Category Archives: North America

Are Grackles Birds of Prey?

Grackle silhouette

Earlier this month, a question about Common Grackles was posed on the Illinois listserv: Are Grackles birds of prey? The reason for the question: the person who asked had witnessed a grackle preying upon nestling sparrows.

What is a bird of prey?
There are various definitions that apply to the term bird of prey. Birds of prey are hunters that capture food items (prey) using their specially adapted strong feet and sharp talons. Birds of prey mainly hunt vertebrates, including mammals and other birds. A bird of prey belongs to the taxonomical order Falconiformes*. Birds of prey are carnivores at the top of the food chain.

Grackles are not birds of prey
Common Grackles are omnivorous; they eat berries, seeds, and other plant material as well as eggs (raided from nests), frogs, insects, and fish (which they hunt). They are opportunists; they may hunt and kill prey including small birds and rodents in some circumstances. They forage and hunt mainly by using their beaks. Common Grackles belong to the large songbird order Passeriformes. According to The Birds of North America Online, year-round, Common Grackles eat a diet of 70 to 75% vegetable (seeds, fruits, etc).

Common Grackle

So though a grackle may capture and kill a prey item, it is not a bird of prey. While visiting the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex with my family last month, I noticed a Common Grackle carrying a small anole (lizard) in its beak. It was hopping around the LC-39A walkway structure and vocalizing. I wondered if it was trying to get to hungry nestlings somewhere on the structure, but I had to leave before I could find out the bird’s eventual destination.

Common Grackle

*There are conflicting schools of thought on how some birds of prey should be classified. Depending on what taxonomy is followed, birds of prey may fall into one or two or more different orders.

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Posted in Behavior, Florida | 1 Comment

F05: a famous gull

In my last Bird-a-Day Challenge update post, I briefly mentioned the bird I used for February 27th – a Lesser Black-backed Gull. Here is a little more about this special bird, F05. He is famous.

Lesser Black-backed Gull
Famous Larus

Since 2007 this bird has been observed as part of a mated pair breeding on Appledore Island in Maine. This is remarkable because it is only the second record of a Lesser Black-backed Gull (LBBG) breeding in North America, and the first record for the east coast. The female mate is a Herring Gull. Gulls generally tend to be monogamous, though F05 is known to have had at least three mates (along with a bit of drama) since 2007.

F05 and his mate(s) raised chicks that survived to fledge in 2007, 2008, and 2009. After an off year in 2010, F05 and a new mate raised a chick successfully in 2011.

In late January 2009 F05 was first seen wintering on the beach in Daytona Beach Shores, Florida, during the Space Coast Birding Festival.

F05 was seen wintering in Daytona Beach Shores again in 2010, in 2011, and in 2011-12.

After being seen over the winter of 2011-2012 in Florida, F05 was not seen at all during the 2012 summer / breeding season on Appledore Island. He was presumed dead until this January, when Michael Brothers (the original finder in 2009) spotted F05 once more in Daytona Beach Shores. And he was still there on February 27th, when Arthur and I spotted him among the thousands of gulls on the beach that late afternoon.

Gulls at Frank Rendon Park
Find the famous one!

The gulls return to Appledore to begin breeding in May. Time will tell if F05 will join them.

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Posted in Banding, Florida | Leave a comment

Carolina Wrens will nest anywhere

It may be the early days of spring, but breeding for Carolina Wrens here in Florida has been underway for a while already. Last year I took some photos of an active Carolina Wren nest at Gemini Springs. Ma Wren thought a utility box would be a great spot to raise chicks.

Carolina Wren nest
Carolina Wren nest in utility box; 08-APR-12

Carolina Wren nest
Carolina Wren nest in utility box; 08-APR-12

Carolina Wren chicks in nest
Carolina Wren chicks in nest; 08-APR-12

baby Carolina Wren in nest
Carolina Wren chicks in nest; 11-APR-12

The babies were gone when I checked the nest again two days later; some days later again I looked again for any signs of re-nesting but only found a lonely anole in the box. Shortly thereafter, I noted that the box was closed (as it should have been in the first place), but I bet Ma Wren had already found another spot to raise her subsequent brood.

