Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret_8231

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.

Snowy Egret_8625

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.

Snowy Egret_8235

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.

Snowy Egret_8639

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.

Snowy Egret_8245

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.

Third Eye Herp
E-mail

Pied-billed Grebe

Pied-billed Grebe_9665

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.

Pied-billed Grebe_9653

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.

Pied-billed Grebe_9660

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.

Pied-billed Grebe_9735

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.

Pied-billed Grebe_9733

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.

Pied-billed Grebe_9748

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

Third Eye Herp
E-mail

Ring-necked Duck

Ring-necked Duck_0799

While visiting central Indiana last month, I saw this sharply marked bird of gleaming black, gray and white. The species is native to North America, but sightings outside of the continent are becoming increasingly common.

Ring-necked Duck_1051

The “ringneck” name is derived from a faint brownish ring around the base of the neck, which is visible only upon close inspection. A more fitting name would be “Ring-billed Duck,” due to the prominent white ring around the bill.

Ring-necked Duck_1063

In migration and during winter, they inhabit ponds, lakes, slow-moving rivers, and occasionally coastal estuaries, but generally do not inhabit saltwater bays.

Ring-necked Duck_0828

The Ring-necked Duck dives for its food in shallow water and has a more generalized diet (consisting mostly of plants) than do other North American diving ducks in its genus.

Ring-necked Duck_0819

This species is a primary means for dispersal of several types of pond plants and help the plants get to newly established ponds. Seeds the birds eat from the plants are undigestable and get deposited (via duck droppings) at new sites.

Ring-necked Duck_0821

This species is strong and fast and, unlike many diving ducks, can take flight directly from the water without a running start.

Third Eye Herp
E-mail

Northern Shoveler

Northern Shoveler_1022

While visiting Carmel, Indiana last month I observed one of the most outwardly distinctive of the dabbling ducks; its elongated, spoon-shaped bill has comb-like projections along its edges, which filter out food from the water.

Northern Shoveler_0909

The Northern Shoveler inhabits wetlands across much of North America. The males have iridescent green heads, white chests and rusty sides. Females are grayish-brown overall; some of their feathers have light edging with darker centers.

Northern Shoveler_0882

Their spatulate bills, equipped with small, comb-like structures on the edges, act like sieves, allowing the birds to skim crustaceans and plankton from the water’s surface. Flocks of shovelers often swim with their bills submerged in front of them, straining food from the muddy soup of shallow waters.

Northern Shoveler_0927

Mud-bottomed marshes rich in invertebrate life is their habitat of choice. Other dabbling ducks use their flat bills to strain food items from the water, but the spoon-shaped bill of the Northern Shoveler is an adaptation that takes this habit to the extreme.

Northern Shoveler_0906

Aptly nicknamed the spoonbill, the Northern Shoveler has the largest bill of any duck in North America.

Third Eye Herp
E-mail

Trumpeter Swan

herp habitat_4752

While visiting northwest Ohio recently, I observed several of these huge waterfowl. Trumpeter Swans are listed as Threatened in Ohio. In 1996, Ohio became one of a number of states involved in reintroduction plans to restore them to the Midwest.

swan_4759

These birds were killed for food and skins, first by Indians and then by white men upon arrival on the continent. The plumage trade peaked in the early 1800s and swan populations were dramatically reduced by the mid-1800s. Loss of habitat for this wetland-dependent species resulted in further declines.

swan_4762

Weighing from 25-35 pounds when fully grown, the Trumpeter Swan is the world’s largest waterfowl. Adults usually measure 4-1/2–5-1/2 feet long. When fully extended, their wingspan can reach nearly eight feet.

swans_4866

The long neck of the Trumpeter Swan is an adaptation that allows the bird to access food inaccessible to other species of waterfowl. Trumpeter Swans forage on water and, especially in Winter, on land. Their long necks allow them access submergent vegetation without diving.

swan_4770

Trumpeter Swans inhabit lakes, ponds, large rivers, and coastal bays. They were historically more common in fresh water than salt water, but this is no longer the case.

swan_4774

They are a long-lived, social species.

Third Eye Herp
E-mail

Mallard

mallard_1001

If someone is at a park is feeding bread to ducks, there’s a good chance there are Mallards in the fray. Perhaps the most familiar of all ducks, Mallards occur throughout North America and Eurasia in ponds and parks as well as “wilder” rivers, lakes and estuaries. This bird is found in both freshwater and salt water wetlands.

mallard_1006

The males (drakes) have a glossy green head and are grey on their wings and belly, while the females (hens) have mostly brown-speckled plumage.

mallard_0866

Mallards eat water plants and small animals and are social animals, tending to congregate in groups or flocks of varying sizes. Mallards are “dabbling ducks” – they feed in the water by tipping forward and grazing on underwater and above-water plants. They almost never dive.

mallard_9723

These ducks can be very tame, especially those residing in city ponds. This species is the main ancestor of most breeds of domesticated ducks.

mallard_0223

Scientifically known as Anas platyrhynchos, the Mallard was one of the many bird species originally described by Carl Linnaeus in his 18th-century work Systema Naturae, and still bears its original binomial name. The scientific name is from Latin Anas, “duck” and Ancient Greek platyrhynchus , “broad-billed” ( from platus, “broad” and rhunkhos, “bill”).

mallard_0710

Common over most of the northern hemisphere, the Mallard is a well-known wild duck to many people; it is thought to be the most abundant and wide-ranging duck on Earth.

