Hummingbirds of Illinois (2 Species to Know)

Hummingbirds are captivating creatures that buzz around backyards and flowers at a frenetic pace. While they are quite small, they sometimes travel extreme distances during migration, leading to many species showing up in places outside of their normal range.

While Illinois has records of many different rare hummingbirds showing up in the state over the years, there are really only two species that can be found in the state on a regular basis. Here is everything you need to know about those two species.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Ruby-throated Hummingbird Male – Photo by USFWS Midwest Region
Ruby-throated Hummingbird Female – Photo by Susan Young
Identification

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds look different depending on the lighting. Sometimes they can appear dark olive color, but when the sun hits them, they shine with a bright emerald green on the back, wings, head, and tail. Female Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have a white throat and underside while males have a bright shining red throat. Again, if the lighting is dark, the throat will be dark red to black looking in color.

Range

The Ruby-throated Hummingbird spends the winter in Central America and Southern Mexico. In spring, they head north and breed throughout the Eastern United States as well as some parts of Southern Canada. The Ruby-throated Hummingbird is the only naturally occurring hummingbird species that breeds in the Eastern US.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds consume nectar from flowers, particularly from red or orange flowers. They will also eat small insects that they find near flowers or even catch them out of mid air.

Where to Find This Bird

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds can be found in forested areas, around fields, and in backyards. They frequent ornamental flowers as well as hummingbird feeders and are common in their normal range. To find them, either stake out flower beds, or keep your eyes peeled for something that looks like a very large insect buzzing through the air.

Rufous Hummingbird (Uncommon)

Rufous Hummingbird Adult Male – Photo by Alan Schmierer
Rufous Hummingbird – Photo by Bill Grossmeyer
Identification

Adult male Rufous Hummingbirds have a golden orange color on their head, back, and tail with darker colored wings. They have dark tips of the tail feathers with the exception of the outer tail feathers that are white-tipped. Adult males have a reddish pink iridescent throat and a white bib. Females and immature males are much more pale overall with a light underside and a green back, head, and tail. They still have hints of the rusty orange coloration that adult males possess but it looks like more of a light wash.

Range

Rufous Hummingbirds live in the Western half of North America. They winter in Southwestern Mexico and have a fairly lengthy migration to the Pacific Northwest and Southwestern Canada where they spend the breeding months.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Rufous Hummingbirds feed from flowers where they use their long bills to get nectar. They also eat small insects such as flies and aphids. They will catch them on the wing or pick them off of flowers and vegetation.

Where to Find This Bird

Rufous Hummingbirds live in a wide variety of habitats including forests, meadows, and backyards. This species is known to visit hummingbird feeders and can sometimes be a bully to other hummingbirds trying to get nectar.

In Illinois, Rufous Hummingbirds are rare visitors but do make an appearance on an annual basis. They are typically found during fall migration and usually by a homeowner who notices them at their hummingbird feeder. Look for a large hummingbird from August to November and leave feeders up well into late fall if you’d like to attract one.

Summary

Hummingbirds are beloved by many birders and backyard bird watchers alike. Knowing the habits, range, and key identification features of each of these species can be incredibly useful in knowing what to look for in the field. Keep in mind, Illinois has had an assortment of rare hummingbirds that show up very occasionally, so it’s possible that a bird you are trying to identify could be a vagrant species, so do not rule any of them out if your bird doesn’t fit with either of the two expected species.

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Eagles of Ohio (Two Species to Know)

Eagles are thought of as regal and majestic birds that soar over the United States. There are a few different eagle species that make their way into the United States. In this post there is information about which species you can expect to find in your state in addition to identification tips and facts.

Ohio is home to two different eagle species with one that can be found nearly anywhere in the state, and one that is a little more uncommon.

Bald Eagle

Adult Bald Eagle (Photo by Bill grossmeyer)
Juvenile Bald Eagle (Photo by Bill Grossmeyer)
Identification

The adult Bald Eagle is an unmistakable raptor species. They have a brown body with a white head and tail. In flight, they look quite flat as opposed to Turkey Vultures and other soaring species that sport a v-shaped wing pattern known as a dihedral. Bald Eagles have a large yellow bill.

Juvenile Bald Eagles don’t look quite as distinctive with varying degrees of mottled white mixed In with brown. Juveniles still have a noticeably large bill.

Range

Bald Eagles winter in most of the Southern United States and Northern Mexico. They migrate north into Canada and some of the Great Lakes states including Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan. There are many areas where Bald Eagles live year round, most of which are around coastlines, rivers, or other bodies of water.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Bald Eagles eat primarily fish but will also consume amphibians, mammals, reptiles, and carrion. In fact, Bald Eagles can often be seen around landfills searching for scraps, or roadsides searching for roadkill. Two places one wouldn’t expect to see such a majestic bird.

Where to Find This Bird

The easiest way to see Bald Eagles is to watch the skies and look for a large bird with broad, flat wings soaring. In terms of places to see many Bald Eagles at once, search out dams or other places where fish congregate, here, several different Eagles may be waiting to get an easy meal. To see Eagles in their nesting habitat, forests near rivers and bodies of water that are far away from human habitation are the best places.

Golden Eagle

Golden Eagle (Photo by Bill Grossmeyer)
Identification

Golden Eagles are very large raptors that are brown in color with slightly lighter feathers mixed in. They have a white band on the tail, and the nape of their neck has golden colored feathers. Immature birds have white at the base of their primary feathers visible in flight from underneath.

Range

Golden Eagles live year round in the western half of the United States and Northern Mexico. Some members of this species migrate north and breed in Alaska and Canada. During winter, Golden Eagles move east with some birds traveling a significant distance away from their expected area. This species can also be found in Europe and parts of Asia.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Golden Eagles typically eat mammals such as squirrels and rabbits, but they will also eat birds. This particular species has also been known to to take on much larger prey such as deer or even other larger predators such as coyotes.

Where to Find This Bird

Golden Eagles aren’t typically found near human habitation or near large tracts of forest. They are a species of open areas as well as mountainous areas. The easiest way to find them is to look for them soaring over.

In Ohio, Golden Eagles can be seen far less frequently than Bald Eagles. Most Golden Eagle sightings take place between October and April.

Summary

Eagles are large and noticeable birds. Their regal look and importance as symbols of strength certainly make them intriguing. Knowing which eagle species are expected in your state can be instrumental in identifying which exact species you’re looking at.

If you enjoyed this post, please give it a like and a comment. Also be sure to check out the Badgerland Birding Youtube Channel.

Woodpeckers of Illinois (7 Species to Know)

Woodpeckers are unique birds that specialize in using their bills to bore holes in wood for the purpose of finding insects and other invertebrates to eat. There are many different species of woodpeckers that live in North America and eight species that can be found in the state of Illinois. Here is everything you need to know about these eight species.

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker
Identification

Downy Woodpeckers are among the most recognizable woodpecker species in the United States due to their propensity for visiting bird feeders and widespread range. They are on the small side for a woodpecker, have a white underside, a white back, and black wings with checkered white mixed in. Downy Woodpeckers have a white head with black stripe on the top of the head, through the eye, and along what can best be described as the jawline. Males have a noticeable red spot on the back of their head that females lack. It’s also worth noting that the bill of the Downy Woodpecker is relatively small compared to the similar looking Hairy Woodpecker.

Range

Downy Woodpeckers do not migrate and live year round throughout most of the continental United States and Southern Canada. Their range even stretches as far as Southern Alaska but it does not extend into the Southeastern US or Mexico.

Diet and Foraging Habits

downy Woodpeckers feed primarily on insects and other invertebrates that they find inside of trees and underneath bark. They also occasionally eat berries and seeds,

Where to Find This Bird

Downy Woodpeckers can typically be found in deciduous forests as well as in more urban areas such as backyards and parks. This species comes to bird feeding stations regularly where they will eat suet as well as black oil sunflower seeds.

