Natural History Notes on the Birds

Back to Home
Anti disestablishment
Anti disestablishment
Lesson Plans
Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

About the categories

Name

Common name

Food

The main food category.

Feeding Techniques

How it acquires its food.

Habitat

What kind of area does the bird live?

Plumage

Is there similarity between the male and the female, between winter and spring, young and adult, or are there variations in the plumage amongst the species.

Distribution

Approximately where it is found in the United States.

Breeding

Unique aspects on how the species breeds.

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Special notes on the status or natural history of this bird.

Notes from A. C. Bent

Selections from the Life Histories of North American Birds, edited by A. C. Bent.

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

Name

Common Loon
Lesson Plan

Food

Fish,

Feeding Techniques

Dives underwater and chases fish which it catches with its long sharp beak.

Habitat

During the winter it is generally found along the ocean coast and during the breeding season it nests on fresh water lakes.

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage. plumage.

Distribution

Worldwide

Breeding

Builds nest in lakes. Young are altricial and sometimes ride on the back of the parents as they get fed.

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

sub aqueous - refers to under the water

consternation - concern

finny tribes - refers to fish

"We are too apt to condemn a bird for what little damage it does in this way, without giving it credit for the right to live."

Notes from A. C. Bent

Food: This loon feeds largely on fish, which it pursues beneath the surface with wonderful power and speed. The sub aqueous rush of this formidable monster must cause great consternation among the finny tribes. Even a party of fish-hunting mergansers is promptly scattered before the onslaught of such a powerful rival; they recognize his superior strength and speed, as he plunges in among them, and must stand aside until his wants are satisfied. Even the lively trout, noted for its quickness of movement, can not escape the loon and large numbers of these desirable fish are destroyed to satisfy its hunger. Some sportsmen have advocated placing a bounty on loons on this account, but as both loon and trout have always flourished together until the advent of the sportsmen, it is hardly fair to blame this bird, which is such an attractive feature of the wilds, for the scarcity of the trout. We are too apt to condemn a bird for what little damage it does in this way, without giving it credit for the right to live.

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

Name

Pacific Loon
Lesson Plan#1 Lesson Plan #2

Food

Fish

Feeding Techniques

Dives underwater and chases fish which it catches with its long sharp beak.

Habitat

During the winter it is generally found along the ocean coast and during the breeding season nests on fresh water lakes.

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Winters along the Pacific coast.

Breeding

The Pacific Loon was formerly considered a race of the Arctic Loon.

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

One of the values that I find in the works of A. C. Bent are the well written accounts from various ornithologists. This account describes watching some Pacific Loons fishing in a harbor.

When Coues refers to "limpid element" he is referring to the still water of the bay that the birds are swimming through.

Notes from A. C. Bent

The ornithologist, Elliot Coues, provides this account of the Pacific Loon:

They were very plentiful about the Bay of San Pedro. The first thing that attracted my attention was their remarkable familiarity; they were tamer than any other waterfowl I have seen. They showed no concern at the near approach of a boat, scarcely availed themselves of the powers of diving, in which the whole family excelled, and I had no trouble in shooting as many as I wanted. They even came up to the wharves, and played about as unconcerned as domestic ducks; they constantly swam around the vessels lying at anchor in the harbor, and all their motions, both on and under the clear water, could be studied to as much advantage as if the birds had been placed in artificial tanks for the purpose. Now two or three would ride lightly over the surface, with the neck gracefully curved, propelled with idle strokes of their broad paddles to this side and that, one leg after the other stretched at ease almost curious sidelong glance, then peering into the depths below, sought for some attractive morsel. In an instant, with the peculiar motion, impossible to describe, they would disappear beneath the surface, leaving a little foam and water; see them shoot with marvelous swiftness through the limpid element, as, urged by powerful strokes of the webbed feet and beats of the half-opened wings they flew rather than swam; see them dart out the arrow-like bill, transfix an unlucky fish, and lightly rise to the surface again. While under water, the bubbles of air carried down with them cling to the feathers, and they seem bespangled with glittering jewels, borrowed for the time from their native element, and lightly parted with as they leave it, when they arrange their feathers with a slight shiver, shaking off the last sparkling drop. The feathers look as dry as if the bird had never been under water; the fish is swallowed head first, with a curious jerking motion, and the bird again swims at ease, with the same graceful curve of the neck.

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

Name

Red-throated Loon
Lesson Plan

Food

Fish

Feeding Techniques

Dives underwater and chases fish which it catches with its long sharp beak.

Habitat

During the winter it inhabits salt water areas and during the breeding season nests on fresh water lakes.

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Winters along the Pacific and Atlantic coast.

Breeding

Breeds in northern Canada

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Red-throated Diver - As with most birds, the name of this species refers to the spring plumage. During the winter plumage it does not show a red throat. Audubon uses the name diver when referring to the loon; diver is the British name for loons.

giddy flight

pinions - the wing feathers

Notes from A. C. Bent

Courtship:

John James Audubon describes the courtship of a Red-throated Loon that he witnessed. Reynard is a friend who was with him.

High over these waters, the produce of the melted snows, the red-throated diver is seen gamboling by the side of his mate. The males emit their love notes, and, with necks gracefully curved downward, speed by the females, saluting them with mellow tones as they pass. In broad circles they wheel their giddy flight, and now, with fantastic glidings and curves, they dive toward the spot of their choice. Alighted on the water, how gracefully they swim, how sportively they beat it with their strong pinions how quickly they plunge and rise again, and how joyously do they manifest to each other the depth and intensity of their affection. Now with erected neck and body deeply immersed they swim side by-side. Reynard they perceive cunningly advancing at a distance; but they are too vigilant for him, and down like a flash they go, nor rise again until far beyond his reach. Methinks I see them curiously concealed among the rank weeds under the bank of their own islet, their bills alone raised above the water, and there will they remain for an hour, rather than show themselves to the insidious enemy, who, disappointed, leaves them to pursue their avocations.

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

Name

Least Grebe
Lesson Plan

Food

Small fish and otehr invertebrates.

Feeding Techniques

Dives underwater and chases fish which it catches with its long sharp beak.

Habitat

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Southern Texas

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Dabchick is an older name for the Pied-billed Grebe.

The scientific name that A. C. Bent uses for this species is Colymbus dominicus brachypterus (Chapman). The current (2004) scientific name is Tachybaptus dominicus. There are five different species of grebes in the genus Tachybaptus.

Notes from A.C. Bent

 As this little tropical species, the smallest of the grebes, is the only one of the North American grebes that I am not familiar with in life, I must draw wholly from the observations of others for an account of its life history. Unfortunately, published notes on its habits are very scanty, so the story will be short and incomplete. Prior to 1899 the San Domingo grebe (Colymbus dominicus) stood on our Check List, as found in the West Indies, southern Texas, Mexico and Lower California, as well as in tropical South America. But Frank M. Chapman discovered certain geographical varieties of the species worthy of recognition in nomenclature and separated it into three subspecies. His description separates the Mexican form, which also ranges into Texas and Lower California, from the West Indian bird under the name of brachypterus, having a much shorter wing and a smaller bill. This seems to be a well-marked subspecies in which the characters are constant.

Mr. Vernon Bailey (1902) observes:

These tiny grebes are as common in the ponds of southern Texas as the dabchick in the North. In open water they bob on the little waves, and in quiet pools where the willows overhang the banks swim and dive among the sedges and pink water lilies. When not seeking food below the surface of the water they usually keep close to some cover, and in the middle of the day if not hidden in the sedges are found sitting close under the shore grass or in the shade of a bush or low-hanging tree.

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

Name

Pied-billed Grebe
Lesson Plan

Food

Small invertebrates

Feeding Techniques

Dives underwater and chases prey which it catches with its beak.

Habitat

During the winter it inhabits salt water areas and during the breeding season nests on fresh water lakes.

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Throughout the United States.

Breeding

Both parents tend nest. Young ride around on the back of the parents who feed them during this time.

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

The young of birds are generally put into two classifications: altricial and precocial. Altricial refers to baby birds that are born naked, blind, and helpless. They need to be kept warm and fed by their parents. Precocial young are birds that are practically born with their eyes open, down on their bodies, and the ability to feed. The young of Pied-billed Grebes, as with most waterfowl, are precocial.

slough - wetlands

Notes from A. C. Bent

The young are very precocious and leave the nest soon after they are hatched; usually some of the young are swimming about before the last of the eggs have hatched. They are expert swimmers and divers, by instinct, though they can not remain under water more than a few seconds. I have taken recently hatched chicks out of a nest, which were too young to have been taught by their parents, and seen them dive and swim away or hide among the reeds with only their little bills protruding above the surface. Sometimes the parent bird carries them on her back where they cling tenaciously while she dives and brings them up again, none the worse for their ducking. They are truly little "water witches" by inheritance. Rev. Manley B. Townsend writes me that, on June 24, 1910, he saw an adult, with young, chasing a muskrat on the surface of a slough in Nebraska, and raises the question whether these animals, which are generally considered to be strictly vegetarians in their habits, kill young grebes. Undoubtedly many are killed by pickerel or other large fishes and by snapping turtles or large frogs.

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

Name

Eared Grebe
Lesson Plan

Food

Small invertebrates, especially brine shrimp

Feeding Techniques

Dives underwater and chases prey which it catches with its beak.

Habitat

Many diverse water habitats. Found in both fresh and salt water. Breeds in fresh water.

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Primarily the western United States.

Breeding

Nests in large groups on freshwater lakes. Builds nest platforms as mentioned below.

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Most birds nest by themselves, but there are various species that find advantages in nesting as a colony.

Notes from A. C. Bent

Nesting - Mr. B. F. Goss (1883) gives us a very good illustration of this, as follows:

The eared grebe breeds in communities. The first colony that I found was in a small lake in northern Dakota. The nests were built on floating debris about 15 rods from shore, where the water was perhaps 3 feet deep. Old flag leaves, rushes, reeds, etc., had been driven by the wind into the point of a bay, forming a mass 2 or 3 inches deep and several square rods in extent. This mass was firm enough to hold up the birds in most places, but was full of holes where they could dive through. There were at at least 25 nests on an area of 10 by 20 feet. They were made of partly decayed moss and reeds brought up from the bottom, and were small, not more than a handful of material to a nest.

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

Name

Horned Grebe
Lesson Plan

Food

Fish, large crustaceans and other arthropods

Feeding Techniques

Dives from the surface of the water and swims underwater to chase prey items.

Habitat

Many diverse water habitats. Found in both fresh and salt water. Breeds in fresh water.

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Winters along the Pacific coast.

Breeding

Breeds in Canada.

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

It is suggested that the process of the grebes eating their own feathers might help them digest the fish that they eat. As they eat small fish they end up swallowing some of them whole. They can digest some of the smaller bones of the fish, but the larger ones need to be eliminated by the grebe. The feathers may help in forming pellets that the grebe regurgitates to get rid of the waste material, in much the same way that owls and hawks regurgitate pellets of waste. The Northern Shrike picture shows a bird in the process of regurgitating a pellet.

Notes from A. C. Bent

The most remarkable point about the food habits of grebes is that the stomachs almost invariably contain a considerable mass of feathers. Feathers are fed to the young, and there is no question that they play some essential though unknown part in the digestive economy. As they are finely ground in the gizzards it is probable that finally they are digested and the available nutriment assimilated. Feathers constituted practically 66 per cent of the contents of the 57 Horned Grebe stomachs examined. However, it is not likely that they furnish a very large percentage of the nourishment needed by the birds. As the nutritive value of the feathers is unknown, this part of the stomach contents is ignored. The other items of food are assigned 100 per cent, and the percentages are given on that basis. Various beetles, chiefly aquatic, compose 23.3 per cent of the food; other insects (including aquatic bugs, caddis and chironomid larvae, dragonfly nymphs, etc.) , nearly 12 per cent; fishes, 27.8 per cent ; crawfish, 20.7 per cent ; and other crustacea, 13.8 per cent. A little other animal matter is taken, including snails and spiders, and a small quantity of vegetable food was found in two stomachs.