Third Eye Herp
E-mail

Anhinga

water turkey_9604

A resident of southern swamps, this bird is known as the Water Turkey for its swimming habits and broad tail, and also as the Snake Bird for its habit of swimming with just its long head and neck sticking out of the water. It is a large bird with a long S-shaped neck and a long, pointed bill.

water turkey_9612

I saw a few of these interesting creatures on my recent visit to South Carolina. In order to dive and search for underwater prey, like fish and amphibians, the Anhinga does not have waterproof feathers (like ducks do). Because of this, the Anhinga is barely buoyant and it can stay below water more easily and for longer periods of time.

water turkey_9606

If it attempts to fly while its wings are wet, this bird has difficulty, flapping vigorously while “running” on the water. To dry its feathers, it will stand with wings spread and feathers fanned open in a semicircular shape, which led to the Anhinga being sometimes referred to as “water turkey.”

water turkey_9611

This bird is most often found in freshwater ponds and swamps where there is thick vegetation and tall trees. Using their sharp bills, Anhingas spear fish, flip them in the air and swallow them head-first.

water turkey_9607

These birds are found in the warmer parts of the Americas. They are members of the darter family and are related to pelicans and cormorants. I enjoyed seeing these odd, yet cool inhabitants of the Palmetto State.

Third Eye Herp
E-mail

Great Egret

great egret_5663

While visiting southern Illinois and searching for reptiles and amphibians along the banks of the Big Muddy River, I came across a number of these majestic birds.

great egret_5614

The Great Egret is a member of the heron family. This bird is the symbol of the National Audubon Society, which was formed to stop the slaughter of herons for their showy plumes. It is our second largest heron; only the Great Blue Heron (shown in photo above with Great Egrets) is bigger.

great egret_5654

In the early 20th century, they were almost hunted into extinction for their long, attractive feathers that were commonly used as decoration for ladies hats, but their numbers have increased over most of its range and they continue to expand their territories. During the breeding season, both males and females grow long lacy, delicate and flowing plumes on their backs that curl over their tails.

great egret_5619

With a wingspread of 55 inches, their wings are longer and wider than most other white herons. During the day, they forage alone or in mixed flocks, catching fish by standing motionless in the water. The neck has a characteristic kinked S-curve. When prey comes within striking distance, they spear it with their long, sharp bill. The largest part of their diet consists of fish, frogs and crayfish.

great egret_5646

A group of egrets has many collective nouns, including a “congregation,” “heronry,” “RSVP,” “skewer,” and “wedge” of egrets.

Third Eye Herp
E-mail

Ring-billed Gull

Ring-billed Gull_8447

This is Ohio’s most common gull – it is also easy to identify. The head, neck and underparts are white and the relatively short bill is yellow with a dark ring. Its back and wings are silver gray.

Ring-billed Gull_8476

As you might expect gulls usually are found near large bodies of water; these were photographed near Lake Erie. Though this species is also a familiar sight in the shopping mall parking lots of the United States, where it can regularly be found congregating in large numbers.

Ring-billed Gull_8483

These birds forage for food and pick up objects while swimming, walking or wading. They also steal food from other birds and frequently scavenge. They have an omnivorous diet which may include insects, fish, grain, eggs, earthworms and rodents. These birds are opportunistic and have adapted well to taking food discarded or left unattended by people.

Ring-billed Gull_8506

Ring-billed Gulls nest in colonies on the ground, or sometimes in trees near lakes. They often nest near other water birds. The male and female work together to build the nest out of twigs, sticks, grasses, leaves, lichens and mosses.

Ring-billed Gull_8484

Females usually lay three eggs. The eggs are light blue, green or brownish and spotted. Both the male and female both incubate the eggs for about 20 to 31 days. After the chicks hatch, both parents take care of them.

Ring-billed Gull_8496

Ring-billed Gulls are highly social, occupying large colonies, especially during the breeding season. They defend small territories within nesting colonies. They engage in play, dropping objects while airborne, then swooping down to catch them.

Ring-billed Gull_8482

They often associate with other species of gulls, ducks and cormorants. By forming mixed flocks, birds help each other stay alert for potential danger.

Third Eye Herp
E-mail

Solitary Sandpiper

solitary sandpiper_7649

Walking along on the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath, I occasionally come across this bird. The Solitary Sandpiper is not a social species. It is usually seen alone, although sometimes small numbers gather in suitable feeding areas.

solitary sandpiper_2815

This bird is usually found along the banks of wooded streams, in narrow marsh channels and sometimes along the edges of open mudflats. Solitary Sandpipers usually forage in shallow water, picking up food items from the surface or probing into the water and mud. They may also use their feet to stir up small creatures from the bottom.

solitary sandpiper_7655

These birds have a characteristic behavior of bobbing the front half of their bodies up and down. When alarmed, they often fly straight up in the air to escape, a flight pattern that is perhaps an adaptation to the closed wooded areas they inhabit.

solitary sandpiper_7663

They seek out both aquatic and terrestrial invertebrates as their main food source. These include insects and insect larvae, spiders and worms.

solitary sandpiper_2804

Its habit of nesting in the abandoned nests of other birds is unique among North American shorebirds, which generally nest on the ground.

solitary sandpiper_7667

A group of these birds has many collective nouns, including a “bind,” “contradiction,” “fling,” “hill,” and “time-step” of sandpipers.

Third Eye Herp
E-mail