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Birds of North America
By Chandler S. Robbins, Bertel Bruun, Herbert S. Zim, Arthur Singer
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2001 St. Martin's Press
All rights reserved.
* LOONS (Order Gaviiformes, Family Gaviidae) are specialized for swimming and diving. Loons come ashore only to breed. They are silent in winter. In flight the head is lower than the body. The wingbeats are fast, uninterrupted by gliding. Common and Yellow-billed dive by sliding under; the other species hop up and forward to begin the plunge. Loons eat fish, crustaceans, and some water plants. Eggs, 2–3.
The most common loon in the East; breeds along shores of remote northern lakes. Its yodel-like call is given frequently, near the nest and in flight. Varies considerably in size. Note its usually dark, evenly tapered bill, and, in summer, its cross-banded back. In winter the head, neck, and back are darker than the Red-throated and Yellow-billed, and with less contrast than on the Pacific.
This largest, most northern loon breeds on tundra lakes; casual in winter along the northern Pacific coast; accidental elsewhere. Adult's bill is straw-colored, including the straight upper ridge, which is always dark in the Common Loon; lower mandible is sharply upturned. The white spots on the back are larger and fewer than in Common. In winter, sides of head and neck are lighter and browner than on Common, and note the dark smudge on the face, behind the eye. Call is similar to Common Loon.
Common in its breeding range, on both fresh and salt water, wintering mainly along the coast. Migrates in small groups. Slimmer than Pacific Loon, with a slender upturned bill. Head and bill are habitually pointed slightly upward, even in flight. In summer plumage the white stripes extend up the back of the head. In winter the back is pale gray with tiny white spots. Call, a rapid quacking.
The light gray crown and white stripes on the side of the throat are diagnostic. In winter the back is dark gray (darker than other loons), and the throat is white, with a sharp line of contrast down the side of the neck. The narrow dusky chinstrap marking, if present, is diagnostic. The bill is thinner than Common's and straight. Pacific resembles Common in flight, but is smaller. Nests on tundra lakes. Often seen in sizable flocks in winter. Call is an ascending whistle. Until recently, this loon and its Old World look-alike, the Arctic Loon (Gavia artica), were considered one species.
* GREBES (Order Podicipediformes, Family Podicipedidae) are swimming and diving birds, smaller than loons, with flat lobes on their toes. The short legs are far back on the body; tail and wings are short. Flight is weak and hurried; taxi before becoming airborne. Head held low in flight. Grebes dive and pursue small aquatic animals. Courtship displays on the water are often elaborate, accompanied by wails and whistles. Nest in floating marsh vegetation; eggs, 2–9.
A large black and white grebe with a long, straight neck. The bill is longer, yellower, and more dagger-like than other grebes. Locally abundant. Breeds in colonies in lake vegetation; winters along the Pacific Coast and in some inland areas, often in large flocks. The closely related Clark's Grebe (Aechmophorus clarkii) occupies the same range but is less common. Its bill is yellow-orange, and its black cap does not come down to the eye. The two were formerly considered one species.
RED NECKED GREBE
An uncommon long-necked grebe. In ponds and lakes in summer; winters mainly in salt water. Light throat always contrasts with dark neck. Stockier appearance and heavy bill distinguish it from Western, shape and size from Horned and Eared Grebes.
This commonest grebe (except in Southwest) has a thin straight bill. Nests on lakes and ponds; winters in salt water and on Great Lakes, often in loose flocks. Told in winter from Red-necked and Eared Grebes by winter face and neck. This common small grebe has a thin straight bill.
A small grebe with thin upturned bill, high, rounded back, and rump usually held high, fluffed. It breeds in colonies and is common on shallow lakes. In winter, note slender neck, white ear and throat patches. Most winter in flocks on inland lakes.
Fairly common in shallow fresh water, rare in salt water. A small, solitary, stocky grebe with a unique chicken-like bill. Rarely flies; escapes by diving or slowly sinking below the surface. Call, a series of low, slurred whistles.
A tiny grebe with a slender dark bill. Uncommon; in southern Rio Grande Valley; rare and local farther north.
* TUBENOSES (Order Procellariiformes) have external tubular nostrils. They are birds of the sea, coming ashore on remote islands and shores only to breed. They nest in colonies; feed on squid, fish, and other marine life, usually at or near the surface. All have hooked beaks. The sexes are similar. Silent away from the breeding grounds. Lengths given are for birds in flight.