Hairy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker
Identification

Hairy Woodpeckers are medium sized birds with a white underside, black wings, and a black tail. Male Hairy Woodpeckers have a red marking on the back of their black and white striped head. while females lack this red coloration. Hairy Woodpeckers have a longer bill than the comparable Downy Woodpecker which is helpful to note when distinguishing between the two.

Range

Hairy Woodpeckers are nonmigratory and live throughout much of North America including most of Canada and even parts of Mexico. There are some isolated areas where the normal range of the Hairy Woodpecker does not extend to such as parts of Oregon, Washington, and Southern Texas.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Hairy Woodpeckers are primarily insect eaters. They are especially fond of wood-boring insects and will congregate in areas where trees have recently been burned as more wood-boring insects are often present in these areas.

Where to Find This Bird

Hairy Woodpeckers can be found pretty much anywhere there are large trees. Deciduous and coniferous woods, backyards, edge habitats, and even swamps are all areas that can play host to this species. Hairy Woodpeckers will also visit backyards where they will feed on suet.

Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker (Red-shafted) – Photo by Alan Schmierer
Identification

Northern Flickers come in two different varieties, the Yellow-shafted and the Red-shafted. Both subspecies have a lighter underside, darker wings, and large black spots. Male Yellow-shafted Flickers have a black “whisker” marking by the bill, gray on the top of their head and a red patch on the head as well. Male Red-shafted Flickers have a red whisker marking. Females of both of these subspecies lack any whisker marking.

One of the biggest differences between these two subspecies is the tail and wing feathers. Yellow-shafted Flickers show yellow on these feathers while Red-shafted Flickers show an orangey red color. These color differences are incredibly noticeable in flight.

Northern Flicker (Yellow-shafted) – Photo by Susan Young
Range

Northern Flickers are year-round residents of much of the continental United States, parts of Mexico, and some countries in Central America. Many of these birds migrate north in spring and spread into Canada to breed. Their numbers are at their highest in the continental United States in spring.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Northern Flickers eat many different species of insects as well as fruits, seeds, and nuts. These birds forage differently than other woodpeckers species as they spend a lot of time on the ground in addition to searching for insects up in trees. Another interesting thing about Northern Flickers is that they are particularly known for eating ants.

Where to Find This Bird

Northern Flickers can be found in pretty much any area with trees. Forest edges, deciduous woods, parks, and backyards are all places Northern Flickers frequent. Keep an eye out for flashes of yellow or red (depending on the subspecies) visible in flight.

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker
Identification

Pileated Woodpeckers are absolutely massive birds that are somewhat shocking to see as they fly through. They have a black back and underside with a bright red head crest. Both males and females have black stripes from their neck and through their eye. Males have red behind their bill whereas females just have black.

Range

Pileated Woodpeckers live year round in most of the Eastern United States. They also inhabit Southern Canada and some parts of the western Coast of the United States. In the West, California, Oregon, and Washington among other states that play host to these impressive birds.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Pileated Woodpeckers eat a variety of different insects, but they specialize in eating ants. In particular, carpenter ants make up quite a large portion of this birds diet.

Where to Find This Bird

Pileated Woodpeckers can be found in old growth forests with plenty of large trees. They live in deciduous and mixed coniferous woods. Listen for the laughing call of these birds that can be heard from miles away.

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Red-bellied Woodpecker
Identification

Red-bellied Woodpeckers have a tannish gray face and underside, black and white striped back, and red on the head. Males have more red on the head than females do. The name Red-bellied Woodpecker comes from a small bit of red that can sometimes be seen on the underside of the bird but is not always visible.

Range

Red-bellied Woodpeckers can be found throughout most of the Eastern United States year-round. Their range expands slightly west of the Mississippi River but dos not typically extend north into Canada or south into Mexico.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Red-bellied Woodpeckers eat a wide variety of food items including insects, fruits, seeds, and small animals. They have been known to visit bird feeders where they will take seeds, nuts, and pieces of suet.

Where to Find This Bird

Red-bellied Woodpeckers can be found pretty much anywhere with large trees including deciduous forests, swamps, backyards, and parks.

Red-headed Woodpecker

Red-headed Woodpecker – Photo by Bill Grossmeyer
Identification

The extremely aptly named Red-headed Woodpecker can be identified by its white underside, black back, white “backpack” markings on the wings, and of course, its bright red head. Juveniles look similar but with a dark colored head.

Range

Red-headed Woodpeckers are birds of the Eastern United States. They can be found year-round from Florida and Mississippi all the way up through Southern Michigan and New York. In winter, this species moves slightly farther southwest in Texas and in summer they move northwest to the Dakotas and even into south-central Canada and further north in the Midwest and northeast.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Red-headed Woodpeckers eat a wide variety of different food items including insects, fruit, and seeds. They are among the most actively foraging woodpecker species and are known to catch insects out of the air.

Where to Find This Bird

Red-headed Woodpeckers reside in deciduous woods as well as more open areas with more sparse tree cover such as areas that have recently been burned. Forest edges are also another great place to find this species.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker – Photo by Bill Grossmeyer
Identification

Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are quite dapper birds with black wings, and black stripes on their white faces. They also have a large white marking on each of their wings, black and white blurring on the back, and some barring on their flanks. This species also has some splashes of color as well, including a namesake pale yellow on their chest, and a red crown. Males also have a red throat which differentiates them from the females.

Range

Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are migratory and spend the winter from the Southeastern United States all the way through Mexico and Central America. In Spring, these woodpeckers move north and occupy the Northeastern United States and Southern Canada. It’s worth noting that while not indicated by range maps, some individuals have been known to spend the winter fairly far north in the Eastern US.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers eat insects, fruit, and as their name suggests, sap. They eat tree sap by drilling holes in the trees and then eating the sap that fills them, They will usually make these holes in rows that look something like a grid. Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are particularly fond of trees with high sugar contents in the sap such as certain types of birches and maples.

Where to Find This Bird

Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers can be found in forested areas and edge habitats. They spend a lot of time attending to and drilling their sap wells, so areas that have been tapped before by these birds will most likely be revisited again.

Summary

Woodpeckers are indeed interesting birds with unique habits but a general look that spans across the different birds that make up the group. Knowing the specific details of how to identify them and what habitats to find them in can be of great help while out in the field.

If you enjoyed this post, please give it a like and a comment. Also be sure to check out the Badgerland Birding Youtube Channel.

Kingfishers of Minnesota (1 Species to Know)

Kingfishers are fascinating birds that specialize in catching and eating fish. There are a handful of different kingfisher species in North America, but only one species that can be found in Minnesota. Here is everything you need to know about that species.

Belted Kingfisher

Male Belted Kingfisher (Photo by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Southwest Region)
Female Belted Kingfisher (Photo by USFWS Midwest Region)
Identification

Belted Kingfishers are short, compact birds with large pointed bills. Males are grayish blue with a large crest, a white underside, and a grayish blue band across their chest. Females look similar to the males but have rust on their sides and a second band (rust colored) underneath the blue chest band. Both males and females have a white spot near their eye on each side of the head.

Range

Belted Kingfishers winter in Northern South America, Central America, Mexico, and the Southern United States. In spring they migrate north throughout most on the United States, Canada, and Alaska where they spend the summer. Some Belted Kingfishers stay in the Northern United States year round provided there is open water.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Belted Kingfishers are primarily fish-eaters, choosing to eat fish that are on the medium to small side such as sticklebacks and various minnows. They find and catch prey by sitting high on a perch and scanning for fish by sight. Once they spot something they want, they dive in head first and use their bill to grab onto the food item. In addition to fish, Belted Kingfishers will also eat amphibians, reptiles, crustaceans, and small mammals.

Where to Find This Bird

Belted Kingfishers can be found near water including rivers, ponds, streams, and lakes. Clear water is most optimal for kingfishers as they need to be able to see prey in order to catch it. Listen for this species rattling call and look for them swooping low as they fly from perch to perch.

Summary

Kingfishers are unique birds that occupy a very specific niche in the ecosystem. With just one species living in Minnesota, any encounter with one of these vibrant and energetic birds is sure to be a Belted Kingfisher. Hopefully this post has helped answer some of your questions about the Kingfishers of Minnesota.

