Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus rubber)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus rubber) can be found in North and South America, Asia, across Europe and in Africa. Standing at approximately five feet, the Flamingo, ranks amongs the tallest birds on the planet. Their distinctive pink plumage, large bodies and long pale pink legs make them unique. The beak of the Greater Flamingo is shaped at 45 degrees, is light of color with a black tip and assists them in filtration and pumping while they feed. Interestingly enough, the Greater Flamingo’s coloring is a result of the crustaceans that they eat. Flamingos that are housed in zoos are given dyes such as flamen oil or a beta-keratin coloring additive to ensure that they do not lose their coloring. Male and female Flamingo’s are similar, with the males being taller.

The Flamingo has webbed feet and an extremely long neck. Having webbed feet allows them to swim, but most importantly it helps them stir up organisms such as algae, diatoms, protozoa and insect larvae on which they feed. Flamingos also eat worms, crustaceans  and mollusks. The feeding process of the Greater Flamingo is very specialized. Flamingos will spend most of their day with their heads bent down, filtering water through their beaks. Their beaks contain a lamellae, which is a sieve-like structure, that is thin and can be described as a comb. Their fleshy tongues are used to suck water in the beak and then force it back out again. The bolus of food that is nearly dry after the water is forced from their beaks, goes to the back of their mouths and is swallowed simultaneously with the next water intake. The Greater Flamingos feed in large groups as this ensures safety by numbers when they have their heads down. Big flocks can also create a lot of noise, and when they are not feeding they flap their wings, preen themselves or stand in beautiful postures. Flight and migration takes place at night, and during flight Flamingos have both their legs and necks outstretched.

Flamingos are filter feeders, and are therefore found by lakes and lagoons, or watery areas that have the right water depth and mud to sustain the flamingos’ feeding process. They will only breed when they are in large numbers, and even though some build new nests, it is known that many use the same nest each year. Breeding takes place during March and July and the birds generally form a pair bond that is long term. Flamingos will built their nests on the waters edge from mud, and it is approximately 35 to 40 centimeters in diameter and 25 centimeters high. The female will lay only one egg that is white in color with a red yolk. Both parents take care of the egg that has a 28 to 32 day incubation period. Chicks are gray in color with a pink bill. The chicks are able to leave the nest after a few days, and parents will only feed their own chick. For 4 to 6 weeks, the chicks will be fed by their parents, and fledge the nest at three months. Fledglings will group together and only reach full size between the ages of 1 to 2 years. Adult plumage is only acquired during the ages of 2 to 4 years, and the long maturing process is suggested to relate to the long life span of the Flamingo. The Greater Flamingo can live to between 25 to 60 years of age.

Horned Grebe (Podiceps auritus)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Horned Grebe (Podiceps auritus), also known as the Slavonian Grebe, can be found both in North America and Eurasia and it is considered to be widespread and abundant. However, there is a place in Canada known as the Iles-de-la-Madeleine where a small population of Horned Grebe has been breeding since at least 1989. Their numbers remain small and have ranged from between six to fourteen individuals, yet still this small cluster of birds continues to exist. Because the population is so small and fragile, it is carefully monitored by the Canadian Wildlife Service yet its origin and continued existence remains a mystery to most.

Generally speaking, the Horned Grebe is 31-38 cm in length with a 55-64 cm wingspan. Both sexes are similar in shape, size and color with a small, stocky body and a short, thin bill. The bill is normally black in color while the head is blocky in shape with a ‘peak’ at the back. The feet are set quite far back and it has white secondaries which are visible in flight. The adult normally has a black cap, hindneck and back, while its flanks, belly and foreneck are white in colour. However, during breeding season most birds come to have a golden strip which extends from the eye to the back of the head. This is combined with a reddish neck and flanks and a dark back with a white belly. The bird’s ‘horns’ are actually small little yellowish patches of feathers which can be found behind the birds eyes. The Horned Grebe can raise and lower these at will giving the bird the appearance of having ‘horns’.

The Horned Grebe generally nests near permanent but shallow ponds with good vegetation and open water. Once they have hatched, Horned Grebe chicks often ride on the backs of their parents as they swim about – in fact they may even go underwater with them during dives. Most find it interesting to note that the Horned Grebe usually eats some of its own feathers – so many, in fact that they usually form a plug in the birds stomach. This plug may work to filter potentially harmful items – such as fish bones – out of food and keep them in the stomach until they have been properly digested. This ‘plug’ is a normal part of life for the bird and adult Horned Grebes may even feed their young feathers in order to help them develop a plug.

Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) is probably one of the best known plover species in America. Commonly seen in parking lots, fields and farms, the Killdeer is renowned for its clever predator evasion tactics. A farmer’s friend, the Killdeer is certainly well-worth getting to know. Join us as we learn more about this fascinating bird.

America’s Killdeer is a stunning bird and quickly identified. Its length measures in at between 20 and 28 cm and its wingspan at 46 to 48 cm. It is much the same size as a typical robin, but its legs are much longer. Most notable are the two thick black bands running across the Killdeer’s white chest. The rump, tail and lower back are also a distinctive orange color. The Killdeer’s throat and short neck are white and a white band marks the forehead, with a black band just above. to the side of each eye is a striking white eyestripe. The Killdeer’s wings and upperback are brown and the wings are boldly striped with white, typically seen when flying. This beautiful bird is very vocal and emits a loud kill-deeah sound.

The Killdeer has been classified as a shorebird, but it is frequently seen far off from water in pastures, on golf courses and at airfields. They are quick runners and fantastic fliers. During the summer the Killdeers nest in southern Canada, their range stretching from Newfoundland all the way to British Columbia and up to Alaska. They also nest through the United States and into Mexico. Winters are spent in Long Island and the coasts of British Columbia and the north of South America. Migration is slow and flight takes place in the day and night. Killdeers are keen insect eaters, dining on beetles, worms, grasshoppers, bugs, dragon flies, caterpillars and other creatures which cause damage to farmers’ crops. They also feed on other types of invertebrates including spiders, snails, crustacea, centipedes and so forth.

Nests are simple scrapes in the ground which may be lined. A clutch of 4 to 6 eggs is laid and incubation lasts 22 to 30 days. The hatching chicks are precocial and hop out of the nest as soon as their soft down feathers have dried. As mentioned already, the Killdeer has remarkable skills when it comes to guarding its nest and young. Should a grazing animal accidentally wander too close, the adult Killdeer will run toward the animal with its wings outstretched. If the intruder is a predator the parents will fly about, calling loudly. This is followed by a distraction display of feigning injury. This “injured” bird keeps just out of reach of the threatening individual so as to draw it away from the nest. As the predator moves far enough away from the nest and the young have had time to take cover, the Killdeer parent flies off.

Manx Shearwater (Puffinus puffinus)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Manx Shearwater (Puffinus puffinus) is part of the Shearwater family and is extremely distinctive from his counterparts. It is a medium sized Shearwater and is 34 centimeters in length, with a wingspan of 81 to 86 centimeters. It is the coloring of the Manx Shearwater that makes them easy to identify. The upper body parts, such at the head, neck, back and the upper part of the wings, are gold in coloring and the plumage is brown to black. Their throats, bellies and under wing areas are white. Their hooked shaped bills are black, with the tail and eyes also being dark in color. The Manx Shearwater forages for food on the surface of the water, but also dives to find fish, mollusks and shellfish.

In the winter months the Manx Shearwater migrates to the coastal areas of South America, and during the breeding season they are found in the United Kingdom, specifically on the island of Lundy. Most of the world’s Manx population migrates to Lundy to breed, and the conservation of these birds is top priority. The conservation has reached a point of urgency, as the 1000 breeding pairs that were recorded in 2001 have declined to 166. This dramatic fall in numbers is a major concern, and the island is currently working on managing the rat population, as they are responsible for many of the eggs being destroyed. The birds start arriving at night during the months of February and March. Burrows and rock crevices on top of the slopes are used for nests. The female Manx Shearwater lays only one egg that is black and orange in color. Both the male and female are responsible for the incubation of the eggs that lasts approximately 52 to 54 days. The chicks are ready to fledge the nest in September, but remain very near to the breeding colony until October.

The Calf of Man, a small island just off Isle of Man, has seen an increase in the number of breeding pairs after the removal of many of the rats that were accidentally introduced to the island by a shipwreck. The oldest Manx Shearwater that has been recorded was aged 55. After being tagged at the age of five in 1953, the bird was trapped again in 2003, alive and well. An ongoing Manx Shearwater conservation project on the Isle of Rum ensures that baby birds get a fighting chance to make it to adulthood.

Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) is a dabbling duck that is between 15 to 16 inches in length and has a wingspan of approximately 36 inches. The male Mallard has a green head, a very distinctive white ring around his neck that separates the green plumage from the chestnut colored breast and gray back. The flanks and upper wing coverts are gray in color, black under their tail and the tail is white. Wing linings are generally silver-white, but the Mallard does alternate in plumage during the fall and early summer months. Females have orange bills and the males have yellow bills. She also has a brown face, dark cap and tan and mottled brown plumage coloring.

This dabbling duck is the most commonly found duck across Europe and North America. Unfortunately, they are also the most hunted ducks, and therefore, the conservation authorities keep monitoring the population numbers and the species. The Mallard can also be sighted in other areas and countries, as many of these areas have introduced the Mallard into their regions, wherever they are not naturally located. They are commonly seen in parks, wetlands and other watery areas.

The Mallard is an omnivore, which means that it will eat basically anything, including wheat, barley, seeds, berries, insects, tadpoles, small fish and even freshwater snails. Being a dabbling duck, they do not dive under water to feed, but will dip their heads. During the mating season, the Mallard males will give elaborate displays on the water before copulation. Usually, the male will only mate with one partner, but it is also common to see the male chase a single female and force copulation. Displays and partner finding can be seen throughout the winter months, while breeding season is only in spring. The partnership is short lived, as the males will leave the female as soon as they start laying eggs and form a group with the other males. The female lays her eggs at intervals, and can lay between 9 to 13 eggs. She will only start incubation after she has laid her last eggs. The incubation period is 27 to 28 days, and the ducklings all hatch within a day. They are then led to water, where the female will take care of them.

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