Birds

Class Aves

This class is for the birds!  Birds have scales on their feet, and feathers, which are just modified scales, covering their body.  Birds lay eggs that require incubation and have hollow bones, allowing even large birds to weigh only a few pounds.  Birds also have the best vision of all the vertebrates.  The number of birds that frequent the salt marsh is extensive, so we decided to group the birds into four basic groups.

Birds of prey: Birds of prey, also called raptors, are any predatory bird that hunts and feeds on larger animals, such as mice, reptiles, fish, and other birds.  Raptors have a hooked beak, sharp talons, and exceptional vision that allows them to see prey on the ground during flight.

Songbirds:  Songbirds are known as “perching” birds, as their feet are specifically adapted to grip a perch, like a small branch.  True to the name, they are well-developed vocally; each will have unique calls or songs.  These songs are used for various communications.  Most birds have a song solely for courtship.

Seabirds and Shorebirds:  A seabird is any bird that spends most, if not all, of its life in the marine environment and has adapted to interact with, and get its nutrition from the ocean. A shorebird is any bird that frequents the shoreline; they generally have long legs and slender bills to probe sediment for prey.  Gulls, terns, and skimmers have similar traits and behaviors, so are grouped together.

Wading birds:  Wading birds can be found in fresh and saltwater habitats.  On the coast, they are most often seen in tidal creeks, feeding along the creek banks, near oyster reefs, and on mud flats.  They have long, thin legs to help them walk across soft, unstable mud, their bills are usually long and designed to probe soft sediments for prey, and their necks are usually long and sinuous.

Birds of Prey

American bald eagle C

Haliaeetus leucocephalus

Characteristics:

Brown body; white head, neck, and tail

Characteristics:

Brown body; white head, neck, and tail

Range:

North America

Size:

70-90in (2m) wingspan

Habitat:

Nests in tall trees along shorelines

Fun Fact:

White plumage will not develop until eaglet is at least three years old

Osprey C

Pandion haliaetus

Characteristics:

Brown with white speckled breast, dark stripe across eyes

Characteristics:

Brown with white speckled breast, dark stripe across eyes

Range:

North America, Alaska, south to Chile

Size:

55-70in (1.5m) wingspan

Habitat:
Fun Fact:

Dense, oily plumage allows deep dives for prey

Red-tailed hawk C

Buteo jamaicensis

Characteristics:

Brown plumage above, white below; belly streaked with brown

Characteristics:

Brown plumage above, white below; belly streaked with brown

Range:

North America

Size:

48in (1.25m) wingspan

Habitat:

Builds nest with sticks and conceals it between branches of a tree

Fun Fact:

Songbirds

Belted kingfisher C

Megaceryle alcyon

Characteristics:

Blue dorsally with white spots; females with red band on belly

Characteristics:

Blue dorsally with white spots; females with red band on belly

Range:

North America

Size:

23in (58cm) wingspan

Habitat:

Nests on banks

Fun Fact:

Courting males will feed females

Marsh wren C

Cistothorus palustris

Characteristics:

Small brown, gray body; upturned tail; streaks on head and above eye

Characteristics:

Small brown, gray body; upturned tail; streaks on head and above eye

Range:

North America coasts to Mexico

Size:

5in (13cm) wingspan

Habitat:

Hides in marsh grass

Fun Fact:

Heard more than seen

Red-winged blackbird C

Agelaius phoeniceus

Characteristics:

Males black with red and yellow spot on wings; females brown with red chin

Characteristics:

Males black with red and yellow spot on wings; females brown with red chin

Range:

Throughout U.S.

Size:

16in (41cm) wingspan

Habitat:

Fresh and salt marshes

Fun Fact:

Commonly seen in small flocks

Saltmarsh sparrow C

Ammodramus caudacutus

Characteristics:

Yellow face, gray patch over ear

Characteristics:

Yellow face, gray patch over ear

Range:

Atlantic coast of the U.S. and upper Gulf of Mexico

Size:

7in (18cm) wingspan

Habitat:

Salt marsh

Fun Fact:

Nests often washed away by extreme tides

Seabirds and Shorebirds

American oystercatcher C

Haematopus palliatus

Characteristics:

Black heads with white breast; long, red bill

Characteristics:

Black heads with white breast; long, red bill

Range:

U.S. coasts

Size:

35in (1m) wingspan

Habitat:

Sand and mud flats near oyster reefs

Fun Fact:

Form long-term bonds with mate

Brown pelican C

Pelecanus occidentalis

Characteristics:

Head white, brown down the neck; long bill with pouch (gular)

Characteristics:

Head white, brown down the neck; long bill with pouch (gular)

Range:

NC to FL and Gulf of Mexico

Size:

78in (2m) wingspan

Habitat:
Fun Fact:

Removed from endangered species list in 2009

Clapper rail C

Rallus longirostris

Characteristics:

Thin with long legs and large feet; black and white bars on sides

Characteristics:

Thin with long legs and large feet; black and white bars on sides

Range:

U.S. coasts to Peru and Brazil

Size:

21in (53cm) wingspan

Habitat:

Construct canopy over nests to conceal

Fun Fact:

Very secretive

Double-crested cormorant C

Phalacrocorax auritus

Characteristics:

Black with yellow beak; long neck

Characteristics:

Black with yellow beak; long neck

Range:

North America

Size:

48in (1m) wingspan

Habitat:

Fresh and coastal waterways

Fun Fact:

Will stand on banks with wings spread to dry

Black skimmer C

Rynchops niger

Characteristics:

