Rice Farmers Support Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative

October 25, 2011 by  
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Beginning this fall, and continuing through to 2014, rice farmers participating in the Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative (MBHI) will work with the Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) of the US Department of Agriculture on a pilot project aimed at benefiting waterfowl and shorebirds by adapting certain rice production practices. Seventy farmers in Colusa and Glenn County, California, have signed contracts to support the MBHI in a project which is the culmination of many years of research and cooperation between rice farmers and conservationists, represented by Audubon California, PRBO Conservation Science, the NRCS and the California Rice Commission.

Speaking on behalf of the California Rice Commission, Paul Buttner noted that they have worked together in testing practices that appear to make a difference to the birds, while at the same time being acceptable to rice farmers. Under the new agreement, rice farmers will extend the time period that their fields are flooded, either starting earlier or draining the fields later, thereby accommodating the birds’ breeding and migratory needs. Also the depth of the water will be adjusted, specifically at agreed upon times in the season. NRCS Assist State Conservationist, Alan Forkey, explained that generally shorebirds and waterfowl prefer a habitat of between 2 and 6 inches deep, but rice fields are usually flooded deeper than that. This will be adjusted, and instead of draining the fields in January, farmers have agreed to keep them flooded for longer and drop the water levels more gradually.

To accommodate the nesting requirements of the birds, levees between fields will be modified, with sloped levees being flattened to provide a better nesting surface and allow easier access to the water for chicks. Some farmers have also agreed to provide artificial nesting structures. A number of the proposed changes will not only benefit the birds, but will be to the farmers’ benefit as well. For the farmers who have agreed to use portions of their fields as wetlands, incoming water will have the opportunity to warm up a bit before running on to the young rice plants which will be beneficial for them, plus longer periods of flooding the fields will help to degrade the rice plants after harvesting, making it easier to clear the fields.

The cooperation of farmers in implementing the pilot project has been very encouraging, and the Migratory Bird Conservation Partnership will be measuring the results of the MBHI with a view to extending the project to other areas of importance to migratory birds.

African Fish Eagle (Haliaeetus vocifer)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The African Fish Eagle or as it is scientifically known, Haliaeetus vocifer, can be seen throughout Southern Africa and is known by many varieties of names, in many languages. This includes the River eagle, Aigle pecheur, Pygargue vocifer, Afrikaanse visarend and so on. This fairly large bird is related to the North American Bald Eagle and can be easily identified by the distinct black, brown body and white head and tail. The length of the African Fish Eagle varies between 63 and 75 cm.

The Fish Eagles habitat is limited to mainly lakes, large rivers, pans and dams with surrounding trees for it to perch on. They can also be found near estuaries and coastal lagoons but are rarely spotted in the southwestern parts of Africa and areas on the eastern part of Somalia because the land is so arid. The African Fish Eagle makes its nest out of large piles of sticks, 30 to 60 cm deep and 120 to 180 cm in diameter. The nest is built usually near water at the fork of a tree, sometimes on a cliff ledge or on a steep slope on a low slope.

The beautiful and distinct call of the African Fish Eagle is synonymous with the sound of Africa and is very similar to the American Bald Eagle. There are two specific calls, the one is in flight and the other is when it is perched. When the male fish eagle nears the nest it makes a kind of mellow ‘quock’ sound where as the female has a more of a shriller sound.

The African Fish Eagle pairs up whether it is in or out of mating season, which goes from March to September. The pairs even go as far as sharing any kills that they make between the two of them. The African Fish Eagle is known as a kleptoparasite, which means that it will steal prey from another bird, like the Goliath Heron who loses a lot of its catch to Fish Eagles. They will also take advantage of nesting water birds for their eggs and young.

The main diet of the Fish Eagle is fish that they catch and occasionally when it is dead. They can catch a fish that weighs up to 1 kg in weight and now and again up to 3 kg’s. If the fish weighs more then two and a half kilograms the eagle will not carry it in flight but will plane it along the waters surface to shore. Fish eagles mainly catch lungfish and catfish and in some places will feed off flamingos and other water birds if the occasion presents itself. It has been known to eat dead animals and on very rare occasions they will even feed off monkeys, insects, frogs, dassies and so on. The hunt begins when the eagle leaves its perch to stoop and catch its prey with its feet about 15 cm from the waters surface. It’s not often that the African Fish Eagle will catch prey in the sky or submerge itself in the water.

American Coot (Fulica americana)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Fulica Americana or otherwise known as the American coot is a common water bird, family of the Rallidae, and is about 12 inches in length with a wingspan of 25 inches. It is quite a large bird with relatively short wings and tail, and can often be seen swimming and diving in ponds or dams of water. When the American coot goes walking about it often flicks and cocks its short tail, revealing a white under tail. The bill is short and thick and the legs are yellow in color with toes that have lobed webbing. When you look at both the male and female you won’t notice much difference in appearance between the sexes.

There are quite a few differences between the adult and the juvenile. The adult bird has a beautiful white bill with a dark, reddish oval near the base of the bill than not lacks the ring near the tip. The adult’s head, neck, breast, back, and upper wings is a dark gray, brown color with the feathers on the under-belly being slightly lighter. The juvenile on the other hand, is a paler gray-brown color on the breast and back, upper wings and on the under parts of the bird. It has a bright red head and beak with orange colored plumes that come off the neck.

Another bird that is a similar species is the common Moorhen. It is similar in size and shape to the American coot but its bill is reddish in colour with a yellowish tip. It also has a white stripe on its flank and a brown back. The American coot is often mistaken for a duck, although its black body and white triangular beak, which looks similar to a chicken, makes it more easily distinguishable from a real duck. The bird sound of the American coot is a scratchy clucking noise followed by a row of “kuk-kuk-kuk” notes.

Their breeding grounds are in marshes from the southern part of Quebec to the Pacific coast of North America, and then as far south as the north part of South America. They choose a nesting area in between tall reeds in a well-concealed area. If water is available to the birds throughout winter then they will not migrate, but if this is not the case they will migrate to northern areas or to southern British Columbia and United States.