Birds

Red-and-Green Macaw

Ara chloropterus

Red-and-Green Macaw

Scientific Classification

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Aves
Order: Psittaciformes
Family: Psittacidae
Subfamily: Psittacinae
Tribe: Arini
Genus: Ara
Species: Ara chloropterus

Description:

The Red-and-Green Macaw is a large bird of the genus ara and belongs to the order of parrots. It is also called Green-winged Macaw. Its plumage is mostly red but the wings are blue and on their upper part there is a characteristic green band. Some blue feathers are mixed to the red ones on the tail. Except some loose and tiny red feathers, the face is naked. Typical of an ara is the strong and large bill. The upper beak is pale with a black tip, whereas the lower beak is completely dark colored. Its strong toes are gray. The gender can’t be told easily because females and males don’t differ in their appearance.

The Red-and-Green Macaw achieves a wingspan up to 125 centimeters and a weight up to 1700 grams and a totally body length up to 100 centimeters. Aside from the Hyacinth Macaw it is the biggest species of the macaw family.

Young Red-and-Green Macaws differ from adults. In contrast to old individuals their iris is brown not yellow and the lower beak isn’t black but gray.

Range and habitat:

The Red-and-Green Macaw occupies large regions in the North and the Center of South-America, for instance in Brazil, East-Bolivia, North-Paraguay or East-Peru. Furthermore they are found in Trinidad, Guayana and Surinam. Their choice of habitats varies from rain forests and wooded areas to open landscapes as savannas. They can be seen up to an elevation of 2000 meters above sea level. Every habit has to provide that the Red-and-Green Macaw can find enough save places in tree crowns for sleeping and resting. Warm temperatures are also very important.

Behavior

Red-and-Green Macaws live in pairs and small family groups, which count 6 to 12 individuals. To feeding grounds they always fly together in larger groups up to 100 birds. Often other species of macaws are mixed under this group and sometimes it even happens that macaws of different species mate and get offspring.
The Red-and-Green Macaw search active after its predators. Mostly they are sitting calm in the trees and attentively watch their surroundings. However, predominately macaws have to relay on their sense of hearing in wooded areas because their predators are hard to find.
Before the group fly to the preferred food trees they stay in a save distance. Finally, if they couldn’t discover any predators, all macaws fly to the trees at the same time. Is there any hint of danger the Red-and-Green Macaws scream loud and leave the place gathered. Their flight is relatively fast but not in great height.
Vocalization is important for macaws to communicate with other birds. As social animals they spend a lot of time in interacting with their family members.

Diet

The diet of Red-and Green Macaws consists of fruits and nuts, especially Brazil Nuts. Sometimes groups of macaws plunder plantations. In addition the macaws gnaw at bark of deciduous trees in order to absorb fibers and vitamins.

Consuming this various food, poison sometimes comes up in the stomach. These little poisonings have to be neutralized. Therefor macaws often fly to steep faces out of clay and eat crumbs of the clay. This clayey food provides them the minerals they need.

Reproduction

Red-and-Green Macaws form strong pair bonds and stay together for their whole life. Breeding season starts in November and lasts until May. If enough food is available a second breed is possible. The red-and-green birds nest in holes in the upper parts of high trees. They trench it with their strong bill or use existing nest of other birds. They are also found in caves of cliffs or steep banks. Bark pieces and are used as bolster for the 1 to 3 eggs that the female lays. After approximately 28 days the young macaws hatch. The naked and blind hatchlings are only feed by their mother while the male feed the female. When they are older and have feathers they also get food from their father. After 12 weeks they leave the nest for the first time and start to try flying. The parents still care about their offspring. Later, the young birds stay in the family group until they are mature, but care for them self. They achieve maturity after 3 years.

Conservation Status

The number of populations seems to increase. The total number of individuals has not been quantified but their range appears still large in spite of the declining. Therefor it is evaluated as Least Concern on the Red List for threatened species of the IUCN.

Factors for the decreasing populations are habitat destruction, land development and trapping for pet trade.

The Macaws and the humans

Humans were always fascinated by this beautiful and exotic colored bird. When humans started to domesticate macaws thousands of birds were trapped and exported, which caused a dramatic declining in the number of populations. Already in the Middle Age the ownership of parrots was a symbol of wealth and power. And also the training of these animals became a popular hobby. The trend spread and lead to commercial breeding in huge numbers. Macaws were popular because of their intelligence and curiosity, but humans mostly did not offer the birds proper living conditions: Often they were chained up with one leg. This wrong treatment often leads to self-destructive behavior as plucking feathers. Fortunately, in many countries the restrictions to own a Red-and-Green Macaw are very strict today. Indeed, many people still love to own and train these intelligent and playful birds.

