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Biol 308

Ornithology and

Lab Manual

Ken Otter
Ornithology and Mammalogy Lab Manual Biology 308

General Goals of the Lab

The lectures for Biology 308 focus on comparative anatomy and morphology of birds and mammals.
The focus for the lab is cladistics and systematics – essentially the general structural and molecular
similarities between related species that allow us to classify membership into different Kingdoms,
Phyla, Classes, Orders, Families, Genuses and Species. By knowing phylogenetic groupings, we can
better disentangle the evolutionary forces that shape the life histories of different species. At a more
practical basis, it allows us to group and organize organisms into related, hierarchical clusters, which
then makes learning the massive number of species in these two Classes much more digestible.

For the labs, the main goal is to teach you how to identify birds and mammals. In order to do this, you
will have to learn the morphology of the birds and mammals, and be familiar with the various external
characteristics. You will also learn to identify animals by signs or tracks left behind (a very common
way of censusing mammals). For some bird species, such as the owls, you will also learn to identify
the birds by ear – learning the species-specific calls.

You will be responsible for knowing taxonomic names of all birds and mammals found in BC down to
the level of Family names. You will also be responsible for knowing the common names of particular
species within each family, with emphasis placed on those representative species that are found

Structure of the Lab

In the first lab, we will head outside (so bring appropriate clothing and footwear for the weather). The
emphasis for this first lab will be showing you how to set up your course project (and if we are lucky
with weather, we may try some bird banding).

After this first lab, though, we will likely spend most of the remaining labs indoors. We will be
working with study skins of various species, which allow you to see specimens up close. These are
designed to allow you to look at external features of the birds and mammals that will aid in
identification skills, particularly in taking notes on field characteristics – unique characteristics of the
animal you are viewing that let you classify it down to species. By focusing on general characteristics
of orders and families in the lab, you will soon be able to immediately recognize animals you are
seeing as belonging within a larger general grouping (e.g. “ducks” versus “loons”). From this stage,
you will then focus on narrowing your classification down using markings on the animal until you can
use your field guide to determine which species you are dealing with.

Quizzes are going to be station-based. There will typically be 25-30 stations that you will rotate
through, 60 seconds per station. At each station there will be a specimen or picture with an associated
question. These will primarily be on taxonomic names, recognition of special characters, external
morphology etc. After you get through the stations once, we will run through each station a second
time for 30 seconds (to give you a chance to check your responses).
Quizzes cover the material in the previous two labs. At the end of the quiz, we will go over the
answers so that you know what the specimens were. This will take about 45 minutes at the beginning
of the lab period, which will be followed by the lab talk for that day.
Ornithology and Mammalogy Lab Manual Biology 308


Course Project
The purpose of this journal is to supplement both the lab and lecture experience. Lectures are designed
to provide information on the comparative anatomy, physiology, behaviour and evolution of birds and
mammals. Labs give you and opportunity to learn the classification of resident BC species, as well as
provide a chance to get close detailed inspection of animals in order to facilitate identification.
However, to truly understand organisms, you have to see them in their natural surroundings. It is only
in this context that we can begin to comprehend the link between species as habitats.

Objective: to survey a number of different habitats and try to make connections between where
different species occur. You should survey at least three different habitat types during the course of
the semester. Examples of different habitats found locally are:
1. Riparian (Cottonwood Island Park, Wilkin's Park),
2. Mature Sub-boreal mixed forest (Blue Spruce trail behind the university)
3. Early successional willow/alder forests and pine plantations (Forests for the World)
4. Forest Edge/Meadowland (Moore's Meadow)
5. Wetlands (Hudson's Bay Slough)
6. Agricultural Belts/grasslands (Airport)
Task: Students will be expected to go on weekly excursions to various habitats to search for birds and
mammals. You should spend at least 1 hour per week in the field. Thus the minimum number of
outings required is 10, and minimum total hours required is 10. For full marks, you will have to
do more than the minimum. For top marks, you will need to have a few extra outings and/or
more hours per outing. Maximum, though you should be shooting for is 18-20hrs and 15 outings
to get high marks for this section –“time spent on project” will only be part of the marks. You
should report both direct observations (visual sighting) and indirect evidence of presence (tracks,
spores, identification of birds by song etc). Notes should be detailed, including descriptions of the
animal that allowed you to identify it. Diagrams of tracks, scat, colour patterns of birds, maps of
locations etc add to clarity of field notes and are strongly encouraged. Think of the timing of when
you are likely to see animals: go to the wetlands prior to mid-October if you want to catch any
migrating waterbirds, head out after a rain or snowfall to look for tracks in the snow or soft mud. The
key is to try to find as many different species of birds and mammals as possible, and to carefully
document the techniques used to find them and locations of where they occurred.
I encourage you to go out in groups, as it will be more fun, and you will likely see more with more
eyes looking. It also helps when there are several people trying to identify species you see. However,
keep the conversation down, or you won't see anything.. Each person should keep their own
notebook records.
Notebooks - You will be expected to keep a detailed field notebook, which will be handed in for
marking at the end of the term. The notebook should be small and portable, with pages that do NOT
easily come out. Some examples will be brought to class. Write-in-the-Rain notebooks or Surveyors
notebooks are available in the bookstore (I prefer the surveyors’ ones personally), and elsewhere
around town (e.g. both IRL and CFE forestry supply companies sells these and other hard/softcover
field books). Small spiralbound notebooks are acceptable, but not particularly good field books as
they don’t tend to stand up to much wear and tear. If you use a spiral bound notebook, it must not
exceed 5 x 7 inch (12 x 18 cm) size and should not contain more than about 100 pages - duotangs,
binders etc of 8.5 x 11 inch paper are NOT acceptable.
Ornithology and Mammalogy Lab Manual Biology 308


1. Start each outing with a date, where the trip is conducted, and the weather. You should keep detailed
record of the times of each observation and the circumstances. Sketches of birds, mammals or signs
showing identifying marks are also very useful, especially if you have to look these up later for ids. You
can either draw small maps with a day’s observations, or provide a larger more detailed map in the back of
notebook and make references to the locations of animals they see with respect to locations on the map.
The latter is handy if you go back to the same area more than once, and some areas (e.g. Eskers, Forest for
the World have maps for visitors that you can just paste into the back of the notebook). On these maps, you
can identify the routes you walked, and the locations of different kinds of habitats. Google earth is also a
good source of maps around PG, as the resolution is very high for PG airphotos.
2. Habitats - Animals are often associated with particular types of habitat. It is very important,
therefore, that they keep records of not just what they see, but where they have seen it.
3. Summaries - Any animals that you find must be identified down to species (or as close as you can
possibly get). They must have scientific names included in your write-ups. These should be
included as a list at the end of a day's excursion, rather than trying to do this in the field. Do these
in tabular format noting: common name, scientific name and microhabitat in which the
animal was found. In addition, you should summarize the general habitat you are surveying on
any given day. If you are going to the same place on more than one occasion, you can make one
general summary of the site in the BACK of your field book, and reference locations on your daily
notes. If that is the case, it would be worth adding a column for dates on which particular species
are seen.

Table 1. Example of summaries that should be included at the end of observations.

Date: 20 Sept 2006 Location: Hudson’s Bay Time: 9:00-10:00am

Slough, PG
Common Name Number Scientific Name Microhabitat
Green winged teal 5 males, Anas crecca Wetlands
7 females
Black-capped chickadee 6 in flock Poecile atricapillus Forest edge along trail

Your Field Notebooks may be brought to the lab for quick

checks by your TA or myself. Use this to show us how you are
setting up the notebook and how you are taking notes. This is
informal, and is to catch any obvious problems, rather than
assessment of content. The onus will be on you to do this, rather
than a formal call by the TA.

Notebooks are due Nov 18 in Lab.

Ornithology and Mammalogy Lab Manual Biology 308

15 October, 2006
Greenway Trail behind University
Time: 8am-9am
Weather: slightly overcast, light rain yesterday, 10˚C
[Note – see map of the park and route I typically take in the back of my notebook]

General notes – went out with two other people from the course.
8am – start in parking lot. Saw two American robins foraging on the grass in the
picnic area. Colours are relatively faded by comparison with birds I have seen
in the spring. Black
8:15 – as I got to the far edge of the picnic area and crown and
entered the woods, we saw a small bird flit cheek
from the trunk of a tree to another. Appears to White
be a small black woodpecker (based on bill back, white
spots on
shape, and the way it moves vertical up the
tree with its tail as a balance). White and wings
black markings on the face (see sketch),
relatively short bill. About the size of a
sparrow. No red or yellow.

I later Id’d this as a female downy White belly


8: 20 – found a track in the soft mud from yesterday. Looks a bit like a
small dog print, but had a distinct fifth toe.
Claw marks noticeable on all toes. Two paws always
side-by-side, like a bounding gate. 3.7 cm long.
Looked it up later, and it appears to be a weasel print.
Based on the size, possibly a long-tailed weasel.

Figure 1. Example of a page from a notebook. If you can’t ID something in the

field, leave yourself enough space to write in what it was AFTER the fact.
Ornithology and Mammalogy Lab Manual Biology 308

1. Field Notebook- Don’t go out without this! Notes should be taken in the field, rather than
trying to summarize your observations later. Examples of how to take daily field notes are
given in Figure 1 (previous page).
2. Plastic Bags – carry a few zip-locks, or make sure that the bags tie at the top. These are handy if
you find things like feathers, dung (icky) or other evidence of animals that you want to bring back
for later identification. You should not be collecting vertebrate specimens that you find (even
already dead animals) unless you are planning to bring them directly to the University to donate to
the collection. Anything of that nature must be brought to the instructor as soon as possible – do
not keep them in your home freezers etc until the next lab. The University has a collection permit,
which is necessary to have if you are in possession of wild animals – otherwise you can be charged
with poaching or unlawful possession of wildlife and be pretty heavily fined. If you are bringing
the specimen directly to the University or another permit holding agency (e.g. Ministry of
Environment office) you will be ok, but not if you are taking it home to bring in at some later date.
If you find a particularly good specimen, but do not want to transport it yourself, take detailed
notes of where it is and give these to the instructor. If you find something, but it is too late to bring
it straight up to the University that day, either leave it or make sure to bring it directly in the next
Try not to touch any animal specimens directly. Small rodents, like mice, can carry
hantavirus. Birds can be carriers of salmonella or avian flu. There are a host of potential diseases
contractible to humans on both birds and mammals. Invert the bag on your hand, pick the item up
and then close the bag around it. If you find dead crows, jays or chickadees (all species
particularly susceptible to West Nile Virus) make sure you use this technique, even though the
virus is only suppose to transmit through the transfer of blood (e.g. mosquito feeds on bird, then
on you). If in doubt, leave it! It is better to take detailed notes for identifying later than to
pick up something you feel uncomfortable with.
3. Small ruler – if you find tracks, sketch them in your field book for identification. A small 15cm
ruler is handy for measuring the width and breadth of the track, and in some cases may be the only
way to distinguish which of the related species made the track (especially for distinguishing things
like squirrels and mice or among various weasels). Many field books have a small ruler printed on
the side.
4. Field Guides – it is much easier to check ids in the field than when you get back. Take your bird
guide with you. If you have mammal guides, you might want to take those along too, but tracks
are easier to draw out and bring back to check later than are swiftly moving birds!
5. Binoculars – almost essential items to any wildlife biologist. If you are planning to continue in
the field, you will want to buy your own pair. As long as there is at least one pair of binoculars
within your group, you will be fine. If you want to buy your own, binoculars range in price from
$20 to over $1500, so there is a lot of variety to choose from. If you want advice on what to buy,
you can come and ask me and I will try to make a couple of suggestions for whatever price range
and usage that you plan to use them for. Bushnell make some compact binoculars (8x20) that are
not bad starter binoculars, are quite inexpensive (about $30), and are available at a number of
stores in town, including Cosco, London Drugs, Canadian Tire and various sporting goods stores.
There are a number of better binoculars ranging from price from $100 to 200, and I can give you
advice on what to look for.
6. Camera - these are handy for taking pictures of tracks, marks or even live animals. They can also
be used to document different kinds of habitats. Cameras on cell phones work particularly well for
taking pictures of carcasses or scat that you don’t want to touch – just make sure to put something
in the frame to give you a sense of scale.
Ornithology and Mammalogy Lab Manual Biology 308

Lab 2 – Introduction to Birds and Orders Gaviiformes through



All organisms are hierarchically classified based on their presumed evolutionary lineages. Species that are more
similar to one another (both morphologically and biochemically) appear closer on the branching lineages of
phylogenetic trees. In addition, these similar species will be more likely to belong in the same taxonomic
categories. The traditional divisions of these categories are:

Kingdom – Phylum – Class – Order – Family – Genus – Species

Organisms that are in the same species are most similar to each other, and get progressively more dissimilar as
they move up the taxonomic grouping towards Kingdom. For example, all multicellular organisms are in the
Kingdom “Animalia” ranging from sea slugs to humans. However, sea slugs and humans diverge at the level of
Phylum, with sea slugs being in the invertebrates, and humans in the vertebrates (chordate). Birds and
Mammals diverge at the level of Class; birds are in the Class Aves, Mammals in the Mammalia. From there,
the more similar two species are (such as different species of sparrows), the more likely they are to be grouped
into the same taxonomic groups. For example, song sparrows diverge from white-throated sparrows at the level
of Genus, they are both in the Order Passeriformes (song birds), and in the Family Emberizidae (the sparrows).
However, they are different Genuses, as they are not very closely related sparrows. However, white-throated
sparrows and white-crowned sparrows ARE closely related. They are in the same Genus (Zonotrichia) and only
diverge at the species level (they are said to be sister species). The same pattern could be done for mammals in
the chart below, comparing long-tailed weasels and closely related mink, which are both in the same Genus
(Mustela) and diverge only at species. By comparison, they are in the same Order (Carnivora) as Grizzly bears,
but in different families. Beavers are not even in the same Order, but rather in the Rodentia (rodents).

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family Genus species Common

Bird Animalia Chordata Aves Gaviiformes Gaviidae Gavia immer Common loon
Bird Animalia Chordata Aves Passeriformes Emberizidae Melospiza melodia Song sparrow
Bird Animalia Chordata Aves Passeriformes Emberizidae Zonotrichia albicollis White-throated
Bird Animalia Chordata Aves Passeriformes Emberizidae Zonotrichia leucophrys White-crowned
Mammal Animalia Chordata Mammalia Rodentia Castoridae Castor canadensis beaver
Mammal Animalia Chordata Mammalia Carnivora Ursidae Ursus arctos Grizzly bear
Mammal Animalia Chordata Mammalia Carnivora Mustelidae Mustela frenata Long-tailed
Mammal Animalia Chordata Mammalia Carnivora Mustelidae Mustela Vison Mink

Conventions – Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order and Family are all typically capitalized. Genus is capitalized,
but species is not. The two-name combination of the Genus species (which are always italicized or underlined)
is the official name of each species, based on the Linnaean nomenclatural system.

