For such a tiny shorebird, male piping plovers (Charadrius melodus) have an elaborate courtship dance. The best part of it — the “tattoo” — was tweeted last Friday by the Ontario Piping Plover Conservation Program.
You might hear about fancy mating dances done by birds in the tropics. Piping Plovers have one too! Goose stepping (tattooing) is a courtship dance done by the male right before copulation. The female rejects or accepts this dance! ? Video by Plover Lovers pic.twitter.com/0zyKH54fgW
— Ontario Piping Plover Conservation Program (@ontarioplovers) July 3, 2020
If like me you owned a field guide at the turn of the century you remember that loons were the first bird in the book. Ornithologists placed them there because they thought loons were the oldest evolved bird in North America but DNA sequencing changed all that. In 2020 loons are near the middle of the tree and they have unexpected relatives.
In this July 2019 phylogenetic supertree I’ve circled loons and their relatives in blue. Notice that they aren’t related to ducks at all. Ducks are related to chickens.
Here’s a closer look at the blue section showing that loons (Gaviiformes) stand alone after they split from a common ancestor of penguins, tubenoses, storks, cormorants and pelicans.
The pied kingfisher (Ceryle rudis), native to Africa and Asia, is nearly as big as our belted kingfisher but he has a unique trait. He’s the largest bird able to hover in place without help from the wind.
The image above is a composite of three photos: a single pied kingfisher diving for the water. The video below (which is missing audio in the middle) shows a parent hovering and his daughter working on her dive.
When pied kingfishers aren’t hovering they hunt from a perch.
Sometimes the perch can swim.
(photos from Wikimedia Commons; video from Love Nature on YouTube)
Across Pennsylvania breeding birds are hatching eggs and feeding young. As the nestlings grow the nests become crowded, a sure sign that the babies will leave soon.
Baby birds in hollow trees have an amazing way of leaving the nest: they climb up the inside of the hole and jump! This is true of chickadees, screech-owls, woodpeckers and wood ducks. But ducklings have no flight feathers and they jump away. That’s OK, they’re built for it.
Great blue herons nest colonially near creeks, rivers, lakes and wetlands. As soon as they return to Pennsylvania they gather at their rookeries, usually located in sycamores. We have at least three rookeries in or near Allegheny County.
Northwest of Pittsburgh: On 6 April, Dick Rhoton and his wife visited a rookery near Sewickley, PA, described below with photos.
Last Monday Nellie and I made our almost yearly trip to see what was happening with the blue herons rookery north on the red belt from 65 (just past Sewickley (turn at the high tension wires and go until you see the cement plant on the left and the asphalt plant on the right- park here and then walk up the road for 1/4 mile or so).
This year we counted 30 to 35 nests east of the road and almost all were occupied with sitting herons.
If you decide to view a rookery remember to stand 6-feet away from other folks you encounter and, per Governor Wolf’s stay-at-home COVID-19 outdoor guidance, please limit your trip to a 15 minute drive from home. To make that possible, I’ve described locations in three directions.
p.s. The COVID-19 shutdown gives us an unparalleled opportunity to document spring in our own neighborhoods. In a “normal” spring I’d be traveling all over the place and ignoring the wonders of home. Instead I’m seeing changes in Schenley Park and visiting nearby hotspots such as Duck Hollow. This is a great time to keep a Nature Journal!
Flamingos’ beaks are quite unusual. Their lower mandibles are larger and stronger than their upper ones and their smiles are upside down.
Their lower jaws are fixed to their heads and their upper jaws move freely. When they open their mouths the top beak moves up like an opening clam shell. This is opposite to us humans. We drop our jaws to open our mouths and take in food.
However, flamingos eat with their heads upside down. In this position they drop their (upper) jaws to open their mouths just like we do. When they’re feeding their smiles are right side up.
Their beaks are designed to catch what they eat. From small crustaceans, mollusks and insects to tiny single-celled plants, their food is suspended in water which they capture by filter feeding, a technique they share with baleen whales and oysters.
Flamingos take water into their mouths and strain it out through the filtering mechanisms in and on the edges their beaks (see illustrations above). When flamingos are feeding rapidly they pump their tongues to suck water in and squish it out. This video from the Galapagos shows how they do it.
Sandgrouse (Pteroclidae) are seed-eating birds native to Africa and Asia that are famous for carrying water in their specialized belly feathers. The male sandgrouse flies as much as 18 miles from his nest to a watering hole where he soaks his belly in water. He then flies back to the nest where his young squeeze his belly feathers to get a drink.
The sandgrouse is nothing like a flamingo or grebe but he’s descended from the same extinct ancestor that spawned flamingos, grebes, sandgrouse, mesites and doves. The pink circle around the number 95 in the phylogenomic supertree shows where the birds diversified. (“95” is that ancestor.)
Who’s related to the sandgrouse? An extinct ancestor at “85” in the supertree spawned sandgrouse, mesites and doves (Columbidae).
This is the sandgrouse’s city kin. He’s also related to flamingos. 🙂
(photos from Wikimedia Commons and Steve Gosser; click on the captions to see the originals)