Water Birds, Game Birds and Birds of Prey

By Chester A. Reed

Order 2


Order Longipennes



Family Stercorariidæ


35. Megalestris skua. 22 inches.

These large birds are the most powerful and audacious pirates among the sea fowl of northern waters. Their whole form is indicative of strength; form robust, feet strong, and bill large, powerful and hooked. Their plumage is of a nearly uniform blackish-brown, with white shafts to the wing feathers and a white patch at the base of the primaries.

Nest. They do not nest in large colonies, only a single or a few pairs breeding in the same locality. Their nests are hollows in the ground, a short distance back from the rocky shores. The two eggs that they lay are olive brown, spotted with blackish (2.75x1.60).

Range. North Atlantic coasts, chiefly on the Old World side, breeding from the Shetland Islands and possibly Greenland, northwards. They are only rarely found on our coasts even in winter, but have been taken as far south as New York.


36. Stercorarius pomarinus. 21 inches.

Jaegers are more slender in form than the Skuas, but like them are piratical in their habits, preying chiefly upon terns. Off Chatham, Mass., I have often watched them in pursuit of the graceful terns, but, excellent fliers as the latter birds are, they were always overtaken and forced to drop the fish that they carried, and the jaeger would rarely miss catching it as it fell. This species has two color phases independent of sex or age. In the light plumage the top of the head is black; rest of the upper parts and the under tail coverts brownish black; underparts and bases of primaries, White. Dark phase, Entirely blackish brown except the white shafts to wing feathers and bases of primaries. In any plumage they can be distinguished from the other species by the rounded, lengthened central tail feathers.

Nest. A hollow in the ground in marshy places. The two eggs are olive brown spotted with black.

Range. Northern hemisphere, breeding north of the Arctic Circle; winter from Mass, southward.


37. Stercorarius parasiticus. 17 in.

Two phases of color, both similar to those of the last, but the central pair of tail feathers are pointed and bill 1.4 in. long, and project about 4 in. beyond the others; bill 1.4 in. long, with the nostril nearest the end. All jaegers have grayish blue legs with black feet, and brown eyes. They are called " Jiddy hawks " by fishermen, who often feed them fish liver. Their flight is like that of a hawk. The nesting habits and range are the same as the next.



38. Stercorarius longicaudus. 21 in.

Like the last species, but with the pointed central tail feathers projecting 8 or 10 in. and with a shorter bill (1.15 in.) and the nostril about midway of its length. It is less often found in the dark phase.

Notes. Shrill wailing whistles.

Nest. Nest and eggs like those of the Pomarine Jaeger.

Range. Arctic regions, wintering south to Florida.


Family Laridæ


39. Pagophila alba. 17 in.

Entirely pure white with the shafts of the primaries yellowish; bill dark at base and yellow at tip; eyes brown, surrounded by a narrow red ring; feet black. Young birds are spotted with brown on the head, tips of wing and tail. This beautiful " Snow Gull," as it is called by whalers, is abundant at its breeding ground in the Arctic regions, but is rarely seen as far south as the United States. It breeds the farthest north of any of the gulls except Ross Gull.

Nest. Of grasses and seaweed, usually on ledges of cliffs, but occasionally on the ground farther inland. The three eggs, laid in June, are grayish-buff, marked with brown and black (2.30x1.70).

Range. Breeds only north of the Arctic Circle, and winters south to New Brunswick and British Columbia; casually to Long Island and the Great Lakes.


40. Rissa tridactyla. 16 in.

In summer, with plumage white, except the gray back and wings, and solid black tips to the primaries; in winter, the sides and back of the head are washed with the color of the back; young birds are like winter adults but have a dusky spot back of the eye; feet blackish, bill yellow in adults and black in young birds. Kittiwakes are very abundant in their northern breeding ground, and are common off the New England coast in winter. They usually keep well out at sea. often hovering around fishing boats to pick up refuse that is thrown overboard. They can easily be identified by their small size, the distinct black tip to the wings and their black feet.

Notes. " Keet-a-wake. keet-a-wake."

Nest. A pile of small sticks, grass and weeds, placed on ledges of sea cliffs. The 3 or 4 eggs are olive gray, with black markings (2.20x1.70).

Range. Breeds from the Gulf of St. Lawrence north to the Arctic Circle; winters south to Long Island and casually farther.


