Golden Pheasants – Elegant and Exotic

January 10, 2015 by  
Filed under Features

Indigenous to the mountains of central China, Golden Pheasants (Chrysolophus pictus) are spectacularly beautiful birds that are so well adapted to living in captivity they have become popular pets in many countries far from their original habitat. Some researchers are of the opinion that the Golden Pheasant was likely the first species of pheasant brought into North America in the mid-1700s, and they have formed several feral populations in parts of the United Kingdom.

The Golden Pheasant and Lady Amherst Pheasant (Chrysolophus amherstiae) are both Ruffed Pheasants, so named for the ruff the male spreads around his face and neck as part of his courtship ritual. The female Golden Pheasant is brown in color with dark rippled bars running from her head down her body and wings, while her face, throat and rump are buff. The male, on the other hand, is one of the most colorful birds around, with a silky-golden crest, tinged with red at the tips. Its face, chin, throat and sides of its neck are a rusty tan color, while its orbital skin and wattles are yellow. The ruff of the Golden Pheasant is light orange, with a bluish-black border on each feather. The green upper back of the bird contrasts beautifully with its golden-yellow back and rump, while its scarlet breast blends into a light chestnut color on its flanks and underparts. Its tertiary wing feathers are blue, with dark red scapulars, while its central tail feathers are black with buff spots and the tip of its tail being buff.

Although they are brightly colored, they are not always easy to spot in their natural habitat of dense forest, so not much is known about their habits in the wild. What is known is that they forage on the ground, eating grain, leaves and invertebrates, and they can fly short distances, roosting in trees at night.

As they are compatible with other types of birds (but not always with other pheasant species), Golden Pheasants can be kept in an environment with waterfowl, peafowl, doves, pigeons and other birds. They are very hardy, breed easily in captivity and the chicks are easy to raise. As such, Golden Pheasants are a good choice for first-time pheasant owners and a firm favorite among veteran bird keepers.

Canada Geese: An International Symbol of Nature

August 11, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

Canada geese (Branta canadensis L.) represent a majestic symbol of nature and natural world and are a well known migratory species of geese widely recognized across the continent of North America, Northern Europe and in the Asian Far East. The species is native to the continent of North America. The famous “v-shaped” flying pattern of trumpeting and migrating Canada geese flocks are seen as one of the most well known and symbolic signs of the change of season across the range of this beautiful species (Fig 1-2). Several North American and eastern Siberian aboriginal and indigenous groups and communities consider this as a sign of good luck and fortune, and numerous stories about the species are thus included in many of their ethnic folklores and indigenous stories. The majestic species is consider to be an important symbol of the wild west of the continent of North America as well as a dynamic symbol of the natural heritage of the world’s second largest country Canada. The species is widely distributed in US and Canada, parts of northern Europe, eastern Siberia, parts of northeastern China and Japan (see map). A population in New Zealand is also known where it was introduced few decades back as wild game species.

Due to conservation efforts their number and population have increased significantly across their range. Huge standing flocks reside on agricultural farms and devour substantial portions of young crop seedlings as well as seed grains, damaging them extensively. Occasionally they are also known to devour insects and fishes, as well as other aquatic vertebrates and invertebrates. The families start migrating southward for their summer retreats to southern US and northern Mexico when their northern homes start showing signs of freezing.

The species is predominantly aquatic found resting, foraging, nesting and settling around fresh water, inland water bodies and narrow irrigational canals. However, some are even found to be resident on the farms across the Prairies of North America and are also abundant around the Great Lakes. Both males and females look similar, but the female are found to be slightly smaller in size and weight. The males of this species are known to be quite aggressive in protecting their nesting sites and ducklings (Fig 4). Some sub-species are also known to build nests on trees or resting on trees during the night for safety. Egg clutches varies between 2-20 eggs in a single breeding season depending upon their reproductive success, availability of quality food and safe nesting sites. Common predators of eggs and ducklings include foxes, coyotes, badgers and some raptor species. Currently this is a protected species and is considered a valuable wildlife species; and hence hunting, capture and exploitation of the species is illegal under the fish and wildlife acts.

Prime nesting and foraging sites of Canada geese adjoining irrigation canals and at the edges of nearby farmlands are presented in Figs 7-10.

