Thursday, November 20, 2008

Jaegers-Pirates of the Bird World

I really like jaegers. (And no, I am not talking about shots of liquid evil that causes one to do unwise things.) I am talking about the remarkable birds that frequent the lakeshore during the fall and early winter. These are pelagic birds, normally found on the open sea. I had always wanted to see one, like a little kid wants to see Santa Claus. And this past weekend, I was able to view quite a few. Plus, I had great looks at two individuals. I was grinning like a Cheshire cat.

Pomarine Jaeger. Picture from Wikipedia.

There are three species of jaegers that can be seen in Indiana. One is the Parasitic Jaeger, Stercorarius parasiticus. We couldn't confirm the ID on one of the jaegers I saw, but one was most likely a parasitic, judging by size and field marks. Another is the Pomarine Jaeger, Stercorarius pomarinus. We saw one of these very well. And the third is the Long-tailed Jaeger, Stercorarius longicaudus. This one I have not seen yet, and hope to some day. Maybe this coming weekend :)

There are many reasons for my jaeger fascination. First of all, their body is built for speed and agility. Their wings are shaped almost like a falcon's, long and thin and tapered at the tips. This shape allows them to accelerate along the coast at top-notch speeds. They are very acrobatic, twisting and banking extreme turns. They have even shown the ability to execute a backward somersault when in pursuit of another bird.

Parasitic Jaeger. Photo from Wikipedia. Parasitc Jaegers are remarkably agile fliers.

Another reason I like jaegers is because I also like pirates. What does that have to do with jaegers, you wonder? Well, jaegers are pirates. In fact, it would be more suiting for a swash-buckling pirate to have a jaeger perched on his shoulder than a parrot. Jaegers are kleptoparasitic. This means they steal other birds food. They will find a gull or other bird that has a meal. They will pursue the bird and harass it, bombarding it from below and above until the exhausted creature gives up and drops its bounty. Then, the jaeger will dive after the morsel and snatch it before it is swallowed by the ocean's depth.

Long-tailed Jaeger. Check out that tail! Photo from Wikipedia

Lastly, I like jaegers because they are funky-looking. They have webbing between their toes like gulls, but also have strong, hooked claws so they can capture food. Jaegers prey upon birds, killing some almost their size, and rodents, such as lemmings. They have sharp, hooked beaks, so they can rip open their prey. They have attractive plumage, with contrasting dark and light feathers. They have white patches on the wings to supposedly startle birds aiding in the release of the food. All jaegers have two long trailing feathers on their tail when they are in alternate, or breeding, plumage. The Long-tailed Jaeger's tail feathers are pretty obvious, hence the name.

How can one not love a kleptoparasitic funky pirate bird that does acrobatic tricks?! Keep your eye out for this winged wonder at a coast-line near you.



IndyDon said...

So cool you got to see the jaegers recently. Don't expect a Long-tailed Jaeger in late fall. They are late summer and very early fall migrants in this area. Good luck in seeing more jaegers at a Great Lakes near you!

Linsi said...

Janet, I can tell you are a Ball State grad by the first sentence of this blog!

Janet Creamer said...

Oh, Indy Don, I can dare to dream can't I? :)

Miss Linsi, I think you know a little too much about me! :)