42. Larus hyperboreus. 28 in.

Plumage white with a pearl gray mantle; no black in the plumage, the primaries being white or grayish ; bill and eye yellow, the former with a red spot at the end of the lower mandible; feet flesh color. In winter, the head is slightly streaked with brownish. Young birds are mottled grayish brown and white, of varying shades, but always lighter than the young of the Herring Gull. Some specimens are very beautiful, being entirely white, with a few spots of brownish on the back, resembling the markings of a light-colored Snowy Owl. This species is one of the largest and most powerful of the gull family, only surpassed by the Great Black-backed Gull.

Nest. Usually a bulky structure of grasses, seaweed and moss placed on the ground ; the two or three eggs are brownish gray with brown and black spots ( 3. x 2.20 ) .

Range. Breeds from Labrador and Hudson Bay northward; winters south to New England, the Great Lakes and Calif.


43. Lams leucoptcrus. 25 in.

Plumage exactly like that of the Glaucus Gull but the birds are smaller and are found farther north.

Range. Breeds in Greenland and winters south to Northern New England and the Great Lakes.



45. Larus kumlieni. 27 in.

Plumage very similar to that of the Iceland and Glaucus Gulls, but with the primaries conspicuously gray, with white tips. As usual with the gull family, this species feeds largely, during the nesting season upon eggs and young of other sea birds. They seem to have a special liking for Cormorant eggs, and these ungainly creatures have to sit on their nests very closely to prevent being robbed.

Range. Breeds about the mouth of Hudson Bay; winters south to Long Island.


47. Larus marinus. 29 in.

Largest and most powerful of our gulls. Adults in summer have the head, tail and underparts white, back slaty black, eyes and bill yellow, with a red spot near the tip of the lower mandible; feet flesh color; primaries tipped with white. In winter, the head is streaked with dusky. Young birds are mottled with dusky brown above, and streaked with the same below. These birds are very rapacious, and besides feeding upon refuse, fish and shellfish, devour, during the summer season, a great many eggs and young of other sea birds; this habit is common to nearly all the larger gulls.

Notes. A laughing " ha-ha " and a harsh " keouw."

Nest. Either hollows on the ground or masses of weeds and drift, hollowed out to receive the three grayish brown eggs, spotted with blackish and lilac. (3.X2.15).

Range. These gulls breed from Newfoundland northward, being most abundant on the Labrador coast. In winter they are found as far south as the Carolinas, usually in company with Herrings Gulls.


51. Larus argentatus. 24 in.

Adults in summer, white, with gray mantle, and black primaries tipped with white. In winter, the head and neck are streaked below with grayish brown. Bills of adults, yellow with red spot on 'lower mandible; eye yellow; feet flesh color; bill of young, flesh color with a blackish tip. These are the most abundant of the larger gulls and the best known because of their southerly distribution. Several of the smaller Maine islands have colonies of thousands of birds each, and in winter great numbers of them are seen in all the harbors along our seacoast. Young gulls are born covered with down, and can run swiftly and swim well.

Notes. " Cack-cack-cack " and very noisy squawkings when disturbed .at their breeding grounds.

Nest. A hollow in the ground, or a heap of weeds and trash. The three eggs are olive-gray, spotted with black (2.8x1.7).

Range. Breeds from Maine, the Great Lakes and Dakotas northward; winters south to the Gulf of Mexico.


54. Larus delawarensis. 18 in.

Adults in summer. White with pearl gray mantle; ends of outer primaries black with white tips; eye yellow; feet and bill greenish-yellow, the latter crossed by a black band near the tip. In winter, the head and neck are streaked with grayish. Young birds are mottled brownish-gray above, and the tail has a band of blackish near the end.

The adults can be distinguished from the Kiitiwakes, which most closely resemble them, by the yellowish feet and white tips to the black primaries.

Nest. In hollows in the ground, usually in grass. The two or three eggs are gray or brownish gray, strongly marked with black (2.80x1.75). They breed in large colonies, often in company with other gulls and terns.

Range. Whole or North America, breeding from New Foundland, Dakota and British Columbia northwards, most abundantly in the interior; winters from Northern United States southward.


58. Larus atricilla. 16 in.

Largest of the black-headed gulls. Bill and feet carmine-red; primaries wholly black or only with slight white tips; eye brown; in breeding season, with the underparts tinged with pinkish. In winter, without the black hood, the head being tinged with grayish, and the bill and feet dusky. Young birds are like winter adults with the back more or less mixed with brownish and the tail crossed by a black band. The most southerly distributed of our eastern gulls, its northern breeding place being on the southern shore of Mass.

