Category: birds

A Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) on a wintery, gray day

female snowy owl (bubo scandiacus)

A Female Snowy Owl

The Snowy Owl is endemic to the Arctic regions of North America and Eurasia. Males are almost pure white, while females, as in this image, have more dark flecks and bars in their plumage. The feathers of juveniles are heavily barred and may be primarily dark.

Snowy Owls are ground nesters. Unlike most owls which are most active at night, the Snowy Owl hunts during the day, especially during the summer. They subsist of rodents ad waterfowl; and will eat carrion when available.

Northern Idaho and surrounding areas of Washington and Montana are blessed with a great variety of both flora and fauna.  The southern edge of the boreal forest, the Rocky Mountains and inter-montane habitat types blend into one another into.  Many species of migratory birds pass through the Idaho panhandle following Pacific flyway routes. Canada Geese, often called Honkers, are one of the most common.  Large flocks settle on the lakes and rivers.

Some Canada Geese are also year-round residents in the Sandpoint-Lake Pend Oreille area.  The image below depicts some of them on Sand Creek just a short distance upriver from Sandpoint.

While we do not seem to have suffered from a loss of birds that has plagued many part of North America I have noticed an increasing number of dead geese, and fish, in recent years while in my kayak. Whether that somehow results from the appearance of Eurasian Milfoil in out waterways, chemicals used to combat the infestation, construction and habitat degradation near the water, or some other factor, I do not know, but I worry about environmental degradation in this are as the population grows.

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honkers and cattails

Canada Geese And Cattails


In the north the term “breakup” refers to melting of the ice in lakes and , especially, rivers. When breakup occurs masses of ice begin melting and moving; spring soon follows,

I recently picked up a few tips that will allow me to become better at the mechanics of using 3D software to make art. Those tips are incorporated into this image; a mountain lake in spring. Sunlight reflects off trees in the distance in a more natural way that I was able to achieve previously. And I think I was able to render a fairly good approximation of ice as it appears on a lake in spring when it melts most days and then refreezes at night. And the partially-melted snow on the hills also looks natural.

I added a Steller’s Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri) in the foreground as they are one of the most beautiful and interesting birds in the upper left hand corner of North America. We call them screeches as that is what they do.

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a mountain lake in spring

A Mountain Lake In Spring

A bald eagle perched on a driftwood log washed up on the rock-strewn coast of Alaska; mountains loom in the distance.

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bald eagle perched on driftwood along Alaska coast

Bald Eagle

Canada Geese goslings are escorted along the shoreline of Lake Pend Oreille in northern Idaho by an adult; nice blue mountains on the other side of the lake. This is a typical scene at City Beach park in Sandpoint.

For many years there was a group of resident geese. The powers that be decided they had to go – too many droppings – despite protests. The geese were eliminated and, in my opinion, it was a loss to the town. Now, however, there is a new group of year-round residents. They are fairly tolerant of humans allowing for close viewing and photography.

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canada goose and goslings

A stroll on the beach

Bald Eagle

A Bald Eagle scans for prey from its perch, snow-covered branch of a Cottonwood tree.

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bald eagle

Bald Eagle

Multiple versions of this image are available at My Zazzle store.

The Bald Eagle, as the only sea eagle endemic to North America, can truly be said to be the All-American bird. Its range includes most of Canada and Alaska, all of the contiguous United States, and northern Mexico. If its territory has access to open water, it remains there year-round, but if the body of water freezes during the winter, making it impossible to obtain food, it migrates to the south or to the coast.

The Bald Eagle placed in the genus Haliaeetus (sea eagles) gets both its common and specific scientific names from the distinctive appearance of the adult’s head. The scientific name is derived from Haliaeetus, from Greek hali = salt/ocean, aeetus = eagle, and leucocephalus, Latinized Ancient Greek for “white head,” leuco = white, cephalis = head.

Bald Eagles are powerful fliers, and soar on thermal convection currents. They reach speeds of 35–43 mph when gliding and flapping, and about 30 mph while carrying fish. Diving speed is between 75–99 mph, though they seldom dive vertically. An eagle’s eye is almost as large as a human’s, but its sharpness is at least four times that of a person with perfect vision.

The Bald Eagle is an opportunistic feeder subsisting primarily on fish, which it swoops down and snatches from the water with its talons. It builds the largest nest of any North American bird and the largest tree nests ever recorded for any animal species, up to 13 ft deep, 8.2 ft wide, and one metric ton (1.1 tons) in weight.