Name

Western Grebe
Lesson Plan

Food

Fish, large crustaceans

Feeding Techniques

Dives from the surface of the water and swims underwater to chase fish.

Habitat

Many diverse water habitats. Found in both fresh and salt water. Breeds in fresh water.

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Western United States

Breeding

Builds island-nest that it can get to straight from the water.

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Very similar to the Clark's Grebe. The courtship dance of the Western Grebe is famous for its complexity and beauty.

Notes from A. C. Bent

Nesting - The large grebe colonies of the Klamath Lake region in southern Oregon and northern California have been described by several well-known writers. The lakes in this region contain probably the largest western grebe colonies in this country where thousands of them breed in harmony with Caspian and Forster's terns, white pelicans, and other water birds. This region has long been famous as a profitable field for plume hunters, where they have reaped a rich harvest, making $20 or $30 a day and during the height of the breeding season killing several thousand birds a week. The breasts of the western and other grebes were in great demand for the millinery trade; for the paltry sum of 20 cents apiece they were stripped off, dried, and shipped to New York. Such slaughter could not have contained much longer without disastrous results. Through the activities of the Audubon Societies, the attention of President Rosevelt was called to the need of protection, and on August 8, 1908, the Lake Malheur Reservation, thus saving from destruction the largest and most interesting wild-fowl nurseries on the Pacific coast.

Courtship -The western grebes reach their breeding grounds in the inland lakes during May, early in the month in North Dakota, about May 8 to 12 in southern Canada, and before the end of the month farther north. I have never witnessed their nuptial performances, but Mr. William L. Finley has sent me the following on the subject:

The first action, which I have often noticed during the nesting season of the grebe, is when the two birds swim side by side. They throw the head and neck back which gives one the impression at a distance that the birds are preening their plumage. When I saw the action near at hand, I noticed that each bird arched its neck continually, the bill turned straight down and the black crest spread. At the same time, both birds curved and swayed their necks back in a rythmical manner, touching them against their bodies. It was like a backward bow.

A second performance, the water glide of the grebe,was not as common as the antics just mentioned. However, it seemed to be a climax to the performance above. As the two birds swam side by side both suddenly stood upright as if walking on the top of the water and rushed along, splashing the surface for 20 or 30 feet, with wings tight to the body. Then they dropped to their breasts in a graceful glide that carried them along for about 15 feet farther.

The third peformance might well be termed purely a wedding dance. I saw it three times within close range, and each time it was exactly the same. As two birds were swimming together, both dove. They rose to the top of the water a few moments later, each holding a piece of moss or weed in the bill. Instantly they faced each other and rose, treading water, with bodies half above the surface and necks stretched straight up. They treaded around, breast to breast, until they made three or four circles, and then dropped down to a normal attitude, at the same time flirting the moss our of the mouths and swimming off in an unconcerned manner.

The first two peformances are typical mating or courting antics, while the last is the most significant wedding dance I have ever seen in bird life.

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

Name

Clark's Grebe
Lesson Plan

Food

Fish

Feeding Techniques

Dives and swims underwater to catch fish with its sharp beak.

Habitat

Many diverse water habitats. Found in both fresh and salt water.

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Western United States

Breeding

Breeds in fresh water.

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Split from the Western Grebe. It can be differentiated by the black cap which does not cover its eye as it does in the Western Grebe.

Notes from A. C. Bent

No notes from A. C. Bent are available for this species since the Clark's Grebe was not recognized at that time. It is interesting that with the amount of time that Bent spends discussing subspecies for other species the different plumages of the Western Grebe was never mentioned.

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

Name

Red-necked Grebe
Lesson Plan

Food

Fish

Feeding Techniques

Dives and swims underwater to catch fish with its sharp beak.

Habitat

Nests inland but spends much of the rest of the year along coastal waters.

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Primarily found in the north part of the US and Canada.

Breeding

Creates nest on floating platforms on the water (See below). Breeds primarily in Canada.

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A. C. Bent

It is certainly one of the shyest of the water birds. Its hearing must be very acute; for only rarely would I surprise one in the marshes, when it would disappear instantly. What few birds I saw were generally swimming at a distance, singly or in pairs, often far out on the lake, where they always dove long before I could get close. Only once did I succeed in surprising one on its nest and get a fleeting glimpse. Mr. Herbert K. Job had located a nest in a little cove on a nearby pond; we approached it cautiously; paddling silently around a little point and into the cover; we were just in time to see the grebe stand up in the nest, hastily cover the eggs, glide off into the water, and disappear in the reeds so quickly we would hardly realize what had happened. This was a larger, better built, and probably a more typical nest than those described above; it was floating in water about 3 feet deep and anchored near the edge of growing flags (Typha latifolia) and reeds (Scirpus lacustris); it measured 24 inches in diameter, the inner cavity was 6 inches across and slightly hollowed, and the rim was built up 2 or 3 inches above the water; it was made principally of dead reeds and flags, with a few green stems of the same, matted together with a mass of algae and water mosses; it was lined with well-rotted flags.

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

Name

Laysan Albatross
Lesson Plan

Food

Scavenger. Fish and squid.

Feeding Techniques

Soars over the ocean looking for food and then lands and picks food off the surface of the water.

Habitat

Open sea; pelagic.

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Pacific ocean

Breeding

Nests in Hawaii. From Bent: Incubation lasts about six weeks, both birds taking turns on the nest so that the egg is constantly covered. The young are fed, in the well-known manner, by regurgitation from the throat of the parent, remaining about the islands until the following June or July, so that the entire reproductive period occupies about one-half of the year.

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

This section from Bent is an interesting version of the food web. Given that, as we see above, the albatross young are fed for about a six month period, it is fairly easy to calculate how much squid needs to be in the area around the islands to support the breeding of albatross.

Notes from A. C. Bent

Food: Doctor Fisher (1900) says of their food:

Near the forms or nests one not infrequently finds solid pellets - disgorged by the young in all probability, and by old birds too - consisting entirely of squid beaks and opaque lenses of the eyes. These lenses become very brittle and amber-like under the action of stomach juices and show a concentric structure. Candle nuts, the large seed of Aleurites molluccana, were found by Mr. Snyder in the interior of the island and were almost undoubtedly ejected by albatrosses. As is well known, albatrosses pick up all sorts of floating material, and candle nuts are frequently seen on the ocean, having been swept seaward by mountain streams.

Elsewhere (1904) he says:

In their hours of toil they hie themselves off to sea and scour the waves for the elusive squid, which is a staple article of diet for the larger members of the vast bird population, the gannets, perhaps, excepted. About sunrise the main body of the white company begins to return, and for several hours they straggle in, tired but full, and seek their sleepy children, who are soon very much awake. Although the Laysan albatrosses undoubtedly do a small part of their fishing during the day, I can not help but feel, from the nocturnal or crepuscular habits of their food - certain cephalopods - and the prevalent feeding hours, that the major portion is done In the very early morning, perhaps from just preceding dawn till light. I noted particularly during the one day I was on the steamer, while she was dredging in the vicinity of Laysan, that very few Laysan gonies were seen at sea after about 9 a.m. That same day we sighted the island about 5 am., and when I arrived on deck about 5.30 I distinctly remember seeing many of the white species (immutabilis) circling about the vessel. Later in the morning immutabilis almost entirely disappeared, but some nigripes remained with us all day. On the following morning we landed and I had no further opportunity to observe.

As Prof. C. C. Nutting, one of the naturalists of the expedition, has said, "the most conservative estimate of the necessary food supply yields almost incredible results. Cutting Mr. Schlemmer's estimate (of the total number of albatrosses on the island) in two, there would be 1,000,000 birds, and allowing only half a pound a day for each, surely a minimum for these larger, rapidly growing birds, they would consume no less than 250 tons daily."

From rather extended observations on the feeding habits, I would place the quantity fed each young bird every morning at nearer one or one and a half pounds of squid (Ommastrephes oualaniensis Less., 0. sloanei Gray, and Onychoteuthis banksi Fer.). I believe Professor Nutting's estimate of a million birds is not too great. Thus, in one day the albatrosses alone would consume nearer 600 tons of squid.

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

Name

Black-footed Albatross
Lesson Plan

Food

Scavenger

Feeding Techniques

Soars over the ocean looking for food.

Habitat

Open sea; pelagic.

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Pacific Ocean

Breeding

Nests in Hawaii.

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Follows ships for days; seems to sleep on the wing. All albatrosses are threatened by increasing amount of plastic found on the ocean

D. nigripes refers to the scientific name of the Black-footed Albatross

Notes from A.C. Bent

As is well known, albatrosses are past masters at soaring or sailing. If the wind is favorable they are able to skim over the water for a long time without once flapping their wings. D. nigripes is certainly no exception to the general rule, and we had ample opportunity to witness their powers. The long slender wings, with long humeral bones, are eminently fitted for this sort of existence, and their construction renders flapping laborious, for in proportion to its size the albatross is not a very muscular creature and could not fly a great distance if obliged to do so by wing beats. When a stiff breeze is blowing albatrosses can sail only against the wind or with it, and are able to quarter a breeze, or go directly across it only for a short distance and when under great momentum. When we were steaming directly against the wind the albatrosses had no trouble in following us, and they would fly all around the ship without flapping their wings except when the breeze was strong, and then they were obliged to give a few vigorous beats when turning up into the wind. When, however, our course lay at an angle to the wind, they followed us by sailing in a series of ellipses. They would, in this case, sail directly against the wind, approaching us on the starboard quarter, go over the stern a short distance to port, then wheel and scud before the breeze perhaps 100 yards off the starboard quarter, when they turned and approached us as before. Their speed was so superior to ours that they were able to keep up without any trouble, and their frequent trips astern and rapid overhauling again made our cumbersome gait all the mere apparent. Of course as they neared the turning point each time they had to quarter the breeze a little and for a moment sail directly across it.

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

Name

Sooty Shearwater
Lesson Plan

Food

Fish

Feeding Techniques

Sometimes follows other birds or fisherman, to find fish. Very social bird, the Sooty Shearwater is generally found in flocks.

Habitat

Open sea; pelagic.

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Pacific Ocean

Breeding

Breed on the islands around New Zealand.

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Can be found in very large flocks along Pacific coast during August/September.

Notes from A.C. Bent

It breeds in great numbers on some of the small islands off the coast of New Zealand, the nesting places being much harried by the natives, who esteem these shearwaters as an article of food. The burrows on the Chatham Islands are usually formed in peaty soil, running horizontally for three or four feet and then turning. The nest, a rude structure composed of sticks and dead leaves, is placed at the end of the hole. A single egg is laid, both sexes assisting in the work of incubation, and when the parents return to roost on shore in countless thousands, the noise they make is deafening. If removed from their burrows they flutter about on the ground for some time in a confused way, but eventually make for the sea.

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

Name

Buller's Shearwater
Lesson Plan

Food

Fish

Feeding Techniques

Plunges into the water from a few feet up in the air

Habitat

Open ocean; pelagic.

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Pacific Ocean. Best seen off Monterey during fall.

Breeding

Nest site is a burrow on an island in New Zealand

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

An oologist is a person who collects eggs. This was a very popular hobby during the 19th and early 20th century. This is an example of an oologist providing the only known information on the eggs of the Bueller's Shearwater. This species like the Sooty Shearwater breeds in the New Zealand islands.

Notes from A.C. Bent

Eggs: I have been able to locate only one egg of this rare shearwater. It is in the collection of Col. John E. Thayer and was collected by William Bartlett on Mokohinu Island, New Zealand, on October 20, 1900. It is ovate in shape, dull, dirty white in color, and the shell is smooth but not glossy. It measures 45.5 by 32 millimeters.

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

Name

Flesh-footed Shearwater
Lesson Plan

Food

Fish

Feeding Techniques

Plunges into the water from a few feet up in the air

Habitat

Open ocean; pelagic.

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Pacific Ocean. Best seen off Monterey during fall.

