A Tricolored (or Louisiana) Heron in breeding plumage shakes it all off, with the start of a new week, in undisguised fabulousness in our protected wetlands. While I say “Monday Morning Hair,” this is definitely a daily occurrence for me.
Posts tagged ‘birds’
A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song. —Lou Holtz
…Which is why I’m constantly running to Nature, and to these wonderful creatures. That reminder to JUST BE (or in my words, Simmer Down). And our winters provide a more varied opportunity for observing different happenstances of this simple state of being — the migrating birds make their residences in the area, even if it is temporary.
A few Palm Warblers flit amid the trees; here, among a strand of young cypress. These tiny bright gems of songbirds — adorable little shocks of yellow in our swamp and wetlands — are easily missed if you’re in a rush, or aren’t fully aware.
Palm Warblers are common winter residents in our marshy natural areas, migrating in the late fall to the southeastern U.S. and the Caribbean. The species is comprised of two distinct sub-species, the Yellow Palm Warbler and the Western Palm Warbler. Those breeding in the eastern range are yellow underneath, while those inhabiting the western part of the range are duller in color, with whitish bellies. Palm Warblers primarily breed in wetland habitats — east of the Continental Divide, across Canada and the northeastern United States. A distinctive feature of Palm Warblers is tail wagging, or “pumping.” More than other warblers, this bird forages on the ground for insects and berries.
Last night at our local wetlands, I ran into a friend who mentioned seeing a ruby-throated hummingbird in his yard — a bit early! And this morning, Michelle from Rambling Woods posted on the topic. Since they’ve hit the Gulf Coast states a wee bit ahead of their migratory schedule, let’s help them REFUEL on their non-stop 500-mile journey!
I’ll be getting the feeder ready for these lovely guys ASAP — habitat loss and destruction are the hummingbird’s main threats today, but changing temperatures are also affecting their migratory patterns, making it harder for them to find food.
Fun and Fascinating Facts About Hummingbirds:
- Hummingbirds are the second largest family of birds, with more than 325 species
- Early Spanish explorers called hummingbirds “Flying Jewels”
- Hummingbirds are found only in North and South America
- It’s the smallest bird — and the smallest of all animals — with a backbone
- Despite their diminutive size, hummingbirds are aggressive and territorial, regularly attacking jays, crows and hawks
- Hummingbirds have the largest brain of all birds — 4.2% of its total body weight
- Many hummingbirds die during the first year, but those that do survive have an average lifespan of 3-4 years. The longest-living hummingbird was a female Broad-tailed Hummingbird that was estimated at 12 years
- Hummingbirds have very weak feet — they cannot walk or hop, using them mainly for perching
- Hummingbirds have great eyesight — able to see ultraviolet light, even — but have no sense of smell
- The structure of hummingbirds’ lovely iridescent feathers amplifies certain wavelengths of light, reflecting them directly in front of the bird
- Most of a hummingbird’s weight is in its pectoral muscles — 25-30% reside in their muscles responsible for flight
- The average flight speed of a hummingbird is 20-30 miles per hour, though the birds can reach up to 60 mph in a courtship dive
- They can beat their wings between 50-200 flaps per second, depending on flight patterns and wind conditions
- The hummingbird can rotate its wings in a circle, making it the only bird that can fly forwards, backwards, up, down, sideways, and hover mid-air
- Their heart beats at up to 1,260 beats per minute
- A resting hummingbird takes an average of 250 breaths per minute
- Hummingbirds must consume approximately half of their weight in sugar daily, feeding 5-8 times per hour. Much of the sugar they consume comes from flower nectar and tree sap, but they also eat insects and pollen to get their protein
- A hummingbird uses its long, grooved tongue to lap up nectar from flowers and feeders
- To conserve energy — while sleeping or during food scarcity — hummingbirds can go into a hibernation-like state (torpor), where their metabolic rate is slowed to 1/15th of normal sleep. If they’re already weakened, they may not wake from this torpor
- During their spring and fall migrations, the ruby-throated hummingbird makes a non-stop 500-mile-flight across the Gulf of Mexico
- The longest migration of any hummingbird species is that of the rufous hummingbird — they travel more than 3,000 miles from their nesting grounds in Alaska and Canada to winter habitats in Mexico
- Historically hummingbirds were killed for their feathers…. But today, habitat loss and destruction are the hummingbird’s main threats; changing temperatures are also affecting hummingbird migratory patterns, making it harder for them to find food
- An increase in backyard gardens hummingbird feeders allows these birds to refuel during their long migratory journeys — YAY!
[Many thanks to fellow bloggers for alerting me to a glitch here, which broke readers’ feeds; If you’re interested in viewing a few posts that didn’t make it to your Reader, visit Recent Posts below, from “The Show” forward, or simply click Unfollow & Follow, and they’ll appear. Or scroll! Thanks to WP for the fix.]
Purple Gallinules are one of the shyer creatures of our wetlands, and to spy one is always fun. It’s ironic that they’re so timid, given their bold coloring. But it’s always a joy to watch these purple, blue, and green gems — especially since they’re my favorite colors, wrapped up into one bright little bird.
