, grasshoppers and beetles which are found in their chosen habitat.
The Eastern Meadowlark has a loud clear song often referred to as “spring is here,” while his western cousin, slightly smaller in size, produces a series of whistled notes and warbles which is quite pleasing to the ear. Both have a series of chattering notes which is typical. Neither is hesitant about singing and they add much to their surroundings by the quality of song.
They not only should be protected but encouraged to nest around farms for they more than pay their way.
The Eastern Kingbird, altho slightly smaller than a Robin, is “monarch of all he surveys,” and is ready and willing to defend his territory against all comers. His happiest moments seem to be spent in chasing hawks, crows, herons or vultures and he is the first to see their approach and give the alarm. Then, like a fighter-plane, he speeds high in the air and dives on the intruder. Such aerial attacks are of short duration for the larger bird soon escapes to a safer location. He then drops back to his favorite perch, often using such quick wing-beats that he seems to be tip-toeing thru the air.
This flycatcher with his white breast, dark head, back and wings, and black tail with white terminal band, is identified easily. He likes to nest around farm homes or other open country but wants a few open spots where he can perch while waiting for passing insects. People who raise bees often refer to him as a “bee-martin,” and accuse him of eating honeybees. There is little ground for this accusation for only 22 stomachs of 634 examined showed a total of 61 bees eaten and 51 of the total were drones. On the other hand, this bird eats robber flies which catch and destroy bees. Eighty-five per cent of his food consists of insects which includes grasshoppers, crickets and cutworms.
This small thrush, only slightly larger than an English Sparrow, is held in high esteem by those who have made his acquaintance. Unlike the Hermit and Wood Thrushes which sing in the seclusion of deep forests, the Bluebird prefers open country with scattered trees. Old apple orchards make choice locations for usually they have a number of old woodpecker holes for nests.
Unlike most thrushes, he is not noted for his song, however his frequently heard “tur-wee,” gives a restful assurance that all is well. The male has bright blue upper parts with reddish-brown breast. The female is duller with only the wings and tail showing blue with duller brown breast. The young have spotted breasts like others of the thrush family.
The sparrow-size Downy Woodpecker resembles his robin-size cousin, the Hairy Woodpecker, but his notes are a little softer and his tapping a little faster for his short bill can produce no such wallop as the heavy-billed Hairy. The outer tail feathers are barred, instead of the black and white pattern of the latter. Both males show a red spot on the nape which is lacking on the females. General coloring is black and white.
While this friendly little woodpecker relishes suet, he does not let his visits to your feeder interfere with his constant search for the larvae which he finds in galls, cornstalks, weed stems or the bark of trees. He makes a small opening into the tunnel where the larvae are hiding, then inserts his long tongue and spears the worm. Nature has provided him with a barbed spear on his long tongue and he uses it constantly in protecting our trees.
This sparrow-size finch is not too easy to describe for plumage varies. There is no doubt about the singing male for he gets his name from his song and reminds you every few seconds that he is a Dickcissel. He shows a yellow breast with a black spot and except for size resembles a meadowlark. Telephone wires, fences or weeds offer good perches and there you will find him with head back and tail hanging down as he repeats his song. A reddish-brown wing patch is a good field mark in some seasons. The female is much like the female English Sparrow but is lighter with a tinge of yellow and a lighter eye-line.
Dickcissels are common around fields or meadows and seem to be especially fond of alfalfa fields for they offer a good assortment of beetles, bugs and hoppers on which the bird thrives. Larvae and small seeds round out the diet and make this bird a useful neighbor on any farm.
They nest on or near the ground. This makes them victims of various predators which range thru such areas. Cowbirds seem to rely on these birds to raise their young for they are often found feeding the young imposters. They wander widely in both nesting and winter range and frequently appear where least expected.
The Mallard drake with green head, purple chestnut breast, reddish feet, white collar, black and white tail with a curled feather, combine to make a colorful duck. The female, more in keeping with her motherly duties, is content to wear a trim suit of buffy gray, streaked with brown. The orange to greenish-olive bill and pale orange-red feet give perfect clues to her identity.