If you enjoyed this post, please give it a like and a comment. Also be sure to check out the Badgerland Birding Youtube Channel

Egrets of Illinois (3 Species to Know)

Egrets are elegant looking wading birds in the same family as herons. There are a four different species of Egrets that live in the United States and 3 species that can be found in Illinois.

Cattle Egret

Cattle Egret
Identification

Cattle egrets are medium sized white birds with a yellow bill, yellow legs and feet, and yellowish green coloration behind their eye. Breeding adults have peach coloration on their head, wings, and underside while nonbreeding adults are pure white. 

Range

Cattle Egrets are actually native to Africa but at some point made their way over to South America and then eventually spread north into Central America, Mexico, and the United States. In the US, they can be found year round in the Gulf Coast and some of the Southwestern states. In spring, they migrate north and breed in the Southeastern United States as well as seemingly random other parts of the country. Some of these more strange breeding locations are parts of the Dakotas, Idaho, Oregon, Colorado, Wisconsin, and even parts of Southern Canada.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Cattle Egrets have a widely varied diet which includes small mammals, amphibians, lizards, and even other birds. The majority of their diet however, is comprised of insects. Cattle Egrets have a habit of spending time near heards of cattle that kick up insects such as crickets and grasshoppers as they graze. The Egrets will also forage near heavy machinery in farm fields for the same reason. This species will feed alone or in large groups.

Where to Find This Bird

Cattle Egrets can be found in open fields, typically near grazing cattle. They can also be found on the edges of marshes and swamps. Sometimes, extremely large numbers of Cattle Egrets gather together to forage or roost.

In Illinois, Cattle Egrets are more common in the southern part of hte state but do make it into the northern part as well.

Great Egret

Great Egret
Identification

Great egrets are large heron-shaped birds with a long neck. They are pure white with black legs. a yellow bill, and green coloration from the bill to the eye. They can also have more of a yellowish color behind their eye. Out of all of the egret species that live in the state, the aptly named Great Egret is the largest.

Range

Great Egrets live in South and Central America year round. They are also year long residents of the coasts of Mexico, both the Gulf Coast and the East Coast of the United States, and parts of California. In spring, they migrate north and breed in parts of Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois and Missouri along with other states in the region in addition to parts of Oregon.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Great Egrets are wading birds which means they will walk in shallow water and search for food. Their preferred food sources are small fish, frogs, small mammals, aquatic invertebrates, and essentially any living creature that they can get down their throat.

Where to Find This Bird

Great Egrets can be found in places with slow moving or even standing water. They can be readily spotted standing on the edges of ponds, in shallow marshes, and in coastal estuaries. They are also common in man-made canals and in lakes.

Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret
Identification

Snowy Egrets are relatively small wading birds that are clean white with a black bill and black legs. They have yellow behind the bill and also have distinctive and noticeable yellow feet. They are significantly smaller than Great Egrets, so if the two are in the same vicinity, they are easy to tell apart based on size.

Range

Snowy Egrets are year round residents of South America, the Carribean Islands, Cuba, the coasts of Mexico, the Southwestern United States, The Gulf Coast, and the Southeastern Coast of the United States. Some of the population migrates north into the United States, most notably farther up the Atlantic Coast, and the Southwestern states. During migration, Snowy Egrets can be found in a wide variety of places in the United States including the Midwest.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Snowy Egrets feed primarily on aquatic creatures such as fish, frogs, and crustaceans among others. They will feed in both marine and freshwater environments, and typically catch prey by wading into the water and stirring up small creatures with their feet.

Where to Find This Bird

The best places to find Snowy Egrets are along ocean coastlines with shallow water. These birds can typically be seen wading into the water and searching for food. They can also be found inland in marshes and other places with shallow water and mudflats.

In Illinois, Snowy Egrets are less common but annual visitors. They are easiest to find in the southern part of the state, especially along the Mississippi River.

Summary

Egrets are quite beautiful birds that can be fun to observe as they go about their daily lives. Knowing the species that are expected in your state can be instrumental in identifying which one you’re looking at. Hopefully, this article has helped to answer some questions about the egrets of Illinois.

If you enjoyed this post, please give it a like and a comment. Also be sure to check out the Badgerland Birding Youtube Channel

Gulls of Texas (14 Species to Know)

Gulls are birds that prove to be controversial in the birding community. Some people despise them for how difficult they can be to identify, while others love them for the same reason.

Texas is home to a wide variety of gull species. With the Gulf of Mexico to the Southeast, there is ample habitat for gulls. Here are all of the expected gulls that can be found in Texas along with some that are rare visitors. This article also includes identification tips and information on where to find them.

Herring Gull

Herring Gull
Identification

Herring Gulls are large birds with a white body and head, gray wings, black wing tips, a thick yellow bill, and pink legs. Adult Herring Gulls have a yellow eye while juveniles have a dark colored eye as well as a dark colored bill. Sometimes, sub-adult Herring Gulls will have a mostly yellow bill with black near the tip, making them similar in coloration to a Ring-billed Gull. Juvenile Herring Gulls are darker in color ranging from dark tan, to brown, to gray depending on their cycle.

Range

Herring Gulls are extremely wide spread across the United States. They winter in the Southeastern United States, along the Mississippi River, the Gulf Coast, the East Coast, and the West Coast along the oceans. They can be found year round along the Great Lakes, the Northeastern U.S. and Southeastern Alaska. During spring they migrate through the Great Plains and Western States to get to their breeding grounds in Canada and Central Alaska.

Diet and Foraging Behavior

Herring Gulls feed on many different types of food and have a reputation of eating almost anything including trash, carrion, eggs, and even smaller birds. The majority of their diet however consists of aquatic creatures including fish, mussels, and other invertebrates. Herring Gulls are extremely opportunistic and as a result have an extremely varied diet and are therefore able thrive in wide variety of habitats.

Where to Find this Bird

Herring Gulls are one of the most abundant gull species in the state, especially in winter. Traveling to the ocean coastline in winter will all but guarantee a sighting of this particular species. For a more eclectic birding experience, searching out a landfill is also an easy way to find this species.

Ring-billed Gull

Ring-billed Gull
Identification

Ring-billed Gulls can be identified by their white head and body, gray wings, black wing tips, yellow legs, and yellow bill with a black “ring” around it. Nonbreeding adults look mostly the same as breeding adults but with tan streaking on the head and neck.

Juvenile Ring-billed Gulls are white as a base color with brown and tan mottling. Their bills are pinkish as opposed to yellow and instead of a ring, they have a dark tip of the bill, making them bi-colored.

Range

Ring-billed Gulls are extremely widespread across the United States. They winter in the southern half of the country and migrate north to the Northern half of the country and into Canada, the Great Lakes states, and the Western States to breed. Some Ring-billed Gulls stick around the whole year near the Great Lakes.

Diet and Foraging Behavior

Ring-billed Gulls are not picky about what they eat and will feed on fish, insects, worms, trash, and food given to them by people. Like other gulls they often forage near the water but this species also forages in open fields nowhere near water.

Where to Find this Bird

Ring-billed Gulls are extremely common and easy to find provided it is the right time of the year. In southern states, the winter will be the best time to see this species, and in northern states the summer will be the best. Look for Ring-billed Gulls on beaches, in parking lots and soaring overhead surveying for easy to forage food.

Bonaparte’s Gull

Nonbreeding plumage Bonaparte’s Gull (Alan Schmierer Photo)
Breeding plumage Bonaparte’s Gull (Rita Wiskowski Photo)
Identification

The Bonaparte’s Gull is a small gull species with a very thin, petit bill. They have a white body, gray wings, black wing tips, and reddish pink legs. In breeding plumage, Bonaparte’s Gulls have a black head with white eye crescents, while in nonbreeding plumage they have a white head with a black spot behind their eyes and light pink legs.

