Common and widespread, the American Robin is one of the best known American birds and is often seen in American gardens. In summer it spreads right up into Canada and the far north, but it is found all year round across most of America. It nest in shrubs, trees or on buildings, building a sturdy cup of roots, twigs and mud, lined with soft material, to hold its three or four blue eggs. These are incubated by the female bird, with the young leaving the nest around 2-3 weeks after hatching. The adult is a large, sturdy bird with long legs and tail. It is gray-brown above, with a white throat, red-orange breast, yellow bill and blackish head and tail. The female is duller and females lack the red breast and are spotted beneath. The American Robin often forages on lawns with its head held cocked, looking for earthworms; it also eats insects and berries.
The mallard is probably the most abundant and familiar wild duck in the Northern Hemisphere, and is the ancestor of the most domestic ducks. It is common across much of America, not only in the wild but also in semi-wild state around cities and in parks. It nests near water and vegetation, lining a hollow with grass, stems and down, which holds 5-14 eggs. These are incubated for 26-29 days, by the female bird only, and the downy chicks leave the nest soon after hatching but do not fly until 8 weeks later. The male bird has a glossy green head and neck with a narrow white collar, yellow bill, chestnut breast and gray body. The female is mottled sandy brown, with an orange bill marked with black. Both have a white tail, and in flight the wings have a bright blue patch on the upper side, bordered on each side with a white stripe, and white wing linings. The juvenile bird resembles the female, but its bill is dull olive. This species also dabbles, tipping tail-up to forage for aquatic plants, snails insects and s
The most widespread and numerous of the North American terns, the Common Tern breeds across much of Canada and northern America and winter in the Southern Hemisphere. It nest on large colonies on sandbars, beaches or islands, laying 2-3 green to buff eggs with brown markings in a scrape on open ground. These are incubated by both male and female for around 24 days, and the young chicks fly around 4 weeks later. The Common Tern takes 3 years to reach its mature plumage. The juvenile is brownish with a white breast and forehead, blackish nape and orange bill, but by the first winter it is gray above, with a black patch on the head, dark bill, dark shoulder and brownish wings. By the 2nd winter it has less brown and more gray on the wings. In the breeding season the adult has a black cap, a red bill with a black tip, the upperparts are gray, and the breast and belly pale. In winter, its forehead is white with a dark patch on the crown and back of the head, and a dark shoulder bar. In flight, its long wings are g
THE Mute Swan is an Old World species that was introduced into North America and is found mainly on the east coast and around the Great Lakes- it likes to be near people. Populations are increasing, displacing native birds, so in some areas they are being removed. It is often silent, although it sometimes hisses or grunts, but when flying its wing beats produce a loud rhythmic hum. Like other swans it breeds near water, building a large mass of plant material in which it lays 4-6 eggs. Incubation is done by the female bird, and takes around 34-38 days. The young birds leave the nest very soon after hatching, but stay with the parent birds for a further 4 months. The Mute Swan has white plumage, a long pointed tail and a very long slender neck, which it tends to hold in an S-curve. Its bill is orange with a prominent black knob at the base and it quite often swims with its wings held up over its backing an arch. The immature bird has a pinkish-gray bill and its plumage is a dull brownish-white, which it retai
Familiar and common across America, the House Wren is found in a variety of habitats and often visits suburban gardens. Its loud, fast, bubbling song is very musical and is heard throughout the summer. It builds a simple nest of twigs and sticks, lined with feathers, in a natural or man-made hole, or in a nesting box. It competes with other birds for a suitable nest site, sometimes throwing out the nest, eggs or chicks of its rival. It lays 5-7 white eggs, finely speckled with brown, which are incubated by the female alone for around 2 weeks; the young birds leave the nest about 2-3 weeks after hatching. The adult is a small, slender bird with a long, slightly curved bill and a short tail, which it may hold upright. It is gray-brown above, with cross barring on the back and tail, a faint eyebrow, and buffy gray-brown underparts- although some birds in the west are more rufous overall. The house wren eats insects and spiders.
The other major North American race of swan, The Trumpeter, is a huge bird that is found in the northwest but is being introduced further east. At the beginning of the twentieth century the species had almost died out, after hunters slaughtered it for its down and skin, and swans eggs had become sought-after by gourmets. After protection was introduced, the population rose and is still slowly increasing. The trumpeter swan breeds near water, building a large mound of plant material in which it lays 2-3 eggs. Incubation is done by the female bird, and takes around 33 days. The young birds leave the nest very soon after hatching, but stay with the parent birds until the following spring. The Trumpeter Swan has white plumage and a very long slender neck, which it tends to hold straight upwards. Its straight bill is black and it has black facial skin which comes down in a deep V on the forehead. The immature bird has a pinkish bill and its plumage is a dull gray-brown, which it retains through the first spring.
The Spotted Sandpiper is a common bird, widespread across much of North America in summer and the winter in the far south and down into South America. It is usually seen singly rather than in flocks, on the edges of coastal mud flats, in marshes and along streams and ponds. When moving across the ground, it has a distinctive bobbing, teetering walk. It lays up to 4 greeny or buffy eggs in a depression in the ground near water. These are incubated for around 21-24 days â€“ often by the male bird only; the young are ready to leave the nest soon after hatching and are fully independent by 3 weeks. The adult is a short-necked bird with a rather long tail and flesh-colored legs. It has an olive-brown back, which extends down as a wash on the sides of the breast, a light eye stripe and white eye ring and is white below. In breeding plumage, the mature bird has a distinctive large, round back, black spots on its underparts. The Spotted Sandpiper flies with stiff, shallow wingbeats and shows a short white stripe
The most common and distinctive goose in America, which can be found across the entire country at different times of the year. Its nest is a large hollow lined with plant matter and soft down, in relatively open area near water. It lays 2-12 white eggs, which are incubated by the female for around 25-30 days. The male defends its mate and offspring very fiercely- warning intruders away at first, but not hesitating to attack even much larger suspected enemies. The young birds are downy and leave the nest soon after hatching, but stay with the parents until the following spring. The plumage of the mature adult can vary quite considerably, but it generally has a black head and neck, with a distinctive white â€œchin strapâ€ from ear to ear, dark back, white undertail coverts. In flight, it shows dark wings and a white u-shaped rump band. Eastern birds are generally paler, western birds darker, but the difference can be hard to see. Northern birds tend to be smaller than those in the south. The Canada goose fl
The largest owl in North America, the Great Gray Owl inhabits dense forest and wooded bogs and in the north is relatively uncommon. It is not quite as large as it may appear, since its body is surrounded by a large mass of feathers that provide insulation in the cold climate it lives in. It does not build a nest, but lays 2-5 white eggs in the nest of another bird, usually in a tall tree or on a cliff. These are incubated by the female for around 4-5 weeks, and the chicks are ready to leave the nest about five weeks after hatching. The adult has a large head, with big, pale gray facial discs patterned in concentric dark gray circles, yellow eyes and bill and quite a long tail. Its plumage is mottled gray-brown above, with muted gray vertical streaking below: a black chin spot and two white neck marks may be evident. Although it is mainly nocturnal, the Great Gray Owl also hunts at dawn and dusk and sometimes during the day in the far north. It feeds mainly on mice, but will also take small mammals and birds.
Widespread and abundant, the Red-winged Blackbird is found on all kinds of wet ground across most of North America. Except in the breeding season, it forms huge flocks- often with other blackbird species. It nest near the ground, weaving a sturdy cup of grass attached to marsh reeds or in a low bush, in which it lays 3-5 pale blue-green eggs, heavily marked with brown and black. These are incubated by the female for about 10-12 days and the young bird begins to fend for themselves just less than two weeks after hatching. The adult is a rather stocky bird with a fairly short tail and rounded wings. The male is black with a bright red and buff-yellow shoulder patch, the female and juvenile are streaked brown with a buff eye-brow. In central California, the males may have an all-red shoulder patch. Although the Red-winged blackbird may be considered a pest for eating grain in spring, it catches large quantities of crop-damaging insects during the nesting season. It also eats seeds and spiders.
