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.

Marabou Stork (Leptoptilos crumeniferus)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Marabou Stork (Leptoptilos crumeniferus) is a wading bird that is found in Africa and in parts of Asia and Europe. They frequent rivers, lakes, marshy areas and savannahs. They can often be found near cattle that disturb insects, areas where humans might leave offal and often scavenge from vultures and other animals. The Marabou Stork is somewhat scruffy looking, with a long pointed beak, almost no feathers on his head and neck, and a pouch of skin that hangs from its beak. It is a bird that is impressive in size, at approximately 115 to 152 centimeters in length, and can weigh up to 9 kilograms. From under its throat and across its belly, the Stork is white, with its upper body parts, such as back and wings, covered in black plumage.

Marabou Storks are scavengers, and will not only feed on animal carcasses, but will also settle for frogs, termites, snakes, fish, grasshoppers, rodents, and even young flamingos or nestlings. In general, the stork is not fussy when it comes to his meals. It has also been known that these scavengers will walk in front of a moving fire to collect the fleeing animals.

Due to the having a big body and carrying a lot of weight, the Marabou Stork’s long legs have hollow bones. This assists the bird to be able to take off from the ground, and enable flight. When the storks take to flight, they are extremely elegant and fly with their legs outstretched and necks resting in a “S” position.

Nesting can either be a solitary event or the stork will find a colony of a mixture of birds. Nests are constructed from twigs and are built in trees. The nests are very large constructions, and many smaller birds will nest amongst the twigs. The female Marabou Stork will usually lay between two to three eggs at a time, and the incubation period for the eggs is 29 to 31 days. At times, the incubation period can last 50 days. Both parents will scavenge for food to feed the chicks, and after about four weeks the chicks are able to stand. It takes a few months for the chicks to grow flight feathers, and even after they are able to fly they still remain dependant on their parents for several more weeks.

Marsh Sandpiper (Tringa stagnatilis)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Marsh Sandpiper (Tringa stagnatilis) is a small wader and looks similar to the elegant Greenshank, which has very long yellow legs and a long fine bill. The coloring of the two birds is also similar, both have a greyish brown plumage that is pale in winter and has a white line running up its back, which can easily be seen in flight. The Sandpiper breeds between the months April through to August and only in temperate zones. They will go from South-eastern Europe all the way through Russia to Western Siberia and Ussuriland. The courtship song of the sandpiper is a repeated tu-ee-u, tu-ee-u, but when they are on the breeding grounds and something alarms them, then they will make a sharp chip sound.

The Marsh Sandpipers will nest in grassy areas and by muddy shores of freshwater pools, thick grassy vegetation and boreal wetlands and if worse comes to worse they may tolerate brackish water. Their nests are never in large groups, mostly solitary or in loose colonies where the nests are far a part from each other. Both the male and female will take turns in incubating eggs and raising the juveniles.

Sandpipers will either spend their winter in sub-Saharan Africa and in India or they will head to Europe and a few will go to Southeast Asia and Australia. These birds are not scared by distance and will fly for long times with no stops at passage sites on their migration route. The birds that are not breeding may prefer to stay at their winter grounds throughout the year or spend summer at different sites.

The Marsh Sandpipers are threatened specifically by the overuse of herbicides and insecticides because of their tendency to forage in cultivated wetlands like rice fields. The Sandpiper is closely related to the Wood sandpiper and the Common Redshank. These birds find their food by probing in wet mud or shallow water and eat a large amount of insects and other similar type prey. The Marsh Sandpiper is one of the many species to which the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Water Birds applies.

Merlin (Falco colombarius)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Merlin or as it is scientifically know as, Falco colombarius, is a falcon that breeds in many different continents like North America, Asia and Europe. In North America it is known as a pigeon hawk, and the Latin part of its scientific name, “columba”, means dove also indicating the falcon’s popular food choice. But the name is incorrect in that it is not a hawk but a falcon and so the name is not often used.

The Merlin is a small bird of prey that breeds in open areas like moor lands, birch scrub and taiga or willow scrub, coasts and desert areas. When temperatures become too cold the Merlin, like its larger counterpart the Peregrine Falcon, will migrate to more temperate regions. These northern European birds will go over to North Africa or to southern Europe, whereas the North American birds will head to southern USA and to northern South America. If the bird is found in Great Britain, one of its milder breeding ranges, it will leave high grounds and move to lowlands and the coast.

In Europe the Merlin is a social bird and will roost communally in winter, many times with Hen Harriers. However, in North America, communal roosting is rare because the Merlin is known for its aggression and it will go so far as to attack any bird of prey, even eagles. Throughout the Merlin’s territory range they will nest on the ground, for instance in the United Kingdom they will usually look for a shallow scrape on the heather moor land. They also enjoy long heather but because of the regular burning in that area they tend to be over managed.

The male Merlin’s coloring is specifically blue-gray with orange-tinted under parts. The female and the juvenile differ and have a dark brown back and a white belly with brown spots below. The American subspecies go from pale in the Great Plains to dark brown, black in the Pacific Northwest. This particular species is small in size and has dark under parts, and is distinguished from the Peregrine Falcon by its facial features, which are not as strongly marked.

These falcons prey on small birds like pipits, larks and large insects and because of this they rely heavily on their speed and agility to hunt prey. Merlin Falcons hunt by flying low, about one meter off the ground, and very fast catching their prey by surprise.

Mute Swan (Cygnus olor)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The beautiful Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) is the bird that people most commonly picture when discussing a swan. This striking, white bird with its slender neck, black eyes and dark orange bill has become a bird of legend, with many European and Asian fairytales and bedtime stories featuring this magnificent creature. The Mute Swan is found naturally in the more temperate parts of Europe and western Asia and, while it is not migratory as such, certain inland populations are forced to move to the coast in winter when their waterways and lakes may freeze over. Because these birds are considered to be so beautiful, some have been taken to other countries where attempts have been made to keep them at parks and ponds. However, the birds inevitably escape and as a result there are currently a number of feral bird populations in the US which have become naturalised over time. In some places, however, they compete with local bird species for food and space resulting in them being labelled as ‘pests’. Nevertheless, they fall under the AEWA conservation agreement.

The Mute Swan is an impressively large bird with an average body length of between 145-160 cm. Their wingspan may measure 208-238 cm in length and the males are normally quite a bit larger than the females. These proportions and the resulting weight make the Mute Swan one of the heaviest flying birds in the world and the heaviest water bird ever recorded. Both the cobs (males) and pens (females) are similar in appearance with pure white bodies, necks and heads. There is a small black area around their eye which joins up with the knob on their bills. The males have a larger knob than the females. Their bills are orange-red in color and their necks have an unmistakable S-like curve which adds greatly to their allure. Young Mute Swans are called ‘cygnets’ and they are normally a dull white or grey with a dull-colored bill.

Mute Swans usually build their nests on large mounds which they create in shallow water. These mounds may be either in the middle or near the edge of a lake. The birds typically use the same nest each year and they may have to restore or rebuild it at the beginning of breeding season. The Mute Swan is monogamous and both sexes share in building and caring for the nest and for incubating and raising their young. Mute Swans normally feed on water plants, insects and snails and an adult may eat as much as 4 kg of vegetation in one day. These birds are generally found in large colonies and can become quite tame though they will always act defensively if you approach their nest and it is not recommendable for anyone to do so.

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