Historically, divisions between groups, and deciding what categories they fell into (e.g. whether something was
a “sparrow” or not) was based largely on morphology – what the animal looked like, its bone structure, internal
physiology etc. Since the 1980s, much of this classification has increasingly turned to genetic techniques that
allow researchers to compare the genetic and biochemical similarity between living species, and many of the
changes in scientific names etc are based on new and more refined genetic research.

The class Aves is characterized by numerous features that make a bird a bird, and not something else. All birds
(and only birds) have feathers; this is the primary distinguishing feature of the group. In addition, all birds lay
yolked eggs – while other groups (reptiles) also lay eggs, birds are the only group of major vertebrates in which
no species bears live young. Birds lack teeth, but rather have a horny bill covering their jaws. Birds are
Ornithology and Mammalogy Lab Manual Biology 308

bipedal, moving on ground on their back legs. The front limbs in all species are specialized into wings – even
among birds that are flightless, wings are retained and the forelimbs not used for other modes of terrestrial
locomotion. Birds as a group are generally small sized, even the largest extant species (Ostriches) are small by
comparison with the largest mammals (blue whales). There are also other features of the group (e.g. digitigrade
foot structure etc) that also are characteristic of most birds, but the above list gives a pretty good diagnostic
picture of what constitute a bird.

Bird Topography
In order to identify any animal in the field, you need to know the names of the outer body parts (Figures 1, 2 and
3 – from Handbook of Bird Biology). In birds, this is largely the names of the major feather tracts, as
differences in colours of feathers often follow these feather tracts. Below are pictures of the major parts of the
bird, which you should know.

Figure 1 – Names for body regions on birds

Figure 2 – Names of feather tract regions on the

Ornithology and Mammalogy Lab Manual Biology 308

Figure 3 – Feather tracts of the wing and tail

Ornithology and Mammalogy Lab Manual Biology 308

Figure 4. Common configurations of the feet of birds (part 1 – taken from the Manual of Ornithology)
Ornithology and Mammalogy Lab Manual Biology 308

Figure 5. Common configurations of the feet of birds (part 1 – taken from the Manual of Ornithology)
Ornithology and Mammalogy Lab Manual Biology 308

Field Identification Tips

When you see a bird in the field in your binoculars:
• Start systematically at the bill and work your way towards the tail.
1. I start by looking at the bill – is it straight, hooked, long, short, thin, broad, etc?
2. Then look at the head. Are there any obvious colour patterns, and if so what feather tracts are they
associated with (e.g. supercillium stripes, crown stripes, malar stripes, throat colours). Note the colour
of the head and location of any noticeable colours.
3. Then move to the throat and chest, looking for things like striping, spots, no spots etc.
4. What colour is the back and wings? Are their any colours patterns on the wing feather tracts (primary
coverts, secondary coverts, scapulars etc).
5. Then move to the rump and tail, noting any colours there.
6. Finally look at the legs and feet – is this a perching bird or not, are the feet webbed. Are the legs long
and slender, short and thick? What colour are the legs and feet?
7. Make mental notes of all this, or if you are with a friend, call them out and have them make the
notations. In any case, get this info down as fast as you can before you forget it. The more detail you
can gather, the easier it is to identify the bird later with field guides.

1 5


Ornithology and Mammalogy Lab Manual Biology 308


A fantastic resource for this course is the Patuxent Bird Indentification Centre (http://www.mbr- This is an online list of all the birds that occur in North America,
and includes all the Orders, Families and species we will cover in this course (all birds are in the Class Aves, so
I haven’t included Class here). The link is to a list of species – if you click on the names of the species, it gives
you a brief blurb on each, and some pictures. Many of the pictures of birds in the various families of Passerines
that are included here come from that list. All the drawings are taken from the Appendix in Gill’s Ornithology.
All names in bold (Order, Family, Subfamily etc) and those species in bold font, are ones you need to
know. You should be able to identify these particular species by sight (adult male breeding plumage). You
should, however, be able to identify that a non-bolded species in this list belongs to a particular group (although
you won’t have to be able to give its specific species name). You are required to know the formal names for
Orders down through Subfamilies and tribes, but you need only learn the common names (not scientific names)
for the bird and mammal species.
* denotes that the bird is found locally in Central BC (so keep an eye open for them).

Order: Gaviiformes (Loons)

Loons are fairly stocky diving birds, with stout, chisel shaped bills.
They have stocky necks and large heads compared with grebes
(below). Their feet are webbed and the shins are laterally
compressed (flattened side to side). Legs tend to be placed far
back on the body, as these birds are typically swimming when not
flying, and this placement is very efficient for propulsion. However,
it makes they rather awkward walkers. They are piscovores (fish
Males and females look the same, and plumages are much
brighter during the breeding season (duller in the winter). Among
the different species we have in BC, look specifically at the throat
colour, cap colour and patterns of colour on the head to distinguish
between the species.
Family: Gaviidae (Loons)
Common Loon (Gavia immer) *
Pacific Loon (Gavia pacifica) *
Red-throated Loon (Gavia stellata)
Yellow-billed Loon (Gavia adamsii)

Order: Podicipediformes (Grebes)

Grebes are small to medium sized diving water birds. They have
stocky bodies, but the neck is more slender than that typical of
loons. Heads are smaller than loons, and the bill tends to be more
slender. The toes are lobed, and the tarsi are laterally compressed
(looks like the are squished on the sides so that they have a
creased edge to the shin). These birds tend to spend most of their
time swimming, and their feet are located far back on the body to
accommodate this, making them poor walkers on land. The claws
on the toes are usually flattened, like fingernails. Tails are very
short, often looking like they don’t have a tail at all.
Males and females often have similar plumage, and some species
acquire very distinctive breeding plumages which help in telling
them apart. During the winter, plumages are drabber and it is a bit
more tricky to distinguish between them (pay particular attention to
the pattern of white and dark markings around the face and throat,
particularly how much white is on the cheeks).
Ornithology and Mammalogy Lab Manual Biology 308

Family: Podicipedidae (Grebes)

Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps) *
Horned Grebe (Podiceps auritus) *
Red-necked Grebe (Podiceps grisegena) *
Eared Grebe (Podiceps nigricollis) *
Western Grebe (Aechmophorus occidentalis) *

Order: Procellariiformes (Tube-nosed Swimmers)

All members of this order are oceanic birds that nest on islands or
coastal areas. The “tube-nose” refers to the two separate nares
(nostrils) that form “tubes” on the top of the bill. These birds, along
with many oceanic species, have specialized salt glands in the
head that extract salt from sea water the birds drink, and this
hyperconcentrated salt solution is forcibly ejected from the nares
(gulls also do this). In addition, these birds have a strong sense of
smell (not common in birds), and can locate fish shoals etc at a fair
distance. They often use this to find fishing boats that are dumping
All Procellariids have a similar body design, resembling gulls
(although gulls are in a totally different Order, the Charadriformes),
but with much longer wings. Procellariids are extremely well
adapted for long-distance flight, with very long wing lengths which
are used primarily in soaring. Lift is created by riding wind updrafts
that deflect off of waves, and Procellariids can fly for hours without
flapping their wings. These are among the world record holders for
flying – Albatrosses (which are the largest species in this Order
and can be fitted with satellite transmitters) have been known to
circle the entire Antarctic ocean multiple times in a given year.
There are three Families in this Order. Diomedeidae
(Albratrosses) contain the larger species (wing spans of nearly 4m
in Wandering Albatross). Albatrosses nest on islands, often in
colonies, and nests are generally a shallow depression in the
ground. Pairs mate for life, and these are extremely long-lived
birds (20 years plus). Procellariidae (Shearwaters, Fulmars and
Petrels) are intermediate size, about the size of gulls. Fulmars are
the largest, then Shearwaters then Petrels. Hydrobatidae (Storm
petrels) are the smallest group. Least storm-petrels are 15cm
long. Storm-petrels also nest in burrows dug into grassy areas on
Family Diomedeidae (Albatrosses)
Black-footed Alabtross (Phoebastria nigripes)
Laysan Albatross (Phoebastria immutabilis)
Short-tailed Albatross (Phoebastria albatrus)
Family: Procellariidae (Shearwaters and Petrels)
Northern Fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis)
Mottled Petrel (Pterodroma inexpectata)
Pink-footed Shearwater (Puffinus creatopus)
Flesh-footed Shearwater (Puffinus carneipes)
Buller’s Shearwater (Puffinus bulleri)
Sooty Shearwater (Puffinus griseus)
Short-tailed Shearwater (Puffinus tenuirostris)
Black-vented Shearwater (Puffinus opisthomelas)
Family: Hydrobatidae (Storm-Petrels)
Fork-tailed Storm-petrel (Oceanodroma furcata)
Leach’s Storm-Petrel (Oceanodroma leucorhoa)
Ornithology and Mammalogy Lab Manual Biology 308

Order: Pelecaniformes (Totipalmate Swimmers)

Totipalmate means that all four toes (three forward facing and one
rear facing) are webbed and the web is continuous between all
toes. All the birds in this order are piscivores (fish eaters), and the
order is characterized by birds having an enlarged and flexible
gular pouch (the fold of skin below the bill that is most noticeable
on pelicans). All species dive for fish, scooping up water in the
mouth along with the fish, then contracting the gular pouch to push
the water out and keep the fish in the mouth. Both Families have
species that are either oceanic or freshwater, although
Phalacrocoracids (cormorants) tend to be more oceanic.
Phalacrocoradics tend to surface dive for fish. Pelicans fly over
water and dive from heights beak-first into shoals of fish. The gular
pouch expands and slows the birds during the dives as they scoop
enormous volumes of water and fish into the pouch.
Family: Pelicanidae (Pelicans)
American White Pelican (Pelecanus
erythrorhynchos) *
Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis)
Family: Phalacrocoracidae (Cormorants)
Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax
auritus) *
Brandt's Cormorant (Phalacrocorax penicillatus)
Pelagic Cormorant (Phalacrocorax pelagicus)

Order: Ciconiiformes (Herons, Ibises, Storks and Allies)

Traditionally, this Order was the long-legged wading birds, but
recent DNA evidence suggest that New-world vultures
(Cathartidae) are more closely related to Storks than they are to the
Old-World vultures found in Africa, despite similarities in
Ardeidae (Bitterns and Herons) have long dagger-like bills and long
necks, which they use for rapidly darting forward to grasp prey (fish,
frogs, small rodents etc). Only Anhingas, a tropical species,
actually spear fish with the bill – all other Ardeids grab prey using
the bill like chop-sticks. Legs are very long, and toes long and
splayed, allowing the weight to be distributed over large areas.
Some species have such large toes that they can walk on surface
vegetation like lily-pads. Most are slow-stalking or sit-and-wait
Carthidae (American Vultures) have long curved bills and resemble
raptors. They lack feathers on the heads, and are primarily
scavengers. This group also has a acute sense of smell and use
this to locate carrion. Feet are weak, unlike raptors, and not
designed for striking prey. Wings very long and designed for
soaring. Characteristically fly with wings angled above body in a V-
shape (called dihedral).
Family: Ardeidae (Bitterns and Herons)
American Bittern (Botaurus lentiginosus) *
Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) *
Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis) *
Green Heron (Butorides virescens)
Black-crowned Night-Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax)
Family: Cathartidae (American Vultures)
Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) *
Ornithology and Mammalogy Lab Manual Biology 308

Order: Anseriformes (Screamers, Swans, Geese and Ducks)

These are waterbirds with flattened bills and webbed feet (rear toe,
or halux) is not webbed, only the front three toes, a condition called
“palmate”. The Family Anatidae contains all the species, including
the Swans, Geese and Ducks. To dinstinguish between these
groups, they are further subdivided into Subfamilies and Tribes.
Subfamily Anserinae (Geese and Swans) contain the larger
species in the Order, and all birds in this group have vegetarian
diets. All birds in this group are also sexually monomorphic,
meaning males and females have similar plumage. Geese are in
the Anserini tribe, and contain large bodied Anseriformes that have
shorter necks than swans, but longer than ducks, and are primarily
terrestrial grazers (forage on grasses etc). Swans (Tribe Cygnini)
are the largest species, and very long-necked. They forage on
aquatic plants by putting their head underwater while the body
remains on the surface.
Subfamily Anatinae are the Ducks. Generally short necked and
smaller bodied than the Anserinae. Ducks are also sexually
dimorphic – males and females have different plumage with males
often having very bright and dramatic colour patterns that are used
in mating displays. Females tend to have more cryptic plumage,
probably associated with trying to remain unseen while incubating
eggs. There are numerous tribes in the Anatinae. Cairini are the
tree or perching ducks. These ducks are often seen perching in
trees, and nest in tree cavities (one of the groups that will use duck
boxes). All members of this tribe have iridescent feathers on their
entire back – great distinguishing characteristic. Anatini are the
dabbling ducks, so named as they tip forward to put their heads
underwater to feed on aquatic plants, having their rumps and feet
bobbing on the water surface. Most species have a square patch of
iridescent feathers on the wing (speculum) and the colour differs
between species (great way to tell females apart). Aythyini are the
Polchards, which are large diving ducks that completely submerge
when diving for vegetation. These birds typically have to “run”
across the surface of the water as they flap to get airborne. Males
of all species have a black chest contrasting a white belly in
breeding plumage. Mergini contains the Eiders, Scoters,
buffleheads, goldeneyes and Mergansers. Eiders and Scoters are
large sea ducks that breed primarily in the arctic. Buffleheads and
golden-eyes are fairly common small freshwater ducks, and nest in
tree cavities. Mergansers are fish-eaters, and have long-thin bills
for ducks, which are serrated to enhance the ability to hang onto
the fish. Oxini are the stiff-tailed ducks, so called as they hold their
tail feathers erect and pointing upwards. Only the Ruddy duck in
North America is in this family.
Family: Anatidae (Swans, Geese and Ducks)
Subfamily: Anserinae (Geese and Swans)
Tribe: Anserini
Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) *
Snow Goose (Chen caerulescens) *
Greater White-fronted Goose (Anser
Emperor Goose (Chen canagica)
Ross' Goose (Chen rossii)
Brant (Branta bernicla)
Ornithology and Mammalogy Lab Manual Biology 308

Tribe: Cygnini
Trumpeter Swan (Cygnus buccinator) *
Mute Swan (Cygnus olor)
Tundra Swan (Cygnus columbianus)
SubFamily: Anatinae (Ducks)
Tribe: Cairini (perching ducks)
Wood Duck (Aix sponsa) *
Tribe: Anatini (dabbling ducks)
American Wigeon (Anas americana) *
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) *
Green-Winged Teal (Anas crecca) *
Gadwall (Anas strepera)*
Eurasian Wigeon (Anas penelope) *
Blue-winged Teal (Anas discors) *
Cinnamon Teal (Anas cyanoptera)
Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata) *
Northern Pintail (Anas acuta) *
Tribe: Aythyini (Polchards)
Canvasback (Aythya valisineria)*
Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis)*
Redhead (Aythya americana) *
Ring-necked Duck (Aythya collaris) *
Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula)
Greater Scaup (Aythya marila) *
Tribe: Mergini (Eiders, Sea ducks and Mergansers)
Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola) *
Common Goldeneye (Bucephala
clangula) *
Barrow's Goldeneye (Bucephala
islandica) *
Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes
cucullatus) *
Common Merganser (Mergus
merganser) *
Red-breasted Merganser (Mergus
serrator) *
Surf Scoter (Melanitta perspicillata) *
White-winged Scoter (Melanitta fusca) *
Black Scoter (Melanitta nigra)
Long-tailed Duck (Clangula hyemalis) *
Harlequin Duck (Histrionicus
Tribe: Oxyini (stiff-tailed ducks)
Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis) *
Ornithology and Mammalogy Lab Manual Biology 308

Lab 3 - Falconiformes, Galliformes, Gruiformes, Charadriiformes, and

Order: Falconiformes (Diurnal Birds of Prey)
The Falconiformes includes hawks, eagles, kites, falcons –the day-hunting
(diurnal) predatory birds. There are several shared characteristics within
the family, one of which is the presence of a hooked bill and strong feet with
talon claws. Vultures (Cathartidae) share the hooked bill, as do the
predatory shrikes (songbirds in the family Laniidae). However, both of
these groups lack the strong legs and taloned feet found in Falconiformes.
Owls (Strigiformes) also share the hooked bill and strong, taloned feet, and
are also predacious, but have other differentiating features from
Falconiformes, not the least of which is that they are predominately
nocturnal hunters. This feature may allow the two groups to live side-by-
side while minimizing competition between species (e.g. occupying different
niches). This group (along with Owls) is reverse size dimorphic (meaning
males are smaller than females).

