back

Osprey

Photo Description
 photo

Image source: National Geographic

Text source: Wikipedia

Ospreys are superb fishers and indeed eat little else—fish make up some 99 percent of their diet. Because of this appetite, these birds can be found near ponds, rivers, lakes, and coastal waterways around the world. Ospreys hunt by diving to the water's surface from some 30 to 100 feet (9 to 30 meters) up. They have gripping pads on their feet to help them pluck fish from the water with their curved claws and carry them for great distances. In flight, ospreys will orient the fish headfirst to ease wind resistance.

Ospreys are sometimes confused with bald eagles, but can be identified by their white underparts. Their white heads also have a distinctive black eyestripe that goes down the side of their faces. Eagles and ospreys frequent similar habitats and sometimes battle for food. Eagles often force osprey to drop fish that they have caught and steal them in midair.

Human habitat is sometimes an aid to the osprey. The birds happily build large stick-and-sod nests on telephone poles, channel markers, and other such locations. Artificial nesting platforms are common in areas where preservationists are working to reestablish the birds. North American osprey populations became endangered in the 1950s due to chemical pollutants such as DDT, which thinned their eggshells and hampered reproduction. Ospreys have rebounded significantly in recent decades, though they remain scarce in some locales.

Most ospreys are migratory birds that breed in the north and migrate south for the winter. They lay eggs (typically three), which both parents help to incubate. Osprey eggs don't hatch all at once, but are staggered in time so that some siblings are older and more dominant. When food is scarce these stronger birds may take it all and leave their siblings to starve.

back

Bald Eagle

Photo Description
 photo

Image source: National Geographic

Text source: National Geographic

The bald eagle, with its snowy-feathered (not bald) head and white tail, is the proud national bird symbol of the United States—yet the bird was nearly wiped out there. For many decades, bald eagles were hunted for sport and for the "protection" of fishing grounds. Pesticides like DDT also wreaked havoc on eagles and other birds. These chemicals collect in fish, which make up most of the eagle's diet. They weaken the bird's eggshells and severely limited their ability to reproduce. Since DDT use was heavily restricted in 1972, eagle numbers have rebounded significantly and have been aided by reintroduction programs. The result is a wildlife success story—the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has upgraded the birds from endangered to threatened.

Though their numbers have grown in much of their range, bald eagles remain most abundant in Alaska and Canada. These powerful birds of prey use their talons to fish, but they get many of their meals by scavenging carrion or stealing the kills of other animals. (Such thievery famously prompted Ben Franklin to argue against the bird's nomination as the United State's national symbol.) They live near water and favor coasts and lakes where fish are plentiful, though they will also snare and eat small mammals.

Bald eagles are believed to mate for life. A pair constructs an enormous stick nest—one of the bird-world's biggest—high above the ground and tends to a pair of eggs each year. Immature eagles are dark, and until they are about five years old, they lack the distinctive white markings that make their parents so easy to identify. Young eagles roam great distances. Florida birds have been spotted in Michigan, and California eagles have traveled all the way to Alaska.

back

Hen Harrier

Photo Description
 photo

Image source: NaturePhoto-CZ

Text source: Wikipedia

The Hen Harrier (Circus cyaneus) or Northern Harrier (in North America) breeds throughout the northern parts of the northern hemisphere in Canada and the northernmost USA, and in northern Eurasia. This species is polytypic, with two subspecies. Marsh Hawk is a historical name for the American form.

It migrates to more southerly areas in winter. Eurasian birds move to southern Europe and southern temperate Asia, and American breeders to the southernmost USA, Mexico, and Central America. In the mildest regions, such as France, Great Britain, and the southern US, Hen Harriers may be present all year, but the higher ground is largely deserted in winter.

back

Cooper's Hawk

Photo Description
 photo

Image source: National Geographic

Text source: National Geographic

The "chicken hawk" of colonial America, this medium-sized accipiter is a common sight at home bird feeders across the country, swooping in to nab an unwary dove or jay. Females are larger and bulkier than males, juveniles differ from adults. Monotypic. Length 14–20" (36–51 cm); wingspan 29–37" (74–94cm).

Identification: The long tail is rounded at the tip, also the relatively short wings and flat-topped head are good field marks. Eye is close to the beak. Crown merges with forehead and bill in a smooth line. Adult: blue-gray upperparts, the crown is darker and contrasts with the lighter nape and buffy cheeks, giving the look of wearing a "beret." Eye color is orange to red. Undersides with rufous barring, undertail is white. Juvenile: brown above, with rufous edges and white spots on upperwing coverts. Tail long, with straight bands and wide, white tip that wears down by spring. Head usually buffy, eyes pale yellow. Undersides are white with thin brown streaks, white undertail. Flight: wings typically held straight out from body, head, and neck projecting forward. This along with tail length make a "flying cross" appearance. Shallow, quick wingbeats alternate with short glides.