The Bald Eagle’s call consists of weak staccato, chirping whistles, kleek kik ik ik ik, somewhat similar in cadence to a gull’s call.

The Bald Eagle typically requires old-growth and mature stands of coniferous or hardwood trees for perching, roosting, and nesting. Tree species is less important than the tree’s height, composition and location. Selected trees must have good visibility, be over 66 ft tall, an open structure, and proximity to prey. Perhaps of the paramount importance for this species is an abundance of comparatively large trees surrounding the body of water.

The species is typically quite sensitive to human disturbance while nesting. While wintering, Bald Eagles tend to be less habitat and disturbance sensitive. They will commonly congregate at spots with plentiful perches and waters with plentiful prey and (in Northern climes) partially unfrozen waters. Alternately, non-breeding or wintering Bald Eagles, particularly in areas with a lack of human disturbance, spend their time in various upland, terrestrial habitats sometimes quite far away from waterways. In the Northern half of North America (especially the interior portion), this terrestrial inhabitance by Bald Eagles tends to be especially prevalent because unfrozen water may not be accessible. Upland wintering habitats often consist of open habitats with concentrations of medium-sized mammals, such as prairies, meadows or tundra, or open forests with regular carrion access

Mammalian prey includes rabbits, hares, ground squirrels, Raccoons, Muskrats, beaver, and deer fawns. Newborn, dead, sickly or already injured mammals are often targeted. However, more formidable prey such as adult raccoons and sub-adult beavers are sometimes attacked. Together with the Golden Eagle, Bald Eagles are occasionally accused of predating livestock, especially sheep. There are a handful of proven cases of lamb predation by Bald Eagles but they are much less likely to attack a healthy lamb than a Golden Eagle and both species prefer native, wild prey and are unlikely to cause any extensive determent to human livelihoods.

To hunt fish, the eagle swoops down over the water and snatches the fish out of the water with its talons. They eat by holding the fish in one claw and tearing the flesh with the other. Eagles have structures on their toes called spicules that allow them to grasp fish. Osprey also have this adaptation. Bald Eagles have powerful talons and have been recorded flying with a 15 lb Mule Deer fawn.This feat is the record for the heaviest load carrying ever verified for a flying bird. It has been estimated that the gripping power (pounds by square inch) of the bald eagle is ten times greater than that of a human. When hunting concentrated prey, a successful catch which often results in the hunting eagle being pursued by other eagles and needing to find an isolated perch for consumption if it is able to carry it away successfully.

On June 28, 2007 the Department of Interior took the American bald eagle off the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened. Bald eagles are still protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. The number of nesting pairs in the lower 48 United States increased 10-fold, from less than 450 in the early 1960s, to more than 4,500 adult bald eagle nesting pairs in the 1990s. In the Southeast, for example, there were about 980 breeding pairs in 1993, up from about 400 in 1981. The largest concentrations were in the states of Florida and Louisiana. Today, the largest concentrations in the lower 48 are in Florida, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.

Hours have passed; it is now dark dark and the wolverine (see previous post) has moved on. Rodents in the area are still not safe as a Boreal Owl (Aegolius funereus) sits in a dead spruce tree – death from above.

The Boreal Owl, which generally remains in the north throughout winter, is cute and would be a fine subject for a future post.

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A Boreal Owl sits in a dead spruce tree listening for the movement of small rodents beneath the snow,

Silent Night


A gray spring day at a pond, still partially choked with ice, not far from where I live. Two Canada Geese, often referred to as “honkers,” swim together in the frigid water.

Click on image for full-size view. As usual this is available at my Zazzle store.

Two Canada Geese in Alaska

Canada Geese

The Canada Goose, Branta canadensis, has a black head and neck, white patches on the face, and a brownish-gray body.

The black head and neck with white “chinstrap” distinguish the Canada Goose from all other goose species, with the exception of the Barnacle Goose, but the latter has a black breast, and also gray, rather than brownish, body plumage.

The Canada Goose ranges 30 to 43 inches in length and has a 50 to 73 inch wingspan. Males usually weigh 7.1–14 lbs and can be very aggressive in defending territory. The female looks virtually identical but is slightly lighter at 5.5–12 lbs, and has a different honk. The life span in the wild of geese that survive to adulthood ranges 10–24 years

Canada Geese are native to North America. They breed in Canada and the northern United States in a variety of habitats. Nests are usually located in an elevated area near water such as streams, lakes, ponds and sometimes on a beaver lodge. Eggs are laid in a shallow depression lined with plant material and down.

