Natural History Notes on the Birds

Ducks, Geese, Swans, Doves and Pigeons

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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.

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Name

Tundra Swan
Lesson Plan

Food

Seeds and other plants; sometimes mollusks

Feeding Techniques

Pulls food using its strong beak; is able to use its long neck to reach plants in deeper water than other ducks and geese. Will also feed on land.

Habitat

Breeds on tundra ponds. Winters in agricultural areas and wildlife refuges.

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage. , juvenile has grayer plumage.

Distribution

Throughout the northern portions of the United States but not consistently. Numbers seem to be returning. In 1978 numbers were estimated to be about 100,000. For an opportunity for 4th to 6th grade school classes to become involved in a study of Tundra Swans check out Shadow a Swan Project.

Breeding

Majority of birds breed in Alaska; rest breed in northern portions of Canada;

"Nests - Situated near water; a heap of rubbish gathered from the immediate vicinity, comprising grass, moss, and dead leaves ; sometimes lined with down." Game Birds in California

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Swans are protected from hunting now.

Notes from A.C. Bent

I had lived to be nearly 50 years old before I saw my first wild swan, but it was a sight worth waiting for, to see a flock of these magnificent, great, snow-white birds, glistening in the sunlight against the clear blue sky, their long necks pointing northward toward their polar home, their big black feet trailing behind, and their broad translucent wings slowly beating the thin upper air, as they sped onward in their long spring flight. If the insatiable desire to kill, and especially to kill something big and something beautiful, had not so possessed past and present generations of sportsmen, I might have seen one earlier in my life and perhaps many another ornithologist, who has never seen a swan, might have enjoyed the thrill of such an inspiring sight. No opportunity has been neglected to kill these magnificent birds, by fair means or foul, since time immemorial; until the vast hordes which formerly migrated across our continent have been sadly reduced in numbers and are now confined to certain favored localities. Fortunately the breeding grounds of this species are so remote that they are not likely to be invaded by the demands of agriculture; and fortunately the birds are so wary that they are not likely to be exterminated on migrations or in their winter resorts.

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Name

Trumpeter Swan
Lesson Plan

Food

Seeds and other plant material

Feeding Techniques

Forages on both land and water. Uses long neck to reach underwater to obtain food.

Habitat

Wetlands, agricultural fields but also canbe found in small wooded ponds.

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage. e, juvenile has grayer plumage.

Distribution

The Northwest especially. Found in selected pockets elsewhere in the country.

Breeding

"Nest - placed near water; large, composed of hay, down and feathers intermixed, or of sod, grass and rushes lined with feathers and down." Game Birds in California

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Strong efforts are bringing this species back from the brink of extinction.

"melted its primaries" - a poetic reference to the eclipse plumage when many waterfowl molt out their flight feathers and for a brief time are unable to fly.

Notes from A.C. Bent

This magnificent bird, the largest of all the North American wild fowl, belongs to a vanishing race; though once common throughout all of the central and northern portions of the continent, it has been gradually receding before the advance of civilization and agriculture; when the great Central West was wild and uncultivated it was known to breed in the uninhabited parts of many of our Central States, even as far south as northern Missouri; but now it probably does not breed anywhere within the limits of the United States, except possibly in some of the wilder portions of Montana or Wyoming; civilization has pushed it farther and farther north until now it is making its last stand in the uninhabited wilds of northern Canada. E. H. Forbush (1912) has summed up the history of its disappearance very well, as follows:

The trumpeter has succumbed to incessant persecution in all parts of its range, and its total extinction is now only a matter of years. Persecution drove it from the northern parts of its winter range to the shores of the Gulf of Mexico; from all the southern portion of its breeding range toward the shores of the Arctic Ocean; and from the Atlantic and Pacific slopes toward the interior. Now it almost has disappeared from the Gulf States. A swan soon at any time of the year in most parts of the United States is the signal for every man with a gun to pursue it. The breeding swans of the United States have been extirpated, and the bird is pursued, even in its farthest northern haunts, by the natives, who capture it in summer, when it has melted its primaries and, is unable to fly. The swan lives to a great age. The older birds are about as tough and unfit for food as an old horse. Only the younger are savory, and the gunners might well have spared the adult birds, but it was 'sport" to kill them and fashion called for swan's-down. The large size of this bird and its conspicuousness have served, as in the ease of the whooping crane, to make it a shining mark, and the trumpetings that were once heard over the breadth of a great continent, as the long converging lines drove on from zone to zone, will soon be heard no more. In the ages to come, like the call of the whooping crane, they will be locked in the silence of the past.

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Name

Snow Goose
Lesson Plan

Food

Mostly plant material; see below in Notes from A. C. Bent

Feeding Techniques

Feeds while on the water and on land.

Habitat

Nests in northern tundra and spends the winter on wetlands and agricultural areas.

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Pacific coast, Rocky mountain flyway and midwest flyway during the winter.

Breeding

Breeds near the Arctic Circle. Nest is depression in ground lined with vegetation and down. Has a dark morph which used to be considered a separate species.

"Nest - On wet ground; made of grasses, mosses and down.." Game Birds in California

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

The Snow Goose Problem is highlighted in this article by USGS.

Empetrum nigrum is the scientific name for Crowberry. A USGS article discribes the plant. "Low growing, shrubby evergreen up to 12" high, resembling a miniature fir tree, with short, needle-like leaves (grooved underneath), which are turned under at the margins, and stems with long woolly hairs. The flowers are small (3 mm), pinkish and inconspicuous, in loose clusters in leaf axils bearing 3 stamens, and 6-9 short-lobed stigma. The fruits are black to dark purple drupes, juicy and berry-like, containing up to 9 white, hard seeds."

Notes from A.C. Bent

Food: The food of the snow goose is largely vegetable, in fact almost wholly so during the greater part of its sojourn in its winter home. In the spring this consists largely of winter wheat and other sprouting grains and grasses; and in the fall the stubble fields are favorite feeding grounds, where large flocks are known to congregate regularly. According to Swainson and Richardson (1831) it "feeds on rushes, insects, and in autumn on berries, particularly those of the Empetrum nigrum." Doctor Coues (1874) gives the best account of its feeding habits, as follows:

Various kinds of ordinary grass form a large part of this birds food, at least during their winter residence in the United States. They gather it precisely as tame geese are wont to do. Flocks alight upon a meadow or plain, and pass over the ground in broken array, cropping to either side as they go, with the peculiar tweak of the bill and quick jerk of the neck familiar to all who have watched the barnyard birds when similarly engaged. The short, turfy grasses appear to be highly relished and this explains the frequent presence of the birds in fields at a distance from water. They also eat the bulbous roots and soft succulent culms of aquatic plants, and in securing these the tooth-like processes of the bill are brought into special service.

Wilson again says that, when thus feeding upon reeds. " they tear them up like hogs " a questionable comparison, however, for the birds pull up the plants instead of pushing or "rooting" them up. The geese, I think, also feed largely upon aquatic insects, small mollusks, and marine invertebrates of various kinds; for they are often observed in mud flats and rocky places by the seaside, where there is no vegetation whatever; and it is probable that when they pass over meadows they do not spare the grasshoppers. Audubon relates that in Louisiana he has often seen the geese feeding in wheat fields, where they plucked up the young plants entire.

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Name

Ross's Goose
Lesson Plan

Food

Mostly plant material

Feeding Techniques

Feeds while on the water and on land.

Habitat

Nests in northern tundra and spends the winter on wetlands and agricultural areas.

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Winters in isolated pockets in California, Texas, New Mexico

Breeding

Nest is depression in ground lined with vegetation and down.

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

The smallest and the rarest of the geese which regularly visit the United States is this pretty little white goose, hardly larger than our largest ducks, a winter visitor from farthest north, which comes to spend a few winter months in the genial climate of California.

Spring: Whither it goes when it wings its long flight northeastward across the Rocky Mountains in the early spring no one knows, probably to remote and unexplored lands in the Arctic regions. At certain places it is abundant at times, as the following account by Robert S. Williams (1886), of Great Falls, Montana, will illustrate; he writes

On the 17th of April, 1885. after several days of stormy weather, with wind from the northwest, accompanied at times by heavy fog and rain, there appeared on a bar in the Missouri River at this place a large flock of Ross's snow geese. In the afternoon of the same day, procuring a boat, we rowed toward the flock, which presented a rather remarkable sight, consisting as it did of several thousand individuals squatting closely together along the edge of the bar. Here and there birds were constantly standing up and flapping their wings, then settling down again, all the while a confused gabble, half gooselike, half ducklike, arising from the whole flock. We approached to within a hundred yards or so, when the geese lightly arose to a considerable height and flew off over the prairie, where they soon alighted and began to feed on the short, green grass. While flying, often two or three birds would dart off from the main flock, and, one behind the other, swing around in great curves, quite after the manner of the little chimney swift in the East. Apparently these same birds remained about till the 26th of April, long after the storm was over, but they became broken up into several smaller flocks some time before leaving.

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Name

Canada Goose
Lesson Plan

Food

Mostly plant material, but recently has become a general scavenger in suburban areas.

Feeding Techniques

Feeds while on the water and on land.

Habitat

Still found in the wilds but more and more perfers parks, suburan areas

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Throughout the US. The growing population of Canada Geese is becoming a problem in some areas of the country. Their waste matter causes pond and lake water to become toxic to people.

Breeding

Will nest in a variety of places, including artificial nest sites. Nest is depression in ground lined with vegetation and down.

"Nest - Usually in swampy situations, but on dry ground, more rarely on a stump or in a tree in an old nest of some other bird; constructed of twigs, weeds, grasses or reeds, with abundant lining of down." Game Birds in California

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Young: The period of incubation varies from 28 to 30 days; probably the former is the usual time under favorable circumstances. The gander never sits on the nest, but while the goose is incubating he is constantly in attendance, except when obliged to leave in search of food. He is a staunch defender of the home and is no mean antagonist. Audubon (1840) relates the following:

It is during the breeding season that the gander displays his courage and strength to the greatest advantage. I knew one that appeared larger than usual, and of which all the lower parts were of a rich cream color. It returned three years in succession to a large pond a few miles from the mouth of Green River, in Kentucky, and whenever I visited the nest it seemed to look upon me with utter contempt. It would stand in a stately attitude until I reached within a few yards of the nest, when suddenly lowering its head and shaking it as if it were dislocated from the neck, it would open its wings and launch into the air, flying directly at me. So daring was this fine fellow that in two instances he struck me a blow with one of his wings on the right arm, which for an instant I thought was broken. I observed that immediately after such an effort to defend his nest and mate he would run swiftly toward them, pass his head and neck several times over and around the female, and again assume his attitude of defiance.

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Name

White fronted Goose
Lesson Plan

Food

Mostly plant material

Feeding Techniques

Feeds while on the water and on land.

Habitat

Mostly marshes and fields

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Found wintering in California, Oregon, New Mexico, Texas

Breeding

Nest is depression in ground lined with vegetation and down. See below.

"Nest - On the ground, near water, often in wooded districts; made of grass and feathers and lined with down." Game Birds in California

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

John Murdoch (1885) says that at Point Barrow: the eggs are always laid in the black, muddy tundra, often on top of a slight knoll. The nest is lined with tundra moss and down. The number of eggs in a brood appears subject to considerable variation, as we found sets of 4, 6, and 7, all well advanced in incubation. The last-laid egg is generally in the middle of the nest and may be recognized by its white shell unless incubation is far advanced, the other eggs being stained and soiled by the birds coming on and off the nest.

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Name

Black Brandt
Lesson Plan

Food

Mostly plant material, but also invertebrates such as mollusks

Feeding Techniques

Feeds while on the water and on land.

Habitat

This species is generally found along the coast.

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Found primarily along the Pacific coast, but also along Atlantic coast

Breeding

Nest is depression in ground lined with vegetation and down.

"Nest - On marshy ground; a simple depression, abundantly lined with down." Game Birds in California

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Witherby's 'Handbook of British Birds', published in 1921.

Notes from A.C. Bent

Food: According to Witherby's Handbook (1921) the food of the brant on its breeding grounds consists of "grass, algae, moss, and stalks and leaves of arctic plants (Eriophorum, Ranunculus, Cerastium, Oxyria, and Saxifraga) ." The "young feed on Gramineae and Oxyria."

While on our coasts their chief food is eelgrass (Zostera marina), which grows so extensively in our shallow bays and estuaries. At certain stages of the tides, the last half of the ebb or the first half of the flood, when the beds of eelgrass are uncovered or covered with shallow water, the brant resort to them in large numbers to feed. They prefer the roots and the whitish lower stems, but they eat the green fronds also. As soon as the water is shallow enough for them to reach the grass by tipping up they begin to feed, and they keep at it until the tide again covers the flats too deeply. While most of the birds are feeding with heads and necks below the surface there are always a few sentinels on watch to warn them of approaching danger.

They pull up much more eelgrass than they can eat at once; this floats off with the tide and often forms small floating islands, far off from shore, to which the brant resort at high tide to feed again. John Cordeaux (1898) says that the longer pieces of Zostera "are neatly rolled up, like ribbons, in their stomachs"; they also devour the fronds of some species of algae. crustaceans, mollusca, worms, and marine insects. Gatke says that at Heligoland, when the sea is calm, small companies will approach the cliffs and pick off the small mollusca and crustaceans.

I have at times been greatly entertained in watching a flock of brant feeding in shallow water, close inshore, the greater portion of the birds upside down, their rumps and tails showing the white coverts, only visible as they greedily tear at the blades and roots of the grass wrack, whilst others are seizing the floating fragments of the plant, broken off and dislodged by their mates; and on the outside there are always some with heads held high, over on the watch, and ready to give alarm. All the time they keep a continuous, noisy gabbling and grunting, the rear birds constantly swimming forward to get in advance of their fellows, a procedure which I have known, more than once, bring them within range of an ordinary sporting gun.

