Species Profile

About Little Terns: Tiny Titans of the Tides

Birdorable Little Terns

Little Terns might seem like unremarkable seabirds at first glance, but these feathered beach inhabitants pack a surprising punch of interesting facts. Here's why you should appreciate these tiny titans of the shoreline:

Masters of Migration

Despite their diminutive size (8-11 inches tall), Little Terns undertake epic journeys, migrating annually between Eastern European and Western Asian breeding grounds, and wintering grounds in the pacific ocean as far as the waters of Southern Australia. Imagine flying all that distance on relatively tiny wings!

Family First

Little Terns are devoted parents, building simple nests in open areas or small islands, and laying just two or three precious eggs. Both parents share incubation and chick-rearing duties, fiercely protecting their vulnerable offspring from predators, especially Eurasian Thick-knees, and the harsh elements. Their parental dedication is a heartwarming example of avian family life.

Diving Dynamos

While some aquatic-feeding birds dabble for food, Little Terns specialize in the aerial plunge from a prolonged hovering position. They dive headfirst into the water from impressive heights, snatching up tiny fish and invertebrates with laser-sharp precision. Their acrobatic maneuvers are an impressive display of avian athleticism.

Hovering Little Tern by Jason Thompson (CC BY 2.0 Deed)

Community Champions

Little Terns often nest in colonies, creating a cacophony of chirps and squawks on the beach. While this might seem chaotic, it actually serves as a community defense system. Predators are more likely to be spotted and repelled by the vigilant eyes of many birds.

Fragile Fighters

Sadly, Little Tern populations are threatened by habitat loss as development takes away their coastal nesting sites and disturbances to their feeding grounds. These vulnerable birds rely on pristine beaches for nesting and feeding, making them important indicators of coastal health.

The Little Tern joined our Birdorable family on March 21, 2014.

Birdorable Little Tern Gifts

Birdorable African Green Pigeon

The African Green Pigeon might not be the flashiest bird in the jungle, but it packs a surprising punch of interesting features that make it a worthy feathered friend. Here's why you should appreciate this darling green gem:

Masters of Camouflage

Their olive-green plumage blends seamlessly into foliage, making African Green Pigeons virtually invisible to predators. They also move clumsily on branches, further mimicking leaves swaying in the wind. This stealthy tactic allows them to feast on fruits and berries undisturbed, leaving them as elusive as forest phantoms.

Nomadic Frugivores

African Green Pigeons aren't content with monotonous meals. They search for fruiting trees across vast distances, forming nomadic groups as they travel from feast to feast. Their flexible diet lets them enjoy a variety of fruits, from bananas to papaya, mulberries, and peaches. They are especially fond of figs.

Fruity Acrobats

Unlike their seed-pecking cousins, African Green Pigeons have a unique way of accessing the sweet flesh inside fruits. They hang upside-down, like little green acrobats, and reach down to reach the fruit.

African Green Pigeon feeding on figs by Bernard DUPONT (CC BY-SA 2.0 Deed)

Vocal Variety

While they might not be operatic singers, African Green Pigeons possess a surprisingly diverse vocal repertoire -- they don't sound like more familiar pigeon species. From soft whistles and guttural growls to cackles and clicks, they use these sounds to communicate with each other, warning of predators, defending territories, and attracting mates.

Feathered Farmers

African Green Pigeons play a vital role in seed dispersal of fruit trees, contributing to the health and regeneration of the ecosystem. By consuming fruits, they carry seeds long distances, allowing new trees to sprout in remote locations. Think of them as forest gardeners, spreading the bounty of the jungle and ensuring its future.

The African Green Pigeon joined our Birdorable family on October 10, 2012.

Cute African Green Pigeon Gifts from Birdorable

Hornbills are fascinating birds, known for their distinctive bills and other unique characteristics. There are about 55 extant species of Hornbill Bucerotidae in the world. Here are some interesting facts about the family, and about some of the individual species:

Old World Birds

Hornbill species are found in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. In the Neogene period (23.03 million years ago - 2.58 million years ago), Hornbills lived in North Africa and Southern Europe.

