The prairie pothole region of the northern plains is a result of the last glaciation ice age of 10,000 years ago. The Dakotas, Minnesota, Iowa and parts of Montana comprise the pothole region as do Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta provinces in Canada. The shallow ponds, lakes and sloughs are important habitat for migrating waterfowl and other birds. Kidder County, just east of Burleigh County, is one of the top birding sites in the United States.
This black-crowned night-heron has found a salamander for breakfast. If you look closely, the heron's eye is partially covered by the nictitating membrane which protects the eye but allows vision. Birds and reptiles use the membrane during activities that may have potential of eye injury, such as trying to subdue your breakfast.
Great Blue Herons
The great blue heron is found throughout much of the United States but they are seasonal to North Dakota. They are the largest heron in North America with a height over 4 feet tall and a wingspan of nearly 6 1/2 feet long.
Wood Ducks are unique. The have claws that allow them to perch on and nest in trees. The feed on water plants but also berries, seeds, acorns and insects on land. Wood Duck numbers were critically low in the early 1900s due to habitat loss and overhunting for meat and feathers. The U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 allowed Wood Duck populations to recover slowly. Many communities promote nesting boxes near lakes and ponds.
Long Lake National Wildlife Refuge
Horned Grebes are named from the large patches of yellowish feathers located behind their eyes, called "horns", which they can raise and lower at will.
Long Lake National Wildlife Refuge
Northern shovelers are named from the shape of its bill, which has small, comb-like structures on the edge of the bill that act like sieves, allowing the birds to skim crustaceans and plankton from the water's surface.
American avocets breed in Western states from Texas and New Mexico to Alberta and Saskatchewan and winter in Texas, California and Central America.
Long Lake National Wildlife Refuge
The breeding drake has an iridescent dark green or blue head, white breast and chestnut belly and flanks. In flight, pale blue forewing feathers are revealed, separated from the green speculum by a white border.
The female is a drab mottled brown like other dabblers, with plumage much like a female mallard, but easily distinguished by the long broad bill, which is gray tinged with orange on cutting edge and lower mandible. The female's forewing is gray.
The Bonaparte's Gull is the only gull that regularly nests in trees.
Bonaparte's Gull is named after Charles Lucien Bonaparte, who made important contributions to American ornithology while an active member of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia during the 1820s.
Ring-billed gulls breed near lakes, rivers, or the coast in Canada and the northern United States. They nest colonially on the ground, often on islands.
Long Lake National Wildlife Refuge
The common merganser breeds in Canada and northwestern states and winters in southern states. The common merganser eats fish and nests in holes in trees.
Long Lake National Wildlife Refuge
The American white pelican rivals the trumpeter swan, with a similar overall length, as the longest bird native to North America. The species also has the second largest average wingspan of any North American bird, after the California condor. White pelicans breed in southern Canada and in selected areas of western United States.
Willets nest in the Northern Plains and the Prairie Provinces of Canada south to north-eastern California, northern Colorado and western Nebraska and winter on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts and Central and South America.
Western Grebe Photos
May I Please see the Children's Menu?
Proud Papa on the right had caugh a fish but it was too large for his babies to eat. After several attempts, he dropped it in the water for mom to eat.
When tending their young, Western grebe parents use different types of vocalization to communicate. Ticking is one of the two and is used as an alarm signal. Parents carry their newly hatched young on their backs, and when the parents make ticking sound, this is used as a signal for their chicks to hide their heads beneath the back of their parents and be silent. If chicks are greater than 4 weeks of age, they respond to the ticking by swimming or diving away on their own. When making a ticking sound, the callers do not open their mouths, so it is hard to distinguish who is the maker of the sound. The parent who carries the chicks tend to make the ticking sound more often than those that do not, and both of male and female parents are equally likely to tick. Another vocalization noise is clucking, and this signals for food. When a parent clucks, the young respond to it by poking their head out of their parent back where they are on to receive food. This bird dives for carp, herring, mollusks, crabs, and amphibians, such as salamanders. It often peers below the water before diving. Recent observations suggest that the grebe dives at the bottom of the lake. Some smaller fish are impaled much like herons, with the bill, but others are grasped. Most are swallowed underwater, but some are brought to the surface, pinched, and swallowed.