Any pond, puddle, lake or stream is not overlooked by this bird and he is especially fond of shallow water where he can secure food by tipping up and extending his neck to muddy bottoms. These ducks are good divers but if not closely pressed, seem to dive only for pleasure.
In many areas there is no other with which this 19-inch all-black bird could be confused. His steady wing beat, his characteristic call of “caw” or “ca-ah,” his flocking habits in fall and winter help to identify him. Along the Atlantic and Gulf shores, the smaller Fish Crow is found, while on the western prairies the White-necked Raven which is slightly larger, may be confused with the Crow. Mountainous areas and seacoasts also have the Common Raven, which is much larger, but all show the color pattern of the Common Crow. The last 3 birds have different calls and all are more inclined to mix a lot of sailing in their flight.
But what about the crow? We know he robs nests of eggs and young, we know that he eats corn, peanuts, pecans, in fact anything he can lay his beak on, and he is cunning enough to get his share. But do we give him credit for the huge crop of grasshoppers, crickets, moths and weed seeds he consumes? We may be blaming him unduly, for many of his food habits are beneficial.
In winter they gather in huge roosting flocks and can be seen going to and from these roosts. They co-operate with each other both in finding food and seeking protection. Their system must be admired for they are doing all right.
Unlike swallows which bend their wings, this bird holds his wings straight, but the natural curve gives the appearance of a bow. The long wings make him appear larger than the small sparrow size which he attains. This sooty-black swift is the only member of his family which visits the eastern part of America and since he has adopted chimneys as his favorite nesting and roosting sites, he is not hard to find.
Few birds seem so perfectly fitted for living in the air and except when nesting or roosting, there is where he will be found. When flying, he looks almost like a bird without head or tail but if you will examine him closely you will find a short tail with spines which combined with his sharp claws, help anchor him to the flat inner surface of chimneys. Nests consist of small twigs which he snaps off the end of some dead limb while flying by, then glues to the chimney with saliva. This does not make an imposing structure, but is ample for safety of eggs and young.
This trim member of the mocker family leaves no doubt as to his identity. No other bird has a uniform slate-gray plumage with a black cap and rusty brown under-tail coverts. It makes little difference if you miss the rusty marking under the tail, or even see the bird, for he soon discloses his identity by his song. The normal song consists of a series of musical phrases, well seasoned with catlike mews, often heard coming from some concealed perch in shrubs or low bushes, for there is the favorite home of the catbird.
Altho slightly smaller than a Robin, he consumes many insects while waiting for the small fruit and berries to ripen. Mulberries and wild cherries are relished in season, while strawberries, blackberries or grapes are not overlooked.
He prefers low shrubbery or vines for nesting and builds rather a bulky structure of sticks, twigs, paper, rags or leaves, lined with finer material. Two broods during the summer keep the parents busily engaged.
When trying to impress his mate, he often fluffs his feathers out until he looks much larger, sticks his head up with mouth open and struts around like a clown. It is just a part of nature.
Most folks call him a “redbird,” which is only natural. The male is entirely red except for the black face. No other redbird shows a tuft or has such a heavy, orange bill. The female is dressed more in keeping with family duties for yellowish-brown plumage offers more protection to her and the secluded nest. She always shows a reddish tinge especially on the crest, wings and tail. These markings combined with the conical reddish beak, leave little doubt as to identity. The young resemble the female.
The Cardinal, slightly smaller than a Robin, can be found in almost any area which includes thickets or tangled vines for protected nesting sites. Hedges, plum thickets, woodland borders, city parks, swamps or around your home, any or all are used on occasion. He likes to feed on small seeds which means he must venture into the open, but he wants cover handy, when predators arrive.
In summer the Cardinal feeds heavily on insects and larvae but seeds and small fruit form the major portion of his diet. He is fond of sunflower, melon or squash seeds and will be among the first to visit your feeder when these seeds are offered. If no regular feeder is available, he will accept food when placed on the ground or snow.
