Visit the ICBP in North Yorkshire

June 4, 2013 by  
Filed under Features

The market town of Helmsley in the picturesque Ryedale district of North Yorkshire, England, is the location of the new International Centre for Birds of Prey (ICBP) which opened to the public in March 2013. Spread over eleven acres with historic Duncombe Park as a backdrop, the visitor attraction features more than a hundred birds housed in some forty aviaries, and is set to become one of the top tourist attractions in the district. In addition to being a visitor attraction, the ICBP runs a program of breeding endangered birds, most notably Steller’s sea eagles, which are among the world’s largest birds and listed as ‘vulnerable’ by the IUCN.

The ICBP has three flying demonstrations per day where visitors can witness the exceptional abilities of a variety of birds of prey. As each flying demonstration features different birds, with commentary offering fascinating facts about the performers, visitors may want to spend the entire day at the centre and watch all three demonstrations. In the event of inclement weather, the centre will move the demonstration to a sheltered wooded area or indoors, so visitors are assured of seeing the birds in action.

Visitors may want to start their tour of the centre along the Hawk Walk, where they will be able to approach within a few feet of the trained birds which includes hawks, falcons, eagles and buzzards. The main aviary area features a series of enclosures which have been carefully designed with the comfort of the feathered residents in mind. The three solid walls of each aviary provide the birds with a sense of security, which makes them more content and enhances their breeding abilities. The success of the aviary design is evident in the fact that the ICBP has successfully bred 65 species of birds of prey.

Overlooking the parkland in front of Duncombe Park’s main house, the Flying Ground has seating for demonstration spectators, as well as picnic tables and acres of well-tended lawn to relax on. The east and north of the area are sheltered by ancient oak, chestnut, ash and lime trees with the west open to the prevailing wind, providing perfect conditions for the birds to perform in.

Other facilities include the Fountain Tea Room, a shop and a play area. A visit to the International Centre for Birds of Prey is sure to be memorable. Don’t forget to take your camera!

Incredible Condo-Building Weavers

May 21, 2013 by  
Filed under Features

Well known for their nest-building abilities, weavers (Ploceidae) are small passerine birds with the majority of the family’s 117 species found in sub-Saharan Africa, and smaller numbers making their homes in tropical Asia. While there are some exceptions, weaver species are very sociable and generally breed in colonies. Sparrow Weavers in Africa are known to build large condominium-style nests with between one and three hundred breeding pairs sharing one structure in which each pair has its own chamber with narrow entrances facing downward. Other species, such as the Lesser Masked Weavers, may build their nests as individual structures, but will nevertheless be found in groups, sometimes with more than one nest dangling from a branch.

Closely related to finches, weavers are sometimes referred to as weaver finches and get their name from the manner in which they build their nests. Thought to be the most elaborate nest-building technique of any bird, weavers use locally available materials such as grass, twigs and fibrous leaves, to weave their nests. Some of the species strip fibrous leaves into fine strands to weave a nest together that will withstand all types of weather, but others are not quite so fussy and will build untidy looking nests which are deceptively strong. They tend to build their colonies near water and they are a common sight hanging from willow trees alongside streams and lakes in Africa. Social weavers, found in Namibia, Botswana and South Africa, build some of the largest colonies of nests in trees and on power lines or other structures. These colonies will house several generations of birds at the same time, and in addition to the protection factor of a large group against predators, these large colonial nests offer protection from the extreme temperatures often experienced in Africa.

Primarily seed eaters, some weaver species are considered by farmers to be pests as they damage crops. The Red-billed Quelea falls into this category. With an adult breeding population estimated at 1.5 billion pairs (with some studies suggesting the overall population is 10 billion birds) found only in sub-Saharan Africa, the Red-billed Quelea is the world’s most abundant wild bird species. In colonies of thousands to millions of breeding pairs, these weavers can decimate a farmer’s field in a matter of hours.

Explore Berkshire’s Beale Wildlife Park

May 7, 2013 by  
Filed under Features

Referred to locally as “The Peacock Farm”, Beale Wildlife Park and Gardens was founded in 1956 as a private park by Gilbert Beale – a collector and breeder of peacocks, many of which still roam freely in the park today. Located alongside the River Thames between the villages of Lower Basildon and Pangbourne in Berkshire, England, Beale Wildlife Park offers a spectacular venue for a day of family fun, with landscaped gardens and woodland, children’s play areas and an impressive collection of farm animals, small exotic animals and a variety of birds, including some that are threatened with extinction, such as the Bali Starling, Green Peafowl and Mountain Peacock Pheasant.

