Photographed at the Texas City Dike where there is a large colony of these South American immigrants.
It may come as a surprise to see noisy, green-and-gray parrots racing through cities in the U.S. But Monk Parakeets, native to South America but long popular in the pet trade, established wild populations here in the 1960s. They are the only parakeets to nest communally; dozens live together year-round in large, multifamily stick nests built in trees and on power poles. These large group nests may be one aid to surviving the cold winters in adopted cities as far north as Chicago and New York.
Monk parakeets are the only member of the parrot family to build stick nests and to nest colonially. Their bulky nests provide a year-round home for the colony. The insulation these nests provide may be one reason why Monk Parakeets are able to survive cold winters. A single nest structure typically contains up to 20 nest chambers, and in extreme cases can house more than 200 nests.
In their native Argentina, Monk Parakeets sometimes adopt old nests of other species. Some ornithologists have suggested that this behavior may have been the first step, evolutionarily speaking, to transitioning from nesting in tree cavities to constructing stick nests.
Monk Parakeets kept in captivity can learn to mimic human speech.
Monk Parakeets can live 6 years or more in the wild, and in captivity often live as long as 15 years.
Photographed in the Grand Canyon National Park
An unassuming bird with plain buffy plumage, Sprague’s Pipit possesses an amazing song flight, hovering on rapidly fluttering wings high above its territory, singing a lovely, downward-swirling song during bursts of gliding. When not singing, this species is very difficult to find in its prairie and grasslands habitats, often not seen until it flushes from nearly underfoot. Because Sprague’s Pipit relies on native prairie and grasslands, its populations have declined tremendously as a result of the destruction of these habitats across interior North America.
John James Audubon was the first naturalist to describe Sprague’s Pipit. He named it after his friend, Isaac Sprague, who discovered the first nest of the species near Fort Union, North Dakota, in June 1843.
Displaying males often remain airborne for half an hour. In one case, a male Sprague's Pipit was observed displaying for 3 hours before descending to the ground. No other bird species is known to perform such prolonged displays.
These birds are very similar to the American Pipit and the Vesper Sparrow, both of which exist in the Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge, where I'm headed in about an hour.
Photographed in Brazos Bend State Park. This bird is easily recognized by is bobbing tail.
American Pipits are among the very few species of American songbirds that nest in both Arctic tundra and alpine meadows. Although they’re found in the open and are not especially shy, these small birds can still be inconspicuous as they walk briskly through tundra or agricultural fields. They also forage along river and lake shores, much in the manner of a shorebird. If you don’t live in the Arctic or above treeline, look for these birds in winter.
American Pipits have a long hind toe (called a hallux) and toenail, similar to longspurs. This adaptation probably helps them when walking and foraging on unstable ground, such as snowfields and mudflats.
American Pipit was long known as Water Pipit (Anthus spinoletta), a species that occurred over much of the Northern Hemisphere. Differences in plumages and calls led scientists to split this complex into multiple species.
Although we call them American Pipits, this species also occurs across Asia, where it is known as “Buff-bellied Pipit.”
In an alpine population in the Beartooth Mountains of Wyoming, a snowstorm buried 17 American Pipit nests for 24 hours. All of the nestlings that were 11 days or older survived, and a few of the younger ones did as well.