Hen Harrier to be Released into English Wilds

February 13, 2009 by  
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The hen harrier is one of the most endangered birds of prey in Britain. Their numbers have fallen incredibly in England in the past, with just ten breeding pairs having been counted last year. While this bird species was once very widespread across Britain, it now seems its domain is limited mainly to Scotland where there are about 630 breeding pairs.

The main reason behind the dramatic decline of hen harriers in England is systematic persecution – namely, the shooting of these birds in their natural habitats in the Pennines and the Peak District. This is an area where these birds come to prey on grouse chicks and it is here that they are most ruthlessly persecuted. However, it seems that government officials are not content to sit back and watch extinction in action. Natural England, a government conversation agency, has been hard at work at drafting up plans to save the hen harrier in England. They would like to reintroduce the bird into the ranges that it formerly inhabited, such as lowland farms, heathland and upland areas including the Exmoor, Dartmoor and New Forest areas. All this will hopefully take place during the course of the next two years. Until now their plans have been put forth somewhat clandestinely, with the proposals gaining approval from bird conservation organizations, environment ministers and moorland and country sports organizations. The detailed proposals will be officially released to the public in early April.

Why all the secrecy? It seems it is feared that there will be some opposition from certain conservationists and landowners. Caution certainly is the order of the day, since these birds can pose a threat to resident land owners in the proposed areas for release. Farmers in the area are already struggling with a surge in the number of sparrowhawks, red kits and buzzards and the addition of another feathered predator will no doubt only add to their worries. Some landowners use their estates primarily for pheasant and partridge shooting and are concerned that the birds could get in the way. Basically there are fears that the widespread and non-specific reintroduction of these birds of prey could cause havoc to a number of already established farm and gaming practices. What’s more, Scottish sheep farmers are already complaining about decreases in stock numbers due to the much higher numbers of hen harriers in those parts of the United Kingdom. While the reintroduction of the hen harriers to the English wilds is widely supported due to the fact that they are endangered, it seems it is hoped that conservation officials will choose wisely as to how many of these birds will be released and where they will be allowed to make their new home.

Whooping Crane (Grus americana)

February 9, 2009 by  
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Named for its whooping call, the Whooping Crane (Grus americana) is unique in a number of ways. Firstly, at 1.5 meters in height with a wingspan of 2.3 meters, this beautiful bird is the tallest bird in North America. It is also unique in that it is the only crane species that is found exclusively in North America. However, despite their immense size, Whooping Cranes are an endangered species. When counted in 1995, there were 149 Whooping Cranes in the US. This is quite an increase from the 14-16 that were around in the 1940s but a far cry from the 1,500 or so that inhabited parts of western Canada and the US in the 1800s. Fortunately conservations efforts have been largely successful and there are currently more than 320 Whooping Cranes in the world.

Because of their immense size, Whooping Cranes are easily identifiable. They are very large birds with long legs and a long neck. Their dark bills are long and pointed and their long dark legs trail behind them when they fly. Whooping Cranes tend to hold their necks straight, both when resting and during flight, instead of adopting the S-like bend that many other long-necked birds make use of. Adults have a red crown and entirely white plumage. There is a bit of black near the base of their bills which extends onto the cheeks somewhat. You might also spot black wing tips when the adult bird is in flight. Juvenile birds have a white body with scattered brown feathers as well as a pale brown head and neck.

The Whooping Crane prefers to make use of ‘muskegs’ for breeding purposes. Currently there is only one known nesting location – that of Wood Buffalo National Park which is in Canada. The Whooping Crane nests on the ground in a marshy area. The female lays 1-3 eggs and both the male and female raise the young. Whooping cranes generally mate for life. Usually only one bird survives and the weaker is starved to death or pushed out the nest. Whooping Cranes are omnivorous and they eat snails, insects, leeches, minnows, frogs, small rodents, waste grain, plant roots and berries. They may scavenge on dead birds or muskrats, and in Texas they have been known to eat snakes, acorns, wild fruit, small fish and shellfish. Most of their food is obtained by foraging in shallow water or in fields. The main reason for this bird’s dwindling numbers is that of habitat loss. Fortunately several conservation projects have resulted in varying measures of success but the bird still has a long way to go before it is no longer considered to be an endangered species.

Wood Stork (Mycteria americana)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The impressively large and passive Wood Stork (Mycteria americana) is a waterbird that was formerly called the Wood Ibis, with the name change coming about because it is not actually an ibis at all. Wood Storks are the only stork native to North America and the only stork that breeds in this country, though they are generally found in the extreme southern parts of the country and their range extends as far south as Argentina in South America as well as into the Caribbean. Wood Storks are wetland birds and so they are commonly found near water sources such as swamps, marshes and ponds. They feed by wading in the shallows and eat small fish, tadpoles and crayfish. There is a small population which breeds in southern Florida, Georgia and South Carolina and it is this population which is considered to be endangered. However, those found between Mexico and Argentina are far more abundant and are not considered to be endangered.