The Bali Starling, also known as Bali Mynah and Rothschild’s Mynah (Leucopsar rothschildi) is a medium sized bird, almost completely white in color apart from black tips on the wings and rail. It has blue skin around its eyes, with grey-colored legs and a yellow bill. There is very little difference between the male and female. As the name suggests, the Bali Starling is endemic to the Island of Bali in Indonesia. It is the official fauna symbol of Bali and is featured on Indonesia’s coinage.

Found in the tropical forests of Southeast Asia, the Green Peafowl (Pavo muticus) is a strikingly beautiful bird. In breeding season, the male develops its colorful upper tail which extends up to two meters when fanned out and is decorated with ocelli “eye spots”. Outside of breeding season, the male and female are similar in appearance, but nonetheless still eye-catching with their iridescent coloring. The Mountain Peacock-Pheasant (Polyplectron inopinatum) is a blackish-brown pheasant with long graduated tail feathers and small ocelli. Endemic to the Malay Peninsula’s mountain forests, the numbers of these attractive and elusive birds are dwindling primarily due to habitat loss.

In addition to viewing these interesting birds, visitors to Beale Park will enjoy the many themed aviaries scattered around the venue, including the Madagascan aviary and the owlery, as well as African, Australian and Asian aviaries.

The zoological collection at the park has a number of unusual inhabitants, including Tamarinds, Meerkats, Capybaras, Wallabies and Arapawa Goats. The Beale Railway takes visitors on a tour of the park, while the play area keeps the little ones busy and the on-site restaurant provides refreshments. Be sure to check out the new Pirate Island at the park. Certainly, an outing to Beale Park Wildlife Park and Gardens offers an educational and entertaining outing for the whole family.

Making a Difference with Bird-Safe Buildings

April 23, 2013 by  
Filed under Features

Completed in 2010, the Aqua skyscraper in Chicago has been applauded for its revolutionary design and aesthetic appeal, but what is of particular interest to bird conservation groups is the fact that the building is bird-safe. Garnering the approval of PETA and the American Bird Conservancy, the 86-floor building is designed in such a way as to minimize the risk of birds colliding into its windows – a major cause of bird deaths and injury in metropolitan areas. This is achieved, in part, by the undulating concrete terraces which, along with ceramic in the glass, break reflections off the windows. The building is reportedly being reviewed for LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification.

Although the New York City Audubon Society in 2007 published a set of guidelines related to designing bird-safe buildings, research has revealed that these are seldom taken into account even when designing environmentally friendly buildings. Even LEED, which is fast becoming a sought after certification for green buildings, only awards one point for the bird-safe factor of a building and does not make it a stipulated requirement. Toronto and Chicago are among the cities promoting bird-safe building design, but as yet there is no nationally recognized certification or requirement for this.

With more and more birds being forced to adapt to city living as their rural territory is encroached on by development, environmentalists are tallying up the casualties, estimating that throughout North America up to 100 million birds are killed every year as a direct result of colliding with high-rise buildings, and even more than that number are injured. Moreover, in an effort to reduce their carbon footprint, some architects attempt to make the most of natural light by installing larger windows, thereby creating even more of a hazard to birds. Some progress has been made in producing window glass or glass coatings to reduce the risk, such as the German-made Ornilux, but for any meaningful change to come about architects need to seriously take the welfare of birds into account when designing new buildings.

Flightless Birds of New Zealand

April 9, 2013 by  
Filed under Features

There are around forty species of flightless birds in the world today, with New Zealand being home to the greatest number of these species. Among New Zealand’s flightless birds are the kiwi, takahe, kakapo and several species of penguins. It is thought that these New Zealand birds never developed the ability to fly because they had no land-based predators to escape from – until the arrival of human beings. Isolated from the rest of the world for millions of years, these flightless birds adapted to their environment in a way that would most benefit them.

