28 October, 2009

Wild Turkey

Scientific Name: Meleagris gallopavo

Population Estimate: 1.3M, Least Concern status

Range / Habitat: Year round in forests and grasslands of eastern US, and in parts of western US and northern Mexico.

Field Notes: Large, ground-dwelling bird, unmistakable in range.

Personal Notes: We had been looking for these bird for several months after returning to MN from NZ and were not disappointed. The top photo was taken at the Minnesota Zoo shortly before leaving the area.

Bald Eagle

Scientific Name: Haliaeetus leucocephalus

Population Estimate: 300K

Range / Habitat: Found in wooded areas near water, breeding in Alaska, Canada, and parts of the upper midwest. Winters throughout the rest of the US, down into Mexico.

Field Notes: Large bird with hooked bill often seen soaring. Adults unmistakable with white head and tail. Juveniles are as large but mottled brown and white. In years two and three they develop an eyestripe as in the top photos. Adult plumage attained in the fourth year. Golden Eagle similar size and coloration as a juvenile Bald Eagle but with wrist spots in the juvenile and pale trailing edge in the adult.

Personal Notes: A dramatic and imposing bird, we saw a Bald Eagle feasting on the same carcass as several Common Raven in northern Minnesota and the eagle was easily twice as large. We are fortunate to see many of these birds Minnesota as it has the largest population of Bald Eagles of any state after Alaska.

American White Pelican

Scientific Name:  Pelecanus erythrorhynchos

Population Estimate: 180K, Least Concern status

Range / Habitat: Breeds in isolated areas from Manitoba, Canada and Minnesota west to northern California. Winters in California, Mexico, Central America, along the Gulf Coast and in Florida.

Field Notes: Huge, all white water birds with unmistakable large yellow bill and orange legs. Black tipped wings in flight. 
Personal Notes: We loved the above photos taken at Salton Sea, particularly together with the Brown Pelican.

Red-tailed Hawk

Scientific Name: Buteo jamaicensis

Population Estimate: 2M, Least Concern status

Range: Year-round throughout the United States and most of Mexico. Summers extends into Canada and Alaska.

Field Notes: The most common hawk in the United States. There are so many morphs it makes my head spin (see the Field Marks section on the Cornell site). The most reliable field note seems to be the red tail as in the top two photos above. I'm sure there are other ways to differentiate hawks, both in flight and while perched, but I just don't know them yet. I'll get back to you when I do.

Personal Notes: We have tracked many of these birds thinking they were something "different" only to find they were, while still majestic, the Red-tailed Hawk. As an aside, if you see it perching along the freeway in the United States, it's a Red-tailed Hawk. Really. Don't keep going back and forth on the freeway....

27 October, 2009

Cliff Swallow

Scientific Name: Petrochelidon pyrrhonota

Population Estimate: 90M

Range: Winters in much of South America. Summers in most of Mexico, the US, and Canada into Alaska.

Field Notes: Builds gourd-shaped nests on buildings, cliffs, and under bridges. Blue back, rufous chin, white belly and a white forehead stripe. Square tail used for propping as above. Lacks the forked tail of the Barn Swallow. The Tree Swallow does not have any rufous coloring.

Personal Notes: Such a fun group of birds to watch building and interacting at their nests.

25 October, 2009

Royal Spoonbill

Scientific Name: Platalea regia

Population Estimate: 25K - 100K

Range / Habitat: Favors tidal mudflats along the coasts of New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia, Paupa New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands.

Field Notes: Large, brilliantly white wading bird with long, black spoon-shaped bill. The white plumes on the head signify breeding plumage. Unmistakable in range.

Personal Notes: First seen among the albatross at Taiaroa Head. Later seen in abundance in the Catlins. 


Scientific Name: Anas strepera

Population Estimate: 3.5M, Least Concern status

Range / Habitat: Gadwall are distributed throughout the southern two-thirds of the United States -- and equivalent latitudes throughout the rest of the northern hemisphere -- in winter, with the greatest concentrations found in the Central and Mississippi flyways. Range extends north in summer. Preferred habitat is shallow freshwater or brackish wetlands with abundant vegetation

Field Notes: Medium-sized dabbling ducks characterized by a general lack of bright coloration. Males intricately patterned with gray, brown, and black. Females similar to other dabbling ducks. 

