Many different bird species can be observed along the Capeís shoreline throughout the year. Some birds forage along the intertidal zone while others swim and feed in the open water. Some species congregate close to the shore and can be seen in marshes and estuaries.
Of course the most visible are the seagulls which are actually several different species of gulls. The most common is the herring gull (Larus argentatus), an abundant scavenger that feeds on mollusks, crabs, and all the food garbage left by people. The herring gull can grow over two feet tall and has black tips on the wings. This animal is overpopulated in many areas and is very competitive with other species, including many endangered ones.
The great black-backed gull (Larus marinus) can grow a few inches larger than the herring gull. It is also not as common, but can be distinguished with its dark back, hence its common name.
Common terns (Sterna hirundo) are also frequently seen near the gulls, but they can be identified by their forked tails, black caps, and orange bill. These animals are often seen diving in the water for fish. They are very protective of their nesting sites and will respond noisily to any intruders.
The coastal waters of the Cape are teeming with several species of ducks. Mallard ducks (Anas platyrhynchos) are often seen in pairs in the pannes of a salt marsh. The male is brightly colored and has a characteristic green head, whereas the female is brown. The American black duck (Anas rubripes) grows up to two feet long and can be seen year round in the marshes.
Similarly the common eider (Somateria mollissima) and the common merganser (Mergus merganser) are seen even in the winter. The make eider has a distinct white back, but is black underneath. The females are brown. The common merganser has a visible crest. The maleís head is green, and the femaleís is brown. These birds are often seen diving underwater for fish.
Another sea bird often seen with the eiders are the buffle-heads (Bucephala albeola). The male has a large head with a white patch. Like the other species, the female is brown, though she has a white patch on her cheek.
Running along the shoreline are small, whitish birds feeding on mole crabs, sand fleas, and worms. These are the sanderlings (Calidris alba) and they move quickly up and down the intertidal zone. The endangered piping plover (Charadrius melodus) can also be seen here, but they are a slightly smaller bird. Their eggs are laid in open, sandy areas and they are difficult to see. These are popular recreational spots in the summer. The ploverís population has been adversely affected by human activity. Hence there is a need to fence off these areas to protect the endangered birds.
Finally the great blue heron (Ardea herodias) is often seen walking slowly in the marshes. This large bird can be over four feet tall and has a grayish-blue plumage. It feeds on fish and other small animals in the creeks and has been known to overwinter on the Cape during mild weather. When disturbed it emits a series of loud squawking sounds unique to the species.
Copyright Gil Newton 2009 Thanks to Chris Dumas for logo image.