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Posts tagged “Plumage

Aging a Common Loon Chick by its Plumage

This year’s Common Loon chicks are now roughly two months old.  Even without being aware of when it hatched, you can estimate the age of a chick by looking at its feathers.  Their color and type (down or contour) can give you a good idea of how many weeks old it is. Common Loon chicks are born covered with sooty-black down.  By the time they are three weeks old they have replaced this natal down with a second (gray-brown) down.  Juvenal feathers start appearing soon thereafter, replacing the down — the age of a chick can be estimated by the amount of down that remains.  By eight weeks of age the chicks have just small tufts of brown down remaining on their head and neck (see photo).  By nine weeks of age their entire body, including their head and neck, are covered with smooth, gray contour feathers and there is no sign of down.


Indigo Bunting

There is something irrepressibly cheery about the song of an Indigo Bunting.  The male’s paired notes ring out from a high perch, where this unbelievably blue bird positively sparkles in the sunlight. According to Cornell’s “All About Birds” site, the male sings as many as 200 songs per hour at dawn and for the rest of the day averages a song per minute.  To hear an indigo bunting sing, go to http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Indigo_Bunting/sounds


American Bittern

American Bitterns have returned to New England from their southern wintering grounds, and are announcing their presence with a unique song that Sibley describes as a “deep, gulping, pounding BLOONK-Adoonk” that they repeat over and over.  These secret, well-camouflaged marsh birds are almost invisible as they slowly walk through marsh grasses.  When they stand still and point their bill skyward, they are easily mistaken for the reeds they inhabit.

 


Yellow-rumped Warbler

The Yellow-rumped Warbler (aka “Butterbutt”) has returned to our woodlands, and our ears and eyes are all the richer for it.  The song of this bejeweled songbird often stumps me the first time I hear it every spring.  It is described as a “slow, soft, sweetly whistled warble” or trill. It is also said to  resemble the sound of an old-time sewing machine.  To see which song description you prefer, or to make your own, go to http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/yellow-rumped_warbler/sounds.

 

 


Snow Buntings

Snow Buntings begin arriving in the northern half of the United States from their summer home on the northern tundra by the end of October, and remain here until March, when they begin migrating back to their breeding grounds. Although both males’ and females’ backs and heads are brownish, their bellies and a good portion of their wings are white, and when they take to the air, a flock of snow buntings bears a strong resemblance to a massive snow storm. By the time their breeding season arrives, the male has a totally white head and belly, and a jet black back.  This is not because of a second molt – snow buntings only molt their feathers once a year in the late summer – the change in appearance is due to the fact that underneath the colored feather tips, the back feathers are pure black and the body feathers all are white. The male wears off all of the feather tips by actively rubbing them on snow, which produces his black and white breeding plumage. (There is one male snow bunting in this photograph that is close to having breeding plumage — can you find it?)

 


House Sparrows

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Along with two other introduced species, the European Starling and the Rock Pigeon, House Sparrows (also known as English sparrows) are some of our most common  birds. They are so common, in fact, that we rarely stop to appreciate their plumage, which, in the male, is quite distinctive — they have gray heads, white cheeks, a black bib, and rufous neck, whereas females are a rather dull  buffy-brown.  Male House Sparrows have a pecking order which can be determined by looking at the black bibs of the males.  Those birds with larger patches of black tend to be older and dominant over males with less black. By broadcasting  this information on their feathers, House Sparrows can often avoid fights and thereby save energy.