Personal Notes:

American Wigeon

Scientific Name: Anas americana

Population Estimate: 2.2M, Least Concern status

Range: There is a year-round population in parts of the American West. From here the breeding range extends into Canada and Alaska, with the winter range extending south to the northern tip of South American and along both US coasts. Preferred habitat is shallow fresh water, surrounded by grassland. 

Field Notes: Dabbling duck. Male in breeding plumage (bottom photo) notable for wide green eye marking, buff stripe down the forehead, light bill with dark tip, white wing patches, and black rump bordered by white. Female and nonbreeding male (top photo) with grey and finely marked head, grey bill with dark tip, rufous flanks with a variable amount of white. The Eurasian Wigeon, which periodically turns up in the US and Canada, lacks the green eye marking of the breeding male and have rufous heads, not grey in both sexes.

Personal Notes: I always seem to recognize wigeons by the eye smudge first.

23 October, 2009

New Zealand Bellbird

Scientific Name: Anthornis melanura

Population Estimate: Unknown, but Least Concern status

Range / Habitat: Endemic to New Zealand where found in native and exotic forest, scrub, and artificial habitats throughout the mainland and on Stewart Island.

Field Notes: Olive green passerine with dark face, short curved bill and long tail. Female more brown and with white stripe from corner of mouth. Its song has rich, fluid and resonant notes similar to Tui but without the coughs, clicks, grunts and wheezes.

Personal Notes: Maori name Korimako or Makomako. Seems more prevalent on South Island to us. Will readily come to nectar.

Double-crested Cormorant

Scientific Name: Phalacrocorax auritus

Population Estimate: 1.5M, Least Concern status

Range: Winters in the southern US interior, and more extensively on the coasts. In summer it is widespread throughout North America.

Field Notes: Most common cormorant in North America, found along coasts but also inland. All black bird with hooked bill that is yellow at the base. Juveniles more pale, as in top photo. Often found in groups, these are heavy fliers that cruise just above the water. Great Cormorant and Brant's Cormorant have very limited overlap. The Neotropic Cormorant has a shared range along the Gulf Coast in Mexico, but the Double-crested Cormorant is larger with brighter yellow bill base, and relatively shorter tail.

Personal Notes: The drying of feathers is my favorite pose.

Great Blue Heron

Scientific Name: Ardea herodias

Range / Habitat: The Great Blue Heron is found throughout most of North America, as far north as Alaska and the southern Canadian provinces. The range extends south through Florida, Mexico and the Caribbean to South America.

Field Notes: Very large gray-blue wader. It is long legged and long necked. It is approximately four feet tall or forty-six inches (one hundred seventeen centimeters) with a wingspan of six to seven feet. The bird is about seventy-two inches wide (one hundred eighty-three centimeters). It has a blue-gray color on its belly, body, and wings. The great blue heron is not very blue. The bird's bill is yellow, long, thick, and sharp. The bird's shoulder is black. The bird's back is mainly a slate-gray color. It has a brownish-buff colored neck with a black being a border. White is the color in front of its neck with a vertical streak that is black. The bird's head is white with a black stripe above its eye. The heron weighs anywhere from five to eight pounds (two to three kilograms). A male and female heron generally have the same description.

Personal Notes:

Variable Oystercatcher

Scientific Name: Haematopus unicolor

Population Estimate: 4,000 individuals

Range / Habitat: Endemic to New Zealand where found on the coasts of both islands.

Field Notes: Has three phases: pied, black and intermediate. Black phase, as above, most common south of Taranaki. Pied phase different from South Island Oystercatcher in that breast demarcation is more smudged and there is no white shoulder patch.

Personal Notes: In our experience, the Variable Oystercatcher is more solitary while the South Island Oystercatcher flocks. Maori name Torea.

South Island Oystercatcher

Scientific Name: Haematopus finschi

Population Estimate: 110K

Range / Habitat: Breed on inland wetlands of South Island of New Zealand, where it is endemic. Otherwise found primarily in South Island in intertidal areas.