Short Facts

  • The very first breed of young macaws often dies because the parents are inexperienced.
  • A macaw’s tongue is dry and has a bone inside it, which makes it an excellent tool for open nuts.
  • Macaws can imitate sounds and words that they hear and often practice them until they get it right.
  • Their strong beak is able to crush a human knuckle.
  • Like humans are either right- or left-handed they tend to using one foot more than the other.
  • Besides Woodpeckers and birds of the Corvidae family Macaws belong to one of the most intelligent order of all birds: Parrots.
Egyptian Goose

Alopochen aegyptiacus

Egyptian Goose

Scientific classification

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Aves

Order: Anseriformes

Family: Anatidae

Subfamily: Tadorninae

Genus: Alopochen

Species: A. aegyptiacus

 

Description

Egyptian geese have long necks, long pink legs, a pink bill and brown eye patches encircling each eye. They are distinguished from closely related species by a brown patch in the middle of the chest. The upper wings and the head are brown, while the rest of the body is light brown. The underside of the wings is white and green. Juveniles do not have the brown eye patches or a patch on the chest. Egyptian geese are anywhere from 63 to 73 cm in height and they can weigh from 1.5 to 2.3 kg. The wingspan is fairly large, measuring 38 cm, on average. The females are smaller than the males, but otherwise both sexes look alike.

Range and Habits

Alopochen aegyptiaca is widely distributed throughout its native range, Africa, and southern Europe. It is especially common in southern Africa, below the Sahara and in the Nile Valley. Currently Alopochen aegyptiaca is colonizing the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany.

gyptian geese will not populate densely wooded areas, though they can be found in meadows, grasslands, and agricultural fields. Most of their time is spent in rivers, streams, lakes, ponds and wetlands. They can be found as high as 4000 m.

Behavior

These geese stay together in small flocks throughout the year. They may wander from the water during the day in search of food in either the grasslands or agricultural fields. They always return to the water at night.

Diet

Egyptian geese are mainly herbivores; they eat young grass from grasslands or savannahs, grains from agricultural fields, and soft vegetation like leaves and other detritus. Part of their diet includes a wide variety of small insects, terrestrial worms and frogs that live in nearby ponds.

Reproduction

The males are quite aggressive when mating. Each male performs a noisy and elaborate courtship display, emitting unusually loud honking noises. Egyptian geese are monogamous, one male and one female nest alone in dense vegetation, holes, or simply on the ground. They breed in the spring or at the end of the dry season. At the age of two, Alopochen aeygptiacus reach sexual maturity. Nest locations are usually near water for safety and near grassland for feeding. Pairs sometimes find nests on the ground or use deserted nests of other larger bird, which can be located in trees or on high ledges. Five to twelve eggs are laid, and they are incubated for 28 to 30 days. The young fledge in 70 days. Incubation lasts from 28 to 30 days and is done by both parents. The father protects the eggs and chicks, while the mother guides them and keeps them close to her.

Conservation Status

Egyptian geese are listed as Appendix III by CITES and in the IUCN Red List and evaluated as Least Concern.

Swan Goose

Anser cygnoides

Swan Goose

Scientific classification

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Aves

Superorder: Galloanseres

Order: Anseriformes

Family: Anatidae

Subfamily: Anserinae

Tribe: Anserini

Genus: Anser

Species: A. cygnoides

 

Description

The Swan Goose is large and long-necked for its genus, wild birds being 81–94 cm long (the longest Anser goose) and weighing 2.8–3.5 kg or more (the second-heaviest Anser, after the Greylag Goose A. anser). The sexes are similar, although the male is larger, with a proportionally longer bill and neck; in fact the largest females are barely as large as the smallest males. Typical measurements of the wing are 45–46 cm in males, 37.5–44 cm in females; the bill is about 8.7–9.8 cm long in males and 7.5–8.5 cm in females. The tarsus of males measures around 8.1 cm. The wingspan of adult geese is 160–185 cm. The upperparts are greyish-brown, with thin light fringes to the larger feathers and a maroon hindneck and cap (reaching just below the eye). The remiges are blackish, as are the entire underwing and the white-tipped rectrices, while the upper-and under tail coverts are white. A thin white stripe surrounds the bill base.

Range and Habits

The Swan Goose (Anser cygnoides) is a rare large goose with a natural breeding range in inland Mongolia, northernmost China, and southeastern Russia. It is migratory and winters mainly in central and eastern China. Vagrant birds are encountered in Japan and Korea (where it used to winter in numbers when it was more common), and more rarely in Kazakhstan, Laos, coastal Siberia, Taiwan, Thailand and Uzbekistan. Found always near water in mountainous regions.

