Springtime Brings Bird Watching

By Alyssa Kobylarek, MNA intern

Now that spring is finally here and signs of warmer weather are in the air, birds will soon return north. We thought we would feature a few birds that can be seen throughout Michigan this spring. Keep a sharp eye out for them this season!

American Bittern

The American Bittern. Photo by Jerry Segraves via Wikimedia Commons

The American Bittern. Photo by Jerry Segraves via Wikimedia Commons

This well-camouflaged heron is difficult to see amongst the dense reed beds, but its distinct booming call carries far and can be heard throughout the marsh at dawn and dusk. This stocky heron is streaked with tan, brown and white over its body. Accentuating the plumage are darker wings and flight feathers, a black face and long neck streaks. The American Bittern has a three foot wingspan, but it only weighs about one pound.

The American Bittern breeds in wetlands across much of Canada and the northern half of the United States. They inhabit large, reedy wetlands and shallow freshwater marshes. Their camouflage makes the bird extremely difficult to see as it wades and stalks through the cattails and reeds. When alarmed, the bittern freezes with its head, neck and bill pointing straight up, making it become one with the reeds and almost impossible to see.

Pied-billed Grebe

A pied-billed grebe. Photo by Linda Tanner via Wikimedia Commons

A pied-billed grebe. Photo by Linda Tanner via Wikimedia Commons

The Pied-billed Grebe is a small, stocky and short-necked waterbird that measures only 11 to 15 inches in total length. They are dark brown with a black throat patch and the sides of their necks and flanks are grayish. Their tail is a tuft of sort wispy feathers of white. Their name comes from their pied, or two-colored, bill which is bluish-white with a distinct black vertical bar on either side. The bill is short, laterally compressed and slightly hooked downwards.

The Pied-billed Grebe is the most widely distributed grebe in the Americas. They breed in permanent ponds and marshes and require dense stands of deep water vegetation, such as cattail, for nesting and cover.  This bird is very secretive and is generally heard more than it is seen. they are most vocal during breeding season in late April and May. Their vocal array consists of a repeated series of soft and slow to start caow caow notes that build in volume and speed, followed by a series of long, wining kaooo notes.

Cooper’s Hawk

A Cooper's Hawk. Photo courtesy of WIkimedia Commons

A Cooper’s Hawk. Photo courtesy of WIkimedia Commons

The Cooper’s Hawk is a crow sized raptor that is found across the United States. This raptor is the scourger of the backyard bird feeder. They are 14 to 21 inches in length and have a wingspan from 27 to 36 inches. The eyes of the Cooper’s Hawk are large and yellow and a deep red. They have a black cap and a hooked bill that is well adapted for tearing flesh from their prey. Their tail is a distinct part of the breed, which can be identified by several dark bands and a white band at its tip. The white breast and belly of the hawk are crossed with reddish bars.

The Cooper’s Hawk is seen mostly flying with quick, consecutive wing beats and a short glide, though they may also soar. they occur in various types of mixed deciduous forests and open woodland throughout Michigan.

 

 Red-winged Blackbird

A male red-winged blackbird perches in a tree. Photo by Geoff Gallice via WIkimedia Commons

A male red-winged blackbird perched in a tree. Photo by Geoff Gallice via Wikimedia Commons

One of the most abundant birds across North America, the Red-winged Blackbird is a familiar sight sitting atop cattails and reeds. This stocky bird has broad shoulders with a slender, conical bill. Red-winged Blackbirds often show a hump-backed silhouette while perched and males often sit with their tail slightly flared. They can be found in fresh and saltwater marshes, along watercourses and drier meadows.

These birds are often hard to mistake if you are looking at a male. They have a jet black glossy coat with scarlet and yellow shoulder patches that they puff up or hide depending on the situation. They do everything they can to gain attention; they sit on high perches and belt their song all day. Females, which are subdued in color and are streaky brown with a paler breast and whitish eyebrow, stay lower and hidden through the vegetation while weaving their nests.

This spring, MNA is hosting a number of birding events for members and guests to enjoy. Be sure to check out some some out this season! For more information about these events, visit www.michigannature.org/events.

April 21 – Exploration Hike at Five Lakes Muskegon Nature Sanctuary

April 25 – Whitefish Point Spring Fling

April 27 – Birding Hike at Columbia Nature Sanctuary

Species spotlight: four hummingbirds occasionally found in Michigan

By Annie Perry, MNA Intern

When Michigan residents hang their hummingbird feeders, the most common species they see is ruby-throated hummingbird. The ruby-throated hummingbird is the only regularly occurring hummingbird in Michigan, but four other species have been spotted in the state: rufous, broad-billed, green violet-ear and white-eared hummingbirds.

Anna’s hummingbird. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Anna’s hummingbirds are among the most common hummingbirds along the Pacific coast—but with their emerald feather and rose-pink throats, they are anything but the most common in appearance. Anna’s hummingbirds make a strong impression with their courtship displays: males will climb 130 feet into the air, then swoop to the ground, using their tail feathers to make a burst of noise. Anna’s hummingbirds are accidental in Michigan, which means they have been recorded in the state fewer than three times in the past decade. Two Anna’s hummingbirds were recorded in Michigan in 2010.

Female rufous hummingbird. Photo by Brendan Lally. Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

The rufous hummingbird has been called the “feistiest hummingbird in North America.” Normally found in California, the Pacific Northwest, Alaska and the Rocky Mountains, these tiny birds are relentless at flowers and feeders and will often attack even large hummingbirds that may double them in weight. Male rufous hummingbirds have bright orange backs and bellies and a vivid red throat, while females are mostly green with a spot of orange on the throat. The rufous hummingbird is the most common hummingbird in Michigan aside from the ruby-throated hummingbird, and has been recorded 20 times in the past 10 years. In the last decade, rufous hummingbirds were recorded in 2003, 2004, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012.

Green violet-ear. Photo by Joseph C. Boone. Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Green violet-ear are casual in Michigan, meaning they have been recorded more than three times but fewer than 30 times in the past decade, and were recorded in fewer than nine of the last 10 years. Green violet-ears have a green throat, chest, belly and back, with a violet ear-patch on the side of their necks. They are typically found in southern Mexico, Honduras, Costa Rica, western Panama, northern Venezuela, western Venezuela and western Bolivia, but have been recorded in Michigan seven times. Green violet-ears have been spotted in Michigan in 1996, 2002, 2008, 2009 and 2011.

White-eared hummingbird. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

White-eared hummingbirds are green on their upperparts and breast and white on their undertail coverts. The most predominant feature on both males and females is the white eyestripe, which is more boldly colored for males. Males are more brightly-colored than females, with a turquoise-green throat and violet and black crown. The white-eared hummingbird is found from northern Mexico through New Mexico to Texas. It is accidental in Michigan and was recorded in 2005.

Broad-billed hummingbird. Photo by Dick Daniels. Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Male broad-billed hummingbirds are strikingly colorful, with a green back, blue throat and green chest, and a long, red bill with a dark tip. Females have a dark ear-patch, gray underparts and a white line over the eye. The broad-billed hummingbird typically lives in southern Arizona and Mexico and has only been recorded in Michigan in 1996 and 2000.

Michigan residents will most likely see a ruby-throated hummingbird at their feeders this spring and summer, but if you spot another type of hummingbird, take a picture (if possible!) and submit a Rare Bird Report Form to the Michigan Audubon.

MNA has a series of videos of ruby-throated hummingbirds on our YouTube channel for a closer look at Michigan’s only regularly occurring hummingbird species. A DVD of those videos can be purchased on our website.