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Name

Emperor Goose
Lesson Plan

Food

Mostly plant material

Feeding Techniques

Feeds chiefly while on land.

Habitat

Coastal waters

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Rare nortwest visitor

Breeding

Nest is depression in ground lined with vegetation and down.

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

The handsomest and the least known of American geeses confined to such narrow limits, both in its breeding range and on its migrations, that it has been seen by fewer naturalists than any other goose on our list. On the almost inaccessible, low, marshy shores of Alaska, between the mouths of the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers, it formerly bred abundantly; but recent explorations in that region indicate that it has been materially reduced in numbers during the past 30 years. My assistant, Mr. Hersey, who spent the season of 1914 at the Yukon delta, saw less than a dozen birds, where Doctor Nelson found it so abundant in 1879. The decrease is partially, if not wholly, due to the fact that large numbers are killed every year and their eggs taken by the natives, even within the limits of what is supposed to be a reservation.

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Name

Mallard
Lesson Plan

Food

Mostly plant material.

Feeding Techniques

Tips over and dabs at the water. Beak serves as a filter system to capture the plant material.

Habitat

Lakes, ponds; especially municipal parks.

Plumage

Male and female have very distinctly different plumage.

Distribution

Throughout the United States.

Breeding

Nests away from water and will place nest in a variety of different places. Usually on the ground. Hybridizes very easily with other ducks.

"Nest - Generally on ground near water, hidden in clumps of willows, weeds, tules, but more often in tall grass; crudely made of leaves and grasses but warmly and copiously lined with down; about seven inches in inside diameter." Game Birds in California

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Food: Mallards are essentially fresh-water ducks and find their principal feeding grounds in the sloughs, ponds, lakes, streams, and swamps of the interior, where their food is picked up on or above the surface or obtained by partial immersion in shallow water. In Alaska and on the Pacific coast they feed largely on dead salmon and salmon eggs, which they obtain in the pools in the rivers. On or near their breeding grounds in the prairie regions they feed largely on wheat, barley, and corn which they glean from the stubble fields. On their migrations in the central valleys they frequent the timbered ponds, everglades, and wooded swamps, alighting among the trees to feed on beechnuts and acorns or to pick up an occasional slug, snail, frog, or lizard. In the South they resort to the rice fields and savannas in large numbers, feeding both by day and night if not disturbed; where they are hunted persistently they become more nocturnal in their feeding habits.

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Name

Black Duck
Lesson Plan

Food

Mostly plant material.

Feeding Techniques

Tips over and dabs at the water. Beak serves as a filter system to capture the plant material.

Habitat

Lakes and ponds.

Plumage

The male and the female have different plumage.

Distribution

Primarily the northeast of the United States.

Breeding

Hybridizing with Mallards is diminishing their numbers.

"Nest - On the ground; constructed of weeds, grass, and feathers." Game Birds in California

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Behavior: The black duck starts into flight, from land or water by a powerful upward spring, rising perpendicularly 8 to 10 feet into the air before it starts away in its swift and direct flight. When once under way its flight is strong and swift, usually high in the air, unless forced by strong adverse winds to fly low; its long neck is outstretched and its wings vibrate rapidly, the white underside of the wings flashing in the light and serving as a good field mark at a long distance. When descending from a height to alight in a pond the pointed wings are curved downward and rigidly held, as the smooth body glides through the air, tipping slightly from side to side, gradually dropping in a circle until near enough to check its momentum with a few vigorous flaps and drop into the water, feet first, with a gentle, gliding splash.

On land the black duck walks with ease and grace, running rapidly, if necessary, and holding its head high. It is ever on the alert and can seldom be surprised. It swims lightly and gracefully and with some speed. It does not ordinarily dive, but it can do so, if necessary, as every gunner knows who has wounded one and chased it. I have read that this duck can detect the presence of danger by the sense of smell, but I doubt it; it would not come so readily to well-concealed duck stands, where human beings are living constantly, if its nostrils were very keen. I should think it more likely that it depends on its sight and hearing, both of which are very acute and highly developed.

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Name

Pintail
Lesson Plan

Food

Mostly plant material.

Feeding Techniques

Dabbling duck

Habitat

Ponds, small lakes, marshes

Plumage

The male and the female have different plumage.

Distribution

During the winter it is found throughout the US but abundant in the west. It breeds in Canada.

Breeding

Often nests away from water. Little territorial defense results in high predation of eggs.

"Nest - Usually in tall grass on dry ground but near water; a crude structure of dry grasses lined with down." Game Birds in California

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Once, on May 17, while sitting overlooking a series of small ponds, a pair of pintails arose and started off, the male in full chase after the female. Back and forth they passed at a marvelously swift rate of speed, with frequent quick turns and evolutions. At one moment they were almost out of view high overhead and the next saw them skimming along the ground in an involved course very difficult to follow with the eye. Ere long a second male joined in the chase, then a third, and so on until six males vied with each other in the pursuit. The original pursuer appeared to be the only one capable of keeping close to the coy female, and owing to her dextrous turns and curves he was able to draw near only at intervals. Whenever he did succeed he always passed under the female, and kept so close to her that their wings clattered together with a noise like a watchman's rattle, and audible a long distance. This chase lasted half an hour, and after five of the pursuers had dropped off one by one the pair remaining (and I think the male was the same that originated the pursuit) settled in one of the ponds.

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Name

Gadwall
Lesson Plan

Food

Mostly plant material.

Feeding Techniques

Dabbling duck

Habitat

Ponds, small lakes, marshes

Plumage

The male and the female have different plumage.

Distribution

During the winter it is found throughout the US but abundant in the west. It breeds in Canada and the upper midwest

Breeding

Female builds nest on land near water, protected by tall vegetation.

"Nest - In grass on dry ground but usually close to water; composed of grasses and tules and lined with down; resembles that of Mallard." Game Birds in California

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

oak mast - the acorns of oak trees; an important source of food for birds and mammals

Notes from A.C. Bent

Behavior: The gadwall can walk well on land, where it forages for oak mast in the woods and for grain in the open fields, often a long distance from water. It takes flight readily from either land or water, springing into the air and flying swiftly away in a straight line. When migrating, it flies in small flocks of about a dozen birds; in appearance and manner of flight it greatly resembles the baldpate, but the male can usually be distinguished from the latter by the white speculum and the brown wing coverts; a similar difference exists between the females, but only to a slight degree; practiced gunners claim to recognize other field marks, but they have proven too subtle for my eyes, and I have frequently mistaken one species for the other. The gadwall ought not to be mistaken for any other species, except the baldpate or the European widgeon, but it frequently is confused, by ignorant gunners, with the young males and females of the pintail, though its flight and general appearance are entirely different; the name "gray duck" has been applied to both the gadwall and the pintail, which has led to much confusion of records and to erroneous impressions as to the former abundance of the gadwall in New England, where, I believe, it has always been a rare bird.

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Name

Shoveler
Lesson Plan

Food

Plant material and small invertebrates and vertebrates

Feeding Techniques

Uses its large beak to filter food from the water.

Habitat

Ponds, marsh, small lakes

Plumage

The male and the female have different plumage.

Distribution

Throughout the US, but more commonly in the south.

Breeding

Breeds in Canada and the US

"Nest - Usually on dry ground, sometimes at a considerable distance from water; constructed of grass and weed stems, and sometimes lined with down." Game Birds in California

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Millais (1902) relates the following incident to illustrate the activity of the shoveller in feeding:

To the observer who sees the shoveler casually by day he appears to be somewhat of a lethargic nature; but, when he cares to do so, he can move faster on the water than any of the fresh-water ducks. I have watched with pleasure the wonderful sight, calculation, and quickness of a male shoveler that I once kept in confinement on a small marshy pond at Fort George. About the last week in April a certain water insect, whose name I do not know, would "rise" from the mud below to the surface of the pool only to be captured by the shoveler, who, rushing at full speed along the water, snapped up the beetle the moment it came to the surface. How it could see the insect in the act of rising I could never make out, for it was invisible to me standing on the bank above, and I could only just catch a glimpse of it as the shoveler reached his prey and dexterously caught the beetle as it darted away again. After each capture the duck retired to the side of the pool again and there awaited the next rise - commonly about 25 feet away.

While thus occupied he seemed to be in a high state of tension; the feathers are closely drawn up and be kept his neck working backwards and forwards, in preparation, as it were, for the next spring, exactly like a cat "getting up steam" for the final rush on a victim. Sometimes he seemed to get into a frantic state of excitement, darting here and there as if he saw beetles rising in every direction. I noticed also that while devouring his prey the pupils of his eyes were unusually contracted, and the golden circlets seemed to shine more brilliantly than usual.

The food of the shoveller consists of grasses, the buds and young shoots of rushes, and other water plants, small fishes, small frogs, tadpoles, shrimps, leeches, aquatic worms, crustaceans, small mollusks, particularly snails, water insects, and other insects, as well as their larvae and pupae.

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Name

Green-winged Teal
Lesson Plan

Food

Mostly plant material; insects

Feeding Techniques

Forages while in water; uses its beak to strain plant material from water. See below.

Habitat

Ponds, marsh, small lakes

Plumage

The male and the female have different plumage.

Distribution

Western and southeastern states

Breeding

Female builds nest on land near water, protected by tall vegetation.

"Nest - On the ground near water; constructed of grass and feathers placed in a thick growth of grasss." Game Birds in California

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Food: The green-winged teal enjoys a varied diet which it obtains in various ways in different parts of its habitat. In its summer home it loves to dabble in the shallow water about the edges of the sloughs, ponds, creeks, with its body half immersed, its feet kicking in the air and its bill probing in the mud for aquatic insects or their larvae, worms, small mollusks and crustaceans, or even tadpoles. In such places it also feeds on the soft parts of various water plants and their seeds. In harvest time it wanders to the grain fields and picks up the fallen grains of corn, wheat, oats, barley, and buckwheat, where it also feeds on various other seeds, grasses, and vegetable matter. At this season and in the winter, when it lives in the southern rice fields feasting on the fallen harvest, it grows very fat and its flesh becomes desirable for the table, equaling the finest of the ducks.

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Name

Blue-winged Teal
Lesson Plan

Food

Mostly plant material and seeds; also insects

Feeding Techniques

Forages while in water; uses its beak to strain plant material from water.

Habitat

Ponds, marsh, small lakes

Plumage

The male and the female have different plumage.

Distribution

Western and southeastern states

Breeding

Nest is situated on the ground.

"Nest - Usually on dry ground near fresh water, and hidden in tall grass; made of grass or reeds and lined with down." Game Birds in California

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Young: As the male deserts the female soon after the eggs are laid, incubation is performed solely by her. Incubation does not begin until after the last egg is laid, one egg having been laid each day until the set is complete. The period of incubation is from 21 to 23 days. The young hatch almost simultaneously, or at least within a few hours; they remain in the nest until they have dried off and are strong enough to walk, when they are led to the nearest water and taught by their devoted mother to feed. Their food at this age consists mainly of soft insects, worms, and other small, tender, animal food, but they soon learn to forage for themselves and pick up a variety of vegetable foods as well. The young are guarded with tender care by one of the most devoted of mothers; when surprised with her brood of young she resorts to all the arts and strategies known to anxious bird mothers to draw the intruder away from her brood or to distract his attention, utterly regardless of her own safety, while the young have time to hide or escape to a place of safety. The young are experts at hiding, even in open situations, where they squat flat on the ground and vanish; but they usually run or swim in among tall grass or reeds, where it is almost useless to look for them. All through the remainder of the summer, until they are able to fly, she remains with them teaching them where to find the choicest foods and how to escape from their numerous enemies; they learn to know her warning calls, when to run and when to hide, and by the end of the summer they are ready to gather into flocks for the fall migration.

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Name

Cinnamon Teal
Lesson Plan

Food

Mostly plant material and seeds and some animal matter; see below

Feeding Techniques

Forages while in water; uses its beak to strain plant material from water.

Habitat

Ponds, marsh, small lakes

Plumage

The male and the female have different plumage.

Distribution

Western states

Breeding

Female builds nest on land near water, protected by tall vegetation.

"Nest - Situated in grassy fields or among tules, sometimes above shallow water but more often above damp ground, at times some little distance from water; made of grasses or tules compactly woven together and deeply saucer-shaped." Game Birds in California

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Mr. Douglas C. Mabbott (1920) says: Like the greenwing and the bluewing, the cinnamon teal lives mainly upon vegetable food, this comprising about four-fifths (79.86 per cent) of the total contents of the stomachs examined. And, like the other teals, its two principal and most constant items of food are the seeds and other parts of sedges (Cyperaceae) and pondweeds (Naiadaceae). These two families of plants furnished 34.27 and 27.12 per cent, respectively, of the bird's entire diet. The grasses (Gramineae) amounted to 7.75 per cent; smartweeds (Polygonacene), to 3.22; mallows (Malvaceae), 1.87; goosefoot family (Chenopodiaceae), 0.75; water milfoils (Haloragidaceae), 0.37; and miscellaneous, 4.51.

The 41 cinnamon teals examined had made of animal matter 20.14 per cent of their food. This consisted of insects, 10.19 per cent; mollusks, 8.69 per cent; and a few small miscellaneous items, 1.26 per cent.

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Name

Wood Duck
Lesson Plan

Food

Seeds and acquatic plants

Feeding Techniques

Forages while in water

Habitat

Ponds, marsh, small lakes

Plumage

The male and the female have different plumage.

