March 06, 2018
By Amanda Hausman, Zoological Manager of Birds
Many people get excited when they think about penguins, eagles or other charismatic birds. Movies like “Rio” and the addictive game “Angry Birds” highlight extraordinarily beautiful birds from exotic places. While it is clear from these examples that many people like birds and find them appealing, fun or beautiful, there seems to be a distance to their appreciation. People sometimes seem to only value birds that are large, exotic, colorful or rare. What many don’t realize, is that there are birds with many of these same qualities in places they could encounter them every single day.
One of the best things about birds is that they’re everywhere and accessible to everyone. We sometimes become blinded to the beauty of nature around us as it blends into the routine of our lives. 2018 has been designated as The Year of the Bird by National Geographic, the National Audubon Society, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and BirdLife International. The Saint Louis Zoo encourages you to start seeing the birds all around you. Admire the intense red of our Northern cardinal at your backyard feeder, the many red-tailed hawks you can spot along the highway during your commute. If you take a short drive along the river near Godfrey, IL during the winter, you will be in awe at the bald eagles thriving there. Lucky and observant folks may spot the gorgeous indigo bunting this summer as it visits for its breeding season before heading back to Central America for winter. Look around for a bird you’ve not seen or identified before and Google it! If you’re really daring, join a citizen-science project like the Great Backyard Bird Count that just happened in February or the annual Christmas Bird Count in December. It is not difficult to find brilliant surprises in our own backyards, if we just open our eyes and start seeing birds.
Here are just a few of the many birds to keep a look out for.
Common Name: The American kestrel
Scientific Name: Falco sparverius
The American kestrel is North America’s smallest falcon and a fierce predator of mostly insects, but also mice and other small birds. Identified by a rusty red back and tail, usually dotted in black, buff chest and slate blue head of the male, kestrels are only about the size of a dove. These petite birds of prey are often found alongside highways, pastures and even parks. Kestrels can detect the ultraviolet urine trails of their prey, which is an amazing hunting tool!
Common Name: Eastern meadowlark
Scientific Name: Sturnella magna
The eastern meadowlark is a beautiful, medium-sized songbird found in the eastern half of North America and south to the most northern edges of South America. These bright, yellow-breasted birds live in grasslands, agricultural areas and wet fields. Meadowlarks are primarily insectivores and hunt on the ground but will also eat seeds and fruits. A male eastern meadowlark usually has two mates at a time, and sometimes three.
Common Name: Eastern screech owl
Scientific Name: Megascops asio
The eastern screech owl can be found across North America, east of the Rocky Mountains. One of North America's smallest owls, these owls are quite charming with their tiny size, big eyes and small ear tufts. There are two color phases for this species, red and grey. Both have a similar, bark-like camouflage pattern that helps them blend in with their environment. Aptly named, the screech owl's vocalizations are eerie and ghostlike.
Common Name: American Goldfinch
Scientific Name: Spinus tristis
Goldfinches have an extremely large range over much of North America, including all of the US and south into the eastern part of Mexico, and north into Canada. Mainly seed eaters, goldfinches are commonly seen at household bird feeders. Goldfinch males are bright yellow with black edging on the wings and a black cap, while the females are more dull with plain wingbars. The goldfinch is a year-round resident in most of Missouri.
Common Name: Red-tailed hawk
Scientific Name: Buteo jamaicensis
Red-tailed hawks are the most common hawk in North America. Frequently seen along roadways, these hawks soar with broad, rounded wings searching for rabbits, squirrels or other small mammals. They will often be found perched on fence posts or telephone poles.
The red-tailed hawk's vocalization is very recognizable and often mistakenly used in movies as a call of other birds of prey.
Common Name: Dickcissel
Scientific Name: Spiza americana
The dickcissel is a sparrow-like bird of the prairie grasslands of the United States. Their range trails the eastern edge of Central America and spreads into northern South America. In the breeding season, male dickcissels look like tiny meadowlarks, with a bright yellow chest, marked with a dark “v.” These birds mostly eat seeds and are ground foragers. The dickcissel congregates in huge flocks of thousands in migration and on its tropical grassland wintering grounds.