Range

Bonaparte’s Gulls winter in much of the southern United States in addition to the Bahamas, Cuba, and Northeastern Mexico. They also winter along the Northwestern coast of Mexico all the way up to the coast of Washington in the West and all the way up to Maine in the East. In spring, this species makes its way North over the United States and ends up in Canada and Alaska where they nest.

Diet and Foraging Behavior

Bonaparte’s Gulls eat a variety of different food items with most of their diet being found in or around water. Some of the things they eat include small fish and medium sized insects in addition to surprisingly small creatures such as zooplankton and tiny invertebrates. These sleek gulls often forage in flocks and dip their bills in the water to catch prey on the fly. They will also forage in both dry and flooded fields and pick through the shallow water or sub-straight.

Where to Find this Bird

Bonaparte’s Gulls can be found in flooded fields and lake shores where they often congregate in large groups. In flight, Bonaparte’s gulls are sleek and acrobatic, looking tern-like as they maneuver through the air. They will also forage and rest along ocean coastlines where they flock with other gulls.

Glaucous Gull (Rare)

Alan Schmierer Photo
Susan Young Photo
Identification

Glaucous Gulls are unique because they are one of the few gulls species that does not have black wing tips but rather white. They are the second largest gull species in the world and in some categories may outclass the larger Great Black-backed Gull such as weight. Adult breeding plumage Glaucous Gulls are very clean looking birds with a white head, white underside, gray wings, a yellow bill, and pink legs.

In nonbreeding plumage Glaucous Gulls look very similar to breeding plumage birds but have brownish streaking on their neck and head.

Juvenile Glaucous Gulls are even paler than the adults with a creamy white color covering their bodies with light brown patterning. Second winter Gloucaous Gulls can show as almost entirely white with very little brown mottling. Sub adult birds will have a pink colored bill with darker brown or black on the tip of it, making it bi-colored.

Range

Glaucous Gulls are very at home in the Arctic, with the most sightings of them taking place in Greenland, Iceland, Northern Europe, Northern Canada, and Alaska. In winter they travel south spending time in the Northeastern United States, the Northern Pacific Coast, and the Great Lakes. They can also be found inland from large bodies of water from time to time.

Diet and Foraging Behavior

Glaucous Gulls are extremely opportunistic feeders. With their large size, they can eat a wide variety of food including fish, aquatic invertebrates, eggs, other birds, carrion, and trash. In the northern part of their range Glaucous Gulls have been known to feed on the remains of polar bear kills a are also recorded as eating the chicks (and also adults) of many different sea dwelling bird species.

Where to Find this Bird

Glaucous Gulls are at home near large bodies of water such as ocean coastlines and the Great Lakes. They can be found loafing on ice or beaches with other species in the winter months (which are the best times to see these large arctic gulls). The coasts aren’t the only places to see Glaucous Gulls however as they can also be seen in inland lakes and landfills.

Great Black-backed Gull (Rare)

Great Black-backed Gull
Identification

The Great Black-backed Gull is the largest gull species in the world and even when compared with other large species such as Glaucous and Herring Gulls look noticeably larger. They have a white head, tail, and underside with a namesake black back as well as black wings and black primary feathers. Great Black-backed Gulls have a robust yellow bill and light pink legs.

Young Great Black-backed Gulls look similar to adults but with dark streaking on the head and underside as well as more of a checkered black and white pattern on the wings as opposed to the solid dark gray or black of an adult. Additionally, Great Black-backed Gulls have dark colored bills as opposed to the bright yellow of adults, but they do still have pink legs.

Range

Great Black-backed gulls are birds of the Atlantic Coasts. They can be found in many northwestern European countries as well as Iceland, Greenland, Eastern Canada, and the Eastern United States. In the U.S. Great Black-backed Gulls are seen most often in winter and typically move out of the continental U.S. during summer although there are some places along the Atlantic Coast where they are found year round.

Diet and Foraging Behavior

Simply speaking, Great Black-backed Gulls will eat anything they can fit in their most including trash, crabs, fish, eggs, carrion, and other birds. They have been known to steal food from other species and eat the chicks of other sea dwelling birds.

Where to Find this Bird

Great Black-backed Gulls are most common in winter when they can be seen loafing on docks, beaches, and ice on the Great Lakes. They can also be seen frequently at landfills. In all of these places they stand out due to their impressive size.

In Texas, this species is quite rare and is not a regular visitor in any part of the state.

Lesser Black-backed Gull

Lesser black-backed Gull (Ott Rebane Image)
Identification

Lesser Black-backed Gulls can be identified by their white head and body, dark gray to black wings, yellow bill, yellow legs, and dark primary feathers. They look similar in appearance to Great Black-backed Gulls but will be smaller overall and have yellow legs as opposed to the pink legs of the Great Black-backed Gull.

Juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gulls will be pale white or cream with black mottling on their body, head and neck. They have black bills when young and beginning of a dark back forming will typically be evident.

Range

The Range of the Lesser Black-backed Gull spans several continents including Asia, Africa, Europe, North America, and South America. Most of the sightings of this species occur in Western Europe in addition to many sightings occurring in Northern Canada and the United States. In the U.S. Lesser Black-backed Gulls winter in the Eastern half of the country with the most individuals being found near the Atlantic Ocean, but many other sightings occurring inland as well as near the Great Lakes.

Diet and Foraging Behavior

Lesser Black-backed Gulls eat almost anything ranging from fish, to crustaceans, to carrion, to plant matter. Like most other large North American Gull species, Lesser Black-backed Gulls take advantage of human habitation by eating scraps of food and garbage left by humans. They will forage in the water on the fly or walk along beaches, even flipping over rocks and sticks in hopes of finding a meal.

Where to Find this Bird

Lesser Black-backed Gulls are most commonly seen in winter, and are a fairly normal sight along the Atlantic Ocean all the way from the Gulf of Mexico to Maine. They can also be found near the Great Lakes in winter where they flock with other Northern Gull species such as Great Black-backed and Glaucous Gulls.

Iceland Gull (Rare)

Iceland Gull
Identification

Out of all The North American Gull species, Iceland Gulls are probably the most vexing when it comes to identification. This species consists of what was once two separate species; the Iceland Gull and the Thayer’s Gull. The “Iceland” type Iceland Gull is fairly easy to identify as they have gray wings and back, white head and underside, a yellow bill, and white wing tips. They are smaller and more dainty looking than Glaucous Gulls but clearly discernible from Herring Gulls due to the white primary feathers on the wings. The trouble comes mostly from the “Thayer’s” type Iceland Gulls which can be widely variable in appearance and be extremely close in appearance to Herring Gulls. Thayer’s Iceland Gulls are slightly smaller than Herring Gulls and have a thinner bill. The diagnostic white wing tips of other Iceland Gulls are not present in Thayer’s types but instead are replaced by dark wing tips with lighter undersides of the wing tips, a feature that can be very difficult to see. If unsure about the identification about a Thayer’s type Iceland Gulls, consulting an expert on the individual bird in question is the best choice.

Juvenile Iceland type Iceland Gulls have a white base color with dark mottling while juvenile Thayer’s type Iceland Gulls may be darker overall and will typically have dark wing tips.

Range

Iceland Gulls spend the summer in the Arctic Circle in Northern Canada, Iceland, and Greenland. In winter they move south into Northwestern Europe and the Northeastern United States. This species also shows up along the Great Lakes in winter.

Diet and Foraging Behavior

Iceland Gulls eat mostly fish but will also eat other marine creatures such as crustaceans, carrion, zooplankton, and trash. Like other gull species, they are extremely opportunistic and will eat eggs and young of other birds as well as plant matter.

Where to Find this Bird

Iceland Gulls are most easy to find in winter in the United States where they live on ocean shores and large inland lakes. Another less glamorous place to find them is landfills where they can be found in winter along with many other gull species.

Black-legged Kittiwake (Rare)

Black-legged Kittiwake (Nonbreeding) (Photo by Bill Grossmeyer)
Black-legged Kittiwake with Chicks (Robin Corcoran Photo)
Identification

Adult breeding plumage Black-legged Kittiwake’s have a white body and head with gray wings. They have black wing tips, a slightly curved yellow bill, and namesake black legs. Overall ,the Black-legged Kittiwake is a relatively small gull species.