Distribution

Eastern states, and Pacific coast states

Breeding

Breeds in tree cavity; see below

"Nest - In hollow in a tree usually over or near water, but occassionally some distance from it; composed of twigs, grasses and leaves, and lined with down." Game Birds in California

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

This is one of the very few mentions of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, a woodpecker that is now considered extinct.

Beau Brummel - the Wood Duck is compared to Beau Brummel who is a literary figure who represents a dandy, a person who is very concerned about their appearance.

Notes from A.C. Bent

Spring: While wandering through the dim cathedral aisles of a big cypress swamp in Florida, where the great trunks of the stately trees towered straight upward for a hundred feet or more until the branches interlaced above so thickly that the sunlight could not penetrate, we seemed to be lost in the gloom of a strange tropical forest and far removed from the familiar sights and sounds of the outside world. Only the frequent cries of the omnipresent Florida red-shouldered hawk and an occasional glimpse of a familiar flycatcher or vireo, migrating northward reminded us of home. But at last the light seemed to break through the gloom, as we approached a little sunlit pond, and there we saw some familiar friends, the center of interest in a pretty picture, framed in the surroundings of their winter home, warmed by the genial April sun and perhaps preparing to leave for their northern summer home. The sunlight filtering through the tops of the tall cypresses which surrounded the pool shone full upon the snowy forms of 50 or more white ibises, feeding on the muddy shores, dozing on the fallen logs, or perched upon the dead stumps or surrounding trees; the air seemed full of them as they rose and flew away. But with this dazzling cloud of whiteness there arose from the still waters of the pool a little flock of wood ducks, brilliant in their full nuptial plumage, their gaudy colors flashing in the sunshine, as they went whirring off through the tree tops. What a beautiful creature is this Beau Brummel among birds and what an exquisite touch of color he adds to the scene among the water hyacinths of Florida or among the pond lilies of New England.

The wood duck is a strictly North American species and principally a bird of the United States, for its summer range extends but a short distance north of our borders, except in the warmer, central portions of Canada, and even in winter it does not migrate far south of us. It is one of the most widely distributed species, breeding throughout most of its range and wintering more or less regularly over much of its habitat in the United States. For these reasons its migrations are not easily traced except in the Northern States and Provinces. It is a moderately early migrant, coming after the ice has left the woodland ponds and timbered sloughs. Dr. F. Henry Yorke (1899) says:

They arrive in three distinct issues, after sunset and through the night, suddenly appearing in the morning upon their accustomed haunts. The first stays but a brief period, and depart. for the north to breed; the second puts in an appearance a few days later, but soon leaves to nest in the northern parts of the United States; the third arrives directly after the second leaves and scatters over the Middle States to nest. This issue forms the local ducks of each State it breeds in.

Nesting: The wood duck has earned the common name of "summer duck" on account of its breeding and spending the summer so far south; it has also been called the "tree duck" from its habit of nesting in trees. Its favorite nesting site is in a fairly large natural cavity in the trunk or large branch of a tree; it has no special preference for any particular kind of tree and not much choice as to its location; it probably would prefer to find a suitable hollow tree near some body of water, but it is often forced to select a tree at a long distance away from it and sometimes very near the habitations of man. The size and depth of the cavity selected vary greatly, and its height from the ground may be anywhere from 3 or 4 feet to 40 or 50. If it can not find a natural cavity that suits its taste, the wood duck occasionally occupies the deserted nesting hole of one of the larger woodpeckers, such as the ivory-billed or pileated woodpecker, or even the flicker; sometimes the former home of a fox squirrel or other large squirrel is selected, in which case the old nesting material, dry leaves and soft rubbish, is left in the cavity and mixed with the down of the duck. Such material is often found in the nest of the wood duck, but I doubt if it is ever brought in by the bird.

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Name

American Wigeon
Lesson Plan

Food

Mostly plant material

Feeding Techniques

Will feed on land and on the water

Habitat

Small ponds, marshes

Plumage

The male and the female have different plumage.

Distribution

Throughout the US

Breeding

Female builds nest on land near water, protected by tall vegetation. Breeds in Canada and the US

"Nest - Usually on high ground, and often a considerable distance from water; a slight depression well lined with dry grass and weed stems and abundantly supplied with light gray down." Game Birds in California

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Baldpate is a former name used for the American Wigeon.

postnuptial molt - a molt that takes place after breeding

eclipse pluamge - a molt that generally occurs during the summer when the flight feathers molt out and the bird is temporarily flightless

vinaceous - having the color of red wine

Notes from A.C. Bent

When about 4 or 5 weeks old, in August, the young baldpate assumes its first complete plumage, the wings being the last to reach full development. In this first mottled plumage the sexes are much alike, but in the male the gray feathers of the back begin to appear in September and the progress toward maturity proceeds rapidly; the brown mottled feathers of the back are replaced by the gray vermiculated feathers of the adult and the mottling in the breast disappears, leaving the clear vinaceous color of maturity; so that by December or January the most forward birds have acquired a plumage which closely resembles that of the old bird, except on the wings, which still show the gray mottling on the lesser wing coverts peculiar to young birds. In some precocious individuals the lesser wing coverts become nearly pure white before the first nuptial season, but in most cases the immature wing is retained until the first postnuptial molt, which is complete. With both old and young birds the molt into the eclipse plumage begins in June and the molt out of this into the adult winter dress is not completed until October or November. At this molt the white lesser wing coverts are assumed by the young, old and young birds becoming indistinguishable. The seasonal molts of the adult consist of the prolonged double molt of the body plumage, into the eclipse in June and July and out of the eclipse in September and October, and the single molt of the flight feathers in August. Old males in the eclipse plumage closely resemble females, except for the wings, which are always distinctive.

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Name

Eurasian Wigeon
Lesson Plan

Food

Mostly plant material

Feeding Techniques

Will feed on land and on the water

Habitat

Small ponds, marshes

Plumage

The male and the female have different plumage.

Distribution

. Rare, but regular visitor to Pacific coast states

Breeding

Female builds nest on land near water, protected by tall vegetation

"Nest - On ground near water; built of grasses and dead plants and well concealed." Game Birds in California

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

phalanx - a close knit group

pugnacious - agressive, prone to fighting

Notes from A.C. Bent

Courtship: The actual courtship of the widgeon differs somewhat from that of other surface feeders, and the display of the male bird is an interesting one. A female having shown herself desirous of selecting a mate, five or six males crowd closely round, hemming her in on every side and persecuting her with their attentions. If she swims away, they follow her in a close phalanx, every male raising his crest, stretching out his neck close over the water, and erecting the beautiful long feathers of the scapulars to show them off. He also depresses the shoulder joints downward, so as to elevate the primaries in the air. All the time the amorous males keep up a perfect babble of loud "Whee-ous," and they are by far the noisiest of ducks in their courtship. Occasionally the cock birds fight and drive each other off, but ducks are not, broadly speaking, pugnacious birds, and success in winning the admiration of the female is rather a matter of persistent and active attention than physical force.

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Name

Hooded Merganser
Lesson Plan

Food

Fish and small invertebrates; see below

Feeding Techniques

Dives and swims underwater to catch small fish.

Habitat

Small lakes and bays.

Plumage

The male and the female have different plumage.

Distribution

Eastern US and the Pacific coast states; breeds in the midwest

Breeding

Perfers to nest in tree cavities but will nest under shrubs, large rocks. Will also use artificial nesting box. Competes with Goldeneyes for cavities.

"Nest - In hollows of trees high above ground and near or over water; built of grasses and weeds and lined with down from the breast of the female." Game Birds in California

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Food: The hooded merganser lives and feeds almost exclusively on and in fresh water; I believe that some of its food is obtained on the surface, but it is an expert diver and finds much of its food on muddy or on stony bottoms. Its food is mostly animal, and consists largely of insects. Like other mergansers, it is expert at chasing and catching small fish, which probably constitute its chief supply; in muddy pools it finds frogs and tadpoles and snails, and other mollusks; on clear stony bottoms it obtains crawfish, caddis fly larvae, and dragon-fly nymphs; sand eels, small crustaceans, beetles, and various aquatic insects are also eaten. It is also known to eat some vegetable food, the roots of aquatic plants, seeds, and grain. Dr. F. Henry Yorke (1899) recognized among its vegetable food the following genera of water plants: Limnobium, Myriophyllum, Callitriche, and Utricularia.

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Name

Red-breasted Merganser
Lesson Plan

Food

Fish and small invertebrates

Feeding Techniques

Dives and swims underwater to catch fish.

Habitat

During the non-breeding season it is generally found in salt water; often in bays

Plumage

Male has breeding and non-breeding plumage; non-breeding plumage is similar to female's plumage.

Distribution

Non-breeding distribution is along both coasts, breeds inland throughout the US

Breeding

Perfers to nest in tree cavities but will nest under shrubs, large rocks. Will also use artificial nesting box.

"Nest - On marshy land in the vicinty of salt water, usually under the shelter of a rock, bank, or branch of a tree. A simple structure of leaves and grasses, lined with down from the breast of the female parent." Game Birds in California

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Courtship: The courtship of the red-breasted merganser is a spectacular performance. I (1911) have described it as observed at Ipswich as follows:

The nuptial performance is always at its best when several drakes are displaying their charms of movement, voice, and plumage, before a single duck, and each vies with the other in the ardor of the courtship. The drake begins by stretching up his long neck so that the white ring is much broadened, and the metallic green head, with its long crest and its narrow red bill, makes a conspicuous object. At once the bill is opened wide and the whole bird stiffly bobs or teeters, as if on a pivot, in such a way the breast and the lower part of the neck are immersed, while the tail and posterior part of the body swing upward. This motion brings the neck and head from a vertical position to an angle of 45 degrees. All the motions are stiffly executed, and suggest a formal but ungraceful courtesy.

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Name

Common Merganser
Lesson Plan

Food

Fish and small invertebrates

Feeding Techniques

Dives and swims underwater to catch fish.

Habitat

Small lakes

Plumage

The male and the female have different plumage.

Distribution

Winters throughout most of the US; breeds in Canada

Breeding

Perfers to nest in tree cavities but will nest under shrubs, large rocks. Will also use artificial nesting box.

"Nest - Usually in hollow trees along wooded streams, less frequently on the ground; made of twigs, grass, lichesn, etc., lined with down." Game Birds in California

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

American Merganser - a previous name for the Common Merganser

Harry Swarth worked with Grinnell at the U. C. Berkeley Museum of Vertebrate Zoology.

Notes from A.C. Bent

Behavior: The American merganser is a heavy-bodied bird and sometimes experiences considerable difficulty in rising from the water; if the circumstances are not favorable, it has to patter along the surface for a considerable distance; when flying off an island it often does the same thing unless it gets a good start from some high place, so that it can swoop downward. In swift water it has to rise down-stream, as it can make no headway against the current; but it generally prefers to fly upstream if it can. Mr. Aretas A. Saunders writes to me, in regard to the flight of mated pairs, noted in Montana, "that they flew off, with the male in the lead in each case," also "that they left the water flying in a long, low slant upstream, not rising high enough to see them above the willows that lined the stream until they had flown a considerable distance." When well under way the flight of this species is strong, swift, and direct; on its breeding grounds it usually flies low, along the courses of rivers or about the shores of lakes, seldom rising above the tree tops; but on its migrations it flies in small flocks, high in the air with great velocity. The drake may be easily recognized in flight by its large size, loon-like shape, its black and white appearance above, dark green head and white underparts; its flight is said to resemble that of the mallard. The female closely resembles the female red-breasted merganser, but it is a more heavily built bird, has a more continuous white patch in the wings, the white tips of the greater coverts overlapping the black bases of the secondaries, giving the appearance of a large white speculum, whereas in the red-breasted merganser the black bases of the secondaries show below the greater coverts, forming a black stripe through the middle of the white speculum. When flying to its nest cavity in a tree or cliff it rises in a long upward curve and enters the hole with speed and precision. Mr. Harry S. Swarth (1911) refers to a peculiar habit which made this species quite conspicuous throughout the summer, was that of individuals rising high in the air and circling about for hours at a time, uttering at frequent and regular intervals a most unmelodious squawk. Both sexes were observed doing this, and the habit was kept up until about the end of August.

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Name

White-winged Scoter
Lesson Plan

Food

Mollusks

Feeding Techniques

Dives and swims underwater to obtain food.

Habitat

Non-breeding habitat is ocean coast, breeding habitat is Canadian interior

Plumage

The male and the female have different plumage.

Distribution

Primarily found along both coasts during non-breeding, breeds inland in Canada

Breeding

Nests away from water, sometimes in woodland. Males leave when incubation begins.

"Nest - On ground concealed by shrubs, and usually near fresh water; constructed of 'rubbish' and down." Game Birds in California

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Behavior - The flight of the white-winged scoter is heavy and apparently labored; it seems to experience considerable difficulty in lifting its heavy body from the surface of the water; except when facing a strong wind, it has to patter along the surface for some distance, using its feet to gain momentum. But, when well under way, it is much swifter than it seems, is strong, direct, and well sustained. Migrating flocks, in all sorts of irregular formations, fly high under favorable circumstances, but when flying against the wind or in stormy weather (northeast storms seem to be particularly favorable for the migration of the scoters) they fly close to the water and in rough weather they take advantage of the eddies between the waves.

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Name

Surf Scoter
Lesson Plan

Food

Mollusks and insects

Feeding Techniques

Dives for found

Habitat

Non-breeding habitat is ocean coast, breeding habitat is Canadian interior and Alaska

Plumage

The male and the female have different plumage.

Distribution

Primarily found along both coasts during non-breeding, breeds inland in Canada and Alaska

Breeding

Nests away from water; male leaves when incubation begins. Females will often combine their young and raise them together.