The coffee-brown head and black body of the male are distinctive, but in fall the brown head shows more of a purplish tinge. The young, while larger than sparrows, could be confusing since they are olive-brown above with a buffy scaled appearance. The underparts show brown streaking. The female is dusky gray.
They feed near grazing animals and consume quantities of insects which are disturbed by the herds. In winter they join other flocking birds for migration. Then they feed on small seeds.
There is no other bird quite like the Brown Creeper. He is well named for his brown plumage with lighter stripes gives him perfect protection as he climbs spirally up some rough-barked tree. His curved bill, sharp claws and long tail, all serve a distinct purpose in helping him find his food. Hackberries or other rough-barked trees serve as his hunting grounds and there you will find him checking the cracks and crevices as he starts from the base and works upward, sometimes checking the larger limbs, but often dropping down to the base of the next tree after reaching the lower limbs. Insects, their eggs and larvae form the major portion of his diet but he will not spurn suet on your feeder.
Brown Creepers are found in this area only in winter, when they can be found in loose flocks along with kinglets, chickadees, nuthatches, Downy Woodpeckers and titmice, all working together to rid the trees of the insects which are wintering there.
You may admire him greatly or hate him intensely. It depends on what he is doing when you form your opinion. A flock of these blue and white birds with large crests and black chin-straps, add color and cheer as they pass thru the timber. They often are conversing in a series of soft musical tones which are pleasing to the ear when all is serene. Moments later they discover a sleeping owl, cat or snake and the flock changes into a group of loud-mouthed bullies. Such is the way of a Blue Jay.
During the nesting season, this bird which is larger than a Robin, shows the darker side of his character, for then he destroys the homes of many nesting birds, eating both eggs and young of the smaller species. You can hate him and all of his kin for such habits, but this is nature and nature is never mild. Later you will find him hiding pecans, acorns or sunflower seeds under leaves, sticks or moss. Then you will learn that he does a lot of good, for many of these seeds are never eaten but grow into new trees or bushes. It is just as natural for Blue Jays to hide these acorns as it is for squirrels to do the same thing. His alarm notes often save animals and birds for they have learned to heed his warning call.
Altho smaller than a sparrow, this little bird is hardy. He does not leave his summer home and move to a warmer climate just to dodge the snow and sleet. You will find him feeding just as happily in a snowstorm as on a warm spring day, always consuming small insects, their eggs or larvae. Exploring the trunks of trees, hanging upside down on the end of a limb, or hunting larvae on tender leaves, it makes no difference to this sharp-eyed bird. Those of you who feed birds will find the chickadee one of your friendliest customers, for he relishes peanut butter, suet, sunflower seeds or doughnuts and often gets tame enough to eat from your hand.
He shows a whitish line on the edge of his wing which is lacking on the slightly smaller Carolina Chickadee which has a southern range. The latter bird uses a 4-note call “fe-be-fe-bay,” while the black-capped uses only “phe-be.” The normal chick-a-de-de-de call of the black-capped seems a little lower and slower than that of his southern cousin.
This tern is distinctive, especially in summer plumage when the black head and body, short, slightly notched tail, slate-gray wings, combined with the erratic flight, tells us it has to be a Black Tern. In winter plumage these birds have white heads and bodies with backs and wings darker than other terns. They show dark spots around the eyes and back of neck. In fall migration you find birds of this species in various stages of dress, but there are usually a few which carry enough black to give a clue to their identity.
They nest in inland marshes and around lakes, forming loose colonies on favorite nesting sites. Floating vegetation, muskrat houses, in fact most any structure strong enough to support a nest is used.
Rarely in the bird world, is the female more colorful than the male. The Belted Kingfisher is one example, for the female sports brown flanks and breastband in addition to the blue-gray belt worn by her mate. These birds, larger than Robins, can be confused only with the Blue Jay; however, their plumage is blue-gray. Near creeks, ponds, lakes or other bodies of water they may be seen flying low over the water or hovering momentarily before plunging after some minnow, crayfish or other food which has attracted their attention. They have choice perches over the water and fly from one spot to another, always on the lookout for unwary prey. They are rather solitary in habits, each pair defending its territory against all comers.
