Long billed Birds and Preening

Long-billed Curlew preeningLong-billed Curlew preening

Preening in birds is essential for keeping their feathers clean, arranged correctly and for some birds it is a way to distribute oils from the uropygial gland which helps to keep the feathers clean and healthy. For some shorter billed birds the process looks relatively simple to me but for long billed birds it seems a bit more difficult. Long-billed Curlews are easily able to access the uropygial gland and the feathers on the back of their bodies but are unable to reach some feathers near their head and neck because of the length of their bills. I have seen them preen the easily accessible feathers first then rub their heads and necks against the freshly preened feathers which seems like a way to distribute the oils from the uropygial gland to those hard to reach areas.

Preening Roseate SpoonbillPreening Roseate Spoonbill

For some long billed wading birds the preening process appears to also be a challenge. This Roseate Spoonbill image shows how about the closest that they can use their spatulate bills is where the long neck of the spoonbill meets its body.  Like the Long-billed Curlew I have seen them rub their heads and necks over freshly preened body feathers to help distribute the oils.

Preening American OystercatcherPreening American Oystercatcher

American Oystercatchers have relatively long bills but to me they appear to have fewer challenges preening than the Roseate Spoonbills and Long-billed Curlews.

American White Pelican preeningAmerican White Pelican preening

American White and Brown Pelicans have long necks and bills and the oils from uropygial gland are especially important because the pelicans are in and on the water often and the oils help to keep their feathers dry and buoyant. This American White Pelican image shows the pelican rubbing its neck and head against the other freshly preened feathers to distribute the oils much the same way as Long-billed Curlews, Roseate Spoonbills, American Oystercatchers and other long billed birds use.

These birds also use their feet to scratch and that may help distribute oils and remove debris from the feathers they can’t reach with their bills. I haven’t observed the birds I have posted here preening each other but do know that some species like Common Ravens do.

Birds are amazing…



American Oystercatcher Lift Off

American Oystercatcher Lift OffAmerican Oystercatcher Lift Off – Nikon D200, handheld, f7.1, 1/1000, ISO 160, Nikkor 80-400mm VR at 400mm, natural light

Yesterday was rough, one of the biggest reasons for that is that my internet connection screwed up and new equipment is needed so this is just a simple post due to exhaustion, frustration or a combination thereof.

I thought I had already posted this American Oystercatcher image but I haven’t until now. I photographed this American Oystercatcher at Fort De Soto County Park’s north beach in February of 2009. The adult Oystercatcher had been resting on the sand and I took a series of images of the shorebird before it saw something in the air that caused it to be alarmed then take flight. It isn’t uncommon for Peregrine Falcons to be around the north beach area and the oystercatcher may have spotted it or another predator behind me.

One of two species of oystercatchers in North America the American Oystercatchers quickly stole my heart after I first saw them because of their colors, long bills, pink legs and their Goth-like black toenails.


Adult and juvenile American Oystercatchers feeding side by side

Adult and juvenile American OystercatchersAdult and juvenile American Oystercatchers feeding side by side – Nikon D200, handheld, f7.1, 1/750, ISO 160, Nikkor 80-400mm VR at 400mm, natural light

In 2008 I spent several months during the summer watching an American Oystercatcher family from the time the chicks were tiny until one of the chicks became independent. Actually it was until both chicks were independent, one seemed to be ready to leave the parents quite early and I lost track of it after several days, the Oystercatcher chick above stayed close to the parents well into the fall.

There are two species of Oystercatchers in North America, American and Black. I am very familiar with American Oystercatchers but have yet to have my lens on a Black Oystercatcher, I suppose that is something I need to add to my bucket list.

Oystercatchers are monogamous and very territorial, both incubate their young but the female spends more time at it. Oystercatchers have been known to “egg dump” and leave their eggs in the nests of other species like gulls and abandon them to be raised by the other birds. I would love to witness and photograph that because seeing a gull raising an oystercatcher would be fascinating and probably quite amusing too.

Until 1843 Oystercatchers were called “Sea Pie”. What a name.

I like the intimate feeling my image above conveys with my lens a small window into the world of this oystercatcher family. I also like how the prey is shown right in the middle of the juvenile’s open bill.


Adult American Oystercatcher among Sea Purslane

Adult American Oystercatcher among Sea PurslaneAdult American Oystercatcher among Sea Purslane – Nikon D200, handheld, f6.3, 1/640, ISO 200, Nikkor 80-400mm VR at 400mm, natural light, ©2009

I like to include habitat in my images when I am able to do so, especially when the habitat doesn’t obstruct the view of my subject or when the habitat helps to define a sense of place. I have taken hundreds of images of American Oystercatchers in or near water and that shows only a part of the habitat where these shorebirds can be found, they can also be found among stands of Sea Oats, Spartina or as shown in this image, Sea Purslane.

I was at Fort De Soto and Egmont Key from before sunrise to well after sunset the day I photographed this American Oystercatcher in late evening light. I was taking a Florida Master Naturalist course and our class met on Egmont Key that day so I thought I might as well photograph at Fort De Soto’s north beach before I hopped onto the ferry to Egmont Key and by the time I took the ferry back to Fort De Soto I figured I might as well stay for sunset and see if I could capture the “Green Flash” as the sun set. I didn’t see the green flash that night but I was thrilled to be there as the sun dipped below the horizon. I was exhausted, sweaty but very happy to have enjoyed the day so thoroughly.


American Oystercatcher with prey

American Oystercatcher with preyAmerican Oystercatcher with prey – Nikon D200, handheld, f6.3, 1/1600, ISO 250, Nikkor 80-400mm VR at 400mm, natural light 

American Oystercatchers were among my favorite shorebirds to photograph at Fort De Soto County Park’s north beach when I lived in Florida. Their bright orange bills, pink legs, black & white plumage and bright yellow eyes rimmed in red always fascinated me plus their behavior and distinctive call often amused me. I photographed this adult Oystercatcher as it hunted for prey in the shallow water of a tidal lagoon and was pleased to get this image with a tiny mollusk in its bill.

I’ve been fairly busy recently, I hope to get caught up on thanking you all for the kind comments that you have left on my posts this past week.