"Nest - On ground near water, well concealed, usually built of grasses and lined with dark-colored down." Game Birds in California

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Food: The food and feeding habits of the surf scoter are practically the same as those of the other scoters and other diving sea ducks. Their food consists almost entirely of various small mollusks, such as mussels, sea clams, scallops, and small razor clams. The large beds of the common black mussel which are so numerous and so extensive in the tidal passages of our bays and harbors or on outlying shoals are their favorite feeding grounds. Large flocks, often immense rafts, of scoters spend the winter within easy reach of such beds, which they visit daily at certain stages of the tide; although they can dive to considerable depths to obtain food if necessary. They evidently prefer to feed at moderate or shallow depths and choose the most favorable times to visit the beds which can be most easily reached. Their crops are crammed full of the small shellfish, which are gradually ground up with the help of small stones in their powerful stomachs and the soft parts are digested. A small amount of vegetable matter, such as eelgrass and algae, is often taken in with the other food, perhaps only incidentally. Dr. F. Henry Yorke (1899) says that, on the lakes of the interior, "it feeds on shellfish, especially mussels, crayfish, and fish spawn; besides a few bulbs of aquatic plants."

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Name

Black Scoter
Lesson Plan

Food

Mollusks

Feeding Techniques

Dives for food

Habitat

Non-breeding habitat is ocean coast, breeding habitat is Canadian interior and Alaska

Plumage

The male and the female have different plumage.

Distribution

Primarily found along both coasts during non-breeding, breeds inland in Canada

Breeding

Nests away from water; male leaves when incubation begins.

"Nest - On ground, sometimes hidden in cliffs or in hollows of steep banks; made of dry leaves, grass, feathers and down." Game Birds in California

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Young: Nothing seems to be known about the period of incubation. This duty is performed solely by the female, who is entirely deserted by the male at this season. Doctor Nelson (1887) writes:

As the set of eggs is completed, the male gradually loses interest in the female and soon deserts her to join great flocks of his kind along the seashore, usually keeping in the vicinity of a bay, inlet, or the mouth of some large stream. These flocks are formed early in June and continue to grow larger until the fall migration occurs. Males may be found in the marshes with females all through the season, but these are pairs which breed late. A set of fresh eggs was taken on August 3, and a brood of downy young was obtained on September 9. The habits of these flocks of males are very similar to those of the male elders at this season. They are good weather indicators, and frequently, 10 or 20 hours in advance of a storm, they come into the sheltered bays, sometimes to the number of a thousand or more. At such times they show great uneasiness, and frequently pass hours in circling about the bay, sometimes a hundred yards high and again close over the water, the shrill whistling of their wings making a noise which is distinctly audible nearly or quite half a mile. Until the young are about half grown the female usually keeps them in some large pond near the nesting place, but as August passes they gradually work their way to the coast and are found, like the eiders of the same age, along the reefs and about the shores of the inner bays until able to fly.

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Name

Common Eider
Lesson Plan

Food

Fish and invertebrates

Feeding Techniques

Forages while underwater

Habitat

Open ocean and tundra ponds

Plumage

The male and the female have different plumage.

Distribution

Northeast coast

Breeding

Nest, which is a depression in the ground, is close to water and lined with vegetation and down.

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Food: Eiders obtain their food almost wholly by diving to moderate depths; almost any kind of marine animal life is acceptable and easily digested in their powerful gizzards; most of it is found on or about the sunken ledges or submerged reefs off rocky shores, which support a rank growth of various seaweeds and a profusion of marine invertebrates. They prefer to feed at low tide when the food supply is only a few fathoms below the surface; they often dive to depths of 6 or 8 fathoms and sometimes 10 fathoms, but when forced by the rising tide to too great exertion in diving, they move off to some other feeding ground or rest and play until the tide favors them again. They are usually very regular in their feeding habits, resorting to certain ledges every day at certain stages of the tides, as long as the food supply lasts. They seem to prefer to feed by daylight and to roost on some inaccessible rock to sleep at night. Many other ducks are forced to feed at night, as they are constantly disturbed on their feeding grounds during the day; but the eider's feeding grounds are so rough and inaccessible that they are seldom disturbed. Even in rough weather these tough and hardy birds may be seen feeding about the ledges white with breakers; they are so strong and so expert in riding the waves and in dodging the breakers that they do not seem to care how rough it is. I have seen them feeding, off our eastern coasts in winter, in water so rough that no boat could approach them.

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Name

Harlequin Duck
Lesson Plan

Food

Mollusks and other invertebrates

Feeding Techniques

Forages while underwater

Habitat

Winters along both coasts, and breeds on inland fresh water sources

Plumage

The male and the female have different plumage.

Distribution

The northwest, and northeast; also Pacific coast states

Breeding

Nest, which is a depression in the ground, is close to water and lined with vegetation and down.

"Nest - On ground under logs, driftwood or rocks, sometimes in stump near water and lined with down." Game Birds in California

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Harlequin ducks are fond of feeding in rough water along rocky shores or in the surf just off the beaches, where they ride the waves lightly and dive through the breakers easily and skillfully. They dive so quickly that they often escape at the flash of a gun. In diving the wings are usually half opened as if they intended to use the wings in flight under water, which they probably do.

The peculiar whistling note of this duck has been likened to the cry of a mouse, whence it has been called the " sea-mouse " on the coast of Maine.

Mr. Bretherton (1891) describes it as "'a shrill whistle descending in cadence from a high to a lower note, commencing with two long notes and running off in a long trill." Mr. Millais (1913) writes:

When first arriving at the breeding grounds in flocks in early May they are very restless, constantly flying to and fro, whilst the females utter their usual call of Ek-ek--ek-ek," to which the males respond with a low or hoarse "flu" or "Heh-lieh." These calls they also frequently make in winter, and I have heard single females uttering their cry constantly when flying, as if they had lost their companions and were seeking them. When they are paired both sexes utter a different note, "Gi-uk." and this note is used at all times when the pair meet, until the males leave the females at the end of June.

Mr. Aretas A. Sauntleis writes me:

I heard these birds call several times. True call note is usually uttered when on the wing. It sounded to me like ' op-oy-oy-oy " rapidly repeated usually seven or eight times. I never heard the note from any but the males, and it was usually uttered when in pursuit of one of the females.

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Name

Long-tailed Duck (Oldsquaw)
Lesson Plan

Food

Mollusks, crustaceans

Feeding Techniques

Forages while underwater

Habitat

Coastal waters during winter; breeds on pools on the tundra

Plumage

The male and the female have different plumage.

Distribution

Winters along both coasts

Breeding

Nest, which is a depression in the ground, is close to water and lined with vegetation and down.

"Nest - On ground near water, built of grass and lined with dark-colored down." Game Birds in California

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Courtship John G. Millais (1913) writes:

As previously stated, the actual courtship of the male is generally aroused and brought about by the sexual desire of the female, and amongst ducks the females are very irregular as to the time of their coming into season. Thus only one or perhaps two females in a large flock may be well advanced in their summer plumage and their breeding instincts, and these are the special objects of desire of all the males. I have noticed a bunch of 8 or 10 females swimming apart and not a male going near them, whilst 10 or 15 males crowd round some particular female and lavish upon her all their arts of charm. The most common attitude of the male in courtship is to erect the tail, stiffen the neck to its fullest extent, and then lower it toward the female with a sudden bow, the bill being held outward and upward. As the head curves down, the call is emitted. Sometimes the head is held out along the water before the female, who herself often adopts this attitude, or makes a "guttering note of appreciation with head held in close to the body. Another common attitude of the male is to throw the head right back till it almost touches the scapulars, the bill pointing to the heavens. As the bird throws the head forward again the call is emitted. Many males will closely crowd round a female, all going through the same performance. It is not long before a fight starts amongst the males, so that the lady of the tourney is in the midst of a struggling clamorous mass of squabbling knights, each endeavoring to show his qualifications to love by his extravagant gestures or strength. To add to the confusion, any male long-tails in the neighborhood are sure to hear the noise and come flying in all haste to take part in the jousts. Even males still in full winter plumage will come and be almost, if not quite, as active as the rest. They advance with all haste, swaying from side to side, their sharp-pointed wings being only arrested when almost above the contest. Then they close the wings in mid-air and dash into the fray with all their ardour. So impetuous and gallant are males of this species that they will chase each other for long distances, falling often in the sea and sending the spray flying; down they go under the water and emerge almost together on the surface to continue the chase in mid-air. I have twice seen a male when flying seize another by the nape and both come tumbling head over heels into the sea in mad confusion.

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Name

Canvasback
Lesson Plan

Food

Mostly plant material

Feeding Techniques

Forages while underwater

Habitat

Large bodies of water such as lakes, estuaries

Plumage

The male and the female have different plumage.

Distribution

Winters Pacific coast states and southeastern states; breeds interior western states

Breeding

Female builds nest on land near water, protected by tall vegetation.

"Nest - In a clump of reeds or tules in a shallow pond or slough but generally near a larger body of water; a large structure of reeds or tules well lined with gray down." Game Birds in California

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Nesting: In the summer of 1901 we found the canvasbacks breeding quite abundantly in Steele County, North Dakota. Even then their breeding grounds were being rapidly encroached upon by advancing civilization which was gradually draining and cultivating the sloughs in which this species nests. Since that time they have largely, if not wholly disappeared from that region, as breeding birds, and their entire breeding range is becoming more and more restricted every year, as the great northwestern plains are being settled and cultivated for wheat and other agricultural products. This and other species of ducks are being driven farther and farther north and must ultimately become exterminated unless large tracts of suitable land can be set apart as breeding reservations, where the birds can find congenial surroundings. As my experience with the nesting habits of the canvasback in North Dakota will serve to illustrate its normal methods, I can not do better than to quote from what I (1902) have already published on the subject, as follows:

The principal object of our visit to the sloughs in Steele County was to study the breeding habits of the canvasbacks; so, soon after our arrival here, late in the afternoon of June 7, we put on our hip-boots and started in to explore the northern end of the big slough shown in the photograph. In the large area of open water we could see several male canvasbacks and a few redheads swimming about, well out of gun range. Wading out through the narrow strip of reeds surrounding the open water, and working along the outer edge of these, we explored first the small isolated patches of reeds shown in the foreground of the picture. The water here was more than knee-deep, and in some places we had to be extremely careful not to go in over the tops of our boots so that progress was quite slow. We had hardly been wading over 10 minutes when, as I approached one of these reed patches, I heard a great splashing, and out rushed a large, light-brown duck which, as she circled past me, showed very plainly the long sloping head and pointed bill of the canvasback. A short search in the thick clump of tall reeds soon revealed the nest with its 11 eggs, 8 large, dark-colored eggs of the canvasback and 3 smaller and lighter eggs of the redhead. It was a large nest built upon a bulky mass of wet dead reeds, measuring 18 inches by 23 inches in outside diameter, the rim being built up 6 inches above the water, the inner cavity being about 8 inches across by 4 inches deep. It was lined with smaller pieces of dead reeds and a little gray down. The small patch of reeds was completely surrounded by open water about knee-deep, and the nest was so well concealed in the center of it as to be invisible from the outside. The eggs were also collected on that day, and proved to be very much advanced in incubation.

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Name

Redhead
Lesson Plan

Food

Insects, acquatic plants, small vertebrates

Feeding Techniques

Dives underwater to obtain food.

Habitat

Lakes, marshes, estuaries

Plumage

The male and the female have different plumage.

Distribution

Winters throughout much of the US

Breeding

Nest built in dense marsh. Redheads sometimes deposit eggs in other Redhead nests. Highest known number of eggs in one nest: 87

"Nest - On ground among thick weeds or grass, or in rushes and over water; constructed of weeds, grasses or rushes." Game Birds in California

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Unios refers to a European mollusk.

Notes from A.C. Bent

Food: The favorite feeding grounds of the redhead during the summer are in the open lakes of the interior where it dives in deep water or in shallower places to obtain the roots and bulbs of aquatic plants or almost any green shoots which it can find; it is not at all particular about its food and is a gluttonous feeder. It also dabbles with the surface-feeding ducks in the muddy shallows where it finds insects, frogs, tadpoles, and even small fishes and water lizards. Audubon (1840) says that "on several occasions" he has "found pretty large acorns and beechnuts in their throats, as well as snails, entire or broken, and fragments of the shells of various small unios, together with much gravel."

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Name

Ring-necked Duck
Lesson Plan

Food

Insects, acquatic plants

Feeding Techniques

Dives underwater to obtain food.

Habitat

Small lakes, ponds

Plumage

The male and the female have different plumage.

Distribution

Winters in southern half of the US

Breeding

Nest built near water.

"Nest - In grass of marsh land, over or near water; made of grass stems and sparingly lined with down." Game Birds in California

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Courtship: Audubon (1840) refers briefly to the courtship of this species as follows:

They have an almost constant practice of raising the head in a curved manner, partially erecting the occipital feathers, and emitting a note resembling the sound produced by a person blowing through a tube. At the approach of spring the males are observed repeating this action every now and then while near the females, none of which seem to pay the least attention to their civilities.

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Name

Greater Scaup
Lesson Plan

Food

Insects, acquatic plants

Feeding Techniques

Dives underwater to obtain food.

Habitat

Variety of water habitats; during the winter can be found in salt-water habitats.

Plumage

The male and the female have different plumage.

Distribution

Found along the west, south and east coast during the winter.

Breeding

Nest is built on land, near water, protected by tall vegetation. Breeds in north part of Canada.

