Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Common Barn-Owl Tyto alba

Common Barn-Owl Tyto alba

Although it is unmistakably owl-like, the Barn-Owl is not closely related to other North American owls, and is actually in a family of its own that includes ten other species from around the world. In flight, this large bird looks very white, especially from below. It nests in barns and other outbuildings as well as in tree cavities and caves.

Identification 14". Golden brown above, with grayish mottling on wings and back; pale buff to white below, with sparse dark spots on breast and wing linings. Face heart-shaped, white, with long, narrow bill. Feet and legs covered with bristly white feathers.

Voice Song a long, rasping screech, increasing in volume; also gives a loud hiss.

Habitat Farm areas, marshes, prairies, and open woodlands; also suburbs and cities.

Range SW. British Columbia, South Dakota, N. Illinois, and S. New England south to Central and South America. Some northern populations move south in winter.

Western Screech-Owl Otus kennicottii

Western Screech-Owl Otus kennicottii This pint-size owl was formerly thought to be identical to the Eastern Screech-Owl (0. asio). The two birds have distinct ranges and very different vocalizations; the western species gives a series of whistled notes that speeds up at the end. In the humid forests of the Pacific Ni Northwest, there is a rare reddish color phase of the Western Screech-Owl.

Identification 7-11". Small, with mottled upperparts and prominent ear tufts. Underparts whitish, with streaks and bars. Some geographical variation: Birds from drier areas tend to be paler gray, those from humid areas browner.

Voice A series of 7-20 soft, whistled notes, starting slowly and speeding up, and all on 1 pitch. Also a short trill and various yelping and barking noises.

Habitat Woodlands and forests, especially streamside areas with oaks.

Range SE. Alaska south along coast; east along Canadian border to S. Alberta and N. Montana, and south to Mexico. Does not migrate.

Great Horned Owl Bubo virginianus

Great Horned Owl Bubo virginianus
The magisterial Great Horned Owl gets its name from its large, conspicuous ear tufts, which it raises in moments of great excitement. These tufts are not ears at all; the powerful ears of the Great Horned Owl are hidden beneath feathers on the side of the head. Like most other owls, this species flies absolutely silently; its stealth is made possible by the loose, ragged outer edges of the flight feathers, through which the air flows without the telltale rushing sound produced by most birds in flight.

Identification 18-25". Large with widely spaced ear tufts. Dark gray-brown with fine whitish mottling above; buff-white below, with dark brown barring and white throat. Eyes bright yellow.

Voice A deep, sonorous, resonant series of hoots: hoo, hoo-koo-hoo, hoo, hoo; or hooo, hoo-hoo, hoooo, hoooo.

Habitat Forests, open country, swamps, deserts, and even large city parks.

Range Throughout North America; usually does not migrate.

American Kestrel Falco sparverius

American Kestrel Falco sparverius
The American Kestrel often hunts on the wing, hovering over fields and open land searching for mice, lizards, small snakes, and frogs; when grasshoppers are abundant, these insects usually become the bird's chief food. Formerly known as the Sparrow Hawk, this species flies on long, pointed wings; when it lands on a perch, it often pumps its tail up and down. The American Kestrel is the smallest North American falcon.

Identification Small, with long, pointed wings and rusty tail and back. Adult male has blue-gray wings and rusty crown; female has black-barred, rufous wings. Underparts white or buff, male's with black spots, female's with heavy streaks.

Voice A loud, shrill killy-killy-killy.

Habitat Open countryside, grasslands, farms, suburbs, and city parks.

Range S. Alaska to Newfoundland, south through South America. Winters north as far as S. British Columbia, Illinois, and New England.

Common Nighthawk Chordeiles minor

Common Nighthawk Chordeiles minor
This species is a common insect-feeder. It typically hunts at dusk, flying with its huge mouth wide open to catch insects on the wing, but it is also seen by day, and it has adapted to a wide variety of habitats, including rooftops in cities. The Common Nighthawk's cryptically colored plumage breaks up the outline of the bird when it is perched on the ground, helping it to escape the notice of predators.

Identification Mottled gray, white, black, and brown above; underparts buff with brown bars. Long, pointed wings marked with white patch near bend, visible in flight, as is white throat patch. Tail long. Female slightly duller than male.

Voice A nasal, insectlike beeerp or brrrrrrp.

Habitat Open woodlands, forests, meadows, sagebrush plains, and cities.

Range Breeds from SE. Alaska east to Quebec, south to N. California, Nevada, SE. New Mexico, Texas, and Florida. Winters in the tropics.

Osprey Pandion haliaetus

Osprey Pandion haliaetus Found throughout the world, the Osprey is usually seen near water, although a lack of suitable nesting sites often prompts it to move far inland. This bird lives almost exclusively on fish, which it takes from the water with its talons, descending on its prey like a terrestrial hawk. Its feet have tiny spicules on the bottom that help the bird to maintain its hold on slippery fish.

Identification 22-25". Large, hawklike; brown above, white below, with white head; dark brown line runs through eye and on side of face. Juvenile similar but more mottled. In flight, wings show distinctive bend at "wrist."

Voice Loud whistling and chirping given at nesting and during courtship; also a kip kip ki-yeuk, ki-yeuk when alarmed.

Habitat Coastal areas, lakes, and rivers.

Range Breeds from Alaska and north-central Canada to Newfoundland, south to California and Arizona, Great Lakes area, and Nova Scotia; south along Atlantic Coast to Florida and Gulf Coast. Winters along southern coasts.

Northern Harrier Circus cyaneus

Northern Harrier Circus cyaneus This is a common raptor of marshlands, prairies, and open, grassy areas. The Northern Harrier hunts on the wing, flying great distances every day in its search for mice and other small animals. Like owls, this bird uses its sharp hearing to locate its prey. Formerly known as the Marsh Hawk, the Northern Harrier is a skillful flyer, and the male performs a magnificent courtship display.

Identification 16-24". Slim, with long wings and tail. Male light gray above, whitish with small reddish flecks below; tail obscurely barred. Female brown above with brownish streaks below. Both sexes have prominent white rump. Immature brown above, rusty below.

Voice Usually silent; a chattering kee-kee-kee near nest.

Habitat Grasslands, marshes, and open fields.

Range Breeds from Alaska to N. Alberta and eastward to Newfoundland; south to S. California, N. New Mexico, Ohio, and Virginia. Winters from Washington, N. Utah, Great Lakes region, and New England south to Mexico and Florida.