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Science & NatureWhat is That?What Is That … on the wing?

What Is That … on the wing?


We enjoy watching various insects, birds and bats flying around at the cottage, except for those insects intent on feeding on our blood.  It is fascinating to watch the gravity-defying exploits of flying beasties and this is sometimes further enhanced by the magical way sunlight plays off the movement of their wings.

One characteristic of members of the bird family is that they all have wings, even the flightless members such as penguins, emus and ostriches.  Most times we do not get a good look at the extended wings of birds as they are often moving too rapidly to see them clearly or to take crisp photographs.  Watching birds ‘on the wing’ is one of the spirit-lifting pastimes at our cottage so we wanted to share photos of five different bird species with their wings extended.

The bald eagle is a large raptor with a wingspan of up to 200 centimetres.  We occasionally see individuals soaring above the water, with their wings nearly straight out from their body, hunting for fish.  The turkey vulture is another large raptor we regularly see soaring over our cottage.  We usually see groups of turkey vultures circling very high up as they search for carrion. The turkey vulture’s wingspan can reach 170 centimetres with their wings forming a V-shape.  The wing tips are the top and the body is the base of the V.   The first picture is an adult bald eagle, as evidenced by its white head and yellow beak, and the second is a young turkey vulture, as demonstrated by its dark head and “five-fingers” at the tip of its wings. Unfortunately, the V-shape of the turkey vulture’s outstretched wings is not apparent from the angle of this picture.

It is important for diving and dabbling water birds to groom themselves regularly to spread water-proofing oils over their feathers so they do not become waterlogged and do not lose the ability of their feathers to insulate them from cold water.  Most afternoons during the summer we are entertained by loons carrying out this daily routine in the bay in front of our cottage.  Loons will also use a spread-winged posture, along with vocalizations, when attempting to draw the attention of approaching boaters to their presence and ward them off.  These individuals were shaking water off themselves at the end of their bathing routine.

Flycatchers are among the more acrobatic of flyers, as they dart about in pursuit of their fast-flying insect prey.  The eastern kingbird is the largest of the three flycatchers we see regularly at our cottage.  This eastern kingbird was photographed just as it was launching after a large insect which we see as the blurred speck in front of the bird.  The blur is not dirt on the cameras lens.

We often see osprey fishing in the bay.  This medium-sized raptor, with a wingspan of up to 160 centimeters, feeds exclusively on fish. Once they spot prey, either from a perch on a tree branch or while soaring over the water, they plunge feet-first to capture fish near the surface in their sharp talons.  An amazing sight is their occasional almost total submergence during this process, the powerful flapping of wings shedding cascades of water as they launch back into the sky.  Nesting pairs are a common sight on White Lake.  This individual was photographed just as it was taking off from its massive stick-nest in the top of a white pine.

We hope that these images have helped lift your spirits as you endure the depths of winter.

For additional information on these birds we recommend Chris G. Earley’s Hawks & Owls of Eastern of Eastern North America, David Allen Sibley’s The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America and Roger Tory Peterson’s Peterson Field Guide to Birds of Eastern and Central North America.




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