Brown Pelican

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While visiting South Carolina, I saw several examples of this comically elegant bird with an oversized bill. It is the smallest of the eight pelican species, but is often one of the larger seabirds seen in their range.

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Brown Pelicans feed by plunge-diving from high up, using the force of impact to stun small fish before scooping them up. They are fairly common today — an excellent example of a species’ recovery from pesticide pollution that once placed them at the brink of extinction. These are a very gregarious birds; they live in flocks of both sexes throughout the year.

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These birds incubate their eggs with the skin of their feet, essentially standing on the eggs to keep them warm. In the mid-twentieth century the pesticide DDT caused pelicans to lay thinner eggs that cracked under the weight of their incubating parents. After nearly disappearing from North America in the 1960s and 1970s, they made a full comeback thanks to pesticide regulations.

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The Brown Pelican is found on the Atlantic Coast from New Jersey to the mouth of the Amazon River, and along the Pacific Coast from British Columbia to northern Chile, including the Galapagos Islands. It nests in colonies in secluded areas (often on islands), vegetated land among sand dunes, thickets of shrubs and trees and mangroves.

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It mainly feeds on fish, but occasionally eats amphibians, crustaceans, and the eggs and nestlings of birds. Brown Pelicans residing in Southern California rely especially heavily on the Pacific Sardine as a major food source, which can compose up to a quarter of their diet. In level flight, they fly in groups with their heads held back on their shoulders and their bills resting on their folded necks.

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The Brown Pelican the official state bird of Louisiana, appearing on the flag, seal and coat of arms.

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Greater Yellowlegs

00 Greater Yellowlegs_0905

While visiting Point Reyes National Seashore in California, I noticed a couple of slender, long-necked, small-headed birds with bright yellow legs near the waterway that I was exploring.

01 Greater Yellowlegs_0906

Often referred to as a “Marshpiper” for its habit of wading in deeper water than other sandpipers, the Greater Yellowlegs is heftier and longer-billed than its look-alike, the Lesser Yellowlegs. At different times of the year, this bird can be found throughout the United States.

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At ponds and tidal creeks, this trim and elegant wader draws attention to itself by bobbing its head and calling loudly when an observer approaches. These birds forage in shallow water, sometimes using their bills to stir up the water. They mainly eat insects and small fish, as well as crustaceans, marine worms, frogs, seeds and berries.

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Yellowlegs have also been called “tattlers,” because they would raise a alarm when bird hunters were near. Although shorebirds are now protected from hunting, yellowlegs may annoy birders by spooking other shorebirds with their alarm calls. It is a very noisy bird. It often runs in shallow water and bobs its head up and down when it spots a potential predator.

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Despite its familiarity and widespread range, its tendency to nest in buggy bogs in the North American boreal forests make it one of the least-studied shorebirds on the continent.

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Pigeon Guillemot

01 Pigeon Guillemot_0925

While visiting the boardwalk in Santa Cruz, California, I noticed several of these sharp looking birds that I’ve never seen before. The Pigeon Guillemot is an attractive auk that nests on rocky coastlines of the North Pacific. Its velvety, dark brown plumage is set off by a bright white patch on the upper wings and vivid scarlet feet.

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Unlike many other species of in its family, which feed far out at sea, these birds stay fairly close to shore where they forage along the seafloor for small fish, worms and crustaceans.

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Male Pigeon Guillemots court females by showing off their red feet. On land, the male circles or even jumps over the female, pointing his bill downward and raising his scarlet feet conspicuously as he marches around her. Rapid zigzag chases in the water may also be involved in courtship.

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The Pigeon Guillemot’s nest is shallow scrape in pile of dirt, pebbles and shells. It tends to be located in a crevice or cave, among boulders, in an abandoned burrow, or under driftwood or debris. These birds may also excavate a nest burrow. The same site is usually re-used for several years.

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After their 1 to 2 eggs hatch, both parents feed their young, bringing them small fish at all hours of day, especially in early morning. Offspring leave nest 1 to 2 months after hatching (usually at night) and scramble or flutter down to the water. They are able to swim and dive immediately, but are not capable of strong flight for another 2-3 weeks.

