p.s. Ever since the snowy owl irruption of 2013-2014, Project Snowstorm has satellite tagged and tracked some of the snowy owls who visit the Lower 48 States. Click here to see maps and follow their stories of these amazing birds.
Eurasian tree sparrows (Passer montanus) are native to Europe and Asia (of course) but about 15,000 of them live in the St. Louis area now. In the 1870’s, 12 were imported from Germany and established a breeding population but they were never as successful as their aggressive cousins.
Passer montanus is 10% smaller than a house sparrow, has a brown (not gray) head, and a black ear patch. Males and females look alike and the juveniles are just duller versions of the same.
Eurasian tree sparrows are doubly misnamed. They nest in holes in buildings, not in trees, and they don’t live in the mountains but they have “tree” and “montanus” in their names. That’s because house sparrows dominate the cities of Europe and pushed this sparrow to live in the open countryside where there are trees. In Asia the “tree” sparrow lives in cities.
American tree sparrows are misnamed, too. European settlers thought Spizella arborea resembled the Eurasian tree sparrow so they called ours “American tree sparrows” even though ours spend the winter in scrubby places, not trees, and breed and forage on the ground.
Do you think the American tree sparrow below looks like the Eurasian one above? I don’t.
American tree sparrow (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Alas, they are all misnamed.
(photos from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the images to see the originals)
When highly intelligent birds are bored, watch out!
Keas (Nestor notabilis) are wild parrots on the South Island of New Zealand who love to explore and use their sharp beaks to open whatever they find. They’re not kept as pets because they literally will take your house apart.
Watch them take apart the police car.
Pet parrots invent similar projects when they’re bored. Give them something to do or they’ll destroy the woodwork!
p.s. This article was spawned by Ted Floyd’s mention of keas and Jack Solomon’s post of the police car video on Facebook. Thanks!
Merlin, eastern USA (photo by William H. Majoros via Wikimedia Commons)
This year in Maine I was lucky to see two merlins (Falco columbarius), each one a fleeting glance as the bird zoomed by on a mission.
The first one zipped past the Cadillac Mountain Hawk Watch, pumping his wings the entire time. We watchers had to think quickly. His shape said “Falcon,” his size and dark color said “Not kestrel,” his powerful flapping said “Merlin!” He was gone before we could say his name.
Merlins rarely pause and almost never soar. Their flight style is a constant powerful flapping and they’re always very fast. Compared to merlins, peregrines seem laid back and almost lazy. Peregrines conserve energy for the split second when they need it. Merlins burn energy all the time except for the moments they perch.
My second merlin offered a good comparison to a peregrine. At low tide I visited the South Lubec sand flats to watch shorebirds. A peregrine and merlin showed up to eat them.
The peregrine hazed the sand bar until all the flocks were airborne in tight evasive circles. Then he flew through the flocks until he separated a bird alone and grabbed his dinner on the wing. He stopped to eat it on an island in the bay.
The merlin came out of nowhere. Using the grass and goldenrods as a blind he pumped fast, low, and straight along the water’s edge. The shorebirds were so surprised that most had no time to fly. The merlin caught a slow bird and just kept going. In powered flight, he didn’t stop to eat.
(photo by William H. Majoros, Creative Commons license via Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)
American white pelican in breeding plumage (photo by Pat Gaines)
Normally when I visit Magee Marsh in May the Best Bird is a warbler, but not this year.
I struck out on two Life Bird warblers — the Kirtland’s at Oak Openings and the Connecticut warbler at the Estuary Trail — and that took the wind out of my sails. However, on my last day in northwestern Ohio I visited East Harbor State Park and found three white pelicans in Middle Harbor.
American white pelicans spend the winter in California, the Gulf states, Mexico and Central America. Those who breed in the prairie potholes and lake regions of central and western North America rarely stop at Lake Erie on migration, but these three apparently spent the night at Middle Harbor. They were preening before continuing their journey.
In early breeding plumage they have bright orange bills with a laterally flattened “horn” on top. This looks odd to us but sexy to other white pelicans.
American white pelicans migrate during the day because they need thermals for lift. By 10:00am the air had heated up and the three pelicans circled up and headed northwest.
They were my Best Bird this week — other than peregrine falcons, of course.