May 14, 2013
Mallards are large ducks with hefty bodies, rounded heads, and wide, flat bills. Like many “dabbling ducks” the body is long and the tail rides high out of the water, giving a blunt shape. In flight their wings are broad and set back toward the rear.
Male Mallards have a dark, iridescent-green head and bright yellow bill. The gray body is sandwiched between a brown breast and black rear. Females and juveniles are mottled brown with orange-and-brown bills. Both sexes have a white-bordered, blue “speculum” patch in the wing.
Mallards are “dabbling ducks”—they feed in the water by tipping forward and grazing on underwater plants. They almost never dive. They can be very tame ducks especially in city ponds, and often group together with other Mallards and other species of dabbling ducks.
Read on for more including photos and some fun facts:
- The Mallard is the ancestor of nearly all domestic duck breeds (everything except the Muscovy Duck).
- Mallard pairs are generally monogamous, but paired males pursue females other than their mates. So-called “extra-pair copulations” are common among birds and in many species are consensual, but male Mallards often force these copulations, with several males chasing a single female and then mating with her.
- Mallard pairs form long before the spring breeding season. Pairing takes place in the fall, but courtship can be seen all winter. Only the female incubates the eggs and takes care of the ducklings.
- The standard duck’s quack is the sound of a female Mallard. Males don’t quack; they make a quieter, rasping sound.
- Mallards, like other ducks, shed all their flight feathers at the end of the breeding season and are flightless for 3–4 weeks. They are secretive during this vulnerable time, and their body feathers molt into a concealing “eclipse” plumage that can make them hard to identify.
- The oldest known Mallard lived to be at least 27 years 7 months old.
May 8, 2013
The 1896 book Myths and Legends of our Own Land by Charles M. Skinner relates a rather gruesome version of the tale of the origin of Whitefish, which this photo reminded me of.
An Indian who lived far in the north was so devoted to the chase that he was never at home for the whole of a day, to the sorrow of his two boys, who liked nothing so much as to sport with him and to be allowed to practise with his weapons. Their mother told them that on no account were they to speak to him of the young man who visited the lodge while their father was away, and it was not until they were well grown and knew what the duty of wives should be that they resolved to disobey her. The hunter struck the woman dead when he learned of her perfidy. So greatly did her spirit trouble them, however, that they could no longer abide in their old home in peace and comfort, and they left the country and journeyed southward until they came to the Sault Sainte Marie.
As they stood beside the falls a head came rolling toward them on the earth—the head of the dead woman. At that moment, too, a crane was seen riding on the surface of the water, whirling about in its strongest eddies, and when one of the boys called to it, “O Grandfather, we are persecuted by a spirit; take us across the falls,” the crane flew to them. “Cling to my back and do not touch my head,” it said to them, and landed them safely on the farther shore.
But now the head screamed, “Come, grandfather, and carry me over, for I have lost my children and am sorely distressed,” and the bird flew to her likewise. “Be careful not to touch my head,” it said. The head promised obedience, but succumbed to curiosity when half-way over and touched the bird’s head to see what was the matter with him. With a lurch the crane flung off his burden and it fell into the rapids. As it swept down, bumping against the rocks, the brains were pounded out and strewn over the water. “You were useless in life,” cried the crane. “You shall not be so in death. Become fish!” And the bits of brain changed to roe that presently hatched to a delicate white fish, the flesh whereof is esteemed by Indians of the lakes, and white men, likewise. The family pitched a lodge near the spot and took the crane as their totem or name-mark. Many of their descendants bear it to this day.
The version I read in one of my all-time favorite books, Lore of the Great Turtle : Indian Legends of Mackinac Retold by Dirk Gringhuis is pretty dark as well. Michigan in Pictures has a post with all the information about Sandhill Cranes in Michigan, and you can also check out Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis) from the Michigan DNR.
More birds on Michigan in Pictures.
April 19, 2013
April is the season for owls to fledge, or learn to fly. The Raptor Education Group from over in Wisconsin has a page about owlets that includes what to do if you come across one of these cute balls of fluff on the ground:
Great-horned Owls do not build their own nest. Instead, they choose an old nest of a crow, hawk, or even a squirrel to call their own.