Unique Beak and Casque

Hornbills are easily recognized by their large, curved bills. These are often brightly colored. Some are topped with a casque - a hollow structure that can vary in size and shape among different species. This casque may be used in courtship rituals, as a resonating chamber for their calls, for dominance displays or fights, or simply to reinforce the heavy bill.

Great Hornbill by Bernard Spragg (public domain)

Special Necks

Hornbills are the only birds who have their first and second neck bones fused together! It is thought that this adaptation gives them a better chance to hold up their large, heavy bills! The fusion of these neck bones provides enhanced strength and stability, allowing them to use their powerful beaks effectively for various activities such as foraging, nesting, and self-defense. 

Remarkable Nesting Behavior

Hornbills have an unusual nesting habit. The females are sealed into a tree cavity. In some species the female does this on her own, and in others the male helps to complete the seal. At the end of this construction, once the female is about ready to lay the eggs, only a small slit remains open!  The male then feeds her and the chicks through this slit until the young are ready to fledge. This amazing behavior protects the nest from predators. Ground Hornbills are the only species that do not nest this way.

Diverse Diet

Hornbills are omnivores and their diet varies widely, including fruit, insects, small mammals, and birds. Some forest species are vital for seed dispersal in their habitats due to their fruit-eating habits. Food picked up with the tip of the beak is tossed into the throat by jerking the head back.

Southern Ground Hornbill by Neil McIntosh (CC BY 2.0 DEED)

Eyelashes

Among the many fascinating attributes of hornbills, one of the most intriguing is their possession of eyelashes, a rarity in the avian world. These eyelashes, far from being mere aesthetic features, serve an essential functional role. In the dusty, debris-filled environments where many hornbills reside, such as dense forests or savannas, their eyes are constantly exposed to potential irritants. The eyelashes act as a protective barrier, shielding their sensitive eyes from fine dust particles, small insects, and plant matter. This adaptation is particularly crucial given the hornbills' active lifestyle, which involves foraging through foliage, digging into bark, and often engaging in flight through dense vegetation. 

Southern Ground Hornbill eyelashes

Wrinkled Hornbill by Martin de Lusenet (CC BY 2.0 DEED)

Endangered Status

Several Asian Hornbill species, including the iconic Helmeted Hornbill and the Great Hornbill, find themselves on the brink, mainly due to habitat loss and hunting. These birds, integral to tropical forest ecosystems, are losing their homes at an alarming rate as deforestation for agriculture, logging, and urban development ravages their natural habitats. The situation is exacerbated by the illegal wildlife trade, where hornbill casques (the upper part of their beaks) are highly sought after for ornamental purposes, akin to elephant ivory. Additionally, in some regions, hornbills are hunted for their meat and feathers, further dwindling their numbers. 

Birdorable Hornbills

Our Birdorable family of birds includes seven species of the world's 55 Hornbills. Here are the Birdorable Hornables:

Famous Hornbill

Among the most recognizable hornbills in popular culture is Zazu, the fastidious and loyal majordomo to the king in Disney's iconic film "The Lion King." Portrayed as an African Red-billed Hornbill, Zazu is a character who combines wit and wisdom in his role as advisor and confidant to the rulers of Pride Lands. This depiction in a major animated film has brought significant attention to the species, characterized by their distinctive long, down-curved bill and their vibrant mix of colors. The African Red-billed Hornbill, native to the savannas and woodlands of Sub-Saharan Africa, plays a vital role in the ecosystem, primarily as a seed disperser and a predator of insects.

Cute Birdorable Hornbill Gifts

Bluebirds are medium-sized songbirds in the thrush family. These familiar birds are much more than just beautiful backyard visitors – they boast a fascinating array of fun facts! Here are some FAQs about this small family of birds.

Three Different Bluebirds

There are three distinct species of bluebirds in North America: Eastern; Western; and Mountain. While all share the iconic blue coloration on the male's back and wings, females and juveniles have more muted tones of brown and orange.

