Sunday, April 14, 2013

Ferruginous Hawk

Most birders have a favourite raptor.  Mine is the Ferruginous Hawk (Buteo regalis).
This is a hawk of my beloved wide-open prairies.  Pete Dunne calls it Russet-backed Prairie Eagle.  

The sexes are similar.  This bird is a 'light morph'.  Notice the rusty shoulder patches, white underparts, light coloured head, pale tail.  The gape (or the lips, if you will) is extended and yellow - gives the bird a smiley look.

A couple of Cool Facts from All About Birds:

-  Before the elimination of bison in the West, nests of the Ferruginous Hawk were often partially constructed of bison bones and wool

- The Rough-legged Hawk, the Ferruginous Hawk and the Golden Eagle are the only North American hawks to have legs feathered all the way to the toes.

Ferruginous means rusty-coloured.  Note the rusty markings and also long, pointed wings and the white base of the primaries.

Not long ago, Ferruginous Hawks were considered pests by farmers & ranchers (and honestly, what wasn't?).  So, they were shot and poisoned (again, what wasn't, or isn't?).  But, then it was realized that the hawks primarily fed on ground squirrels and pocket gophers which farmers & ranchers find to be even greater pests.  So nowadays, these lovely great hawks are considered 'friendly'.  It might take a little while for the reactive farmers & ranchers to a) stop poisoning the ground squirrels and b) cultivating the ever dwindling open prairie so necessary for my beautiful hawks to survive.  Note:  I grew up on a farm here on the southern Saskatchewan prairie.

This species is considered threatened in Canada.  

I am lucky to live where there is still a bit of natural prairie left (not much and the community pastures are being sold off, remaining private pastures are being cultivated and seeded to grazing hay). Several pairs of FEHAs return to this area yearly, reusing their nests.

Range Map below.

Ferruginous Hawk Range Map

All About Birds
Pete Dunne's Essential Field Guide Companion
Birds of Canada

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Common Redpolls - Smart Birds

I have a lack of redpolls!  The past couple of days, the 100+ Common Redpolls (Carduelis flammea) that wintered in my neighbourhood have gone. There are only 2-3 around my yard now.

Actually with this never-ending Winter of 2013, they have lingered here longer than usual, giving us nice looks at the very bright rosy-red breeding plumage.

Pete Dunne calls them the Catkin Finch and says this northern finch loves birch catkins - simply loves themI don't have birch.  I toss out seeds in the winter.  That works, too.

Quoting P. Dunne once again, he describes the CORE as a "streaky, stubby, effervescent pip-squeak of a finch with a small red beret and a black goatee."

These birds are smaller than House Finches.  They are a little bigger than a Pine Siskin, with which the less showy female redpoll can be confused (until one sees the jaunty red cap).
These personable little birds are arctic and subarctic breeders.  All About Birds provides us with this little cool fact:
Common Redpolls can survive temperatures of –65 degrees Fahrenheit. A study in Alaska found redpolls put on about 31% more plumage by weight in November than they did in July.   During winter, some Common Redpolls tunnel into the snow to stay warm during the night. Tunnels may be more than a foot long and 4 inches under the insulating snow.
I’ve never seen evidence of this, but then we don’t get quite as cold as –65F....close but not that temp, I’d probably be a little busy tunnelling into the snow myself to notice what birds are digging along side of me. 

Another fun fact:   Animals behaviourists commonly test an animal’s intelligence by seeing if it can pull in a string to get at a hanging piece of food. (I’m not making this up). Common Redpolls pass this test with no trouble. They’ve also been seen shaking the seeds out of birch catkins, then dropping to the ground to pick them up from the snow surface.

And: Redpolls have throat pouches for temporarily storing seeds. They may fill their pouches with seeds quickly then fly away to swallow the seeds in a more protected, warmer spot.

The fun facts with these birds never's yet another one:
Redpolls breed in all the the lands that ring the Arctic Ocean. A few banding records have shown that some Common Redpolls are incredibly wide ranging. Among them, a bird banded in Michigan was recovered in Siberia; others in Alaska have been recovered in the eastern US, and a redpoll banded in Belgium was found two years later in China.

Info sources:

All About Birds
Pete Dunne's Essential Field Guide Companion 

Sunday, April 7, 2013

American Tree Sparrow

Or, as Pete Dunne calls it, The Winter Chippy.  

The American Tree Sparrow (Spizella arborea) is one of the first sparrows to arrive in my area in the Spring and the last to leave in the Fall.  It winters in southernmost Canada and all over the US.  It breeds in the arctic so doesn't mind a bit of late Spring snow on the trip north.

Three arrived in my back yard this past Monday.  Snow still piled up but a few days of melting have exposed the layers of birdseed I've been tossing around during the past few months of snowdom. 

Contrary to the name, this sparrow is found mostly in shrubby areas, weedy fields, edges of marshes, etc.  It nests in stunted willows and spruce in boggy or open areas of the northern tundra.  

This sparrow feeds on the ground in rapid shuffling movements; it will also leap up to grab seeds from tall grasses as well as foraging high in trees, quite liking birch catkins.

The ATSP is a medium-sized, plump sparrow with a small bi-coloured bill - dark upper, yellowish lower - with a richly patterned back and a long tail.
It is sometimes confused with Chipping Sparrows as both have rufous crowns and an eye stripe.  However, the ATSP has a rusty brown eye stripe with gray above and belowThe CHSP has a black eye stripe and a white eyebrow.

The Am. Tree Sparrow has a dark breast spot on an unmarked chest.

Information sources:
Pete Dunne's Essential Field Guide Companion

All About Birds