Water Birds, Game Birds and Birds of Prey

By Chester A. Reed

Order 1


Order Pygopodes


Family Colymbidae


1. Ęchmophorus occidentalis. 25 to 29 inches.

All grebes have lobate-webbed feet, that is each toe has its individual web, being joined to its fellow only for a short distance at the base.

This, the largest of our grebes, is frequently known as the "Swan Grebe" because of its extremely long, thin neck. In summer the back of the neck is black, but in winter it is gray like the back.

Notes. Loud, quavering and cackling.

Nest. A floating mass of decayed rushes, sometimes attached to upright stalks. The 2 to 5 eggs are pale, bluish white, usually stained (2.40 x 1.55). They breed in colonies.

Range. Western North America, from the Dakotas and Manitoba to the Pacific, and north to southern Alaska. Winters in the Pacific coast states and Mexico.


2. Colymbus holbcelli. 19 inches.

This is next to the Western Grebe in size, both being much larger than any of our others. In summer, they are very handsomely marked with a reddish brown neck, silvery white cheeks and throat, and black crown and crest. 'but in winter they take on the usual grebe dress of grayish above and glossy white below. Because of their silky appearance and firm texture, grebe breasts of all kinds have been extensively used in the past to adorn hats of women, who were either heedless or ignorant of the wholesale slaughter that was carried on that they might obtain them.

Nest. Of decayed rushes like that of the last. Not in as large colonies; more often single pairs will be found nesting with other varieties. Their eggs average smaller than those of the last species (2.35x1.25).

Range. North America, breeding most abundantly in the interior of Canada, and to some extent in the Dakotas. Winters in the U. S., chiefly on the coasts.


3. Colymbus auritus. 14 inches.

As is usual with grebes, summer brings a remarkable change in the dress of these birds. The black, puffy head is adorned with a pair of buffy white ear tufts and the foreneck is a rich chestnut color. In winter, they are plain gray and white but the secondaries are always largely white, as they are in the two preceding and the following species. The grebe diet consists almost wholly of small fish, which they are very expert at pursuing and catching under water. One that 1 kept in captivity in a large tank, for a few weeks, would never miss catching the shiners, upon which he was fed, at the first lightning-like dart of his slender neck. They also eat quantities of shell fish, and I doubt if they will refuse any kind of flesh, for they always have a keen appetite.

Nest. A slovenly built pile of vegetation floating in the "sloughs" of western prairies. The 3 to 7 eggs are usually stained brownish yellow (1.70x 1.15).

Range. Breeds from Northern Illinois and So. Dakota northward; winters from northern U. S. to the Gulf of Mexico.


4. Colymbus nigricollis californicus. 13 inches.

This is a western species rarely found east of the Mississippi. In summer, it differs from the last in having the entire neck black: in winter it can always be distinguished from the Horned Grebe by its slightly upcurved bill, while the upper mandible of the last is convex. In powers of swimming and diving, grebes are not surpassed by any of our water birds. They dive at the flash of a gun and swim long distances before coming to the surface; on this account they are often called u devil divers." They fly swiftly when once a-wing, but their concave wings are so small that they have to patter over the water with their feet in order to rise.

Nest. They nest in colonies, often in the same sloughs with Horned and Western Grebes, laying their eggs early in June. The 4 to 7 eggs are dull white, usually stained brownish, and cannot be separated from those of the last.

Range. Western N. A., breeding from Texas to Manitoba and British Columbia; winters in western U. S. and Mexico.


5. Colymbus dominions brachypterus. 10 inches.

This is much smaller than any others of our grebes; in breeding plumage it most nearly resembles the following species, but the bill is black and sharply pointed. It has a black patch on the throat, and the crown and back of the head are glossy blue black; in winter, the throat and sides of the head are white.

Nest. Not different from those of the other grebes. Only comparatively few of them breed in the U. S. but they are common in Mexico and Central America. Their eggs, when first laid, are a pale, chalky, greenish white, but they soon become discolored and stained so that they are a deep brownish, more so than any of the others; from 3 to 6 eggs is a full complement (1.40x.95).

Range. Found in the United States, only in the Lower Rio Grande Valley in Southern Texas, and southwards to northern South America.