Behavior

These geese are meant to be the most suitable ‘watchdog ‘ being the chattiest breed with a curiosity unrivaled by other breeds. They can occasionally take a violent dislike to people. They are strong, active birds – geese imperfectly domesticated.

Diet

Swan Geese are often seen grazing on plains and stubble fields on plants, such as sedges (Cyperaceae).

Ducks and geese generally feed on larvae and pupae usually found under rocks, aquatic animals, plant material, seeds, small fish, snails and crabs.

Reproduction

In April, the Swan Geese return from their wintering ranges, for the breeding season with nesting activities usually occurring in May. Their nesting habitats are the taiga and mountain valleys near freshwater. Single pairs or loose groups are found near marshes and other wetlands. The average clutch consists of 5 – 6 eggs, but sometimes as many as 8 are laid. The shallow nest, made from plants, is placed directly on the ground. The eggs are incubated for about 28 days to hatching. Swan Geese leave their nesting territories around late August or early September for their wintering ranges. The young reach reproductive maturity when they are about 2 – 3 years old.

Conservation Status

The species Listed in the IUCN Red List and evaluated as Vulnerable.

Peafowl

Pavo cristatus

Peafowl

Common Raven

Corvus corax

Common Raven

Scientific classification:

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Corvidae
Genus: Corvus
Species: Corvus corax

 

Description

The Common Raven is the biggest and most spread species of the Corvid family in Europe and the Northern Hemisphere. It achieves a length up to 69 centimeters and an average weight of 1157 gram. There is no sexual dimorphism but females may be slightly smaller and lighter than males. All Common Ravens have a black metallic glaring plumage and a wedge-shaped tail. Their throat is adorned with a feather ruff, the so called “hackles”, which is used for social communication. They have strong claws and bills.
Feathers of juvenile birds are brown-black and do not shine. They have no hackles which develop not until the birds achieve an age of three years.
In wild the longest lifespan of a Common Raven was recorded with 13 years. In captivity they can reach a much higher age up to 44 years.

Range and Habitat

The Common Raven has one of the largest distribution ranges of any bird species. It occurs in the Holarctic, in India and the Himalayas, in temperate habitats of Eurasia and North America, in the Near East as well as next to the deserts of North Africa and some islands in the Pacific Ocean.

Preferred are regions with open-landscape, but the species can be found in many types of habitat except rainforests. They live in the treeless tundra, at coasts and cliffs, in mountain forests, deserts and scrubby woodlands. Some subspecies are mostly found in wild areas whereas some are used to live near humans and in landscapes shaped by human impact.

Nests are built on cliffs or in trees but in urban areas also power lines and towers can be nesting sites.

Distribution range of the species includes Armenia

Behavior

All members of the Corvid family, including Common Ravens, Crows, Jays, and Magpies are famous for their intelligence and complex social behavior. They are not only able to find solutions to solve problems but they are also extremely playful. For example there are reports about ravens which are observed sliding down snow banks on their backs and playing tag, hide-and-go-seek and stick catching (while flying!).
Ravens form monogamous breeding-pairs but there are also non breeding individuals as it took sometimes three to four years until a Common Raven finds his/her mate. Out of the reproduction period Common Ravens can often be observed in large flocks. Except small movements because of unfavorable weather, the species is not migratory.
Vocalization is a very important part of their communication. A broad variety of calls is used in different situations as well as non-vocal sounds as bill snapping and wing whistles. All in all 15 to 33 different types of vocalizations are reported which, for example, occur as alarm calls, chase calls or comfort screams. The ability to mimic sounds is guessed but not proved.
Communication is also provided through different physical displays. For instance, pairs chase intruders out of their territory. Ravens were also observed to use gestures to communicate for example by offering twigs or stones to conspecifics to initiate a relationship.

Diet

Predominately Common Ravens are omnivores which mean that their diet includes animals as well as vegetable matters. Carrion attracts ravens but they feed also on insects or the afterbirth of large mammals. Grains, fruits, acorns take over the vegetarian part. Different types of human garbage are an additional food source. The food is picked from the ground and can be stored.

Reproduction

Much of Common Raven’s behavior is related to mating and reproduction. Juveniles begin to court at a very early age, but may not bond for another 2-3 years. Aerial acrobatics and displays of intelligence and ability to provide food are key behaviors of courting ravens. Common Ravens are monogamous and a breeding pair stays in its territory most probably for its entire life time. They construct enormous nests of twigs and other found objects that can measure more than one meter across. Copulation is accepted when the female invites the male by dropping wings and shaking its tail.
Most eggs are laid in March or April, even if the breeding season varies from region to region. The 3 to 7 eggs are incubated by the female for 20 to 25 days. Rearing the nestlings by regurgitating food and water stored in throat pouches is the duty of both parents..
5 to 7 weeks after hatching the little Common Ravens leave the nest and some weeks later may leave the family or sometimes stay with their parents. They achieve sexual maturity at the age of three years.