"Nest - In tall grass on dry ground, usually not far from water; made of grass and weeds, and well lined with down." Game Birds in California

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Nesting: The best known, and probably the most populous, breeding grounds of the greater scaup duck are in northern Alaska. Dr. Joseph Grinnell (1900) describes three nests, which he found in the Kotzebue Sound region, as follows:  

In the Kowak Delta this species was quite common in June, and on the 14th of that month I took a set of 11 fresh eggs, also securing the female as she flushed from the nest. This nest was on a high, dry hummock, about 10 yards from the edge of a lake. It was almost hidden from view by tall, dead grass of the previous years growth. The eggs rested on a bed of finely broken grass stems, while the rim of the nest was indicated by a narrow margin of down. A second set of 10 fresh eggs was taken on the same day and the nest was similar in construction, but was out on the tundra between two lakes, and fully a quarter of a mile from either. A set of seven fresh eggs taken on the 15th was quite differently situated. The nest was almost without feathers or down, and consisted of a neat saucer of matted dry grass blades, supported among standing marsh grass and about 4 inches above the water. It was in a broad, marshy swab about 30 feet from a small pond of open water. The swale was drained into the main river channel by a slough, so that in this case there was little danger of a rise in the water of more than an inch or two.

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Name

Lesser Scaup
Lesson Plan

Food

Insects, acquatic plants

Feeding Techniques

Dives underwater to obtain food.

Habitat

Marsh ponds, lakes

Plumage

The male and the female have different plumage.

Distribution

Winters southern half of US and Pacific coast states

Breeding

Nest is built on land, near water, protected by tall vegetation.

"Nest - Concealed in grass near water; composed of dry grass stems and lined with down." Game Birds in California

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Fulix aftinis and Fulix mania are the former scientific names for the Greater and Lesser Scaup

Intergradation - hybrid. When two species breed and create a hybrid. Notes on a Northern Flicker intergrade. Also, the hybrid Avocet/Black necked Stilt.

Notes from A.C. Bent

Unlike the larger scaup duck, this species is distinctly an American duck, but of wider distribution on this continent. It is more essentially an inland species, showing a decided preference for the smaller lakes, ponds, marshes, and streams, whereas its larger relative seems to prefer the larger lakes in the interior and the seacoast in winter. Its breeding range is more extensive and its center of abundance during the breeding season is much farther south, its chief breeding grounds being in the prairie regions of central Canada and the Northern States. Though differing in distribution and in their haunts, the two species are closely related and much alike in appearance, so much so that so good an observer as Audubon failed to distinguish them; nearly all that he wrote about them evidently referred to the lesser scaup, with which he was most familiar, and he criticized Wilson for some of his remarks which evidently referred to the greater scaup. Adult males of the two species are, of course, easily recognized, but the females and young birds are so much alike and vary so much in size that they are often confused. Rev. W. F. Henninger writes me that a series of Fulix aftinis which he has examined measure up to the minimum measurements given for Fulix mania and that the males show both purple and green reflections on the head; this suggests the possibility of intergradation between the two species.

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Name

Tufted Duck
Lesson Plan

Food

Insects, acquatic plants

Feeding Techniques

Dives underwater to obtain food.

Habitat

Marsh ponds, lakes

Plumage

The male and the female have different plumage.

Distribution

Rare visitor to the US

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

This widely distributed Palaearctic species is closely related to our ring-necked duck and might be said to replace it throughout its extensive breeding range from western Europe to extreme eastern Asia. Audubon (1840) says, referring to the ring-necked duck:

We are indebted for the discovery of this species to my friend the Prince of Musignanoj who first pointed out the difference between it and the tufted duck of Europe. The distinctions that exist in the two species he ascertained about the time of my first acquaintance with him at Philadelphia in 1824, when he was much pleased on seeing my drawing of a male and a female, which I had made at Louisville, in Kentucky, previous to Wilson's visit to me there. Wilson supposed it identical with the European species.

Mr. Ned bluster (1919) has also referred to this relationship. There is, so far as I know, but one record of the capture of a tufted duck in North American territory, for which we are indebted to Dr. Barton W. Evermann (1913) who reported the capture of a female on St. Paul Island, Alaska, on May 9,1911. "The bird was accompanied by the male which escaped."

I have never seen this species in life, but fortunately Mr. J. G. Millais (1913) has written a very full and satisfactory life history of it from which I shall quote, as follows:

Throughout its range the tufted duck is essentially an inhabitant of open sheets of fresh water, preferring those of moderate size that have a considerable depth in the center, and whose shallows are overgrown with reeds and other aquatic plants. They also like lakes with numerous islands and backwater, not too narrow, where they can sit and preen in the shallows in non-feeding hours, and whose vegetation gives them protection from the wind. In fact, all ducks that frequent open lakes of fresh water dislike drafts and take full advantage of the cover that grows along the 'banks, either sitting under the lee, or resting and diving at such a distance from shore that some protection is afforded. It is only in still weather or moderate breezes that they assemble in numbers on the open and deep parts of a lake, or when subject to frequent disturbance.

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Name

Common Goldeneye
Lesson Plan

Food

Insects, and other invertebrates

Feeding Techniques

Dives underwater to obtain food.

Habitat

Variety of water habitats; during the winter can be found in salt water.

Plumage

The male and the female have different plumage.

Distribution

Throughout the United States during the winter.

Breeding

Nests in tree cavity. Breeds in Canada.

"Nest - In cavities in trees over water; a lining of down on the resitual rotten wood or other debris." Game Birds in California

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Nesting: The American goldeneye, so far as I know, invariably places its nest in a cavity in a tree, preferably in a large natural cavity and often entirely open at the top. Considerable variation is shown in the selection of a suitable nesting site, which depends on the presence of hollow trees. Near Eskimo Point, on the south coast of the Labrador Peninsula, I found a nest on June 10,1909, in a white birch stub on the hare crest of a gravel cliff over 100 feet above the beach. The stub, which stood in an entirely open place, was 6 feet in circumference and about 18 feet high, broken and open at the top down to about 12 feet from the ground. A female goldeneye flew out of the large cavity, in which were 15 handsome, green eggs on a soft bed of rotten chips and white down. The nest was about a foot below the front edge of the cavity. I have never seen another nest in such an open and exposed situation.

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Name

Barrow's Goldeneye
Lesson Plan

Food

Invertebrates

Feeding Techniques

Dives underwater to obtain food.

Habitat

Winter it is found in boastal waters and rivers and during breeding season tends to be found in inland water habitats.

Plumage

The male and the female have different plumage.

Distribution

During the winter it is generally found in the northwest down to Colorado.

Breeding

Nests in tree cavity. Breeds in Canada.

"Nest - In hollows in trees; built of grass, sticks and other debris, and usually lined with white down." Game Birds in California

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Food: The food of the Barrow goldeneye seems to be the same as that of the common species. Dr. F. Henry Yorke (1899) records it as feeding on minnows and small fishes, slugs, snails, and mussels, frogs, and tadpoles, in the way of animal food; he has also found in its food considerable vegetable matter, such as teal moss, blue flag, duckweed, water plantain, pouchweed, water milfoil, water starwort, bladderwort, and pickerel weed Mr. Munro (1918) says:

The feeding habits of the two species of goldeneye are identical. Both species are greatly attracted by the small crawfish lurking under large stones in shallow water. While hunting these shellfish, the ducks work rapidly along the shore, diving every few minutes, to probe under the edges of the large stones. They invariably try to submerge even if the water is not deep enough to cover their backs, and I have never seen them dipping as redheads and scaups frequently do. One can follow the goldeneye's movement as it encircles the large stones, by the commotion on the surface and by frequent glimpses of the duck's back. In shallow water, the birds remain below from 15 to 20 seconds, the crawfish being brought to the surface to be swallowed. By the end of winter the feathers on the forehead are generally worn off, through much rubbing against stones in this manner of foraging.

When feeding in deep water, over the beds of Potamogeton, they stay in the same place until satisfied. In such places the small snails and crustacea that attach themselves to the stems of Potamogeton form their chief food, but little vegetable matter being taken beyond what is eaten with the shells. The small shellfish are swallowed while the birds are below the surface of the water, unlike the procedure followed with the larger crawfish. Their stay under water is of fairly uniform duration, ranging from 50 to 55 seconds. At the beginning of the dive the tail is raised and spread to its full extent.

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Name

Bufflehead
Lesson Plan

Food

Insects

Feeding Techniques

Dives underwater to obtain food.

Habitat

Variety of water habitats; during the winter can be found on salt water.

Plumage

The male and the female have different plumage.

Distribution

During the winter it is found throughout the west and the southeast.

Breeding

Nests in Canada. Uses tree cavity for nest.

"Nest - In hollow stump or tree, near water; lined with down." Game Birds in California

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Maj. Allan Brooks (1903) thus describes the breeding habits of the bufflehead in the Caribou district of British Columbia: 

Almost every lake has one or more pairs of these charming little ducks. Unlike Barrow's goldeneye, the nests were always in trees close to or but a short distance away from water. These nests were invariably the deserted nesting holes of flickers, and in most cases had been used several years in succession by the ducks. The holes were in aspen trees, from 5 to 20 feet from the ground, and the entrance was not more than 31/2 inches in diameter. The number of eggs ranged from 2 to 9, 8 being the average; in color they resemble old ivory, without any tinge of green. I have several times seen the eggs of this duck described as "dusky green,' but these have evidently been the eggs of some species of teal. The female Bufflehead is a very close sitter, never leaving the nest until the hole was sawed out, and in most cases I had to lift the bird and throw her up in the air, when she would make a bee line for the nearest lake, where her mate would be slowly swimming up and down unconscious of the violation of his hole. In many cases the eggs had fine cracks, evidently made by the compression of the bird's body when entering the small aperture.

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Name

Ruddy Duck
Lesson Plan

Food

Seeds, plant roots

Feeding Techniques

Obtains food by diving underwater.

Habitat

Variety of water habitats

Plumage

The male and the female have different plumage.

Distribution

Western United States and the Southeast. Only widespread member of the oxyura genus. Population not strong due to loss of breeding habitat.

Breeding

Nest placed in dense marsh vegetation. Nests in the midwest and western interior states.

"Nest - Always close to water, agove or sometimes floating upon it, and usually concealed in tules; constructed of dry tules and lined with dull whitish down." Game Birds in California

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

They alight on the water more heavily than most others that are not equally flattened and short in the body, but they move on that element with ease and grace, swimming deeply immersed, and procuring their food altogether by diving, at which they are extremely expert. They are generally disposed to keep under the lee of shores on all occasions. When swimming without suspicion of danger they carry the tail elevated almost perpendicularly and float lightly on the water; but as soon as they are alarmed, they immediately sink deeper, in the manner of the anhinga, grebes, and cormorants, sometimes going out of sight without leaving a ripple on the water. On small ponds they often dive and conceal themselves among the grass along the shore, rather than attempt to escape by flying, to accomplish which with certainty they would require a large open space. I saw this very often when on the plantation of General Herriandez in east Florida. If wounded, they dived and hid in the grass, but, as the ponds there were shallow, and had the bottom rather firm, I often waded out and pursued them. Then it was that I saw the curious manner in which they used their tail when swimming, employing it now as a rudder, and again with a vertical motion the wings being also slightly opened, and brought into action as well as the feet.

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Name

Black-bellied Whistling Duck
Lesson Plan

Food

Seeds and grains

Feeding Techniques

Forages on land primarily

Habitat

Open country, marsh ponds

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Small pockets in southeast California, Arizona, and Texas

Breeding

Nests in tree cavity

"Nest - Usually in hollow trees, often at a considerable distance from water; lining, if any, scant, consisting of feathers and down." Game Birds in California

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Behavior: Colonel Grayson, in his notes, quoted by Mr. Lawrence (1874), says:

This duck perches with facility on the branches of trees, and when in the cornfields, upon the stalks, in order to reach the ears of corn. Large flocks of them spend the day on the bank of some secluded lagoon, densely bordered with woods or water flags, also sitting among the branches of trees, not often feeding or stirring about during the day. When upon the wing they constantly utter their peculiar whistle of pe-che-che-ne, from which they have received their name from the natives. (The other species is called Durado) I have noticed that this species seldom lights in deep water, always prefering the shallow water edges. or the ground; the cause of this may be from the fear of the numerous alligators that usually infest the lagoons.

When taken young, or the eggs hatched under the common barnyard hen, they become very domestic without being confined; they are very watchful during the night, and, like the goose, give the alarm by their shrill whistle when any strange animal or person comes about the house. A lady of my acquaintance possessed a pair which she said were as good as the best watchdog; I also had a pair which were equally as vigilant, and very docile.

Doctor Sanford (1903) writes:

In April, 1901, I found these birds abundant in the vicinity of Tampico, Mexico. They were most often seen in small flocks of from 4 to 10 on the banks at the edge of the lagoon. Their long legs gave them an odd look. At our approach they would run together, raising their long necks much like geese. The flight was peculiar and characteristic, low down and in a line, their large wings with white hands presenting a striking aspect, and giving the impression of a much larger bird. We saw them occasionally on the smaller ponds, and shot several, all of them males. In one or two instances the appearance of the breast indicated the bird had been sitting on eggs. While the males of this species are supposed to attend to their own affairs during the period of incubation, it would seem as if they occasionally assisted in nesting duties. Once or twice I saw them near small ponds in woods, apparently nesting, flying from tree to tree with perfect ease, exhibiting some concern at our presence.

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Name

Mottled Duck
Lesson Plan

Food

Omnivorous. Eats both plants and animals.

Feeding Techniques

Dabbles on the surface of the water.

Habitat

Marshes

Plumage

The male and the female have similar plumage.

