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!