Amazing Memories of Hummingbirds

March 27, 2012 by  
Filed under Features

Flitting from one flower to the next, their long, narrow beaks perfectly adapted to reach seemingly inaccessible nectar, hummingbirds hover with their wings a blur, their iridescent feathers shining in the sun. New research has revealed that these fascinating little creatures are even more amazing than previously thought. While they may be tiny, it has been discovered that the area of the hummingbird’s brain related to learning and memory – the hippocampus – is the largest in comparison to body size of any other bird, and up to five times larger than that found in seabirds, songbirds and woodpeckers. With the frantic activity of hummingbirds requiring relatively large quantities of nectar to fuel it, it makes sense that this huge memory is likely to be used in pinpointing where the prime locations of this sweet substance are.

It has been noted by researchers that hummingbirds retain this memory of where each feeder is located, both when it is at home and as it travels along its migration path. This ability to remember locations of food sources, and therefore plan their route with precision, referred to as episodic memory, was previously thought to have been restricted to humans. Not only do they remember where all the prime sources of nectar are, field studies reveal that they appear to be able to judge how long the flowers will take to produce more nectar after they have emptied them, and do not revisit those particular flowers until they have something worthwhile to offer.

In addition to field observation, the study included dissecting the brains of several species of wild hummingbirds, as well as related common swifts, using the data to compare with stored data relating to hippocampus development of 77 other species of birds. The conclusion of the dissection study was that the hippocampus of the humming bird is substantially larger than that of any other bird on record, relative to size. Scientists are of the opinion that, given the long distances hummingbirds travel, they cannot afford to waste time or energy searching for food sources, and the brain has compensated for this by developing the hippocampus and facilitating a large memory.

New Bulbul Species Discovered

November 24, 2010 by  
Filed under News

We often assume that we know all there is to know about our world. Even though there are behavioral patterns and various other mysteries surrounding some of the animal and bird species on our planet, we tend to assume that mankind has discovered just about every creature and insect that shares our world. When the news broke that a new bird species had been discovered, it made headlines, as it is not every day that a species appears that no-one was aware of.

The Minerals and Metals Group that operates in the Loas region of Asia, funds a project that employs conservationists and scientist such as Iain Woxvold (University of Melbourne), Rob Timmins and Will Duckworth, who are part of the Wildlife Conservation Society. While working in this region, these three men discovered the new bird species, which has now been named the Bare-faced Bulbul (Pycnonotus hualon).

This unusual little bird is not only unique in its features, but is also a songbird, and due to its ability to adapt to unihabitable areas, it is no surprise that it has been able to remain undiscovered for so long. It is also the first time in approximately a hundred years that a new bird species has been identified in Asia, making this a memorable moment for the scientists, the conservation organisations of Asia and for the region as a whole. The new species was found in the desolate karst limestone landscapes, which are located in the lowlands of the area and consist of sparse trees and not much else. The bare-faced bulbul is the size of a thrush, which is approximately twenty centimeters, and has beautiful olive green plumage that covers its back. It has off-white feathers over its chest and has large dark eyes set in its bald head that is pinkish in color.

Iain Woxvold explained the reasoning behind the new species remaining undiscovered for so long by saying: “Its apparent restriction to rather inhospitable habitat helps to explain why such an extraordinary bird with conspicuous habits and a distinctive call has remained unnoticed for so long.” Asia Programs, part of the New York Wildlife Conservation Society, assistant director Peter Clyne expressed his excitement in regard to the discovery, acknowledging that finding new bird species is an extremely rare event, and due to new species not being found every year, the unveiling of the bald-faced bulbul is most certainly a newsworthy discovery.

Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos)

February 9, 2009 by  
Filed under

The Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) is a songbird that measures nine inches in length, has a gray coloring to its head and upper body parts and a white belly. It has a long black tail that has white feathers to the outside, a white patch on its wings that is clearly seen during flight and white plumage on its wing bars. The Northern Mocking Bird has black legs and a very slender bill. It is generally, naturally, found in Florida, the Gulf Coast and in Texas. Mockingbirds are also found in San Francisco, Oregon, Hawaii, Canada and in the East. Most of these populations have been formed due to the release of caged birds, and due to human destruction of habitat the Mockingbird has found other regions to survive in.

The near extinction of the Northern Mockingbird in areas such as St Louis and Philadelphia was caused by the market for caged Mockingbirds in the 18th and 19th century. These amazing little birds were captured for their vocal talents, and it is now known that the Northern Mockingbird is capable of 200 different songs, sounds and noises. It can mimic other birds, make amphibian sounds and even copy the noises that are made by insects. The Northern Mockingbird is also known as the American Nightingale. The diet of the Northern Mockingbird can vary with the seasons but generally incorporates wild fruits such as prickly pears, blackberries, holly, poison ivy and pokeberry. They will also live close to cultivated areas to feed on grapes and other fruits that are farmed. Mockingbirds will feed on arthropods and insects through the year, but favor these food sources mostly during breeding season.