Geographic Variation: Western populations hunting more open country are smaller, with longer wings, shorter legs than eastern birds. Plumages are alike.

It's voice is a low keh-keh-keh uttered around nest, occasionally mimicked by jays.

Status and Distribution: Widespread through United States and southern Canada, more commonly seen in suburbs, probably due to reforestation in the East. Breeding: nests in a variety of forest types, preying on small- to medium-size birds and small mammals, hunting from perches under the canopy. Migration: in­creasing numbers at eastern hawk-watches probably due to better identification skills. Winter: juveniles winter farther north than adults; eastern birds move to the southern states, western birds to Mexico.

Population: Common and stable in the West, increasing in the East.

back

Honey Buzzard

Photo Description
 photo

Image source: NaturePhoto-CZ

Text source: Wikipedia

The Oriental Honey Buzzard, Pernis ptilorhynchus, is a bird of prey in the family Accipitridae which also includes many other diurnal raptors such as kites, eagles and harriers. This species is also known as the Oriental Honey Buzzard. Despite its name, this species is not related to Buteo buzzards, and is taxonomically closer to the kites.

It appears long-necked with a small head (resembling that of a pigeon), and soars on flat wings. The head lacks a strong supraciliary ridge giving it a very un-raptor-like facial appearance. It has a long tail and a short head crest. It is brown above, but not as dark as Honey Buzzard, and paler below. There is a dark throat stripe. Unusually for a large bird of prey, the sexes can be distinguished. The male has a blue-grey head, while the female's head is brown. She is slightly larger and darker than the male. The male has a black tail with a white band, whilst the female resembles female Honey Buzzard.

It breeds in Asia from central Siberia east to Japan. It is a summer migrant to Siberia, wintering in tropical south east Asia. Elsewhere it is more-or-less resident. It is a specialist feeder, living mainly on the larvae and nests of wasps, although it will take other small insect prey such as cicadas.

The Crested Honey Buzzard breeds in woodland, and is inconspicuous except in the spring, when the mating display includes wing-clapping. The display of roller-coasting in flight and fluttering wings at the peak of the ascent are characteristic of the genus Pernis. It is larger and longer winged than its western counterpart, Honey Buzzard, Pernis apivorus.

back

Griffon Vulture

Photo Description
 photo

Image source: National Geographic

Text source: Wikipedia

The Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus) is a large Old World vulture in the bird of prey family Accipitridae. The Griffon Vulture is 93–110 cm (37–43 in) long with a 230–280 cm (91–111 in) wingspan, and it weighs between 6 and 13 kg (13.2 and 29 lb). Hatched naked, it is a typical Old World vulture in appearance, with a very white bald head, very broad wings and short tail feathers. It has a white neck ruff and yellow bill. The buff body and wing coverts contrast with the dark flight feathers.

Like other vultures, it is a scavenger, feeding mostly from carcasses of dead animals which it finds by soaring over open areas, often moving in flocks. It grunts and hisses at roosts or when feeding on carrion.

Little is known about the average life-span of these birds. It is approximated at 50 to 70 years in the wild, but the oldest death recorded in captivity is 118 years old.

It breeds on crags in mountains in southern Europe, north Africa, and Asia, laying one egg. Griffon Vultures may form loose colonies. The population is mostly resident.

back

Sparrowhawk

Photo Description
 photo

Image source: NaturePhoto-CZ

Text source: Wikipedia

The Eurasian (or Northern) Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) is a small bird of prey in the family Accipitridae. Adult male Eurasian Sparrowhawks have bluish grey upperparts and orange-barred underparts; females and juveniles are brown above with brown barring below.

The female is up to 25% larger than the male – one of the largest differences between the sexes in any bird species. Though it is a predator which specialises in catching woodland birds, the Eurasian Sparrowhawk can be found in any habitat and often hunts garden birds in towns and cities. Males tend to take smaller birds, including tits, finches, and sparrows; females catch primarily thrushes and starlings, but are capable of killing birds weighing 500 grams (18 oz) or more.

The Eurasian Sparrowhawk is found throughout the temperate and subtropical parts of the Old World; while birds from the northern parts of the range migrate south for winter, their southern counterparts remain resident or make dispersive movements. Eurasian Sparrowhawks breed in suitable woodland of any type, with the nest, measuring up to 60 cm (2.0 ft) across, built using twigs in a tree. Four or five pale blue, brown-spotted eggs are laid; the success of the breeding attempt is dependent on the female maintaining a high weight while the male brings her food. The chicks hatch after 33 days and fledge after 24 to 28 days. The proportion of juveniles surviving their first year is 34%, with 69% of adults surviving from one year to the next. Mortality in young males is greater than that of young females and the typical lifespan is four years.

