Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Crested Caracara

Proudly perched as regally as possible, this Crested Caracara somehow gives you permission to snicker.

Granted, this may be a first year juvenile that has yet to reach full adult potential... still s/he evokes a comic reaction.

Could it be a toupee of top feathers... no, yes?

An adult keeps an eye on a youngster as they travel throughout Santa Cruz Flats, Arizona, an agricultural area south of Phoenix.

The baking-hot land, only arable by irrigation, produces mainly cotton and alfalfa.

Crops and creatures now share this patchwork of green and dunn. The water attracts insect life all the way up to bird life.

Caracaras eat from eggs to insects, amphibians to mammals, and especially carrion.

Soaring low across the land is the preferred hunting tactic for this sharp eyed raptor of the falcon family.

Together at sunrise the two birds take off in search of sustenance. It may be alive or among the recently departed, but that doesn't matter to the Crested Caracara. It's all food.

In flight, s/he takes on a more splendid appearance. Perhaps that is why the ancient Aztecs revered as sacred the Crested Caracara.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds
The Sibley Guide to Birds

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Belted Kingfisher

A Belted Kingfisher cuts away sharply when she notices me.  She's was an exciting, yet, fleeting sight patrolling the Milwaukee River on a sunny October day.

She sits alone twenty feet above the water. I suspect, she and her mate have raised their young for this year and split, but I don't know their private story.

Belted Kingfishers are monogamous, but form new partnerships annually.

Next year she will find a new mate.

Belted Kingfishers are not rare, only uncommon. That's why it takes some searching to find kingfishers. They like their privacy and rarely let you near.

She is patient and particular. Whatever she catches must be 'bite-sized' in order to rise waterlogged from the river.

(Click any picture to enlarge.)

A male Belted Kingfisher skims the surface for a seafood opportunity. Kingfishers sometimes hover in place before plunging head first into the water... eyes closed.

Female Belted Kingfishers are more colorful then their male counterparts. Females wear an additional 'belt' of chestnut coloring under their wings.

Kingfishers require open rivers and streams to live up to their namesake, so they will leave Wisconsin soon.

Cooling days and fall colors prompt them to head downstream to warmer weather.


Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds
The Sibley's Guide to Birds

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

American Kestrel (trigger warning: dead bird)

That bird on the wire that ALWAYS flies away when you drive by is the American Kestrel. Kestrels, our smallest falcon, are wary birds. They covet their space, but prefer to leave rather than share it with you in your car... don't take it personally.

Comparable in size to a pigeon or dove, they're at home in rural America. Miles of electric lines provide an ideal perching spot from which to hunt.

Hay making uncovers mice, voles and grasshoppers... the American Kestrel's diet.

Unfortunately, America's rural roads present dangers to young and inexperienced birds. A newly fledged American Kestrel lost his life to traffic near Belgium, Wisconsin.

In earlier times trees provided perches and cavities for nesting. With today's farming norms... huge expanses of cropland, the electric wires now provide hunting platforms.

Although American Kestrel numbers are declining overall, they are still a widespread and numerous bird.

Nest boxes ease the problem of available nesting cavities, but boxes are not the solution.

A young American Kestrel waits for a parent's return, hopefully with food. Pesticides have severely reduced the number of grasshoppers, spiders and other insects the birds depend on to survive.

Watchful and quick to respond, this female American Kestrel lets me know she has had her picture taken one too many times. She turns-tail and disappears to a wire far away.

Credit: Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds

Friday, June 16, 2017

Northern Cardinal, Molt

This female Northern Cardinal is looking sort of shabby right now, but she'll soon be back in top-flight shape.

She is molting, as her head feathers are being replace with fresh new ones. Most eastern songbirds go through molts. Feathers wear out, fade and fray. They must be replaced periodically. This usually happens after the young have fledged, but before the next migration.

All birds go through molts... from hummingbirds to penguins. A bird without feathers is really vulnerable, so we rarely see molting birds. They tend to hide until they are once again fully dressed.

This male Northern Cardinal is looking well suited at present, but his time to molt will come, too.

(Click any picture to enlarge.)

Some birds go through a full molt, losing all their feathers at once and some go through two molts a year. It depends on the species.

Being without your warm coat of feathers may have and upside during the hot steamy dog-days of summer. It may just be the right time go naked.

Credit: Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds

Monday, June 12, 2017

Barn Swallow

Following Barn Swallows in flight is a head-bobbing, neck-swiveling, and frustrating task.

With rapid wing beats plus darting and diving, they scoop up airborne insects.

In tawny soft shades of white and rusty orange, these beautifully outlined birds put on a high speed precision flying show for your entertainment.

