Nature Trivia: Birds

Whistle Bird

It’s a sure sign of spring when the red-winged blackbird returns to our wetlands!

Red-Winged Blackbird Trivia:

  • Males return first and defend their territory by singing “o-ka-leeeeeeee”, a distinct call that sounds like a referee’s whistle
  • One of the most widespread and numerous birds in MI
  • Eat seeds in spring and fall and insects in summer
  • Flocks of over 100,000 migrate in the fall!
  • Female builds nest in cattails or bushes by water
  • Chicks will increase in size by 10x in the first 10 days!

Pirates of the Lake

The ring-billed gull is everywhere – by the lake, beach, park, parking lot, roadside, field and landfill!  Why?  Gulls are pirates of the lake and land: scavengers, omnivores, and opportunistic eaters, they will eat anything they can get their beaks on.

Other fun facts:

  • ID: yellow legs and feet, white body, grey wings and black wing tips with white spots; males and females look the same
  • Yellow bill with black ring near the tip that develops at 1 year of age
  • Diurnal: active during day and resting at night
  • One of the first species of shorebirds to migrate back in spring
  • Walk with attitude and a side-to-side stride
  • Strong flyers that can hover and soar on thermals
  • Live in colonies; adult birds ID their young by facial markings
  • Chicks can swim 3-5 days after hatching

The Amazing Crow

Lest we take the common crow for granted! One of the smartest species on Earth, crows live cooperatively. They usually stay where they were born and help each other raise the young, hunt for food and chase off intruders. And they are crafty, watching their elders to learn how to make and use tools!

  • Murder = a group of crows
  • Mobbing = a murder working together to noisily chase off a predator
  • Omnivore = will eat anything – seeds, nuts, insects, mammals, garbage
  • Caching = storing food in different places for later use
  • Crow ID: smaller than a raven; square tail in flight; all black bill, legs and feet; may look purplish and shiny; 18″ body

The American Robin

One of the first, and most exciting, signs of spring is siting an American Robin! They migrate back following 37 degree isotherms that bring snow melt, rain, and enough warmth to thaw the soil for worms to come up! The females return to nesting territory when there’s mud ready for building.

Chickadees in Winter

Ever wonder how black-capped chickadees (weighing in at 0.4 oz) can adapt to northern MI sub-zero temps instead of migrating to warmer climates?

  • They increase their winter food intake 20x and eat continuously throughout the day (gaining up to 10% of their bodyweight) to make it through the night!
  • They make lots of food stashes (up to 100) in the fall and in winter will eat spiders, dormant insects, conifer seeds and even scavenge a dead carcass.
  • On especially cold nights, they can go into a regulated hypothermia by dropping their body temperature as much as 14 degrees, slowing down their metabolism to conserve energy.

Spring Peeper

Pass by any wetland at dusk and you’ll hear the deafening chorus of the male spring peeper calling for its mate. This “mass peeping” is a survival tactic that keeps a predator from hearing any one grip. And it’s quite a ruckus for an amphibian that is less than 1 1/2 inches long! Don’t be set on seeing one though-they are extremely well camouflaged.

Pseudacris Crucifer

Pseudacris = “false locust” because its call sounds like an insect
Crucifer = “cross” for the X-mark on its back

These nocturnal frogs come to water every spring to mate and lay eggs and then return to the woods for the rest of the year- hibernating through the winter with a mostly frozen body!

Sea Crow

These large, black water birds can be seen on the big lake roosting in large groups. A favorite perch? The Harbor Point Lighthouse.

  • Double-Crested Cormorant:  (2 crests on its head are hard to see). “Cormorant” comes from the Latin corvus meaning “crow” and L. marinus meaning “pertaining to the sea.”
  • ID: 3ft long body with long snake-like neck, long grey bill with a hooked tip, and its most distinguishing feature is the yellow base of the bill.
  • Diet: Extra-heavy bones and webbed feet enable them to dive for fish and aquatic insects.
  • Habits: Perch in an erect pose with neck in an “S” and wings outstretched to dry off. Fly in V-formation, as do Canada Geese, but Cormorants are silent, expect for pig-like grunts in nesting colony.

Gobble, Gobble

Have some fun ’round the table with this turkey trivia:

What are a male, female, and baby turkeys called?
-Males= “Toms”, Females= “Hens”, Young= “Poults”

What’s the red thing under their beak called?
-A “wattle”

How fast can turkeys run? Fly?
-Turkeys can move up to 25 mph running and 55 mph flying!

Do turkeys really gobble?
-Male turkeys “gobble” in fall and spring to attract hens; wild males may “gobble” at loud sounds or when settling in at night.

What statesman supposedly preferred the turkey over the bald eagle as America’s national symbol? Why?
-Benjamin Franklin made a point that bald eagles are scavengers and cowardly, whereas turkeys are respectable and courageous.