This species is now one of the commonest birds of prey in Europe, although the population crashed after the Second World War. Organochlorine insecticides used to treat seeds before sowing built up in the bird population and the concentrations in Eurasian Sparrowhawks were enough to kill some outright and incapacitate others; affected birds laid eggs with fragile shells which broke during incubation. However, its population recovered after the chemicals were banned, and it is now relatively common, classified as being of Least Concern by BirdLife International.

The Eurasian Sparrowhawk's hunting behaviour has brought it into conflict with humans for hundreds of years, particularly racing pigeon owners and people rearing poultry and gamebirds. It has also been blamed for decreases in passerine populations; scientific research has found no link between increased numbers of Eurasian Sparrowhawks and declines in some farmland and woodland birds after World War II. Studies of racing pigeon deaths found that Eurasian Sparrowhawks were responsible for less than 1%. Falconers have utilised the Eurasian Sparrowhawk since at least the 16th century; although the species has a reputation for being difficult to train, it is also praised for its courage.

The species features in Teutonic mythology and is mentioned in works by writers including William Shakespeare, Alfred, Lord Tennyson and Ted Hughes.

back

Steppe Eagle

Photo Description
 photo

Image source: NaturePhoto-CZ

Text source: Wikipedia

The Steppe Eagle (Aquila nipalensis) is a bird of prey. It is about 62–81 cm (24–32 in) in length and has a wingspan of 165–200 cm (65–79 in). Females, weighing 2.3–4.9 kg (5–10.8 lbs), are slightly larger than males, at 2–3.5 kg (4.4–7.7 lbs).

Like all eagles, it belongs to the family Accipitridae. It was once considered to be closely related to the non-migratory Tawny Eagle (Aquila rapax) and the two forms have previously been treated as conspecific. They were split based on pronounced differences in morphology and anatomy (Clark, 1992; Olson, 1994; Sangsteret al., 2002); two molecular studies, each based on a very small number of genes, indicate that the species are distinct but disagree over how closely related they are.

The Steppe Eagle breeds from Romania east through the south Russian and Central Asian steppes to Mongolia. The European and Central Asian birds winter in Africa, and the eastern birds in India. It lays 1–3 eggs in a stick nest in a tree. Throughout its range it favours open dry habitats, such as desert, semi-desert, steppes, or savannah.

This is a large eagle with brown upperparts and blackish flight feathers and tail. This species is larger and darker than the Tawny Eagle, and it has a pale throat which is lacking in that species. Immature birds are less contrasted than adults, but both show a range of variation in plumage colour. The eastern race A. n. nipalensis is larger and darker than the European and Central Asian A. n. orientalis.

Large numbers are seen at certain places such as Khare in Nepal during migration. As many as 15.3 birds per hour during October and November have been noted.

The Steppe Eagle's diet is largely fresh carrion of all kinds, but it will kill rodents and other small mammals up to the size of a hare, and birds up to the size of partridges. It will also steal food from other raptors. Like other species the Steppe Eagle has a crop in its throat allowing it to store food for several hours before being moved to the stomach.

The call of the Steppe Eagle sounds like a crow barking, but it is rather a silent bird. The Steppe Eagle is the national animal of Egypt.

back

Rare Gyrfalcon

Photo Description
 photo

Image source: National Geographic

Text source: Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Largest of all falcons, and the most northern diurnal raptor, the Gyrfalcon inhabits circumpolar arctic and subarctic regions, with some individuals moving south into northern temperate zones during fall and winter. "Only then do most birdwatchers have a chance for a rare glimpse of this great falcon, which the Emperor Frederick II of Hohenstaufen, in his thirteenth century treatise on falconry (De Arte Venandi cum Avibus), extolled above all others as a hunter of cranes and similar large quarry. The Emperor wrote that the Gyrfalcon ‘holds pride of place over even the Peregrine [Falco peregrinus] in strength, speed, courage, and indifference to stormy weather’" (Cade 1982).

Gyrfalcons exhibit pronounced reversed sexual size dimorphism (on average, adult males weigh 1,100-1,300 g, females 1,700-1,800 g), meaning males typically weigh about 65% as much as females. Gyrfalcon coloration is not conspicuously sexually dimorphic, because the species’ coloration is extremely variable and ranges from nearly pure white to an almost uniform dark gray-brown. Intermediate ("gray") plumages are most commonly seen in North America. The Gyrfalcon is therefore considered a monotypic, but highly variable species (Am. Ornithol. Union 1998) and previous subspecies designations based primarily on plumage variation are no longer recognized.

