American crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)

The American crow, the more you know about them the more interesting they are. Crows are a large, intelligent, all-black bird with a hoarse, cawing voice that is familiar over much the continent. They are common sights in treetops, fields, and roadsides, and in habitats ranging from open woods and empty beaches to town centers. They usually feed on the ground and eat almost anything, including earthworms, insects and other small animals, seeds, and fruit as well as garbage and chicks they rob from nests.

American crows are very social, sometimes forming flocks in the thousands. In the winter, American crows congregate in larger numbers to sleep in communal roosts. These roosts can consist of a few hundred up to two million crows. Some roosts have been forming in the same general area for well over 100 years. These birds also have a reputation for being inquisitive, somewhat mischievous and good learners and problem-solvers. American crows are also known to work together to harass or drive off predators, a behavior known as mobbing. This interesting video features a crow solving 8 puzzles in a row in order to reach food.

The crow has also been the subject of Native American legends, including this one: http://nativeamericans.mrdonn.org/stories/raven.html

Western gull (Larus occidentalis)

The Western gull is a large, white-headed gull that lives on the west coast of North America between British Columbia and Baja, California. This species is an exclusively marine gull that is seldom encountered inland. It nests on offshore islands and rocks along the coast as well as islands inside estuaries. Within nesting colonies, long term pairs aggressively defend territories whose borders may shift slightly from year to year, but are maintained for the life of the male. The Western gull typically lives 15 years, but can live as long as 25 years.

Western gulls are omnivores and eat a variety of things including fish and other aquatic invertebrates. Like many other gull species, Western gulls drop hard-shelled items from the air to break them on hard surfaces. The Western gull is highly opportunistic and will steal unguarded eggs or chicks of other species. They will also situate colonies near sea lion breeding colonies and scavenge dead pups.

Because of their opportunistic nature and adaptability, gulls can thrive in urban environment. However, living in close proximity to human environs means these birds are also subject to abnormal environmental pressures. For example, when their normal sources of food are diminished, gulls are quick to take advantage of an easy food source such as a trash and leftover scraps. By exploiting unnatural food resources their population may be growing larger than it would normally thus upsetting the ecosystem balance. Next time you visit the beach be sure to take your extra food home and pick up any trash to prevent Western gulls and other seabirds from eating foods outside their typical diet.

Harlequin duck (Histrionicus histrionicus)

The distinctive Harlequin duck is a  beautiful small sea duck with a small bill, short neck, and long tail. Males in breeding plumage are unmistakable with their dark blue color, reddish brown sides and crown, and striking white patterning on the face, neck, sides, and back. Unlike most waterfowl that prefer quiet marshes, the Harlequin duck breeds on fast-flowing streams and winters along rocky coastlines in the crashing surf.

Harlequin ducks are well adapted to their harsh surroundings. They make their way against the current and easily climb up steep and slippery rocks, although many have been found with broken bones presumably from being dashed against rocks in the rough surf. Like other diving ducks, they forage underwater for crustaceans and mollusks, insects, and small fish found in riverine and marine habitats.

The Harlequin duck is sometimes called a sea mouse for its very unducklike squeaks. You can listen to the Harlequin duck here.