Northern Mockingbirds mate for life, but on the odd occasion they will separate during the winter months to establish a winter territory. Territories are established surrounding a food source or for breeding. Both the male and female will viciously defend their territories, as they need to protect themselves from other birds that also feed on fruit. During breeding season, these little songbirds show no fear, and will dive at any intruders, animal or human.

Northern Mockingbirds can be heard singing throughout the day and most of the year. Single males are known to sing into the night, and males tend to sing louder than the females, with the females only singing loudly when the male has left the territory. In breeding season, nests are constructed from roots, grasses, leaves and twigs, and are built in trees or shrubs. The female can lay two to six eggs that are white in color and speckled with reddish brown. The incubation period of twelve to thirteen days is attended to by the female, after which both parents will attend to the feeding of the hatched chicks. Northern Mockingbird chicks are ready to fledge the nest within twelve days.

Cape May Warbler (Dendroica tigrina)

February 9, 2009 by  
Filed under

The Cape May Warbler (Dendroica tigrina) is a little songbird that is found in the boreal forests of Canada, as well as in the New England area. During the colder winter months, the Cape May Warbler will migrate to the West Indies. Being only 4.25 inches in size, the most preferred food of the warbler is spruce budworms. They will also feed on other small insects. This songbird is extremely active and very energetic. Males can still rely on their outer beauty, while being somewhat dull in appearance, the females have to use their charm and personality.

The male Cape May Warbler is a strikingly beautiful bird, predominantly of radiant yellow coloring, with very thin stripes of black across their chests. They will also display chestnut colored cheeks and have patches of white on their wings. Their female counterparts are dull in color and lack the patches on their wings, and the chestnut cheeks.

As mentioned before, the Cape May Warbler feeds on insects, which they will either pick off the plants or catch while in flight. What makes the anatomy of this bird species particularly interesting is its semitubular tongue. This feature is unique to the Cape May Warbler, and enables them to feed on nectar or drink berry juice during the winter months. They are also extremely territorial, and often chase other Cape May Warblers off the tree that they are feeding on.

The Cape May Warbler was first sighted and described by Alexander Wilson, in the Cape May area in New Jersey. The Cape May Warblers build their nests near the trunks of the trees, and prefer nesting in dense forests. Nests are constructed of small twigs and grass, with feathers and hair being used to line them. The females lay between six to eight eggs, and are known to lay more eggs during the times when spruce budworms are in abundance. Only the females take care of the incubation period of the eggs, which are a slightly off-white in color and speckled with gray and brown.

Kirtland’s Warbler (Dendroica kirtlandii)

February 9, 2009 by  
Filed under

One of the most rare members of the Paulidae family is the endangered Kirtland’s Warbler (Dendroica kirtlandii). This is a fascinating bird species seen on occasion in the jack pine forests of Michigan where it is reliant on very specific habitat. Kirtland’s Warblers are endemic to the USA and are found only in Michigan, Wisconsin and Ontario. Much needs to be done if the Kirtland’s Warbler is to survive and the first step is gaining knowledge about the elusive species.

As a rare bird species, the Kirtland’s Warbler was only first described by scientists in 1851. The newly discovered species was named after Dr. Jared Kirtland, author of a list of Ohio’s animals. The Kirtland’s Warbler is a small songbird measuring about 5 inches in length. As an insect-eater, the warbler’s bill is thin and pointed. The nape and upperparts are grey whilst the throat, belly and breast are yellow. Its undertail covers are white and the wings have dull white bars. Its sides and flanks are streaked. The Kirtland’s Warbler is also easily identified by its constant tail wagging. The male and female are similar but males have black streaks on their back and black lores. If you are looking out for the Kirtland’s Warbler, you may hear it before you see it, so listen for a clear, loud “chip-chip-che-way-o”.

Kirtland’s Warblers are very choosy when it comes to habitat, the females even more so than the males. These warblers will only nest in small jack pines. Jack pines will only release their seeds after a fire so the warbler will only come to nest there 6 years after a fire when the young tree is around 2 m high. As the tree reaches over 3 m in height, the Kirtland’s Warbler will vacate the area. Kirtland’s Warblers are known as neotropical migrants. Males arriving back from the Bahamas in breeding season will establish territories. The female builds the nest whilst the male warbler supplies her with sustenance. A clutch contains 3 to 6 eggs and incubation lasts 14 to 15 days. The young ones fledge quickly in about 12 to 13 days.

The numbers of Kirtland’s Warbler populations has decreased largely due to the suppression of fire necessary for their chosen habitat. They also suffer due to nest parasitism by the Brown-headed Cowbird. Extensive conservation efforts are being made to protect the endangered Kirtland’s Warbler.

Next Page »