Birds

Opsrey with wings spread

Middleton Evans

 

The most common bird orders that you will find in the Chesapeake are: Navigation

 

Landfowl- heavy-bodied ground-feeding bird



Wild Turkey - Meleagris gallopavo

Identify Meosprey in flight

  • Length: 4 feet
  • Male:
  • iridescent feathers
  • non-feathered red, white, and blue head
  • Female:
  • Brown and buff-colored feathers
  • Pale blue head

Find Me

  • Oak woodlands and pine-oak forests

I Like to Eat

  • Acorns, fruits, seeds, and insects

Biologist's Note

  • In the 1940s, wild turkeys were caught and transported to new areas where they flourished. Prior to 1940, farm-raised turkeyts were introduced to the wild, but failed to survive.

Cool Fact

  • The wild turkey's eyesight is six times more powerful than that of a human.
 

Waterfowl- a game bird that frequents water


Bufflehead - Bucephala albeola

Identify MeBuffleheads on the water

  • Small, chunky body
  • Short neck and short, gray bill
  • Males:
  • Mostly white with a black back
  • Glossy, greenish-black head with a large white batch that looks like a bonnet
  • Females:
  • Grayish-brown back, head, and wings
  • White patch on wings
  • Small white smudge on their cheeks

Find Me

  • Open waters and adjacent wetlands of the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal rivers
  • Freshwater lakes and ponds throughout the Bay watershed

I Like to Eat

  • Variety of aquatic plants and small animals, including insects, mollusks, crustaceans, and small fish

Biologist's Note

  • Buffleheads are constantly moving, either swimming along the water’s surface or diving underneath in search of food.

Cool Fact

  • Buffleheads are also known as butterballs.

Canvasback - Aythya valisineria

Identify MeCanvasback on the water

  • Long, dark bill
  • Males:
  • Rusty red head and neck
  • Black breast
  • White body and black tail
  • Females:
  • Brownish head and chest
  • Whitish body and brownish tail
  • Length: 18 to 22 inches
  • Find Me

    • Shallow, vegetated areas on the Bay and its tidal river

    I Like to Eat

    • Leaves, buds, and roots of bay grasses; paticularly wild celery

    Biologist's Note

    • Nearly half of North America’s canvasbacks used to winter in the Chesapeake Bay region. That figure has since declined to about 20 percent due to a decline in bay grasses, their preferred food. However, canvasback populations appear to be slowly recovering due to better protection measures.

    Cool Fact

    • The canvasback gets part of its scientific name, valisineria, from the scientific name of wild celery, Vallisneria americana, its favorite food.

Hooded Merganser - Lophodytes cucullatus

Identify MeMale hooded merganser

  • Males:
  • Mostly black with brown sides
  • White, fan-like hood
  • White breast with two black bars
  • Females:
  • Dark gray or brown
  • Dusky brown head and chest
  • Cinnamon-colored hood
  • Long, serrated bills
  • Length: 13 to 17 inches
  • Wingspan: ~26 inches

Find Me

  • Freshwater ponds, lakes, and wooded swamps in autumn and spring; found on shallow fresh water and brackish waters on the Chesapeake Bay in winter

I Like to Eat

  • Aquatic creatures including fish, insects, crabs, and crayfish

Biologist's Note

  • Although they are strong swimmers, hooded mergansers are awkward on land because their legs are located far back on their body.

Cool Fact

  • During migration, hooded mergansers prefer to follow waterways rather than flying.

Mallard - Anas platyrhynchos

Identify MeMallard breeding pair

  • Males:
  • Green, iridescent head
  • Yellow bill
  • Chestnut brown chest and brown sides
  • Females:
  • Mostly mottled brown
  • Brownish-orange bill
  • Both grow up to 25 inches with a 36 inch wingspan

Find Me

  • Shallow-water areas, including streams, rivers, lakes, wetlands, and harbors

I Like to Eat

  • Seeds, snails, insects, bay grasses, and aquatic invertebrates

Biologist's Note

  • Very closely related to black ducks, it is not uncommon for mallards and black ducks to breed. This produces mallard/black duck hybrids that have physical characteristics of both ducks.

Cool Fact

  • Mallards are one of the most abundant waterfowl in the world.