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Nesting: The nesting habits resemble those of other species of the genus. Doctor Ramsay, in acknowledging the receipt by the Australian Museum of a fine series of birds and eggs from the Solitary Islands, gives the following notes, derived from his correspondence: The birds arrived early in September, and at once began excavating their nesting holes, which consisted of short burrows about 6 inches in diameter and from 12 to 20 inches in length. The eggs were laid at night, but in no instance was more than one obtained in a burrow. Although both sexes assisted in the incubation, out of five specimens taken from the burrows four proved to be females. The birds arrived in countless thousands in the evening, and most of them - the males probably, or those not engaged in hatching - returned to sea at daybreak.

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

Name

Pink-footed Shearwater
Lesson Plan

Food

Fish

Feeding Techniques

Dives short distance from the air to the water to catch fish. See below.

Habitat

Open ocean; pelagic.

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Pacific Ocean. Best seen off Monterey during fall.

Breeding

Breeds in colonies on islands off the coast of Chile.

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

shoal - shallow place in a body of water

Notes from A.C. Bent

They are generally seen in flocks several miles off the shore, flying like the albatross, by rapid flappings, alternating with sailings. They congregate quickly around shoals of fish, and dive to a short distance beneath the water in pursuit of them. They often rest on the water, swimming very lightly, but not rapidly, and appear to be the most active when the wind roughens the surface of the water, enabling them to scoop up small fish from the agitated tops of the waves. Dr. Cooper further states that he found this species most abundant and most approachable about San Nicholas Island, where the water is shoal and small fish are numerous. The birds were molting about the first of July.

 

Name

Cory's Shearwater

Lesson Plan

Food

Scavengers of fish and other sea creatures

Feeding Techniques

Plunges into the water from a few feet up in the air

Habitat

Open ocean; pelagic.

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Food: Audubon's (1840) description and plate evidently refer to this species, under the name Puffinus cinereus, in which he evidently was more nearly correct than some later writers in identifying this with the Mediterranean species. He says of its food: "In the stomach of those which I opened I found fishes, portions of crab, seaweeds, and oily substances." All of the shearwaters are, to a certain extent, scavengers of the seas and probably feed on whatever scraps of animal food they can pick up. They follow the whales and schools of large predaceous fishes to pick up bits of their food left on the surface and frequent the vicinity of fishing vessels to gorge themselves on the offal thrown overboard while cleaning fish. They are particularly fond of cod livers and other oily portions, with which they can be readily tolled up to the boat on baited hooks.

Name

Great Shearwater

Lesson Plan

Food

Scavengers of fish and other sea creatures

Feeding Techniques

Plunges into the water from a few feet up in the air

Habitat

Open ocean, generally

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

To the bird student who rarely ventures from the beaches or sheltered bays, out into the unprotected ocean a glimpse of a shearwater, the hag, hagdon or hagdown of sailors - is most unusual. In easterly storms, however, these birds may sometimes be seen close to our Atlantic shore and I have seen them fly within a stone's throw of Ipswich beach. Under ordinary conditions, however, they are not often found less than 5 miles from land. Graceful birds they are and well do they deserve their name, for on nimble wing they are ever on the alert to cut or shear the water in their search for food.

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

Name

Northern Fulmar
Lesson Plan

Food

Wide variety of marine life but especially jellyfish.

Feeding Techniques

Finds food from the wing and sets down on the ocean to feed.

Habitat

Open ocean; pelagic.

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Worldwide.

Breeding

Breeds in colonies. There are seven color variations of Northern Fulmars that go from dark to very light.

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

The fulmar is a distinctly pelagic species of arctic seas, where it is ever associated with drifting icebergs and floating pack ice. Like the albatross it spends much of its time on the wing and is particularly active in rough and stormy weather. It is the constant companion of the arctic whalers and is well known to the hardy explorers who risk their lives in dangerous northern seas, where it follows the ships to gorge itself on what scraps it can pick up, rests to digest its unsavory food on some rugged block of ice and retires to some lonely crag to rear its young. There is little that is attractive in its surroundings at any time, in the forbidding climate of the rugged, frozen north, but there it seems to live and flourish, rising successful and triumphant over adverse conditions.

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

Name

Black-Storm Petrel
Lesson Plan

Food

Fish, crustaceans.

Feeding Techniques

Feeds off the surface of the water.

Habitat

Ocean

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

West coast

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Behavior: Mr. Anthony (1900a) writes, of the night flight of these petrels about their breeding grounds, as follows:

Hauling the boat out on the shingle, a few steps places us in the city of birds, a fact we discovered by breaking through into the burrows at almost every step, but the birds themselves are very much in evidence. Hundreds of inky black objects are dashing about with bat-like flight, now here, now there, with no apparent object in their wanderings. Like butterflies they come and go, flitting so near at times that one attempts to catch them as they pass.

Others are constantly coming from the burrows to join in the revel. Each, as it reaches the outer air, utters its characteristic call, flops along the ground a few feet, somewhat like an old felt hat before the wind, and is away, as gracefully and airy as the rest. Those in the air are constantly calling and from the ground under our feet come answering cries. The noise and confusion suggests a busy street in a city.

He (1898) also says:

Both 0. melanie and 0. socorroessis will at times dive a foot or more below the surface for a piece of meat that is sinking if they are hungry, but diving seems to be out of their usual line of business and is only resorted to when food is scarce. They seem to be unable to get below the surface of the water without first rising two or three feet and plunging or dropping, exactly as I have seen the black-footed and short-tailed albatrosses dive under similar circumstances.

In the same paper he speaks of the notes of the black petrel as follows:

On the first night of my sojourn I had scarcely fallen asleep, curled up on a rocky shelf just above the water, when I was suddenly recalled to my senses by a loud Tuc-o-ree, inc-tuc-a.-roo within two feet of my head. The call was repeated from a half dozen directions and as many bat-like forms were seen flitting back and forth in the moonlight along the cliffs and hillside. One or two attempts to shoot them proved utter failures, and the black forms soon moved out to sea, returning at intervals of an hour or so all night The next afternoon I located one of the birds in a burrow under an immense rock, as I passed on my way to camp. It several times uttered a clicking note which I felt sure was that of a petrel.

He refers to the notes as harsher than those of the Socorro petrel.

Mr. Howell writes to me:

They begin visiting their nests at 8.30 p. m. and are very active until shortly before dawn. Pitching in from the sea they come like big black bats rocking on the breeze and uttering their loud weird call. This I am unable to describe, except In that it consists of four notes. D. R. Dickey and A. van Rossem state that, during the night the bird at or on the nest utters a series of notes suggestive of the song of the wren-tit.

Mr. Howell also says that the black petrels suffer "considerably from the depredations of the duck hawks, as their dry remains on the islands bear mute witness.

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

Name

Fork Tailed Petrel
Lesson Plan

Food

Fish, crustaceans.

Feeding Techniques

Quite often will gather food while it flies.

Habitat

Open ocean; pelagic.

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Pacific ocean

Breeding

Nest in colonies on islands. During breeding time the Fork-tailed Petrel is active only during the night.

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Doctor Grinnell (1897) who was forced to spend a night on St. Lazaria Island, had an unusually good opportunity to study the midnight flight of the forked-tailed petrel on its breeding grounds, which he graphically describes as follows:

After the sun set and the long summer twilight began to make the woods a little gloomy, the petrels became more active. Their curious calls came from every direction in the ground, though as yet not a bird was to he seen. Presently a little stir in the grass called attention to a petrel which clumsily scrambled from his hole, and after the usual fumbling put himself in flight and betook himself speedily out to sea. Soon others appeared and others and others. The crows, their enemies, had by this time gone to roost, and as the gloom grew deeper the petrels became more numerous. Those which had been out to sea all day began to arrive among the trees, and were even more awkward than those leaving. They flew against branches and bushes and into my face, but all ultimately seemed to know where their respective homes were. The chorus of their cries was curious and depressing to one's spirits, and the chilly air was constantly being fanned into my face by their noiseless wings. The light-colored ghostly forms of the forktails were much more readily discernible than the dark Leach's, The ground was alive with struggling petrels, and I picked up as many as I chose. As the twilight of evening slowly merged into dawn the height of their activity was reached. I walked from end to end of the wooded part of the island, and everywhere the petrels were equally numerous.

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

Name

Magnificent Frigatebird
Lesson Plan

Food

Fish

Feeding Techniques

Kleptoparasite.

Habitat

Tropical coastal waters.

Plumage

Male develops giant red throat pouch during breeding season.

Distribution

Southeast coast from Florida to Texas.

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Not only does the Frigatebird steal fish from other species, they also steal fish from each other, as the account below shows. It almost seems like a game that the Frigatebirds are playing.

Pinions is another word for feathers.

Audubon (1840) gives the following graphic account of its fishing prowess:

Yonder, over the waves, leaps the brilliant dolphin, as he pursues the flying fishes, which he expects to seize the moment they drop into the water. The frigate-bird, who has marked them, closes his wings, dives toward them, and now ascending, holds one of the tiny things across his bill. Already fifty yards above the sea, he spies a porpoise in full chase, launches toward the spot, and in passing seizes the mullet that had escaped from its dreaded foe; but now, having obtained a fish too large for his gullet, he rises, munching it all the while, as if bound for the skies. Three or four of his own tribe have watched him and observed his success. They shoot toward him on broadly extended pinions, rise in wide circles, smoothly, yet as swiftly as himself. They are now all at the same height, and each as it overtakes him, lashes him with its wings, and tugs at his prey. See! one has fairly robbed him, but before he can secure the contested fish it drops. One of the other birds has caught it, but he is pursued by all. From bill to bill, and through the air, rapidly falls the fish, until it drops quite dead on the waters, and sinks into the deep. Whatever disappointment the hungry birds feel, they seem to deserve it all.

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

Name

Blue-footed Booby
Lesson Plan

Food

Fish

Feeding Techniques

Dives from the air into the water.

Habitat

Sea of Cortez

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

In the US it is only seen on a regular basis at the Salton Sea or in Baja California.

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

obliquely - slanting or sloping direction

Notes from A.C. Bent

Food: The food of this booby consists principally and probably wholly of fish. Mr. Gifford (1913) describes the methods employed as follows:

The fish were almost invariably caught by diving, although an occasional flying fish was chased and caught while in the air. It was a common thing to see blue-footed boobies fishing in flocks, often all diving simultaneously. They dive with wings half closed and neck rigid and straight, striking the water with great force. As all would not get fish when diving in a flock, there was usually considerable squabbling over captures. One day a booby was seen to enter the water obliquely at a very small angle, appearing quickly on the surface again and continuing its line of flight without a pause.

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

Name

Northern Gannet
Lesson Plan

Food

Fish

Feeding Techniques

Dives into the water to hunt fish.

Habitat

Ocean

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Eastern US coast

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Day after day we had gazed, from the hilltops of the northern Magdalens, across the waters of the stormy Gulf of St. Lawrence toward the distant Labrador coast, where we could see looming up on the horizon a lofty reddish mass of rock, the goal of our ambitions and the mecca of many an American ornithologist, Bird Rock. At last the day came sufficiently smooth for us to risk the trip in our tiny craft, the only boat available. To visit and storm that almost impregnable seabirds' fortress is risky enough in a seaworthy vessel, for storms come up without much warning and the waves thunder at the base of its almost perpendicular cliffs with such fury, that only during the calmest weather can a landing be effected with safety on a narrow beach. At the time of our visit the present comfortable landing had not been completed. It is now no longer necessary to be hoisted up in a crate, a hundred feet or more to the top of the rock.

Gannets were seen flying past us toward the rock, as they returned from their fishing grounds and as we drew near we could see a swarm of white birds circling about it. The setting sun shone full upon Its towering cliffs of red sandstone, deeply cut or carved by the elements into ledges and shelves, of varying sizes and shapes; the broader ledges seemed covered with snow and it was hard to believe that such wide bands of white were really colonies of nesting gannets. The whole side of the rock seemed to be covered with birds; wherever there was room for them the gannets were sitting on their nests on the wider ledges; clouds of noisy kittiwakes were hovering overhead or nesting on the smallest shelves of rock; razor-billed auks were breeding in the crevices near the top of the rock and the murres, Brunnich, and the common, were sitting in long rows upon their eggs on the narrower ledges. Such was the home of the gannet as I saw it in 1904.

