This exciting wildlife festival includes two birding trips to Mexico and five trips in the Southern Arizona region where birders will have the opportunity to see a host of nesting migratory birds, particularly hummingbirds, along with permanent feathered residents. For more in formation visit www.santacruznatureheritage.org
Dates: 2-5 May 2013
Venue: Rio Rico
Country: United States
Organized by the Mesoamerican Ecotourism Alliance, the Yucatan Birding Festival offers birders the opportunity to view the birds of the Celestun Biosphere Reserve. Home to the American Flamingo and more than 300 bird species (resident, migratory and endemic), the reserve boasts tropical forest, sand dune vegetation and mangrove forest habitats. For more information visit www.travelwithmea.org
Dates: 13-18 December 2012
Venue: Celestun Biosphere Reserve
A common sight in Central America, South America and Mexico, the Muscovy Duck (Cairina moschata) is popular both as a captive and wild animal. It is said that Muscovies originated in Brazil but today small populations can be found as far away as California. Muscovy Ducks are non-migratory creatures that prefer to live in forested swamps, lakes and trees due to the abundance of food present at such sites. They generally eat plant material and some small vertebrates and insects. Muscovy Ducks get most of their food by grazing and dabbling in shallow water. When they are not nesting, these ducks often choose to roost in trees at night. Domesticated Muscovy Ducks are the only such ducks not to originate from mallard stock.
The average bird is 64-86 cm long with the male being quite a bit bigger than the female. Traditional wild Muscovies are strictly black and white in colour though domestication has resulted in several color variations. Hence, you may find blue, blue and white, brown, brown and white, white, black, lavender and calical coloured ducks amongst the traditional black and white colored birds on farms and at zoos. It is interesting to note that domesticated Muscovy Ducks are commonly known as ‘Barbary Ducks’. The male Muscovy Duck has a bare red face and a low crest of feathers which he can raise and lower at will. There is a pronounced caruncle at the base of the bill and his bill is yellow in color. The feet of the Muscovy have strong, sharp claws which can be used for roosting in trees and which are webbed for swimming. However, the Muscovy Duck does not swim as much as other ducks do because their oil glands are not as well developed as other those of other duck species.
Muscovy Ducks are not particularly monogamous and males and females do not form stables pairs. Hence, sexual intercourse between the two sexes may on occasion be forced. The hen will usually make use of a tree hole or hollow for a nest and in certain countries, such as Mexico, nest boxes have been frequently used. The average clutch size varies from 8-21 eggs which are incubated for a period of 35 days. The hens are capable of having three broods a year. Many consider these birds to be of value as they consume pesky insects in their natural environment. However, they are even more popular as a food source and this has resulted in them becoming quite scarce in some parts of their natural territory.
Its long slender toes stretch out across the floating water vegetation, it easily runs across the water in search of a tasty meal, this is the “lily trotter” or Northern Jacana (Jacana spinosa). Jacanas throughout the world are known for their remarkable body structure and walking on water skills. The Northern Jacana is found all along the coastline of Mexico, into western Panama, in Hispaniola, Jamaica, Cuba and even Texas of USA. This is a truly fascinating wading bird to observe, so keep an eye out for them on marshy waterways.
The Northern Jacana as with most Jacanas is easily identified by its long toes. Their bodies are about the same size as a robin. The body is mostly dark with black plumage on the head and neck. The Northern Jacana has pale green flight feathers and a distinctive yellow bill and frontal shield. Juveniles have white underparts. These unusual birds are also identified by their harsh “jik” call which progressively speeds up to a chatter. The large feet and claws of the Northern Jacana are what give it the ability to walk atop floating vegetation. In fact, the toes cover an area of 12 by 14 cm, thus dispersing the bird’s mass over a large area. They are particularly fond of lake and fresh-water marsh habitats.
Northern Jacanas are known for being quite aggressive and territorial. They frequently fight with each other using their weapons – spurs located on the bend of the wing. Floating nests are built on the water. Female Northern Jacanas are polyandrous and are often spoken of as the prostitute bird. A clutch of 3 to 5 eggs is laid in the floating nest which is built and cared for by the male. The male Northern Jacana incubates the eggs for a period of 22 to 24 days whilst the female guards her males. Once the young ones hatch, they will fledge in 28 days. The father will teach his precocial chicks how to forage for various foods such as insects, mollusks, worms and fish. Should danger approach, he will carry them under his wings. Its quite easy to understand why the unique Northern Jacana’s are popular amongst bird watchers.
The Western Grebe (Aechmophorus occidentalis) moves in large flocks and is found across the American western region and Mexico in the summer, migrating towards the Pacific Coast and Southwestern waters for winter. Both the males and females look similar, with black crowns, back, wings, nape and face. They have white plumage on their necks, throats and bellies, and have red eyes and bills that are a green-yellow color.
Being water birds, the Western Grebe can be found close to the seashore, freshwater lakes, ponds and swamp areas. They generally feed on fish, which is speared with their bills, but also eats crustaceans and insects. During the breeding season, both the male and female Grebe will assisting in building a nest that floats and is constructed from plant materials that are anchored to plants emerging above the shallow water. The female Grebe will lay three or four eggs, and both parents will take care of the eggs during the incubation period. The incubation period for the Western Grebe is 23 to 24 days. The eggs are a blue-white color and the male and female Grebes both feed the chicks after they have hatched. The Western Grebe, and the Clarke’ Grebe, population numbers were dwindling dangerously low, due to being hunted for their feathers. However, conservationists have been working to protect these species and the numbers have slowly been recovering. These birds are very sensitive during the breeding season, and if humans come too close to the nest, they will abandon the nest, leaving the eggs completely exposed to dangers.
The Western Grebe has one of the most amazing and spectacular mating dances – very elaborate and extremely entertaining. Both the male and female Grebes will lift their chests above the water and move together while gently letting the vegetation that they have in their bills, run over one another. The mating pair will then look at one another, before they suddenly leap from the water and run across the surface with wings outstretched and necks held rigid, before diving head first into the water together.