This is our final post on bird species of the Virginia coast. We hope you get to see all your favorites when you come to visit Chincoteague.
Oystercatcher: American Oystercatchers are a colorful marsh and shorebird. Oystercatchers have black and white bodies, bright red-orange bills, pink legs and feet and red eyes. Their noisy whistle is also very distinctive. They are usually between 16 -21″ in height. Their red-orange bills are long and flattened at the side and are designed to catch and open the shells of oysters, mussels, and clams. They were once hunted to near-extincetion along the Atlantic Coast.
Bald Eagle: The bald eagle was in danger of extinction just 25 years ago, but its numbers have significantly improved. This raptor has a wing span of 6-7 feet and can weigh up to 14 pounds. Bald eagles feed manly on fish along coastal areas and inland waters. You can also see the eagles hunting seabirds, flying low over the ocean, between the wave troughs, in order to catch their dinner by surprise.
Bald eagles add to their nests each year and some nests weigh up to 2,000 pounds. Young eagles can fly at 3 months of age. Bald eagles can live to 30 yeas of age or longer and they also mate for life.
Piping Polver: This little bird is one of the species struggling to maintain a healthy population in the face of growing human development in coastal areas. They lay their eggs on the ground, so they have to watch out for natural predators – like foxes, gulls and racoons, as well as vehicles on the beach. The little Polver is a sensitive bird – if there is too much human disturbance around their nests, they will abandon it. So the National Park service sometimes closes beaches at the Assateague Island National Seashore in order to protect these nesting grounds.
The last couple of posts were devoted to discussing birdwatching around Chincoteague and the Virginia coast. This blog follows the same theme as we discuss bird species that live on the island.
Great Horned Owl: Birdwatchers on Assateague Island sometimes spot the great horned owl in the loblolly pine forest. Owls weigh two to five and a half pounds, but have a wing span up to 80 inches in length. Owls are predatory birds, feeding mostly at night on birds (including ducks), fish, small mammals and reptiles.
Visitors hiking through the marsh may sometimes find a pile of duck feathers, which may be evidence of an owl’s overnight dinner.
Brown Pelican: Virginia is the most northerly state sustaining a year-round Brown Pelican population. The Brown Pelican is the only non-white pelican in the world. Its most distinguishing feature is the huge bill and expandable pouch below. The bird’s height can reach 50 inches and its windspan up to 6 1/2 feet. Pelicans plunge headfirst into the water from great heights to catch fish – they can eat upwards of four pounds of fish per day. It is fun to watch groups of pelicans fly low over the waves and catch fish. The Brown Pelican was endangered in the 1970s due to pesticides. Successful conservation with strict regulations have led to the recovery of the pelican’s population.
Merlin: The Merlin is an aggressive falcon that feeds along Assateague Island for songbirds and other prey similar to that of the horned owl. This raptor will sometimes hunt from a high tree, waiting for the right moment to ambush its prey. The Merlin often approaches a potential meal by imitating the flight characteristics of a pigeon or woodpecker, in order to disguise itself. The Merlin is very territorial and will harass other raptors that trespass even if the other bird is much larger in size.
In my last post, I discussed bird watching in and around the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. In this post, I will go into more detail about the different species of birds and waterfowl you can expect to encounter while on Chincoteague.
The Black Skimmer: The Black Skimmer is the only bird in the world whose lower mandible (beak) is longer than the upper.
Skimmers are named so because of the way they feed. This bird flies just above the water with its bill open, skimming the water’s surface with its long lower bill open like a pair of scissors. Their bodies are oddly proportioned: 18″ in length, long, narrow wings ( 44″ in wingspan) with very short legs that end in bright orange feet. Their bills are long and razor-shaped. The Black Skimmer is found along the coastal United States from Massachusetts to Texas as well as Central America and South America. Female skimmers lay 3-5 eggs and live in coastal bays and estuaries.
The Peregrine Falcon: Peregrine Falcons are a personal favorite of mine, in part because they are the fastest moving animals on the planet. Ducks and other shorebirds make a nice meal for this bird of prey. Birdwatchers often witness them diving at tremendous speeds towards their prey. Scientists have estimated the falcon’s speed to be more than 200 miles per hour. Ducks resting on open water will sometimes “bunch” together as the falcon swoops down on them. This is probably a tactic for confusing the falcon, making it more difficult to pick out any one particular duck as a target.
They are found along Assateague Island National Seashore and the nearby barrier islands. Assateague is an important recovery area for the peregrine falcon (once listed under the endangered species act). During the 1940’s peregrine falcon populations plummeted. The main cause was a build up of concentrations of the pesticide DDT. This entered the falcon’s system when feeding on birds that had eaten contaminated insects.
The US Fish & Wildlife Service removed the peregrine falcon from the list of endangered species in 1999. Restrictions on the use of DDT have helped peregrine populations recover. As a result of resource management programs, visitors to Assateague have the opportunity to witness one of nature’s most exciting birds to watch.
Check back next month for more bird species!
The tourists have gone and the hush of fall has descended upon Chincoteague. If you love the outdoors and enjoy birding, this is a glorious time to come to see some of your favorite shorebirds and waterfowl at the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge.
Species you will see in abundance through November at the refuge include the Common Loon, Pied-billed Grebe, Horned Grebe, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Tricolored Heron, Cattle Egret and Glossy Ibis.
Some of the popular sites to observe birds are at Swan Cove Pool along Beach Road, and Herons and Egrets can be spotted in the borrow ditches around the refuge.
Stay the weekend with us at Island Manor House bed and breakfast, and we’ll pack you a picnic, loan you some binoculars, and, when you’ve added more birds to your checklist of those spotted, head back to the Inn for a hot cup of cocoa in front of the fire.
Many shops and restaurants are open through the fall and winter, so you will have no shortage of things to do when you’re not out birding. Plan to come out for “Assateague Island Waterfowl Weekend,” November 25-28, at the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge Open House with special events and programs.