FAMILIES OF TUBENOSES OCCURRING OFF OUR COASTS
Albatrosses (Diomedeidae) Large birds, including the longest-winged species. Long, narrow wings, very heavy hooked beak.
Fulmars, Shearwaters, and Large Petrels (Procellariidae) Large birds, though considerably smaller than the albatrosses. The bill is generally thinner, with a pronounced tooth at the end.
Storm-Petrels (Hydrobatidae) Small birds, scarcely larger than swallows. Bills are short and legs fairly long.
* ALBATROSSES (Family Diomedeidae) are primarily Southern Hemisphere birds; three species breed north of the equator. They have tremendously long wingspreads (11' in the Wandering Albatross); glide low over the waves on stiffly held wings. Single egg laid on ground.
This white-bodied albatross nests on mid-Pacific islands; occurs far offshore, but regularly in summer close to the Aleutians and less frequently, Oct. to June, south to southern California. The black mantle covers upper wings and back. Note wing pattern. Juveniles resemble adults. Seldom follows large ships.
Very rare visitor to North Atlantic from southern oceans. Most occur in summer. Juveniles have black bill, are paler above, and have broader dark underwing margins. The slightly larger Black-browed Albatross (Diomedea melanophris, L 30" W 90"), an even rarer North Atlantic vagrant, resembles Yellow-nosed but adult has entire bill yellow and broader dark underwing margins. Juveniles have black bill, gray lower neck, and dark underwings.
Our only regular all-dark albatross. Occurs as close as a mile off the Pacific Coast. Often rests on the water; feeds on squid and fish at night. Told from the dark Pacific shearwaters by larger size and heavier bill. Juveniles generally have less white. Often follows ships.
* FULMARS (Family Procellariidae) strongly resemble gulls in appearance and in scavenging habits, but fly like shearwaters and typically are found far at sea. Nest colonially on high sea cliffs; lay 1 egg.
A large gull-like tubenose. In its light-color morph it can be told from gulls by its stiff flight, the habit of flapping and gliding, its heavy head and neck, shorter tail, and, at close range, the tubular nostrils. Dark-morph birds are paler and grayer than Sooty Shearwater, have shorter, rounder wings, and a broader tail. Fulmars follow ships and readily accept offal.
* SHEARWATERS (Family Procellariidae) differ from fulmars in having longer, narrower wings, a narrower tail, and a longer, thinner bill. The flight pattern is similar — a few deep wingbeats and a long glide, usually close to the water. Their food is small fish and crustaceans. Nocturnal on breeding grounds. Lay a single egg.
This large Atlantic shearwater is similar in plumage to the Pink-footed of the Pacific, but note its yellowish, rather thick bill. Some may have white upper tail coverts, but always lack the black-capped appearance of the Greater Shearwater. Most occur from Aug. to Nov. The flight is more Albatross-like than that of other shearwaters. Sometimes soars, the only Atlantic shearwater to do so. Does not follow ships.
A large common Pacific tubenose; breeds in Chile. Often seen in flocks with Sooty Shearwater. Larger and lighter below than the Sooty, with slower wingbeats. Also note its dark-tipped pink bill. Most common from May to Nov., but a few are seen all year round. Does not follow ships.
A large Atlantic shearwater, breeding Nov. to Apr. on the Tristan da Cunha Islands. Black cap and white on upper tail coverts are pronounced. In May and June it migrates north over the western Atlantic; in Oct. and Nov. south over the eastern Atlantic. Larger and heavier than either Audubon's or Manx Shearwaters. Often occurs in large flocks; follows ships.
A large, dark, gray-brown bird of cool waters. Nests on subantarctic islands. Abundant in fall off West Coast, uncommon on East Coast. The only dark-bodied shearwater in the western Atlantic, and the only one in the Pacific with contrasting silvery wing linings. Bill is dark. Told from Flesh-footed Shearwater by dark body, smaller size, and faster wingbeats; from Short-tailed by longer, heavier bill and more gently sloping forehead.
A fairly large, slender shearwater breeding in southern Australia. Told from Flesh-footed Shearwater by smaller size, shorter tail, dark legs, and dark bill. Generally separable from Sooty Shearwater by smaller bill, more rounded head, and uniform smoky-gray underwings, but a few of each species have the underwing pattern of the other. Uncommon, except abundant in Gulf of Alaska, May-July; off California flocks appear in late fall, later than the Sooty.