Ruddy Duck - Oxyura jamaicensis

Identify MeRuddy duck on the water

  • Large head with a short, thick neck
  • Wide, gray bill
  • Males:
  • Dull brown in autumn
  • Grayish-brown in winter
  • Chestnut body and blue bill in summer
  • White cheeks and a black "cap" on their head
  • Females:
  • Grayish-brown
  • Dark, smudge-like line across their cheek
  • Length: 16 inches
  • Wingspan: 23 inches

Find Me

  • Shallow waters of the Bay and its tidal rivers, including marshes
  • Spends time on freshwater ponds and lakes; areas with lots of bay grasses

I Like to Eat

  • Bay grasses, insects, mollusks, and crustaceans

Biologist's Note

  • Ruddy ducks are one of the smallest ducks found in the Chesapeake Bay region. Even though they are small, they lay some of the largest eggs of any duck in the world.

Cool Fact

  • Ruddy ducks are excellent swimmers. They use their long, stiff tail as a rudder to move underwater. However, they are extremely clumsy on land.

Tundra Swan - Cygnus columbianus

Identify MeSwan about to take flight

  • White body
  • Long, slender neck
  • Black bill
  • Length: 4.5 feet
  • Wingspan: more than 5 feet

Find Me

  • Shallow fresh and brackish waters; tidal rivers, wetlands, and marshes

I Like to Eat

  • Seeds and bay grasses such as redhead grass, widgeon grass and sago pondweed

Biologist's Note

  • They can be confused with the invasive mute swan. You can distinguish a tundra swan by its black bill and straight neck. Also, tundra swans are only found in the Bay region from late autumn through early spring, while mute swans live here year-round.

Cool Fact

  • Tundra swans are also known as the whistling swan. They are the most widespread swan in North America.

Wood Duck - Aix sponsa

Identify MeWood duck on the water

  • Long, squared tail
  • Sharp bill and claws
  • Males:
  • Head patterned with white stripes and iridecent green and purple patches
  • Red eyes
  • Reddish-orange bill
  • Chestnut breast
  • Females:
  • Dull, mottled brown
  • White eye patch
  • Length: 20 inches
  • Wingspan: 28 inches

Find Me

  • Freshwater wetlands such as wooded swamps; marshy edges of lakes, streams, and rivers

I Like to Eat

  • Seeds from trees, wetland plants, and bay grasses; also eats insects and small invertebrates

Biologist's Note

  • Wood ducks nearly went extinct in the early 1900s due to hunting and habitat loss. Hunting regulations and a popular program to put man-made nesting boxes in wood duck nesting areas helped them recover.

Cool Fact

  • Aix sponsa, the wood duck’s scientific name, translates to “waterfowl in a bridal dress.”
 

Shorebird- a bird that frequents the shoreline


American Oystercatcher - Haematopus palliatus

Identify MeOystercatcher on an oyster bar

  • Large, stocky shorebird
  • Long, blade-like, reddish-orange bill
  • Black head
  • Brownish back and white belly
  • Length: 19 inches

Find Me

  • Beaches, mud flats, and exposed oyster bars

I Like to Eat

  • Oysters, fiddler crabs, and other mullusks

Biologist's Note

  • Adults make a shallow depression in the sand that the line with crushed shells and other beach debris. Oystercatchers will build as many as five nests to confuse predators.

Cool Fact

  • The oystercatcher was historically known as the sea pie, but was re-named in 1731 when naturalist Mark Catesby observed the bird eating oysters.

Belted Kingfisher - Megaceryle alcyon

Identify MeKingfisher on tree branch

  • Stocky bird with a large head
  • Powder blue bead
  • Fine, white spotting on its wings and tail
  • Length: 11 to 14 inches
  • Wingspan: 19-33 inches

Find Me

  • Near streams, rivers, pods, lakes, and estuaries with trees nearby to spy on fish

I Like to Eat

  • Mainly small fish such as sticklebacks, mummichogs, trout and stonerollers

Biologist's Note

  • Human activity, including building roads and digging gravel pits, has actually helped expand the kingfisher’s breeding range by creating banks where they can nest.

Cool Fact

  • The belted kingfisher is one of a few bird species in which the female is more brightly colored than the male.