In recent years, Canada Goose populations in some areas have grown substantially, so much so that many consider them pests for their droppings, bacteria in their droppings, noise, and confrontational behavior. This problem is partially due to the removal of natural predators and an abundance of safe, man-made bodies of water such as found on golf courses, in public parks and beaches, and in planned communities. Due in part to the interbreeding of various migratory subspecies with the introduced non-migratory Giant subspecies, Canada Geese are frequently a year-around feature of such urban environments.

Canada Geese have reached northern Europe naturally, as has been proved by ringing recoveries. The birds are of at least the subspecies parvipes, and possibly others. Canada Geese are also found naturally on the Kamchatka Peninsula in eastern Siberia, eastern China, and throughout Japan.

Like most geese, the Canada Goose is migratory with the wintering range being most of the United States. Honking from large groups of Canada Geese flying in V-shaped formation signal the transitions into spring and autumn. In some areas, migration routes have changed due to changes in habitat and food sources. In mild climates from California to the Great Lakes, some of the population has become non-migratory due to adequate winter food supply and a lack of former predators.

Canada Geese are primarily herbivores, although they sometimes eat small insects and fish. Their diet includes green vegetation and grains. The Canada Goose eats a variety of grasses when on land. It feeds by grasping a blade of grass with the bill, then tearing it with a jerk of the head. The Canada Goose also eats grains such as wheat, beans, rice, and corn when they are available. In the water, it feeds from silt at the bottom of the body of water. It also feeds on aquatic plants, such as seaweeds. In urban cities, they are also known to pick food out of garbage bins.

Adult geese are often seen leading their goslings in a line, usually with one parent at the front, and the other at the back. While protecting their goslings, parents often violently chase away nearby creatures, from small blackbirds to lone humans that approach, after warning them by giving off a hissing sound and will then attack with bites and slaps of the wings if the threat does not retreat or has seized a gosling. Most of the species that prey on eggs will also take a gosling. Although parents are hostile to unfamiliar geese, they may form groups of a number of goslings and a few adults, called crèches.

Another stamp for mythical independent Alaska.  An Eider Duck carved from soapstone.  Soapstone is so named as it feels rather like soap due to talc in the rock.  This is not a photograph of a soapstone carving, but a 3d model I was able to produce.  Looks nice with the soapstone texture and the incised lines which are actually painted on.  The background  image is brain tanned moosehide.

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3d rendering of an Eider Duck carved in soapstone

Sopastone carving of an Eider Duck

The Common Eider, Somateria mollissima, is the largest duck found in Europe and in North America (except for the Muscovy Duck which only reaches North America in a wild state in southernmost Texas).
 The Eider is distributed over the northern coasts of Europe, North America and eastern Siberia. It breeds in Arctic and some northern temperate regions, but winters somewhat farther south in temperate zones, when it can form large flocks on coastal waters. It can fly at speeds up to 70 mph (113 km).
The Eider is characterized by its bulky shape and large, wedge-shaped bill. The male is unmistakable, with its black and white plumage and green nape. The female is a brown bird, but can still be readily distinguished from all ducks, except other eider species, on the basis of size and head shape. This duck’s call is a pleasant “ah-ooo.”
The species is often readily approachable. Drakes of the European, eastern North American and Asia/western North American races can be distinguished by minor differences in plumage and bill color.
This species dives for crustaceans and molluscs, with mussels being a favored food. The Eider will eat mussels by swallowing them whole; the shells are then crushed in their stomachs and excreted. When eating a crab the Eider will remove all of its claws and legs and then eat the body in a similar fashion.
It is abundant, with populations of about 1.5-2 million birds in both North America and Europe, and also large but unknown numbers in eastern Siberia.
A particularly famous colony of eiders lives on the Farne Islands in Northumberland, England. These birds were the subject of one of the first ever bird protection laws, established by Saint Cuthbert in the year 676. About 1,000 pairs still nest there every year. Because St. Cuthbert is the patron saint of Northumberland, it was natural that the eider should be chosen as the county’s emblem bird; the birds are still often called Cuddy’s ducks in the area, “Cuddy” being the familiar form of “Cuthbert.”
The Common Eider is one of the species to which the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) applies.
Eiders are colonial breeders. They nest on coastal islands in colonies ranging in size of less than 100 to upwards of 10,000-15,000 individuals. Female eiders frequently exhibit a high degree of natal philopatry, where they return to breed on the same island where they were hatched. This can lead to a high degree of relatedness between individuals nesting on the same island, as well as the development of kin-based female social structures. This relatedness has likely played a role in the evolution of co-operative breeding behaviours amongst eiders. Examples of these behaviours include laying eggs in the nests of related individuals and crèching, where female eiders team up and share the work of rearing ducklings.
The eider’s nest is built close to the sea and is lined with the celebrated eiderdown, plucked from the female’s breast. This soft and warm lining has long been harvested for filling pillows and quilts, but in more recent years has been largely replaced by down from domestic farm-geese and synthetic alternatives.  Although eiderdown pillows or quilts are now a rarity, eiderdown harvesting continues and is sustainable, as it can be done after the ducklings leave the nest with no harm to the birds.