Weighing in at 0.7 ounce he's mostly wings and tail.  With his quizzically rounded head and not much of a neck, he still manages to attract a mate.

This pair has taken over a spot on the Horicon Marsh Visitor Center.

Before there were buildings for Barn Swallows to co-opt, they lived in caves.

Nowadays they live on manmade structures almost exclusively... barns, bridges, sheds, etc.

A cobalt blue head is the Barn Swallow's crowning feature. If you're patient, one might oblige you with a full frontal portrait and allow you the necessary time to take him all in.

Credit: Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Baltimore Oriole

                  A female Baltimore Oriole darts across the sky in search of special nesting material.

                      There's no counting the number of trips she's made to make her nest just right.

She has been working for maybe a week now.

First, the support strands were woven with stringlike material such as vine, grasses and even fishing line. Next, fibers like wool and horsehair gave it the typical oriole pouch-like shape.

It's now time to add a soft lining of plant material, feathers, and even manmade materials such as cellophane.

The male Baltimore Oriole will occasionally supply building materials to her, but she alone does all the construction work.

The male's job is protection of the home territory, which, surprisingly, is quite small compared to other birds.

Protection and providing food to the nestlings are his main functions.

That, and looking pretty.

The nest dangles at a hard to reach branch end for safety from ferrel cats and natural predators.

It's important to be comfortable for two weeks of sitting on 3-7 eggs.

Spring is a busy season and her only opportunity to raise a clutch this year. So her work continues relentlessly. Trip after trip she gathers tiny additions of featherweight material.

With luck, there will be more baby Baltimore Orioles in 2017.

Credit: Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Barred Owls

Only two now, but once they were three.

These young Barred Owls seem confused as to where their nest mate has gone.

Nesting together in the aging ash tree is the extent of what they know and it's just not the same now.

Something draws them forward into the light... footsteps in the forest?

No danger here.

Things are under control as an adult Barred Owl stands guard outside...adults look alike.

No matter how sleepy looking this appears, s/he is aware of the coming and going of creatures on the ground.

The missing sibling is safe, too. This fluffy ball of feathers wandered up the tree in an early exercise of independence.

S/he stares down intently through the leaves of early spring.

This adventurous member of the trio can fly, though its landings are inelegant. Everything is new to this Barred Owl owlet. Remaining motionless is the chosen defense.

John, the property owner who tipped me off to the nest, takes an owlet picture.

(Click any picture to enlarge.)

My friend and fellow photographer, Fred Thorne, captured this image of a chick being feed by an adult.

It's evidence of a chipmunk's last few seconds on earth.

(Click any picture to enlarge.)

It's two days later now and the two remaining owlets have flown the nest. They still have a lot to learn about being a Barred Owl.

Here the owlet on the left thinks the owlet on the right's foot is food. The mistake was quickly rectified with a sharp peck to the head.

All three will be cared for through the coming weeks as they grow out of their downy owlet feathers. They'll quickly take on a coat of flight feathers on their way to becoming full fledged Barred Owls.

Credits: Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds
The Sibley's Guide to Birds

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owls are common, yet seldom seen. This adult female with staring yellow eyes seems to prefer things that way.

If you see an owl in the daytime it's probably resting comfortably or startled into fleeing.

Owls are around us all the time, they're just reluctant to let you know, YOU'RE the one being watched.

Hiding in a hole seems a smart way to pass the daylight hours.

I unknowingly startled two resting Great Horned Owls as I passed under this bridge one morning.

(Click any picture to enlarge)

They flew away, but not far away. That's an odd behavior, but it presented a great picture opportunity for me.

Male Great Horned Owls are slightly smaller than females, though with a deeper voice. The males advertise their presence in late winter/early spring with deep hooting nighttime calls. The females respond if they like the male's beckoning with a soft return hoot. Soon after there will be baby owls.

This male seemed a bit cross, but accepted my presence as I respected his.

The reason he was staying nearby was sitting underneath on a bridge support. One of two offspring remained when the adults left.

With eyes wide open in amazement the young owl stared back at me in a seemingly confused state of stay-or-go.

The male in the tree departed when he learned all he needed to know about me.

It's was back to the bridge to check on his straggling youngster.

It's not likely the Great Horned Owls nested or raised their young under the bridge. Rather they stopped to rest for the day in a cool dark place. There was an active Raven's nest at the opposite end of the bridge and that would have been an untenable arrangement for all. Both species are known nest robbers given an opportunity.

So, it's likely the Great Horned Owl's best chance for a successful next generation is remaining seldom seen.

Credits: Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds
Sibley's Guide to Birds