Great Blue Heron - Ardea herodias

Identify MeGreat Blue Heron in water

  • Blue-grey feathers
  • Plume of dark feathers on chest and back
  • Yellow bill
  • Dark, long legs
  • 6-foot wingspan
  • 4 1/2 feet tall

Find Me

  • Marshes, rivers, lakes, shorelines, and ponds

I Like to Eat

  • Mostly frogs and fish, but also small mammals, reptiles and even birds

Biologist's Note

  • The heron species was saved from extinction by the U.S. Government's passage of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, and the Lacey Act (which forbids foreign and interstate trade of wildlife parts).

Cool Fact

  • The great blue heron spends 90% of its waking hours foraging for food.

Northern Gannet - Morus bassanus

Identify MeGannet flying

  • Blue, spearlike bill
  • Spikey tail
  • White body
  • Black tipped wings and tail
  • Yellow coloring around base of skull

Find Me

  • Well off shore; nests on island cliffs and ledges

I Like to Eat

  • Small fish that live in dense schools; sometimes squid

Biologist's Note

  • Gannets migrate offshore along Atlantic Coast, some going around southern end of Florida and along Gulf Coast to Texas. Seen in the southern reaches of the Chesapeake Bay in the cooler months.

Cool Fact

  • Forages by plunging headfirst into water, sometimes from more than 100' above surface.

Sanderling - Calidris alba

Identify MeSanderlings running on the beach

  • Small, stout body
  • Brownish grey feathers in spring; grayish-white in winter
  • White belly
  • Straight black bill and black legs
  • Length: 7-8 inches
  • Wingspan: 14 inches

Find Me

  • Mud flats and sandy beaches

I Like to Eat

  • Small, beach-dwelling animals such as bristle worms, amphipods, mollusks, and crustaceans

Biologist's Note

  • Sanderlings do not nest and breed in the Bay region, instead breeding on islands along the rocky coast of the high Arctic tundra. Once their chicks hatch, sanderlings migrate south through the Chesapeake Bay region for the winter.

Cool Fact

  • Sanderlings are one of the most widespread wintering shorebirds in the world. They can be found from Massachusetts to the tip of South America.

Snowy Egret - Egretta thula

Identify MeSnowy egret in a tree

  • Medium sized white heron
  • Slender, black bill
  • Yellow feet
  • White,long, feathery plumes on its headm neck, and breast
  • Grows to 27 inches tall
  • Wingspan: 41 inches

    Find Me

    • Tidal marshes and wetlands; ponds and mud flats

    I Like to Eat

    • Fish, crustaceans, frogs, snakes, worms, and insects

    Biologist's Note

    • Long, wispy plumage grows on the snowy egret's back, neck and head during breeding season. In the 1800s, snowy egret populations were decimated due to the popularity of these plumes in fashion. With the help of protections that started in the 20th century, populations have recovered.

    Cool Fact

    • Snowy egrets are one of three white herons that visit the Chesapeake Bay region. The other two are the great egret and thecattle egret.
 

Diurnal Raptor - a carnivorous bird that feeds on meat from hunting during the day


Bald Eagle - Haliaeetus leucocephalus

Identify Meeagle in tree

  • Brown feathers
  • White tail and head (mature eagles)
  • Yellow beak and legs
  • Length: 3 1/2 feet

Find Me

  • Near large bodies of open water, roosting in dead trees

I Like to Eat

  • Primarily fish, but also small animals and occasionally dead animals

Biologist's Note

  • The bald eagle's recovery is a great success story. In the 1960s, the species was facing extinction from pollution/harmful chemicals. Protection under the Endangered Species Act has helped boost the population.

Cool Fact

  • Bald eagles fly up to 65 miles per hour in level flight, and up to 200 miles per hour when driving.

grphic depicting the increase in bald eagle breeding pairs


Osprey - Pandion haliaetus

Identify Meosprey in flight

  • Brown back and wings
  • White breast and upper legs
  • Long, sharp talons
  • Length: 2 feet

Find Me

  • Wetlands, lakes, rivers, and channel markers

I Like to Eat

  • Primarily fish, but also rodents, birds, and crustaceans

Biologist's Note

  • Osprey populations have rebounded since the U.S. banned the pesticide DDT and the U.S. Coast Guard stopped dismantling nests on channel markers

Cool Fact

  • Parents feed young osprey regurgitated food for the first 10 days of their lives

Red-tailed Hawk - Buteo jamaicensis

Identify Meosprey in flight

  • Mottled brown and white back
  • Whitish, dark-streaked underbelly
  • Yellow legs
  • Reddish-brown tail
  • Length: 2 feet

Find Me

  • Open fields, forests, bluffs, and streamside trees

I Like to Eat

  • Small animals, life squirrels and mice, along with birds, snakes, fish, and insects

Biologist's Note

  • Increasing numbers throughout most of its range, the red-tailed hawk is displacing other hawk species

Cool Fact

  • A pouch located halfway between the hawk's mouth and stomach stores food and gradually releases it to the stomach.
 