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Posted in Behavior, Florida, Gemini Springs | 2 Comments

Raptor nest drama

Osprey nests are very common here in central Florida, especially on utility structures. I wanted to monitor a nest or two for the citizen science project Osprey Watch this year, so when I noticed Ospreys visiting an existing nest that I pass by on my bike a few times a week, I took note. Unfortunately the sun is always behind this site from the bike path, so photos are usually lousy.

Adult(s) visit nest site early in the season, 29 January 2013

In the following weeks I saw adult birds bringing material to the nest, or visiting the nest or structure, but I didn’t really stop to watch them as it didn’t appear that anyone was sitting on eggs yet.

Then sometime last month I noticed a Red-tailed Hawk perched on the utility structure, not far from the nest. I wondered if the Ospreys had abandoned the nest site. Unfortunately I didn’t document this sighting or any that followed, being distracted with a pending house move among other things.

Finally on March 9th, at the end of a late afternoon ride, I stopped to look at the site again. I saw a Red-tailed Hawk that appeared to be sitting inside the nest.

Red-tailed Hawk on Osprey nest
Red-tailed Hawk on Osprey nest, 9 March 2013

This morning there was a bit of raptor drama at the nest site and nearby. First, as I approached the utility lines I was thrilled to see a pair of Bald Eagles fly over the road in front of me. They flew at a leisurely pace, but were soon followed by a Red-shouldered Hawk who was screaming bloody murder. The eagles continued on their way, but not before showing some aggression towards each other with some flipped-over talon waving.

As I biked by the Osprey nest, less than a block away, I heard a Red-tailed Hawk keering. I stopped to look at the nest and saw a hawk perched on the structure, and an Osprey approaching the nest. Wow! I guess the Ospreys didn’t give up after all? The hawk took flight and then suddenly a second Red-tailed Hawk came out of the woods and gave the Osprey chase! The Osprey banked and went after one of the flying hawks. The raptors chased each other around for about 45 seconds before the Osprey and one of the hawks disappeared over the woods and out of my view. The other Red-tailed Hawk returned to the structure.

Red-tailed Hawk at Osprey nest
Red-tailed Hawk at Osprey nest, 18 March 2013

Both species would be expected to be deep into breeding season now, and either could already be sitting on eggs, so I really wonder what is going on at this nest site. I also think it is a bit unusual for a Red-tailed Hawk to nest in such an open area, in a nest not self-made.

Red-tailed Hawk by Osprey nest
Red-tailed Hawk at Osprey nest, 18 March 2013

I love all the raptors I get to see here on a regular basis. In fact, the above encounters were not even the best raptor sightings I had this morning! How’s that for a teaser for a future blog post?! Anyway, if you love raptors too, you should be following the Crossley ID Blog Tour, a celebration of raptors. The blog tour is for the upcoming publication of The Crossley ID Guide: Raptors. Be sure to check out the post this Wednesday on sister blog!

Crossley ID Guide Blog Tour

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Posted in Behavior, Books, Florida | Leave a comment

Chilly Cooper’s Hawk noms

My parents had a back yard treat last month — a Cooper’s Hawk having lunch in the snow.

Cooper's Hawk
Cooper’s Hawk with prey, 27-FEB-13 | Chicago area, IL | photo by Mary Evenstad

Look at how the Mourning Doves on the left side of the below photo aren’t bothered at all (actually I would guess they are totally oblivious) as the Cooper’s Hawk eats away on the other side of the yard.

Cooper's Hawk and Morning Doves have lunch
Cooper’s Hawk and Mourning Doves, 27-FEB-13 | Chicago area, IL | photo by Mary Evenstad

I think the prey item is a Hairy or Downy Woodpecker based on the striping on the plucked feathers. It’s not a Mourning Dove… maybe that’s why the other doves didn’t head for the hills? Here’s a short video of the Cooper’s Hawk with its lunch.

Cooper’s Hawk with lunch, 27-FEB-13 | Chicago area, IL | video by Mary Evenstad

Thanks, Mom!!

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Posted in Illinois, Yard Birds | Leave a comment


A few weeks ago I took a short walk on the beach at Daytona Beach Shores. I noticed some gulls scrambling over pieces of fish, maybe scraps left behind by anglers who were done fishing for the day.