Where Bluebirds Live

Eastern Bluebirds have the widest range of the three species, covering most of the eastern United States with some reach into both Canada and Mexico into Central America. Western Bluebirds, who are similar in appearance to their Eastern cousins, have a large range in the western part of the United States and Canada/Mexico. While these two species have little overlap in range, the range of Mountain Bluebirds overlaps with Westerns in several places.

What Bluebirds Eat

Bluebirds are insectivores, voracious insect eaters, consuming hundreds of insects daily, including beetles, caterpillars, and grasshoppers. This makes them valuable natural pest controllers for gardens and agricultural lands. Their keen eyesight and acrobatic skills allow them to catch insects on the fly or glean them from leaves and branches. Mountain Bluebirds even hover like hummingbirds on occasion to reach hidden prey!

Cavity Nesters

Bluebirds are cavity nesters, preferring existing holes in trees or birdhouses. They readily accept human-provided nesting boxes, making them easy birds to attract and observe in backyards. Bluebirds often raise two to three broods per season, with both male and female participating in nest building, incubation, and feeding the young.

Western Bluebird by Becky Matsubara (CC BY 2.0 DEED)

Eastern Bluebird by Rick from Georgia (CC BY 2.0 DEED)

Conservation

Bluebird populations faced significant decline in the 20th century due to habitat loss and competition from other cavity nesters. However, conservation efforts like nesting box programs have led to a heartening comeback in recent years.

Symbols of Hope

Bluebirds are often associated with happiness, optimism, and renewal. Their vibrant colors and cheerful songs bring joy to birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts alike. Have you heard of the Bluebird of Happiness? The bluebird as a harbinger of joy is found in several different cultures, including China and Europe.

Old Bluebirds

Eastern Bluebirds have a natural lifespan of 6 to 10 years. The oldest Eastern Bluebird was 10 years and 6 months old, known from bird banding records. This bird was banded in New York in 1989 and found dead in South Carolina in 1999. The longevity record for Western Bluebirds is 8 years and 8 months; for Mountain Bluebirds 9 years.

The Eastern Bluebird was added to Birdorable on August 5, 2007.

The Western Bluebird and Mountain Bluebird were both added to Birdorable on November 8, 2010.

Meet the Bluebirds

Birdorable Bluebird Goodies

Parent Sandhill Crane with chick

In most bird families, males and females both participate in the raising of their young. In 8% of cases, the female does everything related to care of eggs and raising offspring. And in just 1% of bird species does the male do all of the work -- after the eggs are laid, of course.

Some species are polyadrous, meaning individual birds will have different mates during the same breeding season. In the case of the Spotted Sandpiper, females will often have two clutches, the first of which she leaves after the eggs are laid. It's up to her mate to incubate the eggs and rear the chicks. She will then find a new mate and help to raise her second clutch with the new male.

Spotted Sandpiper Chick
Spotted Sandpiper Chick by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (public domain)

Emus exhibit similar behavior, though male Emus go through a more extreme experience during incubation. During the approximate 8-week period, he does not leave the nest for any reason. He may lose up to a third of his bodyweight while he forgoes eating, drinking, and even defecating, standing up only to turn the eggs. Once the chicks are hatched, father Emu will protect his young for up to seven months, which is about how long it takes for them to fully grow. The group may stay together as a family for up to two years.

Emu dad with chicks
Emu dad with chicks by patrickkavanagh (CC BY 2.0)

The paternal (father) duties of the Emperor Penguin are widely known. After the female lays the pair's one and only egg, she carefully transfers it to the male. And then she leaves him for two months. While she is out to sea, feeding, the male remains behind, incubating their egg between the brood patch on its underbelly and its feet. When the egg hatches, the male may have been fasting for over 100 days since he first arrived at the breeding colony. Once his mate returns, she cares for the chick so the male can finally go to the sea to find food.

Emperor Penguin with chick

Hornbills have an unusual breeding strategy that involves the female being practially sealed inside the nest cavity with the eggs, with only a small slit left open. This small opening allows the male to transfer food to his mate and to the chicks, once they hatch. During incubation and the hatchling phase, the family relies entirely on the male to provide food. The mother and chicks only leave the nest once they are too large to remain inside.

Happy Father's Day to all of the dads out there, avian and otherwise!

