The red-tailed hawk is easily the most common raptor in this part of the world, and it is most conspicuous in late August, as young-of-the year come out of the nests and perch on utility poles across the Red River Valley. The red-tailed hawk is a bird of open country. It is a "sit-and-wait" predator, set to pounce on passing prey, mostly ground lovers such as small mammals, snakes, grassland birds and even insects.
The barn swallow is a pretty little bird. It also can be an aggressive little pest. Therefore, human beings, and this individual human, tend to have a love-hate relationship with the swallow.
The sora is a surprising bird. Here is what The American Museum of Natural History, in "Birds of North America," has to say about the bird: "Despite being the most widely distributed rail in North America, the sora is rarely seen." Sora are denizens of freshwater marshes. Yet one showed up last week on a porch in Grand Forks. The word "rail" in the museum's bird book refers to the biological family to which the sora belongs. Several other members of this family occur in North Dakota, all of them more elusive than the sora.
Ahem, dear reader: The subject this week is bird breasts. To be sure, the breast is not the first part to examine when trying to identify a bird. The general impression of the bird is the first thing to notice: its size, shape, length, the size of its bill, the length of its tail, its way of sitting, its pattern of flight. Then check the details. To be sure, the breast may be one of these.
Here at Magpie Ridge west of Gilby, N.D., where I watch most of my birds and where no magpie has been seen for many months: Here the bird of the week is Wilson's snipe. This would not be the case for many readers. The snipe is not uncommon, but it is site specific, place bound or habitat dependent. You choose the term.
The killdeer is a familiar bird, perhaps as well known as the robin. Like the robin, it is a reliable sign of spring. The killdeer signals spring in places other than the robin, however. Robins hop around on our lawns, while killdeer run around bare spots in farmyards and shorelines; even, sometimes, on the Red River Greenway. Robins don't exactly hide their nests, but they locate them in protected places, favoring at least a little height above the ground and often choosing building overhangs or tree branches for concealment. Killdeer rely on camouflage and subterfuge.
The golden-crowned kinglet is a wee thing, smaller than any other bird in our area, except the ruby-throated hummingbird. Unlike the hummingbird, however, the kinglet is inconspicuous and little known. It's a nesting species not far to the east and a wintering species not far to the west of Grand Forks.
This is a good time of year to appreciate black-capped chickadees. They're conspicuous this time of year, but pretty soon they'll be hard to find. Not that the chickadees are going anywhere. They're just about to enter a new and important phase of their lives, bringing up the next generation. Like many birds, chickadees are secretive about this business. Chickadees are not shy about advertising themselves and courting their mates. It's the nesting part that they keep hidden.
An adult bald eagle is a distinctive bird in every way, large and dark with brilliant white head and tail and great broad wings. The eagle's flight is distinctive, too. The wings can propel it swiftly forward on deep, slow strokes. Or they hold the bird aloft and soaring. It's no wonder, then, that the founders of the country chose the bald eagle to represent the United States. It would have been a familiar bird to all of them.
Horned larks are back in the valley. Horned owls are back on their nests. These are signs of spring in the Red River Valley. Both are right on time. Horned larks are among the earliest spring migrants here, and great horned owls are the earliest nesters. Great horned owls are usually on nests by late February, and this year is not an exception. Reports of nesting owls began about a fortnight ago.