Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo)

February 9, 2009 by  
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For many, the turkey is simply a large bird that you eat traditionally at Thanksgiving dinner. Few realize that there are two different species of turkey and that the Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) is the heaviest of the two. The Wild Turkey is found naturally in North America and the other species – known as Ocellated Turkey – can be found in Central and South America. While the Ocellated Turkey is easily domesticated and has even been successfully introduced to Europe, it has been found that the best way to introduce Wild Turkeys to other regions is to capture wild groups and then release them at the desired location.

The Wild Turkey is a large, darkly coloured, ground-dwelling bird. The head and neck are bare and the head is bluish in colour while the throat is a strong red. These birds have a short, slightly down-curved bill and long, powerful reddish-orange legs. On the head there are a number of fleshy growths known as caruncles. There is also a fleshy flap on the turkey’s bill which expands and becomes engorged with blood when the turkey is excited. The average bird is between 110-115 cm long with a wingspan of 125-144 cm. The male is generally larger than the female and has red wattles on the throat and neck as well as spurs on their lower legs. Male turkeys may also have red, green copper, bronze and shiny gold on their feathers while females are quite dull. Turkeys have a long, fan-shaped tail with glossy bronze wings. The Wild Turkey of North America has a chestnut-brown tail while the Ocellated Turkey of Central and South America has a white tail. This makes it easy to distinguish between the resident wild birds and those re-introduced as a farm animal by European settlers who had bred with original Mexican stock in Europe.

While the most commonly recognised turkey sound is a ‘gobble’ noise, the bird is capable of making many other sounds. During breeding season, Wild Turkeys move out of heavily wooded areas to places with greater visibility. This may include pastures, fields, open woods and sometimes even quiet roads. These open areas give the birds a quick means of escape. The hens usually nest near the base of a tree or shrub, though they may also make use of tall grass. When they are not nesting, Wild Turkeys generally roost in trees. The males are polygamous and they may have as many as five hens in their territory. After performing several courtship rituals, the male mates with the females who then go off to search for nesting sites. Once they have found a suitable depression, the hen lays between 10-12 eggs which are incubated for 28 days. Being nidifugous, these young chicks quickly learn how to feed themselves and leave the nest between 12-24 hours later. Wild Turkeys are omnivourous and they feed on shrubs and small trees as well as acorns, nuts, berries, roots and insects. They may also eat snakes, frogs and salamanders.

Ostrich (Struthio camelus)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Ostrich (Struthio camelus) is undoubtedly the largest bird on the planet. Ostriches can grow to a height of 2.7 meters and can easily weigh in the region of 156 kilograms. They have no plumage over their heads, and extremely long necks. The male Ostrich is covered in thick, soft black feathers over his body and wings, with white plumage at the tips of his wings and tail. The female is similar in appearance, with gray and brown coloring. Ostriches also have the biggest eyes of any bird species, and the eyeball measures 5 centimeters. These beautiful flightless birds used to naturally roam Asia and Africa, but as the human knows no limits where there is profit to be made, these birds were hunted to near extinction for their feathers. Today they are still found in the wild, but are limited to southern Africa and central Africa. Many countries have started farming with these flightless birds, causing them to be introduced to various areas. The decrease in the demand for ostrich feathers has insured the survival of the population. Ostriches are now farmed not only for their feathers but also for meat and eggs.

Ostriches live off fruit, nuts, seeds, lizards, succulents and shrubs. To adapt to the dry, desert regions, they are able to get water through the plants. Stones are often eaten to assist with food digestion. As the Ostrich is not capable of flying, they are capable of running speeds of up to 70 kilometers an hour, and their powerful legs can fatally injure predators. Even though Ostriches are not dependant on water, they enjoy taking a bath or refreshing splash when they are able to. In the wild, the Ostriches tend to move together with the antelope and other grazing animals. They themselves are usually in flocks of up to 50 birds, but will tend to break into smaller groups during the breeding season, which is approximately five months.

Once the smaller breeding groups have been established, a hole is dug into the ground that serves as a communal nest. Between 15 to 60 eggs are laid in the nest that are approximately 18 centimeters in length, 11 centimeters in width and can weigh about 1400 grams. These shiny, creamy white eggs can stand the weight of a human. The incubation period is close to 40 days, and the females take turns during the day, and the males at night, to incubate the eggs. If an Ostrich feels threatened while on the nest, they will stretch their necks out along the ground to avoid detection, and do not stick their heads into the ground as many believe. The town of Oudtshoorn, in South Africa, is the largest Ostrich farming community in the world. At present there are approximately 900,000 domesticated Ostriches in this region. Here, you are able to visit the farms, be educated on these amazing birds, see the various product ranges and even ride one, if you are brave enough!

Skylark (Alauda arvensis)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Skylark, or as it is scientifically known, Alauda arvensis, is a small greyish-brown passerine bird species with streaks all over its upper body and a pure white belly. They are about 16 to 18 cm long with the male lark having broader wings than that of the female for more efficient hovering. Like other larks, the skylark is not a spectacular looking bird but is rather a dull species with a short, stout crest on their heads, which they can lower or raise, and stout legs. A lot of their time is spent foraging for food on the ground as they eat mainly seeds and insects especially in the breeding season.

When the skylark takes flight it sings a beautiful song, which can be clearly heard by all, although it can be difficult to see him as he flies 50 to 100 m above the ground, staying in one spot. The song lasts for about 2 to 3 minutes but lasts longer as the season changes and it gets later in the year. When they fly away from you, you can see their short broad wings and short tail because of the white tail and edges of the wings.

The Skylark breeds mainly throughout Britain and Europe, in the mountains of North Africa and in certain parts of Asia. The eastern populations are a more migratory type bird, moving south for the winter. Even the western populations will move to the coast and lowlands for the winter. The skylark enjoys open areas like cultivated land, heath land and meadows. The skylark also uses the ground to make a grass nest, which it hides in between the foliage making it difficult to find. The female will then lay between 3 to 6 eggs during June and may have a second and third brood later on in the year. The eggs are an off-white with brownish-purple spots near the large end of the egg.

In the last 30 years the UK skylarks have decreased in numbers to the point of there being only 10% of what was recorded three decades ago. This large decline in the population seems to be connected to changing farming practices more than because of the pesticides used. Before cereals were planted in spring, grown through the summer months and harvested in early autumn but now that has changed, which has made it harder for the skylark to find food.

Bird Breeding Season: The Good News And The Bad News

October 29, 2008 by  
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The RSPB has been particularly excited, and also perplexed, at the highs and lows in bird populations this breeding season. On the one hand, it appears that many of their conservation efforts have paid off with the organization enjoying one of the best bird breeding seasons on record. However, at the same time a number of more common bird species are clearly struggling to deal with climatic changes and their numbers are dwindling.

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Crossbills Acting Cross-Eyed

August 12, 2008 by  
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It seems that a group of rare two-barred crossbills ‘looked’ at their internal compasses a little cross-eyed since they took a wrong turn and ended up in a remote, windswept outcrop of Scottish islands. No doubt the birds came in search of food but it is unlikely that they’re going to find their favorite snack – larch and spruce cones – this far north.

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