Cute Birdorable Gifts with Bird Chicks

Facts About Wood Storks

Birdorable Wood Stork

There are 19 species of stork in the world. These birds are generally heavy and tall, with long, thick bills.

The Wood Stork is one of three New World species of stork (the others are the Maguari Stork and the Jabiru). The range of the Wood Stork extends the furthest north of these three species. Here are some interesting facts about this unique species.

Carnivores

Wood Storks frequently feed in and around water, where they find prey items like fish, frogs, and even small alligators. They will also eat insects, crabs, and other small animals. Wood Storks find food by feeling around with their bill in shallow water. They may use their feet to stir up potenial prey as they slowly move through the water.

Longevity

In the wild, it is believed that Wood Storks reach an average age of 11-18 years. From banding records, we know that the oldest wild bird lived at least 22 years and 4 months. The oldest captive Wood Stork lived to be just over 27 years of age.

Collective Noun

A group of storks is known as a "muster". A group of storks in flight is called a "phalanx". Have you ever seen a muster or phalanx of Wood Storks?

A group of Wood Storks in flight

Population Status

The Wood Stork has a large natural range, covering much of South America, coastal Central America, and extreme southern parts of North America. The international IUCN considers the Wood Stork's population threats to be of Least Concern. In the United States, however, loss and degradation of habitat cause its status to be considered Threatened.

Name Games

The Wood Stork superficially resembles an adult White Ibis and was formerly known as the Wood Ibis. This iconic bird has some interesting local nicknames, including Preacher, Ironhead, and Flinthead.

Do Wood Storks Deliver Babies?

No, you're thinking of White Storks.

The Wood Stork was added to Birdorable on Feburary 22, 2017.

Cute Wood Stork Gifts

Flamingo Week continues today with some interesting flamingo extremes and odd facts about this family of pink birds.

Extremely Social Birds

Flamingos live in colonies that may number thousands of individuals. Breeding is also colonial, with birds typically separating into smaller groups of 7-25 pairs. Breeding follows synchronized dancing displays whicih are performed by both male and female birds.

The range of the James's, Chilean, and Andean Flamingo overlap in some areas. These social birds of different species will live in colonies together and even share nesting sites.

Popular In Plastic

In the United States, plastic pink flamingos are a famous kitschy lawn ornament. The decorations were first designed for the U.S. market in 1957. While some homeowners associations ban the plastic pinkies, the city of Madison, Wisconsin designated the plastic flamingo as the city's official bird in 2009.

Unique Feeding Adaptations

Flamingos are omnivores. They filter-feed on brine shrimp, blue-green algea, small insects, mollusks, and other small aquatic animals. Flamingo bills have a unique shape designed to filter feed, separating mud and silt from their food. The bill is used to filter in an upside-down position.

Another special filtering anatomical adaptation flamingos have is lamellae, hairy structures that line their beaks and tongues. Their long legs allow them to stand in water of varying depths, and their webbed feet are used to stir up silt in their search for food items.

Close-up of flamingo's lamellae
Photo by Eric Kilby (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Pink Milk?

Both male and female parent flamingos feed their young chicks a sort of crop "milk", a fat and protein-rich substance produced in upper digestive tract glands and expelled through the beak. This milk is not actually pink. It is similar to the pigeon milk fed to squabs by parent birds in the pigeon and dove family.

Old Flamingos

A Greater Flamingo resident at the Adelaide Zoo in Australia was believed to be at least 83 years old at the time of its death in 2014. That is considerably older than the known longevity record for a wild Greater Flamingo, which was at least 27 years and 6 months, recorded via a rediscovered living banded bird in France.

The longevity record for a wild American Flamingo is just over 13 years, determined via a banding program.

The Most Endangered Flamingo

The Andean Flamingo is considered to be Vulnerable to Extinction. A rapid population decline occured during the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, reducing the global number of wild birds to less than 35,000. Today the population is considered to be stable.

The Most Abundant Flamingo

The Lesser Flamingo is the most abundant species of flamingo, yet it is considered to be Near Threatened due to threats including breeding site degredation.

