Month: June 2014

great egret (Ardea alba)

great egret (Ardea alba)

The great egret (Ardea alba) also known as common egret, large egret or (in the Old World) great white heron, is a large, widely distributed egret. Distributed across most of the tropical and warmer temperate regions of the world, in southern Europe it is rather localized. In North America it is more widely distributed, and it is ubiquitous across the Sun Belt of the United States and in the Neotropics. The Old World population is often referred to as the great white egret. This species is sometimes confused with the great white heron of the Caribbean, which is a white morph of the closely related great blue heron (A. herodias).

The great egret is a large heron with all-white plumage. Standing up to 1 m (3.3 ft) tall, this species can measure 80 to 104 cm (31 to 41 in) in length and have a wingspan of 131 to 170 cm (52 to 67 in). Body mass can range from 700 to 1,500 g (1.5 to 3.3 lb), with an average of around 1,000 g (2.2 lb). It is thus only slightly smaller than the great blue or grey heron (A. cinerea). Apart from size, the great egret can be distinguished from other white egrets by its yellow bill and black legs and feet, though the bill may become darker and the lower legs lighter in the breeding season. In breeding plumage, delicate ornamental feathers are borne on the back. Males and females are identical in appearance; juveniles look like non-breeding adults. Differentiated from theintermediate egret (Mesophoyx intermedius) by the gape, which extends well beyond the back of the eye in case of the great egret, but ends just behind the eye in case of the intermediate egret.

It has a slow flight, with its neck retracted. This is characteristic of herons and bitterns, and distinguishes them from storks, cranes, ibises, and spoonbills, which extend their necks in flight.

The great egret is not normally a vocal bird; at breeding colonies, however, it often gives a loud croaking cuk cuk cuk.

Like all egrets, it is a member of the heron family, Ardeidae. Traditionally classified with the storks in the Ciconiiformes, the Ardeidae are closer relatives of pelicans and belong in the Pelecaniformes instead. The great egret—unlike the typical egrets—does not belong to the genus Egretta but together with the great herons is today placed in Ardea. In the past, however, it was sometimes placed in Egretta or separated in a monotypic genus Casmerodius.

The great egret is partially migratory, with northern hemisphere birds moving south from areas with colder winters. It breeds in colonies in trees close to large lakes with reed beds or other extensive wetlands. It builds a bulky stick nest.

The great egret is generally a very successful species with a large and expanding range. In North America, large numbers of great egrets were killed around the end of the 19th century so that their plumes could be used to decorate hats. Numbers have since recovered as a result of conservation measures. Its range has expanded as far north as southern Canada. However, in some parts of the southern United States, its numbers have declined due to habitat loss. Nevertheless, it adapts well to human habitation and can be readily seen near wetlands and bodies of water in urban and suburban areas. In 1953, the great egret in flight was chosen as the symbol of the National Audubon Society, which was formed in part to prevent the killing of birds for their feathers.

Little Owl (Athene noctua)

Little Owl (Athene noctua)

The Little Owl (Athene noctua) is a bird that inhabits much of the temperate and warmer parts of Europe, Asia east to Korea, and north Africa. It is not native to Great Britain and was first introduced in 1842,by Thomas Powys and is now naturalised there. It was also successfully introduced to the South Island of New Zealand in the early 20th century.

This species is among the larger grouping of owls that is known as typical owls, Strigidae, which contains most species of owl. The other grouping is the Tytonidaes, Tytonidae.

The Little Owl is a small owl, usually 22 centimetres (8.7 in) tall with a wingspan of 56 centimetres (22 in) for both genders, and weighs about 180 grams (6.3 oz).

The adult Little Owl of the most widespread form, the nominate A. n. noctua, is white-speckled brown above, and brown-streaked white below. It has a large head, long legs, and yellow eyes, and its white “eyebrows” give it a stern expression. This species has a bounding flight like a woodpecker. Juveniles are duller, and lack the adult’s white crown spots. The call is a querulous kee-ik.

There is a pale grey-brown Middle Eastern type known as Syrian Little Owl A. n. lilith. Other forms include another pale race, the north African A. n. desertae, and three intermediate subspecies, A. n. indigena of southeast Europe andAsia Minor, A. n. glaux in north Africa and southwest Asia, and A. n. bactriana of central Asia. A recent paper in the ornithological journal Dutch Birding (vol. 31: 35-37, 2009) has advocated splitting the southeastern races as a separate species Lilith’s Owl Athene glaux (with subspecies A. g. glaux, A. g. indigena, and A. g. lilith).

There are 13 recognized races of Little owl spread across Europe and Asia. The Little Owl was sacred to the goddess Athena, from whom it gets the generic name. This is one of the most widely-distributed owls and, due to its adaptability to human settlements and small size, probably ranks among the world’s most numerous owl species.

The Little Owl has an average life expectancy of three years.

This is a sedentary species which is found in open country such as mixed farmland and parkland. It takes prey such as insects, earthworms, amphibians, but also small birds and mammals. It can attack birds of considerable size like game birds. It is partly diurnal and often perches boldly and prominently during the day.

It becomes more vocal in nights as the breeding season approaches. Nest location varies based on the habitat, nests being found in holes in trees, rocks, cliffs, river banks, walls, buildings etc. It lays 3-5 eggs which are incubated by the female for 28–29 days, with a further 26 days to fledging. Little Owls will also nest in buildings, both abandoned and those fitted with custom owl nest boxes. If living in an area with a large amount of human activity, Little Owls may grow used to man and will remain on their perch, often in full view, while humans are around.

