Spectacular Courtship Ritual of Peafowl

April 4, 2015 by  
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Best known for the spectacular courtship display put on by the males of the species, peafowl originate in Asia and belong to the genus Pavo of the Phasianidae (pheasant) family. While the term “peacock” is often used to describe the entire species, irrespective of sex, “peacock” is the correct term for the male in the species, with the female being referred to as a “peahen” and their offspring are known as “pea chicks”. The name for a group of peafowl – pride or ostentation – is very descriptive and this colorful bird has long been associated with high social standing and royalty, particularly in Asian cultures. It also features in Hindu mythology as the mount of the god of war, Karthikeya.

The species of peafowl are the Indian Peafowl (Pavo cristatus), the Green Peafowl (Pavo muticus) and Congo Peafowl (Afropavo congensis). The Indian Peafowl is found in South Asia and is the national bird of India. The male of the species has a brilliantly blue colored body and head, which is topped by a fan-like crest of feathers. Its most prominent feature is its long train of upper-tail covert feathers covered in colorful, iridescent spots resembling eyes. During courtship, this breathtakingly beautiful tail is spread out into a fan and quivered by the male in an attempt to attract a mate. The female of the species has a duller brown plumage with its neck being a greenish color. Although they can fly and often roost in tall trees, Indian Peafowl are usually found on the ground, where they forage for berries, grains and other plant material, with lizards, snakes and small rodents also being on the menu.

While Indian Peafowl are considered to be of “Least Concern” by the IUCN, the Green Peafowl is listed as “Endangered”. Found in the tropical and subtropical forests of Southeast Asia, the Green Peafowl is a target of predators such as Leopards, Tigers, Jungle Cats and humans. Hunting and a loss of habitat has resulted in numbers of these beautiful birds dwindling to the extent that they are now considered to be endangered. The males and females of Green Peacocks are relatively similar in appearance, with the male’s upper tail coverts being longer than the female during breeding season. After breeding season the male molts, resulting in the appearance of the two sexes being even more similar.

Found in the Congo Basin, the Congo Peacock looks like a cross between a peafowl and a guineafowl, with the male’s feathers being a deep blue, tinged with green and violet, while the female is brown with shiny green feathers over its back. Due to habitat loss and hunting, the Congo Peacock has the IUCN status of “Vulnerable”.

Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica) is a small sea bird which spends most of its life living on the open ocean. It is also known as the Common Puffin and it is the only puffin species which occurs in the Atlantic Ocean. All three other puffin species are found in the Pacific. When they are not mating and nesting, Puffins spend their time flying, swimming or riding the vast watery ocean, regardless of the weather. They feed primarily on fish, although they have also been known to eat crustaceans and molluscs. When diving for fish, they make use of their specially adapted wings as a means of propulsion while their webbed feet steer them. They are able to catch several small fish in their bills during the course of one dive, making use of their tongue to trap the fish while their mouths are open. Amazingly, these small pigeon-sized birds can dive to depths between 50 and 200 feet.

The species is primarily characterised by their brightly-coloured orange bills which only gain colour before the mating season. The male is slightly larger than the female and their bodies are mainly black on the top with a white underbelly. Their faces are grey and they have short, red-orange legs. Their bodies average between 28-34 cm in length and they have a wingspan of between 50 and 60 cm. During the winter months, these puffins may travel as far south as the Mediterranean and North Carolina. When it is mating season, the Atlantic Puffin can be found off the coasts of northern Europe, the Faroe Islands, Iceland and the eastern parts of North America. They also occur in the Arctic Circle and in northern France and Maine.

Every year near April, puffins start to grow brightly coloured bill plates as they move north towards their breeding grounds. These bills are used in courtship rituals and a pair will usually tap their bills together. After the mating season these brightly coloured bill plates are shed. The male puffin will clear out the nest area for the female he has found before she arrives at the nesting ground, lining it with suitable materials. The female then lays a single egg and the pair share incubation responsibilities. After between 39-45 days, the chick will hatch and then after a further 49 days, will be ready to fledge. When it is old enough it will venture out to sea alone and begin life as a young puffin adult. At about 5-6 years of age, the young puffin will become sexually mature and be ready to mate and produce offspring.

Rock Ptarmigan (Lagopus mutus)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Rock Ptarmigan (Lagopus mutus) has features similar to a chicken with a small black bill. The tail is a square shape and it is between 11 to 16 inches long. The Ptarmigan’s legs and toes are feathered, which helps them walk through the snow and keep warm without a problem. During the summer periods the male Ptarmigan has as whitish belly and wings with a dappled grey and brown back. The male bird has a red comb that falls over their eyes. The females on the other hand are completely dappled grey and brown. In winter the Rock Ptarmigan’s coloring completely changes to a snow-white color, excepting for a black tip on its tail and a black line over its eyes.

The Ptarmigan’s territory is circumpolar, which means it spreads in a circle around the arctic. In North America they can be found in Northern Canada and Alaska and in other places like Scandinavia, Greenland, Finland and Russia. Their habitat is mainly in upland tundras that have willows, thickets and heath, and in alpine areas. They eat insects now and again but their diet is mainly made up of a variety of different plant parts, which include twigs, buds and berries.

The adult Rock Ptarmigan will look for a suitable breeding territory and once he has selected one he will protect it from other male birds. The male Ptarmigan will protect his territory with aerial displays, by chasing other males or by calls. Aerial displays consist of the male leaping into the air while flapping his wings; he flies straight up, then fans his tail out and gently glides back to the ground.

The Rock Ptarmigans‘ courtship is something to watch, the male will drag one of his wings on the ground, fan his tail out, raise his red comb and basically circle the female he is interested in. The female will make a nest out of a sheltered hollow and line it with pieces of moss and grass. Here she will lay between six and ten eggs. The male and female will stay paired up until incubation reaches half way, from then on the female Ptarmigan is on her own. After just under a month the chicks will hatch. A day after the chicks have hatched they are already searching for food in amongst the tundra. The chicks fledge after two weeks and are completely independent from about three months.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Rose-breasted grosbeak or as it is scientifically called, Pheucticus ludovicianus, is about 7.25 inches long and has a large, cone shaped, pale colored bill. The female grosbeak looks similar to the female-plumaged Black-headed grosbeak but has an orange-brown breast with streaks only on the side of its body. The Grosbeak lives near open woodlands that are near to water. It also likes thick brush or small trees, large trees, marsh borders, gardens, parks and overgrown pastures.

The adult male Rose-breasted Grosbeak has a rose red, triangular shape patch on its white breast. The upper parts of its body and head are all black and the under parts are white. The wings have white patches and are lined with rose red. His black tail feathers are speckled with white spots. In winter and autumn the male becomes browner and dull in colour. The juvenile bird has a similar coloring to the male’s winter and autumn colour.

The adult female Grosbeak has black and white stripes on its crown above its eyes. The under parts of the bird are white with extensive streaking, whereas the upper parts are a dark grey. Where the male has a rose red lining the female has a more yellow to yellowish-orange wing lining. The juvenile has an orangey-brown breast and the juvenile female has similar coloring to the adult female.

The Grosbeak mating system is monogamous and so the male and female will pair off and have between three to five pale green, blue eggs. During the courtship the male will fly after the female while singing to her; he will then crouch down and spread and droop his wings; spread his tail, withdraw his head with his nape against his back; once in position he will start singing and waving his head and body in an erratic dance.

The cup-shaped nest is made up of loose twigs, rough plant material and then lined with thin twigs, hair and rootlets. The nest is normally 5-15 feet above the ground and is built by the female with help from the male Rose-breasted Grosbeak. The incubation of the eggs takes up to two weeks and will be looked after by both the male and female bird. The development of the chicks is altricial, which means that they are immobile and eyes closed. Once the young hatch it takes just less than two weeks before they will leave the nest.

Scarlet Tanager (Piranga olivacea)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Scarlet tanager, Piranga olivacea, is unusual in comparison to the other 230 species of the Neotropical Tanager family. The Scarlet Tanager differs in that its plumage changes seasonally, in fact only one other member of the family does this and that is the Tanager that comes from the South American species. Every fall the male bird changes his striking red and black plumage to olive green for a more nondescript look. The small bird is about 6.25 inches long and has a fairly stout bill. The scarlet tanager can mainly be found in treetops.

The adult male tanager is a spectacular looking bird with his vibrant scarlet red plumage set against his shiny black wings and tail. This colouring stays with the male between the spring and summer months.

The adult female has none of the famous red coloring that her counterpart has but has a more yellow plumage. The female has olive back-grey wings and tail with greenish edges at the end of the feathers, and yellow under parts. The juvenile plumage is similar to the female tanager but the males will have blacker tails and wings.

The male scarlet Tanager is very easy to identify because of its striking red coloring. The male summer and Hepatic Tanagers, on the other hand, are entirely red. The female scarlet Tanager is also easily identified as the female summer Tanager is a plain yellow and not just orangey-yellow on its under parts. The female Western Tanager has wing bars and the female Hepatic Tanager has a darker cheek and her under parts are more orangey.

During the winter the Scarlet Tanager will occupy the canopy of the South American tropical forest and then later start their nocturnal migration north with the change of season. First they migrate through Central America and then they head across to the Gulf of Mexico. Upon arrival the male bird will start singing short phrases, alternating between a low and a high pitch, similar to that of the American Robin. He will then move to the lower branches of the trees and start performing his courtship display by drooping his wings slightly away from the body, elongating his neck to show off his scarlet back, as the female takes a look from above. Once the courtship is complete and a mate has been found the male will go further up into the trees and start singing again. The female Scarlet Tanager also sings but has a softer voice then her male companion. Together they will go out and look for food and raise their young.

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