Found across much of eastern North America, the Red-bellied Woodpecker is common and extending its range northwards. The southernmost part of its range overlaps with that of the Golden-fronted Woodpecker, and the two species have interbred. The Red-belly excavates a nesting hole in a dead tree, fence post or utility pole, which can be up to 70 feet above the ground. Its 4-6 white eggs are incubated by both adults for about two weeks and the chicks leave the nest about 3-4 weeks later, but remain with the parents for some time. The adult bird is a medium- size, heavy bodied bird, with a fairly long bill and short wings. The adult has a pale buff head and under parts with a reddish tint to the belly, a red nape, a black and white barred back and a black tail with barred central feathers. In flight, it shows white wing patches and a white rump. In the male, the red nape extends up and over the head. The Red-bellied Woodpecker eats insects, fruit and seeds and in Florida spears oranges with its bill to suck the j
Common in suburbs, woodlands and parks, the Blue Jay is found across most of eastern North America and is occasionally seen in the northwest and west. Some birds migrate south in the fall, moving in large flocks. Like other Jays, it has a harsh, strident voice and often mimics other birds-particularly the Red- Shouldered Hawk. The Blue Jay builds a bulky nest of twigs, moss and leaves on a branch or in the crotch of a tree up to 50 feet above the ground, in which it lays3-5 olive, blue or buffy eggs spotted with brown. These are incubated by the female for about 17 days and the young birds leave to fend for themselves around three weeks after hatching. The adult has a crest at the back of the head, broad rounded wings and rather a short, broad tail. It is blue above, gray-white underneath with a black necklace, and has black barring on wings and tail. The Blue Jay eats nuts, seed, fruit and insects.
The Red-necked Grebe is not common, but it seen in summer on marshy ponds and shallow lakes in the northwest. It spends the winter in small groups around coastal bays or on deep open water, particular if food is plentiful, but is more often a solitary bird. Afloat it looks stocky, with a short body and a large head. In summer its plumage is handsome, with a red neck black crown, a gray face edged in white and a tuft of black feathers giving the head a triangular shape. In winter the red neck turns pale gray, with a crescent of white running from under the chin around the rear of the face. Its bill is almost as long as the head, heavy, tapered and yellow in colour. The juvenile bird has a striped head. Like other Grebes, the Red-necked is not built for walking on land or long flights and spends most of its time on water. The Red-necked Grebe feeds mainly on small fish tadpoles and newts, which it catches by diving. It also often swallows feathers- as do the other species of Grebes-probably to enable it to stra
A bird that prefers warmer climates, the Northern mockingbird is found across the south- its name comes because there are other mockingbirds in the Southern Hemisphere. It nests low down in a tree or shrub, building a cup of twigs lines with soft plant fibers, to hold its 3-5 blue-green eggs. These are incubated by the female bird for about 12 to 13 days; the young birds are ready to leave the nest around 9-12 days later. The adult is a slender bird with a long tail that it often flicks sideways. It is gray above and white beneath, with two white wing bars. In flight, its tail is black and white outer feathers, and it flashes large white wing patches. It is an excellent mimic, not only copying birdsongs but alos the sound of cars, machinery and sirens. The Northern Mockingbird is very territorial and defends its ground aggressively. It likes open grassy areas for feeding, with nearby foliage to hide its nest, and perches for the male to sing and warn off intruders-so suburban gardens are an ideal habitat. I