The large head and beak, uneven crest, habit of flapping and sailing, the series of call notes often referred to as a rattle, are distinctly kingfisher. Nesting holes are dug in steep banks and extend several feet before ending in an enlarged space which holds the eggs and young. Both birds help with the digging using their strong bills to loosen the dirt and their flatly constructed feet to kick it out.
Kingfishers eat small fry which abound in such numbers that a natural check is desirable.
This friendly bird discovered long ago that barns or sheds made excellent cover for its adobe nest and now you often will find from one to several of these mud structures neatly plastered on the beams of buildings. This is a happy arrangement for both the tenant and landlord, for the swallow more than pays the rent on the space used, not in cash but in the thousands of insects which make up his food. The swallow gets whatever protection is offered.
A Barn Swallow is identified easily. No other swallow has the steel-blue back, the brown spot above the bill with brown throat and belly nor the deeply forked tail showing white beneath. Another good field mark is the way he flies with wings bent so the long pointed primaries point back. He is a swift but erratic flier and it is a pleasure to watch him as he darts across a field, pond or pasture, searching for flying insects.
These large sparrows are easily identified. No other sparrow has a white border around the tail or the distinctive chestnut and white head pattern. Another mark is a distinct, dark spot on the breast. Clay-colored Sparrows show a similar head pattern but lighter parts are grayer and the cheek patch is duller, more brown than chestnut. The latter-named bird has no spot on the breast.
Lark Sparrows prefer open areas along country roads, old orchards or pastures with scattered trees or bushy hedges. Such habitat furnishes nesting sites and a plentiful supply of insects, small seeds and grit for their use. Altho usually a common species within its range, these birds are inclined to be erratic and might be scarce one season and abundant the next, with no apparent reason.
Chipping Sparrows are not only the friendliest, but one of the best-known American sparrows. The reason is apparent, for yards, gardens and parks furnish ideal habitat for these birds. They often nest in vines or bushes just outside your window. Nesting materials include grasses, rootlets and hairs, horsehair being used extensively, when available. Their fondness for a horsehair lining in the nest sometimes leads to casualties when either parents or young become entangled.
Chippies derive their name from their songs, a series of chip notes which they utter. This is a rapid, unmusical series of notes, all on the same pitch. They frequently join the Robins to start the day with song. Juncos and some of the warblers also use a series of chip notes in their songs, but with more variations and more musical in quality.
White-crowned Sparrows are known only as migrants or winter residents to birders living east of the Great Plains. Westerners are more fortunate for White-crowns and the similar Gambel’s and Nuttall’s Sparrows nest in much of their area. When flushed from their feeding grounds, these birds will impress you by their alert appearance. The habit of erecting the crown feathers makes the head appear round and puffy, and brings out the beauty of the broad black and white stripes which surround the white crown.
These birds have a gray throat and breast, 2 wing bars, grayish-brown backs with darker stripes. The feet and bill are pinkish. A white line over the eye of the White-crowned Sparrow does not extend to the beak, as it does on Gambel’s and Nuttall’s. Nuttall’s Sparrow has a yellow bill.
Song Sparrows literally sang themselves into a name, for few birds sing so persistently. To Thoreau these birds seemed to say: “Maids! maids! maids! hang up your teakettle-ettle-ettle.” To you it may sound differently, but you still will hear the sharp notes with which he starts his song. These are on the same pitch with a slight pause between each note. From there, the song is variable and may contain trills or assorted notes on various pitches. One bird may produce several different songs.
These birds prefer brushy or weedy areas near water but may nest near your home if a bird bath is handy. No other bird seems to take as much pleasure from bathing.
Lapland Longspurs are birds of the far north, nesting as they do in the arctic and sub-arctic regions of both eastern and western hemispheres. They visit us only in the winter when deep snow and bitter cold drive them from their homes. Flocks of these sparrow-sized birds may be found in open fields, prairies and pastures, feeding on whatever seed or small grain is available. They run rapidly, ever on the search for more food, and may be joined by Horned Larks at good feeding spots.
