Tuesday, March 31, 2015

White-throated Sparrow

White-throated Sparrow, Zonotrichia albicollis
While found throughout most of eastern and southern North America, the White-throated Sparrow breeds mostly in Canada. The yellow lores and white throat are characteristic of both genders, but the black and white streaks may instead be shades of tan. The persistence of the two color morphs can be attributed to the pairing of opposite color morphs during breeding season. In winter, white-throated sparrows can be found near the coasts and in dry deserts, but they are mainly found in coniferous and deciduous forests.

Although out of focus, facial markings are clearly distinguished.
White-throated sparrows are omnivores with a varied diet, but mainly consumes insects during breeding season, fruits during fall, and seeds during winter. During migration, they will flock with other sparrows as well as juncos. Although they aren't too closely related, there are reports of hybrids between white-throated sparrows and dark-eyed juncos. They sing their clear, whistled song all times of the year.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Fox Sparrow

Fox Sparrow (Red), Passerella iliaca
Fox Sparrows are large, splotched sparrows which breed in the northwestern portions of North America and winter in the southeastern states. They typically are a rich red hue, but there is great regional variation with four main categories: red, slate, sooty, and thick-billed. Fox sparrows prefer to breed in remote areas where they sing all hours of the day and in most weather. When fox sparrows are spotted, it is often kicking away leaf litter searching for seeds and insects, especially in winter months near bird feeders.

Fox sparrow in search of seed within the leaf litter.
During breeding season, the diet of fox sparrows consists mainly of insects while during other seasons it is mostly grasses and seeds. In coastal areas, they will also consume tiny crustaceans. They breed in thickets, but each variation has a preference of vegetation. The red variety prefers scrubby woods and forest edges, the sooty variety prefers deciduous streamside thickets, the slate variety prefers dense riparian thickets, and the thick-billed variety prefers brushy fields at high elevations. Fox sparrows are monogamous and solitary while breeding, and they may breed up to twice a year. Generally the males remain hidden while singing to declare territory near the nest.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Canada Goose

Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
In addition to its native range within most of North America, the Canada goose has been introduced to Europe, Australia, and parts of Asia. They are migratory with breeding grounds in Canada, but they do not winter as far south as in the past, and more southern populations are becoming year round residents. While Canada geese can be found in wetlands, lakes, parks, and ponds, they prefer open, grassy habitats which includes urban and suburban lawns. The grass can be digested, and a manicured lawn offers an unobstructed view of potential approaching predators when feeding with their young. Grasses and sedges are the majority of their diet in spring and summer while berries and seeds, including agricultural grains, are consumed more during fall and winter. Canada geese have few predators due to their large size, but as they are a game bird, their main predator is humans.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Fish Crow

Fish Crow, Corvus ossifragus  (identified by call)
Fish Crows can be found within the southeastern portions of the United States. Although within the same range and with similar appearance to the American crow, the Fish crows are completely difference species with closer genetic ties (pdf) to the Palm crow and Jamaican crow than the American crow. Compared to the American crow, the Fish crow is smaller, shorter, and glossier. In addition, Fish crows prefer wetlands, marshes, lakes, rivers, and coastal habitats; however, when it comes to field identification, the nasal call is best used for differentiation. They are omnivorous with a diet that can include carrion, crayfish, insects, berries, seeds, nuts, eggs, and garbage. While some flocks migrate, the majority of Fish crows are year round residents. Their population continually increases and is spreading north and west.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Regulus calendula
A very small, olive-green bird with prominent white eyerings and white wingbars, the Ruby-crowned Kinglet can be found throughout most of North America. Although migratory with breeding grounds mainly in parts of Canada and Alaska, some live year round in parts of the western United States and Canada. The bright red crest of males which gives this kinglet its common name normally remains hidden unless provoked.