In nonbreeding plumage adults look almost the same as those in breeding plumage but with black on the back of their head.

Immature Black-legged Kittiwake’s have the same white body and gray wings but have a few extra markings that adults don’t have. Juveniles will show a black spot on their head, a white stripe on their neck, and a black “M” marking on their wings that looks like a black stripe when their wings are folded. Juvenile Black-legged kittiwakes also differ from adults by having a black bill as opposed to yellow.

Range

Black-legged Kittiwakes are birds of ocean coastlines. They can be found along the ocean in Western Europe, Iceland, Greenland, the Eastern United States, Eastern Canada, the Pacific coast of the United States, Alaska, and the Eastern parts of Russia and Japan. Black-legged Kittiwakes are most commonly seen in the United States in winter but can be found in Alaska in summer, and also turn up as rarities in inland states.

Diet and Foraging Behavior

Black-legged Kittiwake’s diet largely consists of small fish in addition to other small marine creatures like jellyfish, zooplankton, and squid. This species has been known to feed near whales and boats where they they can be seen looking for scraps left behind. It’s worth noting that Black-legged Kittiwakes are not known for visiting landfills like many other North American Gull species are.

Where to Find this Bird

Black-legged Kittiwakes are rare in most inland states in the U.S. They are easier to find along the oceans but juveniles will turn up from time to time in the Great Lakes and other bodies of water. Look for a bird that looks somewhat like a non-breeding Bonaparte’s Gull or Little Gull but with the extra black markings.

Laughing Gull

Nonbreeding Laughing Gull (Alan Schmierer Photo)
Laughing Gull
Identification

Laughing Gulls are medium sized gulls with a whit underside, gray wings, dark wing tips and a relatively large, deep red, slightly curved bill. In adult breeding plumage this species has a black head with thin white eye crescents.

In nonbreeding plumage, Laughing Gulls look similar but have a darker bill, a white head, and only a small patch of black on their head.

This species can be difficult to distinguish from Franklin’s Gulls but can be done with a little knowledge about what ID features to look at. For more information on this, you can check out our post titled Franklin’s Gulls vs. Laughing Gull. You can also watch our video about the topic below.

Range

Laughing Gulls winter in Northern South America, Central America, Mexico, and some of the Southern states in the United States such as Florida. While many Laughing Gulls reside on the Southeastern Coasts of the United States year round in addition to Cuba and the Bahamas, others migrate north during breeding season ending up in the Northeastern United States and the Great Lakes.

Diet and Foraging Behavior

Laughing Gulls diet’s consist of many different food items including invertebrates, fish, squid, small fruits, carrion, and scraps left by people. They can be seen congregating in places with many humans waiting for free handouts or discarded food.

Where to Find this Bird

Laughing Gulls are extremely common along the Atlantic Coast of the United States and can be seen in high numbers on public beaches, often associating with other species of gulls and terns. To see these birds, simply head to a beach on the ocean and you will have an extremely high chance of seeing them.

Franklin’s Gull

Nonbreeding Franklin’s Gull (Andy Reago and Chrissy McClarren Photo – CC by 2.0)
Breeding Franklin’s Gull
Identification

Breeding plumage Franklin’s Gulls have a white neck and underside, gray back and wings, a black hood, and deep red bill. Some of the extra identification features about them to note are the large white spots on their folded black primary feathers, their large white eye crescents, and sometimes a pink wash on their chest and underside (other gull species can show this pink wash as well).

Nonbreeding Franklin’s Gulls look ver similar to breeding plumage birds but instead of a completely dark hood they have a partial faded looking black hood that often still shows their white eye crescents.

Range

Franklin’s Gulls have an interesting range compared to most other North American Gull species. They spend the winter along the Western coast of South America and migrate north in spring. Franklin’s Gulls are not as common along the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts as they are in states such as Texas, Kansas, Arkansas, North Dakota, and South Dakota, but they can still be found along the coasts in migration. This species spends the summer in Southcentral Canada, Montana, and North Dakota.

Diet and Foraging Behavior

While Franklin’s Gulls eat mostly invertebrates such as insects. They will also consume worms, mollusks, small fish, and other small aquatic creatures. Franklin’s Gulls have some interesting foraging habits including twirling in the water to stir up food items, as well as following farming equipment to catch insects.

Where to Find this Bird

Franklin’s Gulls are an uncommon but expected migratory bird in most states with the peak time to view them typically being the later weeks of May or first weeks of June. They are more common in the Great Plains states where they occur in fairly large numbers. Look for Franklin’s Gulls in mixed flocks of gulls and terns in farm fields and along lake shores.

In Texas, Franklin’s Gulls are regular from March to May and October to September.

Little Gull (Rare)

Little Gull (Photo by Ekaterina Chernetsova – CC by 2.0)
Nonbreeding Little Gull (Andrew Cannizzarro Photo – CC by 2.0)
Identification

The Little Gull is aptly named as it has the distinction of being the smallest gull species in the world. In breeding plumage, This species has a white underside, light gray wings, dark underwings, red legs, a black hood, and a tiny black bill.

In nonbreeding plumage Little Gulls look the same but without a full black hood and instead just a dark spot on the side of the head and black smudging on the top of the head.

Range

Little Gulls are actually more of a Eurasian species than they are a North American Species. Most of the population resides in Europe year round, moving to Northern Europe to breed. In the United States, there is a small breeding population occurs in Canada and around the Great Lakes. This species is rare in most parts of the United States.

Diet and Foraging Behavior

Unlike larger gulls, Little Gulls are more limited by the type of food they can eat simply due to their size. Their diet consists mostly of small fish, insects, and other invertebrates that can be found near water. Little Gulls behave more like terns when foraging, often hovering above the water and swooping in to catch flying insects or to scoop fish from the surface.

Where to Find this Bird

Little Gulls can only be found in a few regions of the United States. They can sometimes be found wintering on the Atlantic Coast, especially in New England. In the Midwest they can be found sparingly on the Great Lakes. Otherwise, these small gulls show up irregularly in most other parts of the continental United States and are a big-time rarity.

Sabines Gull (Rare)

Sabine’s Gull (Peter Pearsall Image)
Identification

Sabine’s gulls are a very interesting looking gull species with a white body, gray wings, and a black head. The head is not quite the same as other dark-headed gulls however as it has a darker edge to it looking like it has a ring of black separating the head and neck. The bill of the Sabine’s gull is also unique as it is black with a yellow tip. In flight, Sabine’s gulls show black primaries and white secondaries, making it look like they have two white triangles on their wings along with one large gray triangle.

Juvenile Sabine’s gulls do not have a black heads but rather smudges of grayish brown on their head, neck, and back. In flight, Juvenile Sabine’s gulls show a similar pattern to those of the adults but with the more muted brown tones instead of the gray back of the adults. Additionally, juvenile Sabine’s gulls will show a black stripe on their tail while in flight.

Range

Sabine’s Gulls spend most of their time In the arctic, breeding in Northern Canada and Alaska. During migration, this species moves along the Pacific Coast of the United States. It’s worth noting that Sabine’s gulls are also found in Western Europe. For most people in the continental U. S., the best time to see this species is during fall migration.

Diet and Foraging Behavior

Sabine’s gulls eat insects, small fish, crustaceans, and other aquatic invertebrates. They feed in a variety of places including tide pools, around fishing boats, and in snow drifts. They also feed in a variety of different ways from catching prey mid air, to foraging along the shore and picking through debris to find insects.

Where to Find this Bird

Since Sabine’s Gulls breed in the arctic tundra they are difficult to see most of the year with the exception of migration. For the best chance to see one of these gulls, a pelagic on the west coast is going to give you the best chance. Otherwise, keeping an eye out for them on lakes and rivers during migration can also turn one up.