Scintillant Hummingbird (Selasphorus scintilla)

Scintillant Hummingbird (Selasphorus scintilla)

The Scintillant Hummingbird (Selasphorus scintilla) is the smallest hummingbird within its range, which includes only the mountains of Costa Rica and western Panama.

This tiny bird inhabits brushy forest edges, coffee plantations and sometimes gardens at altitudes from 900–2,000 m (3,000–6,600 ft), and up to 2,500 m (8,200 ft) when not breeding. It is only 6.5–8 cm (2.6–3.1 in) long, including the bill.[2] The male weighs 2 g (0.071 oz) and the female 2.3 g (0.081 oz). This is one of the smallest birds in existence, marginally larger than the Bee Hummingbird.[3] The black bill is short and straight.

The adult male Scintillant Hummingbird has bronze-green upperparts and a rufous and black-striped tail. The throat is brilliant red, separated from the cinnamon underparts by a white neck band. The female is similar, but her throat is buff with small green spots and the flanks are richer rufous. Young birds resemble the female but have rufous fringes to the upperpart plumage.

The female Scintillant Hummingbird is entirely responsible for nest building and incubation. She lays two white eggs in her tiny plant-floss cup nest 1–4 m (3 ft 3 in–13 ft 1 in) high in a scrub. Incubation takes 15–19 days, and fledging another 20–26.

The food of this species is nectar, taken from a variety of small flowers, including Salvia and species normally pollinated by insects. Like other hummingbirds it also takes some small insects as an essential source of protein. In the breeding season, Scintillant Hummingbird males perch conspicuously in open areas with Salvia and defend their feeding territories aggressively with diving displays. The call of this rather quiet species is a liquid tsip.

This species is replaced at higher elevations by its relative, the Volcano Hummingbird, Selasphorus flammula.

calliope hummingbird (Selasphorus calliope)

calliope hummingbird (Selasphorus calliope)

The calliope hummingbird (Selasphorus calliope) is a very small hummingbird native to the United States and Canada and, during winter, Central America. It was previously considered the only member of the genus Stellula, however recent evidence suggests placement in the genus Selasphorus. This bird was named after the Greek muse Calliope. The genus name means “little star”.

This is the smallest breeding bird found in Canada and the United States. The only smaller species ever found in the U.S. is the bumblebee hummingbird, an accidental vagrant from Mexico. An adult calliope hummingbird can measure 7–10 cm (2.8–3.9 in) in length, span 11 cm (4.3 in) across the wings and weigh 2 to 3 g (0.071 to 0.106 oz). These birds have glossy green on the back and crown with white underparts. Their bill and tail are relatively short. The adult male has wine-red streaks on the throat, green flanks and a dark tail. Females and immatures have a pinkish wash on the flanks, dark streaks on the throat and a dark tail with white tips. The only similar birds are the rufous hummingbird and the Allen’s hummingbird, but these birds are larger with more distinct and contrasting rufous markings on tail and flanks, and longer central tail feathers.

The breeding habitat of calliope hummingbird is varied open shrubby habitats. Nesting usually occurs at higher altitudes in the Rocky Mountains. Nest have been observed from as low as 300 m (980 ft) in Washington elevation to thetree line at over 3,000 m (9,800 ft). In Montana, the minimum elevation they have been found breeding at is 1,200 m (3,900 ft). Open montane forest, mountain meadows, and willow and alder thickets may variously serve as breeding grounds. During migration and winter they also occur in chaparral, lowland brushy areas, deserts and semi-desert regions. They nest in western North America from southern British Columbia and Alberta south to Coloradoand southern California. During spring and summer, they move, mainly through Arizona and New Mexico and northern Mexico, to winter in southwestern Mexico as well as in Guatemala and Belize. Calliopes have been identified in Fort Tryon Park, New York and one was identified and banded in Lighthouse Point Park in New Haven, Connecticut in December 2006.

Calliope hummingbird is migratory bird, generally leaving their breeding grounds earlier than most birds (although not as early as the rufous hummingbird) to take advantage of the late-summer wildflowers in the mountains of western North America. They are believed to be the smallest-bodied long distance migrant in the world.

These birds feed on nectar from flowers using a long extendable tongue, drink sap from holes created by sapsuckers or catch insects on the wing. While collecting nectar, they also assist in plant pollination.[5] Plants preferred for pollinating include paintbrush, penstemon, columbine, trumpet gilia, and elephant head. They will also occasionally catch and eat small insects and spiders.

Varied Bunting (Passerina versicolor)

Varied Bunting (Passerina versicolor)

The Varied Bunting (Passerina versicolor) is a species of songbird in the Cardinal family, Cardinalidae.

The range of the Varied Bunting stretches from the southern parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas in the United States south throughout Mexico as far as Oaxaca. Small disjunct populations occur in the state of Chiapas in Mexico and southeastern Guatemala. This stocky bird has a short tail and rounded bill. It is 11–14 centimetres (4.3–5.5 in) long, has a wingspan of 21 centimetres (8.3 in), and weighs 11–13 grams (0.39–0.46 oz). Breeding males are purple-red with a bright red patch on the nape, which becomes browner in the fall. Females are plain light brown, resembling the female Indigo Bunting but lacking streaking on the breast. Varied Buntings inhabit deserts and xeric shrublands, preferring thorny brush thickets, thorn forests, scrubbywoodlands, and overgrown clearings. They forage on the ground for insects, fruit, and seeds. Varied Buntings weave open-cup nests of grass and spider webs in the outer branches of thorny shrubs, usually near water. Females lay 2-5 bluish-white to bluish-green eggs, which they incubate for about fourteen days. The young are fully feathered after 10 days, and are ready to leave the nest several days later.