Urban Species Profile:: Hover Flies

One of my favorite insects to find in the city, and they’re incredibly easy to see if you know what to look for, are the hover flies. The family Syrphidae contains about 6,000 species (890 in North America). They’re known as Syrphid flies but more commonly they’re called hover flies or flower flies, and can be found around the world in a variety of habitats. You’ve possibly seen them but mistaken them for a bee, as many of them resemble them so convincingly, their images are often wrongly used on articles about bees. Look a little closer and you’ll see these are not bees; they have two wings like all in the Diptera (fly) family, while bees and wasps have four wings. They are identifiable from other flies because they have a ‘false vein’, or a vein between the third and fourth longitudinal veins that ends without attaching to other veins. It’s this false vein,…

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Urban Species Profile:: River Otter

While many species may come to mind with the term ‘urban wildlife’, otters are not likely among the first to come to mind. Despite this, they can be seen in urban areas. In fact in three of the last cities I’ve called home, I’ve seen River Otters in two of them.

River Otters can be found throughout most of North America in fresh and even salt water. While River Otters may be common throughout the region, they are less common in urban areas. When I saw a River Otter in Eugene, Oregon along the Millrace which runs through town, nobody believed me until I shared the photos to prove it wasn’t one of the abundant nutria. It wasn’t the last time I saw that otter during the three years we lived there either. However, they are most common in waterways and watersheds which contain clean water with healthy fish populations. You can…

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Urban Species Profile:: American Wigeon

Common Name: American Wigeon
Scientific Name: Anas americana
Family: Anatidae

The American Wigeon is a dabbling duck, which are ducks that tip their front ends into the water to forage while their back ends stick up in the air. They maintain a large geographic range, breeding as far north as the Bering Sea and wintering from Canada through Central America. They can be found in a wide range east to west as well and cover most of North and Central America at some point during the year. Their preferred breeding habitat are grasslands where they nest in proximity to water with cover in the form of grasses and other vegetation. During migration and winter, they frequent a wide variety of slow-moving water bodies including flooded agriculture fields, ponds and lakes. This attraction to small bodies of water often bring them into the urban environment where they can be found in park ponds, reservoirs and other small…

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Urban Species Profile:: Eight-spotted Skimmer

Common Name: Eight-spotted Skimmer
Scientific Name: Libellula forensis
Family: Libellulidae

The Eight-spotted Skimmer is a common urban dragonfly that can be found in many parks, wetlands and other landscapes with water. Their range includes the Pacific Northwest, northern California and east to the Rockies. The Skimmer family is the largest odonate family and also among the dragonflies most likely to be seen. They are further categorized among the Skimmer family as King Skimmers, a group which includes some of the most familiar species due to their large size and often conspicuous wing markings. They are considered perchers instead of fliers because they hawk prey much in the way flycatchers do as opposed to swallows. Members of this branch of Skimmers are interesting because unlike many other species of dragonflies, the King Skimmers point their abdomen down in the hot sun instead of pointing it upwards towards the sun, a practice called obelisking.

The Eight-spotted Skimmer is so…

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Urban Species Profile:: Pacific Chorus Tree Frog

Common Name: Pacific Chorus Tree Frog
Scientific Name: Pseudacris regilla
Family: Hylidae or Pseudacris (under debate)

The most widespread and abundant frog in the Pacific Northwest, the Pacific Tree Frog is also known as the Chorus Frog because they are one of the few frogs in the region which are often heard. Occurring from British Columbia south to Baja California, they also range to the east to Montana. They breed in a large variety of freshwater habitats including ponds, wetlands, lakes, slow streams as well as man-made structures such as retention ponds, ditches and reservoirs, most commonly in fishless bodies of water. Their ability to lay eggs nearly anywhere in a wide range of climates and habitats is likely responsible for their success. During the non-breeding season their range expands to any moist habitats including riparian corridors, woodlands, wet meadows and urban areas. In these habitats they can often be found under and in spaces such as…

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Urban Species Profile:: Jackdaw

Common Name: Jackdaw
Scientific Name: Corvus monedula
Family: Corvidae 

If you spend time in any European city, chances are very high you’ll come across the Jackdaw. Found throughout most of Europe with the exception of the far north, it’s a common bird in cities, mountains, sea cliffs, fields and other habitats. For the most part they’re residents and will breed in cities, often in or on human structures. Couples pair in their first year and mate for life and they can usually be found together even in large flocks, often times sitting very close together. The Jackdaw is a social bird forming flocks to roost or forage, at times with other species such as Rooks and Starlings. Within their own species, there is a hierarchy and a lead, or head bird in charge.

Jackdaws are the smallest of the ‘black crows’ and are dark gray, almost black with lighter gray neck and underparts…

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