Slaty-backed Gull (Rare)

Slaty-backed Gull
Identification

Slaty-backed Gulls have a white underside and head, namesake slate colored back, pink legs, and a yellow bill. Nonbreeding adults have dark streaking on their neck and head. The key identification feature of this species is the white markings on the wing tips leading to what many call the “string of pearls” look on the wings in flight.

Range

Slaty-backed Gulls are most common in Japan, South Korea, Eastern Russia, and Alaska.. With the exception of Alaska, they are rare in the rest of the United States, but they do show up on the Pacific Coast, the East Coast, and the Great Lakes more often than in other parts of the country.

Diet and Foraging Behavior

Slaty-backed Gulls are large bodied, oceanic predators that feed on many different food items including fish, crustaceans, carrion, trash, and really anything they can fit in their mouth. This species will eat eggs and nestlings of other bird species in addition to eating smaller seagoing bird species.

Where to Find this Bird

Slaty-backed Gulls are quite rare in the continental United States but do show up from time to time. Look for this species along the Great Lakes where they can sometimes be found in groups with other gulls and in landfills, Note that this is a species that seems to be more common around the Great Lakes than it used to be, but be aware that they can sometimes get confused with “Great Lakes Gulls” which are hybrids between Herring Gulls and Great Black-backed Gulls.

Slaty-backed Gulls are extremely rare in Texas but there are records of this species from the state.

California Gull (Rare)

California Gull (Alan Schmierer Photo)
Identification

California Gulls look very similar to Herring Gulls with a white body and head, gray wings and back, black wing tips with white spots when folded, and a yellow bill. One big difference between Herrings Gulls and California Gulls is that California Gulls have yellow legs while Herring Gulls have pinkish legs.

Nonbreeding adults look virtually the same but with more streaking on the necked head.

Range

California Gulls winter along the Pacific coast from southern Mexico to Washington state. In summer, California Gulls breed in Southwestern Canada and some of the states in the northwestern U.S. including Montana, North Dakota, Colorado, and northern California. They live year round in states like Idaho and Washington. California Gulls are migratory and will occasionally show up in states in the Midwest and Northeast. However, they are considered rare in most places east of the North and South Dakota.

Diet and Foraging Behavior

California Gulls are omnivorous and eat pretty much anything ranging from fish, to insects, to fruit, to garbage. They forage on land, in the water, and in flight.

Where to Find this Bird

California Gulls can easily be found along the coasts of California, Oregon, and Washington where they are quite common. They can also be seen inland during the spring and summer. Look for California Gulls around lakes and rivers along with more urban environments. Another place California Gulls can be found is at garbage dumps.

California Gulls are rare in Texas. They often associate with other gull species and can be hard to identify, especially if their feet aren’t visible.

Summary

Gulls can be both frustrating and exciting species to find and identify. Texas has a fairly wide variety of gulls to find, and we hope that this article helped shed some light on how to find and ID them.

If you enjoyed this post please give it a like and a comment. Also be sure to check out the Badgerland Birding Youtube Channel.

Grosbeaks of Illinois (3 Species to Know)

Grosbeaks are birds that are known for their sturdy looking build and thick bill. While they all share a similar appearance, grosbeaks are actually comprised of birds from two separate groupings. Out of five species of grosbeaks that live in the continental United States , three of them are technically in the cardinal family along with birds like tanagers, and the other two are in the finch family.

In Illinois there are three species that can be found on an annual basis with some being extremely common and others being a bit tougher to find.

Grosbeaks in the Finch Family

Evening Grosbeak (Rare)

Male Evening Grosbeak
Identification

Evening Grosbeaks are an extremely bright looking species. Males have electric yellow undersides, backs, and markings on their head just above the eye. They have black wings, a black tail, clean white wing patches, and an extremely thick bill. Females and immature birds are mostly gray with a yellow nape, black wings, and a black tail with white patches on them.

Range

The Evening Grosbeak’s range is somewhat misleading. They are year round residents of Southern Canada and some parts of the Western United States. Most maps show their wintering range covering most of Michigan, Wisconsin, and New England, but through my experience, most winters Evening Grosbeaks only inhabit the most northern parts of these areas. Evening Grosbeaks do have years in which they fly farther South during winter but in recent years they have not irrupted in the same way that records from the past show. Additionally, the range of this species seems to be receding farther north into Canada each year.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Evening Grosbeaks have different diets depending on the time of year. During summer, they feed primarily on insects and other invertebrates, most notably spruce budworm larva. Other times of the year, Evening Grosbeaks eat various types of seeds including seeds from fruits.

Where to Find This Bird

Evening Grosbeaks can be found in conifer forests. They also can be found near bird feeders in their native range.

Badgerland Birding searches for an Evening Grosbeak in Milwaukee, WI

Grosbeaks in the Cardinal Family

Blue Grosbeak

Blue Grosbeak – Photo by Alan Schmierer
Identification

As their name suggests, male Blue Grosbeaks are a deep blue color. They have a gray bill, small black mask, and two rusty wing bars. Females and immature males are orangey brown with faint wing bars still visible.

Range

Blue Grosbeaks spend the winter in Central America and Mexico. Some of them stay in Mexico year-round while others move north into the United States where they can be found in the southern states as well as the Great Plains States for the duration of the summer.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Blue Grosbeaks eat a combination of insects and seeds. They will also eat other invertebrates such as spiders and snails.

Where to Find This Bird

Blue Grosbeaks are most at home in open areas such as scrub and desert. They are also fond of edge habitats where they can hide in trees and thickets while singing.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Identification

Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are dapper looking birds with a thick bill. Males have a black head,  back, tail and wings with white markings also appearing on the wings. They have a white underside with their most noticeable feature appearing on their chest: A namesake bright red marking. Females have a mottled brown back with a yellowish underside and a white eye brow stripe.

Range

Rose-breasted Grosbeaks migrate annually from Northern South America, Central America, and Southern Mexico into the Eastern United States. In summer, they end up in the Northeastern U.S. and parts of Southern Canada. 

Diet and Foraging Habits

Rose-breasted Grosbeaks feed on different food items depending on the time of the year. During spring and summer, insects make up a large portion of their diet. While in fall, berries and other fruits become more of a staple. They will also eat seeds and other plant matter.

Where to Find This Bird

Rose-breasted Grosbeaks live in a variety of habitats including deciduous and mixed conifer woods, forest edges, areas with streams and other water sources, and in backyards. They will also visit both seed and fruit bird feeders, so this is a species that can be attracted to parks, backyards, and nature centers. 

Summary

Grosbeaks are beautiful and popular birds to both birders and backyard bird lovers. Knowing more about the species that are expected in your area can be instrumental in finding and identifying them, especially since they have such irregular migratory patterns. Hopefully, this article has helped to answer some questions about the grosbeaks of Illinois.

If you enjoyed this post, please give it a like and a comment. Also be sure to check out the Badgerland Birding Youtube Channel.

Swallows of the United States (8 Species to know)

Swallows are fast moving aerial insectivores that move quickly and catch prey on the fly. They have long wings and are characterized by their acrobatic movements. There are eight different swallow species that live across the United States. Contained in this article is information on how to identify each one, along with additional information on their lifestyle and habits.

Bank Swallow

Bank Swallow (Charles Gates – Photo)
Identification

Bank Swallows have a grayish brown back, head, and wings. They have a white underside and throat separated by a grayish brown chest band and stripe going from this band to the underside. 

Range

Bank Swallows winter in South America and Western Mexico. They migrate north in spring spreading across the United States and breeding in the Central and Northern United States and the majority of Canada and Alaska with the exception of the most Northern parts.

Diet and Feeding Behavior

Bank Swallows feed on flying insects and will occasionally scoop insects from the surface of the water. This species will forage solo or in groups. 

Where to Find This Bird

Bank Swallows typically live in areas near water such as riverbanks, and coastlines. The easiest way to find this species is to locate a nesting colony that will sometimes consist of thousands of birds. They will build nests in natural places such as bluffs and cliffsides as well as manmade structures such as quarries.