A very large species and a very rare and irregular visitor to the West Coast from South Pacific breeding grounds. Larger than the Sooty and Short-tailed Shearwaters, with a large, dark-tipped, pale pink bill and flesh-colored feet and legs. Entire plumage, including underwings, is blackish. Similar in shape and habits to the Pink-footed, and considered by some to be conspecific. Compare with Heermann's Gull.
Regular, rare to uncommon, in fall from Monterey, California, north to British Columbia. A slender shearwater with a dark cap. Note the W-shaped pattern above, light wing tips below. Flight is lighter than that of Black-vented Shearwater, and periods of gliding on more arched wings longer. The Streaked Shearwater (Calonectris leucomelas, L 18" W 47"), a casual visitor from the western Pacific to Monterey Bay, California, most closely resembles the Pink-footed, but is slimmer, has a more pronounced wing angle, dark eye contrasting with white face and crown, heavily streaked nape, scaly grayish back, and yellowish bill. Molting birds may show a long pale "U" around the rump.
A very small, rather common Atlantic shearwater; breeds in the Bahamas. Undertail coverts are dark, not white as in Manx Shearwater. Has longer tail and shorter wings than Manx, and wingbeats are correspondingly faster. It is most commonly seen in summer. Does not follow ships.
Uncommon on the Atlantic; rare off the Pacific Coast in fall. Lone breeding colony in Newfoundland; nests mostly in Northern Europe. White undertail coverts distinguish it from the smaller and shorter-winged Audubon's. Wingbeats and flight are fast. Does not follow ships. Formerly considered same species as the Black-vented.
Common in fall and winter off the Pacific Coast north to Santa Barbara, California. Resembles Manx, but has black undertail coverts. Smaller than the Pink-footed and its back and wings are dark, where theBuller's Shearwater has light areas.
* GADFLY PETRELS, a distinctive genus of tubenoses in the shearwater family, are intermediate in flight and behavior between the shearwaters and the smaller storm-petrels. Their very fast flight resembles that of shearwaters, but the angle of the wing is like the storm-petrels; fast high-soaring arcs are unique. These birds do not follow ships; they eat fish and shrimp. Nest in burrows; 1 egg.
Uncommon summer and fall visitor from West Indies to Gulf Stream off the Carolinas; casual farther north during storms. Dark above and light below, it can be confused only with Manx and Audubon's Shearwaters, neither of which has a white rump or hind neck. Flight is distinctly different, with wings more angled, less rigid. Cook's Petrel (Pterodroma cookii, L 10" W 26"), casual 50+ miles off the California coast, has shape of Black-capped Petrel and color pattern suggesting Buller's Shearwater, but has pale cap, white forehead and underwings, and white tail with dark center.
A medium-sized petrel from New Zealand, a casual summer visitor to the Gulf of Alaska. Note the contrast between the throat and the belly The heavy black bar on the underside of the wing is unique; from above, the light upper surface contrasts with the dark leading edge. When primaries are widely spread, light areas toward the tips of the upper wings appear.
* STORM-PETRELS (Family Hydrobatidae) flutter and hop over the waves, pattering with webbed feet. Found singly or in flocks. Egg, 1.
Rather common off southern California in winter, common north to Monterey Bay, Sept.–Nov., local in summer. This largest black petrel has dark underwings, long legs, and a forked tail. Flight is deliberate, wingbeats deep, suggesting flight of Black Tern. Follows ships.
Common only locally, Apr.–Nov. Stocky build, medium size, brown color, pale wing coverts above and below. Flight is more fluttering than the larger Black Storm-Petrel's, wingbeats not going above the horizontal.
Abundant in northern Pacific, where it breeds. This uniform pale gray bird has a light head, underparts, wing patch, and light underwing with dark leading edge. Tail is forked. Glides more than other petrels and has shallower wingbeat.
Uncommon and local in summer. Medium-sized, dark, with a prominent white rump (white very restricted in southern California) and gray wing patch. Tail is forked, feet dark. Leach's has darker underwings than Ashy. Flight is erratic and nighthawk-like; Wilson's is mothlike.
Very common off Atlantic Coast, June-Sept. Dark brown with white rump, light wing patch, long legs, and yellow feet. Tail is rounded. Dances over the surface with wings held high. Often follows ships in loose flocks.
Excerpted from Birds of North America by Chandler S. Robbins, Bertel Bruun, Herbert S. Zim, Arthur Singer. Copyright © 2001 St. Martin's Press. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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