Black Swift (Cypseloides niger)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Black Swift (Cypseloides niger), like other swifts, spends most of its time in the air. A nearctic-neotropical migrant bird species, the Black Swift breeds in areas ranging from Alaska to California, Montana and Colorado. During the winter months you will spot them in the tropics. If you are traveling through mountains or near coastal cliffs in the range of the Black Swift you are more likely to see them.

How can you identify the Black Swift? This bird species has the typical swift shape with a cigar-shaped body and crescent wings. The Black Swift is, however, a large and rather bulky swift measuring 7 inches in length. The tail is short with a deep notch. All the plumage is black except for its whitish forehead which is only seen at close quarters. Juvenile Black Swifts are marked by little white flecks. To clarify your identification of this quick moving bird, listen out for its harsh ci-chi-chi-chit call.

Black Swifts tend to be habitat specific, requiring particular conditions for nesting. Their prefered habitat is in forests near rivers. Typically they will nest behind waterfalls or even on wet cliffs and sometimes in limestone caves. These swifts enjoy a nesting environment that is damp, dark and difficult for predators to reach. Another important factor when choosing a nest site is that it must have an easy flyway for entering and leaving the nest. Because of their very particular nesting requirements, Black Swifts’ distribution is very patchy. The nests are constructed in a cup-like shape made of mud, algae and moss. Black Swifts will either nest on their own or may become part of a small colony. The female bird will lay just one egg in June or July which both parents take turns incubating. Incubation lasts about 4 weeks. The young swift will be able to fly at between 45 and 49 days old.

Black Swifts forage whilst flying either singly or in groups. They frequently forage in wide open areas or above the forest canopy in search of small airborne insects. These are certainly fascinating birds that you will want to watch out for.

Manx Shearwater (Puffinus puffinus)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Manx Shearwater (Puffinus puffinus) is part of the Shearwater family and is extremely distinctive from his counterparts. It is a medium sized Shearwater and is 34 centimeters in length, with a wingspan of 81 to 86 centimeters. It is the coloring of the Manx Shearwater that makes them easy to identify. The upper body parts, such at the head, neck, back and the upper part of the wings, are gold in coloring and the plumage is brown to black. Their throats, bellies and under wing areas are white. Their hooked shaped bills are black, with the tail and eyes also being dark in color. The Manx Shearwater forages for food on the surface of the water, but also dives to find fish, mollusks and shellfish.

In the winter months the Manx Shearwater migrates to the coastal areas of South America, and during the breeding season they are found in the United Kingdom, specifically on the island of Lundy. Most of the world’s Manx population migrates to Lundy to breed, and the conservation of these birds is top priority. The conservation has reached a point of urgency, as the 1000 breeding pairs that were recorded in 2001 have declined to 166. This dramatic fall in numbers is a major concern, and the island is currently working on managing the rat population, as they are responsible for many of the eggs being destroyed. The birds start arriving at night during the months of February and March. Burrows and rock crevices on top of the slopes are used for nests. The female Manx Shearwater lays only one egg that is black and orange in color. Both the male and female are responsible for the incubation of the eggs that lasts approximately 52 to 54 days. The chicks are ready to fledge the nest in September, but remain very near to the breeding colony until October.

The Calf of Man, a small island just off Isle of Man, has seen an increase in the number of breeding pairs after the removal of many of the rats that were accidentally introduced to the island by a shipwreck. The oldest Manx Shearwater that has been recorded was aged 55. After being tagged at the age of five in 1953, the bird was trapped again in 2003, alive and well. An ongoing Manx Shearwater conservation project on the Isle of Rum ensures that baby birds get a fighting chance to make it to adulthood.