Sometimes known as the â€œfish-hawkâ€ or â€œfish eagleâ€, the Osprey is fairly common in coastal areas and is sometimes seen along rivers and over inland lakes. It was once threatened by the use of DDT, but since this and other pesticides have been banned, populations have recovered. Its nest is a large construction of sticks in a tall tree, rock pinnacle or any tall structure near water and is reused year after year. It holds 2-4 buffy eggs, blotched with brown, which are usually incubated by the female for around a month. The young are downy white and leave the nest around 2 months after hatching. The adult bird has long narrow wings, held above horizontal and slightly arched in flight, with a distinct bend at the wrist. Its plumage is dark brown above and white below, with a white head and dark eye stripe. The female bird may have some darker streaking on the neck. The juvenile has similar coloring but has white scaling on its back. Unlike other hawks, the Osprey feeds almost exclusively on fish, which
The Northern Cardinal is common both in the east and the southwest in a wide variety of habitats, even city parks and backyards as long as there is sufficient cover. The Cardinal not only returns to the same breeding area, pairs mate for life. It nests up to twelve feet above the ground, building a loosely woven cup of twigs and plant fibers in a shrub or thicket, in which it lays three or four pale green eggs with brown-lilac spots. These are incubated by the female for just under two weeks, while the male provides food and helps feed the nestlings after they have hatched. The adult is a crested bird with a long tail and large triangular bill. The male is bright red, with a black face and throat and a red bill. The female is olive-buff with a reddish crest, wings and tail and the juvenile is reddish-buff with a black bill. The Northern Cardinal feeds mainly on the ground, out in the open. It eats fruits, seeds and insects and regularly comes to bird feeders in winter, particularly for sunflower seeds
The Lesser Yellowlegs is common across most of its range, but is seen rather less in the far west. It is found in the same sort of places as the Greater Yellowlegs, but its summer range does not extend as far to the east and its winter range is smaller. It breeds in northern swamps, the taiga and damp boreal forests, laying up to 4 buffy eggs splotched with brown in a shallow depression on bare ground lined with plant material â€“ quite often far from water. The eggs are incubated by the female only for around 3 weeks; the young are ready to leave the nest soon after hatching and are fully independent in around 21 days. The adult is quite a tall, slender bird, with a long neck, a straight bill and long, bright yellow legs. Its plumage is gray-brown overall, with black and white mottling above, white below and white rump and a barred tail. In breeding plumage, its throat and breast are heavily streaked, its back is darker and more heavily marked and its flanks have short, find black bars. The Lesser Yellowl
A bird which prefers colder climates an can tolerate subzero temperatures, the American Tree Sparrow spends the summer in the tundra zone and winters across central North America. It nests on or very near the ground, building a cup of plant fibers lined with feathers, in which it lays four or five pale blue eggs, speckled with brown. These are incubated by the female for just under two weeks and the young leave the nest to start fending for themselves after around 9-11 days. The adult is a large sparrow and has a long; slightly notched tail and a bill that is dark above and yellow below. It has a chestnut cap and eye stripe, a gray head and nape, gray under parts with a dark spot at the centre of the breast and a chestnut patch at the side, a red-brown back with dark streaking, and two white wing bars. Birds in the west tend to be paler than those in the east. The American Tree Sparrow mainly eats seeds, but will also take insects and spiders.