When the young owls are 6-8 weeks old, they begin to venture from their nest. This is before they can actually fly. Nature’s method provides owlets opportunities to develop their leg muscles that will very soon be catching their own prey. In a natural setting owlets that appear to have fallen from their nest actually have fledged. In a natural wooded area, bushes and smaller trees provide a ladder of sorts and allow the chicks to climb to a higher perch until they can fly. When owls nest in a city with concrete below them rather than a soft forest floor, problems arise. That is also the case with a well-manicured park or lawn setting that has nothing that can function as a ladder for the tykes.
…If you find a young owl, leave it where it is, unless it is in imminent danger. Give us a call and let us help you decide if the adults are in attendance and the chick is just fledging naturally or if there is something wrong with the little one. Remember, owls are nocturnal for the most part and are not easy to see during daylight hours. Mom and dad could be very close and yet be so well camouflaged they are hard to see.
Michigan in Pictures has a feature on Great Horned Owls with a lot more about these birds!
March 2, 2013
Northwestern Michigan College here in Traverse City has just under 5000 students and is turning from a 2 year to a 4 year college. As part of this, they will be adding athletics again, and that means they need a mascot. So this week they selected a new one – the NMC Hawk Owls.
With a weight of half a pound to a pound, a length of just 14-16″ and a wingspan of just under 2 1/2 feet, the Northern Hawk Owl appears to be the perfect mascot:
Northern Hawk Owl – Surnia ulula at OwlPages.com:
Hunting & Food: Takes mainly small mammals as prey, mostly lemmings and voles. Will also take birds, frogs and occasionally fish. Prey weight is normally below 70g. Hunts by searching from a lookout, then quickly flying to swoop down on prey. Has been observed hovering also.
Breeding: Male advertises potential nest sites, and the female selects one. Nests in Cavities on top of broken trunks, natural tree hollows, abandoned holes of large woodpeckers. Will accept nest boxes, and occasionally use a stick nest of a larger bird. Laying normally occurs in April and the first half of May. Clutch sizes are usually between 5 and 13 eggs, each 36-44mm x 29-34.4mm. Eggs are laid at 1-2 day intervals, and incubated by the female alone for 25-30 days. During this time, the male feeds the female.
Northern Hawk-Owl at Wikipedia:
The Northern Hawk-Owl has been said to resemble a hawk in appearance and in behavior. In North America, its appearance in flight is often considered similar to a Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii). It has been suggested that this may be because the Hawk-Owl may partially fill an important diurnal niche similar to that of day hunters such as hawks.
…Northern Hawk Owls are unevenly distributed and highly variable throughout the boreal forest. They live mostly in open coniferous forests, or coniferous forests mixed with deciduous species such as larch, birch, poplar, and willow. They are found in muskegs, clearings, swamp valleys, meadows, or recently burnt areas, and generally avoid dense spruce-fir forests. Winter habitat is usually the same as breeding habitat.
Northern Hawk Owl at All About Birds adds that their International conservation status is Least Concern and some cool facts:
- The Northern Hawk Owl can detect prey by sight at a distance of up to 800 meters (half a mile).
- Though it is thought to detect prey primarily by sight, the Northern Hawk Owl can find and seize prey under 30 cm (1 foot) of snow.
The Whitefish Point Bird Observatory adds that Northern Hawk Owl were observed yesterday in Trout Lake and Dryburg, Michigan.
Grabbing a mouse through a foot of snow? That’s a seriously scary predator … at least if you’re the prey. Click all those links to explore photos, calls and more about these tiny terrors.
More owls (and also apparently words that end with owl) on Michigan in Pictures.
February 12, 2013
The UM Animal Diversity Web entry for Cyanocitta cristata blue jay says (in part):
Blue jays are bright blue on top and whitish gray on the belly and chin. They have a gray-blue, feather crested head, which they can raise and lower. The feathers on their wings and tails are bright blue with white and black bands. Blue jays also have a collar of black feathers across the throat and continuing around the head. Their bills, legs, feet, and eyes are black. Males are just a little larger, on average, than females.
…Blue jays are very aggressive and noisy birds,driving other birds away from food sources and their territories. In the winter, Blue jays hide far more food than they can eat, perhaps to remove food from their territories to discourage intruders. They are also partially migratory, and in the fall they can be seen traveling in flocks of more than a hundred birds.
