Common Barn Owl (Tyto alba)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Common Barn Owl (Tyto alba) is one of two groups of owls. It belongs to the barn owl family Tytonidae and is a fairly common sight in rural areas across the globe. The Barn Owl may be found in any country except Antartica, although it may vary in appearance in certain instances such as the Tyto alba alba of western Europe which has a pure white underbelly or the Tyto alba guttata of central Europe which has an orange underbelly. These two variations are classified as subspecies and most Barn Owls have a mixture of grey and ochre on their underparts.

Barn Owls are generally pale in appearance and have long wings and fairly long legs. Their bodies measure between 33-39 cm in length and they have an average wingspan of 80-95 cm. They prefer open country, such as farmland or the edges of woods where they can easily spot their prey from the air. They generally hunt in the early twilight or at night and are fairly sedentary for the rest of the time. They often feed on voles, frogs, rats, shrews, moles, mice and insects. As they feed on so many pests, they are considered to be economically valuable birds and their presence is generally welcomed by farmers who may set up nesting sites for the birds to entice them to nest on the property. The Barn Owl is also known by several other names such as the ‘church owl’, ‘golden owl’, ‘stone owl’ and ‘rat owl’.

This beautiful, heart-faced bird has few natural predators, although they have been known to be preyed upon by bigger owls on occasion. Barn Owls themselves will prey on smaller birds if other food is scarce. They can emit a notable shrill scream which can be piercing at close range. They also hiss if nervous but do not make the ‘tu-whit to-whoo’ sound commonly associated with owls. If a Barn Owl is captured or cornered, it will flip itself on its back and use it’s sharply-taloned feet in defence. These incredible birds are also known for their soundless flight and excellent vision – especially at night.

Purple Gallinule (Porphyrula martinica)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Purple Gallinule (Porphyrula martinica) is a truly beautiful wader bird. Their brightly colored feathers makes it hard to take your eyes off them. They are 10.5 inches in length with a wingspan of 21 inches, and do not fly very well. This water bird is quite big with a very short tail and a short bill. The Purple Gallinule has purple-blue plumage over its neck, breast, head and its belly. They have red eyes, yellow legs and their bills are red with a yellow tip. The frontal shield, that is located just above the bill, is pale blue and the back and upper wings are covered in green and blue plumage. Both the males and females are similar in appearance.

They are generally located in the areas of the southeastern and northern United States, Argentina, Northern Mexico and the Gulf Coast. However, they have been sighted across Europe and in South Africa. During the breeding season they will migrate to the southeastern parts of the United States.

The Purple Gallinule is a marsh bird that feeds on spiders, water plants, frogs, grasshoppers, dragonflies, fruits, seeds and other insects. It therefore prefers to live in freshwater marshes that have lily pads and pickerelweed as vegetation. Being a wader, the Gallinule is able to distribute its weight evenly to enable them walk on lily pads.

Nests are constructed from leaves and tree stems, and are built in a thicket, sawgrass or on a tussock that floats on the water. The purple Gallinules female will lay approximately 6 to 9 eggs that are cream in color with brownish spots. Both parents will assist in the 18 days incubation period, and have a strange ritual regarding this. When it is time to change over the incubating duties, the one Gallinule will bring the bird presently incubating the eggs a leaf. The leaf will then be placed within the nest, before the shift is changed over. Both the male and female will assist in feeding the chicks once they have hatched. The young are able to walk on the lily pads almost immediately and can enjoy a lifespan of approximately 22 years.

Corn Crake (Crex crex)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Corn Crake (Crex crex) is quite a pretty little bird that is commonly found across Europe and western Asia. They are quite different from other crakes since they do not share the same habitat. While most crakes tend to prefer marshy areas, the Corn Crake seems to favour meadows and arable farmland as a breeding ground. Unfortunately, this tendency has resulted in the Corn Crake becoming a ‘Near Threatened’ species since modern farming methods often result in the destruction of nests and birds that may be hidden in pastures and amongst crops. What’s more, it is difficult to flush these birds out, since they prefer to run from danger in amongst the surrounding growth and out of sight instead of taking flight. Since harvesting and mowing often takes place before the end of breeding season, youngsters and nesting birds are often killed in the process.

When in flight the Corn Crake is quite easily identified due to its chestnut wings and long, dangling legs. The adults have brown, spotted under parts, a blue-grey head and neck area and a reddish streak on their flanks. Immature birds are similar in colour but their heads are a buff colour instead of the usual blue-grey. The Corn Crake also has a short bill and its slender legs are a yellowish-orange. As is typical of birds belonging to the rail family, the chicks are black and later develop their distinctive colouring when they lose their down feathers. The average bird is between 27-30 cm in length with a wingspan of 46-53 cm. In general, the Corn Crake is quite a secretive bird which is more often heard than seen. At night they make a rasping ‘crek crek’ sound which is quite distinctive.

The best time to see the Corn Crake is between April and September when they arrive at their Scottish breeding grounds to nest, mate and produce offspring. These days the Outer Hebrides of Scotland is generally considered to be the best place to find the Corn Crake, though they can be found in other parts of the country too. Their diet consists mainly of insects and seeds and you are most likely to find them by listening for their call instead of looking for them amongst the growth.

Rock Pigeon (Columba livia)

February 9, 2009 by  
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Also known as the Rock Dove or Domestic Pigeon, the Rock Pigeon (Columba livia) is a fairly common sight in urban areas around the world. Some places – such as Trafalgar Square in London or Piccadilly Gardens in Manchester – are famous for their large pigeon populations. The Rock Pigeon has a restricted natural range in western and southern Europe, southwest Asia and North Africa. However, it has been successfully introduced in virtually every other country in the world and it is quite common to see Rock Pigeons resting on window ledges in cities across the globe.

The Rock Pigeon is a fairly large pigeon measuring 29-36 cm in length with a wingspan of 50-67 cm. Their coloration is quite varied but most wild birds are grey with a white rump and rounded tail. The tail usually has a dark tip and the wings are pale grey with two black bars. The Rock Pigeon has fairly broad wings and is a competent flier. They may have green and lilac patches on the sides of their necks. The male and female are similar in appearance but the males are larger and have more iridescent necks. The eyes and eyelids are usually orange though some have white-grey eyes. The eyes are usually surrounded by a dull white eye ring and the feet can be red or pink in color. Immature Rock Pigeons are duller in color and have less lustre.

Rock Pigeons tend to nest on ledges or in a cave – depending on their immediate environment. The nest is made of grass, heather or seaweed and is a fairly flimsy structure. A female will use the same nest repeatedly, building on top of old nests each time she wants to roost. She generally lays two white eggs in it. Both parents incubate the eggs for 18 days afterwhich they hatch to reveal pale yellow chicks with flesh-coloured bills that have a dark band. The parents feed the hatchlings on ‘crop milk’ for about a month until the fledging period has ended. Rock Pigeons have been domesticated for thousands of years and have been used both as a source of food and as racing and homing pigeons. Despite their ability to find their way home over long distances, they are generally quite sedate and do not leave their local areas. Because of their association with humans, feral Rock Pigeons often display a wide variety of plumages.

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.

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