Mountain Quail (Oreortyx pictus)

February 9, 2009 by  
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If you ever happen to see one, you will find that Mountain Quail (Oreortyx pictus) are very attractive birds. Commonly found in densely wooded foothills and mountains along the West Coast of the US, these birds are somewhat unique in that they migrate up and down the slopes of the mountains according to the seasons. They are the only bird in the Quail family to perform some form of seasonal migration. The Mountain Quail is also known by several other names including the ‘Painted Quail’, the ‘Mountain Partridge’ and the ‘Plumed Quail’.

Generally speaking, Mountain Quail are fairly large (26-28 cm), distinctive birds. They have a long, straight head plume – sometimes called ‘top knots’ – as well as striking maroon throats set off by a white border. The female’s plume is shorter than the male’s. Their heads and breasts are grey while their bellies are chestnut and marked with bold white bars. The Mountain Quail’s underparts are a brownish-grey while their back and tail might be described as being olive-brown. Both sexes are similar in colour and size and the bird has a fairly chunky body with round wings and a short tail – features which are quite common for a ground-dwelling bird. The bird’s distinctive colouring makes it quite difficult to see in its natural habitat.

Every year between March and June, the Mountain Quail pair off for breeding purposes. The female lays 6-15 eggs in a shallow depression on the ground which may hatch 24-25 days later. The nest is usually concealed by surrounding vegetation and it is usually quite close to water. After only a few hours of breathing clean heart, the downy young leave the nest and are cared for by the parents who direct them to food instead of feeding it to them. The chicks seem to eat more insects than their adult counterparts who seem to prefer plant matter as a means of sustenance. As they mature, Mountain Quail young may congregate in large groups of up to 20 birds.

Though Mountain Quails are capable of moving quickly through the undergrowth, they are a favourite amongst quail hunters and their numbers have decreased dramatically over the past fifty years. However it would seem that this is mainly due to lost of habitat from human development and not from hunting. Hunting of this bird has been banned in places such as Idaho and eastern Oregon and while the bird is not considered to be endangered, efforts have been made to boost Mountain Quail numbers in certain parts of the country.

Steller’s Sea Eagle (Haliaeetus pelagicus)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Steller’s Sea Eagle (Haliaeetus pelagicus) is one of the biggest eagles in the world. It is 107 – 114 centimeters in length, with an impressive wingspan of 218 to 249 centimeters. It is predominantly black in color with white plumage on the forehead, legs, tail and shoulders. The bill is orange in color, and is very big and heavy. Both the male and female Steller’s Sea Eagle are similar in appearance. The female is a slightly larger than the male. Its large wingspan enables the eagles to glide for most of their flight, alternating with several deep and powerful strokes between glides.

This Sea Eagle can be found in the northeastern areas of Siberia and in the northern regions of Korea and Japan. During the winter months, the Steller’s Sea Eagle will move towards Korea and Japan and is sometimes seen in Beijing and even along the Chinese coast. The eagles tend to remain as close to the ocean as possible, and when located inland, along rivers, it is usually still within close proximity of the coast.

Steller’s Sea Eagles feed mainly on fish but will occasionally also catch birds, ducks and smaller mammals such as hares and seal pups. These powerful birds of prey have also been seen taking arctic foxes and sables. They are capable hunters on water and land and will take molluscs, crabs and washed up fish from the shore. Very little effort is put into hunting, as not many prey stand much of a chance fending off such an incredibly strong hunter.

Mating starts in the month of March. These Sea Eagles construct huge nests approximately 12 feet thick and 8 feet across. The nests are re-used every year and are built on top of the trees and can be as high up as 100 feet. Mountain cliffs can also be used for nesting. The female eagle will incubate the eggs for a period of 38 to 45 days. She lays between one to three eggs that are laid in April or May. The chick will usually hatch in July and fledge the nest in August or September. The entire cycle from mating to the fledging of the chicks takes six months. Complete adult plumage of the Steller’s Sea Eagle will only be acquired at the age of four.

New Zealand’s Mischievous Kea Parrot

November 20, 2008 by  
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Not very many people have heard of a Kea Parrot. This average-sized parrot hails from the forested and alpine regions of New Zealand‘s South Island and it is listed as a ‘vulnerable’ species due to its relative scarcity. What makes this bird so special is the fact that it is one of the few true alpine parrots in the world. It is also an omnivore, feeding on carrion and insects in addition to the roots, berries, nectar and leaves that make up the bulk of its diet.

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