Most Gyrfalcons nest on cliffs above treeline, either in scrapes or in stick nests of other birds. Some individuals do not breed every year; both reproduction and winter movements are strongly influenced by food availability. Gyrfalcons respond functionally, and in some areas numerically, to changes in the availability of a variety of prey, but especially ptarmigan (Lapogus spp.), their principal food in most areas. The Gyrfalcon is a ptarmigan specialist and its breeding distribution is strikingly similar to that of the Rock Ptarmigan (Lagopus muta) (Holder and Montgomerie 1993). Gyrfalcon numbers appear to be cyclic in some regions but not in others, for reasons that are still not fully understood but likely related to ptarmigan population cycles (Cade et al. 1998, Nielsen 1999).

Although an uncommon species, the Gyrfalcon is not rare, as frequently stated. Remoteness of habitat, fluctuations in breeding populations and in migratory movements, variability in plumage and behavior, and rumors of rarity have all combined to make this species frequently misidentified or overlooked. Some of these same characteristics have enabled North America’s Gyrfalcons to thus far escape the population declines that other raptors have suffered from persecution, chemical contamination, and habitat degradation. However, these traits do not protect the species from the potential effects of global warming, which is an emerging conservation concern because of the Gyrfalcon’s northern breeding distribution, narrow ecological niche as a specialist predator, and reliance on Arctic habitats and prey.

back

Trained Golden Eagle

Photo Description
 photo

Image source: National Geographic

Text source: National Geographic

This powerful eagle is North America's largest bird of prey and the national bird of Mexico. These birds are dark brown, with lighter golden-brown plumage on their heads and necks. They are extremely swift, and can dive upon their quarry at speeds of more than 150 miles (241 kilometers) per hour.

Golden eagles use their speed and sharp talons to snatch up rabbits, marmots, and ground squirrels. They also eat carrion, reptiles, birds, fish, and smaller fare such as large insects. They have even been known to attack full grown deer. Ranchers once killed many of these birds for fear that they would prey on their livestock, but studies showed that the animal's impact was minimal. Today, golden eagles are protected by law.

Golden eagle pairs maintain territories that may be as large as 60 square miles (155 square kilometers). They are monogamous and may remain with their mate for several years or possibly for life. Golden eagles nest in high places including cliffs, trees, or human structures such as telephone poles. They build huge nests to which they may return for several breeding years. Females lay from one to four eggs, and both parents incubate them for 40 to 45 days. Typically, one or two young survive to fledge in about three months.

These majestic birds range from Mexico through much of western North America as far north as Alaska; they also appear in the east but are uncommon. Golden eagles are also found in Asia, northern Africa, and Europe. Some golden eagles migrate, but others do not—depending on the conditions of their geographic location. Alaskan and Canadian eagles typically fly south in the fall, for example, while birds that live in the western continental U.S. tend to remain in their ranges year-round.

back

Boreal Owl

Photo Description
 photo

Image source: National Geographic

Text source: The Owl Pages

The Boreal, or Tengmalm's Owl was first classified in 1758 by Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778), the Swedish naturalist, who developed binomial nomenclature to classify and organise plants and animals. "Funereus" comes from the Latin word for funeral. In North America, where it is known as the Boreal Owl, it was named after the Greek god of the north wind, Boreas. In other parts of the world, it is known as Tengmalms Owl. Other names for this Owl are Richardson's Owl, Sparrow Owl, Partridge-haw and Pearl Owl (Finland).

Colouration varies widely between individuals, with some having reddish-brown hues, while others are more greyish. The facial disc is whitish, surrounded by a dark rim with small white spots. There is a small dark portion between the eyes and the base of the bill. Eyes are pale to bright yellow, and the bill is yellowish horn. Upper parts are dark brown with bold white spotting. Underparts are off-white, with broad streaks of darkish brown, denser on the breast and trailing off at the lower belly. The tail is short and brown, with 4-5 white cross-bars. The legs and feet are covered with white feathers. Claws are darkish horn to blackish brown, and have very sharp black tips.

A nocturnal Owl, also unsociable. Adult males are territorial, however, territories are small. Males will sing intensively only as long as they are unmated. Flight is straight and noisless, with soft wingbeats. The most common call is the territorial song of the male, which varies widely from individual to individual. It is a series of "Poop" notes followed by a 3-4 second break, then another series. The individual variation is in the number of notes and the pitch and speed at which the notes are uttered.

Boreal Owls usually hunt by perching on low branches or tree trunks. The Owl will scan the ground by moving its head slowly from side to side, listening for movement of potential prey, as they hunt primarily using their excellent, directional hearing. When a victim is located, the Owl will swoop on it from the perch. Prey Items are mainly small rodents, especially Voles. They also eat lemmings, shrews, mice, and moles. They occasionally take small birds, squirrels, bats, frogs and beetles.

