Blog Archive: Fun Facts

Birdorable Common Yellowthroat

Warbler Week Extremes

May 25th, 2018 in Avian Extreme, Fun Facts, Warblers No comments

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)
Birdorable Ovenbird

All About Warbler Nests

May 24th, 2018 in Fun Facts, Warblers No comments

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)
Birdorable Blue-winged Warbler

Warbler FAQs

May 23rd, 2018 in Fun Facts, Warblers No comments

We're celebrating warblers this week! Today we're sharing a few FAQs about this family of birds.

What is a warbler?
The name warbler is used to describe several different, unrelated, families of birds. So far, for Warbler Week, we have been talking about New World warblers, a group of small, often colorful, songbirds native to the New World (the Americas and nearby islands). New World warblers are in the taxonomic family Parulidae and there are just over 100 recognized species (Birdorable has 28).

What is a warbler?

The term Old World generally refers to Africa, Asia, and Europe together. Old World warblers make up a very large group of songbirds with a complicated taxonomy. There are over 400 species of Old World warbler, and most of them have a fairly undistinguished, often drab or plain appearance. Among some groups, field identification is a challenge. Birdorable has two closely related species of Old World warbler: the Sardinian Warbler and the Cyprus Warbler.

Compare old and new world warblers

A third family of birds is known as the Australasian Warblers. There are over 60 species in this family, Acanthizidae, split into two subfamilies. Birds in this group include the Peep-warblers, the Mountain Mouse-warbler, and the Weebill, Australia's smallest bird.

What do warblers eat?
Most New World warblers are insectivores, meaning they eat insects. The different species have various hunting methods for catching prey. Many warblers glean insects from foliage. Some hunt by hovering or fly-catching on the wing. American Redstarts feed almost exclusively on the wing, flashing their tails to startle prey into flight. The Black-and-White Warbler hunts like a nuthatch, moving up and down trunks and branches of trees in search of food. While most warblers forage in trees, some species hunt for prey on the ground. Connecticut Warblers and Ovenbirds forage among dead leaves on the ground for insects and spiders to eat.

Many species of warbler will supplement their diet with vegetable matter, like berries, seeds, or nectar, especially on their wintering grounds. The Cape May Warbler has a tubular tongue that it uses to feed on berry juice and nectar.

Why are they called warblers?
A warbler is one who warbles. The word warble comes from werbler, an Old French word meaning "to sing with trills and quavers". The Old World family of birds was first called "warblers", the name being given sometime around 1773. Old World warblers may look a bit drab, but they sure can sing. The New World warblers were given their family name due to their resemblance in size and shape to the Old World family.

What is the collective noun for warblers?
Like a flock of birds or a murder of crows, collective nouns are used to name a group of birds. A group of warblers is called a bouquet, a confusion, a fall, or a wrench of warblers. We also say there is a cord of wood-warblers.

In addition, there are several collective nouns for specific warbler species:

Corsage of Magnolia Warblers
Birdorable Herring Gull

More Gull Frequently Asked Questions

February 22nd, 2018 in Fun Facts, Gulls No comments
Large FAQ made of gulls

When we had our first Gull Week in 2015, we answered some Frequently Asked Questions About Gulls. Today we're going to answer a few more fun FAQs about the species in this family of seabirds!

What do gulls eat? Are gulls carnivores? What do gulls drink?
Gulls tend to be opportunistic omnivores. They'll take every chance to eat almost anything! Gulls feed on fish and other marine animals. They will eat insects, worms, eggs, and small land animals. Gulls may also feed on carrion and garbage, other birds, and plant matter like seeds and fruit. As far as drinking, gulls are able to drink sea water. A special gland helps them excrete the salt before it reaches the kidneys.

What do gulls do in winter? When do gulls migrate?
Most gulls migrate between wintering grounds and breeding territory. After mating season is complete, they move to warmer climates. The specific timing of this depends on their breeding calendar. Migration distances range from the Franklin's Gull's yearly trek from Canada to South America, to species that simply disperse to the coast from more inland breeding grounds.