chickadee birch beer bottle

Chickadee Birch Beer

Returning now to fictional goods and services; try a Chickadee All Natural Birch Beer.

There are seven species of chickadees in North America: the Black-capped Chickadee, Boreal Chickadee, Carolina Chickadee, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Mexican Chickadee, Mountain Chickadee, and the Siberian Tit. 

Chickadees are found throughout much of North America including Alaska and most of Canada. They are also found on Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Queen Charlotte Island and Vancouver Island. In general, they do not migrate. Every couple of years when populations are high, birds that hatched within the past year may “irrupt” (spread out), or move southward in the fall.

Chickadees get their name from their familiar chick-a-dee-dee-dee song. This simple-sounding call is astonishingly complex. It has been observed to consist of up to four distinct units which can be arranged in different patterns to communicate information about threats from predators and coordination of group movement. Recent study of the call shows that the number of dees indicates the level of threat from nearby predators. In an analysis of over 5,000 alarm calls from chickadees, it was found that alarm calls triggered by small, dangerous raptors had a shorter interval between chick and dee and tended to have extra dees, usually averaging four instead of two. In one case, a warning call about a pygmy owl – a prime threat to chickadees – contained 23 dees.

There are a number of other calls and sounds that Chickadees make, such as a gargle noise usually used by males to indicate a threat of attacking another male, often when feeding. This call is also used in sexual contexts. This noise is among the most complex of the calls, containing 2 to 9 of 14 distinct notes in one population that was studied.

Insects (especially caterpillars) form a large part of the Chickadee’s diet in summer. The birds hop along tree branches searching for food, sometimes hanging upside down or hovering; they may make short flights to catch insects in the air. Seeds and berries become more important in winter, though insect eggs and pupae remain on the menu. Black oil sunflower seeds are readily taken from bird feeders. The birds take a seed in their bill and commonly fly from the feeder to a tree, where they proceed to hammer the seed on a branch to open it.

At bird feeders, Black-capped Chickadees tolerate human approach to a much greater degree than other species. In fact, during the winter many individuals accustomed to human habitation will readily accept seed from a person’s hand.

Have you ever wondered how chickadees, weighing about 12 grams and small enough to fit inside a human hand, can survive winter? They have high metabolic rates and little body fat. 

On cold winter nights, Chickadees reduce their body temperature by up to 10–12 °C (from their normal temperature of about 42 °C) to conserve energy. Such a capacity for torpor is rare in birds (or at least, rarely studied).  While this may seem counterproductive, “nocturnal hypothermia” probably reduces energy expenditure by as much as ten percent.

As winter approaches temperatures decrease as does the supply of insects, berries and seeds. The birds must eat during the day and put on sufficient fat to be metabolized as heat during the night. Some studies suggest chickadees may gain ten to a whopping 60 percent of their body weight in a day to keep warm through the long winter night. On extremely cold nights, a chickadee uses almost all of its body fat to keep warm, then replaces it the next day in order to repeat the cycle.

To ensure a food supply, during autumn the chickadee roams a territory covering tens of square miles, gathering morsels of food and stores them in hundreds of hiding places in trees behind buckled pieces of bark, in patches of lichens and other caches. In the fall the chickadee’s hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for spatial organization and memory, grows by 30 percent. In the spring, when memory requirements lessen, the chickadee’s hippocampus shrinks back to its normal size,

In the states of Alaska and Washington, and in parts of western Canada, Black-capped Chickadees are among a number of bird species affected by an unknown agent that is causing beak deformities, which may cause stress for affected species by inhibiting feeding ability, mating, and grooming. Black-capped Chickadees were the first affected bird species, with reports of the deformity beginning in Alaska in the late 1990s, but more recently the deformity has been observed in close to 30 bird species in the affected areas, as reported by the Alaska Science Center of the United States Geological Survey.

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Chickadee Birch Beer Label

The label from a bottle of Chickadee All Natural Birch Beer