Ring-billed Gull. Photo by Pete Arnold.
Between 1840 and 1920, this mostly inland gull nearly became extinct. People decorated hats with its feathers, collected its eggs and developed its habitat. Then the western populations increased: reservoirs with islands providing safe nesting were built, more agriculture provided grain, insects and rodents and growing town dumps provided more to pick over. It takes about six molts over three years for this gull to finally grow the feathers of a breeding adult.
Published Oct. 28, 2009, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. Text by Barb Gorges, photo by Pete Arnold.
House Sparrows. Photo by Pete Arnold.
The first 100 were brought to the U.S. from England in 1851. Now spread around the world, it can be heard cheeping (its only song) year round wherever habitats modified by humans exist, living on spilled grain, weed seeds and insects. Females are always looking for the male with the biggest black bib before settling into a cavity, perhaps kicking out native birds first, and rearing up to four broods per year.
Published Oct. 21, 2009, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. Text by Barb Gorges, photo by Pete Arnold.
Northern Harrier. Photo by Pete Arnold.
A grey adult male is uniquely white with black underneath, but it flies so low over the ground, birdwatchers identify it, and the brown female, by their white rumps. Not surprisingly, they nest on the ground. Two feathered facial disks, like an owl’s, help them to hear prey as well as see it. They will be here in winter, coursing over local fields and grasslands—if the vole and mouse crops are good.
Published Oct. 14, 2009, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. Text by Barb Gorges, photo by Pete Arnold.
Great Blue Heron. Photo by Pete Arnold.
Four feet tall with a 6-foot wingspan and a long neck carried in an s-shaped curve; imagine this heron roosting in a tree, or a whole colony building stick nests in trees. Most of these herons migrate, but a few can be seen here over the winter stalking rodents in the fields. When streams and lakes are unfrozen, they wade slowly, watching for small fish, amphibians, reptiles and birds to eat.
Published Oct. 7, 2009, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. Text by Barb Gorges, photo by Pete Arnold.
Ring-necked Pheasant. Photo by Pete Arnold.
Originally from Asia, it was first introduced, unsuccessfully, to North America in New York in 1730 and successfully for the first time in 1882 in Oregon. Now 34 races are found across the U.S., Europe, Australia and New Zealand in grain fields and adjacent brushy areas. The cocks are eagerly hunted and survivors gather up harems of hens. Farming’s modern methods leave little brush, but the federal Conservation Reserve Program has helped, encouraging farmers to set aside fields of natural cover.
Published Oct. 28, 2008, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. Text by Barb Gorges, photo by Pete Arnold.
Blue Jay. Photo by Pete Arnold.
Not only can it carry five acorns at once, but it can collect 3000 a year and remember where most are cached. On our acornless plains it is a relative newcomer and makes do with fruit, seeds, rodents and other birds’eggs and nestlings. In the same family as crows, this intelligent bird has elaborate social rituals and, using its two voice boxes sometimes simultaneously, a huge vocabulary of sounds. The blue color comes from the way the structure of its feathers catches light.
Published Oct. 22, 2008, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. Text by Barb Gorges, photo by Pete Arnold.
Northern Flicker. Photo by Pete Arnold.
This member of the woodpecker family may make nest holes in dead and diseased trees, but it finds its food, ants and beetles, on the ground. In late fall it switches to wild berries and will visit bird feeders. Wyoming is in the zone where red-shafted (referring to the color of the underside of the wing feathers) and yellow-shafted flickers hybridize. Sexes look identical except the female has no red or black “mustache.” Listen for their loud call: “Swik, wik, wik, wik….”
Published Oct. 15, 2008, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. Text by Barb Gorges, photo by Pete Arnold.
Mallard. Photo by Pete Arnold.
The colorful drake is the most recognizable, widely distributed, abundant and hunted duck in North America. However, it’s the brown hen that quacks. After a month of waiting for new wing feathers to grow in, it is fall and time to pair up. Many flocks, like those in Cheyenne city parks, do not migrate. All domestic ducks, except the Muscovy, are descendants of wild mallards. Domestication began 800 (Europe) and 2000 (southeast Asia) years ago. Mallards often hybridize with domestics and other wild ducks.
Published Oct. 8, 2008, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. Text by Barb Gorges, photo by Pete Arnold.
Sandhill Crane. Photo by Pete Arnold.
They sound like a flock of odd geese passing overhead, but if you’ve ever been to their spring migratory stop-over in central Nebraska, you’ll recognize the sound of cranes, a sound that’s been made for over 10 million years. Those migrating over eastern Wyoming probably nested in Siberia and Alaska, laying their two eggs on nests floating in shallow water. Only one chick usually survives to travel with its parents this fall. Often sandhills acquire the color of their local soil on their gray feathers.
Published Oct. 1, 2008, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. Text by Barb Gorges, photo by Pete Arnold.