Distribution

Southeastern United States

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Nesting: Audubon (1840) was the first to describe the nesting habits of this duck, although at the time he did not consider it as anything but a common black duck. He writes:

On the 30th of April, 1837, my son discovered a nest on Galveston Island. in Texas. It was formed of grass and feathers, the eggs eight in number, lying on the former, surrounded with the down and some feathers of the bird, to the height of about 3 inches. The internal diameter of the nest was about 6 inches, and its walls were nearly 3 in thickness. The female was sitting, but flew off in silence as he approached. The situation selected was a clump of tall slender grass, on a rather sandy ridge, more than a hundred yards from the nearest water, but surrounded by partially dried salt marshes.

Mr. George F. Simmons (1915) thus describes a nest found in a prairie pond near Houston, Texas:

As is the case with all ponds in this section of prairie, the whole with the exception of a small spot near the center was thickly covered with tall grass, rushes, water plants of various sorts, and sprinkled with a few bushes or reeds, locally known as "coffee-bean" or ''senna."

The nest itself was placed about 8 inches up in thick marsh grass and rushes, over water 4 inches deep, and was neatly hidden by the tops of the grasses and rushes being drawn together over the nest. It was but 2 or 3 inches thick, a slightly concave saucer of dead, huffy rushes and marsh grass, supported by the thick grasses and by two small "coffee-bean" reeds. The lining was of smaller sections and fragments of the rushes and marsh grass, and a small quantity of cotton; and the 11 eggs were well, though not thickly surrounded by down and soft feathers evidently from the breast of the parent.

Mr. George B. Benners (1887) found three nests near Corpus Christi, Texas; "the nests were built on the edge of the river's bank and were so carefully concealed that if the birds had not flown up we would never have noticed them." Mr. James J. Carroll (1900) says that in Refugio County, Texas, it "breeds along the mainland near the beach and on the islands in April."

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Name

Steller's Eider
Lesson Plan

Food

Mostly invertebrates; varies with the season

Feeding Techniques

Dives into the water from the surface to look for prey.

Habitat

Bays and lagoons

Plumage

The male and the female have different plumage.

Distribution

Northeast coast

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Wilheim Steller is the Russian/German naturalist that the Steller's Jay, and Steller Sea Lion is named after, in addition to the Steller's Eider.

Notes from A.C. Bent

This beautiful and oddly marked duck was first described by the Russian naturalist, Pallas, who named it after its discoverer. Steller obtained the first specimens on the coast of Kamchatka, which is near the center of its abundance and not far from its principal breeding grounds in northeastern Siberia. Illustrating the abundance of this species on the Siberian coast of Berring Sea, Dr. E. W. Nelson (1883) writes:

The first night of our arrival was calm and misty, the water having that peculiar glassy smoothness seen at such times, and the landscape rendered indistinct at a short distance by a slight mistiness. Soon after we came to anchor before the native village this body of birds arose from the estuary a mile or two beyond the natives' huts and came streaming out in a flock which appeared endless. It was fully 3 to 4 miles in length, and considering the species which made up this gathering of birds it was enough to make an enthusiastic ornithologist wild with a desire to possess some of the beautiful specimens which were seen flying by within gunshot of the vessel.

Mr. F. S. Hersey's notes of July 26, 1914, state:

As we steamed into St. Lawrence Bay there appeared in the distance a long low, sandy island known as Lutke Island. As we drew nearer we could see a cloud of birds hovering above it which our glasses showed us were Arctic terns. The island itself was very low, hardly above the sea level, and as we looked at it seemed to be strewn with small black rocks. With our glasses, however, we could see some movement among these black objects. At last we made them out to be birds, then suddenly they arose and swept out toward us, their black and white plumage flashing in the sunlight, and we saw that they were elders. There were many kings and Pacifics among them, and these separated from the main flock and went out to sea, but the remainder, which were Steller elders, returned to the farther side of the island. A boat was soon lowered and a party of us put off from the ship. When we landed and started to walk across the island the eiders again took flight but soon settled on the water a short distance offshore. They were not at all shy. While we stayed on the island small parties of from 2 or 3 to 5 or 10 were constantly flying back and forth, often close to us, although we were in plain sight at all times, for the island offered no concealment. We had no difficulty in obtaining all the specimens we wanted.

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Name

Fulvous Whistling-Duck
Lesson Plan

Food

Seeds

Feeding Techniques

Dabbles on the surface of the water.

Habitat

Freshwater marshes

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Southwest US

Breeding

"Nest - Usually on ground in marsh or near water, well built and often well concealed; reported as occasionally situated in hollow trees; built of grass and sparsely lined with down and feathers." Game Birds in California

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Eggs: Either the fulvous tree duck lays an extraordinary number of eggs or several females lay in the same nest. Mr. Shields (1899) says:

We subsequently found about a dozen nests, all similarly situated, and most of them containing from 17 to 28, 30, 31, and 82 eggs. The smallest set found was of 9 and another of 11 eggs, both evidently being incomplete, as the nests were not finished and incubation had not commenced.

Authentic sets of as many as 36 eggs are in existence and probably much larger numbers have been found according to F. S. Barnhart (1901), who writes:

From time to time since 1895 pothunters have told wonderful stories of finding large numbers of eggs piled up on bunches of dead grass and on small knolls that rose above the water in the swamps. The number of eggs in these nests ranged from 30 to 100 or more, according to report, and in not a few cases the finder has brought the eggs with him in order to prove that what he said was true.

Probably the large numbers referred to by Mr. Barnhart are surplus eggs laid by various individuals and never incubated; and perhaps some of the large sets in collections are the product of more than one female. Evidently the fulvous tree duck is careless in its laying habits, for Mr. Shields (1899) speaks of finding eggs of this species in the nests of the redhead and the ruddy duck. All of the slough-nesting ducks seem to be careless about laying in each other's nests and to have the habit of using "dumping nests" in which large numbers of eggs are laid and forgotten.

In shape the eggs are bluntly ovate, short ovate, or oval. The shell is usually smooth and without gloss, but in many specimens, probably those that have been incubated, the shell is quite glossy and minutely pitted. The color varies from white to huffy white, but the eggs are often much stained with deep shades of buff. The measurements of 212 eggs, in various collections, average 53.4 by 40.7 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 59.9 by 40.4, 52.5 by 44.03, 49.1 by 39.7 and 51.7 by 37.6 millimeters.

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Name

Ring-necked Pheasant
Lesson Plan

Food

Omnivorous

Feeding Techniques

Feeds from the ground and utilizes its strong feet to stir up food.

Habitat

Farm area, wetlands, open areas.

Plumage

The male and the female have different plumage. Male has very colorful plumage and female has camolflaged plumage.

Distribution

Found throughout the United States except the southern states.

Breeding

Lay many eggs and young are precocial.

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Introduced species; see below.

Notes from A.C. Bent

Although some of the earlier English settlers in North America called the ruffed grouse the pheasant, a name that is still retained in the southern parts of its range, no true pheasants are native, nor were they successfully introduced into America until 1881, when Judge O. N. Denny, then American consul general at Shanghai, China, after a previous unsuccessful attempt, sent 30 ring-necked pheasants to Oregon. Of these 26 survived and were liberated in the Willamette Valley. Two years later more were sent (Shaw, 1908). Although several early attempts at introduction were made, the first successful introduction of pheasants into the East was in 1887 by Rutherford Stuyvesant, who brought over a number of birds from England and liberated them on his estate at Allamuchy, N. J. In the nineties, pheasants were brought from England and liberated in various places in Massachusetts and elsewhere.

The bird proved to be remarkably hardy and prolific and spread rapidly, partly by natural increase and partly by artificial breeding in private and State farms, and by the shipment of eggs and birds to new sections of the country. The bird thrives in the North, but south of Baltimore and Washington, according to Dr. J. C. Phillips (1928), although there have been many attempts at introduction, "the stock does not hold out long if thrown on its own resources.

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Name

Blue Grouse
Lesson Plan

Food

The seeds and needles of conifers and insects

Feeding Techniques

Feeds from the ground

Habitat

Mixed forests in mountains. Habitat is threatened. Does better in original forests.

Plumage

The male and the female have different plumage.

Distribution

Mountains in the west

Breeding

Constructs nest on the ground. Young are precocial.

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

In a single instance only, with a brood about ten days old, have I noted the presence of both parents. Perched upon a fallen tree the male seemed to be on the lookout, while the female and young were feeding close by. This seeming indifference of the male while the brood is very young, allowing his mate to protect them, if he really is always near at hand, looks very strange, and yet it may be the case, since he is generally with the covey when the young are well grown. Directly the young are able to travel, the hen Grouse leads them to some desirable opening, skirting the timber or gulch, where bearberries, wild raspberries, gooseberries, and currants, as well as grasshoppers, worms, and grubs are abundant, managing them just as the domestic hen does her brood. The young grow rapidly, and when about two weeks old can do a little with their wings; then, instead of hiding on the ground, they flush and endeavor to conceal themselves in the standing timber. Until almost fully grown they are very foolish; flushed, they will tree at once, in the silly belief that they are out of danger, and will quietly suffer themselves to be pelted with clubs and stones till they are struck down one after another. With a shotgun, of course the whole covey is bagged without much trouble, and as they are, in my opinion, the most delicious of all Grouse for the table, they are gathered up unsparingly.

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Name

Sage Grouse
Lesson Plan

Food

Sage leaves, buds. Also insects

Feeding Techniques

Forages while walking on the ground

Habitat

Sagebrush

Plumage

The male and the female have different plumage.

Distribution

Western interior states

Breeding

Shallow depression under sagebrush with sparse lining. Young are precocial and leave nest almost as soon as they are hatched.

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

The range of the sage grouse is limited to the arid plains of the Northwestern States and the southwestern Provinces, where the sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata and other species) grows; hence it is well named sage grouse or cock of the plains. Its range stops where the sagebrush is replaced by greasewood in the more southern deserts. Like the prong-horned antelope, another child of the arid plains, it has disappeared from much of its former range, as the country became more thickly settled and these large birds were easily shot. It has been said that the sage was made for this grouse and this grouse for the sage, where it is thoroughly at home and where its colors match its surroundings so well that it is nearly invisible while squatting among the lights and shades of the desert vegetation. It seldom wanders far from the sagebrush, but may be found occasionally in the shade of the narrow line of trees that marks the course of some small stream. Dwight W. Huntington (1897) describes its haunts very well, as follows:

I found the Sage Grouse most abundant in the vicinity of Fort Bridger and south to the Uintah Mountains. Here the tufted fields of the gray-green sage sweep up to the sides and walls of the adjacent "bad lands," or buttes, devoid of vegetation but beautiful in color and fantastic in form. The buttes are strangely fashioned by erosion, and are full of the fossil remains of animals and fishes. Numerous domes, spires, and pinnacles surmount the buttes and the conglomerate layers running about them have been compared to Egyptian carving. Towards the southwest are the blue Uintah Mountains, with snow flashing on their crests all summer, and towards the east the vast plain of sage extends as far as the eye can reach, blending at the horizon into an azure sky. The trout streams which issue from the mountain side become the small rivers of the plains, flowing at long intervals and nourishing a narrow line of verdure or a yellow screen of cottonwood, which marks their course. It is along such streams that the sage grouse hunter must pitch his camp.

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Name

Ruffed Grouse
Lesson Plan

Food

Omnivorous

Feeding Techniques

Forages while walking on the ground

Habitat

Deciduous woods

Plumage

The male and the female have different plumage.

Distribution

Northern United States

Breeding

Female lines depression in ground with leaves, feathers etc.; young are precocious

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Spring: During the first warm days of early spring the wanderer in our New England woods is gladdened and thrilled by one of the sweetest sounds of that delightful season, the throbbing heart, as it were, of awakening spring. On the soft, warm, still air there comes to his eager ears the sound of distant, muffled drumming, slow and deliberate at first, but accelerating gradually until it ends in a prolonged, rolling hum. The sun is shining with all its genial warmth through the leafless woods, thawing out the woodland pools, where the hylas are already peeping, and warming the carpet of fallen leaves, from which the mourning cloak butterflies are rising from their winter sleep. Other insects are awing, the early spring flowers are lifting up their heads, and all nature is awakening. The breast of the sturdy ruffed grouse swells with the springtime urge, as he seeks some moss-covered log, a fallen monarch of the forest, or perhaps a rock on which to mount and drum out his challenge to all rivals and his love call to his prospective mate. If we are fortunate enough to find his throne, on which he has left many a sign of previous occupancy, we may see the monarch of all he surveys in all his proud glory.

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Name

White-tailed Ptarmigan
Lesson Plan

Food

Willow buds and other vegetation; insects

Feeding Techniques

Forages while walking on the ground

Habitat

Rocky tundra

Plumage

The male and the female have different plumage.

Distribution

Parts of Washington, but mostly in Alaska and Colorado

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Caltha leptosepala has now been changed to Caltha palustris

Notes from A.C. Bent

Food: Dr. Sylvester D. Judd (1905a) summarizes the food of this ptarmigan, as follows:

During winter in Colorado, according to Professor Cooke, they subsist, like other ptarmlgan, largely on willow buds. The stomachs of two birds collected at Summitville, Cob., in January, 1891, at an altitude of 18,000 feet, were found to contain bud twigs from one-third to one-half inch long, but the kind of bush from which they came could not be determined. Doctor Coues, quoting T. M. Trippe, states that the food of this bird is insects, leguminous flowers, and the buds and leaves of pines and firs. According to Major Bendire, the flowers and leaves of marsh marigold (Caltha leptosepala) and the leaf buds and catkins of the dwarf birch (Betula glandulosa) are eaten. Dr. A. K. Fisher examined the stomachs of two downy chicks collected on Mount Rainier, Washington, and found beetles and flowers of heather (Cassiope mertensiana) and those of a small blueberry.