Height Extremes

While all flamingos are considered to be relatively tall birds, the tallest of the bunch is the aptly named Greater Flamingo, reaching the greatest height at up to 59 inches tall (approximately 150 cm). The smallest is the also aptly named Lesser Flamingo, which may reach only 25 to 35 inches in height (approximately 63 to 89 cm).

Cute Flamingo Gifts

Flamingo FAQs

We're celebrating flamingos this week! Let's learn about these pink beauties -- here are some frequently asked questions about flamingos.

Why do flamingos stand on one leg?

The true reason that flamingos often stand one leg has long been debated. One popular theory is that a bird can conserve body temperature by tucking one leg into its feathers while standing in water, which may pull heat away from the body. Another theory has to do with the fact that flamingos are able to "shut down" half of their brain so they can both rest and remain vigilant for predators at the same time. The tucked-in leg is a kind of natural reaction to this state of partial sleep.

Greater Flamingo

Why are flamingos pink?

Flamingos hatch out of the egg grey, not pink. As they grow, they develop a pink plumage which is the result of natural pink pigments found in the food they eat. The pink or reddish plumage comes from carotenoids in the diet of both animals and plant plankton. The brightness of a bird's plumage relates to diet and the ratio of algae (darker/more pink plumage) consumed compared to small animals (more pale plumage).

Where do flamingos live?

Of the six flamingo species, 4 live in the New World and 2 are found in the Old World.

The American Flamingo is the only species naturally occurring in North America. They are mostly found in the Caribbean, Central America, and along the northeastern coast of South America. There is a population on the Galapagos as well.

Chilean Flamingos are found along the western side of much of South America. Andean and James's Flamingos have a smaller range near the western coast along the Andes mountains.

Of the Old World flamingos, the Lesser is found in coastal and wetland habitats across sub-Saharan Africa, with a separate population in western India. The Greater Flamingo is found around sub-Saharan Africa as well as in coastal habitats in parts of the Middle East, southwestern Asia, and southern Europe.

World range map of Flamingo species around the world

What is the meaning of the name "flamingo"?

The word flamingo is derived from the Portuguese flamengo or the Spanish flamenco, which means "flame-colored". The origin of the word comes from the old idea that Flemish people had a ruddy or reddish complexion.

Do flamingos migrate?

Most flamingo species will migrate short distances during the year depending on availability of food and conditions of feeding grounds. Flooded habitat may be too deep for feeding; drought conditions may cause flamingos to move to a more favorable location for a season or longer.

How can you tell the different flamingo species apart?

Flamingos all have the same general body shape, unique beak formation, long legs, and pink or pinkish plumage. How can you tell them apart? Pay attention to their size, and the color of the bill and the legs. Here are some simple tips.

  • The Andean Flamingo is the only species with yellow legs.
  • The Chilean Flamingo has grey legs with pink "knees" and feet.
  • James's Flamingo has a mostly yellow bill, distinguished from the Andean by leg color (pink versus yellow).
  • The Lesser Flamingo is the only species to have a mostly black bill.
  • The Greater Flamingo is the largest of the bunch and has the most pink bill.
  • That leaves the American Flamingo, typically the darkest species, with its pink color sometimes appearing salmon.
Birdorable Flamingos of the World

Did you know all of these Flamingo FAQs? Stay tuned to our blog to learn more about these birds as Flamingo Week continues on Birdorable!

Cute Flamingo T-Shirts

We're celebrating New World warblers! This diverse family has over 100 recognized species. Here are some extreme facts about these amazing feathered friends.

Smallest Warbler Species
The smallest New World warbler is Lucy's Warbler, which averages just 4.2 inches tall.

Lucy's Warbler
Lucy's Warbler by Bettina Arrigoni (CC BY 2.0)

Largest Warbler Species
The largest species of New World warbler is a tie between a few different birds. The Ovenbird, Russet-crowned Warbler, and Semper's Warbler, may all measure over 5.9 inches tall. The Yellow-breasted Chat, which is sometimes considered to be a New World Warbler, measures a whopping 7.2 inches tall.