The history of the gannet colonies of Bird Rock is interesting as showing the effect of human agencies in the extermination of bird life. It begins with Jacques Cartier's account of his voyage to Canada in 1534, at which time there were apparently three islands in the group, of which he says, according to Gurney's (1913) rendering of Hakluyt's translation: "These islands were as full of birds as any medow is of grasse, which there do make their nestes; and in the greatest of them there was a great and infinite number of those that wee cal margaulx, that are white and bigger than any geese." There is very little doubt that the birds he referred to were gannets. For three centuries the persecution of these birds was not sufficiently severe to reduce materially their numbers, for when Audubon (1897) visited Bird Rock in 1833 it was a most wonderful sight, as the following graphic description, taken from his journal for June 14, 1833, well illustrates:

About ten a speck rose on the horizon which I was told was the rock. We sailed well, the breeze increased fast, and we neared this object apace. At eleven I could distinguish its top plainly from the deck, and thought it covered with snow to the depth of several feet; this appearance existed on every portion of the flat, projecting shelves. Godwin said, with the coolness of a man who had visited this rock for ten successive seasons, that what we saw was not snow, but gannets. I rubbed my eyes, took my spyglass, and in an instant the strangest picture stood before me. They were birds we saw: a mass of birds of such a size as I never before cast my eyes on. The whole of my party stood astounded and amazed, and all came to the conclusion that such a sight was of itself sufficient to invite anyone to come across the gulf to view it at this season. The nearer we approached the greater our surprise at the enormous number of these birds, all calmly seated on their eggs or newly hatched brood, their heads all turned to windward and toward us. The air above for a hundred yards, and for some distance around the whole rock, was filled with gannets on the wing, which, from our position, made it appear as if a heavy fall of snow was directly above us.

At that time the whole top of the rock was covered with their nests and it was regularly visited by the fishermen of that vicinity, who killed the gannets in large quantities for codfish bait. The stupid birds were beaten down with clubs as they tumbled over each other in their attempts to escape. Sometimes as many as 540 of them have been killed by half a dozen men in an hour, and as many as 40 fishing boats were supplied regularly with bait each season in this way, the birds being roughly skinned and the flesh cut off in chunks.

When Dr. Henry Bryant visited Bird Rock on June 23, 1860, the colonies were very much reduced in numbers, although the lighthouse had not been built at that time and the gannets were nesting over all of the northern half of the flat top of the rock. He estimated that there were at least 100,000 birds in this colony and about 50,000 that were nesting on the side of the rock. Mr. C. J. Maynard visited the rock in 1872, three years after the lighthouse was built, and found the colony on the summit reduced to 5,000 birds. In 1881 Mr. William Brewster reported only 50 pairs still nesting on the flat top of the rock, and since that time they have abandoned it entirely, resorting only to the safer locations on the ledges. In 1881 the total number of gannets nesting on Bird Rock was estimated at 10,000, and at the time of our visit in 1904 we estimated that their numbers had been reduced to less than 3,000 birds. Fortunately, they are now protected by the lighthouse keeper, and will probably not be further reduced in numbers by persecution on their breeding grounds, but the soft sandstone cliffs of Bird Rock are gradually wearing away and it is only a question of time when their old home will disappear, and it is doubtful if they can find another suitable and safe substitute for it.

Though not so well known as Bird Rock, the island of Bonaventure, off the Gaspe Peninsula in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, is fully as important as a breeding resort for gannets, for it contains by far the largest colony of these birds on the American coast. Gurney (1913) records this colony as containing about 7,000 gannets. It has a similar formation of red sandstone cliffs some 300 feet high and may, at some remote period in the past, have formed a part of a chain of cliffs or islands of which Bird Rock is now the surviving outpost. There are many broad ledges on Bonaventure Island which are practically inaccessible, offering attractive nesting sites for thousands of gannets, where for many years to come they will be safe from molestation. Gannets are said to have nested on Funk Island many years ago, but after the extermination of the great auk the gannets probably shared a similar fate. Another colony of recent existence was on Perroquet Island, of the Mingan group, off the south coast of Labrador. Mr. William Brewster noted several hundred birds there in 1881, but they disappeared soon after that. 'We saw a few gannets flying about these islands in June, 1909, but were told that they were not breeding there, having been driven away by constant persecution. Bird Rock and Bonaventure have both been set apart as reservations by the Canadian Government where these birds will be permanently protected.

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

Name

Brown Pelican
Lesson Plan

Food

Fish

Feeding Techniques

Diving from the air into the water.

Habitat

Coastal waters.

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Pacific coast, and Southeast coast from Texas to Florida.

Breeding

Nests in colonies along the coast. Once considered endangered the Brown Pelican has made a great comeback and in some areas is quite plentiful.

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

The feeding of young pelicans is a most remarkable performance and in a thickly populated colony where the struggle for existence is keen it is not lacking in excitement. The youngest birds are fed on regurgitated or semi digested food which is allowed to flow to the tip of the parent's bill, where it can be readily reached by the almost helpless little bird. As the young increase in size they are gradually weaned and soon learn to thrust their heads and necks, sometimes two at a time, deep down into the innermost recesses of the parental pouch, where with much struggling and squawking they find a hearty meal of fish in various stages of digestion. The old birds have evidently learned by experience just what kind of food is best suited to the age of the young, feeding larger fish as the young increase in size, but occasionally they make a mistake and give the little pelicans more than they can swallow, which means that the objectionable morsel must be removed by the parent or left to be gradually swallowed as the lower end is digested. The parents evidently know their own young and attempt to drive away others in the wild scramble which follows the arrival of a pelican with a well filled pouch. Young pelicans reared in tree nests remain in the nests until nearly ready to fly, which simplifies the feeding problem for their parents, but where they nest on the ground the young leave the nests as soon as they are able to walk and wander about in great droves. This makes the work of the parents both difficult and strenuous and many an exciting struggle occurs in which the poor parent is besieged by a hoard of lusty young, fully her equal in size, and either overwhelmed by the excited mob or forced to retreat.

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

Name

White Pelican
Lesson Plan

Food

Fish.

Feeding Techniques

Usually feeds as a social group. By swimming as a group and making their circle smaller they "herd" the fish into a small group which makes it easier for them to grab the fish by reaching their heads into the water.

Habitat

Fresh water; lakes.

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage. White body with black wing tips. Some argue that the black pigment in the feathers at the wing tips make those feathers more durable.

Distribution

Summers interior western states, winters California, Florida coast to Texas coast

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Dr. Chapman (1908) gives the following account of one of their aerial feats:

On the afternoon in question a thunderstorm developed rapidly, the sky became ominously black and threatening, and a strong wind whipped the tules into a rustling troubled sea of green. This atmospheric disturbance acted upon the soaring birds in a remarkable manner, stimulating them to perform aerial feats of which I had no idea they were capable. They dived from the heavens like winged meteors, the roar of the air through their stiff pinions sounding as though they had torn great rents in the sky. Approaching the earth they checked their descent by an upshoot, and then with amazing agility zigzagged over the marsh, darting here and there like swallows after insects. On land the white pelican is not graceful, but it walks well, with a stately and dignified air. On the water it floats lightly as a cork, on account of its great displacement, and it swims rapidly and easily, but it is not built for diving. It looms up large and white even at a great distance, its color pattern is somewhat similar to that of three other large birds, the gannet, the whooping crane, and the wood ibis, but in size and shape the four are distinctly different.

White pelicans are particularly silent birds; the only notes that I have heard them utter are the low-toned grunts or subdued croaking notes heard on their breeding grounds and not audible at any great distance. Doctor Chapman (1908) refers to this note as "a deep voiced, not loud, murmuring groan," and Doctor Grinnell (1908) calls it "a grunting quack." Audubon (1840) likens it to a sound produced by blowing through the bunghole of a cask."

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

Name

Double-crested Cormorant
Lesson Plan

Food

Fish

Feeding Techniques

Dives from the surface of the water to chase fish underwater.

Habitat

Fresh and salt water areas.

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Throughout the US

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Considered by many fisherman to be in competition with them for the supplies of fish throughout the country.

Notes from A.C. Bent

Mr. Taverner (1915) says of their fishing habits:

In the morning as soon as the sun is well up the cormorants fly in through the narrow channel separating the basin from the bay, their numbers increasing until about nine o'clock, when most of the birds are to be found fishing in the shallow water at the head of the basin. On first coming in they alight in the water, look about a minute, and then disappear with an easy gliding dive. They generally remain under the water for about a minute. If they have been successful in their fishing, their prey can be easily seen when they reappear. They catch a fish crossways, and it takes a little manipulation and sundry jerks of the head to get it placed properly in the mouth; then there is an upward flirt of the bill and the fish is swallowed. A few gulps are given and the bird is ready to repeat the operation.

He says of their food:

With the exception, then, of a few wandering birds, the cormorants feed either along the sea coast, as at Perce, or in the tidal mouths of the rivers. We collected some thirty stomachs from such localities, but none of them contained salmonoid remains. The food contents were mostly capelin, flounder, herring, and an occasional eel and tom cod.

Of the thirty-two stomachs examined, five were empty, one so nearly so as to make the contents unrecognizable, and two were from nestlings with contents regurgitated from the parents' throat and, having been subject to double digestive action, were not recognizable.

Of the remaining twenty-five, sixteen contained sculpins, five herring, one each capelin and eel, and two tom cod or allied fish. Nearly all had ascaris and other parasitical remains. The evidence indicates that these were incidentally obtained from the flesh of the original hosts. In many stomachs there were fragments of eel-grass, crustaceans, mollusks, and pebbles, but in small quantities and evidently derived from the stomachs of the prey or taken accidentally with it.

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

Name

Pelagic Cormorant

Lesson Plan

Food

Fish

Feeding Techniques

Dives from the surface of the water to chase fish underwater.

Habitat

Coastal waters along the Pacific Coast.

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Pacific coast

Breeding

Nest site on coastal cliffs - colonial breeder. Despite its name the Pelagic Cormorant is not pelagic. It stays close to the shore.

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Farallon Cormorant is a previous name for the Double-crested Cormorant

Notes from A.C. Bent

Nesting: Throughout the whole length of the Aleutian chain we found this small, slender cormorant sitting in little groups on the rocks about the promontories or flying out to meet us and to satisfy their curiosity by circling about our boat; they seemed far from timid and were but little disturbed by our frequent shooting for they returned again and again to look us over. Here they breed in colonies on the highest, steepest and most inaccessible rocky cliffs, safe from the depredations of foxes and men and shrouded in the prevailing fogs of that dismal region. The nest is placed on some narrow ledge on a perpendicular cliff facing the sea; it is made mainly of seaweeds and grasses, is added to from year to year and becomes quite bulky.

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

Name

Brandt's Cormorant

Lesson Plan

Food

Fish

Feeding Techniques

Dives from the surface of the water to chase fish underwater.

Habitat

Coastal waters along the Pacific Coast.

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Pacific coast

Breeding

Nest site on coastal cliffs - colonial breeder

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Plumage: The young cormorant, when first hatched, is blind and naked, an unattractive object covered with greasy black skin. The down soon appears, however, and before the young bird is half grown it is completely covered; the down coat is "clove brown" above, slightly paler below, mottled with white on the under parts and wings. The feathers of the wings and tail appears first and are fully developed before the body plumage is acquired; the down disappears last on the head and neck, after the young bird is fully grown. The brown plumage of the first winter succeeds the downy stage and is worn for nearly a year, fading out to a very light color on the breast in the spring. There is a partial molt during the first spring, but no very decided advance toward maturity is made until the first complete molt the following summer. At this first post nuptial molt a plumage is acquired which is somewhat like the adult, but there is still much brown mottling in the head, neck, and under parts. During the following spring there is still further advance, the nuptial plumes are partially acquired and the young bird is ready to breed; but the fully adult nuptial plumage is not acquired, I believe, until the next, the third, spring. The partial prenuptial molt of adults, at which the long nuptial plumes of the neck and back are acquired, occurs in February and March; and the complete post nuptial molt extends from August to October. Both old and young birds in any plumage can be distinguished from the Farallon cormorant by the outline of the feathered tract bordering the gular sac; in the Brandt cormorant the gular sac is invaded by a pointed extension of the feathered throat area, whereas with the Farallon the gular sac has a broad, rounded outline.

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

Name

Anhinga
Lesson Plan

Food

Fish

Feeding Techniques

Dives from the surface of the water to chase fish.

Habitat

Swamps, rivers

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Southeast coast.

Breeding

Nests as a pair or can nest in colonies with other species.

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Called the snake bird because as it swims its feathers soak up water and it gets heavier and its body sinks below the water leaving only its long neck and sharp beak above the water.

Notes from A.C. Bent

In the swamps and marshy lakes of Florida, where the shores are overgrown with rank vegetation and the stately cypress trees are draped with long festoons of Spanish moss, or in the sluggish streams, half choked with water hyacinths, "bonnets" and "water lettuce," where the deadly moccasin lurks concealed in the dense vegetation, where the gayly colored purple gallinules patter over the lily pads and where the beautiful snowy herons and many others of their tribe flourish in their native solitudes, there may we look for these curious birds. We may expect to find them sitting quietly, in little groups, in the tops of some clump of willows on the marshy shore or on the branches of some larger trees overhanging the water, with their long necks stretched upwards in an attitude of inquiry or held in graceful curves if not alarmed; perhaps some may have their wings outstretched in the sun to dry, a favorite basking attitude. If alarmed by the sudden appearance of a boat one may be seen to plunge headlong into the water, straight as a winged arrow, and disappear; soon, however, a snake-like head and neck may be seen at a distance rapidly swimming away with its body entirely submerged. The anhinga is a water bird surely enough, but I could never see any resemblance to a turkey, and I can not understand how this name happened to be applied to it. The name "darter" or "snake bird," both of which are descriptive, seem much more appropriate.

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

Name

Great Egret
Lesson Plan

Food

Wide variety of vertebrates and invertebrates.

Feeding Techniques

Stalking food, and also waiting in the water for prey to come by.

Habitat

Many different habitats; usually near water, but not always.

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

West coast, southeast.

Breeding

Breeds in colonies in nests located in the tops of trees.

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

The Great Egret was almost wiped out during the turn of the century as hunters shot them for their feathers which were used to adorn hats. Hunters were paid by the pound for the feathers.

Notes from A.C. Bent

Courtship: Audubon (1840) gives the only account I have seen of this interesting performance as follows:

As early as December I have observed vast numbers congregated, as if for the purpose of making choice of partners, when the addresses of the males were paid in a very curious and to me interesting manner. Near the plantation of John Bulow, Esq., in east Florida, I had the pleasure of witnessing this sort of tournament or dress ball from a place of concealment not more than 100 yards distant. The males, in strutting round the females, swelled their throats, as cormorants do at times, emitted gurgling sounds, raising their long plumes almost erect, paced majestically before the fair ones of their choice. Although these snowy beaux were a good deal irritated by jealousy, and conflicts now and then took place, the whole time I remained much less fighting was exhibited than I had expected from what I had already seen in the case of the great blue heron, Ardea herodies. These meetings took place about 10 o'clock in the morning, or after they had all enjoyed a good breakfast, and continued until nearly 3 in the afternoon, when, separating-into flocks of 8 or 10 individuals, they flew off to search for food. These maneuvers were continued nearly a week, and I could with ease, from a considerable distance, mark the spot, which was a clear sand bar, by the descent of the separate small flocks previous to their alighting there.

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

Name

Snowy Egret
Lesson Plan

Food

Wide variety of vertebrates and invertebrates.

Feeding Techniques

Actively hunts for prey while in shallow water.

Habitat

Variety of different habitats, thought usually near water.

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage. but the male gets elaborate feathers during courtship.

Distribution

Along the entire coast of the US and many portions of the southwest and southeast.

Breeding

Breeds in colonies.

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Food: Audubon (1840) has described the feeding habits of the snowy egret so well that I can not do better than to quote his words, as follows:

The snowy heron, while in the Carolinas, in the month of April, resorts to the borders of the salt-water marshes and feeds principally on shrimps. Many individuals which I opened there contained nothing else in their stomachs. On the Mississippi, at the time when the shrimps are ascending the stream, these birds are frequently seen standing on floating logs, busily engaged in picking them up; and on such occasions their pure white color renders them conspicuous and highly pleasing to the eye. At a later period, they feed on small fry, fiddlers, snails, aquatic insects, occasionally small lizards, and young frogs. Their motions are generally quick and elegant, and, while pursuing small fishes, they run swiftly through the shallows, throwing up their wings. Twenty or 30 seen at once along the margins of a marsh or a river, while engaged in procuring their food, form a most agreeable sight. In autumn and early spring they are fond of resorting to the ditches of the rice fields, not infrequently in company with the blue herons.

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

Name

Cattle Egret
Lesson Plan

Food

Wide variety of vertebrates and invertebrates.

Feeding Techniques

Feeds around cattle and other livestock which stir up food for the Cattle Egret.

Habitat

Agricultural areas, marshes

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

It's range is expanding; southeast coast and west coast.

Breeding

Breeds in colonies.

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Native of Africa that managed to migrate to the United States around the 1950s and has increased its numbers tremendously since then.

Notes from A.C. Bent

No Cattle Egret were present in the United States during the time that A.C.Bent published the Life Histories of North American Birds.

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

Name

Black-crowned Night Heron
Lesson Plan

Food

Vertebrates and invertebrates

Feeding Techniques

Hunting by wading in water or waiting and watching for food.

Habitat

Variety of water habitats.

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Throughout much of the United States

Breeding

Breeds in colonies with other heron species.

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Audubon (1840) says that "it is never seen standing motionless, waiting for its prey, like the true herons, but it is constantly moving about in search of it." This active method may be the one employed when in search of the less active aquatic animals on which it feeds; but when fishing, I believe, it usually stands still, in shallow water, on the shore, or on some convenient perch. I once saw a young night heron given a lesson in still fishing by, presumably, one of its parents. Both birds had been standing as motionless as statues, for some time in the shallow water of a tidal creek; the young bird began to show its impatience by moving its head slightly from side to side; then it took a few steps forward, slowly and stealthily, with its neck stretched out and crouching close to the water; whereupon the adult, which had stood immovable, flew at the young bird, with loud, scolding croaks, and struck it some hard blows on the back with its bill. The young bird was forced to fly, but it settled again a few yards away and did not attempt to move again; perhaps it had learned its lesson.

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

Name

Yellow-crowned Night Heron
Lesson Plan

Food

Vertebrates and invertebrates

Feeding Techniques

Forages by walking around looking for prey

Habitat

Mangroves, marshes, cypress

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Southeastern United States

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Mr. Maynard (1896) says:

The food of the yellow-crowned night herons is mainly land crabs, which they are very expert at catching, killing and breaking to pieces. They will eat all kinds, excepting possibly the large white crab, a species which often measures 14 inches across the body and claws, and which weighs about 1 pound. This animal appears to be too strong and bulky for the herons to manage, but they will kill the black crab, a crustacean which measures nearly or quite a foot across the body and claws. But a favorite crab with this heron is a smaller species, which resembles the black crab in form, which is, on account of its being a favorite with the herons, called the galden crab by the Bahamans. This crab is very abundant. Another crab, or rather group of land crabs, which I think is exempt from the attacks of the galden is the hermit crab, for they retreat within their borrowed shells, and guard the entrance with their large claws.

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

Name

Green Heron
Lesson Plan

Food

Vertebrates and invertebrates

Feeding Techniques

Forages by waiting for prey while standing in water

Habitat

Marsh, small lakes, ponds

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Eastern states and Pacific coast

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Food: The food of the green heron varies somewhat with the locality. In birds taken in salt marshes, I have found the stomach contents to consist of the minnows common in the little creeks together with a variable amount of sand. Live stomach worms are also common, a fact mentioned by other observers. In regions of fresh water, tadpoles, water insects and their larvae, crayfish, and small bony fishes are common articles of diet. Food is also gathered in the uplands by these birds and their stomachs have been found to contain earth worms, crickets, grasshoppers. snakes, and small mammals. Grasshoppers in very large numbers have sometimes been found. B. S. Bowdish (1902) says of the food of the green heron in Porto Rico:

"Several stomachs examined contained respectively, remains of lizards and crabs, and one whole fish about 6 inches long; a kind of water beetle about three quarters of an inch long, many entire; crawfish and grasshoppers; 11 crawfish; small live worms." Oscar E. Baynard (1912) reports that the stomach of an adult green heron taken in Florida contained 6 small crayfish, 16 grasshoppers, 2 cut worms and the remains of small frogs.

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

Name

Great-blue Heron
Lesson Plan

Food

Vertebrates and invertebrates

Feeding Techniques

Forages by walking around looking for prey

Habitat

Wetlands, marsh, open fields, agricultural areas

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Throughout the US

Breeding

Breeds in colonies

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

The last paragraph is a great demonstation of the less than romantic aspect of doing field research.

Notes from A.C. Bent

In the nest they are fed by both parents, at first on soft regurgitated food, later on whole fresh fish. With the youngest birds the soft soup like food is passed from the bill of the parent into that of the young bird; but later on the more solid food is deposited in the nest and picked up by the young. The young birds usually lie quietly in the nest, crouched down out of sight, between feedings; but as soon as the parent is seen or heard returning (the senses of the young are very keen) there is great excitement, as they stand up to clamor and wrestle for their food. The old bird approaches with deliberate dignity and may stand on the nest for a few minutes with her head high in the air. Then with crest and plumes erected and with a pumping motion, she lowers her head and one of the youngsters grabs her bill in his, crosswise; the wrestling match then follows until the food passes into the young bird's mouth or onto the nest. The young are usually fed in rotation, but often the most aggressive youngster gets more than his share.

The young instinctively try to void their excrement by squirting it over the edge of the nest, but they are not eminently successful at it and the nest, the tree, and the ground under it are usually completely whitewashed with their profuse ordure before they are fully grown. This and the decaying fish which fall from the nests make a heronry far from pleasant and one has to expect an occasional shower bath from one or both ends of a frightened young heron.

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

Name

Little Blue Heron
Lesson Plan

Food

Vertebrates and invertebrates

Feeding Techniques

Forages while walking slowly in water. Uses its long neck and long sharp beak to grab prey.

Habitat

Marshes, swamps, shores

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage. Immature plumage is white. Adult plumage changes during the breeding season as it adds extra plumes.

Distribution

Southeast

Breeding

Breeds in colonies

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Julian Huxley - (1887 - 1975) British biologist and writer who was director of UNESCO 1946 -1948

aigrette - french for egret; used here to refer to plumes of feathers

Louisiana Heron is a former name for the Tri-colored Heron

Notes from A.C. Bent

Prof. Julian S. Huxley tells me that the behavior of the little blue heron on its breeding grounds appears to be essentially similar to that of the Louisiana heron, which is so well described in his notes on that species. The courtships, greeting ceremonies, nest relief ceremonies, and emotional displays are much alike in all three of the small southern herons; they all have plumes or aigrettes which they love to display. Their flight maneuvers are also similar. Little blue herons often travel in loose flocks. A flock of 15 or 20 birds, blue adults and white young birds, frequented some small ponds near my winter home in Florida; when frightened away from the ponds they invariably flew to and alighted on one of two dead pine trees in the vicinity; if disturbed there, they all took to wing, circled around in an open flock a few times and then all set their wings, scaling in unison, and returned to one of the trees, where they all gracefully alighted. These trees were their favorite perches to which they returned again and again after a few returns in the air. I have seen all the herons set their wings and scale, at times, especially when returning to their rookeries or when about to alight.

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

Name

Tri-colored Heron
Lesson Plan

Food

Vertebrates and invertebrates

Feeding Techniques

Forages while walking slowly in water. Uses its long neck and long sharp beak to grab prey.