There are two families within the Falconiformes, the Accipitridae and the
Falconidae. The Accipitridae is further subdivided into two subfamilies – the
Pandioninae, which includes only the Osprey, and the Accipitrinae, which
include around here the eagles and various groups of hawks. Ospreys are
found worldwide, being one of the few bird species found on every continent
other than Antarctica. They are piscivores and have specially modified
scales on the foot that make the foot feel very rough, which aid in holding
onto fish in the talons. The Accipitrinae (Eagles and Hawks) are typically
delineated into groups based on the Genus names. Aquila are the “true
eagles”, and Haliaeetus are the “sea eagles”. Both are large bodied hawks
with large bills. Golden Eagles are typically seen inland, and usually
associated with mountains, where they nest. Bald Eagles are more
commonly associated with water, either inland or on the coast, and both fish
and scavenge. There is some overlapping plumage characteristics of
juvenile golden and bald eagles, but a good distinguishing characteristic is
that the feathers on golden eagles extend right down the tarsi onto the foot,
whereas the tarsi of bald eagles is bare (check out the eagle on display in
the stairs to the lab building and see whether it is a juvenile golden or bald).

Hawks in this region are typically grouped into either the Buteos or the
Accipiters. Accipiters are forest hawks that specialize on birds as prey.
They often snatch their prey in flight out of the air. They have evolved a
body plan that is efficient for flying in dense vegetation (forests) where
maneuverability is key – they have relatively short rounded wings and long
tails to use as rudders. As their wings are fairly short, they aren’t as good at
soaring; if seen crossing openings, Accipiters typically glide a bit
interspersed with flapping of the wings. By comparison, Buteo hawks are
open-country hawks, and are the ones typically seen sitting on fence posts
beside highways.

Fairly large bodied, Buteos typically hunt by soaring above openings. Their
wings are proportionately longer, and their tails proportionately smaller than
Accipiters. The tail is typically fanned in flight.

The Falconidae are the Falcons, but also include the Caracaras from the
southern US and central America. Falcons have wings that are sharply
pointed at the tips, an adaptation for very rapid flight. They are predators
on other birds, taking them in mid-flight, often by high-speed aerial dives
Ornithology and Mammalogy Lab Manual Biology 308

that end with the falcon hitting its prey with its talons. Most prey are killed
by the impact. Falcons also have a characteristic “tooth” on the upper
mandible of the beak, which is not found in the Accipitridae. This is thought
to help in breaking the neck of prey if it isn’t killed on impact (the birds bring
it to the bill and bite the neck at the base of the skull). Most Falcons have
vertical stripes before and/or behind the eye.
Family: Accipitridae (Hawks, Kites, Eagles and Allies)
Subfamily: Pandioninae (Ospreys)
Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)*
Subfamily: Accipitrinae (Kites, Eagles, and Hawks)
Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) *
Northern Harrier (Circus cyaneus)*
Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus)*
Cooper's Hawk (Accipiter cooperii) *
Northern Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis)*
Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)*
Rough-legged Hawk (Buteo lagopus)*
Broad-winged Hawk (Buteo platypterus)*
Swainson’s Hawk (Buteo swainsoni)
Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos)*
Family: Falconidae (Caracaras and Falcons)
American Kestrel (Falco sparverius) *
Merlin (Falco columbarius) *
Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) *
Gyrfalcon (Falco rusticolus)
Prairie Falcon (Falco mexicanus)

Order: Galliformes (Gallinaceous Birds)

The Galliformes are primarily ground dwelling species, with very high
reproductive rates. They are ground nesters, females are extremely cryptic
in colour patterns. Have precocial young (meaning young hatch from eggs
fully feathered and capable of walking almost immediately). As a result,
care of young is fairly easy, as young learn to feed themselves very quickly,
and leave the nest early simply following the female around. As a result,
there is very little male effort in parental care, and males and females often
differ greatly in appearance. Males develop elaborate plumages and
displays for attracting females, and the birds are highly polygynous (males
really only contribute sperm to parental effort, using much more of their
energy in fighting and displaying to attract multiple females).

There are two families, the Phasianidae and the Odontophoridae (the latter
are the smaller quails, which often have feather tufts on the head in both
males and females). These species are both prized game birds, and are
often introduced into areas for hunting. Several of the species found in BC
are transplants from Europe and Asia. Surprisingly, introduced pheasants
and partridges etc don’t appear to negatively affect resident species in the
same manner as many other introduced species – they appear to be
effectively neutral. Both species of Quail found in BC are introduced.
Family: Phasianidae (Partridges, Grouse, Turkeys, and Old
World Quail)
Ruffed Grouse (Bonasa umbellus) *
Spruce Grouse (Falcipennis canadensis) *
Willow Ptarmigan (Lagopus lagopus) *
White-tailed Ptarmigan (Lagopus leucurus) *
Blue Grouse (Dendragapus obscurus) *
Sharp-tailed Grouse (Tympanuchus phasianellus)
Chukar (Alectoris chukar) - Introduced
Gray Partridge (Perdix perdix) - Introduced
Ornithology and Mammalogy Lab Manual Biology 308

Ring-necked Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) -

Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) - Introduced
Family: Odontophoridae (Quail)
California Quail (Callipepla californica) - Introduced
Mountain Quail (Oreotyx pictus) - Introduced

Order: Gruiformes (Rails, Cranes and Allies)

Typically associated with marsh lands (although Cranes are also found out
in more grass areas). Rails waders that are typically associated with reed-
beds around marshes, and are very shy. You are more likely to encounter
these through hearing their calls than you are to see these. Coots are the
most aquatic of the group, and are often seen swimming among other
waterbirds, like ducks. They have lobed toes to aid in swimming, similar to
grebes. The upper bill of coots has a fleshy extension onto the forehead,
called a forehead shield. American coots have a red dot here, Eurasian
coots have a white shield.

Cranes are tall with long necks and long legs. They are most easily
confused with Herons, and are often found in overlapping habitats. Sandhill
Cranes are much larger than our largest heron (the Great Blue Heron), and
Cranes have patches of red plumage on the head not seen in Herons. In
flight, Cranes stretch (or “crane”) their necks, while Herons fold the neck in
an s-curve so that the head rests on the shoulders as they fly.
Family: Rallidae (Rails, Gallinules and Coots)
Sora (Porzana carolina) *
American Coot (Fulica americana) *
King Rail (Rallus elegans)
Virginia Rail (Rallus limicola)
Family: Gruidae (Cranes)
Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis) *
Whooping Crane (Grus Americana)
Ornithology and Mammalogy Lab Manual Biology 308

Order: Charadriiformes (Shorebirds, Gulls, Auks and Allies)

This is a very large order grouping families of coastal waterbirds. Some
families have species that occur inland, and some (Kildeers) are often more
associated with open, short grasslands and edges than they are with lakes
and water edge. Most of the birds in this family however, are associated
with water, and some (Alcids) are highly specialized for underwater “flying”
using their wings to propel them as they chase fish. Typically have precocial
young – Lariids and Alcids are probably the families most dependent on
early parental feeding, and especially in the Alcids the parents will make
long trips from offshore feeding grounds back to the nest burrows.

The Charadriidae are small wading birds with long legs and fairly short bills.
Most of the birds in this family have distinct black and white contrasting
markings – either back versus belly, or large dark stripes on the face and
neck. Young are highly precocial, nests are simple scrapes in the rocky

Haemotopodidae (Oystercatchers) are named for their pink-red legs and

feet. Long bills are flattened laterally (side to side) and are inserted into
bivalves to pry them open. Associated with shorelines where the birds dart
among the rocks looking for oysters and clams etc.

Recurvirostridae – very long-legged and large wading birds with recurved

bills (tip angles upwards rather than downwards). Black-stilts just finger up
into the lower part of BC on the coast. Avocets are found on the prairies
during migration, but again not likely to see these around north central BC.

Scolopacidae – this is one of the larger groups, and includes all the
sandpipers and allies. It is a very difficult group to distinguish among the
species. All are long-legged waders with bills used for probing into the
ground to feed on invertebrates. Many have similar colours of browns/greys
above with pale bellies. The trick for distinguishing the sandpipers is to
note the relative length of the bill (do this by measuring its length relative to
the depth of the head – back of head to base of bill). Assess length as a
multiple of head depth (0.5 X, 1.0X, 1.5X, 3.0X….). Look to see if the bill is
straight, or has a slight downcurve. Note if there is any markings on the
head, particularly how distinct the supercilliary stripe is, and whether there
is an obvious dark band extending from the bill through the eye onto the
auriculars. Note any patches of rusty colouring on the body, and where
these occur. Make special not (especially on small non-descript
sandpipers) whether there is striping, spotting or no markings on the belly
and throat. Finally note the colour and relative length of the legs – these
range from pink, yellow black and blue-grey. Phalaropes are the most
obvious in this group as the FEM ALES have very vibrant colours. In this
group, MALES sit on the eggs and raise the young, FEMALES display and
compete over males (this is called sex-role reversal).

Laridae – the gulls. Another tricky group. Note the size of the bird (gulls
essentially fall into three broad size categories based on the length of time
in years before juveniles moult into adult breeding plumage. Two year gulls
are the smallest, three-year gulls are intermediate in size, and four-year
gulls are the largest). Things to note – colour of the bill (some are black,
some are yellow, some red); whether or not there is a red dot or black band
on the bill; the amount of black on the upper wing (whether it is just at the
tips or over the majority of the wing); colour of the legs (pink, yellow or
black). Some species (such as Bonopart’s gulls) have entirely black heads,
making it easier to spot them. Terns are smaller than gulls and have a
proportionately longer bill, tail and wings. Bills are typically red, and the
Ornithology and Mammalogy Lab Manual Biology 308

birds often have a black cap. Terns fly over open water and dive for surface

Finally, the Alcidae – these are stocky, largely oceanic birds. They include
auks, auklets, puffins, murres, guillemots and murrelets. They all nest
colonially, either on cliffs or burrows along the sea-edge (only some of the
murrelets nest inland, and some nest in old-growth trees!). All are oceanic
piscivores and dive after fish.
Family: Charadriidae (Lapwings and Plovers)
Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) *
Black-bellied Plover (Pluvialis squatarola) *
Semipalmated Plover (Charadrius semipalmatus) *
Family: Haematopodidae (Oystercatchers)
Black Oystercatcher (Haematopus bachmani)
Family: Recurvirostridae (Stilts and Avocets) - Don't really occur
around here
American Avocet (Recurvirostra americana)
Black-necked Stilt (Himantopus mexicanus)
Family: Scolopacidae (Sandpipers, Phalaropes and Allies)
Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularia)*
Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago)*
Pectoral Sandpiper (Calidris melanotos)*
Red Knot (Calidris canutus)
Sanderling (Calidris alba)
Western Sandpiper (Calidris mauri) *
Least Sandpiper (Calidris minutilla) *
Semipalmated Sandpiper (Calidris pusilla)*
Rock Sandpiper (Calidris ptilocnemis)
Dunlin (Calidris alpina) *
Greater Yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca) *
Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes) *
Solitary Sandpiper (Tringa solitaria) *
Willet (Catoptrophorus semipalmatus)
Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus)
Long-billed Curlew (Numenius americanus) *
Marbled Godwit (Limosa fedoa)
Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres)
Black Turnstone (Arenaria melanocephala)
Surfbird (Aphriza virgata)
Long-billed Dowitcher (Limnodromus scolopaceus)
Short-billed Dowitcher (Limnodromus griseus)
Wilson's Phalarope (Palaropus tricolor) *
Red Phalarope (Phalaropus fulicaria) *
Family: Laridae (Skuas, Gulls, Terns and Skimmers)
Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis) *
Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) *
Bonaparte's Gull (Larus philadelphia) *
California Gull (Larus californicus)
Mew Gull (Larus canus)
Thayer's Gull (Larus thayeri)
Western Gull (Larus occidentalis)
Glaucous-winged Gull (Larus glaucescens)
Caspian Tern (Sterna caspia)
Common Tern (Sterna hirundo) *
Black Tern (Chlidonias niger) *
Family: Alcidae (Auks, Murres and Puffins)
Common Murre (Uria aalge)
Tufted Puffin (Fratercula cirrhata)
Ornithology and Mammalogy Lab Manual Biology 308

Pigeon Guillemot (Cepphus columbia)

Marbled Murrelet (Brachyramphus marmoratus)
Ancient Murrelet (Synthliboramphus antiquus)
Cassin's Auklet (Ptychoramphus aleuticus)
Rhinoceros Auklet (Cerorhinca monocerata)

Order: Columbiformes (Sandgrouse, Pigeons and Doves)

Columbiformes includes the pigeons and the doves. Pigeons is the
common name used for the larger species in the group, doves for the
smaller. Doves also tend to have slightly longer necks and tapered tails.
All are grain, seed, or fruit eaters.
Family: Columbidae (Pigeons and Doves)
Rock Dove (Columba livia) *
Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) *
Band-tailed Pigeon (Columba fasciata)
Collared Dove (Streptopelia decaocto) – introduced *

Exercise: Flying Hawks and Shorebird Silhouettes

Hawks in Flight - note characteristics of: relative size of tail; whether tail fanned (buteos) or held straight
(accipiters); shape of wings; soaring or flapping flight; colour of underwing coverts and belly patterns (allows
you to distinguish between various buteos); Striping on tail; wings held straight or in dihedrals. Go through the
outlines of flying hawks in their field guides, then try the hawk flight pictures.

