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Birds

Great Horned Owlets Soon To Fledge

great horned owl 454Great Horned Owls are said to have a wider range of nest sites than any other bird in the Americas. Most commonly they use tree nests of other species, particularly Red-tailed Hawks as well as other hawks, crows, ravens, herons (Great Blue Heron nest pictured), and squirrels.

These month-old young owls have grown rapidly, from a weight of roughly an ounce at birth to about two pounds. They will weigh approximately 2 1/2 pounds when they fledge. By six weeks of age, young Great Horned Owls are climbing out of the nest and perching on nearby branches, and by seven weeks they are taking short flights.

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Cliff Swallows Building Nests

5-19-15 cliff swallow 719You may have heard of “lining” bees – following one honeybee after another, tracking them to their honey-laden hive. Recently I lined Cliff Swallows. My initial observation was of several swallows on a mud flat in the middle of a river, loading their beaks with mud and taking flight, all in the same direction. Knowing that their nests are made of mud pellets (900-1,200 of them), I knew that they must be nesting somewhere in the vicinity. The length of time between their departure from and return to the mud flat was quite short, so I deduced that the distance they were carrying the mud and depositing it couldn’t be too great. After heading off in the direction that the swallows were flying, I eventually discovered the very beginning of a colony of Cliff Swallow nests under the eaves of a nearby barn.

The building of a nest requires not only finding a source of mud, but also ferrying lumps of it (in their beaks) back to the nest site many, many times. Once a source has been found, its location is made known to all members of the colony, and they all make use of it. Cliff Swallows belonging to the same colony not only use the same source of mud, but gather it together as a group, and return to work on their nests all at the same time. They work in roughly half-hour shifts, after which they all take a break and forage for insects for ten minutes or so before resuming work.

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American Bitterns Calling

A. bittern calling 814Because they live in marshes amongst dense vegetation where sight is restricted, American Bitterns communicate with each other largely through their calls. These calls are made at a very low frequency which allows them to be audible at great distances.

The call heard most often, especially early in their breeding season, is low, resonant, and composed of three syllables that sound something like “ pump-er-lunk ,“ preceded by a series of clicking and gulping sounds. The male bittern accomplishes this by inflating his esophagus while simultaneously contorting himself quite violently. He repeats the call up to ten times, and uses it to establish his territory as well as to advertise for a mate. You can hear the American Bittern’s call by going to http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/american_bittern/sounds.

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“Reflections” on Solitary Sandpipers Migrating

email-solitary sandpiper, shadow, reflection2 070Solitary Sandpipers (although not truly “solitary” birds, they do migrate in smaller flocks than most shorebirds, sometimes even alone) are passing through New England as they migrate to the boreal forests of far northern Canada and Alaska, just south of the tundra, to nest. One of the more fascinating oddities about this bird is that it is one of only two sandpipers (out of 85 species worldwide) that nests in trees in the abandoned nests of songbirds, and not on the ground.

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Ospreys Laying Eggs

5-5-15 osprey 266Ospreys are late-season breeders compared to other raptors of their size, and are just starting to lay and incubate their eggs in the Northeast. This is thought to be an adaptive delay to allow ice to break up and to allow fish to move into shallow waters. (In years of late ice-out, ospreys may not breed.)

Both male and female ospreys incubate their 1 – 4 eggs, but the female generally does a majority of it, and nearly always is the incubator at night. The male typically brings the incubating female food, which she takes to a nearby perch to eat while he sits on the eggs. Once the eggs hatch (in about 5 weeks) the young are brooded by the female. The male does the fishing, bringing his prey back to the nest, eating his fill and then giving it to his mate to tear into small bits and feed to their nestlings.

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Great Blue Herons Mating

4-15-15  great blue herons copulating2  IMG_8954Great Blue Herons have returned to their nesting colonies in the Northeast and their breeding season is underway. These birds are monogamous for the duration of any given breeding season. A study found that most Great Blue Herons choose a new mate every year. After elaborate courtship displays have taken place, the pair copulates, frequently on the nest, and usually in the early morning or evening, as the female is away from the nest mid-day.

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Pied-billed Grebes Returning to Northern Breeding Grounds

4-8-15 pied-billed grebe 1370After wintering from southern New England southwards, Pied-billed Grebes return to the northern freshwater marshes and lakes where they breed and nest on floating platforms of vegetation. It is here, on their nesting grounds, that they are most vocal, with both males and females producing songs (the female’s is a bit softer). At this time of year, you often hear a Pied-billed Grebe before you see it.

When singing, a Pied-billed Grebe submerges its breast and neck to varying degrees. Its primary song has three parts. During the first part, the grebe retracts its head slightly with every note. During second and third parts, it moves its bill up toward the end of each note. David Sibley describes this extremely variable call as sounding something like “ge ge gadum gadum gadum gaum gaom gwaaaaaow gwaaaaaow gaom.” You can hear it and describe it in your own words by going to http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/pied-billed_grebe/sounds.

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