Although it is relatively uncommon, the Northern Hawk Owl might be seen flying fast and low between the trees of boreal forests. Since daylight hours are much longer above the Artic circle in summer it hunts in daylight and at night but very rarely ventures further south of its mapped range. Since it usually has little contact with humans it may appear very tame, sitting still when approached. It does not build a nest, but lays 3-7 white eggs in the nest of another bird or in a tree cavity or stump. These are mainly incubated by the female for around 3-4 weeks after hatching. The adult is a medium-size, hawk-like bird with yellow eyes and a long pointed tail. Its plumage is dark brown above with white blotches and dots, brown with white horizontal barring below, and it has pale facial discs edged in black and narrow pale bars on the tail. The juvenile lacks most of the cross-barring and is much plainer. The Northern Hawk Owl feeds mainly on rodents, including lemmings, but in winter will also take small birds
The Wood Duck is widely regarded as one of Americanâ€™s most beautiful water birds. It is widespread across much of the country at different times during the year, although it is rarely seen in its breeding grounds during the winter. One of the few ducks to roost high up in trees, it makes its nest up to 50 feet above the ground, lining a cavity in the tree with soft down; it also uses nesting boxes. The nest holds 8-14 eggs, which are incubated by the female bird for 28-32 days. The young birds leave the nest soon after hatching, dropping down from the nest to follow their mother to water, although they are not able to fly until around 7 weeks. The male adult has a glossy green and purple head with a long, downswept crest, bold black and white face pattern, chestnut breast, buff flanks and a black back. The female is gray-brown with paler spots on the flanks, a small crest, dark back and a teardrop-shaped white patch around the eye. The juvenile resembles the female. The Wood Duck eats aquatic plants, nut
Large flocks of Dunlin can be seen on mud flats along both North American coasts from fall through the spring. When disturbed, hundreds of birds rise in a tightly packed swirling mass, flying in perfect formation. The Dunlin spends the summer on Artic tundra in the far north, where it breed and lays four buff greenish, brown spotted eggs in a small scrape in the ground lined with grass. These are incubated by both adults for around three weeks; the young leave the nest soon after hatching and are looked after by both parents. The adult is stocky with a short neck, a bill that is heavy at the base but slimmer and downcurved at the tip and is longer than the head, and dark legs and feet. In breeding plumage it is gray0brown on the head, neck and upper breast, with a rufous back, and whitish belly and flanks with black belly patch. Winter birds are an even dull brown-gray above and buff below, with darker streaks on breast and flanks. The Dunlin wades slowly through shallow water, probing with its bill to find
Very common across much of America, the Mourning Dove also spreads north into Canada in the summer. It likes a variety of habitats, except for deep woods, and is seen both alone and in flocks, either perched prominently on poles or wires or walking on the ground. At the start of it long breeding season, it builds a rather loose nest of twigs and sticks in a bush or a tree, in which it lays two white eggs. These are incubated for around two weeks by both birds alternately, and the chicks stay in the nest for around 16 more days; there may be 2 to 4 broods in one season. The adult is a rather slender dove, with narrow pointed wings and a long, pointed, tapering tail with the side feathers edged with black and tipped with white. It has a light blue ring round the eye, and a large dark spot at the base of the ear. Its plumage is pale gray-brown above, with large black spots on the wings, and buff blue-gray on the crown, but the female is plainer and also has a shorter tail. The juvenile is similar to the adult
One of the most common American hawks, the Red-tailed is seen across much of North America and summer up into Canada. It can be spotted soaring over open country, particularly if there are nearby woods offering seclusion for nesting. It builds a large and solid nest, up to 75 feet above ground in a tree or on a cliff, with a small cup in the centre lined with fine green shoots. This contains 1-4 whitish eggs, which are incubated for 27-33 days; the chicks stay in the nest for up to 5 weeks after hatching. The colouring of the adult bird varies according to its range, but the differences are not substantial. It usually has a dark brown back with V-shaped lines of pale mottling, and is white underneath with distinctive band of dark streaks. The bill is quite heavy and the tail is reddish above and whitish beneath. The Red-tailed Hawk sits for hours on a telegraph pole or fence post, before gliding off to catch its prey; it mainly eats rodents, which makes it very popular with farmers.
The White-breasted Nuthatch prefers mature trees and is found across most of central North America, preferring leafy trees in the east and oaks and conifers in the west. It nests in a excavated or a natural tree hole up to 50 feet above the ground, or in a nesting box, lining the cavity with fur and bark chips. It lays 5-9 white eggs, with red, brown and gray spots. These are incubated for about 11-13 days by both adults and the young are ready to leave the nest and fend for themselves about two weeks after hatching. The adult is a medium-size, short-tailed bird with a long, slightly upturned bill. It is blue-gray above, with a black crown and nape, whit face and white underparts. The White-breasted Nuthatch is inquisitive and acrobatic, like other nuthatches, when creeping down a tree it often pauses to look round with its head held upwards. It eats nuts, seeds, fruit and insects.