The Boreal or Tengmalm's Owl nests mainly in old woodpecker cavities, but may also use natural cavities. They will take readily to artificial nest boxes. Males begin searching for nest holes in late Winter. Prey items are often deposited into the hole, after which, the male will sing from a perch. If an interested female approaches, the male will fly to the cavity and utters a stuttering or trilling song. The female may then inspect the nest hole, and if she accepts it, will stay. The male brings her food while she is in the hole. Several days later, the female lays 3-8 white eggs which are laid a day apart. Incubation begins with the first or second egg laid, and lasts 28-29 days. The female does all incubation and the male brings food to the nest. The chicks hatch a day apart, and their eyes open after 10 days. They leave the nest at about 30-32 days, and are looked after by the parents for 4-6 weeks. They are mature at about 9 months.

The Tengmalm's / Boreal Owl is usually single-brooded, but will sometimes try to produce 2 broods. Breeding success is fairly high. Desertion or predation of eggs and young are the primary causes of nest failure. Unlike most other owls, pair bonding is only seasonal.

These Owls can live for at least 7-8 years. Incubating females are sometimes killed by Pine Martens. They are also preyed upon by larger raptors, such as other owls and Goshawks.

Preferred habitat varies throughout its range but includes mainly old-growth forests with woodpecker cavities for nesting. They inhabit a range of forests from pure coniferous to pure deciduous forests. Southern populations tend to occur in high subalpine forests. Hunting habitat includes forest meadows and open forests. When roosting they need dense conifers where they roost 5 to 6 meters (16 to 20 feet) up.

Distribution roughly follows the northern forest belt. Also occurs locally in Europe. In North America, the distribution is generally confined to the forest areas of the Rocky Mountains. To the east of the Rockies they occur as far south as New Mexico, and to the west they occur in forests from Alaska to Oregon.

back

Burrowing Owl

Photo Description
 photo

Image source: National Geographic

Text source: The Owl Pages

The first published report of the Burrowing Owl was in 1782 by Giovanni Iganzio Molina, an Italian Jesuit priest stationed in Chile. The Burrowing Owl has also been known as Ground Owl, Prairie Dog Owl, Rattlesnake Owl, Howdy Owl, Cuckoo Owl, Tunnel Owl, Gopher Owl, and Hill Owl.

It is a small ground-dwelling Owl with a round head and no ear tufts. They have white eyebrows, yellow eyes, and long legs. The Owl is sandy coloured on the head, back, and upperparts of the wings and white-to-cream with barring on the breast and belly and a prominent white chin stripe. They have a rounded head, and yellow eyes with white eyebrows. The young are brown on the head, back, and wings with a white belly and chest. They moult into an adult-like plumage during their first summer. Burrowing Owls are comparatively easy to see because they are often active in daylight, and are surprisingly bold and approachable. The females are usually darker than the males.

Burrowing owls generally active at dusk and dawn, but sometimes at night also. They are highly terrestrial, and are often seen perched on a mound of dirt, telegraph or fence post - frequently on one foot. They bob up and down when excited. Flight is with irregular, jerky wingbeats and they will frequently make long glides, interspersed with rapid wingbeats. They hover during hunting and courtship, and may flap their wings asynchronously (not up and down together).

Burrowing Owls are very vocal, and have a wide range of different calls. The main call is given only by adult males, usually when near the burrow to attract a female. A two-syllable "who-who" is given at the entrance of a promising burrow. This call is also associated with breeding, and territory defence. Other sounds called the "rasp", "chuck", "chatter", and "scream" have been described. Juveniles give a rattlesnake-like buzz when threatened in the burrow, and adults give a short, low-level "chuck" call to warn of approaching predators. This is usually accompanied by bobbing the head up and down.

Burrowing Owls feed on a wide variety of prey, changing food habits as location and time of year determine availability. Large arthropods, mainly beetles and grasshoppers, comprise a large portion of their diet. Small mammals, especially mice, rats, gophers, and ground squirrels, are also important food items. Other prey animals include: reptiles and amphibians, scorpions, young cottontail rabbits, bats, and birds, such as sparrows and horned larks. These Owls are quite versatile in the ways they capture prey. They chase down grasshoppers and beetles on the ground, use their talons to catch large insects in the air, or hover in mid-air before swooping down on unsuspecting prey. They also watch from perches, then glide silently toward their target. Burrowing Owls are primarily active at dusk and dawn, but will hunt throughout a 24-hour period, especially when they have young to feed.