Photo of the Day for August 8, 2019
Now That is a Meal that I can Handle!
This baby Western Grebe was excited to get a minnow for breakfast!
The western grebe is the largest North American grebe. It is 55–75 cm (22–30 in) long, weighs 795–2,000 g (1.753–4.409 lb) and measures 79–102 cm (31–40 in) across the wings. It is black-and-white, with a long, slender, swan-like neck and red eyes. It is easily confused with Clark's grebe, which shares similar features, body size, behavior and habitat, and hybrids are known. Western grebes nest in colonies on lakes that are mixed with marsh vegetation and open water. Western Grebe nests are made of plant debris and sodden materials, and the nest building begins roughly around late April through June. The construction is done by both sexes and is continued on throughout laying and incubation. This species of water birds is widespread in western North America, so there is no specific place of abundance. It has a spectacular courtship display; two birds will rear up and patter across the water's surface.
Photo of the Day for August 10, 2019
Can a Baby Western Grebe Swallow a Big Fish?
Baby Couldn't Hold on to the Fish
Dad Picked up the Fish again and Gave it to Baby!
This Time Baby Got the Fish! Can Baby Swallow It?
Down Went the Fish! The Baby Got Its Breakfast!!
Breakfast in Bed!
The Western Grebe Mom on the left had three babies. The bed for the babies was Mom's back, a floating bed that can move toward food. Every other time that I had seen Dad feeding the babies, fish was on the menu. In fact, only fish was on the menu. Sometimes it was a medium size fish but often it was a menu.
Apparently, dragonflies are also on the menu. Dad on the right had found a large dragonfly. After several attempts, one of the babies was able to grasp the dragonfly and have a wonderful breakfast.
For additional photographs, please see the Water birds page in the Dakota Region tab.
Photo of the Day for August 14, 2019
Three Babies Looking for Breakfast in Bed!
Not a Common Visitor to North Dakota!
This Snowy Egret was photographed on August 20, 2019 in McKenzie Slough in Burleigh County, North Dakota.
Snowy egrets are permanent residents in most of South America and Central America. In the United States, they are often permanent residents along the Atlantic coast north to Virginia Beach, Virginia, along the Gulf Coast, and along the Pacific lowlands from central California southward. During the breeding season, snowy egrets wander north along the Atlantic flyway between the lower Chesapeake Bay and coastal Rhode Island, and up the Pacific Coast to northern California. Snowy egrets also breed in the lower Mississippi Valley westward into eastern Texas.
Photo of the Day for August 20, 2019
Western Grebe baby on the right is hungry!
Baby got the Fish!
Ready to swallow!
Keep fishing Mom, I am still hungry!
The double-crested cormorant is a member of the cormorant family of seabirds. Its habitat is near rivers and lakes as well as in coastal areas, and is widely distributed across North America, from the Aleutian Islands in Alaska down to Florida and Mexico. Measuring 70–90 cm (28–35 in) in length, it is an all-black bird which gains a small double crest of black and white feathers in breeding season. It has a bare patch of orange-yellow facial skin. Five subspecies are recognized. It mainly eats fish and hunts by swimming and diving. Its feathers, like those of all cormorants, are not waterproof and it must spend time drying them out after spending time in the water. Once threatened by the use of DDT, the numbers of this bird have increased markedly in recent years.