Nocturnal Raptor- a carnivorous bird that feeds on meat from hunting at night


Barred Owl - Bubo virginianus

Identify MeBarred Owl in tree

  • Grey face
  • Yellow beak
  • Dark brown eyes
  • Brown and white wings and body

Find Me

  • Cavities in trees; Forested areas near water in both deciduous and evergreen forests

I Like to Eat

  • Small animals including mice, squirrels, voles, rabbits, small birds, reptiles, insects and amphibians

Cool Fact

  • Juvenile barred owls can climb trees by gripping the bark with their talons and bill while flapping their wings and walking up the trunk.
  • Barred owls do not migrate. Most will stay in the same area for their entire lives.

Eastern Screech-owl - Megascops asio

Identify MeScreech-owl sitting on branch

  • Small, from 6 to 10 inches
  • Wingspan of 19 to 24 inches
  • Can be one of two color ranges: gray or redish-brown
  • Colored with bands and spots to blend on with tree bark
  • Bold color streaks on their breasts and "ear" tufts

Find Me

  • Eastern screech-owls do not migrate and are found in virtually all kinds of habitats below a 5,000-foot elevation.

I Like to Eat

  • Insects, invertebrates, amphibians, and reptiles

Biologist's Note

  • Eastern screech-owl pairs usually are monogamous and remain together for life, but some makes might mate with two different females. The second female may evict the first female, lay her own eggs in the nest and incubate both clutches.

Cool Fact

  • Eastern screech-owls are sometimes the most abundant and important small predator in urban and suburban forested areas.
 

Perching Birds- a bird with feet adapted for perching (as on tree branches)


Carolina Chickadee - Poecile carolinensis

Identify MeChickadee sitting on branch

  • Up to 4.5 inches long
  • Small, plump body with a short neck and a large head
  • White cheeks; black cap and bill
  • Back, wings, and tail are dark gray
  • Whitish belly and brownish colored sides

Find Me

  • Wooded areas, including forests, riparian areas, swamps, parks, and backyards with large trees.

I Like to Eat

  • Insects and spiders; seeds and berries

Biologist's Note

  • In winter, when temperatures drop, chickadees survive by holing themselves in a small cavity and lowering their body temperature to the point of hypothermia. They can stay this way for up to 15 hours.

Cool Fact

  • Carolina chickadees are the smallest chickadee in North America.

Eastern Bluebird - Sialia sialis

Identify MeBluebird on tree

  • Blue back
  • Rusty throat and chest
  • White belly
  • Length: 7 inches
  • Male:brighter, deeper colors

Find Me

  • Open woodlands, roadsides, farmlands and orchards

I Like to Eat

  • Fruit or insects

Biologist's Note

  • Having to compete for nest sites with European starlings and house sparrows is a critical factor in the bluebird's decline

Cool Fact

  • Bluebirds have excellent eyesight and can locate small bits of food from more than 100 feet away

Northern Cardinal - Cardinalis cardinalis

Identify MeCardinal sitting on branch

  • From 7 to 9 inches
  • Tall crest of feathers on top of their heads
  • Orange, cone-shaped beak
  • Males are bright red with a black face
  • Females are brownish-gray with a reddish crest

Find Me

  • Parks, gardens, thickets, backyards and open, wooded areas.

I Like to Eat

  • Seeds, insects, and small fruits

Biologist's Note

  • Pairs are monogamous and begin breeding in March and again in May-July.

Cool Fact

  • Cardinals are the state bird of the watershed states of Virginia and West Virginia, as well as of many states outside the watershed.

Last updated: April 9, 2018

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Suite 314

Annapolis, MD 21403

Phone:

(410) 260-2470

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