I found a great website by a photographer named Brian Wheeler, who has published a book on how to identify
north American hawks in flight. It is on the virtual birder site ( under the
specific heading: There are also other shots of
hawks in flight at this location, as well as a ton of other amazing photos.
Ornithology and Mammalogy Lab Manual Biology 308

Lab 4 - Strigiformes , Caprimulgiformes, Apodiformes, Coraciiformes,

Order: Strigiformes (Owls)
(you will be responsible for knowing bolded species by call, as well as
Owls are typically nocturnal hunters, although some species (e.g. Pygmy owls,
short-eared owls, Northern Hawk owls) are day hunters. Owls have
exceptional sense of hearing, facilitated by the asymmetric placement of their
ears in the skull. We have skulls that we will place out, and you should note
this characteristic. Having one ear placed higher than the other on either side
of the head allows the bird to hear slight differences in sound traveling from
above or below the bird. Coupled with being able to distinguish sound from
side to side (by having ears on opposite sides of the head), the birds can
pinpoint the 3 dimensional location of sound sources.

Owls also have relatively silent flight compared to other birds. This is
facilitated by reduced suturing of the barbules on the leading edge of the wing,
giving it a frayed appearance, as well as hair-like extensions on the upper
surface of the vane that allow the wings to move past one another without
creating a rubbing sound. This makes owls extremely good night predators, as
they don’t alert their prey.

Most owls hunt by tracking prey while perched, and then pouncing on it.
Pygmy-owls prey on small birds, and will also catch these in flight. Only short-
eared owls hunt by actively flying over fields looking for rodents.

All owls are predatory, most hunt small rodents. Several species will also take
small birds, and great horned owls will take things as large as snowshoe hares
(or domestic pets, so be careful letting cats out at night).

There are two families in the Order, Tytonidae with includes the barn owls, and
Strigidae, which includes all other owls that occur in BC. Tytonidae owls have
a characteristic heart-shaped face not seen in the facial disks of the Strigidae
Family: Tytonidae (Barn-Owls)
Barn Owl (Tyto alba)
Family: Strigidae (Typical Owls)
Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus)*
Northern Hawk Owl (Surnia ulula)*
Northern Pygmy-Owl (Glaucidium gnoma)*
Barred Owl (Strix varia)*
Great Gray Owl (Strix nebulosa)*
Long-eared Owl (Asio otus)*
Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus)*
Boreal Owl (Aegolius funereus)*
Northern Saw-whet Owl (Aegolius acadicus)*
Western Screech-Owl (Otus kennicottii)
Flammulated Owl (Otus fammeolus)
Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia)
Snowy Owl (Nyctea scandiaca)
Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis)

Learning Owl Calls - There is a really nice webpage

( that has photos of
owls and wave files of their calls. This is how most ids on owls will likely
occur in the field – hearing them is more common than seeing them.
Ornithology and Mammalogy Lab Manual Biology 308

Order: Caprimulgiformes (Goatsuckers, Oilbirds and Allies)

The members of this order are aerial insectivores. They tend to be cryptically
coloured, probably an adaptation to the fact that they often perch on the
ground and nest by scraping a nest right in the dirt. They have long pointed
wings typical of rapid flyers, and are commonly seen flying over large open
fields at dusk

Members of this family have very large mouths, which are lined with bristle
feathers. They catch insects in flight, and the bristles help direct prey into the
mouth and also give sensory information about position of the prey in the
mouth to the bird. Night jars include things like whip-poor-wills of eastern
North America, and common poorwills finger into the lower Okanagan, but the
most common member of this Order and Family in BC is the Common
Nighthawk. Key distinguishing character in flight is the broad white underwing
bar on both males and females. Males also have a white throat, whereas this
is brown on females.

Family: Caprimulgidae (Night Jars)

Common Nighthawk (Chordeiles minor)*
Common Poorwill (Phalaenoptilius nuttalli)

(incidentally, Common Nighthawks can often be seen flying over the fields of
College Heights highschool).

Order: Apodiformes (Swifts and Hummingbirds)

Apodiformes contains two families that you wouldn’t normally think were
related – Swifts and Hummingbirds. Genetic and morphological similarities,
however, confirm this relationship.

Hummingbirds (Family Trochilidae) are small nectivores and only found in the
Nearctic and Neotropics. They have a unique structure to their shoulder girdle
that allows them to hover, fly both forwards and backwards or up and down
similar to a helicopter. No other group of birds can do this. In Africa and
Asia/Australia, the sunbirds look extremely similar to hummingbirds and
occupy the same feeding niche (nectivores with long bills for inserting into
flowers), but they can’t however continuously like hummingbirds. Rather, they
perch on the stalk of the plant to insert the bill into the flower.

The brilliant iridescent feathers on the throat of males is called a “gorget”, and
is used in display. Males defend patches of flower from which females come
to feed. As far as I know, all species in the family are highly polygynous and
females do all the care of young. Nests are usually made of moss held
together with cobwebs. Young are fed on insects, particularly mosquitoes,
which are also a large part of adult diet until flowers bloom (so be nice to

Swifts look superficially like swallows (a song bird). They are often described
as cigars with wings, as this is the profile they give in flight. Aerial insectivores
like Caprimulgids and swallows, they have similar long wings with pointed tips,
but are smaller than nighthawks. The swifts also have bristles around their
mouths and catch insects in flight. They are often seen flying at dusk over
open fields, often quite high in the air. They have extremely weak feet, and
rest at night by flying into cavities (like caves or hollow trees) and perching on
the vertical surface. All four of their toes face forward (called Pamprodactyl),
and they essentially grasp the surface of the rock and dangle while sleeping.
They roost in large colonies both during nesting and in migration. In North
America, famous colonies are found in the eastern Chimney Swift, which have
taken to nesting in the brick chimneys of old buildings. Wolfville, NS (town
Ornithology and Mammalogy Lab Manual Biology 308

where Acadia University is) has a huge colony that roosts in an old chimney on
the edge of campus. When they knocked the old building down, they left the
chimney standing for the swifts, and it is now a little park. During fall migration
1996 at the college I taught at in central Kansas, my students and I counted
about 2000-2500 swifts enter the college’s central chimney during a 30minute
period at dusk to roost overnight.

Family: Trochilidae (Hummingbirds)

Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus)*
Calliope Hummingbird (Stellula calliope) *
Anna's Hummingbird (Calypte anna)
Family: Apodidae (Swifts)
Black Swift (Cypseloides niger)*
Vaux's Swift (Chaetura vauxi)
White-throated Swift (Aeronautes saxatalis)

Order: Coraciiformes (Rollers, Motmots, Kingfishers and Allies)

In North America, this family is restricted to the Kingfishers, and there is only
one species in the entire of North America (and it unfortunately isn’t the one I
managed to find this nice drawing of – this is a pied kingfisher from Africa). In
North America, we have the rather large belted kingfisher (lower photo).

Alcedinidae (Kingfishers) are piscivores primarily, but will also eat things like
frogs. They have long heavy bills pointed at the tip, and typically fly over rivers
or perch on trees near the bank looking for fish on the surface. They dive from
flight headfirst with wings folded onto the surface to grab fish. Kingfishers
have very strong feet, and use these in excavating very long burrows into
sandy banks along river edges, where they nest.

Belted Kingfishers – you can tell the sexes apart by looking at the belly –
males like the one pictured have a blue band across the chest, females also
have this blue band but also have a broad rust-coloured band across the belly
below this.

Family: Alcedinidae (Kingfishers)

Belted Kingfisher (Ceryle alcyon)*
Ornithology and Mammalogy Lab Manual Biology 308

Order: Piciformes (Puffbirds, Toucans, Woodpeckers & Allies)

There is growing debate about the affiliations of the birds lumped into this
Order, most notably whether the Toucans should be consider a separate
Order. However, in North America, we only have to deal with the
Woodpeckers in this Order – Family Picidae.

Woodpeckers have strong chisel-like bills used for hammering into tree bark.
The birds feed on bark-boring insects that have larvae below the barks surface
(such as Pine beetles – several species in North America, such as the black-
backed and three-toed woodpeckers specialize on these, and a lot of the other
species around here at the moment are taking advantage of the current
abundance. If you see a pine killed by beetles and the bark has been stripped
off in large chunks or completely, that is the work of woodpeckers).

The birds have specialized tongues that extend out far past the end of the bill.
Many have back-facing barbs or sticky appendages on the tips, and they dart
these into the holes they create with their bills to grab larvae.

Woodpeckers have specialization of the foot and tail for moving vertically on
the trunks of trees. First the foot has zygodactyl toe placement, which means
toe toes face forward, and two backwards. This allows for very strong gripping
on the tree bark. In addition, the central rachis of the retrices (tail feathers) are
reinforced and exceptionally stiff. The birds push the tail against the trunk of
the tree to use as a brace.

In many species, males and females can be distinguished by the presence of

extra red or yellow feather patches on the heads of males. Sapsuckers are a
subgroup that also have a light yellowish wash on the feathers of the breast
and belly. The species in the sapsuckers drill grids of holes into trees that
causes the sap to flow out – the name comes from the old view that they ate
the sap (as they do this on sugar maple trees, you could see where this
assumption comes from). However, the sap also is sticky and both attracts
and traps insects – it is probably as much a factor that they are using the sap
to catch insects.

Family: Picidae (Woodpeckers and Allies)

Red-breasted Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus ruber)*
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius)*
Red-naped Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus nuchalis)
Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens)*
Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus)*
Three-toed Woodpecker (Picoides tridactylus)*
Black-backed Woodpecker (Picoides arcticus)*
Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus)*
Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus)*
Lewis' Woodpecker (Melanerpes lewis)
Ornithology and Mammalogy Lab Manual Biology 308

Lab 5 - Passeriformes I (Passerine Birds)

We will be going through the individual families in these two labs much as we have done with Orders in the
previous labs. I have also substituted in photos in place of the line drawings here, so that we have representation
from each family. There are 24 families in the Passerines in BC, so we will split this into two labs (12 families
in each lab)

Order: Passeriformes
The passerines are linked by a couple of common features – first, all possess a specialized foot structure that
allows them to easily perch on tree branches. This consists of a long tendon that runs from the leg muscles
over the tarsus and bifurcates at the toes, linking backwards onto the halux and forward onto the three forward
facing toes. When the bird lands and bends its leg to perch, this stretches the tendon over the tarsus and
effectively closes the toes around the branch. As long as the bird is perched and putting its weight on its legs,
this causes the feet to grip the perch. As a result, the birds can sleep while perching.
The second feature of passerines is that (with the possible exception of Tyrannidae), passerines must
learn their species-characteristic songs, they are not instinctively “known”. Among the other families and orders
of birds, individuals raised in isolation make fairly typical adult vocalizations. Passerines raised in isolation are
largely unable to make the species-typical song.

Family: Tyrannidae (Tyrant Flycatchers) - you will need to know the

calls of the listed species
Tyrannidae (or Tyrant) flycatchers are aerial insectivores that “hawk” insects
from the air; they sit on perches and shoot out on short flights to grab the
passing insect. Have a large amount of bristles around the base of the bill
associated with grabbing flying insects. Flycatchers in the Genus
Empidonax are so similar physically that most can not be distinguished by
eye alone. All are olive-coloured backs, have two light wingbars on the
greater covert feathers, and distinct white eye-rings. Luckily, these
flycatchers are extremely vocal, males call incessantly during the summer
with simple but extremely species specific calls. We will put examples of
these calls on the student lab folders, and you will have to be able to identify
the calls of the bolded species for quizzes.
Hammonds Flycatcher (Empidonax hammondii) *
Alder Flycatcher (Empidonax alnorum) *
Dusky Flycatcher (Empidonax oberholseri) *
Least Flycatcher (Empidonax minimus) *
Willow Flycatcher (Empidonax traillii) *
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher (Empidonax flaviventris)
Pacific Slope Flycatcher (Empidonax difficilis)
Cordilleran Flycatcher (Empidonax occidentalis)
Olive-sided Flycatcher (Contopus cooperi) *
Western Wood-Peewee (Contopus sordidulus)
Say's Phoebe (Sayornis saya)
Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe)
Western Kingbird (Tyrannus verticalis)

Family: Laniidae (Shrikes)

Heavy bodied birds about the size of robins. Typically have a broad black
band through the eyes (or “mask”). Two north American species
(loggerhead and northern shrikes) are grey on the scapulars, cap and back
and have black wings and tails, and are white below. All species are
predacious, and have strong hooked bills. Prey range from small birds,
rodents to insects. The birds lack the strong feet of raptors or owls, and so
killing is done with the beak. Shrikes often impale prey on thorns, which may
serve the dual function of killing them, as well as marking territories and
displaying to mates.
Northern Shrike (Lanius excubitor) *
Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus)
Ornithology and Mammalogy Lab Manual Biology 308

Family: Vireonidae (Vireos)

Small, fairly non-descript birds mostly olive or grey backs and wings, and
white bellies. All species either have characteristically large eye rings with
the white of these feathers extending over the lores to the base of the bill
giving them the appearance of “spectacles”, or have white superciliary
stripes with dark line running through the eye. Bills of vireos tend to be
shorter and stouter than the warblers, which is probably the family with most
similar looking species.
Nests of vireos are fairly easy to distinguish from other species. The birds
weave and open-cup nests into the space in-between the ‘Y’ of a branching
limb. The top of the nest is level with the branch, the cup hangs down into
the air.
Cassin’s Vireo (Vireo cassinii) *
Red-eyed Vireo (Vireo olivaceus) *
Warbling Vireo (Vireo gilvus) *
Hutton's Vireo (Vireo huttoni)

Family: Corvidae (Crows and Jays)

Ravens are the largest members of this Family, followed by crows and
magpies. In North America, there are a number of different Jay species and
also a nutcracker species in this family. Crows and ravens can be
distinguished by size; ravens also have much heavier bills, loose feathers
create a tuft on the upper have heavy bills and throat (hackles). In flight, the
trailing edge of crow tails are rounded, whereas ravens are wedge-shaped.
Magpies are distinguished by their long tails and white patches on the wings,
they are also typically smaller than crows. In BC, the crows found on the
coast are a distinct species from the American Crow found in Prince George.
These coastal crows are smaller and have a slightly harsher sounding call,
and are called Northwestern Crows.
Jays are smaller than crows, ravens and magpies, and have a much greater
diversity of colour to the plumage. They often have iridescent or structural
blues, as well as other colours. Clark’s nutcrackers (the only nutcracker in
north America) resemble jays but have a proportionately longer bill.
Corvids are fairly social, often traveling in groups. Many species are also
very good at spatial and memory tasks, which likely stems from them being
scater hoarders of seeds and other prey. Largely generalist in feeding, they
have an omnivorous diet.
Gray Jay (Perisoreus canadensis) *
Steller's Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri) *
Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata)
Clark's Nutcracker (Nucifraga columbiana) *
Black-billed Magpie (Pica pica) *
American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) *
Northwestern Crow (Corvus caurinus)
Common Raven (Corvus corax) *
Ornithology and Mammalogy Lab Manual Biology 308

Family: Alaudidae (Larks)

Larks are open country birds, and primarily forage on the ground where they
nest and spend most of their time. They are seed and insect eaters. In
North America, the only native lark is the horned lark, which has a
characteristic pair of feather tufts on the crown making the “horn”. European
sky larks were introduced onto Vancouver Island, and there are now resident
populations in the Victoria area. Sky larks are famous for their elaborate
burbling calls that are given while hovering above the ground in mid air.
They will even continue singing while being chased by accipiter hawks.

Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris) *

Sky Lark (Alauda arvensis) - introduced

Family: Hirundinidae (Swallows)

Swallows are aerial insectivores, and show a fair amount of convergent
morphology with other aerial insectivores like swifts and nighthawks. The
wings are long and pointed, and the birds are extremely rapid flyers. Wings
are generally shorter than those of swifts (good distinguishing characteristic
of swifts versus swallows in flight is that the length of one wing is roughly
equal to the body and tail length in swallows, but longer than the body/tail in
swifts). Feet are fairly small, but these birds are actual perchers, unlike
swifts. Swallows typically have forked tails, and the outer tail feather of
some species are very elongated to make deep forks (e.g. barn swallows).
Tree and Violet-green swallows nest in tree cavities, and take readily to
nestboxes. Barn swallows and cliff swallows make nests of mud, which they
cement to vertical structures or ledges, either in cliffs or buildings.

Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) *

Violet-green Swallow (Tachycineta thalassina) *
Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor) *
Cliff Swallow (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota)

Family: Paridae (Chickadees and Titmice)

The most important family of birds worldwide! In BC, only chickadees are
found (titmice are larger and are found further south). Small social birds that
occupy tight flocks. Flocks are typically made up of an older breeding pair,
and several subordinate and unrelated juvenile pairs. All chickadees have a
contrasting dark cap with white cheek patches and a dark bib. Tails are
relatively long, and wings short and rounded, typical of a forest dwelling
species. Specialized tendon structure in the legs allows chickadees to perch
upside-down without the foot opening up, so the birds are often seen
hanging upside-down from branches.
All chickadees are cavity nesters, and excavate the cavity themselves in
rotten snags, or use cavities excavated by other chickadees or nuthatches.
Two clades occur in BC – the ‘brown-capped’ chickadees which include the
chestnut-backed and boreal chickadees, and the ‘black-capped’ chickadees
– the black-capped and the mountain chickadees.

Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) *

Mountain Chickadee (Poecile gambeli) *
Boreal Chickadee (Poecile hudsonicus) *
Chestnut-backed Chickadee (Poecile rufescens)
Ornithology and Mammalogy Lab Manual Biology 308

Family: Aegithalidae (Long-tailed Tits and Bushtits)

Bushtits – the only north American species in this family - are related to
chickadees, but differ in that they do not use tree cavity nests, rather they
construct and elaborate weaved nest that hangs like a large sock from
bushes. The entrance hole is near the top. In BC these occur only in the
lower coastal part of the province, around Vancouver and Vancouver Island.

Bushtits travel in very tight flocks, which are typically extended family units.
Typically seen in open and edge habitat, they are quite common in suburbs,
parks and golf courses. Males and females are similar in appearance and
resemble small, dusty grey chickadees. The only distinguishing feature
between the males and females is that they have different coloured irises in
their eyes – males have brown irises, females have golden yellow. Bushtits
are one of two cooperatively breeding species that occur in the province, the
other being the pygmy nuthatch (below). This means that more than a single
male and female aid in provisioning for the young in the nest, the breeding
pair typically have “helpers” which are adult offspring that help take care of a
new brood of young.

Bushtit (Psaltriparus minimus)

Family: Sittidae (Nuthatches)

Fairly closely affiliated with titmice, nuthatches have shorter tails and longer
bills. They differ in their foraging mode as well. While chickadees glean
leaves and branches for insect prey, nuthatches have elongated feet and
strong claws for moving vertically down the trunk probing the bark for
insects. White breasted nuthatches are the largest species, and are more
prevalent in the southern interior, but pairs have been found breeding in
Cottonwood Island park. The red-breasted (pictured) is the most common
nuthatch in the area. This species has a distinct white supercilliary stripe
separating a black eye-stripe and a black crown, slate grey back and rufous

Nuthatches are cavity nesters, and like black-capped chickadees excavate

their nests from rotting snags with very soft wood. Have a very characteristic
nasal call.
Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta canadensis) *
White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) *
Pygmy Nuthatch (Sitta pygmaea)
Ornithology and Mammalogy Lab Manual Biology 308

Family: Certhiidae (Creepers)

In north America, only a single species in this family – the brown creeper.
Small birds with mottled brown backs and a long decurved bill. Forage by
climbing vertically up tree trunks (good way to distinguish these from
nuthatches is that creepers creep up, while nuthatches climb down the
trunk). Typical pattern is to see a bird fly in a descending path to the base of
a tree and then start creeping its way up the trunk as it searches for insects.
Tail feathers are stiff, similar to that of woodpeckers and used as a brace
against the tree.

Nests are constructed from plant material underneath hanging bark on dead
trees, and is typically very well concealed
Brown Creeper (Certhia americana) *

Family: Troglodytidae (Wrens)

Relatively small sized and ‘chunky’ birds, most are brown above, some
species have superciliary stripes that are quite noticable. Typically have a
slightly decurved bill, and tails are often held erect, especially during singing.
Quite amazing songsters, and some species (winter wrens) have incredibly
complex songs of burbling notes. Remarkably loud for their size, and highly
Winter Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes) *
Marsh Wren (Cistothorus palustris) *
House Wren (Troglodytes aedon)
Rock Wren (Salpinctes obsoletus)
Canyon Wren (Catherpes mexicanus)
Bewick's Wren (Thryomanes bewickii)

Family: Cinclidae (Dippers)

Dippers occur along rapid moving streams. They are thrush-sized and have
very short wings and tail, but quite long legs. Sooty grey colour all over.

Dippers feed on aquatic insect larva, which they obtain by wading and even
diving into streams for. They will completely submerge and walk along
stream bottoms to take prey from under rocks and in eddies behind rocks.
American Dipper (Cinclus mexicanus) *
Ornithology and Mammalogy Lab Manual Biology 308

Lab 6 – Passerines II
Family: Regulidae (Kinglets)
Kinglets are the smallest Passerines in North America. The two species in
the family are small with olive-grey backs and prominent white wing bars.
They have small bills (smaller than vireos and flycatchers to which they look
most similar). Ruby-crowned kinglets have a prominent eye ring, and a
patch of bright red feathers on the crown that are partially covered with grey
feathers unless the crown is erected in display. Golden-crowned kinglets
have eye rings, but also have a dark eye stripe bordering a white
supercilliary stripe, and a bright golden crown stripe. This is visible all the
time and is the best distinguishing feature of the bird (nearly identical
European species is called a “firecrest”).

Both birds fly out from trees and briefly hover at the tips of branches where
they forage.

Golden-crowned Kinglet (Regulus satrapa) *

Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula) *

Family: Turdidae (Thrushes)

Ground feeding species with robust legs and narrow, notched bill. They
feed on fruit and insects. Thrushes are very well known as songsters, the
American robin having a very complex song than can contain hundreds of
different syllables. The two forest thrushes – Hermit and Swainson’s
thrushes – have a flute-like quality to their song. Both thrushes are a similar
drab brown in appearance, but Hermit thrushes have a rusty orange colour
to the rump and tail that is lacking in the Swainson’s.

Bluebird feathers have structural blue properties, and the differences

between species reflect the amount of blue in the body, and whether the
breast is red (Western) or not (Mountain).

American Robin (Turdus migratorius) *

Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus) *
Swainson’s Thrush (Catharus ustulatus) *
Varied Thrush (Ixoreus naevius) *
Mountain Bluebird (Sialia currucoides) *
Western Bluebird (Sialia mexicana)
Townsend's Solitaire (Myadestes townsendi) *
Ornithology and Mammalogy Lab Manual Biology 308

Family: Mimidae (Mockingbirds and Thrashers)

Catbirds, so named because of the “meow-like” call they give, are the only
members of this family in BC. This group also contains the mockingbirds
and the thrashers. The name for the family comes largely from the
mockingbirds, which are found in lower US states – these birds have very
complex songs that include the mimicking of other species and even
inanimate objects (train whistles, car horns etc). Gray catbirds also appear
to do this to a lesser extent.

The species is slate grey with darker wings, tail and cap. The outer rump
feathers have a red patch. Wings are short and rounded, tail is fairly long.

Gray Catbird (Dumtella carolinensis)

Family: Sturnidae (Starlings and Mynas)

Both species in BC are introduced. Starlings were introduced from Europe
into Central Park, NY in the 1890s, at the same that Crested Mynas were
introduced into Vancouver from Asia. Both are cavity nesters, but rely on
other species (like woodpeckers) to make their cavities. Starlings are
extremely aggressive in taking over cavities, and breed very well in North
America, and spread out to cover pretty much the entire continent. Crested
Mynas did not transplant as well, had poorer breeding success in the more
northern climate, and essentially never got out of Vancouver. Numbers
peaked in the 1920s, when there were reported to be in the thousands. In
the mid 1980s, there were perhaps 500 pairs in all of North America, but
with the influx of starlings into the city, myna numbers dropped dramatically,
and they are now thought to have essentially died out.

Starlings and mynas are excellent mimics. The birds song consists of
enormous repertoires of song types that range from novel songs, mimics of
other species, imitations of sounds like car horns and rusty gate hinges and
a host of things the birds hear during the period of song acquisition. Both
starling and mynas can be taught to mimic human words and are fairly
popular cage bird pets. Starlings have iridescent black plumage with light
spotting (which reflects UV, so appears as strong constrasting spots to the
birds themselves) with a bright yellow bill. Crested mynas are black with
ruffled forehead feathers above their yellow bill, but the most distinguishing
characteristic is bright white spots on the upper and lower wing when the
bird is in flight. If you see a “starling” with those white patches in
Vancouver, report it to the Royal BC Museum, as it might just well be the
last of the Crested Mynas in BC.

European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) *

Crested Myna (Acridotheres cristatellus)

Family: Motacillidae (Wagtails and Pipits)

Pipits and wagtails are most easily distinguish by their long tails and the
tendency for the birds to bob them up and down as they stand on the
ground or walk (which is where the “wagtails” comes from). American pipits
are common here in spring and fall migration, often occurring in large flocks.
In addition to the tail bobbing, the birds have white outer tail feathers, that
sharply contrast against dark inner tail feathers in flight (similar dark-eyed
juncos in the Emberizidae, but otherwise the two species don’t look much
alike). Close inspection shows that they have a long halux claw, not
uncommon in species that are primarily ground dwellers.

American Pipit (Anthus rubescens) *

Ornithology and Mammalogy Lab Manual Biology 308

Family: Bombycillidae (Waxwings)

Waxwings are fruit-eating birds (Frugivores) that get their name from the
bright waxy colours on the tips of the secondary wing feathers and tail.
Cedar waxwings have red tips on the wings, Bohemian waxwings have red
on the secondary tips and yellow on the primaries as well. Both species
have yellow tips to the tail.

The feathers are very soft looking, and the birds have prominent crests on
the crown and black eye masks and bibs. Bohemian waxwings are a very
common and abundant winter resident in Prince George, where large flocks
(50plus birds) are not uncommon to see decending onto mountain ash trees
in suburban neighbourhoods where the birds pick and eat all the waxy red
berries. Cedar waxwings breed locally, but are less common in the winter
and in the large flocks of wintering bohemians.

Bohemian Waxwing (Bombycilla garrulus) *

Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) *

Family: Parulidae (Wood-Warblers)

An extremely diverse family of insectivorous birds that are endemic to the
New World. 57 species are listed in North America alone. Most of this
diversity occurs in eastern North America, where it isn’t uncommon to have
large numbers of species in the same area (there are 33 breeding species
in Ontario for example). Western north America has a relatively
depauperate fauna by comparison, as there are only 14 species (15 if you
include the yellow-breasted chat that just fingers into the southern interior
from its distribution in the US).

Most of the warblers have bright plumage badges of constrasting colours,

often with a lot of yellows and reds. The colours and the positions of these
on the bird are the key factor in distinguishing among the various species.
If you see a small bird with yellow wash to it at this time of year, it is likely a
fall migrating warbler. Unfortunately, the striking breeding plumages of
males in the spring is gone at this time of year, and it makes species id a lot
harder! In lab, we will be presenting specimens of males in breeding
plumage, this is what you should be looking at for identifications.

Yellow-rumped Warbler (Dendroica coronata)*

Northern Waterthrush (Seirus noveboracensis)*
American Redstart (Setophaga ruticilla)*
McGillivray's Warbler (Oporornis tolmiei)*
Townsend's Warbler (Dendroica townsendi)*
Yellow Warbler (Dendroica petechia)*
Orange-crowned Warbler (Vermivora celata)*
Black-and-white Warbler (Mniotilta varia)
Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas)*
Wilson's Warbler (Wilsonia pusilla)*
Tennessee Warbler (Vermivora peregrina)*
Magnolia Warbler (Dendroica tigrina)*
Black-throated Gray Warbler (Dendroica nigrescens)
Blackpoll Warbler (Dendroica striata)*
Ornithology and Mammalogy Lab Manual Biology 308

Family: Thraupidae (Tanagers)

Fruit eating birds related to warblers, but much larger bodied. In BC, we
have only one representative species, the western tanager. These however
are very striking – bright yellow body, jet black wings and tail with a white
wingbar and red forehead, check and chin on males. Come through in large
numbers in the spring migration, and some breed locally (picture at right is a
shot taken downtown).
Western Tanager (Piranga ludoviciana)*

Family: Emberizidae (Emberizids)

Another of the “frustrating” groups for birds, the sparrows (which also
included birds under the common names of juncos, longspurs, buntings and

Most members of this diverse group are ground dwelling seed eaters. They
have short conical bills associated with seed crushing, but this typically aren’t
quite as “pointy” as seen in finches (Fringilidae, below). Also, plumage in the
sparrows is typically browns, greys and other melanin based colours;
although some species do have yellow plumage patches as well, these
aren’t as prominent as carotenoid base plumages in the Fringilids. When
trying to id sparrows, pay particular attention to the patterns of colours on the
face and head (this is where knowing your facial topography of birds is
critical), as well as noting whether the breast is streaked, spotted or
unmarked. Note any distinctive colour patches, especially things like black
patches on the breast and throat (bibs) and contrasting black and white

Nesting in sparrows is as varied as their plumages, ranging form birds that

nest on the ground to the tops of trees. However, almost all species are
open-cup nesters – none in BC nest in cavities, unlike the Old World
sparrows (Passeridae).

Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus)

American Tree Sparrow (Spizella arborea)
Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina)*
Vesper Sparrow (Pooecetes gramineus)*
Savannah Sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis)*
Fox Sparrow (Passerella iliaca)*
Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)*
Lincoln's Sparrow (Melospiza lincolnii)*
Swamp Sparrow (Melospiza georgiana)
White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis)*
White-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys)*
Golden-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia atricapilla)*
Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis)*
Lapland Longspur (Calcarius lapponicus)
Smith's Longspur (Calcarius pictus)
Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis)*wintering
Ornithology and Mammalogy Lab Manual Biology 308

Family: Cardinalidae (Cardinals)

The birds in this family were formerly lumped into the Fringillidae, and have
only been separated into their own family again in the last decade, mainly on
recent genetic evidence that they form a distinct group. They are the large
billed finch-like birds, most with quite striking colours, which distinguish them
from most of the true finches.

There are three species in BC, two of which occur largely in the Okanagan
(Black-headed grosbeak and Lazuli bunting) and one which occurs primarily
in the Peace region (Rose-breasted Grosbeak). Although the Rose-breasted
Grosbeak does appear in PG during migration (at least I have seen them
here), and Lazuli buntings are known in the area, none of these could be
classified as common in the area. As a result, this family is a “free-bee”, you
don’t have to know either the family or any of the species.

Rose-Breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus)

Black-Headed Grosbeak (Pheucticus melanocephalus)
Lazuli Bunting (Passerina amoena)

Family: Icteridae (Blackbirds)

Blackbirds feed on insects and seeds, and have long and very tapered bills
that come to a fine point. Red-winged blackbirds and brewers blackbirds are
the “archetypical” blackbird of the area, both with satin black plumage and
associated with open country and marshes. Black birds travel in enormous
mixed species flocks on wintering grounds that can number in the thousands
of birds. In spring, they are often breeding in marshes or open grasslands.

Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)*

Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta) *
Yellow-headed Blackbird (Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus)*
Rusty Blackbird (Euphagus carolinus)*
Brewer's Blackbird (Euphagus cyanocephalus)*
Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater)*
Bullock's Oriole (Icterus bullockii)
Ornithology and Mammalogy Lab Manual Biology 308

Family: Fringillidae (Fringilline and Cardueline Finches and Allies)

Seed eaters like the sparrows and cardinals, Fringillids typically have a more
conical bill, and often have red or yellow carotinoid-based plumage
associated with their brown plumages. Finches as a group also tend to have
a more northerly distribution than sparrows (although species from both
families breed in the arctic). This makes finches generally less migratory,
and many finches gather into large flocks and winter in Prince George. It is
fairly common to find large flocks of pine siskins, and especially common
redpolls in PG on the Christmas Bird Count, whereas sparrows are pretty

Finches tend to have forked tails, which are a good character to look for in
flight. In addition, they have what is termed undulating flight, as the bird
appears to bob up and down in a wave-like fashion. This is due to the typical
flight behavior of the bird flapping rapidly several times to gain some lift
(upward part of the flight), followed by gliding (downward part) and repeating
this over and over.

Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch (Leucosticte tephrocotis)*

Pine Grosbeak (Pinicola enucleator)*
Purple Finch (Carpodacus purpureus)*
Cassin's Finch (Carpodacus cassinii)
House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus)
Red Crossbill (Loxia curvirostra)*
White-winged Crossbill (Loxia leucoptera)*
Common Redpoll (Carduelis flammea)
Hoary Redpoll (Carduelis hornemanni)
Pine Siskin (Carduelis pinus)*
Evening Grosbeak (Coccothraustes vespertinus)*

Family: Passeridae (Old World Sparrows)

Like starlings, house sparrows are a European transplant. These birds have
taken extremely well to North America, but only in urbanized areas. It is rare
to find house sparrows outside of cities in North America. However, they are
extremely common within cities and appear to flourish in habited areas (just
go to Superstore and look around the parking lot).

Also differ from Emberizids in that House Sparrows are cavity nesters and
take readily to nestboxes.

House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)*

Ornithology and Mammalogy Lab Manual Biology 308

Lab 7 - Skulls, dentition & measurements, Marsupalia, Insectivora &

Congratulations, you have made it through the birds. Now we are on to the mammals. However,
while there are less mammals to learn, they are often more difficult to locate in the field. Further,
mammals are often detected more by evidence they leave behind that seeing the live version
(especially when you compare them to the birds).

As a result, we are going to learn some of the fundamentals about tracks, as well as look at the skulls
of mammals – the two most common forms of evidence that you will find of mammals. All mammals
can be identified by their skull characteristics, so we will be focusing on learning the different
attributes of the skulls of different families and species. Skull identification is a critically important skill
in identifying mammalian specimens; a well-trained biologist can often identify not only the species,
but the sex and age of a specimen from a partial skull.

In today’s lab, we will be investigating the general features of the skull and teeth, as well as some of
the common measurements that people take when looking at skulls.

Bones of the Skull

Saggital Crest Frontal Foramina (Foraminus, sing)

Parietal Maxilla



Auditory Bulla

Coronoid Fossa

Ornithology and Mammalogy Lab Manual Biology 308


Measurements of the Skull

There are a number of fairly standardized measurements for the skull. In some species, taking these
measurements may help distinguish between very similar species (such as comparing the skulls of
some of the smaller weasels. Measurements are taken in a strait line between two reference points,
and should be recorded in millimeters. When handling skulls, be very care not to damage them –
calipers should be closed to fit snuggly, but be careful not to crush the bone.

a. Basal Length
b. Basilar Length a c
d b
c. Greatest Length

d. Diastema

e. Postorbital
f Constriction

h f. Breadth of Braincase

g. Zygomatic Breadth

h. Mastoid Breadth

Bat Vole
Ornithology and Mammalogy Lab Manual Biology 308

Basilar Length - posterior margins of the alveoli of the upper incisors to the anterior-most point on
the lower border of the foramen magnum.
Basal Length – anterior edge of the premaxillae to the anterior-most point on the lower border of the
foramen magnum.
Diastema Length – posterior margin of alveolus of last incisor present to anterior margin of alveolus
of first cheek tooth present
Postorbital Constriction – least distance across the top of the skull posterior to the postorbital
Breadth of Braincase – greatest width across the braincase posterior to the zygomatic arches
Zygomatic Breadth – greatest distance between the outer margin of the zygomatic arches
Mastoid Breadth – greatest width of skull including the mastoid
Mandibular Diastema – same as for Diastema length (above, but measured on lower jaw
Mandibular Length – greatest length of the mandible, usually excluding teeth
Mandibular Tooth Row – length from anterior edge of alveolus of canine or first cheek tooth to
posterior edge of alveolus of last tooth. The incisor is not included in this measurement.


a. Mandibular Diastema

b. Mandibular Length
c. Mandibular Tooth Row


Most mammals are diphyodont, having only two sets of teeth. The deciduous, or milk teeth, present
in immature mammals are usually replaced by a set of permanent teeth that are retained for life. The
patters of tooth eruption and replacement can often be used to age animals until all permanent teeth
are present.
Ornithology and Mammalogy Lab Manual Biology 308

Teeth in mammals are measured in quadrants of the jaw. Drawing a line straight through the middle
of the palate from the back to front of head, you describe the number of teeth on each half of either
the upper and lower jaw. This is short-hand, and the teeth are normally matched on either side of the
head (e.g. same number of molars on the upper left as upper right of the mouth). However, the
number of teeth in each category can differ between the upper and lower jaw.

Kinds of Teeth
Incisors – rooted in the premaxillary bone, and the corresponding teeth in the lower jaw. Placenetal
mammals never have more then thee incisors in each jaw quadrant, but marsupials may have up
to five in each half of the upper and lower jaw.
These teeth are generally chisel-shaped and function primarily for nipping. In artiodactylids
(cattle and deer), the incisors are missing from the upper jaw, and nipping is done against a horny
plate on the upper jaw and the lower incisors. In gnawing rodents (Rodentia), there is a reduction
in the number of incisors (one in each quadrant of the jaw)

Canines – the most anterior teeth routed in the maxilla, and the corresponding teeth of the lower jaw.
Never number more than one per quadrant. Typically long, conspicuous, unicuspid (single
rounded point) and have a single root. Used to capture, hold and kill prey, these are often
reduced or absent in herbivores.
Premolars – situated posterior to the canines and differ from molars in having deciduous
predecessors (your first “cheek teeth” as a kid are actually premolars).

Molars – situated posterior to the premolars, and do not have deciduous predecessors. Molars either
have a upper surface described as bunodont. The crowns of the bunodont teeth oppose each
other directly and the entire upper surface is shielded in enamel. Lophodont teeth have cusps
fused to form elongated ridges. Selenodont molars function in a similar manner, but in each
ridge is formed by the elongation of a single cusp. The ridges of selenodont teeth are cresent-
shaped and longitudinally oriented.

Bunodont (Raccoon)
Ornithology and Mammalogy Lab Manual Biology 308

Selenodont (Mule Deer)

Lophodont (Porcupine)
Ornithology and Mammalogy Lab Manual Biology 308

Dental Formulae
You will typically see descriptions of dental formulae in mammals (such as the one below for wolves,
Canis lupus, below) with a series of numbers, such as:

3 1 4 2
3 1 4 3

This is a shorthand method of describing the number of each kind of teeth found on one side of the
upper and lower jaw. The long hand version of this would be written:

Incisors 3 – 3 canines 1-1 premolars 4 – 4 molars 2 – 2

3–3 1-1 4–4 2–2

The upper numbers indicate the number of teeth on each side of the midline of the upper jaw, the
lower numbers are the number of teeth of each type on either side of the midline on the lower jaw. As
the number of teeth of each type is identical on each side of the head (e.g. bilateral symmetry), they
often just describe the number of teeth on one side of the jaw.

Therefore, the second number after the dash is usually dropped, and the various teeth are also often
represented by their initial, or simply with no initial and assuming that you go in order from Incisor,
Canine, Premolar, Molar.

I 3 C 1 P 4 M 2 or 3 1 4 2
3 1 4 3 3 1 4 2

If there are no teeth in a particular category, then you simply indicated this with a zero. For example,
Norway rats (like most rodents) have only one incisor in either side of the midline in both the upper
and lower jaws, have no canines or premolars, and three molars on either side of the midline on both
the upper and lower jaw. Their dental formula is thus written:

I 1 C 0 P 0 M 3 or 1 0 0 3
1 0 0 3 1 0 0 3

In some species, like seals, the Premolars and Molars are difficult to distinguish, so sometimes they
are grouped as P+M in dental formulae. For example:

Harbour seal (Phoca vitulina): I 3 C 1 P+M 5

3 1 5
Ornithology and Mammalogy Lab Manual Biology 308


This list includes the recognized species which occur in BC. You will be responsible for identifying
and knowing the names for Class, Subclass, Order, and Family of all groups. As there are far fewer
total species of mammals in BC than birds, you will also be responsible for identifying and knowing
the common names of ALL representatives from each family that occur in Northern BC, and one
representative member of those families not occurring in Northern BC – these are marked in BOLD.
Based on Cannings, R.A. & Harcombe, A.P., eds (1990) The vertebrates of British Columbia;
scientific and English names. Royal BC Museum Heritage Record No. 20..

Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection has an online manual for identifying small mammals of BC.
This is excellent – it has info on every species except those in the larger Orders (Artiodactyla,
Carnivora and Cetacea). This document not only has pictures of the specimens, but also gives
some of their life history, drawings of their skulls and range maps. It is an excellent resource and the
best thing is that is made available for free! I have put a copy of the pdf file onto the lab folder in the
portfolio on Studept.

There is also a great webpage with photos of animal skulls from Idaho which might be helpful
(although not all the species in BC are shown, it will definitely give you some access to the more
common species, and has photos of the skulls rather than just drawings). -

CLASS: Mammalia
SubClass: Metatheria – the marsupials.
Marsupials have a different development process, and different
placental attachment of the embryo to the maternal blood supply,
which we will discuss in class. There is only one metatherian in
North America, the North American Opossum.

Order Marupialia
Family Didelphidae: New World Opossums
There are several other marsupials in central through
south America, but the North American Opossum in is the
only one in North America. Marsupials have a larger
number of teeth, particularly incisors, than do the
Eutherian mammals, so you can distinguish the skull of
Opossums by 5 incisors on the upper and 4 on the lower
jaw. This species has a prehensile tail for grabbing tree
North American Opossum (Didelphis virginiana)

Dental Formula: 5 1 3 4
4 1 3 4
Ornithology and Mammalogy Lab Manual Biology 308

SubClass: Eutheria - placental mammals

Order: Insectivora - this family, which are insectivores primarily,
includes the shrews and moles in BC. Teeth, especially cheek
teeth, are relatively undifferentiated in both families, the Moles
(Talpidae) and the Shrews (Soricidae).

Moles are adapted for fossorial (underground) movement with

strong forelimbs and enlarged claws for digging, extremely
sensitive noses and whiskers for sensing movement of prey in the
dark, and relatively poor eyesight. Skulls are generally longer
than shrews and have complete zygomatic arches.

Shrews are voracious hunters of insects, invertebrates and

sometimes bird chicks. They will tackle prey that may be larger
than they are, and have to eat large proportion of their own body
weight each day to maintain and extremely high metabolism. All
the species are small and have long pointed rostrum (nose) which
is flexible at the tip. Skulls are easy to distinguish from moles as
shrews lack a zygomatic arch, and the tips of the teeth often have
a red pigment to them.
Family Soricidae: Shrews
Masked Shrew (Sorex cinereus) *
Dusky Shrew (Sorex monticolus) *
Water Shrew (Sorex palustrus) *
Pygmy Shrew (Sorex hoyi) *
Pacific Water Shrew (Sorex bendirii)
Arctic Shrew (Sorex arcticus)
Trowbridge's Shrew (Sorex trowbridgii)
Tundra Shrew (Sorex tundrensis)
Vagrant Shrew (Sorex vagrans)

Family: Talpidae. The Moles

Townsend's Mole (Scapanus townsendii)
Shrew skull
Shrew-mole (Neurotrichus gibbsii)
Coast mole (Scapanus orarius)

Order: Chiroptera. The Bats

The Molossidae, or free-tailed bats, have their tail extending past
the edge of the flap of skin that joins the tail to the hind limb, the
Vespertilionidae (more common bat family in BC) don’t have the
tails extending past this point. The Vespertilionids are the family
with the most northerly distribution outside the tropics, and are our
most common family.