Notes. Strange cackling laughter; hence their name.

Nest. Heaps of rubbish and weeds on the ground in wet marshes. The 3 to 5 eggs are gray or olive-gray with black spots (2.25x1.60).

Range. Breeds from the Gulf of Mexico north to Mass., and in the interior to Ohio, but most abundantly on the South Atlantic coast. Winters from the Carolinas to Northern South America.


59. Larus franklini. 15 in.

Adult in summer. Hood dark; mantle lighter than the last species; primaries gray with black ends broadly tipped with white; underparts rosy; bill and feet red, the former dark toward the tip,, and more slender than that of the Laughing Gull. In winter, the plumage changes the same as that of the last but the color of the primaries and the shape of the bill will always indentify this species. These gulls are strictly birds of the interior, nesting on low marshy islands in ponds or sloughs, often in company with grebes, upon whose eggs they subsist to a great extent.

Notes. Similar to those of the last species.

Nest. A mass of weeds, etc., on the ground in marshes, often partly floating in the water. The eggs are similar to those of the Laughing Gull but the markings are usually in the form of zigzag lines as well as spots (2.25x1.60).

Range. Interior of North America, breeding from Iowa and the Dakotas north to Middle Canada; winters from the Gulf States southward.


60. Larus Philadelphia. 14 in.

Adult in summer. Hood lighter gray and not as extensive as in the last two species; bill slender and black; feet coral red; primaries white with black tips and outer web of first one; mantle paler than either of the last. In winter, the head is white with gray spots back of the eyes. Young birds have the back mixed with brownish and the tail with a band of black near the tip, but the bill and primaries always separate this species in any plumage from the other black-headed gulls. These little gulls are one of the most beautiful and graceful of the family, but they are rarely found in the U. S. with the dark hood.

Nest. Of weeds and grass on the ground, but not in the watery situations chosen by the preceding species. The three eggs are olive-brown, marked with blackish (1.90x1.30).

Range. Breeds in the interior from Hudson Bay and Northern Manitoba northward. Winters from Maine, the Great Lakes and British Columbia southward.


61. Rhodostethia rosea. 13 in.

Bill short and slender; tail wedge-shaped. Adults in summer. With no hood, but with narrow black collar; mantle light pearl; primaries wholly white with the exception of a blackish outer web to the first one; feet coral red, and underparts tinged with rosy in the nesting season. In winter, with no black collar nor pink underparts, and with blackish spot before the eye. Young mixed with blackish above, and with a black band across the tip of the tail; feet black; easily distinguished, when in the hand, by the very small bill, and the wedge shaped tail. This gull has the most northern distribution of any known bird, except, possibly, the Knot. Its breeding grounds were first reported by Nansen in 1896, in Franz Josef Land. It is one of the rarest birds in collections.

Range. Polar regions, south in winter to Point Barrow, Alaska, and Disco Bay, Greenland.


62. Xema sabini. 14 in.

Tail slightly forked; bill small and black, tipped with yellow. Adults in summer. Head with a slaty-gray hood, edged with a black ring around the neck; outer primaries black, with white tips, and edge of shoulder black; feet blackish; eye ring orange red. In winter, without the hood or collar, but the head is tinged with gray on the ears and nape. Young birds most nearly resemble those of the Bonaparte Gull, but the primaries are blackish, and the tail slightly forked. This species is very abundant within the Arctic Circle, but is not as boreal as the last.

Nest. In depressions in the ground, usually lined with grass; the three eggs are olive-brown, marked with deeper brown and black (1.75x1.25).

Range. Breeds from northern Alaska and the islands about the mouth of Hudson Bay northwards; winters south on the Atlantic coast to Maine and rarely New York.


63. Gelochelidon nilotica. 14 in.

Differs from all other terns in the shape of its black bill, which is stout, but with the upper mandible not hooked nor curved, as in the gulls. Tail forked about 1.5 in. Adults have the crown black in summer, while in winter the head is white, with the nape and spot in front of eye, black mixed with white. Young birds are similar to winter adults but have the back feathers margined with brownish, and the neck streaked with gray. This species is found only on our South Atlantic and Gulf coasts, and is not abundant anywhere.