Barn Swallow

Barn Swallow (Alan Schmierer Photo)
Identification

Barn Swallows have a navy blue back and head with grayish blue tail and wings. They have Reddish orange faces, lighter orange undersides, and light orange undertails. They have longer feathers on the outside of their tails giving them a forked appearance.

Range

Barn Swallows winter in South America and Central America, then fly North into Mexico, the United and Southern Canada. Bran Swallows do make it as far North as Southern Alaska and generally extend more North in the Western portion of Canada than the Eastern.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Barn Swallows eat insects that they typically catch in flight. They also land on the ground and ingest small pebbles and other things that have vitamins and minerals in them such as calcium.

Where to Find This Bird

Barn Swallows are extremely widespread and can be found across pretty much the entire United States in summer, They are common over meadows and other open spaces in addition to places near water. Barn Swallows will often use structures such as barns and bridges to build there nests on. These types of structures are also good places to look for this species.

Cave Swallow

Cave Swallow (Alan Schmierer Photo)
Identification

Cave Swallows have a dark blue back, dark blue top of the head, gray wings, an orangey face, and a lighter underside. They also have a patch of orange just above their bill and orange on the rump. These swallows have a squared off tail that is visible in flight.

Range

Cave Swallows can be found year-round in parts of Mexico and the Caribbean Islands. In summer they migrate to their nesting locations. Some of these locations include parts of Southern Florida, Texas, and New Mexico.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Cave Swallows do all of their hunting in flight, typically feeding on all different kinds of insects. They will also drink water while flying, swooping low and taking drinks from the surface. These birds forage in loose flocks similar to many other swallow species and in fact, sometimes will associate with other swallown species as well.

Where to Find This Bird

As their name would suggest, Cave Swallows can be found around caves and other cave-like structures such as bridges, and large culverts. One surefire place to go in order to see this species is Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico where they are abundant and can be seen foraging around the mouth of the cave.

Cliff Swallow

Cliff Swallow (Alan Schmierer Photo)
Identification

Cliff Swallows have dark blue backs and heads with dark gray wings, and a dark gray tail. They have a reddish orange face, a light orange colored rump, a light underside, and a distinctive white marking just above the bill. These swallows have squared off tails which can be useful in differentiating them from the similarly colored Barn Swallow.

Range

Cliff Swallows spend the winter in South America. In spring, they travel north to Mexico, the United States, and Canada where they breed. In the United States, Cliff Swallows summer in most states with the exception of some states in the Southeast.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Cliff Swallows eat insects that they catch out of the air. Some types of insects they will consume are flying ants, bees, wasps, flies, and crickets, but they will eat many other types of flying invertebrates as well.

Where to Find This Bird

Cliff Swallows can be seen soaring and foraging over open areas in addition to places like canyons, rivers, and lakes. These swallows are usually found together but can sometimes be found in extremely large numbers.

Cliff Swallows can be easy to see during their breeding months provided you are aware of a nesting site. Some areas to keep an eye on are bridges, tall buildings, and cliff sides

Northern Rough-winged Swallow

Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Identification

Northern Rough-winged Swallows have a brown, back, wings, head, and tail, They have a lighter colored underside with a brownish gray wash over the chest. They have a short squared off tail.

Range

Northern Rough-winged Swallows winter in Central America, parts of Mexico, and the Southern part of Florida. In summer they move into every state in the continental US and parts of Southern Canada.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Northern Rough-winged Swallows feed on flying insects and have been known to take insects out of the air or off of the waters surface. They tend to fly lower over the water than other swallow species.

Where to Find This Bird

Northern Rough-winged Swallows can be found in areas with water such as lakes, rivers, and streams. They often forage in groups and are quite noticeable as they fly over the water. They are common and widespread in the spring and summer throughout most of the United States.

Purple Martin

Purple Martin (Male, left – Female, right)
Identification

Purple Martins are large members of the swallow family. Adult males are a shiny bluish purple color with darker colored wings and tails. Female and immature birds have patches of the same bluish purple color on their head and backs, but their underside and parts of their neck and forehead are a light gray to tan color.

Range

Purple Martins winter in Central and Northern South America and make their way north in spring. They spend the spring and summer in the Eastern United States as well as some select parts of the Western United States including the Pacific Coast.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Purple Martins eat insects that they catch in mid air. This species will also eat pebbles to help grind up and digest food.

Where to Find This Bird

The easiest way to find Purple Martins is to go to places where Purple Martin houses have been put up. These nesting sites usually look something like an apartment complex. If Purple Martins have taken up residence in these nest boxes they can be seen flying around or perching just outside the openings.

Tree Swallow

Tree Swallow
Identification

Tree Swallows have a shiny blue colored back and head, with a white throat and underside. They have squared off tails and a slight black mask over their eyes. Juvenile Tree Swallows are grayish colored before their adult blue color comes in. Immature females will be mostly gray with a white underside and some hints of blueish color starting to come in on the wings.

Range

Tree Swallows winter in Central America, Mexico, and the Gulf Coast of the United States in addition to some of the most Southwestern portions of the US. In spring, they move north into th Northern half of the United States and Canada all the way up to and including Alaska. There are some parts of the Southern United States in which Tree Swallows don’t breed but do pass through.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Tree Swallows eat mostly insects but will occasionally eat other small invertebrate prey items as well in addition to plant matter on occasion. This species ingests egg shells, small bones, and other high calcium food items to get the necessary vitamins and minerals.

Where to Find This Bird

Tree Swallows are extremely common and widespread in their breeding ranges. They can be seen in meadows and edge habitat as well as near marshes and other bodies of water. In places where tree swallows are nesting, they will sometimes dive-bomb people who get too close.

Violet-green Swallow

Violet-green Swallow (Jacob W. Frank Photo)
Identification

Violet-green Swallows are incredibly bright and beautiful birds. Adult males have an emerald green back and head with a clean white underside. Their wings are dark gray and they have a shiny violet color on their rump. Female and immature birds are overall duller in color.

Range

Violet-green Swallows are birds of Western North America. They winter in Mexico and migrate north in spring. They spend the summer from Northwestern Mexico all the way to Alaska and everywhere in between. They typically do not show up east of the Dakotas.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Violet-green Swallows primarily eat flying insects that they catch while flying. They can often be seen swooping low over the surface of water and feeding on hatching insects.

Where to Find This Bird

Violet-green Swallows can be found in both coniferous and deciduous forests across the Western United States. They have been known to live near humans and will nest in bird houses. This species is also known for living at fairly high altitudes so expect to see them even in more mountainous areas.

Summary

Swallows are fun birds to have around as their aerial acrobatics make them quite entertaining to watch. Knowing which species are expected in your area can be instrumental in identifying which one you’re looking at. Hopefully, this article has helped to answer some questions about the swallows of the United States.

If you enjoyed this post, please give it a like and a comment. Also be sure to check out the Badgerland Birding Youtube Channel.

Loons of North America (5 Species to Know)

Loons are beautiful and majestic birds that spend almost their entire lives on the water. There are five species of loons in North America and some of them overlap in range and general appearance. Knowing where to find them and what to look for in terms of identification can be incredibly helpful in knowing which of the five species you are looking at in the field.

Arctic Loon

Arctic Loon – Photo by Francesco Veronesi
Identification

In breeding plumage, Arctic Loons have black wings, a gray back of the neck and head, and a white underside. They have white markings on their wings, white vertical striping on the base of the neck and reddish purple coloration on the front of their neck. In nonbreeding plumage they are grayish brown on the top and white on the underside.

Range

Arctic Loons live throughout Europe and on the Eastern coasts of Asia. In North America, these birds can be found in Western Alaska and occasionally show up on the West coast of the United States, but these are rare occasions.

Diet and Foraging Habits

The diet of Arctic Loons vary depending on the season. In winter they eat mostly small fish, but in summer they eat more in addition to fish including crustaceans, insects, and aquatic invertebrates.

Where to Find This Bird

In North America, the only place to even somewhat have a chance to find this European Species is in Western Alaska along the coast line. Otherwise, chasing rare reports of this species along the Pacific coast of the United States is probably the best way to add this bird to your life list.

Common Loon

Common Loon – Photo by Alan SChmierer
Identification

In breeding plumage, Common Loons have a black back, wings, neck, and head with white checkerboard markings on the wings, and a white “necklace” marking. The black on the head and neck is iridescent and can show a green sheen in the right lighting. Common Loons have a white underside and some thin black striping on the neck going down the sides. In nonbreeding plumage, this species is dark gray brown on the back, wings, and top of the head. They also have white on the throat and underside. The species still displays the white necklace marking even in nonbreeding plumage.

Range

Common Loons are extremely wide spread throughout North America. In winter, they can be found wintering along the ocean coastlines of both the Atlantic and the Pacific. They winter as far south as Mexico and as far north as the Aleutian Islands. In spring, the birds wintering in the Southern parts of the continent move north into the Northern United States and most of Canada where they spend the summer.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Common Loons feed primarily on fish but will also eat crustaceans and aquatic invertebrates. They are extremely good at diving for food and can stay underwater for considerable amounts of time. While some species are ambush predators such as herons, Loons are active hunters as they are very agile swimmers.

Where to Find This Bird

As their name would suggest, Common Loons are in fact common in most parts of the United States and Canada at least for some portion of the year. During winter, this species can be seen on the ocean coastlines, while in spring they tend to appear on inland lakes and ponds. During their breeding season, look for Common Loons in deep, clear lakes in the boreal forests where they prefer plenty of plant cover along the shores.

Pacific Loon

Pacific Loon – Photo by Alaska Region U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Identification

Pacific Loons are chunky birds with rather complex patterning when in breeding plumage. They have brownish black backs and wings with large white square-shaped markings along with white spots. They have a grayish head with a purplish front of the neck and white and black vertical stripes on the side of the neck. The underside of this species is white. In nonbreeding plumage, Pacific Loons are brownish gray with a white underside.

Range

The aptly named Pacific Loon winters all along the Pacific coast of the United States from Mexico to Alaska. In spring, they move to their breeding grounds in Northern Canada, Alaska, and Eastern Asia.

Diet and Foraging Habits

The vast majority of the Pacific Loon’s diet is comprised of fish. They will also eat crustaceans and aquatic invertebrates.

Where to Find This Bird

Look for Pacific Loons on the coastlines of the Pacific Ocean where they prefer areas with sandy bottoms as opposed to rocky bottoms. During breeding season, this species can be found in tundra ponds and lakes.

Red-throated Loon

Red-throated Loon – Photo by Alaska Region U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Identification

In breeding plumage, Red-throated Loons have a grayish brown back and wings. Most of their head and neck is gray with white striping on the back of the neck going up to the top of the head. They have a deep red colored throat which is where they get their name from. In nonbreeding plumage, Red-throated Loons have a white throat and underside. They also have a dark brownish gray back and head with white speckles.

Range

Red-throated Loons winter on the coasts of the United States and Canada. They don’t typically make it too far into Mexico or the Gulf Coast but will winter as far north as Southern Alaska. In spring, they move north across the continent making appearances in large bodies of water such as the Great Lakes. They breed in Northern and Western Canada, Greenland, Alaska, and Eastern Asia.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Red-throated Loons eat a wide variety of fish and invertebrates including squid, crustaceans, aquatic insects, and marine worms. Like other loon species, these birds dive for their food and actively hunt small creatures below the surface.

Yellow-billed Loon

Yellow-billed Loon – Photo by Bureau of Land Management Alaska
Identification

In breeding plumage, Yellow-billed Loons have a black back, wings, and head, with white square markings on the back and wings. They have a white “necklace” marking, a pure white underside, and a large pale yellow bill. Nonbreeding plumage birds look extremely dull in comparison with a white underside and a grayish brown back, wings, and top of the head.

Range

Yellow-billed Loons winter along the Southwestern coasts of Alaska, the Western coast of Canada, and the Northwestern coast of the United States. In summer, they make their way to the Northern shores of Alaska and the high arctic of Northern Canada. Yellow-billed Loons do have a habit of showing up seemingly randomly in the continental United States where they are a rare visitor.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Yellow-billed Loons feed on fish, crustaceans, and insects when they are available in the warmer months. They find food by diving for it. Often times they can be seen dipping their head in clear water to look for food that they can catch.

Where to Find This Bird

Yellow-billed Loons can be found along coastal shores in winter and lakes on the tundra in summer. They don’t often spend time in the center of deep lakes but rather in more shallow areas.

Summary

Loons are fascinating divers that provide nice variety among other water-dwelling birds. Knowing the species that are expected in your state and region can be instrumental in identifying which one you’re looking at in the field. Hopefully, this article has helped to answer some questions about the loons of North America.

If you enjoyed this post, please give it a like and a comment. Also be sure to check out the Badgerland Birding Youtube Channel.

Eagles of Texas (Two Species to Know)

Eagles are thought of as regal and majestic birds that soar over the United States. There are a few different eagle species that make their way into the United States. In this post there is information about which species you can expect to find in your state in addition to identification tips and facts.

Texas is home to two different eagle species with one that can be found nearly anywhere in the state, and one that is a little more season and location specific.

Bald Eagle

Adult Bald Eagle (Photo by Bill grossmeyer)
Juvenile Bald Eagle (Photo by Bill Grossmeyer)
Identification

The adult Bald Eagle is an unmistakable raptor species. They have a brown body with a white head and tail. In flight, they look quite flat as opposed to Turkey Vultures and other soaring species that sport a v-shaped wing pattern known as a dihedral. Bald Eagles have a large yellow bill.

Juvenile Bald Eagles don’t look quite as distinctive with varying degrees of mottled white mixed In with brown. Juveniles still have a noticeably large bill.

Range

Bald Eagles winter in most of the Southern United States and Northern Mexico. They migrate north into Canada and some of the Great Lakes states including Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan. There are many areas where Bald Eagles live year round, most of which are around coastlines, rivers, or other bodies of water.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Bald Eagles eat primarily fish but will also consume amphibians, mammals, reptiles, and carrion. In fact, Bald Eagles can often be seen around landfills searching for scraps, or roadsides searching for roadkill. Two places one wouldn’t expect to see such a majestic bird.

Where to Find This Bird

The easiest way to see Bald Eagles is to watch the skies and look for a large bird with broad, flat wings soaring. In terms of places to see many Bald Eagles at once, search out dams or other places where fish congregate, here, several different Eagles may be waiting to get an easy meal. To see Eagles in their nesting habitat, forests near rivers and bodies of water that are far away from human habitation are the best places.

In Texas, Bald Eagles are found in most parts of the state with the exception of the Southwestern part where they are extremely irregular.

Golden Eagle

Golden Eagle (Photo by Bill Grossmeyer)
Identification

Golden Eagles are very large raptors that are brown in color with slightly lighter feathers mixed in. They have a white band on the tail, and the nape of their neck has golden colored feathers. Immature birds have white at the base of their primary feathers visible in flight from underneath.

Range

Golden Eagles live year round in the western half of the United States and Northern Mexico. Some members of this species migrate north and breed in Alaska and Canada. During winter, Golden Eagles move east with some birds traveling a significant distance away from their expected area. This species can also be found in Europe and parts of Asia.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Golden Eagles typically eat mammals such as squirrels and rabbits, but they will also eat birds. This particular species has also been known to to take on much larger prey such as deer or even other larger predators such as coyotes.

Where to Find This Bird

Golden Eagles aren’t typically found near human habitation or near large tracts of forest. They are a species of open areas as well as mountainous areas. The easiest way to find them is to look for them soaring over.

In Texas, Golden Eagles can be seen in the Southwestern and Northwestern parts of the state but are extremely rare anywhere else.

Summary

Eagles are large and noticeable birds. Their regal look and importance as symbols of strength certainly make them intriguing. Knowing which eagle species are expected in your state can be instrumental in identifying which exact species you’re looking at.

If you enjoyed this post, please give it a like and a comment. Also be sure to check out the Badgerland Birding Youtube Channel.