Wood Storks measure around 85-115 cm in length, with a wingspan of 150-175 cm. They have long legs and are almost completely white in colour with a long, thick, down-curved bill. The head and top of the neck is black and bald and the white wings have black flight feathers. The tail is usually also black and their legs are peach in colour. Both sexes look alike and are capable of gliding for long periods of time. Juveniles are similar in appearance but with duller beaks and browner necks. Since they have no vocal muscles, they are fairly silent birds that only produce soft noises once in a while. It is interesting to note that they cool themselves off by urinating on their legs. When gliding, they are capable of diving and flipping, though they do look somewhat awkward when they flap their wings.

Nesting season for the Wood Stork is always dry. At this time of the year, lakes shrink and food is forced into smaller areas that are more easily waded. Because the catch is higher, the chicks stay well fed. At this time of year, these birds begin to make their nests in the top of tall trees. More than one bird may nest in the same tree and these birds usually nest in colonies called rookeries. The nests are made from moss, vines and twigs and hold 4-5 eggs. Incubation lasts about 30 days and usually only about two chicks survive the breeding season. The babies are fed by their parents for the first nine weeks during which time the parents take turns watching the nest and hunting for food. After this nine-week period, the juvenile Wood Storks are able to live on their own.

Ashy Storm-Petrel (Oceanodroma homochroa)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Ashy Storm-Petrel (Oceanodroma homochroa) is a relatively rare little bird that can be found in colonies on small islands off the coast of California and Mexico. The bird is part of the storm-petrel family Hydrobatidae and it is currently an endangered species. The Ashy Storm-Petrel is also one of 6 species of storm-petrel which feed off the California Current system. Both sexes are similar in appearance and they are fairly easily confused with other storm-petrel species.

The most notable difference between Ashy Storm-Petrels and other storm-petrels is that the Ashy Storm-Petrel does not have a white rump. They are also smaller in size with shallower wingbeats than Black Storm-Petrels, while the Least Storm-Petrel has even shallower wingbeats than the Ashy, and a wedge-shaped tail. The Ashy Storm-Petrel is medium-sized with a length of 7 inches and a wingspan of 16 inches. Its body coloring is a sooty brown – hence the name – and it has a dark rump and forked tail. The underwings are somewhat paler than the rest of the bird and the bill is dark in color with a tube on top. The Ashy Storm-Petrel has a somewhat ‘fluttering’ style of flight and its upstroke is not as high as certain other members of the storm-petrel family. It feeds on a variety of sea creatures such as cephalopods, fish, krill and other organisms which might be found near the sea’s surface.

Ashy Storm-Petrels are nocturnal and they have a long breeding cycle. They make their nests in rock burrows on offshore islands and it takes about five months from the time the egg is laid to fledging. Both male and female tend to show fidelity, mating with the same mate for many years. They usually only change their mate if they change their nesting site. Records show that the Ashy Storm-Petrel is a relatively long-lived bird with current records allowing for a lifespan of approximately 30 years. Currently most Ashy Storm-Petrel breeding colonies fall within protected areas and wildlife refuges whose legislative protection has helped to ensure the survival of this beautiful little endangered bird.

Mountain Quail (Oreortyx pictus)

February 9, 2009 by  
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If you ever happen to see one, you will find that Mountain Quail (Oreortyx pictus) are very attractive birds. Commonly found in densely wooded foothills and mountains along the West Coast of the US, these birds are somewhat unique in that they migrate up and down the slopes of the mountains according to the seasons. They are the only bird in the Quail family to perform some form of seasonal migration. The Mountain Quail is also known by several other names including the ‘Painted Quail’, the ‘Mountain Partridge’ and the ‘Plumed Quail’.

Generally speaking, Mountain Quail are fairly large (26-28 cm), distinctive birds. They have a long, straight head plume – sometimes called ‘top knots’ – as well as striking maroon throats set off by a white border. The female’s plume is shorter than the male’s. Their heads and breasts are grey while their bellies are chestnut and marked with bold white bars. The Mountain Quail’s underparts are a brownish-grey while their back and tail might be described as being olive-brown. Both sexes are similar in colour and size and the bird has a fairly chunky body with round wings and a short tail – features which are quite common for a ground-dwelling bird. The bird’s distinctive colouring makes it quite difficult to see in its natural habitat.

Every year between March and June, the Mountain Quail pair off for breeding purposes. The female lays 6-15 eggs in a shallow depression on the ground which may hatch 24-25 days later. The nest is usually concealed by surrounding vegetation and it is usually quite close to water. After only a few hours of breathing clean heart, the downy young leave the nest and are cared for by the parents who direct them to food instead of feeding it to them. The chicks seem to eat more insects than their adult counterparts who seem to prefer plant matter as a means of sustenance. As they mature, Mountain Quail young may congregate in large groups of up to 20 birds.