Lower bill longer; white belly; red legs

Characteristics:

Lower bill longer; white belly; red legs

Range:

U.S. coasts, Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico

Size:

42-50in (1.25m) wingspan

Habitat:

Estuaries, beaches, shell bars

Fun Fact:

Skims jaw on water surface to feed

Laughing gull C

Leucophaeus atricilla

Characteristics:

Orange bill, gray body

Characteristics:

Orange bill, gray body

Range:

Atlantic coast of U.S., Gulf of Mexico to South America

Size:

47in (1m) wingspan

Habitat:

Frequents beaches, marshes, landfills

Fun Fact:

Has a loud characteristic laughing-like call

Least tern C

Sternula antillarum

Characteristics:

White head and forked tail; orange bills with black tips

Characteristics:

White head and forked tail; orange bills with black tips

Range:

Atlantic coast of U.S.

Size:

20in (51cm) wingspan

Habitat:

Estuaries, beaches and sandbars

Fun Fact:

Shakes water on eggs to cool them

Royal tern C

Thalasseus maximus

Characteristics:

Orange bill; gray body and black feathers on cap

Characteristics:

Orange bill; gray body and black feathers on cap

Range:

Coasts of U.S., Atlantic coast of Africa

Size:

53in (1.25m) wingspan

Habitat:

Estuaries, beaches

Fun Fact:

Mating pair can find their chick in a crowd

Wading Birds

Black-crowned night heron C

Nycticorax nycticorax

Characteristics:

Black back; robust, pointed bill

Characteristics:

Black back; robust, pointed bill

Range:

North, Central, and South America

Size:

47in (1m) wingspan

Habitat:

Salt and fresh wetlands

Fun Fact:

Will take care of any chick

Yellow-crowned night heron C

Nyctanassa violacea

Characteristics:

White stripe behind eyes; yellow on crown

Characteristics:

White stripe behind eyes; yellow on crown

Range:

Southeast, Central to northern South America

Size:

45in (1m) wingspan

Habitat:

Wetlands

Fun Fact:

Forages 15ft from other birds

Green heron C

Butorides virescens

Characteristics:

Dark green back, gray wings

Characteristics:

Dark green back, gray wings

Range:

U.S. coasts, Central America to northern South America

Size:

27in (69cm) wingspan

Habitat:

Swamps, marshes, reservoirs

Fun Fact:

Creates lures to entice small fish

Great blue heron C

Ardea herodias

Characteristics:

Blue-gray, black stripe over eye

Characteristics:

Blue-gray, black stripe over eye

Range:

North and Central America to the northern tip of South America

Size:

80in (2m) wingspan

Habitat:

Salt and fresh marsh

Fun Fact:

Weighs 5-6 pounds

Little Blue heron C

Egretta caerulea

Characteristics:

Body with purple tint; yellow eyes, black tip on bill

Characteristics:

Body with purple tint; yellow eyes, black tip on bill

Range:

Southeast interior and coast, Central and South America, Caribbean

Size:

41in (1m) wingspan

Habitat:
Fun Fact:

“teeth” on toe to groom their plumage

Tricolored heron C

Egretta tricolor

Characteristics:

Dark with red tint, white belly; long yellow legs

Characteristics:

Dark with red tint, white belly; long yellow legs

Range:

Atlantic coast of the U.S., Central to South America, Caribbean

Size:

37in (1m) wingspan

Habitat:

Coastline habitats

Fun Fact:

Will use foot to stir up sediment

Great egret C

Casmerodius albus

Characteristics:

White plumage, orange bill

Characteristics:

White plumage, orange bill

Range:

Southeastern U.S., southern Canada

Size:

57in (1.5m) wingspan

Habitat:

Fresh and salt marsh

Fun Fact:

Mainly eats fish, but may eat amphibians, reptiles, and small mammals

Snowy egret C

Egretta thula

Characteristics:

Bright white plumage with black legs and yellow feet

Characteristics:

Bright white plumage with black legs and yellow feet

Range:

North America and most of South America

Size:

39in (1m) wingspan

Habitat:
Fun Fact:

Competes for breeding areas through loud noise displays

Roseate spoonbill C

Ajaja ajaja

Characteristics:

Pink body, white head; spoon-shaped bill; long pink legs

Characteristics:

Pink body, white head; spoon-shaped bill; long pink legs

Range:

SC to FL, Gulf of Mexico, tropics in Central and South America

Size:

50in (1.25m) wingspan

Habitat:
Fun Fact:

Sweeps bill back and forth to feed

White ibis C

Eudocimus albus

Characteristics:

Curved red bill; red legs; black wing tips

Characteristics:

Curved red bill; red legs; black wing tips

Range:

Southeast U.S., Gulf of Mexico, Central America

Size:

36in (1m) wingspan

Habitat:

Salt and fresh marshes; mudflats and grass fields

Fun Fact:

Nests and feeds in groups

Glossy ibis C

Plegadis falcinellus

Characteristics:

Brown body; bill curved

Characteristics:

Brown body; bill curved

Range:

Atlantic coast of the U.S., Gulf of Mexico, Central and South America, Africa

Size:

36in (1m) wingspan

Habitat:

Marshes, swamps, rice fields

Fun Fact:

Probes soft mud with bill

Wood stork C

Mycteria americana

Characteristics:

White; black edges on wings and tail; head and neck naked

Characteristics:

White; black edges on wings and tail; head and neck naked

Range:

SC to southern South America

Size:

60in (1.5m) wingspan

Habitat:

Habitat alteration put them on endangered species list

Fun Fact:
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