Habitat

Swamps, marsh, shores

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Coastal waters from Virginia to Texas

Breeding

Breeds in colonies

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Enemies: Plume hunters have made no effort to hunt this species, as it has no marketable plumes: its plumes might have come on the market, if the demand had continued after the supply of white aigrettes had become exhausted. Many young birds and some older birds have been killed for food. There is, however, a human enemy, unconscious perhaps of his evil deeds, who causes considerable havoc whenever he indulges in his supposedly harmless sport in a heron rookery; and that is the bird photographer, who sets up his blind in a rookery and keeps the herons off their nests, often for long periods. I remember that, after we had spent parts of three days photographing birds in the great Cuthbert rookery, we left it in a sadly depleted condition. The crows and vultures had cleaned out practically all the nests anywhere near our blinds; the roseate spoonbills and American egrets had been completely broken up and driven away; hundreds of nests of the smaller herons had been robbed; and the ground was strewn with broken egg shells all over the rookery. The egg collector, who is constantly moving about in plain sight, frightens the crows away, as well as the herons, and is there fore much less destructive than the bird photographer. The safest time to practice bird photography, and the best time too to get good results, is when the young are partially grown, when there are no eggs for the crows to steal and when the young are too large for the vultures to swallow. Probably, when not disturbed by human beings, the herons' nests are constantly guarded by one of each pair. Otherwise, it is hard to conceive how many birds can be raised successfully, where fish crows are as common as they are in Florida or where great-tailed grackles abound as they do in Texas.

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

Name

American Bittern
Lesson Plan

Food

Vertebrates and invertebrates

Feeding Techniques

Stalks its food and then grabs it using its beak. Blends in very well with the marsh that it lives in.

Habitat

Marsh/wetland

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Throughout the US.

Breeding

Platform nest built by female on the ground

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Status of this bird is very grave. Numbers seem to have declined dramatically due to loss of habitat.

Notes from A.C. Bent

Standing in an open part of the meadow, usually half concealed by the surrounding grasses, he first makes a succession of low clicking or gulping sounds accompanied by quick opening and shutting of the bill and then, with abrupt contortions of the head and neck unpleasantly suggestive of those of a person afflicted by nausea, belches forth in deep, guttural tones, and with tremendous emphasis, a pump-er-Zunk repeated from two or three to six or seven times in quick succession and suggesting the sound of an old-fashioned wooden pump. All three syllables may be usually heard up to a distance of about 400 yards, beyond which the middle one is lost and the remaining two sound like the words pump-up or plum-pudd'n while at distances greater than a half mile the terminal syllable alone is audible, and closely resembles the sound produced by an axe stroke on the head of a wooden stake, giving the bird its familiar appellation of "stake driver." At the height of the breeding season the bittern indulges in this extraordinary performance at all hours of the day, especially when the weather is cloudy, and he may also be heard occasionally in the middle of the darkest nights, but his favorite time for exercising his ponderous voice is just before sunrise and immediately after sunset. Besides the snapping or gulping and the pumping notes the bittern also utters, usually while flying, a nasal haink and a croaking ok-ok-ok-ok.

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

Name

Least Bittern
Lesson Plan

Food

Vertebrates and invertebrates. Due to its small size eats more invertebrates than vertebrates.

Feeding Techniques

Stalks its food and then grabs it using its beak. Blends in very well with the marsh that it lives in.

Habitat

Marsh/wetland

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Eastern states

Breeding

Platform nest built by female on the ground

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

This pretty little bittern, the most diminutive of the heron tribe, is a summer resident in most of the United States and southern Canada. Messers. Dickey and van Rossem (1924) have recently given a new name, Ixobrychus exilis hesperis, to a larger race of this species inhabiting the western United States and Lower California. It is probably more widely distributed and commoner than is generally supposed, for, on account of its quiet, retiring habits it is seldom seen and less often heard by the casual observer. Like the Virginia and the sora rails, it sticks steadfastly to its chosen home in the inner recesses of the dense cat-tail and reedy marshes; even when some small piece of marsh is making its last stand against the encroachments of civilization, the bitterns and rails may still be found there, attending strictly to their own business, coming and going under the cover of darkness and unmindful of their outside surroundings. I can remember three such bits of marsh, near the centers of cities in Massachusetts, in which the rails and bitterns continued to breed until they were driven out as the marshes were filled.

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

Name

Reddish Egret
Lesson Plan

Food

Vertebrates and invertebrates

Feeding Techniques

Very active feeder; may run through water looking for prey

Habitat

Coastal marshes, tidal flats

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Southeast coast from Florida to east Texas

Breeding

Breeds in colonies

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Mr. Cahn (1923) writes:

The life of the young birds is anything but exciting. Day after day they lie on their shallow platform of sticks under the sweltering rays of a June sun, and the monotony of their lives is broken only by the coming and going of the old birds and, as the nestlings grow older, by innocent sparring matches among themselves. Long before they are able to fly, they leave the nest at the approach of danger and, using beak and wings and legs, climb unsteadily about in the brush, returning to the nest when the excitement is over. Before they are able to climb out of the nest, the babies make a valiant defense against an intruder by hissing and jabbing vigorously with their bills. They are so unsteady, however, that they very seldom hit what they are aiming at. They are a comical sight sitting on their heels, their great feet sprawling before them as they vainly endeavor to keep their balance during the violent exercise of defense. Once they become used to climbing about in bushes, they are safe, as then it is nearly impossible to capture them; they can go through the tangle much faster than you can.

The chief source of mortality among the young egrets and herons seems to be falling out of the nest, and a young bird is permitted to die of starvation or to be consumed by the red ants or a stray coyote that may reach the island during low water, right under the nest, without the old birds showing any sign or comprehending what is going on.

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

Name

Wood Stork
Lesson Plan

Food

Fish

Feeding Techniques

Forages in water

Habitat

Wetlands.

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage. White with black flight feathers.

Distribution

The coastal areas from Florida to Mexico.

Breeding

Breeds in colonies

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Wood Ibis is an earlier name for Wood Stork. The Wood Stork is an endangered species.

Notes from A.C. Bent

A striking and a picturesque bird is the wood ibis, also known in Florida as "gannet" or "flinthead," both appropriate names. It is a permanent resident in the hot, moist bottom lands of our southern borders and seldom straggles far north of our southern tier of States. To see it at its best one must penetrate the swampy bayous of Louisiana or Texas, where the big water oaks and tupelos are draped in long festoons of Spanish moss, or the big cypress swamps of Florida, where these stately trees tower for a hundred feet or more straight upward until their interlacing tops form a thick canopy of leaves above the dim cathedral aisles. One must work his way through almost impenetrable thickets of button willows, underbrush, and interlacing tangles of vines. He must wade waist deep or more in muddy pools, where big alligators lurk unseen or leave their trails on muddy banks, as warnings to be cautious, or where the deadly moccasin may squirm away under foot or may lie in wait, coiled up on some fallen log, ready to strike. If not deterred by these drawbacks, or by the clouds of malarial mosquitos or by the hot, reeking atmosphere of the tropical swamps, he may catch a fleeting glimpse of the big white birds or hear their croaking notes as they fly from the tree tops above. Probably he may see a solitary old "flint heady' perched in the top of some old dead tree in the distance, standing on one leg, with his head drawn in upon his shoulders and his great bill resting on his chest. Perhaps there may be a whole flock of them in such a tree; but the observer will not get very near them, for the wood ibis is an exceedingly shy bird, and a sentinel is always on the lookout. One is more likely to see the wood ibis on the wing, flying in flocks to or from its feeding grounds, or circling high in the air above its breeding rookery. On the wing it shows up to the best advantage, sailing gracefully on motionless wings, a big white bird, with black flight feathers in its long wings and in its short tail.

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

Name

Greater Flamingo
Lesson Plan

Food

Invertebrates

Feeding Techniques

Use their unique beak structure to strain organisms from the water

Habitat

Coastal marsh

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

There is much debate on the status of the Gt. Flamingo in the United States. Most of the current sightings are attributed to escaped birds. There is disagreement on the historical status of the bird. The only serious records are birds that were seen in south Florida.

Breeding

Breeds in colonies

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

The flamingo is no longer to be found, except possibly as a rare straggler, on the North American Continent, but in Audubon's time it was fairly abundant in extreme southern Florida. Even in those days it was relentlessly pursued and was becoming quite shy. Gustavus Wurdemann (1861), in a Letter written to the Smithsonian Institution in 1857, wrote:

The flamingo is known to but a very few inhabitants of this state, because it is confined to the immediate neighborhood of the most southern portion of the peninsula, Cape Sable, and the keys in its vicinity. It was seen by the first settlers at Indian River, but abandoned these regions immediately, and never returned thither after having been fired upon.

In the same letter he refers to a flock of 500 flamingos seen near Indian Key, in the Bay of Florida, and graphically describes his experiences in chasing and capturing, with a native hunter, some hundred or so of these beautiful birds, which were molting and unable to fly.

Evidently this flock of flamingos, or its descendants, was able to survive in this remote and inaccessible portion of Florida long after the species had disappeared from other sections. It was supposed to breed somewhere in that vicinity, but the breeding grounds were never found. W. E. D. Scott (1887) reported that the last birds were killed in Tampa Bay in 1885 and that they disappeared from Cape Romano and all points north of that at about that time.

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

Name

Roseate Spoonbill

Lesson Plan

Food

Small fish, invertebrates

Feeding Techniques

Forages in water using its beak to strain organisms from water

Habitat

Marsh, lagoons

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Florida, coastal waters from Texas to Florida

Breeding

Breeds in colonies

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Food: Audubon (1840) has described the feeding habits of this species very well, as follows:

They are as nocturnal as the night heron, and, although they seek for food at times during the middle of the day, their principal feeding time is from near sunset until daylight. To all such feeding grounds as are exposed to the tides, they betake themselves when it is low water, and search for food along the shallow margins until driven off by the returning tide. Few birds are better aware of the hours at which the waters are high or low, and when it is near ebb you see them wending their way to the shore, whenever a feeding place seems to be productive, the spoonbills are wont to return to it until they have been much disturbed, and persons aware of this fact may waylay them with success, as at such times one may shoot them while passing overhead. To procure their food, the spoonbills first generally alight near the water, into which they then wade up to the tibia, and immerse their bills in the water or soft mud, sometimes with the head and even the whole neck beneath the surface. They frequently withdraw these parts, however, and look around to ascertain if danger is near. They move their partially opened mandibles laterally to and fro with a considerable degree of elegance, munching the fry, insects, or small shellfish, which they secure, before swallowing them. When there are many together, one usually acts as sentinel, unless a heron should be near; and in either case you may despair of approaching them. I have never seen one of these birds feeding in fresh water, although I have been told that this is sometimes the case. To all those keys in the Floridas, in which ponds have been dug for the making of salt, they usually repair in the evening for the purpose of feeding; but the shallow inlets in the great salt marshes of our southern coasts are their favorite places of resort.

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

Name

White-faced Ibis
Lesson Plan

Food

Small fish, invertebrates

Feeding Techniques

Forages for food while walking slowly in the water

Habitat

Wetlands, agricultural fields

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

East coast of Texas, scattered wetlands in the interior western states and California

Breeding

Breeds in colonies

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Behavior: The name, "black curlew" has been well applied to this species, for at a distance in flight it certainly appears very dark colored; its long curved bill stretched out in front and its legs extended backward give it the shape of a curlew. It can be easily recognized at any distance. Its flight is strong, direct, swift and well sustained. 'When traveling in flocks, it flies in long, diagonal lines, sometimes with the birds abreast, usually with steady, rapid wing strokes, but varied occasionally with short periods of scaling.

Dr. Frank M. Chapman (1908) was privileged to see flocks of from 10 to 40 of these birds perform a surprising evolution; he writes:

In close formation, they soared skyward in a broad spiral, mounting higher and higher until, in this leisurely and graceful manner, they had reached an elevation of at least 500 feet. Then, without a moment's pause and with thrilling speed, they dived earthward. Sometimes they went together as one bird, at others each bird steered its own course, when the air seemed full of plunging, darting, crazy ibises. When about 50 feet from the ground, their reckless dash was checked and, on bowed wings, they turned abruptly and shot upward. Shortly after, like a rush of a gust of wind, we heard the humming sound caused by the swift passage through the air of their stiffened pinions.