They seem nervous and take wing frequently, circle here and there and often return to the same location. They have a rolling, erratic flight which reminds one of blowing leaves.
There is something about the Canada Goose that demands respect. Farmers see him as a weather prophet for his fall flight indicates that winter is on the way, while his spring migration tells them that warmer days will follow. Hunters see him as the prize game bird, worthy of their best efforts. Others point to this bird as a model for man, for his strength, courage and fidelity leave little to be desired. Even the newsboy stops selling papers to watch and listen as these great birds pass over the cities.
Americans are fortunate, for at least one of the 5 sub-species of Canada Geese is found in all areas. They range from the Cackling Goose, a small dark sub-species not much larger than a Mallard and weighing around 3 pounds, to the huge Western Canada and the Common Canada with weights of 10 pounds or more. Richardson’s Goose at 4 pounds and the Lesser Canada at 5 pounds are two smaller sub-species both lighter in plumage like the Common Canada.
Soaring overhead during migration, a flock of White Pelicans is a magnificent sight. These great birds weigh as much as 15 pounds, have a wingspread of 9 feet and a total length of more than 5 feet. Their legs are sturdy but short, the toes fully webbed. The bill is long and flat with a pouch beneath the lower mandible. Three contrasting colors make this bird easily identified. The bird is white except for the outer two-thirds of the wings where the end and rear half is black. The bill, pouch and feet are yellow or reddish-yellow.
The head is carried well back, which rests the bill and pouch on the shoulders. They float high on the water and when surrounded by ducks and grebes, they look like aircraft carriers with a destroyer escort.
Like ghosts from a bloody past, Snowy Egrets have returned to add their beauty to American bird life. Woman’s vanity and man’s desire for money once brought these beautiful herons almost to the point of extinction. The dainty recurved plumes, which formed a part of the breeding plumage of the birds, were known as “cross aigrettes,” when they were sold by milliners. Women bought, men slaughtered, and egrets died, not only for the plumes; but the nestlings starved after the adults were killed. Plume hunters have departed and the birds are now found in their favorite swamps.
This bird has a length of 20 to 25 inches, white with black bill and legs. The feet are yellow, giving it the nickname of “the bird with the golden slippers.” The young of the Little Blue Heron are also white but have greenish legs, while the bill is 2-tone, blue with black tip. The American Egret is much larger and shows a yellow bill.
Anyone who spends time near a lake, pond or stream will find this small heron, for it is there that he secures the minnows, frogs and crayfish which form the major portion of his diet. His favorite method is to stand quietly on a partly submerged log where fish are feeding within reach of his long neck and bill. A quick thrust and one course is served. At other times you will see him sneaking carefully up to the water’s edge, where some slight ripple indicates the movement of fish or frogs.
This bird is small, measuring only 16 to 22 inches in length, but appears even smaller until he extends his long chestnut-colored neck. At a distance he appears to be black but a closer view shows a bluish or greenish tinge to the feathers, depending on lighting conditions. His legs are short and range from greenish to almost orange in color, depending on the season.
This duck has the widest nesting range of any species in the northern hemisphere. An American Pintail looks much the same whether you find him in Hawaii, Europe, Asia, Alaska, Canada, Mexico or on either coast of the United States. The drake is a large gray-backed, white-breasted duck. The white of the breast extends up the long neck to a point back of the brown head; gray feathers extend up the back of the neck to the head. The tail gives a clue to the name, for the 2 center feathers are long, black and pointed. The female is a mottled brown and shows a long, thin neck, bluish-gray feet and a pointed but not elongated tail.
These birds are strong fliers and do much of their courting on the wing, the female leading a convoy of males, each trying to outdo the others. Perhaps she chooses the strongest flier for her mate. The male has a whistled note while the female utters a muffled quack.
Some people call this bird the “Summer Duck.” The fact he arrives late in spring and departs for his winter home before the heavy frosts indicates a desire to evade cold weather. Most of these ducks are well on their way to Mexico or South America when other species begin to arrive from the nesting grounds. Early migration saves the lives of many Blue-wings for hunters prefer this duck for eating. Their speedy flight, their erratic twisting and turning, their tendency to decoy—all offer a challenge to the nimrod.
