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.