The annual migration of the Arctic Tern is probably the longest and most remarkable of any bird. In the autumn, the terns of eastern Canada head off across the vast Atlantic Ocean, then travel southward along the west coasts of Europe and Africa to winter offshore from South Africa to the Antarctic Circle. Terns in western Canada follow another circuitous route across the Pacific Ocean. Flying in large flocks, these birds travel more than 32,000 km each year.
The arctic tern has long, pointed wings and a long, deeply forked tail. The red bill is thin, rather long and pointed. The body is generally flashing white, with a black cap, red bill and legs, and pale grey mantle. It lives primarily on or near water, except during nesting season, when it frequents a variety of aquatic habitats (coastal or inland).
It nests in colonies, usually dense, sometimes with other species (often with Sabine’s Gulls in Nunavut). The adults are very aggressive in defense of their nests, and will dive-bomb intruders. Nest is near water in a shallow depression in sand, gravel or moss. It may be lined with nearby plant materials. They usually lay 2 eggs, buff or olive coloured, marked with dark brown, which hatch in the middle or end of July.
Arctic tern eat small fish, aquatic invertebrates (including crustaceans), and insects. Terns dive into the water in search of food.
The red-throated loon is the smallest, slightest of the divers. It stands at 53-69 cm., and its wingspan ranges from 106-116 cm. During the breeding season, the upper body is a solid dark brown. The head and upper neck is grayish, with a large, glossy colored patch on the foreneck. It is white underneath and the tail is dark. In the winter, the face and foreneck are pure white, and the upper part is dark brownish and finely spotted with white. Males average slightly larger than females, and have a heavier head and bill.
The body is designed for swimming, with short, strong legs set far back on the body. The legs are perfect for moving through water, although this design makes walking on land difficult. The three front toes are webbed, and these loons have short, well-defined tails. The body feathers are molted only in early spring and early autumn.
The red-throated loon obtains most of its food underwater, in dives that have been recorded at 2-9 meters, and average 1 minute. Prey is located visually, so these loons favor clear waters for foraging, and they do not fish at night. The prey consists of small or medium sized fish, including cod, herring, sprat, sculpins, and occasionally crustaceans, mollusks, frogs, fish spawn and insects. Food is usually swallowed before the loon surfaces. More information can be found here.(del Hoyo, Elliot, and Sargatal, 1992)
Canada geese (Branta canadensis) are the most familiar geese in Nunavut and across North America. They are classified into over 15 subspecies varying in size and shading. All have a distinctive black head and neck with a white cheek patch; most have a full or partial white ring at the base of the neck, brownish wings, back and sides, white to grayish-brown breast and belly, white rump patch, and black legs and feet. Common characteristics of all geese include similar coloration of males and females, life-long pair bonds with mates (although those that lose mates will re-pair), first breeding at 2-3 years of age, well-adapted for walking on land, feed primarily by grazing on vegetation, and they are very social except during nesting.
Pairs generally establish a nesting territory, produce four to five eggs per nest, and raise their young as a family unit. Later, families often combine to form “creches” guarded by several parents. As with most other waterfowl, geese are flightless for about a month in mid-summer, while new wing feathers are grown. Predators of Canada geese and their eggs vary widely among areas and include foxes, coyotes, wolves, bears, wolverines, gulls, eagles, and ravens. Canada geese are popular and accessible to many wildlife watchers, even in urban areas. They are prized by hunters across the continent.
Snow and White Fronted Goose
White-fronted Goose: A greyish brown goose with black barring or spotting on the breast. The white band around the base of the bill gives this goose its official The bill is usually pink. Snow Goose: There are two colour phases of the Snow Goose, and two sizes. Both phases have pink feet and a blackish “grinning patch” on the side of the bill. White Phase: the adult is mainly white with black wing tips. Blue Phase (“Blue Goose”): dark greyish brown with a white head and neck. The Greater Snow Goose is a larger race in which the blue phase is rare; the Lesser Snow Goose is smaller in size and has both colour phases.
Habitat: White-fronted Goose: Breeds on arctic tundra, marshes, lakes and ponds. Snow Goose: on coastal tundra with ponds, shallow lakes and streams, and river deltas; may be found on higher drier terrain as well. Nesting: Breed in colonies or single pairs, on the ground. Nests vary from a mere scrape to a mass of mud and mosses or other tundra vegetation, lined with down. White-fronted Geese usually lay 4-6 eggs and snow geese, 3-4 eggs.
Food: Shoots and roots of sedges, grass, bulbs, and aquatic vegetation; even insects and aquatic invertebrates.
The adult male northern pintail duck has a head and neck of dark brown, with a white line from neck to ear. The body is black, white and grey, appearing overall grey on top, white below. Two long, black central tail feathers add to the slim look of this bird. The adult female is greyish brown with a pointed, somewhat elongated tail. The speculum is metallic brown with a white rear border. Habitat: Shallow bodies of freshwater and marshes during the breeding season, salt and brackish waters of the coast at other times. Nesting: Nest on the ground, usually near water. The nest, a hollow lined with plant material and down, is sometimes well hidden in vegetation. Eggs: usually 7-9, creamy yellow to olive-buff.