Though Mountain Quails are capable of moving quickly through the undergrowth, they are a favourite amongst quail hunters and their numbers have decreased dramatically over the past fifty years. However it would seem that this is mainly due to lost of habitat from human development and not from hunting. Hunting of this bird has been banned in places such as Idaho and eastern Oregon and while the bird is not considered to be endangered, efforts have been made to boost Mountain Quail numbers in certain parts of the country.

Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus) is a tiny shore bird that measures 5.5 inches in length, with orange legs and a stubby little bill. Generally, the adults have white faces with a black stripe across their forehead and a thick band of black across their breast. Some adults have paler breast bands, and at times they are not complete. Their bills can range between an orange bill that becomes dark at the point to just a dark bill. They have white bellies, while their upper body parts such as wings are gray to sandy colored, and it is the complete coloring of the Piping Plover that allows them to blend in with their surroundings.

This shore bird is treated as an endangered bird species in Canada and the United States. It only breeds in three geographic areas in North America, namely the East Coast, the Great Lakes region and on the Northern Great Plains. Piping Plovers prefer gravel beaches, coastal areas, prairie lakes and specific saline lakes and river sandbars. The nesting habits of the Piping Plover greatly depend on the level of water and the surrounding vegetation. Human activity along the coastal areas has also interfered with the nesting. Artificial nesting sites have been established to encourage nesting, but these have not proven to be successful. Although Piping Plovers are known to be able to live for 14 years, most Plovers don’t survive for more than five.

Piping Plovers feed on aquatic invertebrates, which the Plovers pick up with their bills by probing the shore-lines and pecking alternatively as the run and stop. Nests are created by scraping hollows into the ground and then lining these with bits of seashells, bone fragments and small pebbles. Piping Plovers will only have one partner during the breeding season, and will only select a new partner in the next season. Females are able to re-nest if the eggs are destroyed. She will lay about four eggs that are pale with black speckles. The 26 to 28 day incubation period is shared between the parents and within 20 to 25 days the chicks will be able to take short flights, with full flight capabilities at 27 days. If a Piping Plover feels that its nest is being threatened by any form of predator, they will fake injury to lead the danger away. Chicks will crouch into a motionless position to avoid detection from the danger. The female will leave the nest before the family disperses, leaving the male to attend to the chicks until they fledge the nest.

Trumpeter Swans Might Not Be Endangered Anymore

January 13, 2009 by  
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In this day and age of destruction and desolation, it is not often that you find wildlife officials reaching positive milestones. Yet that is exactly what is happening in Wisconsin. It seems that in that part of the United States, trumpeter swan numbers have increased so much that officials are now considering whether or not to remove them from the local endangered wildlife species list.

Trumpeter swans in Wisconsin suffered a dramatic decline in numbers in the past – so much so that they were listed as an endangered species in that area. Their decline was the result of a number of different factors, but mainly through human interference. For starters they were ruthlessly hunted before the turn of the 19th century, leading to a dramatic decrease in numbers. What was left was further affected by the use of the pesticide DDT in the area, with the result that local populations were well and truly decimated. Fortunately the state-run Department of Natural Resources saw the need to take action and the majestic white birds were reintroduced to the state in the 1980s. Trumpeter swans in Wisconsin were also placed on the endangered list in 1986, as part of efforts to further ensure their survival. The original goal was to see 20 breeding pairs firmly established in the area. The Department of Natural Resources and other partner organizations have been hard at work trying to ensure their survival by building artificial nesting platforms and doing whatever else might assist the birds in their attempts to breed successfully. What must have seemed painstaking work back then has now yielded fine results. By 1989, the birds were downgraded from endangered to threatened. Just last year there are estimated to be over 120 breeding pairs in Wisconsin, spread across 20 different counties in the state. Now, it seems that there are about 500 nesting pairs in the area!

Since it seems that local trumpeter swan populations are well and truly on the way to recovery, officials are now faced with the task of deciding whether or not to remove them from their endangered species list. Choosing to de-list the bird species in Wisconsin will not leave it completely unprotected, as it will still fall under the safeguard of the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The Natural Resources Board will make the final decision whether or not to de-list the bird at its official meeting in January 28, 2009.

Tern Breeding Grounds Restoration Back On Track

October 31, 2008 by  
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Bird Island has long been noted as a very important Tern breeding ground but so far efforts to protect this small spot of land in the ocean have been moving slowly. Now it seems that after years of waiting, protection and restoration efforts will finally be gaining momentum.

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Endangered Bird Species on the Road to Recovery

October 15, 2008 by  
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Most people may not know much about the red cockaded woodpecker. Even if they have been fortunate enough to see one, they probably won’t know that these special little birds are a federally endangered species. In fact, the bird was declared endangered in 1970 and currently has the same endangered status as the much better known bald eagle and whooping crane.

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The Plight of the Endangered Snail Kite

July 8, 2008 by  
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The Florida Everglades offer a variety of habitats that are home to an amazing array of birds and wildlife. But, as is increasingly the case all over the world, man is encroaching on the delicate balance of these tropical wetlands with disastrous results. The latest casualty in the Florida Everglades is the Snail Kite which, according to the most recent count, is now considered to be critically endangered in this region.

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