Unlike other Owls, they also eat fruits and seeds, especially the fruit of Tesajilla and prickly pear cactus. The nesting season begins in late March or April. Burrowing Owls are usually monogamous but occasionally a male will have 2 mates. Courtship displays include flashing white markings, cooing, bowing, scratching and nipping. The male performs display flights, rising quickly to 30 meters (100 feet), hovering for 5 to 10 seconds, then dropping 15 meters (50 feet). This sequence is repeated many times. Circling flights also occur. Burrowing Owls nest underground in abandoned burrows dug by mammals or if soil conditions allow they will dig their own burrows. They will also use man made nest boxes placed underground. They often line their nest with an assortment of dry materials. Adults usually return to the same burrow or a nearby area each year. One or more "satellite" burrows can usually be found near the nest burrow, and are used by adult males during the nesting period and by juvenile Owls for a few weeks after they emerge from the nest. 6 to 9 (sometimes up to 12) white eggs are laid a day apart, which are incubated for 28-30 days by the female only. The male brings food to the female during incubation, and stands guard near the burrow by day. The care of the young while still in the nest is performed by the male. At 14 days, the young may be seen roosting at the entrance to the burrow, waiting for the adults to return with food. They leave the nest at about 44 days and begin chasing living insects when 49-56 days old.

Burrowing Owls are able to live for at least 9 years in the wild and over 10 years in captivity. They are often killed by vehicles when crossing roads, and have many natural enemies, including larger Owls, hawks, falcons, badgers, skunks, ferrets, armadillos, snakes, and domestic cats and dogs. They are listed as endangered, threatened, or a species of special concern in most states and provinces where they occur.

Burrowing Owls are present in North America, and breed across the grassland regions of southern Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitobaand. They occur in all states west of the Mississippi Valley, breed south through the western and mid-western States. A separate subspecies is found in Florida and the Carribean Islands. They extend south into Mexico, Central America and South America but populations have declined in many areas due to human-caused habitat loss or alteration. Birds from the northern part of the U.S. and Canada are migratory.

back

Cuban Screech Owl

Photo Description
 photo

Image source: National Geographic

Text source: National Geographic

The goggle-eyed Cuban screech owl gets its other common name, bare-legged owl, from its featherless lower appendages. While most of the world’s more than 200 owl species wear feathers down to their toes, the Cuban screech owl’s warm tropical habitat appears to have encouraged it to evolve permanent Bermuda shorts.

These nocturnal birds of prey are endemic only to Cuba, and their substantial range covers nearly the entire island. They prefer forest and wooded areas with palm trees, which they bore roosting holes into. They will also frequently occupy abandoned woodpecker holes.

Their feathers are dark brown with white spots on top, and their bellies and bottom wing feathers are grayish-white. They have large brown eyes outlined with dramatic white feathers. The Cuban screech owl is not well studied, and information about its diet is scarce, but, like most owl species, it likely feeds on small mammals, other birds, frogs, and insects.

The bare-legged owl became the Cuban screech owl in 1998, when the American Ornithologists’ Union reclassified it in the genus Otus, which includes scops and screech owls. However, in 2003, the union, citing differences in morphology and vocal patterns, reversed itself, placing the owl in its own genus, Gymnoglaux, and restoring its former name.

No reliable population numbers or trends are available on the Cuban screech owl, but it is reported to be common throughout its range. Human encroachment likely impacts some parts of its habitat, but it currently has no special conservation status.

back

Great Horned Owl

Photo Description
 photo

Image source: National Geographic

Text source: National Geographic

The great horned owl is the most common owl of the Americas, easily recognizable because of the feather tufts on its head. These "plumicorns" resemble horns or, to some, catlike ears.

Great horned owls are adaptable birds and live from the Arctic to South America. They are at home in suburbia as well as in woods and farmlands. Northern populations migrate in winter, but most live permanently in more temperate climes. The birds nest in tree holes, stumps, caves, or in the abandoned nests of other large birds. Monogamous pairs have one to five eggs (two is typical), both the male and female incubate, and the male also hunts for food. Owls are powerful birds and fiercely protective parents. They have even been known to attack humans who wander too close to their young.

Like other owls, these birds have an incredible digestive system. They sometimes swallow their prey whole and later regurgitate pellets composed of bone, fur, and the other unwanted parts of their meal. Owls are efficient nighttime hunters that strike from above, and use their powerful talons to kill and carry animals several times heavier than themselves. Owls prey on a huge variety of creatures, including raccoons, rabbits, squirrels, domestic birds, falcons, and other owls. They regularly eat skunks, and may be the only animal with such an appetite. They sometimes hunt for smaller game by standing or walking along the ground. Owls have even been known to prey upon unlucky cats and dogs.