The blue wing patch, from which this duck derives its name, also is shared by the Cinnamon Teal which replaces this bird in western areas. Shovellers also carry a similar marking. The reddish color of the male Cinnamon Teal and the huge bill of the Shoveller help distinguish the birds. In the eclipse plumage, both male and female Blue-wings are much alike, but by the latter part of October the male assumes the dark head and tail, a crescent before the eye, brown speckled body, back gray-brown, white patch on each flank with dull yellow feet. The bill is bluish-black. The female is brownish-gray in all plumages. Both sexes show the blue wing patch in any plumage.
This little duck is known by almost 100 different names in the areas where he is found. But no matter what you call him or where you find him, he is distinctive. No other duck except the Masked Duck, which is found in the West Indies, has the stiff tail which often is carried erect and fanned like a miniature sail. The male has a black or blackish-brown crown and nape, depending on the season, whether breeding or winter. The bright-blue bill, rich reddish-chestnut body and white cheek patch make the male a beautiful bird in breeding plumage. In winger the male assumes the grayish-brown coloring of the female, both showing the light cheek patch with darker crown and nape. The head, neck and feet are large for so small a bird.
Many birds have developed beaks which help them secure their food. The American Merganser is no exception. His beak is long and narrow and both mandibles are edged with sharp, pointed teeth which are inclined backward. The tip is covered by a nail or hook designed for catching and holding fish which form the major portion of this duck’s food. These birds are expert divers and the entire flock soon joins one of its members which has located a school of fish. Both rough and game fish are relished.
The male is a beautiful bird with his red bill, greenish-black head, black back fading to an ashy-gray rump and tail. The chest, sides and breast are white and often show a pinkish-salmon tint. Wings show a black and white pattern and the feet are red. A large streamlined duck sitting low in the water with a white body and black trim is descriptive. The female has a reddish-brown head with an elongated brushy crest, ashy-gray back and white belly. They can be confused only with the Red-breasted Merganser, but in this case, both male and female are crested and the male shows a white collar and reddish upper chest.
The Marsh Hawk is often called “Harrier,” and his method of hunting would justify such a name. They cover a field like a well-trained dog, back and forth, here and there, cruising slowly with a deliberate flap or a slow sail on wings tipped a little above the horizontal. A slight movement, a quick pounce, and another field mouse has joined his ancestors. The white rump patch makes a good field mark, either on the gray-plumaged male or the brownish feathers of the female or young. The long wings and tail make these birds appear larger than their length of 19 to 22 inches.
Marsh Hawks feed heavily on rodents but include insects, frogs or birds in the diet. Dead animals or birds are not overlooked, thus causing the Marsh Hawk to be blamed for kills which he did not make.
Harriers seem to take pleasure in diving at each other, and the larger buteos, eagles, vultures, prairie chickens or flocks of ducks.
This chunky little brown quail is popular in every region where he resides. Hunters spend thousands of dollars each year in pursuit of this feathered bombshell. Farmers appreciate having such an active ally in their fight against the hordes of insects which menace their crops. They enjoy hearing his cheerful whistle as they go about their daily chores. Birders are happy to know this is one bird which offers no problem for they can list him by either sight or sound. Anyone can point with pride to this bird’s good character for the male can, and often does, take charge of the brood, teaching them how to exist in a hostile world.
Wilson’s Snipe, frequently known as a “Jack Snipe,” is the most common of 3 species which have extremely long, straight bills. All feed by probing in soft mud where their sensitive bills soon locate and obtain their food. This bird prefers marshy areas near streams or ponds. When disturbed, he leaves the scene so rapidly that you might miss the erratic, zig-zag flight, the pointed wings, the stripes on his head, the brownish-striped plumage. You might even miss the orange tail, but you probably will hear the rasping note which he usually utters when he departs. The Woodcock, a similar species, feeds in dense cover and has bars across his crown, rounded wings and a chunky build. A third long-billed bird is the Dowitcher, which feeds in open, shallow water and is found often in small flocks.
