Shyamala Rao - Artist
 

The Sharp Shinned Hawk is the smallest of the hawks in North America. The Latin name of the Sharp Shinned Hawk’s Latin name is Accipiter Striatus. The range of this gorgeous little hawk is all across North America, the breeding grounds are in Southern Canada and northern United States. The birds migrate south in the fall and some remain resident in the east and west coastal woodlands most go south to Mexico and further south to Northern South America.

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The Sharp shinned Hawk belongs to the group of Accipiters which are long tailed hawks with short rounded wings and lives in Woodlands. The flight pattern is several quick wing beats followed by a glide. The size is variable with males being smaller than the females, the males are from 9 to 13 inches long and with a wing span of 17 to 23 inches. The females are 10 to 14 inches long and the wing span is 23 to 27 inches. The top of the head and back are a bluish gray and can look almost black, the head is small with a sharp beak. The cheeks are slightly reddish. The chest is barred with reddish and white stripes the lower belly is mostly white with some barring. The feet are yellow with sharp talons.

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The diet of the Sharp Shinned Hawks is other birds. I recall being horrified and amazed at a bird that has evolved to dine on other birds. I ought not to be horrified, after I have long known that the King Cobra dines on other snakes. The Sharp Shinned Hawks fly into thick vegetation and woodlands pursuing their prey. The males eat small song birds, sparrows, warblers and wrens. The females eat robins and thrushes. The nesting habits are secretive and the nests are built in deep dense conifer forests. The clutch is usually 3 to 4 eggs, after 30 days incubation the eggs hatch, then another 3 weeks of brooding followed by fledging. The parents feed the chicks for another month.

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Migration is in small groups or larger groups and begins in September and October. Hawk watchers often note the large numbers of Sharp Shinned Hawks in the streams of migrating Hawks and Vultures as they fly south for wintering grounds. These are large birds and their migration is to soar and glide on thermals. They are not powered fliers during migration. They are daytime fliers soaring 600 or more feet above ground level. They use the updrafts created by the wind getting deflected off trees and ridges. The migratory path is over land and the flying is from when the thermals begin in the mid morning and are over by mid afternoon. The Hawks rest for one or several days before undertaking the next leg of the journey. They consume small songbirds all along the migratory path. The sharp Shinned Hawk is a beautiful creation and looks sleek and quick as it darts into woodlands. However, it is hard not to have mixed feelings about the songbirds that get consumed as the Sharp Shinned Hawks go through their journey. In April the Sharp Shinned Hawks fly back north to their breeding grounds.

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The American Yellow Warbler is present all across North America in the spring and summer. It is a New World Warbler and belongs to the genus Chloropeta. This attractive delightful songbird is seen almost anywhere in the United States and every sighting is like a close up of “a ray of sunshine” and definitely brings a smile to the onlooker. The breeding and nesting areas extend from southern Canada into the entire United States. The Yellow Warblers are migratory and in the winter they move away to their winter locations.

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Yellow Warblers are small songbirds, they are about 5 inches in length when they attain adult size. The birds are greenish yellow in the back, the wings and tails. The face is a bright yellow and the eye is a brilliant black and the bill is short, sharp and grey black. The undersides are greenish yellow in the adults and juveniles. In breeding plumage the yellow gets brighter and more intense and there are rusty streaks on the sides of the breast and flanks. The song of the yellow warbler is believed to say “sweet sweet sweet I’m so sweet.”

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The Yellow Warblers return to their nesting and breeding sites in April and May. They prefer riparian woodlands. The mating pair builds their nest in trees. There is a definite division of labor in Yellow warblers. The female does most of the nest building and incubation of the clutch. The female lays about 3 to 4 eggs. The male protects the nest and brings back food gives it to the female and she in turn feeds the chicks. The food is primarily insects, mostly caterpillars and moths. The chicks hatch after 2 weeks and then the mother broods for another 8 or 9 days and then the chicks fledge.

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Yellow Warblers begin migration sometimes as early as late July but more often in August and they are powered migrators. This means they use their own strength to fly and they have to travel from North America all the way to Central and South America. Yellow warblers fly low to the ground under 150 feet above ground level. They are night fliers moving at slow speeds of 10 to 30 mph. They travel solitary or in small groups. They are flock migrants. They usually depart right after sunset. Yellow Warblers have been recorded as molting while migrating which means they need fuel and energy to travel and to grow new feathers during their journey. The population of Yellow Warblers is slowly improving with increase in riparian woodland restoration. No visit to the woods beside any creek or stream during spring or summer is complete without a sighting of these droplets of sunshine.


by Shyamala Rao

The Black Vulture also known as the American Black Vulture is a New World Vulture and belongs to the genus Carogyps. It is the only member of the genus. The Black Vulture is found from South Eastern United States all the way South to Chile and Uruguay. The other vulture in the United States is the Turkey vulture whose range extends from southern Canada to South America to the Tierra del Fuego. The Black Vulture lives in wide open areas and close to woodlands and shrublands. Black Vultures prefer lowlands and are not found in mountainous areas.

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The Black Vulture is a large bird adult size is 25 inches in length and a wing span of 5 feet. The bird has a small unfeathered head, a hooked bill and white legs. The plumage is all black, the wings were short and broad with the legs are shorter than the tip of the tail. In flight the wings show broad white patches in the base of the primary wings. Black Vultures eat carrion and they have to rely on sight rather than smell to locate their food. They tend to watch the Turkey Vultures and often will chase off the Turkey Vultures and steal their food. Infrequently they will consume eggs and young mammals. Mostly they feed on carrion.

