Launched by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) in January 2007, the EDGE of Existence program is a global conservation initiative that focuses on threatened species with unique evolutionary characteristics. EDGE is an acronym for Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered, which sums up some of the criteria for being included on the EDGE list. Recently scientists from the ZSL and Yale University assessed the 9,993 recorded bird species in the world and listed the top 100 according to various scientific parameters. The top ten on the list, from one to ten, includes the giant ibis (Thaumatibis gigantea); the New Caledonian owlet-nightjar (Aegotheles savesi); the California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus); the kakapo (Strigops habroptila); the kagu (Rhynochetos jubatus); Bengal florican (Houbaropsis bengalensis); the Forest owlet (Heteroglaux blewitti); the Philippine eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi); Christmas Island frigatebird (Fregata andrewsi); and the Sumatran ground cuckoo (Carpococcyx viridis).
As the world’s largest ibis, the giant ibis measures up to 106 cm in length with an upright standing height of up to a meter and weighing 4.2 kg on average. They have long, curved beaks that they use for foraging in shallow waters and between vegetation, with their diets including aquatic invertebrates, crustaceans, small reptiles and amphibians, as well as earthworms, locusts, mole-crickets, cicadas and other insects. Their feathers are dark gray-brown in color, with silver-grey wing tips and black crossbars. Their heads are dark grey in color and devoid of feathers and their eyes are dark red. Their legs are orange and they have yellow-brown beaks. There are thought to be only 230 pairs of giant ibis left in the wild, and these are all located in northern Cambodia, although there have been unconfirmed sightings in southern Laos and in Vietnam’s Yok Don National Park. Because of their remote location, not much is known about the lifespan and breeding patterns of these giant birds, however, it is known that they nest in trees, generally away from human settlements, and the female lays two eggs which both parents tend to.
As is the case with many endangered bird species around the world, the greatest threat to the giant ibis is humans who clear the wetlands for cultivation and decimate forests for timber, while the increase in human populations results in domestic settlements encroaching on previously unoccupied land. Conflict in the region has also wreaked havoc on bird populations, and the giant ibis is hunted as a food source.
There are some ecotourism initiatives in the region which draw attention to the plight of the giant ibis, but the fact remains that it is considered critically endangered and is in need of protection to prevent it from becoming extinct. Programs such as Edge bring the plight of these endangered birds to the attention of the public, increasing their chances of becoming the focus of conservation efforts.
Through its displays of superb wood-carvings, representing close to 500 birds from 258 species, the Birds of Vermont Museum offers visitors the opportunity to discover the diverse birdlife of the State of Vermont. The life-like carvings are displayed in settings closely resembling the habitats each species would favor in its natural surroundings. As a non-profit organization, the museum is dedicated to educating the public, while encouraging an appreciation of the environment and the wildlife, particularly of the feathered kind, that depends on the environment remaining intact.
Most of the museum’s birds have been carved by Robert Spear, Jr., a local naturalist and author who founded the museum to pursue his goal of using biologically and anatomically accurate wood carvings to teach both children and adults about the essential role birds play in the ecosystem. The museum’s collection is arranged in four major groups in accordance with their habitat – Wetlands in Spring and Fall; Endangered and Extinct; Special Exhibit; and Nesting Birds and Raptors.
The Wetlands in Spring and Fall category features a loon family, spring and autumn migration scenes, and two wetland dioramas. The Endangered and Extinct category features a range of birds, as well as an Archaeopteryx – a genus of theropod dinosaur controversially believed to have been the oldest known bird. The intricately carved California condor is one of the largest of Bob Spear’s works and took him more than 500 hours to complete. The Special Exhibit located near the Autumn Migration Diorama consists of a Turkey which took the meticulous artist two years to complete. The Nesting Birds and Raptors display is in the main gallery and features all the nesting birds of Vermont in their respective nests displayed in more than 120 glass cases, while raptors in flight hang from the ceiling overhead. A Winter Diorama displays birds that only visit the area during the wintertime, and then only if their food supplies have run out in their northern habitats. The balcony off the main gallery features hawks and their prey, as well as a magnificent Bald Eagle.
The Birds of Vermont Museum is located in a 100-acre nature conservation area, and in addition to viewing the wood-carved birds, visitors can stroll along the various trails and participate in early morning Bird Monitoring walks, and students can sign up as volunteers to assist with various projects. This unique and fascinating museum is an enduring testament to the efforts of a group of people dedicated to sharing nature’s wonders with others.
Back in 1987, the California condor was considered to be extinct in the wild, with only twenty-seven birds remaining in captivity. Now, thanks to conservation and breeding projects, America’s largest flying bird is making a comeback, and today there are a recorded number of 394 California condors in the US, with 181 of those being out in the wild.
Michael Mace of San Diego Zoo and Safari Park has noted that, all being well, a count of 400 should be reached by the end of the breeding season, a number that has not been recorded since the 1930s. It is also hoped that the wild population of California condor will reach 200 by the end of the year – with some human intervention to counteract a man-made problem. Condor’s feed on marine animal carcasses, but due to the run-off of DDT into the oceans, where it breaks down into a chemical known as DDE (Dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene) and is absorbed by marine life, the birds land up eating the harmful chemical, resulting in weakened egg shells. To overcome this, conservationists replace the thin-shelled eggs with eggs that have been laid by captive birds, and these eggs are hatched naturally by the wild birds. The weakened eggs are then placed in incubators to hatch under the watchful eye of researchers. Although DDT has been banned in the US, it is still used in neighboring countries, entering rivers that run off into the ocean, creating a problem beyond the control of US authorities.
The natural habitat of the California condor is wooded mountains and scrublands. The birds have been reintroduced into the wilderness areas of California and Arizona. As scavengers that feed on dead carcasses, these huge birds are not fussy about what they eat and will tuck into rodents, rabbits, deer, cattle, sheep or fish. However, when the birds feed on animals that have been killed with buckshot, it results in lead poisoning.
Despite the obstacles, conservationists are confident that their efforts are worthwhile. There are currently four breeding centers involved in the hatching of California condor eggs – the San Diego Zoo, the Safari Park, the World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise, and the Oregon Zoo in Portland – with a satisfying degree of success.
Bird Species A-B
- Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus)
- African Fish Eagle (Haliaeetus vocifer)
- American Avocets (Recurvirostra americana)
- American Bittern (Botaurus lentiginosus)
- American Coot (Fulica americana)
- American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis)
- American Kestrel (Falco sparverious)
- American Oystercatcher (Haematopus palliates)
- American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos)
- Andean Condors (Vultur gryphus)
- Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga)
- Arctic Loon (Gavia arctica)
- Ashy Storm-Petrel (Oceanodroma homochroa)
- Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica)
- Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
- Bee Hummingbird (Mellisuga helenae)
- Black Swift (Cypseloides niger)
- Black-Capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapilla)
Birds of prey, or raptors, are birds which hunt other animals for food and are specially adapted to do so. Birds of prey include eagles, condors, kites, falcons, hawks, osprey, owls, vultures, buzzards and secretary birds.
When hunting, birds of prey use their highly adapted feet and talons to capture and kill prey. Hawks and owls will grab prey from the ground and then kill it by crushing it in their feet. Falcons use speed to effectively kill prey by plummeting down from high up and striking with its feet. Peregrine falcons reach speeds of up to 90 mph/145kph
Birds of prey are carnivorous and gain certain nutrients from the stomach contents of their prey. The entire prey animal is devoured by the bird of prey and later pellets of undigested matter are regurgitated. Falcons have a nook (notch) on their upper bill to break the neck of prey. Vultures have especially large, strong beaks to rip through hide and break bones.
Birds of prey have a highly developed sense of sight, far better than our own, and females are larger than the males (except for vultures and secretary birds) as they need to defend their nestlings.
The heaviest bird of prey is the Andean condor, it weighs in at 27 pounds (12 kg) which is a lot to carry in flight. The largest, however, are the eagles and vultures with wingspans of about 10 feet (3m). The most powerful bird of prey is the Harpy Eagle. The Harpy Eagle’s wingspan is 6.5 feet (2m) and their talons can be as long as 5 inches (12.5cm).
To truly experience birds of prey why not visit a local rehabilitation center and view them up close. Many places offer falconry demonstrations where you can see these wonderful birds in action. If you are interested in finding out what birds of prey are in your area consult a region specific field guide.
Any opportunity to see birds of prey in action will be an awe-inspiring and unforgettable experience.