Endemic to New Zealand, the kakapo (Strigops habroptila) is a flightless parrot with nocturnal habits. Its speckled yellow-green plumage acts as a camouflage for the ground-dwelling herbivorous kakapo. It is the world’s only flightless parrot, as well as being the heaviest parrot in the world, and very possibly the longest-living bird with an average life expectancy of 95 years. It is also the only parrot to have a lek courtship and breeding system, where males gather in an arena and compete with one another to attract available females. The female chooses her mate, presumably based on his performance, they mate and go their separate ways, with the female raising the young. Up to three eggs are laid on the ground or in cavities of tree trunks, with the female incubating them. As she has to leave the eggs at night to search for food, they are subject to plundering by predators, and embryos may die of cold. Chicks that make it through to see the light of day are also vulnerable and remain in the nest until 10 to 12 weeks of age. They stay with their mother for the first six months of their lives. The kakapo is listed as ‘critically endangered’ by the IUCN – International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Once thought to be extinct, and rediscovered in 1948, the takahē (Porphyrio hochstetteri) is another of New Zealand‘s flightless birds. Primarily deep purple-blue in color, the adult bird has a red frontal shield and reddish-pink bill, with pink legs. These monogamous birds are very territorial, laying their eggs in nests under bushes. Conservationists have relocated small groups of the birds to some offshore islands – Kapiti, Maud, Mana and Tiritiri Matangi – considered to be predator-free, where birding enthusiasts can view them in the wild. Thanks to intervention by conservationists, this unusual bird has made a comeback from near extinction to being listed as ‘endangered’ on the IUCN red list.

Discover the Ancient Sport of Falconry in England’s Cotswolds

February 12, 2013 by  
Filed under Features

The sport of using trained birds of prey to hunt game for their trainers, known as falconry, is thought to have begun as long ago as 1000 BC. With only noble classes having the time and resources to raise and train birds of prey, during the Middle Ages the sport became a status symbol. The Japanese took the issue of status to an extreme by detailing what was permissible to hunt and who was permitted to hunt it, according to rank within the military nobility – the Samurai. Today, there are numerous falconry centers around the world where visitors can watch exhibitions of these remarkable birds in action, as well as learn and practice the sport of falconry.

In Moreton-in-Marsh, in northeastern Gloucestershire, England, the Cotswold Falconry Centre houses approximately 150 birds of prey, many of which can be seen in action during the center’s free-flying demonstrations. Established in 1988, the aim of the center is to use education and fun to promote a greater understanding of birds of prey. With more than 20,000 visitors each year, the center is doing much to achieve their goal. More than thirty bird species have been bred successfully in the center’s non-commercial aviaries, with owls being encouraged to breed naturally in the aptly named Owl Woods, an area that visitors can stroll through at leisure. CCTV and infra-red cameras allow a peek into the secretive world of these fascinating nocturnal birds of prey.

Bearing in mind that the center does not put on bird shows as such, but allows the birds to decide if they will participate or not, displays are held four times daily in season – at 11:30, 13:30, 15:00 and 16:30 – and the Cotswold Falconry Centre opens on 9 February 2013 after being closed for the coldest part of winter. Birds that participate in the displays include vultures, falcons, caracara, owls and eagles and visitors are assured of some dazzling aerobatics and high-speed flight from these awe-inspiring birds.

The Cotswold Falconry Centre offers a number of activities for visitors who are looking for a hands-on experience. Starting at 9:30 and finishing at around 16:30, the Introductory Course covers the basics of falconry, including an in-depth explanation of birds types and training on handling and flying the birds. The Eagle Day offers participants the opportunity to spend some quality time with a mature Golden Eagle, including a walk into the Cotswold Hills where they will be able to fly an eagle. Certainly, the Cotswold Falconry Centre is the perfect day’s outing for anyone who is interested in the ancient sport of falconry.

Conservation of the Honduran Emerald Hummingbird

January 29, 2013 by  
Filed under Features

There are more than 338 recorded hummingbird species worldwide, and many birding enthusiasts would agree that they are top of the list as the most interesting little birds of the nearly 10,000 bird species found around the world. With their brilliant iridescent coloring, wings flapping in a blur and ability to dart in all directions, or hover in one spot, hummingbirds are extremely entertaining to watch.