Photo courtesy: Mr Doug Messenger is gratefully acknowledged for kindly providing Fig 2D.

Article contributed by Saikat Kumar Basu

Monterey Bay Birding Festival

August 21, 2013 by  
Filed under Events

The 9th annual Monterey Bay Birding Festival offers birding enthusiasts the opportunity to explore one of the most spectacular birding and wildlife destinations in North America. With its amazing diversity of habitats, this area is home to Golden Eagles, California Condors, Warblers, Bushtits, Plovers, Shearwaters and much more. For more information on this exciting event go to the Monterey Bay Birding Festival 2013.

Dates: 12-15 September 2013
Venue: Monterey Bay
State: California

Northern Harrier (Circus cyaneus)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Northern Harrier (Circus cyaneus) is the only harrier amongst North America’s hawks. Also known as the Marsh Hawk, the Northern Harrier is an exceptional hunter. Nothern Harriers are popular with farmers as pest killers and are no threat to their own animal stocks. These remarkable birds of prey have also featured in superstition. In the past, Europeans used to believe that if a harrier perched on a house it was an omen that 3 people would die. Native Americans on the other hand believed that if you saw one on your wedding day that you would have a happy, long marriage.

How are Nothern Harriers identified? These are medium-sized hawks, measuring about 16.5 inches in length with a long wingspan of 42 inches. The wings are somewhat rounded and the tail long. The hooked beak is short and dark in color. Male Northern Harriers differ from the females. They have pale gray plumage that becomes lighter at the underparts. His head is a darker gray. The flight feathers have black tips and the tail is barred with narrow dark strips. The female Northern Harrier has buff under areas with dark streaks. During flight you will see her dark barring on the flight feathers as well as a dark inner wing. Both genders have flat owl-like faces. They are also easily identified by their flying pattern as they course over fields with the wings held at an angle to the body.

Northern Harriers are found across North America, Europe and Asia. They chiefly reside in open areas such as tundra, steppes, grasslands, meadows, wetlands and agricultural zones. These harriers will feed on a variety of small mammals, insects, birds and reptiles, even occasionally dining on carrion. The harrier will glide down close to the ground, relying heavily on their sense of hearing, which is aided by their facial disk. After locating prey they will quickly swoop down in a surprise attack.

One of the most acrobatic raptors, the Northern Harrier displays before the female a most intricate courtship flight with clever maneuvering. Nests are built on the ground and are made of sticks and other vegetation. A clutch of 5 eggs is laid in the nest. Incubation is for 29 to 31 days during which time the male Northern Harrier provides the female with food. The offspring fledge after 30 to 40 days but are still dependent on their parents. Northern Harriers live for plus-minus 12 years.

Purple Martin (Progne subis)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Purple Martin (Progne subis) is generally recognised as being the largest North American swallow. Its body measures about 20 cm in length and it has a wingspan of 39-41 cm. The Purple Martin is an incredibly acrobatic flyer. Today they are commonly found nesting in backyard birdhouses. The Purple Martin has been making use of nesting boxes in eastern North America for well over a century. This is the case because Native Americans once hung up empty gourds for these birds to use as homes, starting a tradition that European settlers continued on their arrival. While those birds found in the eastern part of the country use birdhouses almost exclusively, those in the west tend to prefer natural cavities.

Purple Martins are not as easily identified as other bird species due to the fact that they display a lot of variance until about two years of age. The adult bird is a large swallow with a large head, thick chest and broad, pointed wings with a slightly forked tail. The male’s entire body is a bluish black while the underparts of the female are light in colour. Males approaching adulthood look similar to females but with solid black feathers randomly erupting on their chest. Females approaching adulthood do not yet have a steel blue sheen on their backs. While most of these birds are found in eastern North America, some can also be found between British Columbia and Mexico on the west coast. Those living on the west coast generally make use of woodpecker holes and cactus cavities as nesting sites. They are also somewhat paler than their eastern relatives.

Unfortunately Purple Martins are often targeted by House Sparrows and Common Starlings – two invasive species which kill Martins in order to make use of their nest cavities. In order to have these beautiful little birds breed successfully, these invader species must be actively controlled and removed from their nesting site. Purple Martins are migratory and they generally fly to the Amazon basin in the winter months. They feed mainly on insects which they usually catch in mid flight. They also drink their water by scooping it up whilst flying.

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