Great horned owls are largely nocturnal so they can be difficult to spot. But in the dark after sunset, or just before dawn, they can often be heard vocalizing with their well known series of "Hoo H'hoos!"

back

Northern Spotted Owl

Photo Description
 photo

Image source: National Geographic

Text source: Wikipedia

The Northern Spotted Owl, Strix occidentalis caurina, is one of three Spotted Owl subspecies. A Western North American bird in the family Strigidae, genus Strix, it is a medium-sized dark brown owl sixteen to nineteen inches in length and one to one and one sixth pounds. Females are larger than males. The wingspan is approximately forty two inches.

The Northern Spotted Owl primarily inhabits old growth forests in the northern part of its range (Canada to southern Oregon) and landscapes with a mix of old and younger forest types in the southern part of its range (Klamath region and California) . The species' range is the Pacific coast from extreme southern British Columbia to Marin County in northern California. It nests in cavities or on platforms in large trees and will use abandoned nests of other species. Spotted owls mate for life and remain in the same geographical areas year after year.

Most Spotted Owls occur on US federal lands (Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and National Park Service lands), although significant numbers occur on state lands in all three states, and on private and tribal properties.

The Northern Spotted Owl is primarily nocturnal. Its diet consists mainly of wood rats and flying squirrels, although it will also eat other small mammals, reptiles, birds and insects. They will often swallow their catch whole and regurgitate pellets of indigestible hair, feathers and bones. Males and females both hunt, except during nesting, when males do most of the hunting. They can take prey on the ground and in flight.

The Northern Spotted Owl is very protective of their territory and intolerant of habitat disturbance. Each nesting pair needs a large amount of land for hunting and nesting, and will not migrate unless they experience drastic seasonal changes, such as heavy snows, which make hunting difficult. Their flight pattern is distinct, involving a series of rapid wingbeats interspersed with gliding flight. This technique allows them to glide silently down upon their prey.

Northern Spotted Owls are ready to reproduce at two years of age, but do not typically breed until they are three years old. Male and females mate in February or March and the female lays two or three eggs in March or April. She then incubates the eggs for 30 days. After hatching, the young owls stay with the female 8 to 10 days and fledge in 34 to 36 days. The hunting and feeding is done by the male during this time. The young owls remain with the parents until late summer to early fall. They leave the nest and form their own winter feeding range. By spring, the young owls' territory will be from two to 24 miles from the parents.

back

Peregrine Falcon

Photo Description
 photo

Image source: National Geographic

Text source: National Geographic

These falcons are formidable hunters that prey on other birds (and bats) in mid-flight. Peregrines hunt from above and, after sighting their prey, drop into a steep, swift dive that can top 200 miles an hour (320 kilometers an hour). Peregrine falcons are among the world's most common birds of prey and live on all continents except Antarctica. They prefer wide-open spaces, and thrive near coasts where shorebirds are common, but they can be found everywhere from tundra to deserts. Peregrines are even known to live on bridges and skyscrapers in major cities.

These birds may travel widely outside the nesting season—their name means "wanderer." Though some individuals are permanent residents, many migrate. Those that nest on Arctic tundra and winter in South America fly as many as 15,500 miles (25,000 kilometers) in a year. Yet they have an incredible homing instinct that leads them back to favored aeries. Some nesting sites have been in continuous use for hundreds of years, occupied by successive generations of falcons.

Peregrine populations were in steep decline during the mid-20th century, and in the United States these beautiful falcons became an endangered species. The birds have rebounded strongly since the use of DDT and other chemical pesticides was curtailed. Captive breeding programs have also helped to boost the bird's numbers in the U.S. and Canada. Now populations are strong in those nations, and in some parts of the globe, there actually may be more peregrines than existed before the 20th-century decline. Peregrines are favored by falconers, and have been used in that sport for many centuries.

back

Red Tailed Hawk

Photo Description
 photo

Image source: National Geographic

Text source: National Geographic

These beautiful birds are North America's most common hawks. They are found all over the continent, in Central America, and in the West Indies. The first of these hawks to be scientifically studied was found in Jamaica.

Red-tailed hawks are known for their brick-colored tails, but there are 14 subspecies of various colorations, and not all of them have this characteristic.

These birds of prey are also known as buzzard hawks and red hawks. By any name, they are keen-eyed and efficient hunters. Red-tails prefer open areas, such as fields or deserts, with high perching places nearby from which they can watch for prey. But these birds are adaptable and also dwell in mountains and tropical rain forests. Hawks have even embraced human habitats. They often perch on telephone poles and take advantage of the open spaces along the roadside to spot and seize mice, ground squirrels, rabbits, reptiles, or other prey.