Bat skulls are distinguishable from other families and orders by

the relatively undifferentiated cheek teet and the large gap at the
front of the skull when looking at the skull from the top (dorsal
Family Molossidae. Free tailed bats
Big Free-tailed Bat (Nyctinomops macrotis)
Mexican Free-tailed bat

Family Vespertilionidae
Little Brown Myotis (Myotis lucifugus) *
Western Long-eared Myotis (Myotis evotis) *
Northern Long-eared Myotis (Myotis
septentrionalis) *
Long-legged Myotis (Myotis volans) *
Ornithology and Mammalogy Lab Manual Biology 308

Hoary Bat (Lasiurus cinereus) *

Silver-haired Bat (Lasionycteris noctivagens) *
Big Brown Bat (Eptesicus fuscus) *
Pallid Bat (Antrozous pallidus)
Spotted Bat (Euderma maculatum)
Southern Red Bat (Lasiurus blossevilli)
California Myotis (Myotis californicus)
Western small-footed Myotis (Myotis ciliolabrum)
Keen’s Long-eared Myotis (Myotis keenii)
Fringed Myotis (Myotis thysanodes)
Yuma Myotis (Myotis yumanensis)
Townsend's Big-eared bat (Plecotus townsendii)
Ornithology and Mammalogy Lab Manual Biology 308

Lab 8 - Lagomorpha & Rodentia

Order Lagomopha. Rabbits and Pikas
Rabbits and Pikas superficially share many features with rodents,
such as prominent incisors and a large maxillary and mandibular
diastema. However, they also have some notable differences in the
skull and dentition, most obvious is a second set of upper incisors
(called pegged teeth) that occur behind the first larger pair. This
means the dental formula of all Lagomorphs is 2/1 for the Incisors.

There are two families in this Order, the Leporidae (Hares and
Rabbits) and the Ochontonidae (Pikas). Within the Leporidea,
Hares (including jackrabbits) are typically longer-legged and have
larger ears than rabbits. Hares do not construct nests, they
typically bear their young in shallow scrapes on the ground. The
young of hares are precocial – born furred, open eyed and capable
Snowshoe Hare
of independent movement. As a result, hares spend very little time
in parental care. Rabbits make nests, often lined with hair the
female plucks from her underside. The nests can be in depressions
in the ground (forms), or burrows as in European rabbits (the
burrows are called warrens). The young of rabbits are born atricial
– no fur, eyes not fully developed and having limited movement.
The result is that rabbits are required to provide much more
parental care than hares. The two groups also differ in escape
tactics – when pursued, rabbits typically seek shelter in burrows or
in foliage, while hares tend to freeze and flatten themselves against
the ground. If the predator pursues, they take off running in a
zigzag pattern that makes capture difficult.

Hares also have two annual moults, and in northern species like the
Snowshoe hare and the arctic hare, the winter pelage (fur) is white
making the animals cryptic. Rabbits do not have this winter moult. Nuttall’s Cottontail

Skulls – in addition to having the second set of incisors on the top,

Lagomorph skulls tend to have pronounced supraorbital processes
(large ridges of bones over the eyesocket when skull viewed from
above), and a lot of fenestration (almost lattice-like structure) to the

The Ochontonidae (Pikas) are smaller and have more rounded ears
than the Leporids. Pikas lack a visible tail. They also do not hop
like leporids, and have hind legs of similar size and length to the
forelegs. They run more akin to a mouse or guinea pig. Pikas live
in talus slopes at higher elevations, and build caches of cropped
grass for winter food. They are extremely vocal, and will sit on
rocks whistling.
Family Leporidae. Hares and Rabbits
Snowshoe Hare (Lepus americanus) *
White-tailed jackrabbit (Lepus townnsendii)
European Rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) (introduced)
Eastern Cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus) (introduced)
Nuttall's Cottontail (Sylvilagus nuttallii)

Family Ochontonidae. The Pikas

Common Pika (Ochotona princeps) * Snowshoe Hare Skull
Collared Pika (Ochotona collaris)
Ornithology and Mammalogy Lab Manual Biology 308

Dental Formula: 2 0 3 2 Pikas

1 0 2 3
Dental Formula: 2 0 3 3 Rabbits and Hares
1 0 2 3


Pika skull
Ornithology and Mammalogy Lab Manual Biology 308

Order: Rodentia. The Rodents

The rodents are a very diverse group of gnawing rodents (rodere is the latin verb “to gnaw”). This group covers
just about every part of the globe, from deserts to the arctic tundras. The main common feature is that all have
a single incisor in each of the four quadrants of the skull. These incisors are continuously growing, and the
gnawing wears them down at the tips (otherwise, they upper teeth would grow downwards and curve back into
lower jaw, and vice versa, a condition called malocclusion, which can kill the animal).

The tooth has enamel on the front (which often yellows), and exposed dentine on the back. The enameled front
of the incisors on the lower jaw scrape past the dentine on the back of the incisors on the upper jaw, and create
a “chiseled” edge. Further gnawing of hard material also wears out the dentine on both sets of teeth faster than
the enamel, increasing this chiseled effect, and making these incisors particularly adept for gnawing.

Skull architecture, and specifically the attachment of the massetor muscle to the skull, divides mammals into
three distinct group: Sciuromorph (squirrel-like), Myomorph, (mouse-like) and Hystricomorph (Porcupine-

Sciuromorph means that the massetors attach directly to the zygomatic arch, with often has a large flattened
area on the underside for muscle attachment. In Myomorph rodents, part of the massetor muscle passes
through the eye socket and an enlarged infraorbital foramena to attach to the maxilla. This pattern is even more
pronounced in the Hystricomorphs, and the infraorbital foramena is very large to allow the passage of the
massetor to attach to the maxilla. This last pattern gives Hystricomorph rodents (like guinea pigs) their
characteristic boxy-looking rostrum.


Family Aplondontidae.
Consists of a single species, the mountain beaver. These occur only on
the coast forest areas of California north to BC. This is a very primitive
lineage, and has a sciuromorph skull architecture. The auditory bullae
are very elongated, and the first premolars are divided into three pegs.
They are fossorial (burrowers). The animal looks a bit like a muskrat with
a stubby tail, and the skull has a characteristic triangular shape and is
very flat. They have been prized for their pelts in the past, and were used
in cloaks among First Nations.
Mountain Beaver (Aplodontia rufa)

Dental Formula: 1 0 2 3
1 0 1 3

Mountain Beaver
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Family Arvicolidae (Voles and Lemmings)

Voles are extremely common and tend to be more associated with open
grassy habitat than forests in which Cricetids are more abundant. Voles
and Lemmings (the latter of which are more boreal in distribution) have
proportionately shorter tails than Cricetid mice. Voles often make
runways between the ground and overlying grass, and will keep these
active even in the winter as subnivean (“below snow”) tunnels at ground

Skulls – lack premolars on upper and lower jaw. Main distinguishing

feature from cricetids and murids, which have same dental pattern, is that Muskrat
the cheek teeth are ever growing (hypsidont) and have what is described
as a “prismatic crown” pattern, which can be seen on the muskrat skull
depicted below. Prominent boxy-shape to the skull when viewed from
above. These are an extremely common component of owl pellets!
Lemmings have grooved upper incisors (indentation in the enamel on the
front that makes it look like the incisor is creased, and makes two “cusps”
on the bottom of the incisor).

Muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus) *

Southern red-backed vole (Clethrionomys gapperi) *
Brown Lemming (Lemmus sibiricus) *
Northern Bog Lemming (Syanatomys borealis) *
Long-tailed vole (Microtus longicaudus) *
Meadow Vole (Microtus pennsylvanicus) *
Heather Vole (Phenacomys intermedius) *
Northern red-backed vole (Clethrionomys rutilus) Red-backed vole
Montaine vole (Microtus montanus)
Tundra vole (Microtus oeconomus)
Creeping Vole (Microtus oregoni)
Water vole (Microtus richardsoni)
Towsend's Vole (Microtus townsendii)
Dental Formula: 1 0 0 3
1 0 0 3

Meadow Vole
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Muskrat skull

Family: Castoridae – The largest rodent in North America, and only

second to the Capybura worldwide in size. The family name derives from
two glands at the base of the flat tail, called castoreum, that contain oil
used in keeping the fur slick and waterproof. Feet are webbed and
provide propulsion, the tail is flat and used as a rudder.

Live in lodges that have openings to the water (usually multiple) allowing
access to water even when ice is on the surface. Dams ensure that the
water is deep enough to not freeze all the way to the bottom. Beavers
jam gnawed saplings into the bottom of the ponds, and will feed on the
bark during winter.

Skull is very large, and has Sciuromorph shape. Large “scoop” on the
maxilla also increases attachment of massetor muscles. Cheek teeth
have a very characteristic lophodont shape.
Beaver (Castor canadensis) 8
Dental Formula: 1 0 1 3
1 0 1 3
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Family: Cricetidae - All the new World mice are in this family, but it also
includes hamsters and gerbils. The most prominent of these in BC are
the deer mouse and bushy-tailed woodrat. Deer mice differ from house
mice (Muridae) in being very two-toned in colour, with a tan back and very
white belly and a two-toned tail of the same pattern. Woodrats (or
packrats) have very bushy tails, and are famous for collecting strange
items (e.g. tooth brushes and toy cars) that they hoard in their nests.
Skulls of these look “daintier” than Arvicolids – they lack the prominent
post-orbital processes and the rather squarish look when viewed form the
top that is characteristic of vole skulls. All individuals also lack premolars
– one incisor and three molars on each quadrant of the upper and lower
jaw is the total dental formula. In addition, all the molars are rooted and
bunodont. The molars are relatively equal in size, and this can be used to Deer mouse
distinguish them from the skulls of Murid mice/rats.
Bushy-tailed Woodrat (Neotoma cinerea)*
Deer Mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus) *
Keen’s Mouse (Peromyscus keeni)
Columbian mouse (Peromyscus oreas)
Sitka mouse (Peromyscus sitkensis)
Western Harvest Mouse (Reithrodontomys megalois)
Dental Formula: 1 0 0 3
1 0 0 3

Bushy-tailed woodrat

Family: Erethizontidae - thickset bodies and short legs, porcupines walk

with an ungainly gait. Quills are modified, hollow hairs with backward
facing barbs at the tips. The feet have wide soles and curved claws for
climbing, and porcupines are highly arboreal (tree climbers).
Hystricomorph skull pattern. Note also the shape of the check teeth
crowns, as these are quite characteristic.
Porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum) *
Dental Formula: 1 0 1 3
1 0 1 3

Ornithology and Mammalogy Lab Manual Biology 308

Porcupine Skull

Family: Geomyidae (pocket gophers) – These are fossorial burrowers.

They have long claws on short, stocky front limbs. The pocket refers to
external fur-lined cheek pouches in which the animals carry roots and
tubers to underground larders. The lips close behind the incisors, which
allows these animals to gnaw at dirt while burrowing without getting the
dirt in their mouths. It also means that the incisors are always visible. On
the skull, the nasal bone tends to protrude rather prominently on pocket
Northern Pocket Gopher (Thomomys talpodes)
Dental Formula: 1 0 1 3
1 0 1 3

Family: Heteromyidae – closely related to pocket gophers, pocket mice

also have fur-lined external check pouches. They also have very
prominent auditory bullae on the underside of the skull, which are used in
picking up low frequency sounds. The incisors on the great basin pocket
mouse are also grooved on the upper jaw. Nocturnal, they dig shallow
holes in loose sand in desert areas – in BC, this means they are found in
the great basin area of south central BC. This family includes the more
famous Kangaroo mice of the US that have saltorial (jumping) gaits
similar to kangaroos, where they derive their common name.
Great Basin Pocket Mouse (Perognathus parvus)
Dental Formula: 1 0 1 3
1 0 1 3
Ornithology and Mammalogy Lab Manual Biology 308

Family: Muridae – old world mice, all species in north America are
introduced. These include the Norway and black rats – the former is
larger bodied and has a proportionately shorter tail (tail length equal to
body length). Black rats are smaller, more arboreal, and have a tail
longer than their body. The tails of both are largely bare of hair. House
mice are smaller, and most likely confused with deer mice. However,
they are less two-toned in colour than deer mice.

Skulls – all the species have characteristic bunodont teeth, and are
myomorphic. Like cricetids, lack premolars. Key distinguishing
characteristic from Cricetids is that the first molar is large (about twice the
size of the other two molars). Each molar also has three cusped ridges
running from front to back.
House Mouse (Mus musculus) introduced *
Norway Rat (Rattus norvegicus) introduced*
Black Rat (Rattus rattus) introduced *
Dental Formula: 1 0 0 3
1 0 0 3

House mouse skull

Ornithology and Mammalogy Lab Manual Biology 308

Family: Sciuridae
The squirrel family includes squirrels, ground squirrels, chipmunks and
marmots (woodchucks are also known as common marmots). Most
members go into a state of dormancy (hibernation) for the winter.
Squirrels are typically arboreal, whereas the rest of the group tend to be
more ground-dwelling and burrowing. Ground squirrels and chipmunks
both have alternate dark/light striping on the back, but only in chipmunks
does this striping extend onto the face. Both dig burrows in which they
breed, cached food for the winter and will seek refuge. Marmots are the
largest members of the group.

Skulls – cheek teeth are all bunodont. Skulls have a very predominant Red squirrel
post-orbital process that is appears as sharp “point” when viewing the
skull from the top. Also tend to have prounced, and very rounded
auditory bullae when viewing the skull from below.
Northern Flying Squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus) *
Hoary Marmot (Marmota caligata) *
Woodchuck† (Marmota monax) *
Columbian Ground Squirrel (Spermophilus columbianus) *
Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel (Spermophilus lateralis) *
Red Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus)*
Yellow-pine Chipmunk (Tamias amoenus) *
Least Chipmunk (Tamias minimus) *
Yellow-bellied Marmot (Marmota flaviventris)
Vancouver Island Marmot (Marmota vancouverensis)
Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) introduced
Fox Squirrel (Sciurus niger)
Arctic Ground Squirrel (Spermophilus parryii)
Cascade Mantled Ground Squirrel (Spermophilus saturatus)
Red-tailed Chipmunk (Tamias ruficaudus)
Townsend's Chipmunk (Tamias townsendii) Golden-mantled ground squirrel
Douglas's Squirrel (Tamiasciurus douglassii)

Dental Formula: 1 0 2 3
1 0 1 3
(only exception is red squirrel, which sometimes has only 1 premolar on
the upper jaw).