6. Podilymbus podiceps. 13.5 inches.

In any plumage this species cannot be mistaken for others, because of its stout compressed bill and brown iris; all the others have red eyes. In summer the bill is whitish with a black band encircling it; the throat is black; the eye encircled by a whitish ring; the breast and sides are brownish-gray. In winter they are brownish-black above and dull white below, with the breast and sides washed with brown. Young birds have more or less distinct whitish stripes on the head.

Notes. A loud, ringing " kow-kow-kow-kow (repeated many times and ending in) kow-uh, kow-uh."

Nest. Of decayed rushes floating in reed-grown ponds or edges of lakes" The pile is slightly hollowed and, in this, the 5 to 8 eggs are laid; the bottom of the nest is always wet and the eggs are often partly in the water; they*are usually covered with a wet mass when the bird is away. Brownish-white (1.70x1.15).

Range. Whole of N. A., breeding locally and usually in pairs or small colonies.


Family Gavidae


7. Gavia immer. 31 to 35 inches.

In form, loons resemble large grebes, but their feet are full webbed like those of a duck; they have short, stiff tails and long, heavy, pointed bills. They have no tufts or ruffs in breeding season, but their plumage changes greatly. The common loon is very beautifully and strikingly marked with black and white above, and white below; the head is black, with a crescent across the throat and a ring around the neck. In winter, they are plain gray above and white below.

Loons are fully as expert in diving and swimming as are the grebes. They are usually found in larger, more open bodies of water.

Notes. A loud, quavering, drawn-out " wah-hoo-o-o."

Nest. Sometimes built of sticks, and sometimes simply a hollow in the sand or bank under overhanging bushes, usually on an island. The 2 eggs are brownish with a few black specks (3.50x2.25).

Range. N. A., breeding from northern U. S. northwards; winters from northern U. S. southwards.


9. Gavia arctica. 28 inches.

This loon lives in the Arctic regions and only rarely is found, in winter, in Northern United States. In summer, it can readily be distinguished from the common loon by the gray crown and hind-neck, as well as by different arrangement of the black and white markings. In winter, they are quite similar to the last species but can be recognized by their smaller size, and can be distinguished from the winter plumaged Red-throated Loon by the absence of any white markings on the back. Like the grebes, loons have to run over the surface of I the water in order to take flight, and they are practically helpless when on land. Their flight is very rapid, in a straight line, and their neck is carried at full length in front. This species has red eyes, as do all the other loons.

Nest. The same as the last species, but the two eggs have more of an olive tint and are smaller (3.10x2.00).

Range. Arctic America, wintering in Canada and occasionally in Northern United States.


11. Gavia stellata. 25 inches.

Besides being smaller than the common loon, this species has a more slender bill, which has a slightly up-turned appearance owing to the straight top to the upper mandible; in summer, its back and head are gray, with no white spots, although the back of the head has a few white streaks; there is a large patch of chestnut on the fore-neck; the under parts are white. In winter, it is gray above and white below, but the back is sprinkled with small white spots; at this season it can easily be distinguished from Holboell Grebe by the absence of any white patch in the wings as well as by the differently shaped feet.

Nest. A depression in the sand or ground, not more than a foot or two from the water's edge, so they can slide from their two eggs into their natural element. The eggs, which are laid in June, are olive-brown, specked with black (2.90x1.75).

Range. Breeds from New Brunswick and Manitoba north to the Arctic Ocean; winters throughout t!;e United States.


Family Alcidae


13. Fratercula arctica. 13 inches.

Puffins are grotesque birds, with short legs, stout bodies and very large, thin bills, that of the common Puffin being 2 in. in length and about the same in height; the bill is highly colored with red and yellow, and the feet are red; eyes, white. It will be noticed that the blackish band across the throat does not touch the chin, this distinguishing it from the Horned Puffin of the Pacific coast. Adults in winter shed the greater portion of their bill, lose the little horns that project over the eye, and the face is blackish : they then resemble young birds. They live on rocky shores, the more precipitous the better. They stand erect upon their feet and walk with ease.

Notes. A low croak.

Nest. They breed in large colonies on rocky cliffs, laying their single white eggs (2.50x1.75) in crevices.

Range. Breeds from Matinicus Rock, Me., northward; winters south casually to Cape Cod. Large-billed Puffin (F. a. naumanni) is found in the Arctic Ocean.