Food: Mostly vegetation (seeds, aquatic vegetation, sedge, grain), but also minnows, aquatic invertebrates, insects and tadpoles.
Range: Breeds in Eurasia and North America, including Alaska, most of Canada, and the western U.S.A. In Nunavut, breeds mainly in the western mid-Arctic and low Arctic, on southern Victoria Island, and on Southampton.
Eiders are large diving ducks. Adult males of both species are mostly black and white, but they have different bills. The rather flat bill of the Common Eider extends back towards the eye. It varies from yellow to green, depending on the season. A “shield ” of yellowish-orange outlined in black projects above the King Eider’s bill. Females of both species are brown and may be difficult to tell apart, unless they are with their mates.
Habitat: In the breeding season, the Common Eider is the more marine of the two species, and prefers rocky coastal areas. The King Eider is more common around tundra freshwater ponds, lakes and streams, usually near the coast. Nesting: Common Eiders are colonial and nest near salt water, usually on small offshore marine islands. King Eiders are not colonial and usually nest near freshwater Arctic ponds and pools, or sometimes inland on low tundra. Eider nests are scrapes in the ground lined with fine plant material and down, usually sheltered by rock or vegetation.
Eggs: usually 4 to 6, olive in colour. Food: Eiders feed in flocks, diving as deep as to take mostly and crustaceans. Range: Holarctic. Both are common in Nunavut, especially along the coastal shores and islands. Nunavut Common Eiders winter from southern Baffin Island and Hudson Bay southward along the Atlantic Coast to the northern U.S.A. King Eiders winter in the seas as far north as open water permits-in the Bering Sea and along the distribution of King Eider Pacific coast of Canada to the west, and off southern Greenland, Labrador and the Atlantic provinces to the east.
The oldsquaw are talkative short and stocky ducks that moult their plumage four times a year. The adult male has two distinctive long, pointed central black tail feathers, much longer than those of the adult male pintail. In summer, the male is all dark, except for pale grey face patches and a white lower belly. At other times, the male’s head and neck are white-except for large brown patches between the eyes and the upper neck-and the back has bands of white on each side. The adult female has mostly brown upperparts, with white on the head and neck (more white in the winter), and white underparts. They fly low over the water in twisting and turning flocks. Habitat: These sea ducks spend most of their time in ocean bays, although many nest beside fresh water tundra lakes and ponds.
Nesting: Tidy nests in hollows lined with nearby plant material, down and feathers are usually concealed in low vegetation or among rocks, near water. Eggs: usually 5-9, olive to yellowish buff. Oldsquaws are often found nesting near Arctic Tern colonies, and benefit from the terns’ vigorous defense against predators.
Food: Dives deeper than any other Nunavut duck, to obtain aquatic invertebrates (especially crustaceans, mollusks, and insects), fish, and occasionally aquatic vegetation. Range: Circumpolar Arctic, including throughout Nunavut. North American birds winter along the west coast from Alaska to northern U.S.A., from Greenland to southeastern U.S.A., and on the Great Lakes.
The Dunlin Sandpiper is a medium-sized bird with a blackish, rather long and slightly down curved bill, and greenish black legs. Breeding adults have a large black patch on the belly, reddish-brown back, grey wings, and pale grey throat and head, crowned with reddish-brown. In autumn and winter, the Dunlin is light grey overall, with darker grey wings and a white belly. Habitat: In the breeding season, wet coastal tundra, sometimes dry beach ridges. In migration, tidal mud flats and the muddy or sandy margins of fresh water.
Nesting: Nest is usually a grass-lined depression on a hummock, often hidden in vegetation. Eggs: usually 4, pale olive or buff, marked with browns. Food: Mostly insects, also spiders, worms, mollusks and seeds. Range: Holarctic. In Canada, breeds mainly along the northwestern mainland, in the central mid- and low Arctic, and on Southampton and Coats Islands. North American Dunlins winter from southern Alaska along the Pacific Coast to the southern U.S.A., and from the northern U.S.A. along the Atlantic Coast to the Gulf of Mexico.
Lesser Goldern Plover
These smallish birds are common on the shores of both fresh and salt water, and on the tundra in the summer. Plovers and turnstones are plump-bodied, with large heads, short necks, rather large eyes, short thickish bills, and medium length legs. They tend to be runners rather than waders, and find their food by sight rather than by probing in the ground. The other shorebirds have a longer and more slender bill and appear more small-headed, but vary more in size (from the tiny Least Sandpiper to the larger Purple Sandpiper); in the length and shape of the bill (moderate to long; straight, curved down, or curved up); in the length of the slender legs (short to long); and in details of the feet. They also vary in behaviour, preferring different habitats, feeding times, and mating systems. Shorebirds are most noticeable in the autumn, when they gather together in large flocks in preparation for the long journey south.
Most of Canada’s 40 species of shorebirds breed almost exclusively in or near the Arctic. They play a central role in tundra food chains: they are predators of small invertebrates, and prey of mammals and birds including hawks, owls, foxes and weasels. Even more shorebird eggs and young are eaten in years when other prey such as lemmings are low in number-about every three years.