[† - Woodchucks are also known by several other common names,

including Groundhog and Common Marmot]

Least chipmunk
Ornithology and Mammalogy Lab Manual Biology 308

Hoary marmot

Red squirrel

Family: Zapodidae (Jumping Mice)

These mice are saltorial, and have very large hind feet and very large
tails. They also typically have multicoloured fur, with brownish sides and
darker back.
Skull- lack premolars on the lower jaw. Large infraorbital foramena
(Hystricomorph pattern). Upper incisors are grooved on the front
Western jumping Mouse (Zapus princeps) *
Meadow Jumping Mouse (Zapus hudsonicus) *
Pacific Jumping Mouse (Zapus trinotatus)
Dental Formula: 1 0 1 3
1 0 0 3
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Western Jumping Mouse

Ornithology and Mammalogy Lab Manual Biology 308

Lab 9 - Carnivora
Order Carnivora
Essentially, the meat eaters. This is likely to be the Order of mammals that people are most familiar with, as
they are the topic of most Nature documentaries (you see a lot more titles like “never cry wolf” than you do “my
life among the pocket gophers”). The animals in this family evoke a lot of interest, and part of this is their
powerful nature, but also because hunting often involves attributes of social behaviour and “cunning” that we
see in our own species.

A general characteristic of the skulls is prominent canine teeth and premolars that are specialized in slicing.
Among some families, molars are greatly reduced or absent. In other families, which tend towards omnivory,
the molars retain the bunodont flattened shape. There are no species in this order with hypsodont molars, all
are brachiodont. In this lab, we will focus more on the attributes that distinguish the various families of carnivors
in BC.

Family: Canidae
Highly socially organized. Wolf packs typically consist of a
dominant (alpha) pair that are the primary breeders, and a group of
subordinate animals. Coyotes and foxes are more solitary, but still
usually travel in mated pairs. Canids mate monogamously and
often form long-term pair bonds (e.g. often multiple years). Both
males and females care for young.

Pack hunting allows Canids like wolves to take prey much larger
than individual animals. Coyotes and Foxes that do not hunt in
packs tend to take smaller prey, such as rodents or rabbits.

Skulls of Canids tend to be among the longest in the Carnivora

order, and have a very elongated snout. Carnasials are large, but
molars are still fairly prominent. Skulls of canids are very similar in
appearance, and largely differ between species based on relative
Coyote (Canis latrans) *
Gray Wolf (Canis lupus) *
Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) *

Dental Formula: 3 1 4 2
3 1 4 3

Coyote skull
Ornithology and Mammalogy Lab Manual Biology 308

Family: Felidae
Typically solitary animals, males and females don’t make
long term pair bonds. Cats, however, are perhaps the most
efficient in design for predators. They are extremely
graceful, and can achieve very high speeds during chase.
They are powerful for their size, and have long retractable
claws that allow the tips to be maintained extremely sharp
for grasping and holding.

The skulls of cats are very typically short from back to front,
yet very massive in structure. They have a short biting
surface area to the teeth that concentrates the bite pressure,
and a large reduction or loss of molars. The carnassials are
extremely well developed, and the canines are among the
longest and best at piercing in the carnivores. Horny
protuberances on the tongue, which gives cat tongues their
characteristic raspy feel, are used to scrape meat from

All our cats fall into the “Felis” or purring cats group – yes,
Cougars apparently purr. Lions, jaguars and other large
cats belong to the Panthera group which have a slightly
different structure to their voice box and instead roar.
Cougar (Felis concolor) *
Lynx (Lynx canadensis) *
Bobcat (Lynx rufus)*
Dental Formula: 3 1 3 1 Cougar
3 1 2 1
Dental Formula: 3 1 2 1 Lynx and Bobcats
3 1 2 1

Cougar skull
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Family: Mustelidae
This is the most diverse family of Carnivores in north
America. Mustelidae includes the weasels (which includes
the mink, marten, fisher and wolverine), as well as
badgers otters and skunks. Most mustelids have relatively
long, slender bodies and proportionately short legs. They
range in size from the least weasel (about the size of a
chipmunk) up to male sea otters which can weigh in at

Most mustelids possess anal scent glands, and these are

best known in the skunk. Weasels also possess very
strong, curved claws and both martens and fishers are
adept climbers. The fur on mustelids is also exceptionally
dense, making their coats very luxurious. This is
especially true in the aquatic mustelids, as the density of
the fur and oils in their coat make the underfur water
resistant, and traps a layer of air close to the body. Rather
than blubber, sea otters rely on this trapped air in their
coat for insulation, and have the densest fur in the family
(and perhaps of any mammal) - over 100,000 hair/inch2.
Sea otter pelts are, without doubt, the softest fur you will
ever feel. This unfortunately almost led to their demise –
furring resulted in the complete extirpation of sea otters in
BC waters, and only populations in Alaska and California
remained. Release programs have now started
repopulating BC waters, with the first release are north of
Long Beach on Vancouver Island’s west coast (north of
Toffino) being relatively successful. Sea otters can now
be found as far south as Barclay Sound.

Mustelids have very distinctive skulls, with a large brain

case and the teeth and jaws short and very far forward in
the elongated skulls. Sagital crests are often prominent.
This gives them both a small area over which to spread
their biting surface, coupled with a very large area to insert
their temporalis muscle. The moral is not to let mustelids
bite you. In weasels, the single molar on the top jaw also
appears as those it is sitting at a right angle to the
carnassial, something that allows you to quickly note that
you are dealing with a mustelid. Skunks and otters, which
have a more varied diet, tend to have more flattened
molars than the other meat-eating mustelids.
Sea Otter (Enhydra lutris)
River Otter (Lutra canadensis) *
Wolverine (Gulo gulo) *
Pine Marten (Martes americana) *
Fisher (Martes pennanti) *
Striped Skunk (Mephitis mephitis)*
Spotted Skunk (Spilogale putorius)
Ermine or Short-tailed Weasel (Mustela
Long-tailed Weasel (Mustela frenata) *
Least Weasel (Mustela nivalis) *
Mink (Mustela vison) *
Badger (Taxidea taxus)
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Dental Formula: 3 1 4 1 Martens, Fishers, wolverines

3 1 4 2
or 3 1 3 1 weasels, mink, badgers, skunks, sea otters
3 1 3 2
or 3 1 4 1 river otters
3 1 3 2

Long-tailed weasel

Pine Marten Skull

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Family: Otariidae
Otariidae are the eared seals, which includes the sea lions and
fur seals. Otariid seals have external pinnae to the “ears”
which give them their family name. These, and the Phocidae,
have fore and hind limbs that have evolved into flippers for
underwater locomotion. This adaptation, and their aquatic
lifestyle, has led to them (along with Walruses) to being
grouped into a separate order (Pinnipedia) in the past, but
genetic evidence suggests that bears and seals are closely

Fur seals have a dense undercoat to their fur, which is lacking

on sea lions. Both groups have a layer of blubber under their
skin for insulation, as opposed to the trapped air in the pelts of
sea otters (see above). The hind flippers of otariids rotate Northern fur Seal
forward under the body and the sea lions and fur seals can
support their body weight off the ground by balancing on the
fore and hind flippers. Underwater, propulsion is gained by
swimming with the foreflippers, the hind flippers are used as
rudders. This is opposite to the Phocidae seals.

Skulls – dentition of seals reflects their piscivorous diet – the

teeth are largely cusped and peg like, with less differentiation
in the cheek teeth than is found in other carnivores.
California Sea Lion (Zalphus californianus)
Northern Fur Seal (Callorhinus usrinus)
Northern (Steller’s) Sea Lion (Eumetopias jubatus)

Dental Formula: 3 1 4 2 or 3 1 4 1
2 1 4 1 2 1 4 1

Family: Phocidae
The “hair seals”, phocids are fairly ungainly on land. They
undulate on their bodies, as their flippers do not support their
body weight (a marine biologist I met referred to them as
“beach maggots”). Underwater, however, phocids are
remarkably graceful. In constrast to otariids, phocids propel
themselves through the water with alternating sweeps of the
rear-facing hind flippers. The forelimbs are used as
rudders/steering devices and brakes, and not for forward
propulsion. Phocids have little to no underfur, and lack
external ear pinnae, so appear “earless” compared to the
otariids. Northern Elephant Seals are the largest members of
this group, and males can weigh up to 2200kg and measure
5m in length.

Like otariids, phocids have peg-like teeth.

Harbour Seal (Phoca vitulina)
Northern Elephant Seal (Mirounga angustirostris)
Dental Formula: 3 1 4 1
2 1 4 1
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Family: Procyonidae
Procyonids (which include the Ringtail and Coati of southern
and central America) are nocturnal and very good climbers.
They are omnivores, and have very highly dexterity in the front
paws. Raccoons often sit on their hind legs and manipulate
prey with their forepaws. Pet raccoons can be trained to turn
on faucets, and a friend who use to work with the humane
society often recounts tales of raccoons “jimmying’ the nut-
and-bolt style locks they used on their cages. There are even
pictures floating around the internet of raccoons that have
learned to milk dairy cows so they can steal the milk.

Skull of raccoons as flat molars of the omnivore. In fact, they

look remarkably like a very small bear skull. Skull is less
rounded than in cats, and the carnassials are more molar-like.
More molars than in cats.
Raccoon (Procyon lotor)
Dental Formula: 3 1 4 2
3 1 4 2
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Family: Ursidae
Only two species occur in BC, although there are several
subspecies of each. Black bears on the Queen Charlotte
Islands, for example, are larger than those on the mainland.
Kermode bears (spirit bears) that occur near Terrace are a
white morph of the black bear – they are not albino, as they
have black noses and eyes. Rather they have a gene in the
skin that prevent melanin being deposited in the fur.

Bears den in the winter and hibernate. They go through a

period of fattening in the fall in preparation of hibernation.
During this period, bears feed on high protein/high fat/high
sugar food content. Their omniovorous diets help facilitate
this, and bears are apparently very very good at assimilating
calories out of just about everything they eat – they process
plant matter almost as efficiently as some herbivores.

Young are born in den sites during hibernation.

Grizzly bears have a very concave forhead and face, and this
makes their face look broader and their rostrum shorter than
black bears. The grizzly has a characteristic “hump” on it
back, and much longer and straighter claws than the black
bear – grizzlies use their claws primarily for digging, while
black bears have shorter more curved claws for climbing.
Coat colour is not a good distinguishing feature, as black bears
can range from white (Kermode), tan, chocolate brown through
jet black in colour.

Skulls – bear massive bone structure and large teeth. The

premolars and molars are largely flat and used in grinding,
making them relatively easy to distinguish among the carnivors
(the only family with similar dental characteristics are
Procyonids (raccoons) which are thought to be closely related
to bears genetically. However, raccoon skulls are much
smaller, so it is unlikely that you would find overlap. Often, the
premolar numbers vary in individual bears.

Grizzly Bear (Ursus arctos) *

Black Bear (Ursus americanus) *
Dental Formula: 3 1 4 2
3 1 4 3

Black bear skull

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Lab 10 - Artiodactyla
Order Artiodactyla
The Artiodactyla are the even-toed hoofed mammals. This means that they walk on either two or four toes, as
opposed to the Perissodactyla (including horses) that have and odd number of toes (in the horse, this is one).
In most of the BC species, the animals have two toes that make contact with the ground in regular walking, but
may have two smaller outer toes (called Dewclaws) that occur higher up on the leg and only make contact with
the ground when the animal is walking through deep snow or soft mud.
All of BC’s Artiodactylids are foregut fermentors (Ruminates). They fall into two Families, the Bovidae (cattle-
like) and Cervidae (Deer-like). The main difference between these two groups is that the Bovidae have horns,
while the cervidae have antlers.

Family: Bovidae
This family includes the cattle-like ungulates, which in BC
include sheep, mountain goats and bison. All members of this
family have horns, which can occur in both sexes but are
typically larger in males.

True horns are continuously growing and never shed. They are
keratinized material (similar to hoofs and fingernails) that is
deposited over a bony core extending from the frontal bone of
the skull. The horn is not living tissue, and material is added
from the base. The age of animals, especially bighorn or dall’s
sheep can be estimated from the length of the horns due to
their continuous growth pattern.

Thinhorn sheep (for which the BC populations are also called Bighorn sheep
Stone sheep and the Alaskan/Yukon populations are called
Dall’s sheep) can be distinguished from bighorn sheep due to
their slightly thinner horns the tips of which grow away from the
head (look at the front of the two pictured animals – bighorn,
the point is almost under the upper curl of the horn, whereas
the Thinhorn sheep’s are much farther out laterally from this
upper curl).
Bison (Bison bison) * Bison
Mountain Goat (Oreamnos americanus) *
Bighorn Sheep (Ovis canadensis) * Thinhorn (aka Dall’s or Stone) Sheep.
Thinhorn Sheep (Ovis dalli) *

Dental Formula: 0 1 3 3
3 1 3 3
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Mountain Goat
Family: Cervidae
The Cervidae is distinguished from the Bovidae in having
antlers rather than horns. Antlers are bone outgrowths of the
Frontal bone in the skull, and are highly vascularized during
growth through an outer skin covering called velvet. Blood
moving through the velvet supplying the underlying bone
growth through calcium and nutrient deposition. Antlers grow
seasonally, starting typically in the spring and reaching full
development in the fall during the breeding season. That the
point of full development, the blood supply to the velvet is cut
off and the skin covering the antler dies and is shed by the
animals rubbing against trees etc. In most Cervids, only males
have these enlarged antlers (the exception is females in
caribou). The antlers are typically used in male fighting over
control of harems or groups of females.

Antlers are also shed annually following the rut (breeding

period). This is typically facilitated by changes in hormone
levels causing deterioration of the junctions between the base
of the antler and the frontal bone. Providing that nutrition is
available, the number of points on antlers typically increase with
the age of the animal.

Distinguishing the different species, especially among the two

main deer species (Mule and White-tailed) can be done by
looking at the growth pattern on the antlers. Mule deer and
White-tailed deer have antlers that grow forward, while the main
branch of elk antlers grows backward over the body. Mule
deer’s antlers grow in branching y-shaped forked tines of equal
Mule Deer
size, whereas white-tailed deer antlers have a main forward
extending beem that has numerous points extending upwards
from in. Moose antlers are spatulate (flattened). Caribou
antlers are light and have both spatulate and non-spatulate
points. They are also asymmetric, in that the points don’t
necessarily match on either side of the head.

Skull – Cervids lack incisors on the upper jaw, but have rather a
horny plate against which the lower incisors articulate against.
The lower canine faces forward and looks like an incisor.
Moose (Alces alces)*
Elk (Cervus elaphus) *
Mule (Black-tailed) Deer (Odocoileus hemionus)*
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White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginiana) *

Caribou (Rangifer tarandus) *
Fallow deer (Cervus dama) introduced

Dental Formula: 0 1 3 3
3 1 3 3

White-tailed deer
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Appendix – Track and Scat guides – from the “Mammals of Algonquin Park”
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Ornithology and Mammalogy Lab Manual Biology 308