Breeding season initiates a spectacular sequence of aerial acrobatics. Hawk pairs fly in large circles and gain great height before the male plunges into a deep dive and subsequent steep climb back to circling height. Later, the birds grab hold of one another with their talons and fall spiraling towards earth.

Red-tailed hawks are monogamous and may mate for life. They make stick nests high above the ground, in which the female lays one to five eggs each year. Both sexes incubate the eggs for four to five weeks, and feed the young from the time they hatch until they leave the nest about six weeks later.

back

Snowy Owl

Photo Description
 photo

Image source: National Geographic

Text source: National Geographic

The ghostlike snowy owl has unmistakable white plumage that echoes its Arctic origins. These large owls breed on the Arctic tundra, where females lay a clutch of 3 to 11 eggs. Clutch size depends upon the availability of food, and in particularly lean times a usually monogamous pair of owls may not breed at all. Parents are territorial and will defend their nests against all comers—even wolves.

Young owls, especially males, get whiter as they get older. Females are darker than males, with dusky spotting, and never become totally white. Some elderly males do become completely white, though many retain small flecks of dusky plumage.

The snowy owl is a patient hunter that perches and waits to identify its prey before soaring off in pursuit. Snowy owls have keen eyesight and great hearing, which can help them find prey that is invisible under thick vegetation or snowcover. The owls deftly snatch their quarry with their sharp talons.

A snowy owl's preferred meal is lemmings—many lemmings. An adult may eat more than 1,600 lemmings a year, or three to five every day. The birds supplement their diet with rabbits, rodents, birds, and fish.

These magnificent owls sometimes remain year-round in their northern breeding grounds, but they are frequent migrants to Canada, the northern United States, Europe, and Asia. Lemming availability may determine the extent of southern migration, when owls take up summer residence on open fields, marshes, and beaches.

back

Steller's Sea Eagle

Photo Description
 photo

Image source: National Geographic

Text source: National Geographic

These very large, powerful eagles are also striking in appearance. They are dark but dramatically colored with white tail, shoulders, rump, thighs and forehead.

These eagles are believed to breed only in far eastern Russia, along the coasts and surrounding islands of the Sea of Okhotsk and Bering Sea. They are most common on the Kamchatka Peninsula.

Each winter, many Steller's sea eagles migrate from their breeding grounds to Japan, and a few reach Korea or even farther afield. Other individuals do not migrate, but simply move to open water as winter approaches.

Open water provides these eagles with their main food sources along coastlines and lakes. In their breeding grounds, Steller's sea eagles subsist largely on salmon, and they both hunt and scavenge for this resource. Annual salmon runs provide an enormous bounty and Steller's sea eagle nests are typically located near coasts and rivers where these fish appear en masse.

These birds of prey hunt from a perch or from flight by diving and clutching prey in their talons. They also stand in shallow water or on the ice and grab passing fish when the opportunity arises. Like other eagles, Steller's also steal food from other birds.

In Japan, Steller's sea eagles feast on cod. In addition to fish, they eat crabs, shellfish, squid, small animals, ducks, gulls, and carrion.

Steller's sea eagles do not occur in large numbers, but their populations appear to be stable. Their feathers were once highly prized, but today these magnificent birds are protected throughout their range. They are especially revered in Japan, where they are known as O-washi.

back

California Condor

Photo Description
 photo

Image source: Jim Burns Photos

Text source: National Geographic

The California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus) is a North American species of bird in the New World vulture family Cathartidae and the largest North American land bird. Currently, this condor inhabits only the Grand Canyon area, Zion National Park, and western coastal mountains of California and northern Baja California. Although other fossil members are known, it is the only surviving member of the genus Gymnogyps.

It is a large, black vulture with patches of white on the underside of the wings and a largely bald head with skin color ranging from yellowish to a bright red, depending on the bird's mood. It has the largest wingspan of any bird found in North America and is one of the heaviest, weighing up to 29lbs. The condor is a scavenger and eats large amounts of carrion. It is one of the world's longest-living birds, with a lifespan of up to 60 years.

Condor numbers dramatically declined in the 20th century due to poaching, lead poisoning, and habitat destruction. Eventually, a conservation plan was put in place by the United States government that led to the capture of all 22 remaining wild condors in 1987. These surviving birds were bred at the San Diego Wild Animal Park and the Los Angeles Zoo. Numbers rose through captive breeding and, beginning in 1991, condors have been reintroduced into the wild. The project is the most expensive species conservation project ever undertaken in the United States. The California Condor is one of the rarest bird species in the world. As of April 2011, there are 384 condors known to be living, including 181 in the wild.

The condor is a significant bird to many Californian Native American groups and plays an important role in several of their traditional myths.