foam Lake Birding 130


No. 130

After a three week tour of the New England states it is nice to be back home and, happily, to no snow. Besides doing the touristy things, as expected, we did see some interesting birds including four lifers: Brant (geese), Eurasian Widgeon (duck), Mute Swans and Monk Parakeets. Of the four only the Brant is native. The widgeon is a casual visitor from Europe and eastern Russia while the swans and parakeets are exotics that have established feral (tame birds that have gone wild and bred successfully) populations.

The Monk Parakeet is a native of South America that was widely used in the caged bird trade. As always happens, some birds escaped while others were deliberately released when taking care of them became too bothersome. Most exotic birds, Budgies for example, do not do well in the wild in a strange country but the Monk Parakeet is one of the few exceptions. It is now common from Florida north to Connecticut and west to Chicago where breeding colonies have been well established.

The long tailed, Robin-sized Monk Parakeet is bright green overall sporting a greenish-yellow belly band, with grey breast, throat and forehead and blue fore wings. A pretty bird. Ignoring the beak, it looks like a green Mourning Dove. Being a typical parrot it constantly squawks and chirps and a colony of them make quite a racket.

These parrots are very social and live in small colonies (10 - 100 birds) centred about their huge stick nests which they utilize all year round. Depending on the number of birds, the colony may build only one or several nests close together like an apartment complex. The irregularly shaped nests vary in size but often reach two metres in width and/or height with several entrances in each. The sticks used in nest construction are rather coarse and vary in thickness from a soda straw to a pencil and often longer than either. These nests are not only used for raising young but for roosting and providing shelter during bad weather. In severe winter weather groups of birds huddle together in these nests for warmth enabling them to survive. The nests are usually built high up in large trees but utility poles are also often used. Inevitably, the nests would catch fire so authorities had the nests removed but local people liked the birds enough that they have built special structures for them on which to build their nests and leave the power poles alone. A nice move.

It should be pointed out that the word, parakeet, has no scientific meaning but through common usage is applied to smaller parrots with long tails. For a more detailed discussion on names of parrots see Article No. 73. (Go to my website:

This week's pictures of a Monk Parakeet and the nests were taken in western Connecticut. We were actually on the lookout for them and drove with our windows open in order to hear them. We did. The parakeets were busy adding to their nests and put on quite a performance for us.

Foam Lake Birding No. 129


No. 129

Looking through some of the pictures on my wife's camera I came across some that I had completely forgotten about. The pictures in question were taken when we were in southern Saskatchewan in the grasslands this summer. The photos that really caught my attention were the ones taken of sloughs filled with Purple Loosestrife, a garden flower with no natural enemies, that has become a noxious weed. This imported species is very invasive and very difficult to eradicate once established. The different levels of government have banned the cultivation of any relatives of this plant but it is a little late in some parts of the country. Fortunately, it has not established itself locally.

In keeping with the harvesting hunting theme I am featuring another game duck, our smallest dabbling duck, - the Green-winged Teal. The name, teal, has no scientific meaning at all but, through common usage, it is a name applied to the smallest dabbling ducks. There are three teals in Canada two of which, the Green-winged and Blue-winged, are common around here. The third, the Cinnamon Teal, is a bird of the west and south of this continent that is relatively common in the south western parts of our province but is only a straggler locally.

With respect to field marks the drake Green-winged Teal is a small greyish duck with a rich chocolate brown head featuring a broad green eye stripe much like the Widgeon except the Widgeon has a grey head. At close range or with binoculars the dull yellow flanks near the tail are clearly visible and are definitive in identifying this smallest of our dabblers. Another useful field mark is the vertical white slash just in front of the wing that is clearly visible when the duck is on land or swimming. As with the Blue-winged Teal the wing patches of the Green-winged teal can only be seen in flight unless the bird is preening. The hen is a drab brown but is usually in the company of the drake, except when rearing young, making identification easy.

The picture of the Purple Loosestrife was taken near Coronach and the picture of the Green-winged Teals was taken at the Llano Grande nature preserve in Weslaco, TX. For a good sense of the colours of the teal consult a bird book or log on to my website: The Purple Loosestrife will not be in a bird book so the website is the only choice. Enjoy.