Field Notes: Common shore bird with striking black and white coloring, bright orange bill and orange eye ring. Similar to Pied Oystercatcher of Australia but no range overlap. Variable Oystercatcher only other oystercatcher in New Zealand and is larger, stockier, most commonly in black phase. Pied phase of Variable Oystercatcher with mottled border on chest and no white shoulder patch. From our experience, Variable Oystercatcher more solitary, South Island Oystercatcher flocks. 

Personal Notes: First seen on Otogo Peninsula, later photographed on Stewart Island and the Catlins. In New Zealand known as Pied Oystercatcher. Maori name Torea. 

22 October, 2009

Pied-billed Grebe

Scientific Name: Podilymbus podiceps

Population Estimate: 120K, Least Concern status

Range / Habitat: Year-round in shallow, slow-moving water in southern South America, Central America, and southern North America. In summer extending north in North Amerca throughout the middle US states and Canada. 

Field Notes: Small, brown diving waterfowl with a puffy rear end. In breeding season, stocky bill is silver encircled by a broad, black band. Sexes are similar in appearance. 

Personal Notes:

21 October, 2009


Scientific Name: Turdus iliacus

Population Estimate: 65M - 130M

Range / Habitat: It breeds in northern regions of Europe and Asia, from Iceland south to northernmost Scotland, and east through Scandinavia, the Baltic States, northern Poland and Belarus, and through most of Russia to about 165°E in Chukotka Autonomous Okrug.

Field Notes: It is 20–24 cm long with a wingspan of 33–34.5 cm and a weight of 50–75 g. The sexes are similar, with plain brown backs and with dark brown spots on the white underparts. The most striking identification features are the red flanks and underwing, and the creamy white stripe above the eye.

Personal Notes: Typical Turdus-like behavior, just in Iceland.

Hooded Merganser

Scientific Name: Lophodytes cucullatus

Population Estimate: 300K, Least Concern status

Range: Year-round throughout the eastern US and Pacific Northwest. There is also a migrant population which winters in western US and summers in the northern Midwest and into Canada.

Field Notes: Small diving duck usually found in shallow ponds. Male breeding plumage is distinctive and the crest may either be raised (top photo) or lowered (bottom photo). The breeding male with raised crest may be initially confused with a Bufflehead, but the latter lacks brown sides and its white head patch wraps around the back of the neck. The female Hooded Merganser lacks the white chin patch of the female Common Merganser and has a shorter, less red bill compared to the female Red-breasted Merganser.

Personal Notes: One of our favorite Minnesota birds!

Trumpeter Swan

Scientific Name: Cygnus columbianus

Population Estimate: 34K

Range / Habitat: Summer / breeding areas in interior Alaska, parts of Canada, Minnesota. Winters on Pacific coast of Canada.

Field Notes: Large, all-white swan with black bill. Loud, frequent, trumpet-like chatter back and forth between birds. Tundra Swan may have yellow area near the eye but not always. Voice is the most reliable distinction.

Personal Notes:

Ring-necked Duck

Scientific Name: Aythya collaris

Population Estimate: 1.5M, Least Concern status

Range / Habitat: Found on small ponds throughout Canada (including Vancouver Island, where we saw them at Beacon Hill Park) and parts of northern US in summer. Winters throughout southern and western US, into Mexico.

Field Notes: Medium-sized diving ducks, usually found in small groups, diving out in the middle of the water. Readily identified by the black head / back, grey sides, and white ring around bill.

Personal Notes: Quite a common bird at Sherburne NWR in Minnesota at the end of April.


Scientific Name: Aythya valisineria

Population Estimate: 520K

Range / Habitat: Breeds in prairie potholes in western US and Canada and in the interior of Alaska. Winters on ocean bays and other suitable inland waters in the southern US into Mexico, along both US coasts, and in Cuba.

Field Notes: Large diving duck with sloping bill profile, red head, and black neck / chest. Belly and back are white and tail is black. Redhead is smaller with round head, grey bill, and grey back.