The Upland Plover is a confusing bird. Ornithologists still are arguing about what he should be called—a sandpiper or a plover. He formerly was known as a Bartramian Sandpiper. Now the trend seems to indicate that Upland Sandpiper is a name which fits his habits better than Upland Plover. Altho he has legs long enough for wading, he uses them for traveling thru grasses, not water. When alighting, he holds his wings up momentarily before folding them; in fact most of his actions seem more like a plover. Whatever you call him, he still will be found on prairies and grasslands; marshes and mud flats have no appeal to this bird.
The Upland Plover is slightly larger than a Killdeer and is buffy brown in color. His long neck, small head with rather short beak, long tail, hovering flight, but most of all his prolonged call, make identification easy. His long-drawn, mournful whistle seems to blend with breezes which blow above the prairies, and once heard, is not easily forgotten.
Sandpipers can be confusing, especially in fall plumage. Mixed flocks require special checking even by experts, but not the Greater Yellow-legs. His large size, slender build, yellow legs, gray upper parts, white tail coverts and under parts can be confused only with the Lesser Yellow-legs (Totanus flavipes). When together, there is no problem for the latter measures 9½ to 11 inches while the Greater Yellow-legs runs from 13 to 15 inches in length. The small, slim beak of the Lesser is straight, whereas the heavier bill of the Greater seems to be slightly upturned. The call is different, for the larger bird uses a loud 3 or 4 note whistle. The smaller uses less volume in his 1 or 2 note effort.
This sandpiper prefers mud flats and his long legs permit him to feed in deeper water where he adds minnows and crayfish to his diet. He can swallow small fish but occasionally lands one which must be reduced to bite size. However, the bird is persistent and soon completes his meal.
The black and white plumage of this medium-size shore bird is distinctive. A closer inspection will show long, blue legs, a thin, upturned bill and in breeding plumage, a rusty neck and head with white before the eye. In winter, the rusty markings are replaced by a gray wash. European birds lack the colorful neck and head markings, but show the black and white pattern and often are called Awl-birds. The bill gives the clue to such a name.
The Avocet feeds by wading in shallow water and swinging his bill back and forth; flocks often advance and feed in unison. These birds also are capable swimmers and have been observed while feeding like puddle ducks, tipping up and extending their heads far under water in search of insects and small crustacea.
Phalaropes are unique. Unlike most birds, the female is more colorful, does most of the courting, leaves nest building, incubating and rearing of young to the long-suffering male. Her lone contribution to the rearing of the family is laying eggs. She does deserve some credit, however, for she remains in the area and will join the male in circling overhead when the nest is disturbed, both uttering a sort of nasal, trumpet-like toot.
Wilson’s Phalarope is not only the largest phalarope, but prefers inland marshes, while the Red Phalarope and Northern Phalarope spend more time at sea. In breeding plumage, the female shows a distinctive black line down the side of the neck, starting in front of the eye and blending into a chestnut wash on the shoulders. Under parts and throat are white, wings gray with a gray line extending thru the cinnamon buff of the back. The male is grayer with a cinnamon wash on the neck. In fall, both birds show dark wings, white rump patch and light plumage. The long, needle-like bill and the whirling motion when swimming are good clues to identification in any season. When feeding in shallow water, these birds are active, always in a hurry and running from place to place.
Audubon, in 1840, referred to this species as the common American gull, but due to the change in habitat and increase in population, these birds have departed from many of their former nesting areas. However, next to the larger Herring Gull, it still is one of the most widely distributed. These birds form breeding colonies on islands in Northern United States and Southern Canada, often sharing these sites with the Cormorant and the Common Tern. Like other gulls, they are not to be trusted around unprotected nests of other species, for eggs are considered quite a delicacy in a gull’s diet.