What are baby gulls like?
Most baby gulls have downy feathers when they hatch. In most gull species, chicks are precocial (or semi-precocial), meaning that they are relatively mobile and can leave the nesting site within a short time of hatching. Ring-billed Gulls fully leave their nest by 4 days of age. Baby Herring Gulls remain close to their nest site for the first week of life. Young gulls are typically dependent on their parents or other adult gulls for food until they fully fledge.

Red-billed Gulls with Chicks
Red-billed Gulls and Chicks by Bernard Spragg, NZ

Where do gulls go at night?
Most species of gull are diurnal, meaning they are awake during the day and at rest during the night. Gulls typically like to roost either on the water, or along beaches, dunes, or offshore islands. Sleeping on the water is only preferred when the water is calm. The exception to this is the Swallow-tailed Gull, the world's only nocturnal gull species. Instead of resting at night, they are on the hunt for food.

How can you tell how old a gull is?
This is a great part of the challenge of gull identification. There is no simple answer that covers all gull species. Gulls go through different plumages as they reach adulthood and they also go through two yearly molts.

The number of years it takes a gull to reach its full adult plumage ranges from two years for smaller gulls to three or four years for larger birds. Gulls of different ages will have different plumages.

Gulls also go through molts each spring (to "alternate plumage") and fall (to "basic plumage"). During a molt, which may take place over several weeks, the bird may appear to be in between two plumages.

In addition to the changes in a gull's feather appearance, there are changes that may occur to their legs and bills. These may change color as they age or molt!

When you know the specifics of how a species of gull ages and molts, you may be able to tell if a gull is one, two, or three years old, or an adult aged four or older.

Are gulls protected?
Sometimes gulls are considered to be nuisance birds. Their level of protection varies from place to place. In the United States, native gulls are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. In the United Kingdom, they are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and the Wildlife Order 1985 (Northern Ireland).

Do gulls sing?
In general, gulls are not known for their melodious voices. Their vocalizations are often brash and loud, part of the soundtrack of the beach in many locations. Their vocalizations are typically referred to as calls, with each species utilizing a variety of different calls for communicating things like finding (or begging for) food, warning off intruders, sounding a predator alarm to the colony, and other reasons. Different calls will also be used for pair-bonding and even during copulation. Chicks have different call sounds than adults.

See our previous post for more frequently asked questions about gulls.

Birdorable Ross's Gull

Gull Week Extremes: Facts & Stats

February 19th, 2018 in Avian Extreme, Fun Facts, Gulls No comments

This week, we're celebrating gulls! There are about 55 widely recognized species of gull in the world. We'd like to share some of the extreme facts and interesting statistics found within this diverse family.

Smallest Gull Species
The Little Gull, weighing in at around 4.2 ounces (120 grams), is the smallest species of gull. Its length is  9.8 to 12 inches (25 to 30 cm).

Largest Gull Species
The largest gull species in the world is the Great Black-backed Gull, which weighs in at around 62 ounces (1750 grams), almost 15 times as heavy as the Little Gull. It's length is 2.1 to 2.6 feet (64 to 79 cm). 

Compare sizes of Great Black-backed Gull and Little Gull

The Longest Living Gulls
Gulls, particularly the large "white-headed" gulls, can be long-lived. The longevity record for the European Herring Gull is 49 years! The longest-lived wild Great Black-backed Gull was over 27 years old.

Cross-Species Parenting
The Black-headed Duck of South America is known to be a brood parasite of the Brown-hooded Gull. The duck lays eggs in nests of other birds (including other ducks and other gulls) and lets the nest-owners do the incubating! The ducklings are able to leave the nest just hours after hatching, making their escape without otherwise disturbing the nest. The Brown-hooded Gull or other nesting adult will continue to care for its own eggs and chicks.

Tale of the Tails
Most species of gull have a rounded tail. There are only three exceptions: the Sabine's Gull and Swallow-tailed Gull have forked tails, and the Ross's Gull has a wedge-shaped tail.