Longest Migration
The Blackpoll Warbler has the longest migration of any of the New World warbler species. During fall migration, many Blackpoll Warblers fly from their breeding grounds in northeastern North America over the Atlantic Ocean to their wintering grounds. This route averages nearly 2000 miles flown over water, potentially non-stop.

Extremely Early Migrant
When warblers migrate depends on their breeding strategy and availablilty of food diet. The Louisiana Waterthrush is an extremely early neotropical migrant, usually arriving on breeding ground by early April, nearly two months before most other longer warbler migrants reach their summer breeding destination. After breeding, some Louisiana Waterthrushes depart as soon as early July.

Louisiana Waterthrush
Louisiana Waterthrush by Bettina Arrigoni (CC BY 2.0)

Long-living Warblers
Life in the wild as a little migratory bird is tough. Before reaching adulthood, warblers have to survive nest predation from a variety of different sources, including squirrels and chipmunks, snakes, and domestic cats. Other birds also feed on the eggs and nestling of small birds. If a baby migratory warbler survives to fledge, it has to make two migration journeys, dodging weather and more predators and unfamiliar surroundings and other hazards before it can even breed.

A lifespan of around five years is common among many warbler species. Several species boast longevity records up to 9 years, but very few species have a recorded longevity record of more than 10 years. These include the following.

A female Audubon's Warbler (on-again / off-again subspecies of the Yellow-rumped Warbler) banded and recaptured in Wyoming was at least 10 years old. On her recapture the band was removed.

Several individual warblers are known to have survived at least 11 years in the wild: a female Yellow Warbler banded and recaptured in New York; a Common Yellowthroat banded and recaptured in Massachusetts; and an Ovenbird banded and recaptured in Connecticut.

A female Black-and-white Warbler was banded in North Carolina in 1957 and found dead in Pennsylvania in 1968. She lived to be at least 11 years and 3 months old.

The all-time longevity record among warblers goes to the Louisiana Waterthrush. A male Louisiana Waterthrush banded in New Jersey in 1995 was refound in 2006, making the bird at least 11 years and 11 months old.

Singing Common Yellowthroat
Common Yellowthroat by Amy Evenstad (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The different New World warbler species have a lot in common with each other. They mostly feed on insects, they sing, they raise their young. But the nests they use have some variety. Some nest in trees, and some nest on or near the ground. They build cups, pendulums, and even ovens! Here are some different examples of New World warbler nests.

Many warblers nest in trees. Yellow Warblers build a cup out of vegetation in the fork of a tree or bush. The inside of the nest is lined with soft material like hair and feathers. Black-throated Gray Warblers also nest in trees, often building their cup nest on a horizontal branch.

Yellow Warbler nest
Yellow Warbler nest by ilouque (CC BY 2.0)
Male Black-throated Gray Warbler on nest
Male Black-throated Gray Warbler on nest by Bettina Arrigoni (CC BY 2.0)

Some warblers nest on the ground. Kirtland's Warblers, for example, build an open cup in a depression on the ground.

Kirtland's Warbler nest
Female Kirtland's Warbler on nest by U.S. Department of Agriculture (CC BY 2.0)

Common Yellowthroats build their nests in reeds, cattails, sedges, and other low plants, often by water or in marshy habitat.

Common Yellowthroat on nest
Common Yellowthroat nest by Charlie

Ovenbirds nest on the ground. They are actually named for their nest, an oven-like dome made of woven grasses with a side-entrance.

Ovenbird nest
Ovenbird nest by Charlie

The Northern Parula constructs a pendulum nest in hanging vegetation like Spanish moss.

Northern Parula nest
Fallen Northern Parula nest by Amy Evenstad (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The Prothonotary Warbler is the only eastern New World warbler to use cavities for nesting. They will use old Downy Woodpecker holes or other natural cavities, and will also readily use artificial nest boxes. The other warbler species to nest in cavities is Lucy's Warbler of the west. They use holes made by woodpeckers or other birds in tree trunks or cactus plants. They will also use artificial nesting cavities.

Prothonotary Warbler nest in tree
Prothonotary Warbler nest in tree by Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren (CC BY 2.0)