Mrs. Bailey (1928) adds:

The crop of one New Mexico specimen was filled mainly with leaves of the dwarf willow, and fruiting spikes of Polygonum viviparum, with one flower of Geum rossii, while the gizzard held mainly Polygonum seeds, a few other small seeds, a few small grasshoppers, and other small insects.

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Name

Willow Ptarmigan
Lesson Plan

Food

Willow buds and other vegetation; insects

Feeding Techniques

Forages while walking on the ground

Habitat

Rocky tundra

Plumage

The male and the female have different plumage.

Distribution

Alaska and Canada

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Enemies: Gulls, jaegers, hawks, owls, foxes, wolverenes, and other predatory birds and animals levy heavy toll on the ptarmigan and their eggs and young. Ptarmigan are so plentiful that they furnish the principal food supply for many of these creatures, as well as for the human natives. Dixon (1927) writes:

After the young ptarmigan are out of the shell they are menaced by Blackbilled Magpies as well as by the foxes. Thus on June 24 a family of four young and two adult magpies was found systematically working the willows In the Savage River bottom for ptarmigan chicks. When these magpies located a pair of adult ptarmigan they would retire stealthily and hide in the willows near by, until the ptarmigan chicks began to run about. Then the magpies swooped down and grabbed the chicks before they could hide, and then carried them off and ate them. A cock ptarmigan that I watched put one magpie to flight, but where there were six and in another case nine magpies working together against two adult ptarmigan the odds were overwhelming. As a result of this persecution by the magpies we found that by July 10 many families of young ptarmigan had been reduced to only one or two individuals. Gyrfalcons also levy continuous toll on ptarmigan; and since these large falcons are relatively numerous in the Mount McKinley district, the aggregate number of ptarmigan killed by them is considerable. It is thus easy to see why the hen ptarmigan lays from 6 to 12 eggs. If only one or two eggs were laid each season the species would soon become extinct.

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Name

Plain Chachalaca
Lesson Plan

Food

Berries, leaves, seeds

Feeding Techniques

Forages on the ground

Habitat

Brush, subtropical areas

Plumage

The male and the female have similar plumage.

Distribution

Southern point of Texas

Breeding

Builds a platform with sticks off the ground.

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Sennett Warbler = Tropical Parula

huisache - A shrub found in the Texas area

Notes from A.C. Bent

This curious and exceedingly interesting bird, the chachalaca, brings a touch of Central American bird life into extreme southern Texas in the lower valley of the Rio Grande, where so many other Mexican species reach the northern limits of their ranges and where the fauna and flora are more nearly Mexican than North American.

On May 27, 1923, I spent a good long day, from before sunrise until after sunset, in the haunts of the chachalaca, with R. D. Camp, George F. Simmons, and E. W. Farmer, the last named a chachalaca hunter of many years' experience, who knows more about this curious bird than any man I have ever met. The locality to which he guided us was the famous Resaca de la Palma, where so many other observers have made the acquaintance of the chachalaca, only a few miles outside of the city of Brownsville, Tex. This and other resacas in the vicinity are the remains of old river beds of the Rio Grande, which from time to time in the past has overflowed its banks or changed its course, cutting these winding channels through the wild, open country, chaparral, or forest. Some of these channels were dry or nearly so, but most of them contained more or less water below their gently sloping grassy borders. Above the banks were dense forests of large trees, huisache, ebony, hackberry, and mesquite, with a thick undergrowth of thorny shrubbery, tangles of vines, and an occasional palmetto or palm tree. In other places almost impenetrable thickets of chaparral lined the banks, with its forbidding tangle of thorny shrubs of various kinds, numerous cactuses and yuccas. These forests and thickets were teeming with bird life. Along the edges of the watercourses the pretty little Texas kingfishers were seen flying over the water or perched on some dead snag. In some small trees overgrown with Usnea moss the dainty little Sennett's warblers were flitting about, reminding me of our northern parulas. Handsome green jays were sneaking about in the larger trees, surprisingly inconspicuous in spite of their gaudy colors. Brilliant Derby flycatchers proclaimed their noisy presence in loud, clamorous notes from the tree tops. Sennett's thrashers scolded us in the thickets, and the confiding little Texas sparrows hopped about on the ground near us, scratching among the dead leaves. Many other birds were seen, but the most conspicuous of all were the doves; the woods and the thickets almost constantly resounded with the deep-toned notes of the white-fronted, the tiresome who-cooks-for-you of the white-winged, and the soft cooing of the mourning dove. Such is the home of the chachalaca with some of its neighbors.

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Name

Lesser Prairie Chicken
Lesson Plan

Food

Leaves, seeds, insects

Feeding Techniques

Feeds from the ground

Habitat

Short grass prairie

Plumage

The male and the female have different plumage.

Distribution

Northern portion of Texas

Breeding

Nests on the ground. Young are precocial.

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

The prairie chicken ranks first among the game birds of the prairies of our Middle West. It is to the prairie what the ruffed grouse is to the wooded sections of the country. As intensive agriculture pushed to all sections of the range of the prairie chicken and as interest in hunting increased, this fine game bird at one time seemed in grave danger of following the course taken by the heath hen, to extinction as a game bird. In fact, it is gone from much of its former range, and its original numbers have been greatly reduced in practically the entire area of its distribution. 

Because market hunting has been made a thing of the past since the beginning of the twentieth century and also because of the increasing restrictions on hunting by State departments, as well as various effective conservation programs, the prairie chicken is now holding its own and is increasing its numbers in many sections of its present range. Another hopeful sign is the fact that it has been extending its range to the northwest, and today the species is well represented on the prairies of Manitoba and is gradually spreading westward through Saskatchewan and Alberta, where formerly it did not exist.

The State Department of Conservation of Wisconsin has undertaken a comprehensive investigation of the prairie chicken to ascertain all the facts that affect its life, with the expectation that the department will be able to carry on a more effective program of conservation. Until the fundamental facts in the biology of our game birds are clearly known, conservation commissions will be handicapped in handling questions of game legislation and game management.

Prairie chickens, in common with other grouse, go through definite cycles of numbers. The problem of fluctuations in numbers of various species of wild life is not yet definitely solved, but work on it in relation to the ruffed grouse is being undertaken by many institutions and individuals in different parts of the country; hence there are excellent prospects of this work being brought to a successful conclusion.

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Name

Wild Turkey
Lesson Plan

Food

Omnivorous

Feeding Techniques

Forages while walking around

Habitat

Various habitats. Wooded grasslands, oak woodland

Plumage

The male and the female have different plumage.

Distribution

Native to many areas throughout the US but now also introduced into areas in the west.

Breeding

Nests on the ground. Young are precocial.

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

The wild turkey of the mountain regions of the Southwestern United States and extreme northwestern Mexico was described by Dr. E. W. Nelson (1900) and named in honor of Dr. C. Hart Merriam. He has characterized it as follows: "Distinguished from M. g. fera by the whitish tips to feathers of lower rump, tail-coverts, and tail; from M. g. mexicana by its velvety black rump and the greater amount of rusty rufous succeeding the white tips on tail-coverts and tail, and the distinct black and chestnut barring of middle tail feathers."

Nelson showed in the same paper that the ancestors of our domestic turkeys were neither of the forms that we now call merriami and intermedia but the more southern, strictly Mexican form, M. gabpavo gallopavo.

That this wild turkey is not nearly so abundant as it was 50 years ago is shown by the following quotation from Henry W. Henshaw (1874)

The wild turkey is found abundantly from Apache throughout the mountainous portion of Southeastern Arizona. In New Mexico it was met with further to the north, in the mountains, and I was informed by Colonel Alexander that he had found them in large numbers in the Raton Mountains, in extreme Northern New Mexico. It breeds abundantly through the White Mountains, Arizona, and about the middle of August several broods of the young, about two thirds grown, were met with. Toward the head of the Qua, in New Mexico, the canons, in November, were found literally swarming with these significent birds; in many places the ground being completely tracked up where they had been running. As many as eleven were killed by the members of a party during a day's march.

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Name

California Quail
Lesson Plan

Food

Seeds and leaves

Feeding Techniques

Forages while walking around

Habitat

Chaparral, grasslands, forest edges

Plumage

The male and the female have different plumage.

Distribution

Pacific coast states

Breeding

Nests on the ground. Young are precocial.

"Nest - Usually a mere depression in the ground, lined sparingly with grass and weed stems; occasionally a more substantially built affair, though still relatively crude, of the same materials, and placed on a log, stump, or in a brush pile; rarely in trees or other situations above ground." Game Birds in California

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Courtship: W. Leon Dawson (1923) writes: 

The Quail's year begins some time in March or early April, when the coveys begin to break up and, not without some heart-burnings and fierce passages at arms between the cocks, individual preferences begin to hold sway. It is then that the so-called "assembly call," Icu kwalc' up, ku kwak' up, ku kwak' uick o, is heard at its best; for this is also a mating call; and if not always directed toward a single listener, it is a notice to all and sundry that the owner is very happy, and may be found at the old stand. Although belonging to a polygamous family, the Valley Quail is very particular in his affections; and indeed, from all that we may learn, is at all times a very perfect model of a husband and father. Even in domestication, with evil examples all about and temptresses in abundance, the male quail is declared to be as devoted to a single mate as in the chaparral, where broad acres may separate him from a rival.

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Name

Gambel's Quail
Lesson Plan

Food

Seeds, leaves, berries

Feeding Techniques

Forages on the ground

Habitat

Desert, canyons

Plumage

The male and the female have different plumage.

Distribution

Southwest desert

Breeding

Nests on the ground; young are precocial

"Nest - On ground beneath weeds or brush; a slight depressoin, usually well lined with grass, weed stems, and leaves. " Game Birds in California

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Abert's Finch = Abert's Towhee

Notes from A.C. Bent

Gambel's quail is also very appropriately called the desert quail, for its natural habitat is the hot, dry desert regions of the Southwestern States and a corner of northwestern Mexico. Its center of abundance is in Arizona, but it ranges east to southwestern New Mexico and El Paso, Tex., and west to the Colorado and Mohave Deserts in southeastern California. On the western border of its range it is often associated with the valley quail and has been known to hybridize with it.

This beautiful species was discovered by Dr. William Gambel "on the eastern side of the Californian range of mountains in 1841 " and named in his honor, according to John Cassin (1856), who gives us the first account of its distribution and habits, based largely on notes furnished by Col. George A. McCall. He did not meet with it west of the Colorado Desert barrier in California or east of the Pecos River in Texas.

We found gambel's quail very common in southern Arizona, especially in the lower river valleys, where the dense growth of mesquite (Acacia glanduloea) afforded scanty shade, or where they could find shelter under the spreading green branches of the paloverdes, which in springtime presented great masses of yellow blossoms. They were even more abundant in the thickets of willows along the streams or in the denser forests of mesquites, hackberries, and various other thorny trees and shrubs. We occasionally flushed a pair as we drove along the narrow trails, but more often we saw them running off on foot, dodging in and out among the desert underbrush until out of sight. My companion on this trip, Francis C. Willard, has sent me the following notes, based on his long experience in Arizona:

Gambel's Quail is essentially a bird of the areas in southern Arizona where the mesquite abounds. Unlike their neighbor, the scaled quail, they seem to require the close proximity of a water supply. They are, therefore, found principally along the few living streams and close to permanent water holes. I found them swarming in the mesquite forest along the Santa Gins River south of Tucson and almost as plentiful along the Rillito between Tucson and the mountains. In the valley of the San Pedro River they were also present in large numbers. Between the valley of this last-named river and the various ranges of mountains fringing it are long sloping mesas from 5 to 20 miles wide where the "black topknot" is rarely seen except close to the infrequent water holes. In the foothills of the Dragoon, Huachucas, Wheistones, Chiricahuas, and other less ivell-known ranges this quail again appears in some numbers but nothing like those in the lower valleys.

Dr. Elliott Coues (1874) has given us the best account of this quail, which I shall quote from quite freely. He says of its haunts:

Gambel's Quail may be looked for in every kind of cover. Where they abound it is almost impossible to miss them, and coveys may often be seen on exposed sand-heaps, along open roads, or in the cleared patches around settlers' cabins. If they have any aversion, it is for thick high pine-woods, without any undergrowth; there they only casually stray. They are particularly fond of the low, tangled brush along creeks, the dense groves of young willows that grow in similar places, and the close-set chaparral of hillocks or mountain ravines. I have often found them, also, among huge granitic boulders and masses of lava, where there was little or no vegetation, except some straggling weeds; and have flushed them from the dryer knolls in the midst of a reedy swamp. Along the Gila and Colorado they live in such brakes as I described in speaking of Abert's Finch; and they frequent the groves of mesquite and mimosa, that form so conspicuous a feature of the scenery in those places. These scrubby trees form dense interlacing copses, only to be penetrated with the utmost difficulty, but beneath their spreading scrawny branches are open intersecting ways, along which the Quail roams at will, enjoying the slight shade. In the most sterile regions they are apt to come together in numbers about the few water-holes or moist spots that may be found and remain in the vicinity, so that they become almost as good indication of the presence of water as the Doves themselves. A noteworthy fact in their history, is their ability to bear, without apparent inconvenience, great extremes of temperature. They are seemingly at ease among the burning sands of the desert, where, for months, the thermometer daily marks a hundred, and may reach a hundred and forty, "in the best shade that could be procured," as Colonel McCall says; and they are equally at home the year round among the mountains, where snow lies on the ground in winter.

In New Mexico, according to Mrs. Florence M. Bailey (1928), it is found in the Lower Sonoran Zone in quail brush (Atriplex lentiformis) and creosote, and in hot mesquite valleys or their brushy slopes, in screw bean and palo verde thickets and among patches of prickly pear. It is not generally found so far from water as the Scaled Quail, which eats more juicy insect food, but at times both are seen in the same landscape.