Longest Migration
Many species of gull are migratory. The Franklin's Gull may have the longest migration of all the gulls. They breed as far north as central Canada, and spend the winter as far south as Chile and Argentina.

Franklin's Gull Migration Map

Rare Gulls & Threatened Species
The Lava Gull of the Galapagos Islands is considered to be Vulnerable to extinction. The small population of less than 400 pairs is relatively stable but the species is probably the rarest of all the gulls.

The Black-billed Gull of New Zealand is considered to be Endangered. The population has been on a rapid decline since the introduction of invasive predators to New Zealand, like weasels and cats.

Other species considered to be Vulnerable to extinction are the Relict Gull of central Asia, the Saunders's Gull of eastern Asia, and the both the Red-legged Kittiwake and the Black-legged Kittiwake.

Most Abundant
The Ring-billed Gull was once hunted for its feathers. With protection the species has rebounded and is likely the most common species of gull in North America.

Birdorable Flock of Ring-billed Gulls

Night Vision
The Swallow-tailed Gull is a "black-headed" gull found in the Galapagos Islands. They are the only completely nocturnal gulls in the world! They feed on squid and fish that only come to the water's surface at night. In order to be able to see in the dark, the Swallow-tailed Gull has very large eyes -- larger than any other gull species!

Birdorable Rosy-faced Lovebird

9 Awesome Lovebird Facts

January 20th, 2017 in Fun Facts, Lovebirds 3 comments
Birdorable Lovebirds on a branch

The nine species of lovebird in the world all belong to the genus Agapornis, which is Greek for love (agape) bird (ornis). These small and colorful parrots are known for their social affection and strong pair-bonding between lifelong monogamous mates. Their beauty and natural personalities make some of them popular species in aviculture (pet birds). Here are some facts about the species in the lovebird family.

  • Lovebirds are native to Africa. Eight species come from the mainland African continent, while the Grey-headed Lovebird is native to the island nation of Madagascar.
  • Most lovebirds have a varied diet which consists of fruits, vegetables, and seeds. Some lovebirds also eat figs and insects. The Black-collared Lovebird has a special diet in the wild, feeding on local figs. This dietary requirement makes the species one of the least popular lovebirds in the pet trade.
  • Lovebirds typically live from 10 to 15 years, but may reach up to 20 years in captivity.
  • Lovebirds are cavity nesters. Females take care of nest building, bringing material to the nest either in their beaks or tucked into their tail feathers. Red-headed Lovebirds nest in termite mounds. Established feral Rosy-faced Lovebirds in Arizona nest inside cactus plants.
  • Because of their popularity in aviculture, several species of lovebird have multiple color mutations. Some lovebird species have mutiple common names, like the Rosy-faced Lovebird, which is more commonly known as the Peach-faced Lovebird in the pet trade.
  • Most species of lovebird are not considered to be threatened by conservation experts. Lilian's Lovebird and Fischer's Lovebird both have the status of Near Threatened. The Black-cheeked Lovebird has a status of Vulnerable, facing threats from the pet bird trade, loss of habitat, and changes in local agriculture practices.
  • Lovebirds are among the smallest species of parrot. The Grey-headed Lovebird is the smallest of the lovebirds, measuring about 13 cm in length. Rosy-faced Lovebirds and Black-winged Lovebirds are the largest, measuring over 16 cm in length.
  • In most species of lovebird, males and females have similar plumage and are difficult to tell apart (if you're not a lovebird). Three species of lovebird exhibit sexual dimorphism: the Grey-headed Lovebird (named after the male -- females are entirely green); the Black-winged Lovebird (males have red at the forehead that the female lacks); and the Red-headed Lovebird (the male has more red in the head than the female).
  • Rosy-faced Lovebirds, known more commonly as Peach-faced Lovebirds in aviculture, are among the most popular of all pet birds. There are many different color mutations and understanding Peach-faced Lovebird genetics can be somewhat complicated.