Posted by: atowhee | May 30, 2019


My recent trip to Malheur got me thinking about birds and their use or avoidance of water in pools and streams.  There are the “waterfowl” like ducks, geese and grebes.  Their element is water in its many forms, most of their food and transport being aqueous in origin.  Diving birds are particularly adept in uses of water for protection, nesting, food and courtship. Their young and those of dabbling ducks are able to swim almost from birth.  Even Wood Duck or Bufflehead ducklings must get to water within a few days of their birth in some tree cavity or nest box.  The dancing grebe moves across water, not a dancefloor or lek.  This photo is from Link River, Klamath Falls:WS DANCING2 (2)When an adult grebe dives for food the chick that was ensconced on the parent’s back floats free until the adult returns to the surface to provide a protective featherly place to ride once again.
The Osprey is a diving bird of the sort that can go beneath the surface, then pop back to surface through sheer buoyancy, shake off the water. then take back to the air from whence it scouts for fish.  Brown Pelicans, cormorants, shearwaters and many other pelagic birds do much the same.
The White Pelican feeds near the surface and foregoes diving, its bulk perhaps making that too risky.  They use their expandable, capacious beaks more like trawler nets.  When enough prey is captured in the beak’s sac they raise their beak toward the sky and food slides slickly down to the gullet.

There are shorebirds and wading birds from Least Sandpiper to rails on up to Sandhill Cranes.  I assume they can all swim when necessary.  Often they are in shallow water or along the shore.  Only a few of them swim a lot—like the phalaropes.
Wilson’s Phalarope:wph5 (2)

Another “shore” bird is the Shore Lark, known here in North America as the Horned Lark.  At Chickahominy we saw them feeding along the shoreline like pipits or Spotted Sandpipers.  The latter seems unusually fastidious for his family…not wanting to get his feet wet, hopping over shallow inlets as he moves along a floating log.  Yet, I have seen them wade right in:ss-wades2 (2)

There are the skimmers who include Black Skimmers which we don’t have in Oregon…but more widespread predators like Barn Swallow and Black Terns that also skim insects and other tidbits off the surface of the water.  I presume all terns could float if needed, not so sure swallows could survive a plunge into the water.  Larger terns like Forster’s and Caspian skim for fish.

Finally there are some landbirds that are comfortable near or even in the water.  Many marsh nesters seems to never get into the wet stuff, e.g, Marsh Wren, Red-winged Blackbirds.  However, I have seen Song Sparrows and Brewer’s Blackbirds actually wade in very shallow water and hop from log to rock to floating mats of plants.

Finally, most aptly, there is the Water Ouzel, now known as the dipper, a distant wren cousin in the genetics department.  This bird lives its entire life in or on or just above streams.  Dipper’s songs, food, hunting perches and nesting material all derive from the streams or the rocks that form the shoreline and small emergent islands. This photo was taken earlier this month near Ashland:em diopp3 (2)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: