Introducing Greenland’s Arctic Tern

Introducing Greenland’s Arctic Tern

April 26, 2015 by  
Filed under Features

In Greenland we find 235 different species of birds. Some of the most common species are the sea eagles, Arctic fulmars, black guillemots, eiders, ptarmigans and of course the Arctic terns.

Meet the Arctic Tern in Its Natural Habitat: Kitsissunnguit

The Arctic tern lives near the ocean or at the brim of lakes, and is found in great numbers in the archipelago Kitsissunnguit. Kitsissunnguit is located in Disko Bay, only a 1-2 hour boat ride away from the city Aasiaat. The islands of Kitsissunnguit have been preserved since 1988 due to the extensive birdlife and the many breeding Arctic terns. Birdwatchers still have access to the islands, giving bird lovers a unique view of the Arctic terns’ life in their natural environment.

Be Able to Identify the Arctic Tern

The Arctic tern is a relatively little bird, and it looks quite elegant with its white feathers and black forehead. It is approximately 33-39 cm in length and has a wingspan of 66-77 cm. The Arctic tern can become as old as 30 years and they live together in colonies when breeding. They mostly feed on small fish, such as capelins, fry and small crustaceans that live in the surface of the nearby ocean and lakes.

There isn’t much difference between the sexes, except for the males’ slightly longer tail feathers. When the terns are born they have a greyish or brownish down which is replaced with the white feathers with brown markings later on.

The Arctic terns start breeding at the age of two, arriving at Kitsissunnguit and places like it, in May and June before they go south for the winter. The Arctic tern is the longest flying bird, covering the immense distance from the Atlantic Sea to western Europe and along Africa’s west coast to the Antarctic waters. When reaching the coasts of Greenland, the Arctic terns start building their nests directly on the sandy beaches or in close vegetation near the lakes. They’ll then lay and nurture their eggs, and 21 days later the eggs will hatch and the youngs are born. The youngs stay in the nest for the next couple of days before they start exploring their nearby surroundings. After another 21 days the youngs start flying and they’re now all grown up.

An Incredibly Social Bird

The Arctic tern is a rather social bird that prefers to live together with a lot of other terns in big colonies. The colonies usually consist of 10,000-20,000 tern couples, and it is estimated that Greenland is visited by 65,000 mating couples in every heavy mating year.

With so many birds crammed together at a relatively small space gives the tern a great advantage relative to protecting themselves against predators. Most birds are threatened by dangers such as humans, foxes, gulls and falcons, but the terns are known for their ability to scare these off. It is so safe near the Arctic tern colonies, that other types of birds live right next to them for protection.

Article contributed by Mia Petersen

Fork-tailed Drongos: Marvelous Mimics

April 25, 2015 by  
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A recent study by evolutionary biologist Tom Flower of the University of Cape Town in South Africa has revealed that the African fork-tailed drongo mimics alarm calls of other species as part of its food gathering strategy. Wildlife observers in Africa have noted that the drongo is an accomplished thief, but it was thought that it was using its own alarm call to falsely alert other birds and meerkats that a predator was nearby, thereby causing them to drop their meal, which the drongo would swoop in and claim. It is estimated that the drongo steals more than twenty percent of its daily food. But the lengthy study carried out by Flower in the Kuruman River Reserve, located in the Kalahari Desert, yielded some astounding insight into the drongo’s ability to perfectly mimic a variety of bird and mammal species for its own advantage.

In the wild, birds and mammals often pay attention to other species in their environment when it comes to sounding the alarm. An extra pair of eyes and ears can be handy when it comes to safety. But as researchers have discovered, the drongo can’t be trusted. Perched high up in a tree a drongo watches with keen interest as meerkats forage, and when one of them catches something, an insect or lizard, the drongo sounds its own alarm call, anticipating that the meerkat will drop its prey and head for cover. However, the foraging meerkats are likely to ignore the drongo after it has used its own alarm call a few times. Undaunted, the drongo will switch to the alarm call of another bird species, often with successful results.

During the study, Flower and his colleagues tracked and recorded the calls of 42 drongos as they attempted to steal food from the same target. It was noted that of the 151 recorded incidents, the drongos switched to a different alarm call a total of 74 times. After giving its own alarm call without success, a drongo may give the alarm call of its target, which general proved successful.

Flower notes that he doubts the birds have ‘theory of mind’ – the ability to understand that another being has different beliefs and intentions – which is currently only attributable to humans. It’s more likely that they are responding to feedback, or have an ability to grasp cause and effect, and use this to their advantage. Nonetheless, this is another example of the keen intelligence of the feathered creatures that share our planet.

Conservation of birds through national heritage: A new and innovative approach

April 22, 2015 by  
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Currency bills, coins and postage stamps all significantly contribute towards the national heritage of any nation. They bear the mark of important aspects of national history, archaeology, reflects images of different heads of states, significant contributors, historic characters, politicians, monarchs, emperors, lawmakers, mythological characters, statesmen, politicians, national architecture and monuments, national historic and heritage sites, different national symbols, people, social and cultural life of a nation, national sports, national and international sports events and sports personalities, celebrities, aboriginal communities, arts and crafts, wildlife, and natural resources to name only a few. In short, currency bills, coins and postage stamps carry the glimpses of a nation in their own right and often serve as an important window to peep through the steps of history to study, appreciate and understand the socio-cultural context of any nation or a country, both young and old. The practice of systematic study of currency is known as numismatics and the collection of coins is now considered to be a part of that although may not necessarily include both; while the collection of stamps is broadly called philately. The collectors of different currencies are therefore regarded as numismatists; while the stamp collectors are popularly known as philatelists.

Severe anthropogenic impacts across the globe have severely and negatively impacted the natural ecosystems, biomes, habitats and environments. As a consequence, global wildlife including avifauna have been significantly impacted due to environmental pollution, climate change, spread and dissemination of different diseases, uncontrolled and unattended forest fires, habitat destruction and habitat fragmentation, illegal infringements and grazing in protected areas, capture, hunting and poaching of several vulnerable species, introduction of exotic species, infrastructural developments in fragile ecosystems and expansion of agriculture  and industries among several other important factors. The currency bills, coins and postage stamps of different countries have been increasingly reflecting the local wildlife, including avifauna, as an important national heritage and resource. This silent approach has an important nationalistic as well as international appeal in prioritizing wildlife and avifauna conservation.

Several currency bills, coins and postage stamps have now been specifically designed and released to address the avifauna hallmark of different modern nations. Such iconic and socio-cultural bonding to national avifauna resources could be well connected and utilized for conservation of several threatened, vulnerable, endangered, critically endangered avifauna members around the globe. These not only help in communicating the message of conservation of birds of national, regional and local importance among local community members; but also carry the universal message of bird conservation through dedicated numismatists and philatelists to the international community. Global avian members are being challenged with several natural as well as anthropogenic factors that are threatening several vulnerable species with the risks of extinction. Hence it is important to utilize every possible opportunity for portraying the need for avian conservation. The iconographic presentation of different species of birds through currency bills, coins and postage stamps is an important, innovative and interesting avenue in popularizing conservation of different avifauna members.  This could be considered as a new and important approach in capturing avian conservation through national heritage and iconography. Several responsible nations across the continents of Asia, Africa, Australia, the Americas and Europe have already come forward in using bird icons in their currency bills, coins and postage stamps. However, more countries need to be involved, particularly the developing and under developed nations of Asia, Africa and Latin America that represent the bulk of the grandeurs of global avian biodiversity. By working together, we could utilize this innovative avenue to be an important ambassador for popularizing conservation of birds among global communities.

Article contributed by Saikat Kumar Basu

BIRDOPIA

April 12, 2015 by  
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This essay is primarily about a collection of photos of certain birds found in the sprawling and lush campus of the University of Hyderabad, Hyderabad, India. It includes birds like, Red-ringed Parrot, Asian Paradise Flycatcher, Golden Indian Oriole, Green Bee-Eater, Indian Pond Heron, King Fisher, Little Black Cormorant, Oriental White eye, Red-wattled Lapwing and Spotted owlet.  The photographs capture the everyday behaviour of the birds within the natural spaces of the campus.

Although birds are delicate and small in appearance yet they have inspired some of the most challenging human quests for freedom, flight, beauty and nurture. But what have we given them in return? I ask myself this question, as I see the city gradually replacing its rocks and trees with glass and steel corporate structures.

Birds in and around Gachibowli, a place which is fast becoming a symbol of India’s hyper-modern corporate sheen, seem to have found refuge in the campus. The calm and green expanse of this institution has become a ‘Birdopia’: a place where these birds can live, love and laugh, freely. The purpose of this collection is not only to highlight the beauty and diversity of the birds but also their discovery of an almost utopic space within the swamps, trees and gardens of the university.

 

Indian Red-ringed Parrots

Asian Paradise Flycatcher

Indian Golden Oriole

Green Bee-Eater

Indian Pond Heron

Indian Kingfisher

Little Black Cormorant

Oriental White Eye

Red-watteld Lapwing

Spotted Owlet

Article contributed by Jhilam Chattaraj

The Mississippi Flyway: An Essential Migration Route

April 7, 2015 by  
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Starting in central Canada and stretching to the Gulf of Mexico, the Mississippi Flyway is the name given to the route followed by birds migrating from their breeding grounds in North America to their wintering grounds in the south. The flyway includes Canada’s Mackenzie River which flows north through uninhabited forest and tundra into the Arctic Ocean, with tributaries reaching southwards, feeding into and out of a number of lakes, including the Great Slave Lake, Great Bear Lake and Lake Athabasca. As the name suggests, the Mississippi Flyway follows the route of the Mississippi River in the United States – North America’s largest river system. Originating in northern Minnesota, the slow-flowing river travels southwards for a distance of 2,530 miles, cutting through, or forming a border for, the states of Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Kentucky and Tennessee to before emptying into the Mississippi River Delta at the Gulf of Mexico.

According to Audubon, nearly half of the bird species and up to forty percent of the waterfowl of North America spend part of their lives in the Mississippi Flyway. With spectacular forests, grasslands and wetlands, the route provides good sources of food and water, with no mountainous areas to navigate along the entire route. The greatest elevation above sea level along the route is below 2,000 feet. The route is used by large numbers of geese, ducks, shorebirds, sparrows, blackbirds, thrushes and warblers, the majority of which cut across the Gulf of Mexico, providing excellent birding opportunities along the coasts of Louisiana and Texas.

Unfortunately, years of exploitation of natural resources by man has taken its toll on the environment, with waterways being diverted for irrigation having an impact on the habitat that birds and other wildlife rely on. A combination of dams, locks and levees have reduced the Mississippi to less than ten percent of its original floodplain with an estimated nineteen square miles of delta wetlands disappearing annually. Thanks to the efforts of Audubon, which has offices in Minnesota, Indiana, Ohio, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi, efforts to preserve habitats along the Mississippi Flyway are making a difference to the birds that make use of the route each year. Audubon is currently focusing intensive conservation efforts on twenty-seven bird species along the Mississippi Flyway, namely: Mottled Duck; Greater Prairie-Chicken; Brown Pelican; Little Blue Heron; Reddish Egret; Swallow-tailed Kite; Clapper Rail; Snowy Plover; Wilson’s Plover; Piping Plover; American Oystercatcher; Upland Sandpiper; Ruddy Turnstone; Red Knot; Sanderling; Western Sandpiper; Short-billed Dowitcher; Least Tern; Black Skimmer; Prothonotary Warbler; Swainson’s Warbler; Cerulean Warbler; Grasshopper Sparrow; Henslow’s Sparrow; Seaside Sparrow; Bobolink; and Eastern Meadowlark.

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