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

Name

White Ibis
Lesson Plan

Food

Small fish, invertebrates

Feeding Techniques

Forages for food while walking slowly in the water

Habitat

Marshes, agricultural fields

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Southeast coastalwaters

Breeding

Breeds in colonies

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Enemies: Ibises are not generally regarded as game birds, but many are shot for food in the regions where they are plentiful and where they are locally called "white curlew." That they have other enemies than man is illustrated by the following account by Audubon (1840):

The ibises had all departed for the Florida coasts, excepting a few of the white species, one of which was at length espied. It was perched about 50 yards from us toward the center of the pool, and as the report of one of our guns echoed among the tall cypresses, down to the water, broken winged, it fell. The exertions which it made to reach the shore seemed to awaken the half-torpid alligators that lay in the deep mud at the bottom of the pool. One showed his head above the water, then a second and a third. All gave chase to the poor wounded bird, which, on seeing its dreaded and deadly foes, made double speed toward the very spot where we stood. I was surprised to see how much faster the bird swam than the reptile, who, with jaws widely opened, urged their heavy bodies through the water. The ibis was now within a few yards of us. It was the alligator's last chance. Springing forward as it were, he raised his body almost out of the water; his jaws nearly touched the terrified bird; when pulling three triggers at once, we lodged the contents of our guns in the throat of the monster. Thrashing furiously with his tail, and rolling his body in agony, the alligator at last sank to the mud; and the ibis, as if in gratitude, walked to our very feet and there lying down, surrendered itself to us. I kept this bird until the succeeding spring, and by care and good nursing, had the pleasure of seeing its broken wing perfectly mended, when, after its long captivity, I restored it to liberty, in the midst of its loved swamps and woods.

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

Name

Glossy Ibis
Lesson Plan

Food

Wide assortment of vertebrates and invertebrates. See below.

Feeding Techniques

Habitat

Coastal waters

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

East coast

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Food: Mr. Baynard (1913) made a careful study of the food of the young glossy ibises; his itemized summary of 194 meals gives the following totals: 412 cutworms, 1,964 grasshoppers, 1,391 crayfish, and 147 snakes. He says that the adults feed "principally on crayfish, cutworms, grasshoppers, and other insects and young moccasins," from which it would seem that they are very useful birds. He figures it out in this way:

Total of 3,914 vermin in 194 meals, or an average of 20 to each meal. As the young would average seven meals apiece each day this would mean 28 meals, and 20 vermin to the meal would make 560 vermin for a day's feed for the young alone. The parents fed these young for about 50 days, making the total of vermin destroyed by this one nest of birds about 28,000, and this is saying nothing of what the old birds ate, which would be at least half of what the youngsters devoured, making a total of 42,000 vermin eaten while rearing one nest of young. When we stop to think that there were about 9,000 pairs vf ibis, including both the white and glossy on this lake in 1912 that successfully reared nests of young, one can hardly conceive of the many milions of noxious insects and vermin of all kinds destroyed. The vast amount of good to any section of the country where this vast army of ibis nest can hardly be reckoned in dollars. The cutworms and grasshoppers, we all know what great damage to growing crops they do; the crayfish destroys the spawn of fish, which in turn live off the eggs and young mosquitos. The deduction is self-evident to anyone when we consider the vast amount of territory in Florida that is covered with water. The crayfish also destroy levees on the rivers and cause the destruction of millions of dollars damage to growing crops.

Snakes, especially the moccasins, which, by the way, comprised 95 per cent of the snakes captured by the ibis, do lots of harm. Moccasins in rookeries destroy thousands of eggs and young birds, and even if they didn't they are so deadly poisonous that anything that helps to keep them down to reasonable numbers is welcome.

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

Name

Turkey Vulture
Lesson Plan

Food

Feeds on dead animals.

Feeding Techniques

Circles in the wind using its long wings, looking for dead animals. Keeps an eye out for other vultures who might have found a dead or dying animal to feed on.

Habitat

Open grassland, wetlands.

Plumage

The adult Turkey Vulture has a red head. The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Throughout the United States.

Breeding

Nests in cavity, quite often a cave

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

turkey buzzards - nickname for turkey vulture

Notes from A.C. Bent

Behavior: On the ground the vulture is an awkward bird, hopping clumsily, sometimes with a hitch sideways; it has a gawky walk. To get into the air it leans forward, stumbles onward with a few steps or hops, gives a push with its legs, and, with a visible effort, flops its wings, until at last it is under way and sails off.

In the air the vulture wins our admiration. Its great wings, long and broad, hold the bird aloft like a kite. Adjusting its wings to the wind, it progresses for miles with never a wing beat, or rises very high in the air, nearly out of sight from the ground. While soaring, the vulture raises its wings to a slight angle above the line of the back, making a shallow V in the sky, and often the wind pushes upward the separated tips of the primary feathers. As it moves along it sways a little from side to side, not rolling like a ship at sea, but teetering, balancing like a tight-rope walker, but slower. When the bird sweeps past us just above the treetops, we see the flight as a steady rush through the air; we see the head turn as the bird studies the ground. Usually we see the turkey buzzards flying alone at no great height, but sometimes they collect in the sky, dozens together, and wheel about. The habit of gathering into flocks is much less marked than that of the black vulture, and they do not go in packs during the day as the latter birds do.

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

Name

Black Vulture
Lesson Plan

Food

Feeds on dead animals.

Feeding Techniques

Circles in the wind using its long wings, looking for dead animals. Keeps an eye out for other vultures who might have found a dead or dying animal to feed on.

Habitat

Open country

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Southeast of the United States. Expanding range into the northeast.

Breeding

Nests in cavity, quite often a cave

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Simmons (1925) describes the courtship of the black vulture as observed in Texas:

During February and to the middle of March, the love-flight or courtship flight of the two birds may often be seen at the breeding grounds, lasting from two to ten minutes, in rapid, prolonged, wide-spreading circles. In the air over a thickly-populated nesting area, such as a honey-combed cliff or canyon wall in the hills, as many as 25 or 50 pairs may be seen going through these nuptial ceremonies during early March, presenting a slowly-moving, gyrating maelstrom, circling and sailing in close spirals, one of a pair continually following the other; out of this maelstrom a female occasionally drops, the male a few feet behind, and then a chase ensues, dropping, darting, wheeling with incredible speed, wing tips of one touching the wing tips of the other in the twists and turns of the play. A male performing before a female perched high on a dead tree overlooking the chasm often circles high in front of her, half folds his wings and dives straight for the earth, his wings shrilling and whistling until he zooms upward again to resume his circling.

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

Name

California Condor
Lesson Plan

Food

Feeds on dead animals.

Feeding Techniques

Searches for dead animals while it glides

Habitat

Open country

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

California central valley - very isolated

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Illustrating its mastery of the air, Mr. Dawson (1923) relates the following incident, as witnessed by Claude C. L. Brown:

Just because the sails of this bird are so accurately trimmed for the utilization of light breezes, the craft itself is unable to make headway against a strong wind. Not even by flapping can the Condor negotiate a breeze above a certain intensity. What the bird does in such an emergency is best told by Brown, who was once present on a quite critical occasion. Presently he described four Condors approaching from the far northeast, but before they came up a smart breeze sprang up from the southwest, and presently it whistled over the peaks with increasing fury. The birds were baffled on the very last mile of their approach. They tacked back and forth, down wind, or struggled valiantly in the teeth of the gale, only to be swept away again and again. The cold sea breeze had it in for them, and though it was only mid afternoon, it began to look to the observer like a case of sleeping out that night. But off to the southeastward some twenty or thirty miles, the Carisso plains lay baking in the sun. The focal point of this great oven was sending up a huge column of heated air, as evidenced by clouds slowly revolving at the height of a mile or so above the plain. What followed can best be given in Mr. Brown's own words: "Presently one of the Condors gave up the fight, sailed a mile or so to the eastward, and, after circling to gain elevation, made away in a bee-line for the southeast. In a short time the other three went through the same maneuver and followed after their companion. I now brought my telescope into action and I never took the glass off the birds although they became mere specks in the sky. The Condors did not swerve from their course until they entered the spiral cloud. Upon striking that ascending column of air they rose rapidly, apparently without effort, as a balloon might rise, being now and again lost to view in the fleecy folds of ascending vapor, until within an incredibly short space of time they emerged above the clouds, into a higher region of absolute clearness, say three miles above the earth. Here they must have found themselves well above and quite free from the lower currents of air which had plagued them, for now they sailed straight to the westward, descended and: glided triumphantly homeward on the wings of their ancient enemy, the southwest gale! "I do not think that more than thirty minutes had elapsed from the time the Condors gave up the fight till they were safely at roost in their rookery; yet these birds must have traveled somewhere from fifty to seventy miles to accomplish their purpose, and the whole performance took place without the flap of a wing."

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

Name

Sandhill Crane
Lesson Plan

Food

Variety of vertebrates and invertebrates.

Feeding Techniques

Forage on land while walking slowly

Habitat

Prairies, wetlands, tundra

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Winters in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas

Breeding

Breeds in colonies

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Courtship: Of this interesting performance, he goes on to say:

The end of May draws near, and the full tide of their spring fever causes these birds to render themselves preeminently ludicrous by the queer antics and performances which the crane's own book of etiquette doubtless rules to be the proper thing at this mad season. I have frequently lain in concealment and watched the birds conduct their affairs of love close by, and it is an interesting as well as amusing sight. Some notes jotted down on the spot will present the matter more vividly than I can describe from memory, and I quote them. On May 18, I lay in a hunting blind, and was much amused by the performance of two cranes, which alighted near by. The first comer remained alone but a short time, when a second bird came along, uttering his loud note at short intervals, until he espied the bird on the ground, when he made a slight circuit, and dropped close by. Both birds then joined in a series of loud rolling cries in quick succession. Suddenly the newcomer, which appeared to be a male, wheeled his back toward the female and made a low bow, his head nearly touching the ground, and ending by a quick leap into the air; another pirouette brings him facing his charmer, whom he greets with a still deeper bow, his wings meanwhile hanging loosely by his sides. She replies by an answering bow and hop, and then each tries to outdo the other in a series of spasmodic hops and starts, mixed with a set of comically grave and ceremonious bows. The pair stood for some moments bowing right and left, when their legs appeared to become envious of the large share taken in the performance by the neck, and then would ensue a series of stilted hops and skips which are more like the steps of a burlesque minuet than anything else I can think of. Frequently others joins and the dance keeps up untill all are exhausted.

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

Name

Whooping Crane
Lesson Plan

Food

Variety of vertebrates and invertebrates.

Feeding Techniques

Forages on land while walking slowly

Habitat

Prairies, wetlands, tundra

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Very isolated areas; winters New Mexico, Texas; breeds in northern Canada

Breeding

Breeds in colonies. Endangered species. Current (2000) population under 200.

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Fastidious - in this case, selective

Notes from A.C. Bent

Food: The whooping crane is not at all fastidious in its diet; it is quite omnivorous and eats a great variety of both animal and vegetable food. Audubon (1840) supposed that the sandhilll cranes were the young of the whooping cranes, so some of his remarks may apply to either species; but he says that: Both old and young may be seen digging through the mud before the rains have begun to cover the shallow ponds with water, for during summer they become almost dry. The birds work very assiduously with their bills, and succeed in uncovering the large roots of the great water lily, which often run to a depth of 2 or 3 feet. Several cranes are seen in the same hole, tugging at roots and other substances, until they reach the object of their desire, which they greedily devour.

His plate illustrates a whooping crane killing young alligators. Nuttall (1834) writes:

In the winter season, dispersed from their native haunts in quest of subsistence, they are often seen prowling in the low grounds and rice fields of the Southern States in quest of insects, grain, and reptiles; they swallow also mice, moles, rats, and frogs with great avidity, and may therefore be looked upon at least as very useful scavengers. They are also at times killed as game, their flesh being well flavored, as they do not subsist so much upon fish as many other birds of this family.

In the fall whooping cranes resort to the grain fields and feed among the stubble, with the sandhill cranes, on various kinds of grains. They are also said to eat vegetables, plants, bulbous roots, snakes, frogs, mice, tadpoles, snails, slugs, worms, grasshoppers, and sometimes a few fish.

