Forster’s Terns perch on last year’s cattails along Highway 49 at the Horicon Marsh. English botanist Thomas Nuttall named this tern after Johann Reinhold Forster, a naturalist who accompanied the English explorer Captain Cook on his epic second voyage (1772-75), according to Birds of North America: Eastern Region. If you could have a bird named after you, what species would you choose? Share your choice in the comments section.
A pair of Blue-winged Teal swim in the water along the auto tour. They are usually skittish and fly away quickly when approached, but this pair was content to swim and eat while being photographed.
The female Blue-winged Teal looks similar to most other female dabbling ducks, but she is distinguished by a patch of blue on the upper wing coverts.
Schools of fish swim with their backs out of the water and their dorsal fins exposed. It may be related to shallow water in that area or it may be related to water temperature. Fish may swim near the surface in spring due to cooler temperatures. In summer, they may swim deeper where it’s cooler.
The Double-crested Cormorant swims with its body submerged and its bill in the air. It has beautiful blue eyes.
The yellow eye of the Northern Shoveler contrasts with its metallic greenish to purplish head feathers. Flocks of Shovelers continue to swim along Highway 49.
This female Red-winged Blackbird looks nothing like its mate. They like to nest among the cattails from March to June.
What type of gull do you think this is? Share your thoughts in the comments area.
Bird activity is picking up at the Horicon Marsh and many species are nesting. Be careful driving on Highway 49. You may need to wait for goslings crossing the road.
This Forster’s Tern expected to be waited on for dinner. She stayed perched on the post and made no attempt to dive for fish. Forster’s Terns look similar to Common Terns. Forster’s Terns have longer tail feathers than wing feathers. They have a large orange bill with a black tip, light gray feathers on their back, and white underparts. Common terns have shorter tail feathers than wing feathers, gray bodies that blend in with their gray backs, and reddish orange bills with black tips.
Instead of working for her dinner, she started calling. She quickly became more insistent, much like chicks do when they are begging for food.
Her valiant knight in shining feathers flew in with the gift of a fish.
This courtship feeding often occurs after the pair bond has formed. In terns, either sex may feed the other, but it is usually triggered by the female, according to the book Bird: The Definitive Visual Guide by Audubon.
She gratefully accepts the fish and swallows it whole. The ritual was repeated until her appetite was satisfied. It was a successful dinner date that strengthened their bond.
Another bird having dinner on the south side of Highway 49 at the Horicon Marsh was the American Bittern. His color pattern, especially the streaks on his neck, are effective camouflage. He stood very still, stretched his neck upward, and looked up to blend in with the vertical reeds.
He stretched his neck horizontally when he was getting ready to eat.
It only took a split second to pluck an unsuspecting fish from the water. He tossed it with his bill a couple of times before swallowing it whole.
The Double-crested Cormorant dives underwater until he is totally submerged. He also likes to eat fish. He can hold his breath for more than a minute. His blue eyes are stunning and unexpected.
This muddy duck is also a diver, which is no surprise by looking at him.
Here he is all cleaned up. His real name is Ruddy Duck. He dives for aquatic plants, insects, and crustaceans. It was a treat to watch the birds eating at the Horicon Marsh buffet.
Would you rather live in a high rise condo, a house built over the water, or camp on the ground gazing at the stars overhead? It is amazing that birds use such a variety of locations and construction methods to build their homes.
Barn Swallow homes are like high rise condos for birds. They like to build their nests out of mud high on a building. You may see them on barn beams or above outdoor light fixtures on homes. Barn Swallows gather mud pellets in their beaks. They add their saliva to the pellet and carry it to their nesting site. Barn Swallows vibrate their heads as they apply a new wet pellet to the drier structure. This distributes moisture and molds the new pellet onto the nest in progress. They may use up to 1,500 pellets to build their cup shaped nest. Adding grass contributes to the durability of the nest. After multiple trips to get a beak full of mud, I’m sure they work up an appetite. One of their favorite foods is aerial insects.
Another bird that enjoys aerial insects is the Forster’s Tern. They also plunge-dive for fish to eat. Their nest is nothing more than a shallow depression in the ground. The lack of construction leaves them more time to go fishing.
The American Bittern builds its nest piling up cattails and sticks making a thick platform a few inches above the water. Nests are 10 to 16 inches across and may rest on a small mound on the ground. Bitterns usually stand among the cattails with their beaks pointed in the air so they blend in to the vegetation. I almost drove right by this one. When he was ready for dinner, he started looking at the water and swayed his head side to side. Was he trying to lull his dinner into thinking life was good in the marsh muck? Then, with lightning speed, he plunged his head in the water and plucked a frog from the mud.
If you disturb a bird’s home, you will ruffle his feathers.
He will not be happy with you.
Whether it’s high, low, or somewhere in between respect a bird’s nest wherever you find one. It’s their home sweet home.
 Peter Goodfellow, Avian Architecture (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2011), 84.
 John Eastman, Birds of Lake, Pond and Marsh: Water and Wetland Birds of Eastern North America (Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1999), 211.