Blog Archive: Fun Facts

Birdorable Wood Stork

Facts About Wood Storks

October 2nd, 2018 in Fun Facts, Storks No comments
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.

Birdorable American Flamingo

Flamingo Extreme Facts & Oddities

September 21st, 2018 in Avian Extreme, Flamingos, Fun Facts No comments
Birdorable Plastic Yard Flamingos

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).

Birdorable Greater Flamingo

Flamingo FAQs

September 17th, 2018 in Flamingos, Fun Facts No comments

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.

Birdorable Flamingo Sleeping on One Leg

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 Flamigos 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!

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