27. Cepphus grylle. 13 inches.

These birds are very abundant about the rocky islands from Maine northward. They may be seen sitting in rows on the edges of the rocks, or pattering along the water as they rise in flight, from its surface, at a boat's approach. In summer the plumage is entirely black, except the large white patches on the wings; legs red; eyes brown. This species has the bases of the greater coverts black, while they are white in Mandt Guillemot (C. mandtii No. 28), which is found from Labrador northward. In winter, these birds are mottled gray and white above, and white below, but the patches still show.

Notes. A shrill, piercing, squealing whistle.

Nest. Guillemots lay two eggs upon the bare rock or gravel in crevices or under piles of boulders where they are difficult to get at. They are grayish or greenish-white, beautifully and heavily blotched with black and brownish (2.40x1.60).

Range. Breeds on coasts of North Atlantic from Maine northward; winters south to Long Island.


30. Uria troille. 16 inches.

In summer the throat is brownish black, but in winter the throat and sides of head are white; feet blackish bill, long and stout, 1.7 in. long, while that of Brunnich Murre (Uria lomvia No. 31), is shorter (1.25 in.) and more swollen. The ranges and habits of the two species are the same. Murres are very gregarious, nesting in large colonies on northern cliffs. In summer every ledge available at their nesting resort is lined with these birds, sitting upright on their single eggs.

Notes. A hoarse imitation of their name " murre."

Nest. Their single eggs are laid upon the bare ledges of cliffs. They are pear-shaped to prevent their rolling off when the bird leaves; greenish, gray or white in color, handsomely blotched or lined with blackish (3.40 x 2.00 ) . Their eggs present a greater diversity of coloration and marking than those of any other bird.

Range. Breeds from the Magdalen Is. northward; winters south to Long Island


32. Alca torda. 16.5 inches.

Similar in size and form to the murre, but with a short, deep, thin black bill, crossed by a white line. In summer, with a white line from the eye to top of bill, and with a brownish black throat; in winter, without the white line and with the throat and sides of head white. They nest and live in large colonies, usually in company with Murres. Their food, like that of the murres, puffins and guillemots is of fish and shell fish, or marine worms. They get these from the rockweet" along the shores or by diving; they are good swimmers, using both their feet and wings to propel them through the water, the same as do the grebes and loons.

Notes. A hoarse grunt or groan (Chapman).

Nest. Their single eggs are laid on ledges of cliffs; they are not nearly as pointed at the smaller end, as murre eggs, and are always grayish white in color, marked with blackish blotches (3.1x2.00).

Range. Breeds from the Magdalen Islands northward; winters south to Long Island.


33. Plautus impennis. 29 inches.

This largest of the auks lived, as far as we have authentic record, until 1844, when it became extinct, largely through the agency of man. Although nearly t vice as long a bird as the Razor-billed Auk, their wings \\ere shorter than those of that bird, being only a trifle longer than those of the little Dovekie; they were flightless, but the wings were used to good advantage in swimming. Being in the direct line of travel between the old world and the new, sailors, on passing vessels, killed countless numbers of them for food, and in some cases merely for the love of slaughter. They lived on coasts and islands of the Atlantic from Mass., northwards. There are about seventy mounted birds preserved, of | which five or six, as well as some skeletons, are in this country.

Their eggs resemble those of the Razor-bill but, of course, are much larger ( 5.00 x 3.00 ) . About 70 of these are in existence, six being in this country (Washington, Phi la., and four recently purchased by John E. Thayer, of Lancaster, Mass.).


34. Alle alle. 8 inches.

These little auks, called " ice birds " by the fishermen, are very abundant in the far north. In summer, they have a blackish brown throat and breast, but they are never seen in the United States or southern parts of the British possessions in that plumage. In winter, their throats and sides of the head are white as well as the rest of their upper parts. At all seasons the edges of the scapulars and tips of the secondaries are white, as are usually spots on each eyelid. Even in winter, they are only casually found on our coast, for they keep well out at sea. Occasionally they are blown inland by storms and found with their feet frozen fast in the ice of some of our ponds or lakes.

Nest. They lay single pale greenish blue eggs, placing them in crevices of sea cliffs; size 1.80 x 1.25.

Range. Breeds on islands in the Arctic Ocean and on the coasts of Northern Greenland; winters south to Long Island and casually farther.