Great Black-backed Gull with fish scraps


Gulls fighting over fish scraps

Great Black-backed Gull with fish scraps

Great Black-backed Gull with fish scraps

Great Black-backed Gull with fish scraps

Great Black-backed Gull with fishing line

Isn’t that last picture cute? I thought I was capturing a whimsical photo of an “unlikely friendship” but I didn’t notice until looking at the photos later at home that the gull has fishing line trailing from it. You can click on the photo to view it larger on I feel terrible I didn’t notice it at the time, though if the bird was flighted I don’t think I could have done anything. Fish scraps aren’t the only things left behind by fisherfolk. Please please please pick up and properly discard loose fishing line whenever and wherever you see it.

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Posted in Behavior, Florida | 2 Comments


Yesterday I decided to sleep in and skip a morning bird walk. Of course this resulted in me feeling antsy by the afternoon, so after a surprise soaking afternoon rain I headed out the door and biked to Gemini Springs. It was just about half past three and the clouds persisted. It looked like it might rain again at any moment so in the dreary weather I took an accelerated hike through my usual haunts. It was a nice short walk and I picked up 35+ species, a good total considering the time of day.

I walked back to my bike, stowed my gear, and headed out of the park, intending to make one last quick stop at a stand of snags to see if an immature Red-headed Woodpecker was hanging out in its usual spot. It was. Target acquired, I straddled my bike and was just about to leave when a small flock of birds landed in the grass between the bike path and the snags. I scanned the flock, finding only Yellow-rumped Warblers. The last bird my binoculars landed on was partially obscured by grass, but I could see a stocky reddish figure scooting in the grass — just like a Fox Sparrow.

ZOINKS! A Fox Sparrow?!?!!!!!!!!!!11!!!

To give you an idea why I was so excited at the prospect of finding a Fox Sparrow at my local patch in central Florida, here is a USGS map of Christmas Bird Count sightings. This gives a good idea of the winter range for this species.

Fox Sparrow Range

I watched the bird for just about a half minute before fumbling to leave my bike (which I was still straddling) and fumbling for my camera. In my clumsiness and excitement I lost sight of the bird. Oh noes!

So I waited. And waited. After about 15 minutes, the Yellow-rumped Warblers returned to forage in the grass. No Big Red. I waited a few more minutes before pulling up Fox Sparrow on the Sibley app on my iPhone. I played the bird’s song and to my amazement and utter delight, a foxy Fox Sparrow landed in a small tree just twenty yards from where I was standing. The light was POOR but I started snapping away. The resulting shots are fine for ID but not much more. The bird perched for a good three minutes so I was able to watch it for a while too. What a beauty! (Seriously, Fox Sparrows are gorgeous. Here’s a better Fox Sparrow photo.)

Fox Sparrow

This morning, Arthur and I returned to Gemini Springs and Arthur spotted the sparrow in the same general area where I found it yesterday. I wonder how much longer the bird will linger here? Some migrants are already on the move. It probably won’t be too long for the Fox Sparrow, either.

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Posted in Florida, Gemini Springs, Rare / Vagrant | 2 Comments

Do squirrels eat oranges?

It would appear that yes, squirrels enjoy a bit of citrus in their diet from time to time. At least the Eastern Gray Squirrels here in Volusia County, Florida, seem to enjoy them. 😉

Last year our orange trees didn’t produce any fruit, so this is the first time I’ve seen any squirrel-on-orange action in the yard.

Do squirrels eat oranges?

I’ve seen them peeling fallen fruit, but I’ve also seen them go after fruit on the tree.

Do squirrels eat oranges?

I’ve seen squirrels carrying oranges around the yard in their mouths, which is pretty freaking adorable.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers also eat from the oranges, but I am not 100% sure if they are eating the fruit or the ants and other insects attracted to the sweetness. Yellow-rumped Warblers also visit the oranges, and I’m pretty sure they are after the ants.

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Posted in Florida, Not Birds, Yard Birds | Leave a comment

Ecdysis & Exuvia

I am not holding a crab in this photo. I am holding an exuvia.


I found this exoskeleton at Canaveral National Seashore. I was looking at a huge horseshoe crab shell when I almost stepped on this neat little thing. Ecdysis is the process of molting the exoskeleton in invertebrate species. I wish I knew what kind of crab this specimen came from.

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Posted in Florida, Not Birds, Offbeat | Leave a comment

Mini Big Green Day

Listing has become part of my enjoyment of birding, and BIGBY listing is a major component. BIGBY birding is “green” birding – getting around without the use of fossil fuels. I spent a great deal of today birding and covered about 35 miles on foot (9) and bike (26). Covering that ground I found 61 species. The Volusia Big Day high count is 95 species, so my total is nowhere near the record, but I’m still well pleased – especially considering my inland location.