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This was a neat bird to observe while on my California adventure.

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Tricolored Heron

01 Tricolored Heron_9676

This was a neat and distinctive bird that I saw while visiting the southeastern United States. Standing at around two feet tall, it is one of the smaller heron species.

02 Tricolored Heron_9716

Tricolored herons inhabit fresh and saltwater marshes, estuaries, mangrove swamps, lagoons and river deltas. They can be found from Massachusetts, down through the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean, to northern Brazil.

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This is a sleek, slender and distinctly-colored bird colored in blue-gray, lavender and white. The white stripe down the middle of its neck and its white belly set it apart from other dark herons.

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Tricolored Herons forage for small fish such as topminnows and killifishes in open or semi-open brackish wetlands. They are skilled at stalking, chasing and standing-and-waiting to capture small fish.

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Before striking, they draw in their neck and crouch down so low that their belly often touches the water. They also bend forward and push their wings over their head to entice fish to enter the shade provided by their wings.

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Like its relatives, it builds stick nests in trees and shrubs, often in colonies with other wading birds. They typically breed on islands with small trees or shrubs.

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The Tricolored Heron was formerly known as the Louisiana Heron.

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Black-crowned Night Heron

01 Black-crowned Night-Heron_8367

This is a bird that resides in my home state of Ohio, but I see it more often when on out-of-state travels. I most recently saw one while visiting California. They live in fresh, salt, and brackish wetlands and are the most widespread heron in the world. They can be found in a wide variety of habitats, including marshes, rivers, ponds, mangrove swamps, tidal flats and canals.

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Black-crowned Night Herons are stocky birds compared to many of their long-limbed heron relatives. They usually forage by standing still or walking slowly at edge of shallow water. They hunt mostly from late evening through the night. Though their main diet is fish, they also eat squid, crustaceans, aquatic insects, frogs, snakes, clams, mussels, rodents and carrion.

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Adults have a black crown and back with the remainder of their body white or grey. They have red eyes and short yellow legs. Immature birds (like this one that I saw in Nevada) have dull grey-brown plumage on their heads, wings, and backs, with numerous pale spots. Their underparts are paler and streaked with brown. Young birds have orange eyes and dull yellowish-green legs.

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Black-crowned Night-Herons nest in groups that often include other species, including herons, egrets and ibises. A breeding Black-crowned Night-Heron will brood any chick that is placed in its nest. They apparently don’t distinguish between their own offspring and nestlings from other parents. At the age of four weeks, the young begin to climb about around the nest.

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This species are among the seven types of herons observed to engage in bait fishing; luring or distracting fish by tossing edible or inedible buoyant objects into water within their striking range – a rare example of tool use among birds.

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White Ibis

01 White Ibis_5167

While visiting Disney World in November, I saw a fair number of these rather conspicuous birds. They are about two feet tall and have a wingspan of about three feet. They are entirely white, except for their black-edged wings, which may not be noticeable when they are at rest, but is easily seen when the bird is in flight.

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The White Ibis is of the most numerous wading birds in Florida and is common elsewhere in the southeast. It is highly sociable during all seasons, roosting and feeding in flocks and nesting in large colonies. In Florida, over 30,000 have been counted in a single breeding colony.

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This bird forages by walking slowly in shallow water and its sweeping bill from side to side and probing at bottom. It also forages on land, especially on mud or in short grass. Its diet is quite variable, but crayfish and crabs are its major food items. It swallows its prey whole. The parents feed their offspring by regurgitating food from their stomachs.

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The White Ibis lives in a variety of coastal freshwater, saltwater and brackish marshes, rice fields, mudflats, mangrove swamps and lagoons. The birds build their nests in low trees and thickets, from two to 15 feet off the ground. Both male and female cooperate in building the nest, which is usually a platform of sticks, grass or reeds.