The black ring near the end of this bird’s bill is not a good field mark unless you are near or use powerful glasses to check the specimen. It looks much like a Herring Gull, except for the smaller size (18-20 inches), as compared with the 23-26 inches of the Herring Gull. The Ring-billed shows greenish-yellow legs, whereas the Herring has flesh-colored ones. Both birds show
The Great Horned Owl, largest of the eared owls, is found over a wide area and may be either light or dark in color, depending on the area where he is found. All specimens show a white throat, ear tufts and yellow eyes. This bird is almost 2 feet in length and can handle fair-sized animals when pressed by hunger. The hoot of this bird is deeper, slower and more uniform than that of the Barred Owl, and often can be heard as a sort of conversational note between 2 birds in the same area. It is given as a 2-note “Who-who,” and answered by a similar call from another bird some distance away. These calls are given on a different pitch.
These owls nest early and often use old structures which were built by hawks, crows or eagles. Hollow trees or stone ledges furnish desirable locations. They are good parents and defend their home and young against all comers, including men. Crows and jays take delight in heckling these owls, but are careful to keep a safe distance, for Great Horned Owls see well in bright sunlight, altho they do most of their hunting in darkness. Their diet includes almost any type of animal life available, but rabbits, rats, squirrels and mice seem to be preferred. Some feed on starlings and pigeons which they find around city buildings.
People once called this bird a Yellow-hammer. Lots of folks still do, and it’s but one of the many names applied to this beautiful woodpecker. His brown-barred back, black crescent on the throat, spotted breast, white rump patch and bounding flight, his large size, his loud drumming, his posturing and his loud calls all point to this bird or, if you live in the west, the Red-shafted Flicker. The latter shows a reddish tint to the wings and tail where this bird shows yellow. Heads of males are marked differently, in that the western bird shows a red line extending down from the mouth, while the Yellow-shafted shows black lines.
A flicker prefers ants to any other food, and nature has equipped him with a long, sticky tongue which permits him to explore anthills or tunnels in trees where these insects might be lurking. When ants are not available, he turns to other insects, fruit or berries, one of his favorites the seeds of the poison ivy.
If you look for a red belly on this bird, you might miss him entirely. Look instead for the red crown and nape, the heavily-barred back and wings and grayish-white under parts. The female lacks the red crown, only the nape showing this brilliant coloring. These birds are about the same size as Hairy Woodpeckers (9 to 10½ inches) and are rather shy, spending much of their time in wooded areas. Bird feeders supplied with corn and nut meats with ample pieces of suet will bring them to your yard. Their natural food consists of beetles and other insects, together with a generous helping of wild fruits, seeds, acorns and when available, some corn. It also relishes both juice and pulp of oranges.
Like other woodpeckers, the Red-bellied excavates nesting holes in trees where their 3 to 5 eggs are laid. Starlings often are waiting to take over these newly-constructed homes and form a real menace to these hard-working birds.
If all birds wore contrasting colors like the Red-headed Woodpecker, identifying birds would be easy. You just can’t miss on this one—the red head and neck, white under parts, blue-black back and tail, black wings with a broad white patch. The young show a grayish-brown head but the white wing patch gives you the clue.
These beautiful birds once were common and nested from the Gulf of Mexico to the southern edge of some Canadian provinces. Recent years have shown a decline in their numbers, probably due to Starlings taking over their nesting cavities before the woodpeckers can rear their broods. Another factor is their destruction by speeding automobiles. These birds feed on flying insects, and often drop down on our highways in pursuit of grasshoppers. Motor cars and some drivers have no respect for wildlife, no matter how beautiful or beneficial.
Flycatchers can be, and often are, noisy birds. They seem to enjoy life and want the world to know how they feel about it. The Crested Flycatcher is no exception. To hear this bird at his best, stroll quietly thru some heavily-wooded area. You scarcely are aware of the flute-like tones of the Wood Thrush in the distance, drum of the Downy Woodpecker, the bubbling tones of the Carolina Wren. All is serene. Suddenly a loudly-whistled “wheeep,” followed by a series of equally loud rolling notes, shatters the air. That is the Crested Flycatcher.
You might see him sitting quietly, peering intently at every leaf and branch, slowly moving his head so nothing will be missed. Then you will see the rufous tail, yellow belly, olive head and back, grayish throat and 2 wing bars. You might see the slight crest from which he gets his name. He is a trim bird almost robin size.