Flying Ruby-crowned Kinglet with a very visible white eyering.
Ruby-crowned kinglets are mainly insectivores, but often eat some berries, seeds, and sap during winter. They can be found within trees and brush as well as isolated trees within meadows, but coniferous forests are a preferred habitat. Although tiny, the Ruby-crowned Kinglet lays a very large clutch of up to twelve eggs within a single nest. The red crown of the males is often visible during courtship displays. While monogamous during breeding season, they change mates each year.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Northern Mockingbird

Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
The Northern Mockingbird is native to North America, but is most common in the southern regions of the United States. They are a dull grey with dark wings and distinctive white wing patches visible in flight. While commonly found in residential areas and city parks, Northern mockingbirds prefer any open area including forest edges, farmlands, thickets, and brushy deserts. These mimicking songbirds sing throughout the day and often into night, especially during a full moon, with most nocturnal singers being unmated males. Both males and females sing, but females are more quiet and rarely sing in summer. Northern mockingbirds are generally monogamous, occasionally for life. Although the females solely incubate the eggs, both parents are active in feeding and protection of their young. As omnivores, their diet consists of various insects, berries, and seeds including holly, dogwood, earthworms, wasps, ants, and small lizards.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Northern Cardinal

♂ Northern Cardinal, Cardinalis cardinalis
The Northern cardinal is native to North America, found throughout most of the eastern and central portions of the continent. While common in suburbs, they may also be found in dense shrubby areas such as forests, thickets, and hedgerows. The males are a very distinguishable bright red crested bird with a black bib around an orange beak, while the females are dull brown and red. As a non-migrating species, and one that doesn't molt into a dull plumage, both are very noticeable during winter. Unlike most other song birds, female cardinals can and do sing.

 ♀ Northern Cardinal, Cardinalis cardinalis
Although serially monogamous, about one-third of nestlings are the result of extra-pair copulations, and about one-fifth of pairs split up by the next season. Males are extremely territorial during breeding season and are often seen attacking their own reflection in mirrors, chrome, and windows. Northern cardinals are common feeder birds with a diet mainly of seeds and fruits, but they will also consume various insects. Their main predators include domestic cats and dogs, shrikes, owls, and hawks.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Red-winged Blackbird

♂ Red-winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
Red-winged blackbirds are native to North America. They can be found in prairies and fields, but are most often found in wetlands and marshes, freshwater and saltwater. Contrary to the sometimes streaky dusty brown females, the adult males have a distinctive red and yellow shoulder badge with the immature males wearing a badge of orange and yellow. As with most songbirds, the males are the ones found singing while the females prefer to remain out of sight. Warning calls and mobbing are done by the males.

Winter flock of male, mature and immature, and female, red-winged blackbirds.
Migrating flocks often contain a thousand individual or more, and like with many other migratory birds, roosting is communal with large, centralized populations. Red-winged blackbirds are extremely polygynous with a single male on average breeding with five females, but up to one-half of nestlings are the progeny of someone other than the territorial male. The female incubates, but both parents contribute to feeding the nestlings. Red-winged blackbirds are generalized feeders with greater consumption of animal material, such as snails, frogs, carrion, and insects, during breeding season, and with a greater consumption of plant material during non-breeding season, especially seeds such as from ragweed, cocklebur, and sunflower.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015


♀, ♂ Mallards, Anas platyrhynchos
Mallards are one of the most familiar of all duck, possibly due to its native distribution throughout North America and its introduction throughout most of the world, particularly in the Northern Hemisphere. They are the ancestor of nearly all domestic ducks and inhabit almost any wetland habitat from city ponds and prairie potholes to rice fields and estuaries. While mallards prefer lowland habitats, they will also inhabit low-elevation mountain lakes and streams. Pairs are generally monogamous and form long before spring breeding season, but incubation and rearing of the ducklings falls solely on the female. Their minimal nest requirements are dry ground away from the edge of the water, dead vegetation to form nests, and plenty of pond area for feeding. Mallards eat a variety of aquatic plants and invertebrates including duckweeds, smartweeds, grasses, crustaceans, snails, spiders, and worms, and if in the bottomland hardwoods, acorns. As an important game species, humans are a common predator as well as cats, dogs, weasels, raccoons, opossums, ravens, crows, snakes, turtles, and fish.