Interestingly, the color of a hummingbird’s gorget (throat feathers) is not a result of feather pigmentation, but of light refraction caused by the structure of the feathers. They are unable to hop or walk, but can move sideways while perching. The smallest species is the bee hummingbird, endemic to the main island of Cuba and weighing only 1.6-2 grams with a length of 5-6 cm. Up to 30 percent of the hummingbird’s weight is in the muscles used in flight – the pectoral muscles. With wings that beat between 50 and 200 flaps per second and an average heart rate of more than 1,200 beats per minute, a hummingbird uses an amazing amount of energy and must consume up to half of its weight in sugar daily. They harvest nectar from flowers with fringed, forked tongues that lick 10-15 times per second.

The rufous hummingbird migrates a distance of more than 3,000 miles from its Alaskan and Canadian nesting grounds to its Mexican winter habitat – the longest migration of all the hummingbird species. Some hummingbird species such as the rufous, calliope, broad-tailed, Anna’s, black-chinned and Costa’s are known to inter-breed and create hybrid species, making the birder’s identification task more challenging.

Following the completion of a species status review in 2012, the US Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing that the Honduran Emerald hummingbird be listed as endangered. Endemic to five small valleys in the Central American country of Honduras, it’s estimated that the Honduran Emerald hummingbird population has decreased to fewer than 1,500. With loss of habitat being the primary cause of the decline in numbers, it is feared the decline will continue as land is cleared for establishing plantations and pastures for cattle. The good news for the brightly colored little bird is that the Honduran government is aware of the problem and has formed the Honduran Emerald Hummingbird Habitat Management Area which includes dry forest habitat suitable for the Honduran Emerald hummingbird and may very well turn the decline around.

Take a Stroll Through the Linda Loring Nature Foundation

January 15, 2013 by  
Filed under Features

Established in 1999 by Linda Loring, the Linda Loring Nature Foundation is a nonprofit organization focused on providing young people with the opportunity to enjoy and learn about various facets of the natural world. Starting in 1957, this dedicated wildlife advocate and conservationist started buying up parcels of land between Madaket Road and Eel Point Road until she had a 270 acre tract of land serving as a wildlife sanctuary for the plants and animals in this area of Nantucket. Years of work have gone into creating this spectacular open-air classroom, which boasts a number of trails and hides for visitors to view the birdlife and other animals living in this nature sanctuary.

The island of Nantucket was separated from the mainland thousands of years ago when the glacier covering the New England area retreated. The geological features of the island include a diverse range of habitats that are home to a host of animal and plant species. Within the Linda Loring Nature Foundation there are coastal heathlands, pitch pine forests, vegetated wetlands, sandplain grasslands and coastal scrub forest, all providing sanctuary for a wealth of diverse wildlife. Birds that breed within the sanctuary include the Northern Harrier (Circus cyaneus) and Osprey (Pandion haliaetus), and it provides a welcome stopover point for an abundance of migratory bird species.

The mile long loop trail is designed for visitors to access areas of the sanctuary where they can observe the wildlife while at the same time not intruding. The trail makes its way along the edge of a vegetated wetland before climbing a small hill which affords visitors a superb view over the brackish, tidal Long Pond. Continuing to the west the trail makes its way through a small group of black cherry trees before opening up a charming view of toward Nantucket Sound over sandplain grasslands, an ecosystem which is found primarily on Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard and is globally threatened. Plants that will be seen along the way include little bluestem, blue-eyed grass, Pennsylvania sedge and bushy rockrose.

Located on the north head of Long Pond, the osprey nest pole is occupied by a nesting pair of Ospreys from late-March, with fledgings leaving the nest around mid-August. Nesting boxes on poles throughout the sanctuary are used by tree swallows that also arrive in late-March, with their young leaving the nest in early July. Nantucket has the highest known density of Northern harriers anywhere in the world and the sanctuary generally has up to seven nests during breeding season. Other birds found at the Linda Loring Nature Foundation include mute swans, and red-tailed hawks. The coastal shrublands and sandplain grasslands are also home to more than twenty species of butterflies, and turtles and (harmless) snakes are likely to be seen while exploring this tranquil reserve in Nantucket.

Environmental Monitoring With the Help of Birds

January 1, 2013 by  
Filed under Features

While climate change and global warming are an ongoing cause for concern, monitoring the environment is a costly and time consuming activity for conservationists to carry out without help from local experts – of the feathered variety. Birds are tremendously valuable in assisting conservationists and researchers to pick up changes in the environment and species diversity, enabling them to take action where possible to prevent a bad situation from becoming a catastrophe.