In inhabited regions, in places where cattle trails lead to water, the Gambel's pretty foot prints call up pleasant pictures of morning procession of thirsty little "black-helmeted" pedestrians, talking cheerfully as they go. For it seems most at home about small farms, such as those cultivated by the Spanish Americans, which dot the narrow canyons and river valleys.

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Name

Montezuma Quail
Lesson Plan

Food

Seeds

Feeding Techniques

Feeds on the ground

Habitat

Oak grasslands

Plumage

The male and the female have different plumage.

Distribution

Southern portions of Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas

Breeding

Nests on the ground. Young are precocial.

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

No Bent Available

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Name

Scaled Quail
Lesson Plan

Food

Seeds

Feeding Techniques

Feeds on the ground

Habitat

Desert

Plumage

The male and the female have similar plumage.

Distribution

Primarily in Texas and New Mexico

Breeding

Nests on the ground. Young are precocial.

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Enemies: Mrs. Bailey (1928) writes:

Although protective coloration and attitudes partly serve their purposes, protective cover is still vitally important, for as Mr. Ligon has found, "Prairie Falcons, Cooper Hawks, Roadrunners, snakes; skunks, wildcats, and coyotes all take their toll of these birds or their eggs"; in the northern part of their range, Magpies destroy both eggs and young; and over much of their range hail, cold rains, and winter storms deplete their numbers.

Mr. Willard says in his notes:

The Gila monster, rattlesnake, and skunk are natural enemies which take a large toll from the nests of the scaled quail. I once observed a female quail fluttering excitedly over a clump of grass and making dashes down at it. On investigating I found a rattlesnake and nine quail eggs in the nest. I dispatched the snake and on opening it found three whole eggs inside. A Gila monster, which I caught and caged, evidently disgorged two scaled quail eggs, as there were two eggs in the box a short time later, and I am sure no one had been near it but myself. In passing, it may be of interest to say that this great lizard will devour a hen's egg by gradually working it far enough into its mouth to be able to clamp down on it with its powerful jaws, crushing it, and then sucking out the contents. They are large enough to swallow easily a quail's egg whole. We occasionally found a mass of loose feathers of this quail scattered on the ground and clinging to near-by bushes. The presence of cat tracks told what was responsible for the tragedy the feathers betrayed. On at least four occasions I have surprised a long-legged Mexican lynx stalking the same game I was after, and was able to collect a cat as well as a quail.

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Name

Mourning Dove
Lesson Plan

Food

Seeds

Feeding Techniques

Forages on the ground

Habitat

Agricultural areas, suburbs, towns, parks, grassland

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Throughout the US

Breeding

Nests off the ground in shrub or often in human built structure.

"Nest - On the ground, or in bushes or trees, sometimes as high as forty feet above the ground, but usually six to eight feet up; a loose, flat structure, of sticks, rootlets and grass stems, carelessly arranged; when above ground usually situated on a horizontal branch or limb." Game Birds in California

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

squab - young pigeon

Notes from A.C. Bent

Gabrielson (1922), who studied the nest life from a blind, clearly describes the process of regurgitation thus: 

At 7:30 am a squab backed toward the blind and getting from beneath the parent raised its head and mutely begged for food. The adult (presumably the female) responded immediately by opening her beak and allowing the nestling to thrust its beak into one corner of her mouth. She then shut her beak on that of the nestling and after remaining motionless for a short time began a slow pumping motion of the head. The muscles of her throat could he seen to twitch violently at intervals, continuing about a minute, when the nestling withdrew its beak. The other nestling then inserted its beak and the process was repeated, 15 seconds elapsing before its beak was removed. With intervals varying from 5 to 10 seconds (watch in hand) four such feedings, two to each nestling, occurred. The nestling not being fed was continually trying to insert its beak in that of the parent and at the fifth feeding both succeeded in accomplishing this at the same time. The nestlings' beaks were inserted from opposite sides of the parent's mouth and remained in place during the feeding operation although I could not say whether or not both received food. While being fed the nestlings frequently jerked the head from side to side and also followed the motion of the parent's beak by raising and lowering themselves by the use of the legs. They were not more than five days old but had better use of their muscles than the young of passerine birds at from eight to ten days of age. The entire process described above occupied about six minutes, after which the nestlings crawled back beneath the parent.

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Name

Band-tailed Pigeon
Lesson Plan

Food

Nuts and berries; see below

Feeding Techniques

Forages while in trees

Habitat

Perfers wooded areas

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Primarily in the west, usually on the Pacific coast and the southwest

Breeding

Often nests in a small colony of Band-tailed Pigeons.

"Nest - A crude platform of twigs, of very loose construction; most often situated on a moderately large horizontal branch of an oak (less often a pine), and at heights ranging from eight to thirty feet above ground." Game Birds in California

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

The book referred to is The Game Birds of California

Notes from A.C. Bent

Food: Grinnell, Bryant, and Storer (1918) have published a very full account of the food of the band-tailed pigeon, from which I can include only a condensed summary. As their food consists mainly of nuts and berries, which are intermittent crops, the pigeons find it necessary to wander about considerably, congregating in large numbers where food is abundant and deserting these same localities during seasons of scarcity. Acorns seem to be their chief food; probably all the oaks are patronized, but mainly the live oaks, golden oak, and black oak; the acorn crop lasts through a long season in fall and winter. The acorns are swallowed whole and form an attractive food supply in the fall. They resort at times to the applelike fruits of certain species of manzanita, eating them from the time they are first formed and green until late in fall, when they are fully ripe. Early in the fall they feed on the fruit of the coffeeberry, elderberry, and chokecherry. In winter they have the toyon, or Christmasberry, and when the nut and fruit crops become exhausted they feed on the flower and leaf buds of the same plants, such as manzanita and oak buds. Early in spring sycamore balls are frequently eaten; as many as 35 have been counted in the crop of one pigeon. Fruits of dogwood, wild peas, pine seeds, and other seeds have been found in their crops. Considerable cultivated grain is eaten; this is mainly waste grain, picked up in stubble fields of barley, oats, and corn; but pigeons have been known to do some damage by pulling up newly sown seed barley; such records are scarce, however. P. A. Taverner (1926) says that in western Canada, "they are especially partial to peas and are said to pull up the sprouting seeds. The flocks so engaged are described as being numerous enough to turn the colour of the fields they alight upon from brown to blue. As they are large birds, each one intent on filling a capacious crop, their power for damage is not small. In the autumn they alight on the stooked grain and may take a considerable toll of it."

Birds in the Classroom
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Name

White-winged Dove
Lesson Plan

Food

Seeds

Feeding Techniques

Forages on the ground

Habitat

Mesquite, river areas, towns

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Southern portions of California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas

Breeding

Builds nest off the ground; often in cactus or shrub.

"Nest - Placed most often in mesquite, but also in willows and other trees and shrubs; at varying heights from four to twenty-five feet though usually about ten feet above ground; a crude structure of twigs resembling that of the Mourning Dove but larger." Game Birds in California

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

Courtship: Dr. Alexander Wetmore (1920) has published a most interesting account of his extensive studies of the white-winged dove, from which I shall quote freely; regarding courtship, he writes: 

In displaying before females males had a curious habit or pose in which they raised the tail high arid tilted the body forward. At the same time the tail was spread widely and then closed with a quick flash of the prominent black and white markings. In the breeding colonies males at intervals flew out with quick, full strokes of the spread wings, rising until they were thirty or forty feet in the air. The wings were then set stiffly with the tips decurved, while the birds scaled around above the mesquites in a great circle that often brought them to their original perches. The contrasted markings of the wings showed brilliantly during this flight and the whole was most striking and attractive. In the cooler part of the morning males performed constantly in this manner over the rookery.

Birds in the Classroom
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Name

Common Pigeon
Lesson Plan

Food

Eats whatever is available.

Feeding Techniques

Pecks food off the ground; prefers to live with humans from whom it obtains most of its food.

Habitat

Anywhere where people are from farms to urban centers.

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Throughout the US

Breeding

Perfers to nest around human habitations.

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

No Bent Available

Birds in the Classroom
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Name

White-tipped Dove

Lesson Plan

Food

Seeds

Feeding Techniques

Forages on the ground

Habitat

River thickets, woodlands

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Southern tip of Texas.

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

No Bent Available

Birds in the Classroom
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Name

Common-Ground Dove
Lesson Plan

Food

Seeds

Feeding Techniques

Forages on the ground

Habitat

Agricultural areas, edge habitats

Plumage

The male and the female have the same plumage.

Distribution

Southern Florida to southern California.

Breeding

Nest on the ground or shrub. (See below)

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

neat domiciles - nests

Notes from A.C. Bent

Nesting: Erichsen (1920) writes:

In its choice of nesting sites, it exhibits a very wide range. It most frequently selects a low bush, either thinly or densely follaged. Other situations in which I have found nests include the top of a low stump; high up on a horizontal limb of a large pine; and, frequently, upon the ground. An instance of its nesting on the ocean beach came under my observation May 13, 1915, on Ossabaw Island. In this case there was no attempt at nest building, the eggs being deposited in a slight depression in the sand; and when breeding on the ground in woodland or cultivated fields, little or no material is assembled. In fact, nest building occupies little of the time and attention of this species, as when placed in trees or bushes the nest is simply a slight affair of a few twigs loosely interlaid. Further evidence of this bird's disinclination to build a nest for the reception of its eggs is found in the fact that I once found a set in a deserted nest of the cardinal.

So gentle and confiding are these birds that it is often possible to touch them while on the nest, especially if incubation is advanced. Upon dropping off the nest they always simulate lameness, dragging themselves over the ground with drooping wings in an effort to draw the intruder away. I am of the opinion that they remain mated for life, since they are observed throughout the year most frequently in pairs.

Mr. Nicholson, who has" examined hundreds of nests," says in his notes:

Nests are built on the ground as frequently as in vines, bushes, or trees, or along the tops of fences. One foot to 10 or 12 feet above the ground is the usual height.

The nests are delicate-looking structures, made usually of fine rootlets or grasses, and seldom any sticks are used, saddled on a limb, or among dead vines. The diameter measures froni 2½ to 3 inches across, by 1 inch to 2 inches thick, with scarcely any depression for the eggs, the eggs always showing above the rim of the nest.

A nest that I found on Murrays Key, Bay of Florida, on April 3, 1908, consisted of merely a few straws in a slight hollow in the ground, under and between two tussocks of grass, which were arched over it; it was located in an open space in the brush, with small shrubs and weeds about it. Maynard (1896) "always found the nests in orange groves; the neat domiciles are placed on the lower limbs of trees." Audubon (1840) says that the nest "is large for the size of the bird and compact. Its exterior is composed of dry twigs, its interior of grasses disposed in a circular form ;" he found a nest "placed on the top of a cactus not more than two feet high." Dr. T. Gilbert Pearson (1920) writes:

There is no bird in the United States that to my knowledge breeds over so long a period of the year as does the ground dove. In my experience with these birds in Florida, I have found their nests occupying varying situations during different seasons of the year. Thus on February 28 and March 3, I have found nests located on the tops of partially decayed stumps of pine trees, only about 2 feet from the ground. Later in the season I have seen numerous nests placed on the ground, usually in fields of weeds or in standing grain. Fields of oats seem to be especially favored with their presence during midsummer. Late in July, August and on to the latter part of September, I have found their nests on horizontal limbs of large orange trees, on the level fronds of palms, and on the cross-bars or rails, as commonly used for supports of the widespreading scuppernong grape-vines.

Most observers have noted that when a ground dove's nest is approached, the brooding bird quickly leaves the nest and flutters along the ground, attempting to lure the intruder away by feigning lameness. But Doctor Pearson (1920) writes:

Occasionally an individual is found that declines to expose her treasures without an argument. As the inquiring hand comes close to the nest, she does not strike with her bill, nor even indulge in loud scolding, but with ruffled feathers raises her wings in a threatening attitude, as if she would crush the offending fingers if they came too close. Surely a puny, hopeless bit of resistance; nevertheless it shows that a stout heart throbs within the feathered breast of the little mother.

Mr. Nicholson has proved to his satisfaction that the same nest is used for a second or even third brood in a single season, by apparently the same pair of birds.

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Name

Inca Dove
Lesson Plan

Food

Seeds

Feeding Techniques

Forages on the ground

Habitat

Towns, parks, farms

Plumage

The male and the female have similar plumage.

Distribution

Southern Arizona to Texas

Breeding

Female builds nest in a wide variety of localities.

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

The charming little Inca dove, sometimes called the scaly dove, or the long-tailed dove, after characteristic features, is a bird of Tropical and Lower Sonoran Zones and occurs in the United States only in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. Formerly confined in southern Texas to the region between San Antonio and the Rio Grande, these doves, according to A. E. Schutze (1904), on account of long droughts, have "moved north and eastward to a country where they found food and water in abundance." According to G. F. Simmons (1925), the first record of this dove for Austin, Tex., was in1889, while, by 1909, they had become common nesters in that region. 'Wherever found, it is resident, although in Texas, according to the same author, "a few birds move southward in colder, winter weather." Appearing to delight in human companionship, the Inca dove is rarely found at a distance from towns or the neighborhood of houses.

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Name

Eurasian Collared Dove
Lesson Plan

Food

Seeds

Feeding Techniques

Forages on the ground

Habitat

Cities, towns

Plumage

The male and the female have similar plumage.

Distribution

Southern part of Florida

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent

No Bent description available; this species was probably not present during Bent's time.

 
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Name

Lesson Plan

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Distribution

Breeding

About the Notes from A.C. Bent

Notes from A.C. Bent