Notes. A high, thin, somewhat reedy " tee-tee-tee," sometimes suggesting a weak voiced katydid (Chapman).

Nest. A slight, unlined depression in the short marsh grass or on the beaches. The three eggs are olive gray, spotted with black and brown (1.80x1.30).

Range. Breeds in Texas and along the Gulf and South Atlantic coasts to Virginia; later, may wander north to New England; winters south of the U. S.


64. Sterna caspia. 21 in.

Largest of our terns. Bill heavy and bright red; head crested; tail forked about 1.5 in.; eyes brown. Adults in summer have the crown and occipital crest glossy black. Winter adults and young birds have the crown mixed with white, and the latter are also blotched with blackish on wings and tail.

Nest. The 2 or 3 buffy, spotted eggs are laid in hollows in the sand. Size 2.60x1.75.

Range. Breeds locally along the South Atlantic coast and in the interior to Great Slave Lake.



65. Sterna maxima. 19 in.

Similar to the last, but smaller; bill more slender; tail forked 3.5 in.

Nest. A hollow in the sand. The 2 or 3 eggs are creamy buff, with distinct blackish-brown spots (2.60x 1.70).

Range. Breeds in the Gulf States and north to Virginia and Calif.; winters south of the U. S.


67. Sterna sandmcensis acuflavida. 16 in.

Head crested; bill and feet blackish, the former with a yellow tip. Adults have the crown glossy black. Young birds, and winter adults, have the crown mixed with white, and the former have blackish markings on the wings; tail forked 2.75 in. Like the majority of terns, these breed in immense colonies.

Nest. Their two or three eggs are deposited in slight hollows in the sand. They are cream colored, boldly spotted with blackish brown (2.10x1.40).

Range. Breeds on the Florida Keys, Bahamas and the West Indies; later may stray north as far as New England; winters south of the United States.



69. Sterna trudeaui. 14 in.

This is a fare South American species, described by Audubon as having occurred in New Jersey and New York. It has the form of the Forster Tern, a bright yellow bill and no black crown, but a black line through the eye to the ears.


69. Sterna forsteri. 15 in.

No crest on this or any of the following terns. Tail forked 4 in.; below pure white. In summer, with bill and feet orange red; crown black. In winter, the crown is white, but there is a blackish patch about the eyes, and the bill and feet are dark. These beautiful birds are often known as " Sea Swallows," because of their similarity in form and flight to those well known land birds. They are the embodiment of grace as they dart about high in the air. bill pointed downward, alert and ready to dart down upon any small fish or eel that may attract their fancy. They usually get their food by plunging.

Notes. A sharp, twanging " cack."

Nest. A hollow in the ground, .in which the 3 eggs are laid in June. Eggs whitish, greenish or brownish, variously marked with brown, black and lavender. (1.80X1.30).

Range. Breeds in the interior, north to Manitoba, and on the coasts to Virginia and Calif. Winters from the Gulf States southward.


70. Sterna hirundo. 15 in.

Mantle darker than that of any of the similar terns; washed with grayish below; bill and feet bright red, the former shading to black on the tip; tail less deeply forked (3.1 in.) ; edge of outer primaries and outer tail feathers, blackish. Changes in winter correspond to those of the last. Young birds have the feathers on the back margined with brownish.

Note. An energetic " tee-arr, tee-arr."

Nest. The three eggs are laid in a slight hollow on the sandy beach.

Range. Breeds locally from the Gulf States to Greenland and Hudson Bay; winters south of the U. S.



71. Sterna paradiscea. 15.5 in.

Similar to the Common Tern, but tail longer (forked 4.5 in.) and bill wholly red. In winter, bill and feet dark, as are those of the others.

Range. Breeds from Mass, northwards; winters in the south.


72. Sterna dougalli. 15.5 in.

This species is the most gracefully formed of the terns. The tail is 7.5 in. long, forked to a depth of 5.25 in. In summer, the bill is blackish, changing to red only at the base. The underparts are a beautiful rosy tint in the breeding season; tail entirely white; feet red. In winter the usual changes occur, and young birds have dusky edges to the feathers of the "back and wings. Terns are now becoming more abundant on our coast, their slaughter and persecution for millinery purposes fortunately having been stopped in time to prevent their extinction.

They feed chiefly upon small fish and marine insects, and often gather about fishing boats, waiting for an opportunity to dive after any bit that may be thrown overboard.

