I hope you've had a great summer, and got to experience some breeding season bird drama! Speaking of breeding, some types of birds have a unique juvenile plumage that allows us to easily recognize this year's babies. The young birds typically are the same size and shape as the adults, just with different colors. A couple common birds with distinctive juvenile plumage are the American Robin and European Starling. Young robins are paler than the adults, with speckles on the back and chest. They may also have pale markings on the face. European Starlings hatched this summer are a dusty brown with a black bill. They stand out as being paler than the adults and lacking iridescence. You may also see starlings with a 'patchwork' of brown and glossy dark feathers as the young molt into their adult colors.
Keeping with the theme of baby birds, we saw something interesting on a Woodlands birdwalk a couple weeks ago - a young Brown-headed Cowbird that was being fed and tended by a parent Chipping Sparrow. Yes, that's right - the cowbird was being raised by a different species. Believe it or not, this is actually quite typical! Brown-headed Cowbirds are brood parasites, which means that the females do not tend their young at all, but rather lay their eggs in other birds' nests. Because cowbirds are large compared to birds like the Chipping Sparrow, this can result in comical scenes of a parent feeding a baby that is much larger than they are!
To stay in the summer mood, let's talk about the ocean! I will be going to the Jersey shore this weekend, but I'm not going to stay at the beach. I'll be boarding a boat that will take me (and several others) far out to sea for a birding trip called a pelagic. It may surprise you, but there are many birds that live offshore, and can't really be seen from land. Albatrosses are probably the most famous birds with this lifestyle. Many of the species that I hope to see belong to a group referred to as the 'tubenoses'. To learn more about this group, click here. They get the name from tube-shaped structures that sit on their beak which house a salt gland allowing the seagoing wanderers to drink salt water - the excess salt is excreted and drips down the beak. Birds are fascinating!
Written by Toribird