The double-crested cormorant swims low in the water, often with just its neck and head visible, and dives from the surface. It uses its feet for propulsion and is able to dive to a depth of 1.5–7.5 m (4 ft 11 in–24 ft 7 in) for 30–70 seconds. After diving, it spends long periods standing with its wings outstretched to allow them to dry, since they are not fully waterproofed. Food can be found in the sea, freshwater lakes, and rivers. Like all cormorants, the double-crested dives to find its prey. It mainly eats fish, but will sometimes also eat amphibians and crustaceans. Fish are caught by diving under water. Smaller fish may be eaten while the bird is still beneath the surface but bigger prey is often brought to the surface before it is eaten.
The redhead is a medium-sized diving duck. The redhead is 37 cm (15 in) long with an 84 cm (33 in) wingspan. The redhead goes by many names, including the red-headed duck and the red-headed pochard. This waterfowl is easily distinguished from other ducks by the male’s copper colored head and bright blue bill during the breeding season. The redhead is a pochard, a diving duck specially adapted to foraging underwater. Their legs are placed farther back on the body, which makes walking on land difficult, the webbing on their feet is larger than dabbling ducks and their bills are broader, to facilitate underwater foraging. During breeding season, redheads are found across a wide range of North America, from as far north as Northern Canada to the lower United States. Their preferred areas include the intermontane regions of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and the Dakotas with some small localities in Ontario, Quebec and southern United States. These pochards then migrate south to winter in warmer climates. These areas include southern United States where breeding does not occur and extends to Mexico and Guatemala. In either season, redheads use wetlands as their main habitat.
The marbled godwit is a large shorebird. On average, it is the largest of the 4 species of godwit. The total length is 40–50 cm (16–20 in), including a large bill of 8–13 cm (3.1–5.1 in), and wingspan is 70–88 cm (28–35 in). Body mass can vary from 240 to 510 g (8.5 to 18.0 oz). Adults have long blue-grey hairy legs and a very long pink bill with a slight upward curve and dark at the tip. The long neck, breast and belly are pale brown with dark bars on the breast and flanks. The back is mottled and dark. They show cinnamon wing linings in flight. They nest on the ground, usually in short grass. These birds forage by probing on mudflats, in marshes, or at the beach. When the tide is out, they eat. In short grass, they may pick up insects by sight. They mainly eat insects and crustaceans, but also eat parts of aquatic plants. Marbled Godwits breed in three distinct areas with their own unique route. The vast majority occur in mid-continental North America, followed by Eastern Canada and the Alaska Peninsula, USA. In addition, the largest winter ranges are the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf coasts of the USA and Mexico. Godwits breeding in the Western USA and Canada follow a route through the Utah stopover site, with a final arrival in the winter sites of Mexico. Species breeding in Eastern Canada migrate across the USA and stopover at sites along the Gulf of California and Mexico. Furthermore, those breeding in North and South Dakota winter in Coastal Georgia. The Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge located at Great Salt Lake in Utah, is one of the most popular stopover sites for Godwits in the spring and fall.
Snow geese breed north of the timberline in Greenland, Canada, Alaska, and the northeastern tip of Siberia, and spend winters in warm parts of North America from southwestern British Columbia through parts of the United States to Mexico. They fly as far south as Texas and Mexico during winter, and return to nest on the Arctic tundra each spring. Snow geese have two color plumage morphs, white (snow) or gray/blue (blue), thus the common description as "snows" and "blues". White-morph birds are white except for black wing tips, but blue-morph geese have bluish-grey plumage replacing the white except on the head, neck and tail tip.
Greater white-fronted geese
The greater white-fronted goose is named for the patch of white feathers bordering the base of its bill. Even more distinctive are the salt-and-pepper markings on the breast of adult birds, which is why the goose is colloquially called the "specklebelly" in North America. The North American midcontinent birds of the subspecies A. a. gambeli – which in 2010 had a fall population of about 710,000 birds – breeds from the Alaska North Slope across the western and central Canadian Arctic. The midcontinent geese gather in early fall on the prairies of western Saskatchewan and eastern Alberta, spending several weeks feeding before heading to wintering areas near the Gulf of Mexico, into northern Mexico.
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