…Blue jays are omnivorous. They feed on fruits, nuts, seeds, insects, mice, frogs, and will rob other nests for small songbirds and bird eggs. To eat nuts, blue jays hold them with their feet and then crack the shell with their bill. Blue jays in captivity have been known to fashion tools in order to get at foods. Blue jays will also steal foods from other birds by frightening them into dropping what they have. They cache foods, such as seeds, for later use.
Many more Michigan birds on Michigan in Pictures.
February 6, 2013
January 8, 2013
I think this is one of the best bald eagle photos I’ve ever seen. The Michigan DNR’s bald eagle page explains that before European settlement, bald eagles probably nested in all regions of Michigan.
In the early 1900s they were described as being “generally distributed,” but “nowhere abundant.” A decline through the early and mid-1900s was probably related to slow but consistent loss of suitable habitat and available food, and predator control by humans. These eagles are so disturbed by the presence of humans near their nest that they may be induced to abandon the nest, or even chicks that have already hatched. By 1959, the species was considered, “largely restricted to the northern half of the state.”
…Nests are usually constructed near seacoasts, lakes or large rivers to be near their most common food supply: fish. Although they are quite capable of catching their own, sometimes even wading in shallow water to stalk fish like herons, they have often been seen stealing fish from other birds such as osprey. When fish are not available, such as in winter, eagles will also feed on waterfowl, small mammals (up to rabbit-size) and carrion (even road-kill).
During Michigan winters, bald eagles are seen throughout the state (almost all counties), while they nest mainly in the Upper Peninsula (especially the western portion) and the northern portion of the Lower Peninsula. These eagles don’t really migrate, they just move south enough to stay ahead of the ice and congregate near open water. Immature birds may move further south.
More Michigan birds on Michigan in Pictures.
December 11, 2012
All About Birds says that Cooper’s Hawks (known as the Chicken Hawk in England) are among the bird world’s most skillful fliers, tearing through tree canopies in high speed pursuit of other birds. They have more information and hawk calls and offer some fun facts:
- Dashing through vegetation to catch birds is a dangerous lifestyle. In a study of more than 300 Cooper’s Hawk skeletons, 23 percent showed old, healed-over fractures in the bones of the chest.
- Once thought averse to towns and cities, Cooper’s Hawks are now fairly common urban and suburban birds.
- Life is tricky for male Cooper’s Hawks. As in most hawks, males are significantly smaller than their mates. The danger is that female Cooper’s Hawks specialize in eating medium-sized birds. Males tend to be submissive to females and to listen out for reassuring call notes the females make when they’re willing to be approached. Males build the nest, then provide nearly all the food to females and young over the next 90 days before the young fledge.
- The oldest known Cooper’s Hawk was 20 years, 4 months old. (and apparently good at either providing food or flying fast!)
Many more Michigan birds on Michigan in Pictures!
November 24, 2012
September 28, 2012
The All About Birds entry for Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata) says that these birds are known for their intelligence and complex social systems. Here’s a few facts – click above for more:
- Thousands of Blue Jays migrate in flocks along the Great Lakes and Atlantic coasts, but much about their migration remains a mystery. Some are present throughout winter in all parts of their range. Young jays may be more likely to migrate than adults, but many adults also migrate. Some individual jays migrate south one year, stay north the next winter, and then migrate south again the next year. No one has worked out why they migrate when they do.
- Their fondness for acorns is credited with helping spread oak trees after the last glacial period.
- Blue Jays are known to take and eat eggs and nestlings of other birds, but we don’t know how common this is. In an extensive study of Blue Jay feeding habits, only 1% of jays had evidence of eggs or birds in their stomachs. Most of their diet was composed of insects and nuts.
- The Blue Jay frequently mimics the calls of hawks, especially the Red-shouldered Hawk. These calls may provide information to other jays that a hawk is around, or may be used to deceive other species into believing a hawk is present.
- Tool use has never been reported for wild Blue Jays, but captive Blue Jays used strips of newspaper to rake in food pellets from outside their cages.
They add that the oldest known wild, banded Blue Jay lived to be at least 17 years 6 months old, and the UM Animal Diversity Web adds that one captive female lived for 26 years and 3 months. If you’re wondering where that ranks in the avian actuarial tables, it’s longer than a cardinal and shorter than a crane – click that link for the details.
More Michigan birds on Michigan in Pictures.