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

Name

Limpkin
Lesson Plan

Food

Fresh water snails.

Feeding Techniques

Forages for snails

Habitat

Marsh

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

In the United States it is found only in the state of Florida

Breeding

Nests in marsh

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Bent speaks of the Limpkin being almost extinct in 1902. With protection throughout most of the twentieth century the species has made a good recovery.

Notes from A.C. Bent

"The voice of one crying in the wilderness" is the first impression one gets of this curious bird in the great inland swamps of Florida. While exploring the intricate channels, half choked with aquatic vegetation, that wound their way among the willow islands in the extensive marshes of the upper St. Johns, we frequently heard and occasionally caught a glimpse of this big, brown, rail-like bird; it peered and nodded at us from the shore of some little island, or went flying off with deliberate wing beats over the tops of the bushes; once one perched on the top of a small willow and looked at us.

The limpkin, or crying bird, as it has been called most appropriately, was once very abundant in Florida, but for the past 40 years or more it has been steadily decreasing in numbers. It is so tame and unsuspicious, almost foolishly so, and it flies so slowly, that it has been an easy mark for the thoughtless gunner who shoots at every large bird he sees, especially if it is good to eat. The flesh of the limpkin has been much esteemed as food and in many places it. has been hunted as a game bird. It was decidedly scarce when I was in Florida, in 1902, and had practically disappeared from all regions within easy reach of civilization.

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

Name

American Coot
Lesson Plan

Food

Invertebrates; opportunistic feeder of garbage.

Feeding Techniques

Very opportunistic feeder. Is able to easily find food in parks and other urban settings.

Habitat

Generally found in water areas; especially fond of parks, and areas near human habitation where people provide opportunities for it to scavenge food.

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Throughout the United States. In some urban areas is considered a pest as its numbers increase in respect to free food left by people. Known to be a pest especially around golf courses.

Breeding

Nests in marsh

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

The following incident is related by Moses Williams, Jr., in a letter to Dr. Charles W. Townsend:

An eagle after putting a large flock of ducks and geese to flight in the usual way, approached a flock of some 200 coots. They crowded together so that from our boat they appeared to be a solid black mass. When he came over them, he dropped from a height of about 25 yards to within a few feet. He did not swoop, but rather, comparatively slowly, pointed his flight downward. Immediately the coots set up such a splashing that the black spot was converted into a mass of white spray. The eagle hovered over them for a moment, apparently looking for an individual to strike at and then passed on. The splashing ceased only to begin again as he turned and again stooped and the same thing happened three more times and then the eagle gave it up and in two minutes the coots were again in open formation and swimming about and feeding in their usual animated way. We were all quite sure that the flock made no attempt to get away, but did their splashing throughout on the same spot. It seemed to me a very intelligent performance on the part of a bird, which could not escape by flying or diving as the other fowl can.

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

Name

Common Moorhen
Lesson Plan

Food

Mostly vegetation with some invertebrates

Feeding Techniques

Using its long toes is able to walk along lilies and other vegetation to acquire food in areas where other birds cannot feed.

Habitat

Freshwater marsh, primarily.

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Eastern United States and pockets in the west.

Breeding

Nests in marsh

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Formerly called the Common Gallinule - the name that A.C. Bent uses in his notes below.

Dr. Alexander Wetmore - formerly worked with the US Biological Survey and the Smithsonian Museum.

Notes from A.C. Bent

Food: Gallinules seek their food among the aquatic vegetation where they live. Their long toes enable them to walk with ease over the lily pads, where they may be seen picking up their food from the surface; they can also swim and dive, if necessary to secure it, or travel and climb with ease among the denser vegetation. Their food consists of seeds, roots, and soft parts of succulent water plants, snails and other small mollusks, grasshoppers, and various other insects and worms. Dr. Alexander Wetmore (1916) found that, in Puerto Rico, 96.75 per cent of their food was vegetable, grass and rootlets forming 90.75 per cent and the other 6 per cent consisting of seeds of grasses and various weeds, much of which must have been picked up on dry land. The remaining 3.25 per cent was made up of insects and a few small mollusks.

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

Name

Purple Gallinue
Lesson Plan

Food

Primarily vegetation with some invertebrates

Feeding Techniques

Walks in inaccessible areas using its long toes to walk on lilies and other vegetation.

Habitat

Freshwater marsh, primarily. Numbers decreasing due to decreasing habitat.

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Southeast coast from Florida to Texas.

Breeding

Nests in marsh

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Food: Very little has been published about the food of the purple gallinule. Mr. Wayne (1910) says that it "feeds largely upon rice during the autumn." It certainly frequents the rice fields at that season and is said to do much damage to the rice crop, for it not only picks up grains from the ground but bends down the stalks to reach the seeds. Mr. J. G. Wells (1902) says that, in the West Indies, "they are caught in fish-pots baited with corn" and that "they do damage to the Indian corn, as they climb up the stalks and eat the ears; they also climb and eat plantains and bananas." Probably they live chiefly on grains, seeds, and other vegetable food, but there is some evidence that they also eat snails, and perhaps insects. Baird, Brewer, and Ridgway (1884) say:

"Worms, mollusks, and the fruit of various kinds of aquatic plants are its food. It gathers seeds and carries them to its beak with its claws, and it also makes use of them in clinging to the rushes where the water is very deep."

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

Name

Sora Rail
Lesson Plan

Food

Small invertebrates.

Feeding Techniques

Walks through the vegetation of a marsh using its long toes to gain access to areas and picks up food with its beak.

Habitat

Fresh water marsh.

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage. ; juvenile lacks the yellow bill and has generally buffy feathers.

Distribution

Found throughout the United States.

Breeding

Nests in marsh

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Compared to other rail species, the Sora Rail is seen more often in the open as it looks for food.

Notes from A.C. Bent

The sora or Carolina rail is unquestionably the rail of North America. It is the most widely distributed and the best known of its tribe. Throughout its wide breeding range its cries are among the most characteristic voices of the marshes. During some part of the year it is more or less common in practically every Province in Canada, every State in the United States, and in much of Central America and the West Indies. It is the most popular of the rails among sportsman and, when one speaks of rail shooting, he generally refers to this species. Being a prolific breeder, it is astonishingly abundant in favored localities during the fall migration.

The sora like the other rails, is a denizen of the cozy marsh; and for this reason it has continued to live and breed in the midst of civilization long after so many of the wilder and shyer birds have been driven away. Man clears away the forests, cultivates the prairies, cleans up the bushy hillsides and mows the meadow hay, forcing the birds that live there to move elsewhere; but he dislikes the quaking bog, which is perhaps too low to drain, and so he leaves it until the last, when the land becomes valuable enough to fill in for houselots. Many such little swamps and bogs, which had long persisted near the heart of some big city, have been filled in within my memory. And the rails, Virginia and sora, have stuck to them to the last; so well hidden were they in the seclusion of the marsh, that they little cared for the activities of civilization so close around them; the marsh was their world and supplied all their needs.

In my college days, in the late eighties, such a bog still existed near the center of Brookline, where a friend and I used to wade around in the mud up to our waists, collecting rails eggs; then, dripping with mud and water, we would return to his house, jump into the bath tub with our clothes on and wash off the mud, much to his mother's disgust. In those days the Fresh Pond marshes in Cambridge were an oasis of wilderness in a desert of civilization and both the Virginia and sora rails nested there in abundance. Both of these marshes were filled in and obliterated by human "improvements."

As late as 1908, Mr. J. A. Weber (1909) found both Virginia and sora rails nesting on the northern portion of the Manhattan Island in New York City. He writes:

The marshes inhabited by the rails are situated at the northern portion of Manhattan Island and extend northward and eastward from the foot of the hill at Fort George (One hundred and ninetieth Street and Amsterdam Avenue). These marshes formerly lined the shore of the Harlem River, but through street improvements have been separated from the river and cut up into small areas.

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

Name

Black Rail
Lesson Plan

Food

Small invertebrates.

Feeding Techniques

Walks through the vegetation of a marsh using its long toes to gain access to areas and picks up food with its beak.

Habitat

Fresh water marsh. The smallest of the rails in the United States. Probably the most difficult to find. Does vocalize a lot which aids finding them. As with other rails its habitat is disappearing quickly.

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Found only in small pockets throughout the United States. Found along the east and southeast coasts and in select areas along the pacific coast.

Breeding

Nests in marsh

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Although the little black rail was discovered in Jamaica in 1760 and received its scientific name in 1788, it was not discovered in the United States until 1836, when Audubon (1840) described and figured it from specimens given him by Titian R. Peale. Practically nothing was known about its distribution and habits in North America for 100 years after its discovery in Jamaica. For a full account of the early history of this species I would refer the reader to Dr. J. Allen's (1900) interesting paper, in which is told about all that was known about it up to that time. Much has been learned about it since and many of its nests have been found, but its distribution and life history are still imperfectly known and specimens of the bird are still rare in collections. Owing to its secretive habits, it is seldom seen, and it is probably much commoner and more widely distributed than is generally supposed. William Brewster's (1901) interesting paper on the "Kicker" furnishes some food for thought and some suggestions for solving "an ornithological mystery." I have no doubt that the black rail breeds in some of the marshes of southeastern Massachusetts; in fact, a nest is said to have been found in Chatham; but though I have explored many miles of marshes and spent many hours in the search, I have never seen a trace of this elusive little bird.

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

Name

Virginia Rail
Lesson Plan

Food

Small invertebrates.

Feeding Techniques

Walks through the vegetation of a marsh using its long toes to gain access to areas and picks up food with its beak.

Habitat

Fresh water marsh.

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Throughout much of the US - winters along both coasts

Breeding

Nests in marsh

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

The Virginia rail, like most of its family, is rarely seen except by those who know its ways, and, even when heard, its strange noises are often attributed to frogs or other creatures. One who has seen only the usual short and feeble flights of this bird would receive with astonishment, if not with incredulity, the statement that some individuals migrate annually many hundreds of miles. Such, however, must be the case, for the Virginia rail winters but sparsely north of North Carolina and it breeds as far north as Quebec and even Manitoba.

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

Name

Ridgway Rail
Lesson Plan

Food

Small invertebrates and some small mammals and other vertebrates.

Feeding Techniques

Forages along the ground - stalking its prey

Habitat

Salt water marsh.

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Primarily along the Pacific and Atlantic coast

Breeding

Nest is placed on the ground at the high tide mark.

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Its very long and unwebbed toes make large chicken-like tracks spaced about 10 inches apart in the soft mud of the slough banks, and these are very easy to recognize. The voice, too, is characteristic. It is a harsh, mechanical cackling: "chuck, chuck, chuck, chuck," or "cheek-a-cheek-a-check ": uttered rapidly for several seconds and sounding as if two or more birds rather than a single one were participating in its production. When flushed this rail jumps almost straight up into the air for 6 or 8 feet and then flies off in a clumsy manner, its short, narrow wings moving at the rate of two or three beats per second. These flights are usually short, the bird soon dropping down again into the protection of the marsh vegetation. Like all rails, the clapper rail is, when need be, very skillful at keeping out of sight. Sometimes individuals appear shy, flushing at a distance, or running toward the denser vegetation at great speed, with lowered head and elusive mien; at other times they walk out into the open in bottoms of sloughs at close range and view the intruder seemingly with perfect equanimity. They have a long running stride, and the body is held close to the ground. The narrowly compressed body enables them to slip easily between the rigid upright stems of a sort of rush which grows in thick beds along the larger salt sloughs. If not thoroughly alarmed, rails will sometimes stop or hesitate on open ground, when the peculiar twitching movement of the tail may be clearly seen. This member is held vertically and the twitching of it is rendered conspicuous because of the white color flashed from the undertail coverts. When walking, the head and tail twitch forward in unison with each stride. When thoroughly alarmed this rail will take to water and swim considerable distances, as, in one observed instance, across a 30-foot slough.

Birds in the Classroom
The Bird Groups
Back to Home
Glossary
Themes
Bibliography

 

Name

Lesson Plan

Food

Feeding Techniques

Habitat

Plumage

Distribution

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent