Ring-necked Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus)

February 9, 2009 by  
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Also known as the Common Pheasant, the Ring-necked Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) originated in Asia but was introduced to North America and is now well established over much of the continent. It was also taken to Britain in the 10th century but had to be reintroduced in the 1830s as the original birds died out in the 17th century. Today it is also well established in that country. It is generally regarded as being a game-bird and is often bred for hunting purposes. However, there are several breeding facilities which not only supply hunters but restaurants with these birds. Since the meat can be tought and dry, farm-raised birds are prefereable for consumption.

Generally speaking the Ring-necked Pheasant is a distinctive and colorful species. Its body usually measures between 50-90 cm with the tail often accounting for half the total length. The bird has a chunky shape, round wings and a long tail. The head is small and set on a thin neck. The adult male has a green head with a pale bill and red facial skin around the eye. There is a bold white ring around its neck from which its name is derived. The rest of its plumage is somewhat golden in color with blue and green iridescence as well as black spotting randomly dispersed all over its body. The tail has long, pointed golden feathers with black barring while the legs are spurred. The adult female’s head and underparts are a buffy brown. Her back is dark brown and she has black spots and bars scattered around her head, neck and flanks. Her tail has no barring and she also does not have any spurs. Juveniles resemble females until about two months of age.

Generally speaking this ground-bird prefers cultivated agricultral lands that are interspersed with marshes, hedges and brushy groves. They prefer to run rather than fly and have a short wingspan of only 56-86 cm. Ring-necked Pheasants feed on seeds, grasses, leaves, roots, nuts, wild fruit and insects. They usually nest on the ground in amongst tall grass or weeds in a scrape which is sparsely lined with vegetation. The female may lay between 7-15 eggs in her nest and her chicks are able to leave the nest and feed themselves shortly after hatching. Males are polygynous and usually defend their harem of females from other males quite fiercely. When they are not nesting, Ring-necked Phesants usually roost in trees.

Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) is a very large bird at a length of 25 inches and a 72 inch wingspan. These broad wings allow the vulture to soar in the skies for great lengths of time. At intervals, the vulture will flap its wings slowly and then continue to soar. Both the males and females are similar in appearance, with the females generally larger than the males. They have bills that are of average length and are hooked at the tip. Their heads are red in color and have no plumage, with short red legs and are predominantly dark brown to black in color. Even though this scavenger of the sky is not much to look at, it is their graceful flight ability that attracts us to this species, as many of the practiced adult vultures rarely need to flap their wings, instead they are able to ride the wind elegantly while searching larges areas for food.

Turkey Vultures are commonly found throughout Northern America and Canada, and have also been sighted in South and Central America. These vultures are usually solitary hunters, and prefer rocky cliffs, open ranges, open forest areas, and can also be seen at near agricultural regions at times. The coastal shores will also be searched for any washed up fish or dead seals. But mostly they will feed on domestic and wild carrion, and eating takes place on the ground, as their claws are too weak to carry their food to another location. Vultures will often fly close to ground, as they use their sense of smell to pick up blood and other odors that can lead them to the dead animal. This ability to process smell makes it possible for the Turkey Vulture to locate food under the forest canopies. They will  only eat dead animals and contrary to popular belief, circling vultures do not necessarily mean that there is a dead animal. Vultures often circle the skies during play, to gain altitude and to search for their food.

Turkey Vultures will either nest on the ground or in caves. Nests are not built or constructed, but hollows are dug into the ground or in the cave soil. Vultures that live near agricultural lands will often use sheds or barns to offer protection to their nest. The female vulture can lay one to three eggs, but most commonly lays two. Both the male and female vultures will care for the eggs during the incubation period that can last for 38 to 41 days. Parents will feed the chicks regurgitated food, and chicks will fledge the nest between 70 to 80 days after hatching.