Personal Notes: Seen in migration in Minnesota, this striking duck was solitary and kept close to the weeds on the shore.

15 October, 2009

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Scientific Name: Sphyrapicus varius

Population Estimate: 9M

Range / Habitat: Their breeding habitat is forested areas across Canada, eastern Alaska and the northeastern United States. They prefer young, mainly deciduous forest.

Field Notes: The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is a mid-sized woodpecker, Adults are black on the back and wings with white bars; they have a black head with white lines down the side and a red forehead and crown, a yellow breast and upper belly, a white lower belly and rump and a black tail with a white central bar. Adult males have a red throat; females have a white throat.
Personal Notes:

14 October, 2009


Scientific Name: Mohoua albicilla

Population Estimate: Unknown but Least Concern status

Range / Habitat: The range of this species has always been restricted to the North Island of New Zealand, as well as several offshore islands surrounding it.
Field Notes: The Male Whitehead's upperparts, wings and tail are a pale brown in colour, while the head and underparts are white -in the case of the former an almost pure white in colour. Females and juveniles have similar colouration except that the nape and crown (top of the head) are shaded brown. The black beak and eyes contrast with the white head and the feet are bluish black in colouration.
Personal Notes:

13 October, 2009

Eurasian Teal


Scientific Name: Anas crecca

Population Estimate: 6M-7M (for both Eurasian Teal and Green-winged Teal)

Range / Habitat: Smallish dabbling duck of shallow ponds with much vegetation. Summers widespread in Europe, winters in Africa and parts of Asia.

Field Notes: Green stripe at eye on rust head, grey spotted breast, ivory patch on rear. Similar to the North American Green-winged Teal (a recent split from the former, larger taxon of Common Teal), though Eurasian Teal white horizontal shoulder bar (not vertical bar).

Personal Notes: We happened upon hundreds of these birds at the Isola della Cona reserve near Venice, Italy.

Australian King Parrot

Scientific Name: Alisterus scapularis

Population Estimate: Unknown, but Least Concern status

Range / Habitat: Endemic to Australia where found year-round in a variety of dry habitats (from savannah to forest to artificial landscapes) on the eastern edge of the country.

Field Notes: Large, long-tailed parrot with red, unmarked head and belly. Wings green and tail blue. Unmistakable in range.

Personal Notes: Originally seen outside our friend Andy's house near Sydney. A frequent visitor to his porch where it waited patiently for food. Later seen at Australian National Botanical Gardens in Canberra, Australia.  

Black-billed Gull

Scientific Name: Chroicocephalus bulleri

Population Estimate: 96K, Endangered status

Range / Habitat: Endemic to New Zealand where it favors inland wetlands, primarily on the South Island though some appearances in the southern North Island as well.

Field Notes: Small, white-headed gull with delicate features and black bill as shown above. Adults unmistakable in range.

Personal Notes: Seen in Fiordland, New Zealand. 

New Zealand Fantail

Scientific Name: Rhipidura fuliginosa

Population Estimate: Unknown, but Least Concern status

Range / Habitat: Native to New Zealand and found in forest, scrub and artificial habitats of both islands.

Field Notes: Small, friendly, brown bird with long tail, often fanned. There is a pied phase, as above, and a black phase, with all black coloring.

Personal Notes: A bird that will follow trampers down a trail. Some sources consider this to be the same species as Grey Fantail in Australia. Maori name Piwakawaka.

Australian Pied Cormorant

Scientific Name: Phalacrocorax varius

Population Estimate: 35K - 1M

Range / Habitat: Costal areas of Australia and New Zealand, ranging inland only to coastal lagoons and lakes.

Field Notes: Large cormorant with variable amounts of black above and white below. Long, hooked, pale bill. Blue eye and yellow patch between eye and bill.

Personal Notes: We saw amazing colonies of these birds nesting in the Fiordlands and Gisborne. They land quite awkwardly high in the trees to make their nests, sometimes requiring a few "fly-bys" before they can execute a landing. Known in New Zealand as Pied Shag. Other sources call it Large Pied Cormorant. Maori name Karuhiruhi.