These lovely creatures live in the freshwater marshes of the southeastern United States, as well as in Central America and the Caribbean. There’s no mistaking this medium-sized rail, with its purple-blue plumage, green back, pale blue forehead, white undertail (of which I’ve caught more than one glimpse), bright red and yellow bill, and long yellow legs. The juveniles sport blander, brown colorations. The gallinules’ long legs make them *seemingly* awkward fliers, so short bursts of activity are their mode of transportation — or swimming like a duck if they’re not navigating the marsh with those dangling legs. They nest in well-hidden floating constructs in the wetlands, laying 5-10 eggs.
The Purple Gallinule is omnivorous, eating the seeds, leaves, fruits, and grains of both aquatic and terrestrial plants; they also enjoy insects, frogs, snails, spiders, earthworms, fish, and even the eggs and young of other birds. When I see them in our wetlands, they’re often alone, nestled in the vegetation and cackling away — or being chased by other birds, most often by their sister species the Common Moorhen.
Despite the appearance of an awkward flier, Purple Gallinules have flown far from their home tropical marshes. They’ve turned up in the northern U.S., Canada, and even Europe and South Africa!
Each species is a masterpiece, a creation assembled with extreme care and genius. —Edward O. Wilson
I’m easily distracted by critters — no matter how common they may be. It could be an Eastern Harvest Mouse that grabs my attention for a half-hour. On a recent stroll around our wetlands, I was entranced by the coloring of our very common American Coot, as a mating pair stood in the shallow waters at dusk. Their dark grey / black feathers, white bill, and red eyes against the darkening waters of the approaching night sky was lovely. It wasn’t a Great egret in full breeding plumage, no…. But just as striking.
There weren’t many other human visitors, but I managed to attract a doozy. Off-season, I’m alone in the wetlands; during the season, I’m accompanied by a bevy of snowbirds. A female leaned over to see what I was engaged with — it had to be an exceptional find, after all — and *snorted* before replying to her equally charming companion: UGH! UG-AH-LY! And BORING. WHAT’S THE POINT?!? I was ready to say the same about her outfit, but she stomped off to insult some other hapless bird in the nature preserve before I could reply.
American Coots may be common in certain areas — in Florida, for instance, they’re year-round residents — but ugly? Boring? Unnecessary? Honestly. Do I go to your home state and randomly insult the poor animals? No. And not to be trite, but ALL creatures deserve our respect. Just because they’re common doesn’t mean that they’re 1) not beautiful and 2) not imperative to the ecosystem.
As such, here are a few tidbits about these petite and lovely obsidian creatures, courtesy of Cornell, to dispense with those boring and unnecessary commentaries:
- Coots have a profound ecological impact in the wetlands: One estimate from Back Bay, VA, suggests that the local coot population ate 216 tons (in dry weight) of vegetation per winter.
- They’re long-living: The oldest known American Coot lived to be at least 22 years, 4 months old!
- Looks like a duck, swims like a duck, but….: Coots don’t have webbed feet. Each one of the coot’s toes has broad lobes of skin that help it kick through the water; these broad lobes fold back each time the bird lifts its foot, so it doesn’t impede walking on dry land, though it helps to support the bird in the mucky wetlands.
- Coots help science! Because coots are so common and widespread, scientists will monitor them as a way of tracking problems in the environment at large.
To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work. —Mary Oliver
Always a welcoming sight in our wetlands, the Black-crowned Night Heron appears at dusk, ready for a night of marauding. I encountered this juvenile taking flight from deep within the wetland’s waters — I barely saw him, just his movement, since his camouflage was so perfect against the wetland’s vegetation in the setting sun. There’s so much that can be missed, if you’re not looking….
The Great egrets of South Florida’s wetlands have been putting on the most wondrous displays in the rookeries. Appropriate timing for Valentine’s Day…. It’s hard not to think that I should be trying a wee bit more, after observing such grand shows of attracting mates.
The feathers of the Great egret are stunning, almost unreal; sadly, these beautiful birds were hunted mercilessly — nearly to the point of extinction, their numbers decimated by 95 percent — towards the end of the 19th century. Their breeding plumage was especially prized, and their treasured feathers were used in hats across the globe.
With conservation measures enacted, their numbers grew throughout the 20th century. While wetland habitat loss is once again threatening their existence, these birds have a high adaptability to human habitation. Of course, the loss of wetland ecosystems remains another issue altogether.
During the breeding season, the Great egret displays long, elegant plumes on its back, which are used in courtship displays. Like a peacock, these feathery plumes spread out like a fan. (Outside the breeding season, these long feathers disappear.) During this time, the lore (the area between the bill and the eyes) may turn vibrant green. Nature’s colors are brilliant….
The male Great egrets will choose a specific display area, which will later become the nesting site. Nests are usually over water, far off the ground — high in the rookeries, as in our area. He (HE!) builds the nest with long sticks and twigs before pairing up with a female, at which point they both work to complete the nest — although it’s usually the male who finishes it.