Ever been in such a rush that you said, “After I eat, I have to fly?” These birds have you beat. They capture and eat their prey on the fly. Here are the descriptions of an Acadian flycatcher, chimney swift, chuck-will’s widow and eastern phoebe. Can you match them up? Answers are below.
1. This bird eats about a third of its weight every day in insects, and it is estimated that a pair of adults tending to three nestlings eat the weight equivalent of at least 5,000–6,000 housefly-size bugs per day. Flying insects — wasps, bees, whiteflies, stoneflies, mayflies, and even airborne spiders drifting on their threads — make up 95% of its diet. It frequently hunts in a group. It is aided by its wide, gaping mouth and speed: It averages 18 –30 miles per hour, but can reach bursts of 100 mph. This bird flies constantly, usually only landing at its nest (almost always attached to a manmade structure) or to roost for the night. It drinks and bathes midair by skimming water surfaces, shaking the water off in flight. It even breaks twigs off trees for its nest midflight. When not flying, this species doesn’t perch like most birds. It clings to vertical surfaces, a feat made possible by its very short legs and small feet with 4 long claws that resemble grappling hooks.
2. Twitching only its tail (a clue to its ID), this bird perches on a low branch, ready to swoop and capture any passing prey. Prey includes wasps, beetles, dragonflies, butterflies, moths, flies, cicadas, spiders, ticks, millipedes, ants, bees and grasshoppers, as well as small fish and crustaceans in shallow water. Occasionally, it hovers near foliage, picking off insects, fruit or seeds. This bird is found in open woodland and farms, often near water. It is increasingly found in suburbs where it builds its nest under eaves, overhanging decks and bridges, places that protect their young from weather and most predators. It is a weather-hardy bird — one of the last migrants to leave in the fall and among the first to return come spring. While most birds learn to sing from others in its flock, this bird, even when raised in isolation, perfectly sings its song, which also happens to be its name.
3. This, the largest nightjar in North America at 11–13 inches, says its name in a repetitive, usually nocturnal, song. This bird hunts at dawn and dusk, and occasionally on overcast afternoons. It is not unusual to see dozens of this bird together chasing insects — especially large moths and beetles. The long bristle-like feathers on its bill help to funnel insects into its mouth and prevent them from escaping. Its bill is only 0.5 inches, but it can open its mouth up to 2 inches wide, allowing it to swallow warblers, wrens and hummingbirds when insects are scarce. When it is molting, and not as adept at flying, this bird will eat small frogs. This bird is found near swamps, dry woodlands and pine barrens. Its eggs are laid on a cushion of dead leaves on the ground. When the nest is disturbed, the parents will move the eggs or small nestlings to another spot. It hates snakes! If the bird spots one, it lands nearby, hissing and opening its large mouth to try to scare the snake away.
4. This bird is an excellent flier, so maneuverable that it can hover and even fly backward. It has yet to be seen walking or hopping. It perches in the middle of a tree, then darts out to snag flies, mosquitoes, moths and flying ants. It also gleans spiders, caterpillars (and the occasional berry or seed) while hovering over plants. This bird bathes midflight by diving into water, then perching on a branch to shake off the water and preen. It breeds in beech-maple hemlock forests, usually near water or wet, wooded ravines in the eastern United States and southwestern Ontario. Both parents take care of the young, which fledge about 15 days after hatching. Mom usually starts to incubate another clutch at that point, while dad continues to tend to the fledglings. Hear an explosive tee-chup/peet-sa in the woods around twilight? Keep an eye out for this bird.
1. Chimney swift
2. Eastern phoebe
3. Chuck-will’s widow
4. Acadian flycatcher