Notes. A harsh " cack " and " tee-arr," like that of the common Tern.

Nest. Eggs like those of the similar terns.

Range. Breeds on the Atlantic coast north to Mass.; winters south of the U. S.


74. Sterna antillarum. 9 in.

Smallest of our terns. Adult in summer. Crown, nape, and line through the eye, black; forehead and line above the eye, white; bill and feet yellow, the former black at the tip. In winter, the crown is white, the blackish being restricted to the nape and about the eyes.

These pretty little sea swallows were abundant both on the coast and in the interior but are yearly becoming more scarce especially oh the Atlantic coast. They are very aggressive when anyone approaches their nesting grounds and will continually dash down at you as they utter their sharp cries of disapproval.

Notes. A sharp, metallic clattering " cheep, cheep."

Nest. Two or three eggs are laid upon the bare sand. They are buffy-gray, sharply specked with blackish ( 1.25 x.95).

Range. Breeds north to Mass., the Great Lakes and Calif.; winters south of the United States.


75. Sterna fuscata. 17 in.

Adult in summer. Above sooty -black, except the white outer tail feathers. Crown, line through the eye, >ill and feet, black; forehead and underparts white; eye red. Young birds are smoky slate color all over, with the tail feathers, and some on the back and breast, tipped with whitish. This is the " egg bird " of tropical countries, thousands of their eggs being taken for food.

Note. A nasal " ker-wacky-wak " (Chapman).

Nest. A single egg deposited in a hollow in the sand; it is creamy-white, spotted with blackish-brown.

Range. Tropical countries: breeds north to the Florida Keys and islands in the Gulf of Mexico; sometimes wanders north to New England.



76. Sterna ancetheta. 15 in.

Similar to the last, but the back and wings much I lighter, and the white of the forehead extends over the eyes; nape whitish.

Range. Breeds north to the Bahamas.


77. Hydrochelidon nigra surinamensis. 10 in.

Adults in summer with the head, neck and underparts, black; back, wings and tail, dark gray; eyes brown. In winter, the forehead, neck and underparts are white; nape and patch back of eye blackish.

In summer these little terns are found only in the interior, where they nest about marshy ponds. They are very pugnacious and will sometimes touch an intruder with their wings as they dart past. As usual with the family, they nest in colonies.

Notes. A sharp "peek." (Chapman).

Nest. A pile of weeds and trash in sloughs on the prairies, or about the edges of marshy lakes, the nests often being surrounded by, and partly floating in the water. The three eggs are very dark colored, having an olive-brown or greenish background, blotched with black. (1.35x.95).

Range. Breeds in the interior from middle U. S. north to Alaska and Hudson Bay; winters south of the U. S., migrating along the Atlantic coast as well as in the interior.


79. Anous stolidus. 15 in.

Adults with the crown silvery-white, the rest of the plumage being sooty-brown; the bill, feet and line to the eye are black. The plumage of these beautiful birds is very soft and pleasing to the eye. They look to be gentle and confiding, and a closer acquaintance shows that they are. They will frequently allow themselves to be touched with the hand before they leave their nests. They are abundant in some of the Bahaman and West Indian Islands, where they nest in company with other species.

Notes. A hoarse reedy " cack " increasing to a guttural " k-r-r-r-r-r-r-r." (Chapman).

Nest. Of sticks and grasses, placed at low elevations in the tops of trees and bushes, or upon the ground. The single egg that they lay is buffy, spotted with black and brown. (2.00x1.30).

Range. Breeds north to the Bahamas and on Bird Key near Key West; rarely wanders on the Atlantic coast to South Carolina,


Family Rynchopidæ


80. Rynchops nigra. 18 in.

These strange birds are not apt to be mistaken for any other. They are locally abundant on the South Atlantic coast as far north as Virginia. Their flight is swift and more direct than that of terns; they fly in compact flocks, in long sweeps over the water, feeding by dropping their long, thin mandible beneath the surface and gathering in everything edible that comes in their path.

Notes. Baying like a pack of hounds.

Nest. Their 3 or 4 eggs are deposited in hollows in the sandy beaches. They are creamy- white, beautifully marked with blackish-brown and gray. (1.75x1.30).

Range. Breeds on the Gulf coast and on the Atlantic coast to New Jersey; after nesting, they occasionally wander northward as far as Nova Scotia; winters from the Gulf States southwards.