Thursday, November 24, 2016

Cattle Egret

Cattle Egret Visits Fredericton Area

Cattle Egret

For the past week the Fredericton area has had another rare visitor, a Cattle Egret.  In the photo above it is perched on a fence with one leg and foot pulled up while preening itself.  The bird is an adult in non-breeding (basic) plumage.  In breeding plumage it would have orange plumes on its crown, neck, and lower back; a bicolored bill with red at the base and orange at the tip, and dark red legs.  Some of the photos of this bird show some orange on the head and on the tail.  

Cattle Egret
Cattle Egrets are the smallest of the heron family and are more terrestrial than the others (they prefer to feed on land).  They are named for their habit of following livestock in the fields, feeding on the insects and invertebrates the animals kick up with their feet.  They have adapted to modern times and can be seen following tractors as they work the fields.  

Cattle Egret
Cattle Egrets are normal to most of the United States, Mexico, Central America and the West Indies.  They are only partially migratory, retreating from the northerly parts of their range in winter.  They are also endemic to Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia.  

The Cattle Egret is well known for its amazing ability to expand its range.  It did not always live in North America.  It is thought the species originated in central Africa.  From there it expanded its range around the world.  It was not seen in North America until the 1930s (West Indies) and first in Florida in 1941.  From there it has expanded its range widely in the New World.  

Cattle Egrets are colonial nesters in trees with other herons and egrets.  They breed from the southern US and Gulf Coast southward.  Visits to our area are rare but almost always in the fall.  They will usually then hang around a farm or other large animal facility until cold temperatures drive them southward again.  

Let's celebrate this tough, adaptable species.  Watch for them around livestock in your area.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Pink-footed Goose

Rare Goose Visits Fredericton

Pink-footed Goose
Since November 3 there has been speculation that a Pink-footed Goose (Anser brachyrhynchus) has been in the Fredericton area.  Several of us have been searching for it and it was finally located on November 11 at Carmen Creek Golf Course.  We went immediately to see it after receiving the report.  There it was feeding with about 100 Canada Geese.  It has been staying with the geese in the Fredericton area ever since, sharing its time between the golf course, the agricultural station, and the river.  Many people have come to see this rare goose.

The Pink-footed Goose is a very rare goose in North America.  We have had one other confirmed report.  A single Pink-footed Goose was present in Cormierville, NB in 2010.  It stayed for a few days and some of us saw it there.  This is probably not the same bird.  

Pink-footed Goose
The Pink-footed Goose is a bit smaller than the Canada Goose.  It is a beautiful bird with a brown head, light gray back with nice white edges to the feathers, pink on its bill and bubble-gum-pink legs and feet.  It appeared very comfortable with the Canadas.  

Pink-footed Goose
The Pink-footed Goose is very rare here because it is a goose of the Old World.  It normally breeds in Greenland, Iceland, and Svalbard (north of Norway).  It winters in the British Isles and northern Europe.  It is pretty distinctive but could be confused with two similar species, juvenile White-fronted Goose and Bean Goose.  The Bean Goose is larger and has never been here.  The juvenile White-fronted Goose has a longer pink bill with a white base.  Its legs are orange.

Friday, November 11, 2016


Rare Fall Visitor (Spiza americana)

Dickcissel Adult Female [Carmella Melanson Photo]
The Dickcissel is a rare fall visitor to New Brunswick.  In ornithology parlance it is a 'vagrant' which means it has wandered beyond its normal range.  A few usually show up here in the fall as singles or sometimes in small groups.  It is very unusual for them to be here in spring or summer.  Right now there are at least two individuals in the Saint John area.  The photo above shows a female taken in Grand Manan.

The Dickcissel is a sparrow-like bird about the same size as a House Sparrow.  In fact, they often hang out with House or other sparrows.  They readily come to feeders in this area but on their normal range they are birds of fields and meadows where they feed on seeds, grasses, and insects.  In summer their normal range is the central US from eastern Montana and the Great Lakes region south to Texas and the Gulf coast.  They winter from southern Mexico into South America.  When preparing for migration they often gather in large flocks sometimes in the thousands.  On the wintering grounds their roosts can number into the millions of birds. 

Dickcissel Juveniles
The male Dickcissel in breeding plumage is very showy with a black bib, white chin, yellow eyebrow, and yellow breast (sorry, no photo).  His back is grayish brown and patterned.  His wings have a bright chestnut shoulder patch.  The female is more muted and lacks the black bib or she may have remnants of it.  The yellow eyebrow of the male is duller in the female and it is often a buffy colour behind the eye.  Juveniles are more like the female and have fine streaking on the breast and flanks.  They also do not have the chestnut shoulder patch.  

Dickcissel Juvenile

Dickcissel Female
Dickcissel Female
The Dickcissel in the two photos shown above is feeding in a coarsely-wired cage placed on the ground designed to allow small birds to enter so they can feed away from larger dominant birds like Starlings and Grackles.  It is a good device which makes it so all species can get to the food.  

The Dickcissel nests on or near the ground.  The nest is made of plant stems and grass and the 3 to 5 eggs are pale blue.  All the work related to nest-building, incubation and the rearing of young is done by the female only.  The unusual name of this species comes from its song which is lustily sung by the male from the top of a bush or post.  He says something similar to 'dick dick ciss ciss'.    

The first Dickcissel ever recorded in New Brunswick was in 1951 from Machias Seal Island.  We have had a lot of them since then.  Perhaps you will have one at your feeder this fall.  Keep a close eye on the ground under your feeders!

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Rare Fall Visitor

Yellow-billed Cuckoo
According to the Birds of New Brunswick: An Annotated List, 2004, the Yellow-billed Cuckoo is a rare fall visitor to the province and a very rare spring visitor.  This fall seems to be one of those years when a few of these birds move into New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.  We have had 2 or 3 sightings in each province in the last 2 or 3 weeks.

The Yellow-billed Cuckoo prefers riparian habitats.  The only times I have ever seen this bird, it has been in alder bushes.  It does not breed here so that explains why we see it only in the fall.  There is sometimes a movement from their breeding grounds further south (as close as southern Maine).  The normal breeding range of the species is most of the eastern US, northern Mexico, and some Caribbean islands.  It winters in northern South America.  The birds from this area and the Eastern Seaboard migrate down the eastern coast of the US, over Cuba and Haiti and on to South America.  

Yellow-billed Cuckoo [N Poirier Photo]
The Yellow-billed Cuckoo is a large, secretive bird.  It is 31 cm (12") long, mainly gray-brown on top and white underneath.  It has a long tail that has large white spots underneath.  It has a yellow eyering and its bill is bicolored with dark gray above and yellow below.  It shows rufous brown in its primary wing feathers.  It likes to hide in bushes and rarely shows itself.  It can be identified by its song, which is a rapid staccato kuk-kuk-kuk which slows down into a kind of yelping sound.  

Yellow-billed Cuckoo
The only species that one could confuse with the Yellow-billed Cuckoo is the Black-billed Cuckoo.  They are alike in size and coloration but the Yellow-billed has a yellow eyering (red in the Black-billed), yellow on its lower mandible, shows rufous on its wings and shows much more white on its tail.  The Black-billed is a summer resident and breeds here.  Its song can be heard in summer, a monotonous cu-cu-cu.

The Yellow-billed Cuckoo eats mainly caterpillars, but also other insects, birds eggs, snails, small vertebrates, berries and other fruits.  It is most common here in years of heavy caterpillar infestations.

It is always interesting to see what avian surprises fall brings our way.