|Here's a bird diagram with all of its different parts labeled|
Field markings are useful tools for identification, especially when birds are very similar. For example, the Greater Scaup and Lesser Scaup look almost identical, but the Lesser Scaup has a "top knot," or tuft of feathers on the back of its head. Because size is difficult to determine in the field unless the two subjects are close to one another, such field markings are a more accurate way to determine the species of a bird. Phenology, the study of appearance, is a science that is made more exact with the addition of technical terms for specific features. In the field, birders rely on phenology, and bird topography makes our jobs easier.
Our lab session this week involved going to the University of Wisconsin-Madison Zoological Museum to view mounted specimens of all the birds that we'll be learning this semester. The Museum has over 24,000 avian specimens, some of which date back as far as 1845! It was very helpful to view the birds up close and examine their features more fully.
I am particularly fond of water fowl, so choosing a favorite bird out of this week's list is difficult for me. It is probably a tie between the Tundra Swan and Pied-billed Grebe. Tundra Swans are graceful and iconic, and
the first time I identified one I was over the moon. I happened to be on Lake Mendota in November of 2012 and it was snowing lightly. Mostly, I was amazed that a bird so large and, in my mind, so rare (though that is not quite true) could end up on the lake right next to my campus. It opened my eyes to the amazing biodiversity we experience right here in Madison.
If you want to learn more fun facts about these birds, here's a list of the species we're learning with links to their All About Birds pages. You may want to listen to their calls, as well. I think waterfowl have some of the most amazing calls; for example, the Common Loon makes the most beautifully haunting call, while the Pied-billed Grebe sounds almost like a monkey.
Anseriformes: Anatidae (Anserinae)
Greater White-fronted Goose
American Black Duck
These orders of birds need open water, which is a bit scarce during these winter days in Wisconsin. They migrate further south, but they'll be back with us soon enough! Keep your eyes peeled for the first string of Canada Geese that may start coming back as early as next month.
Nature Net Intern