I had some big misses, including birds I have seen in recent days at locations I visited today: Belted Kingfisher; American Kestrel; and Loggerhead Shrike. I’m also skunked for the year on some relatively common birds that I had hoped to pick up today, but didn’t: Black-and-white Warbler; Limpkin; Barred Owl; Green Heron; ugh, the list goes on. And if I had been thinking, Rock Dove and House Sparrow would’ve been gimmes at the grocery store parking lot, but I forgot to make that little detour on the way home.

I biked to Gemini Springs in the morning, and walked a much longer route than I normally do, including the entire stretch of the Spring-to-spring trail. I came home at lunchtime with 50 species.

Ospreys at Gemini
Ospreys, Gemini Springs

In the back yard I added Chipping Sparrow and Downy Woodpecker.

Downy Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker, our back yard

In the afternoon I biked to the East Regional Rail Trail, which winds through Enterprise and Deltona. I stopped at Audubon Park where I added 7 species to the day’s list. Biking home I heard American Crows flying overhead and then I had bike around a Wild Turkey in the path — my last bird of the day.

Hooded Merganser
Hooded Merganser, Audubon Park

My pace was quite leisurely; my impressive-to-me total leaves me with a target to beat on a future outing! Here’s my list for today:

Blue-winged Teal – Anas discors
Green-winged Teal – Anas crecca
Hooded Merganser – Lophodytes cucullatus
Wild Turkey – Meleagris gallopavo
Pied-billed Grebe – Podilymbus podiceps
Wood Stork – Mycteria americana
Double-crested Cormorant – Phalacrocorax auritus
Anhinga – Anhinga anhinga
Great Blue Heron – Ardea herodias
Great Egret – Ardea alba
Snowy Egret – Egretta thula
Little Blue Heron – Egretta caerulea
Tricolored Heron – Egretta tricolor
Cattle Egret – Bubulcus ibis
White Ibis – Eudocimus albus
Glossy Ibis – Plegadis falcinellus
Black Vulture – Coragyps atratus
Turkey Vulture – Cathartes aura
Osprey – Pandion haliaetus
Bald Eagle – Haliaeetus leucocephalus
Red-shouldered Hawk – Buteo lineatus
Red-tailed Hawk – Buteo jamaicensis
Common Gallinule – Gallinula galeata
American Coot – Fulica americana
Sandhill Crane – Grus canadensis
Killdeer – Charadrius vociferus
Greater Yellowlegs – Tringa melanoleuca
Lesser Yellowlegs – Tringa flavipes
Wilson’s Snipe – Gallinago delicata
Ring-billed Gull – Larus delawarensis
Forster’s Tern – Sterna forsteri
Mourning Dove – Zenaida macroura
Red-bellied Woodpecker – Melanerpes carolinus
Downy Woodpecker – Picoides pubescens
Pileated Woodpecker – Dryocopus pileatus
Eastern Phoebe – Sayornis phoebe
White-eyed Vireo – Vireo griseus
Blue-headed Vireo – Vireo solitarius
Blue Jay – Cyanocitta cristata
American Crow – Corvus brachyrhynchos
Fish Crow – Corvus ossifragus
Carolina Chickadee – Poecile carolinensis
Tufted Titmouse – Baeolophus bicolor
House Wren – Troglodytes aedon
Carolina Wren – Thryothorus ludovicianus
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher – Polioptila caerulea
Ruby-crowned Kinglet – Regulus calendula
Hermit Thrush – Catharus guttatus
American Robin – Turdus migratorius
Gray Catbird – Dumetella carolinensis
Northern Mockingbird – Mimus polyglottos
Orange-crowned Warbler – Oreothlypis celata
Palm Warbler – Setophaga palmarum
Pine Warbler – Setophaga pinus
Yellow-rumped Warbler – Setophaga coronata
Chipping Sparrow – Spizella passerina
Northern Cardinal – Cardinalis cardinalis
Red-winged Blackbird – Agelaius phoeniceus
Common Grackle – Quiscalus quiscula
Boat-tailed Grackle – Quiscalus major
American Goldfinch – Spinus tristis

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Posted in Florida, Green Birding | Leave a comment