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Birds and Mammals in Aquatic Ecosystems. ENV 311/ EEB 320 Winter 2007. Why Birds?. Important predators of invertebrates, fish, mammals, reptiles and amphibians in aquatic ecosystems Major vectors for transport of plants and wingless invertebrates

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Birds and mammals in aquatic ecosystems

Birds and Mammals in Aquatic Ecosystems

ENV 311/ EEB 320

Winter 2007

Why birds
Why Birds?

  • Important predators of invertebrates, fish, mammals, reptiles and amphibians in aquatic ecosystems

  • Major vectors for transport of plants and wingless invertebrates

  • Interesting and ubiquitous members of aquatic communities

  • Along with fish, enjoy fairly broad support from the public

    • Good way to generate interest in habitat preservation/restoration

Family gaviidae gavia
Family GaviidaeGavia

  • Loons

  • Habitat: mainly northern lakes

  • Notes:

    • Divers: feed mainly on fish

    • Very distinctive vocalizations

      • Alarm call

      • Short hoot

    • 1 breeding sp. in MI: common loon (Gavia immer)

University of Michigan Animal Diversity Web

Family ardeidae
Family Ardeidae

  • Bitterns, Herons, and Egrets

  • Habitat: Open wetlands, lakeshores, rivers

  • Notes:

    • Often seen stalking prey: feed mainly on fish, also amphibians and invertebrates

    • Egrets/herons often build nests in shrubs/trees and may be colonial breeders

    • Bitterns prefer dense emergent vegetation and tend to be solitary

University of Michigan Animal Diversity Web

Family ardeidae bitterns
Family ArdeidaeBitterns

  • 2 spp. in Michigan

  • American bittern:

    • Call distinctive—like a piledriver in a puddle?

    • Secretive, often strikes vertical pose to blend in with vegetation

Family ardeidae herons and egrets
Family ArdeidaeHerons and Egrets

  • 6 spp regularly found in MI

  • Less secretive and more easily spotted than bitterns

  • Egrets are white, herons may be various colors

University of Michigan Animal Diversity Web

Family accipitridae
Family Accipitridae

University of Michigan Animal Diversity Web

  • Hawks and eagles

  • 2 spp. that are most often found in MI aquatic ecosystems are:

    • Bald eagle (above)

    • Northern harrier (below)

  • Bald eagle found along rivers/wetlands, often preys on fish

    • Making strong recovery from very low numbers for last half of 20th century

  • Northern harrier often hovers over open wetlands, preys on small mammals, amphibians and other birds

Family pandionidae pandion haliaetus
Family PandionidaePandion haliaetus

University of Michigan Animal Diversity Web

  • Osprey (1 sp.)

  • Habitat: Mainly rivers and wooded edges of lakes

  • Notes:

    • Build enormous nests of sticks high off the ground, 3-5 ft in diameter

    • Feed mainly on fish but cannot swim—have been known to drown if they hook into too large a fish

    • As with many raptors, numbers have risen since elimination of DDT from the food web

Family laridae
Family Laridae

  • Gulls and terns

  • Ring-billed gull

    Common tern

  • Gulls tend to be thicker-billed and stouter; frequently walk

    • Facultative predator/scavenger

  • Terns are sleeker, designed for capturing fast prey

    • More predatory on small fish and invertebrates

  • May build nests on rocky shores, islands or floating mats of vegetation

University of Michigan Animal Diversity Web

Family anatidae
Family Anatidae

  • Ducks, geese and swans

  • Very diverse aquatic family

  • Habitats vary, from wooded wetlands and rivers (wood duck) to open water (greater scaup)

  • Notes:

    • Many feed by dabbling, i.e., sifting through mud for nutritious invertebrates, seeds, shoots, etc.

    • Others are active predators of fish (e.g. mergansers)

    • Many valued by hunters—benefit (?) from conservation efforts

    • Webbed feet for swimming

University of Michigan Animal Diversity Web

Family anatidae ducks
Family AnatidaeDucks

  • Short-necked, often with colored primary feathers

    • Most species migratory

    • Most have sexually dimorphic coloration

  • Mallard (Anas platyrhyncos) very common and spreading in NA

  • Am. black duck (Anas rubipres) very closely related to mallard and disappearing due to interbreeding

Family anatidae geese and swans
Family AnatidaeGeese and Swans

  • Longer-necked and usually larger than ducks

  • Mainly migratory--most prefer more northerly breeding ranges than ducks

  • Canada goose (Branta canadensis) is very common near water/grass in MI

Family gruidae grus canadensis
Family GruidaeGrus canadensis

  • Sandhill crane

  • Habitat: migratory; wetlands critical for breeding success; past population declines mirrored wetland loss

  • Notes:

    • Omnivorous, but notorious for eating waterfowl eggs during breeding season

    • Elaborate mating dance

    • Social, gregarious bird

Family alcedinidae ceryle alcyon
Family AlcedinidaeCeryle alcyon

  • Belted kingfisher

  • Habitat: waterways and lakes with available perches and abundant food

  • Notes:

    • Nest in 1-2 meter long tunnels, often in riverbanks

    • Voracious predator of small fish

    • Call is rattling

Family charadriidae
Family Charadriidae

  • Sandpipers and phalaropes

  • Habitat: shores of lakes, wetlands, large rivers

  • Notes:

    • Speciose group (18 spp. commonly migrate through or reside in MI)

    • Size ranges from sparrow-sized to length of a small hawk

    • Many have very long legs/bills for wading and deep probing of the substrate for invertebrates


  • Although most mammals will periodically visit aquatic ecosystems, only a few species are strongly associated with water in MI

    • Some are voracious predators of fish and mollusks

    • Others may construct large structures and significantly alter hydraulics of flowing waters

    • All have physiological adaptations, such as webbed feet and waterproof fur that allow them to thrive in aquatic ecosystems

Castor canadensis
Castor canadensis

  • American beaver

  • Notes:

    • Noted for its ability to construct wood/earth dams, altering flow to suit its needs

    • Uses large, gnawing teeth to fell trees

      • Consumes nutritious bark/buds

      • Uses wood for dam- building

    • Characterized by large size (may reach 35 kg) waterproof coat and large, paddle-like tail

    • Trapped to near dangerous levels in 19th century; now common in most of NA

Lutra canadensis
Lutra canadensis

  • River otter

  • Notes:

    • Intelligent and very adaptable predator—one of the few natural predators of snapping turtles

    • Prefers deep, relatively isolated rivers with healthy fish populations

    • Highly adapted for speed in water: sleek, with fully webbed feet

Mustela vison
Mustela vison

  • Mink

  • Notes:

    • Well-adapted for hunting on land and in water—can swim well and run fast

    • Feeds on small mammals, fish, amphibians, birds

    • As with other aquatic animals, may take up residence in old muskrat or beaver lodges

Ondatra zibethicus
Ondatra zibethicus

  • Muskrat

  • Notes:

    • Looks most like a small beaver, but can be distinguished by its thick rat-like tail

    • Builds easily recognizable lodges in shallow wetlands

    • Mainly herbivorous but will take crustaceans and mollusks as well