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The Black Vultures breed towards the end of winter and before spring begins, the eggs are laid in a cavity in a tree, in a log or just on the ground in wooded areas. The female lays 2 eggs, both parents incubate the eggs and the eggs hatch in 4 to 6 weeks. It is 2 months before the chicks fledge. Both parents feed the chicks until they fledge. The eggs and chicks are in danger from predators such as raccoons and foxes. The adult bird is not vulnerable to predation. The adult black vulture is aggressive.

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The Black Vultures may be resident and stay in Texas year round or they may migrate to Central and South America. The migrating colonies leave North America in October and November. These are large heavy birds and cannot handle long powered flights. They have to glide and engage in soaring flights. These flights do not take as much energy as powered flying does. The birds migrate in the daytime and in large groups. During Hawk Watches it is common to see long streams of various types of Hawks and Both Turkey and Black Vultures engaged in soaring and gliding on thermal currents heading out to the Southern Hemisphere. In the last days of winter and definitely before spring the vultures return to their nesting and breeding grounds.


by Shyamala Rao

The Barn Swallow belongs to a family of birds Hirunidae and all the birds in this family engage in aerial feeding. These are birds that have adapted to catching insects on the wing. The birds have slender bodies, pointed wings, a small sharp beak and strong jaws. They are fast fliers and during foraging they fly at 15 to 30 miles per hour. They have long forked tails and the long tail helps with improved maneuverability.

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The Barn Swallow is about 6 and ¾ inches long has a brown back, a reddish brown throat, white bellies, a long deeply forked tail, and short dark bills. Barn Swallows nest near or in barns, under bridges and under culverts. The nests may be a solitary pair or small colonies. The mating pair is monogamous and the swallows build their nest together. The male Barn Swallow is protective of the nest from predators not from other swallows.

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Female Barn Swallows lay a clutch of 3 to 4 eggs and both male and female incubate the eggs. The eggs hatch in 15 to 20 days and the chicks are born bald and with shut eyes. The eyes open at day 10. Both parents feed the chicks and even after fledging the chicks sit outside the nest usually on wires and engage in begging calls. The parents both are involved in feeding the chicks until they are grown and able to fly swoop and catch insects on the wing just as their parents do and have shown them how.

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The Barn Swallows leave their nesting grounds in Texas as the insect population begins to decline. The Swallows gather in flocks and fly out to their winter dwellings in September and October. They go is large numbers together, they are daytime fliers. Barn Swallows are soaring fliers and fly above 150 feet above ground. They use soaring flight for part of their journey and powered flight for part of their journey. Barn Swallows depart for southern locations which extend from Mexico all the way south to the northern half of Argentina. In the early spring the Swallows are some of the first birds to return to the Northern Hemisphere. They are a welcome sight and their cheerful songs and their brilliant flying acrobatics make the last of winter much less onerous and portend the onset of spring.


The Black and White Warbler, with striking geometrical patterns is a little song bird with slender stripes of alternating black and white. This 5 inch long bird is usually seen close to a tree trunk creeping up or down the trunk, earnestly looking into each crevice seeking insects. The Black and white warbler is definitely easier for bird watchers to observe. This is in sharp contrast to most of the other warblers which zip around like hyperactive kids, staying really high up in the canopy giving every birder a sore “warbler neck!”

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The Black and white warbler is the only bird in its genus and is considered a New World Warbler. The adult bird is 5 inches in length and has black and white stripes in the head and back. There are 2 white wing bars. The belly is white with black streaks. The adult bird weighs about ½ to ¾ ounce. The birds creep up and down tree trunks and limbs looking for insects. They consume spiders, beetles and larval insects.

The Black and White Warblers are found all across the North and North Eastern part of the continent. Their habitat extends all the way south to eastern half of Texas and to the northern part of Florida. They arrive in these regions in April and May and choose woodland areas preferably somewhat wet areas to build their nests. Black and white Warblers build their nests on the ground in cup like nests made of leaves, grass and pine needles. The birds line the nest with soft fine grass and bits of fur. The female lays 3 to 5 eggs and incubates for 2 weeks. When the chicks are hatched both parents feed the chicks for 2 to 4 weeks until the chicks fledge.

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The birds grow fast, eat insects in huge quantities. The juveniles grow strong and by September the Black and White Warblers are ready to begin the process of Migration. These birds are usually night fliers and during the day they stop, rest and eat build up strength. They start on the next leg of the long journey of Migration. Black and White Warblers spend the winter months in the lower coastal strip of the Gulf Coast but more often they go much further south. Their winter residing grounds extend from Mexico all the way down Central America into North Eastern part of South America.

The Black and White Warblers spend the winter in the wet woodlands of Central and South America. They build up good reserves of fat in their wintering grounds. This comes in handy in the spring when the long journey back to the breeding areas has to be undertaken. In the Hill Country area we are lucky to see the Black and White Warblers during migration and sometimes we see some of them settle down and use this area as a breeding area.

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A Black and white Warbler III  A Brilliant Black and White Warbler at Friedrich Park  II

A brilliant Black and White Warbler at Friedrich Park IV