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A recent cover story in Audubon magazine indicates that these birds are adaptable and “street smart.” The opportunistic creatures are moving into suburban neighborhoods, looking for (and finding) worms and other food in parks, irrigated lawns of subdivisions and golf courses.

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Green-winged Teal

01 Green-winged Teal_3308

While driving to Point Reyes National Seashore, I noticed a group of waterfowl in a waterway, so I decided to check them out.

02 Green-winged Teal_3309

This is the smallest dabbling duck in North America. Males have a cinnamon-colored head with a bright green crescent that extends from the eye to the back of the head. In flight, both sexes flash deep-green wing patches.

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The females are light brown, with plumage much like a female Mallard. They lay an average of 8-9 eggs.

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These birds have closely spaced, comblike projections around the inner edge of their bills. They use them to filter tiny invertebrates from the water, allowing the ducks to capture smaller food items than other dabbling ducks.

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The Green-winged Teal is very common and widespread, occurring in marshes, rivers and bays. In the Summer, it can be found in open country near shallow freshwater lakes and marshes.

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Green-winged Teal have an extensive wintering range, having been recorded as far north as Alaska and Newfoundland and as far south as northern South America.

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00 Canvasback_1278

I’ve come across this distinctive duck a few times while out and about. This large, big-headed diving bird has a gently sloping forehead and a stout neck.

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Breeding males have a chestnut head and neck set off against a black chest, with a whitish body and black rear. Females are pale brown in the areas where males are chestnut and black and they have a grayish, rather than white body.

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Canvasbacks breed in the Prairie Pothole Region of North America. They prefer to nest over water on permanent prairie marshes surrounded by cattails and bulrushes, which provide protective cover.

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I only see these ducks in Ohio in the Winter. Canvasbacks migrate through the Mississippi Flyway to their wintering grounds in the mid-Atlantic United States, including the Great Lakes Region.

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The Canvasback dives for its food, which consists mainly of the bases and roots of plants growing under water. Wild celery is particularly favored. They also consume mollusks, insects and some small fish.

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With its distinct, angled head and auburn hues, the Canvasback is one of our most striking waterfowl species and a favorite of mine to see in the wild.

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Snowy Egret

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While staying at North Beach, Maryland each day I walked to a tiny nature preserve, where more-often-than-not I would see this elegant bird. During breeding season adults develop long, wispy feathers on their backs, necks and heads.

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The Snowy Egret is one of North America’s most familiar herons, but it was almost hunted to extinction in the late 1800′s, due to their plumes being in demand as decorations for hats.

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It was then protected and its numbers not only have rebounded, but its range seems to be expanding as its population has increased. It can be seen in marshes, swamps, ponds and shorelines in both fresh and salt water.

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This bird is not only known for its immaculate white feathers, but also for its contrasting yellow feet. It uses its feet to stir up food items – mainly fish and crustaceans, but it also eats worms, insects, snails, snakes, small lizards and frogs.

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Like other herons, this two foot tall species nests in colonies, often with other types of wading birds. It was always nice to see this graceful inhabitant of Chesapeake Bay while on my trip.

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Pied-billed Grebe

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While visiting a lake in southern Illinois, I noticed a pair of these water birds that I have occasionally seen in my home state of Ohio.

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This is the most widespread grebe in the New World, and the most familiar in temperate parts of North America. Pied-billed grebes are small, stocky, and short-necked.

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Although it swims like a duck, the Pied-billed Grebe does not have webbed feet. Instead, each toe has lobes extending out on the sides that provide extra surface area for paddling.

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When disturbed or suspicious, it may sink slowly until only head is above water. This bird is rarely seen in flight. It prefers to escape predators by diving and it migrates at night.

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The Pied-billed Grebe emits a series of hollow cuckoo-like notes “cow-cow-cow-cow, cow, cow, cowp, cowp, cowp,” that slows down at the end. They are often heard before they are seen.

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This bird is also known as the American Dabchick, Carolina Grebe, Devil-diver, Dive-dapper, Dipper, Hell-diver and Water Witch.

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