Science has come a long way since canaries were used to detect toxic gases in coalmines, but birds continue to be the most effective sentinel species on the planet. The reasons for this are many and include the fact that birds are found all over the world, in all types of habitats, both in the wild and in urban settings. They are sensitive and adaptive to environmental changes and are relatively easy to monitor as they are highly visible. Birds are among the most researched animals on the planet and with bird watching being a popular activity around the world, birders are often keen to participate as citizen scientists in research projects and organized bird counts. Birding clubs and Audubon societies all over the world get involved in the gathering of data, which can then be coordinated by scientists. Moreover, there exists a wealth of historical data on the activities of birds, providing a baseline against which to compare current data. As birds include species that feed on a wide variety of food sources, they are vulnerable to the accumulation of toxins in both plants and animals they eat, thereby providing an indicator on soil, air and water pollution levels.

As birds are acutely in tune with seasonal cycles, even subtle changes in behavior, feeding and breeding patterns can alert scientists to broader environmental changes. Changes in arrival and departure times of migratory bird species have been linked to changes in temperature, ocean currents and wind patterns. Feeding and breeding patterns of marine predators and seabirds offer scientists the opportunity to monitor the health of the world’s oceans and seas and with many species the timing and success of breeding is dependent on food availability.

When birds seemingly inexplicably fall out of the sky, as was reported in Arkansas and New Jersey earlier this year, scientists will try to solve the mystery, because when birds are in distress, it is very likely an indicator that something is very wrong in the environment.

The Mississippi Flyway: An Essential Migration Route

December 18, 2012 by  
Filed under Features

Starting in central Canada and stretching to the Gulf of Mexico, the Mississippi Flyway is the name given to the route followed by birds migrating from their breeding grounds in North America to their wintering grounds in the south. The flyway includes Canada’s Mackenzie River which flows north through uninhabited forest and tundra into the Arctic Ocean, with tributaries reaching southwards, feeding into and out of a number of lakes, including the Great Slave Lake, Great Bear Lake and Lake Athabasca. As the name suggests, the Mississippi Flyway follows the route of the Mississippi River in the United States – North America’s largest river system. Originating in northern Minnesota, the slow-flowing river travels southwards for a distance of 2,530 miles, cutting through, or forming a border for, the states of Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Kentucky and Tennessee to before emptying into the Mississippi River Delta at the Gulf of Mexico.

According to Audubon, nearly half of the bird species and up to forty percent of the waterfowl of North America spend part of their lives in the Mississippi Flyway. With spectacular forests, grasslands and wetlands, the route provides good sources of food and water, with no mountainous areas to navigate along the entire route. The greatest elevation above sea level along the route is below 2,000 feet. The route is used by large numbers of geese, ducks, shorebirds, sparrows, blackbirds, thrushes and warblers, the majority of which cut across the Gulf of Mexico, providing excellent birding opportunities along the coasts of Louisiana and Texas.

Unfortunately, years of exploitation of natural resources by man has taken its toll on the environment, with waterways being diverted for irrigation having an impact on the habitat that birds and other wildlife rely on. A combination of dams, locks and levees have reduced the Mississippi to less than ten percent of its original floodplain with an estimated nineteen square miles of delta wetlands disappearing annually. Thanks to the efforts of Audubon, which has offices in Minnesota, Indiana, Ohio, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi, efforts to preserve habitats along the Mississippi Flyway are making a difference to the birds that make use of the route each year. Audubon is currently focusing intensive conservation efforts on twenty-seven bird species along the Mississippi Flyway, namely: Mottled Duck; Greater Prairie-Chicken; Brown Pelican; Little Blue Heron; Reddish Egret; Swallow-tailed Kite; Clapper Rail; Snowy Plover; Wilson’s Plover; Piping Plover; American Oystercatcher; Upland Sandpiper; Ruddy Turnstone; Red Knot; Sanderling; Western Sandpiper; Short-billed Dowitcher; Least Tern; Black Skimmer; Prothonotary Warbler; Swainson’s Warbler; Cerulean Warbler; Grasshopper Sparrow; Henslow’s Sparrow; Seaside Sparrow; Bobolink; and Eastern Meadowlark.

« Previous PageNext Page »