Conservation Status

The accusation that Common Ravens often prey on lambs and crops caused a high persecution rate. Whether poisoned, shot or captured in traps – often the birds were killed by humans to protect other species or because they were simply perceived as competitors for example by hunters. At some places hunting of Common Ravens reached such a high extent that the birds get almost locally extinct. Fortunately some of these populations have recovered due to strict protection laws. Altogether the species is very widespread and the population size seems to be quite large and stable. Therefore it is evaluated as Least Concern on the IUCN List of Threatened Species.

Ecosystem Roles

Only few animals actually try to prey upon ravens because they are quite capable of defending themselves. Because they scavenge garbage, steal dog food, and try to snatch bait from traps, ravens living near settled communities may be harassed or persecuted by humans who view them as pests. Sometimes raven nestlings are caught by large hawks and eagles. Adult Common Ravens are quite successful at defending their nests and offspring by chasing predators away. Positive for humans and the ecosystem is the fact that ravens feed on carrion. While removing the carcasses of dead animals they help to prevent diseases. Furthermore they control populations of their prey as other birds, mammals and insects. Humans may feel negatively affected by ravens because they eat grains, nuts and other agricultural plants or reduce livestock.

Ravens in culture

Humans were always fascinated by these large, black and obviously intelligent birds. Thus the raven has a place in many cultures and legends. Often the bird was linked with gods as in Siberia or northeast Asia. In the Norse mythology Odin is referred to as the “raven god” as he is always accompanied by the ravens Huginn and Muninn. Odin sends these two birds off around the world at daybreak, to bring him the daily news.

In several parts of the Bible’s Old Testament the raven is also mentioned. For example it was the first animal that was released from Noah’s ark though it showed disobedience by failing to return to the ark after being sent to search for land. In the British Isles the raven was a symbol of the Celts. Especially in Western traditions ravens were perceived as being dark messengers of doom, diseases and death as well as a symbol for black magic and witchcraft (very similar to black cats!). Maybe this negative reputation was connected to its black color or because of the fact that ravens feed on carrion. More generally one can say that in many cultures the raven is a messenger and a trickster which can cross the border between this world and the after world.

Many famous poets and writers used the raven as a symbol or metaphor among them William Shakespeare, Edgar Allen Poe or J. R. R. Tolkien.

Short Facts

·         The Common Raven is the national bird in Bhutan.

·         Worldwide Common Ravens are one of the most widespread bird species in nature. This is possible because it has a very flexible diet and can learn very fast.

·         A legend tells that England would not fall to a foreign invader as long as there are ravens at the Tower of London.

·         The raven is the largest species of songbird and largest all-black bird in the world.

Steppe Eagle

Aquila nipalensis

Steppe Eagle

Scientific classification:

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Aves
Order: Accipitriformes
Family: Accipitridae
Genus: Aquila
Species: Aquila nipalensis

Description

The Steppe eagle is a relatively large and handsome bird of prey belonging to the genus Aquila. The species is divided in two subspecies: Aquila nipalensis nipalensis and Aquila nipalensis orientalis which slightly differ in coloration and size. In general Aquila nipalensis nipalensis is darker and larger. Usually Steppe eagles achieve a body-length between 60 and 81 centimeters and a wingspan between 165 and 214 centimeters. The weight ranges between 2, 4 to 3, 8 kilogram and the female birds are slightly larger and heavier than their male con-species. The plumage is brown to dark brown and on the back of the head are sometimes yellow spots. Flight feathers and tail are blackish. Often the birds have a lighter or even white bond at the wings. The eyes are brown and the hooked tip is dark gray but in the beginning the bill is bright yellow colored. The tail is short and wedge-shaped. Immature young birds are less contrasted and often have a white spot on the neck. In an age of 3 – 4 years a Steppe eagle gets the adult plumage and reaches sexual maturity. In wild the lifespan reaches 30 years in captivity Steppe eagles can reach over 40 years.

Range and Habitat

The original distribution area of the Steppe eagle ranged from Eastern Europe to Central Asia (Tibet, Manchuria) and the East Asian Mongolia. But in Europe the species is now only found in Russia north and north-west of the Caspian Sea. Formerly Steppe eagles also nested in Moldova, Romania and Ukraine but it is long extinct in those countries. Outside of Europe the species is found in the steppes of central Asia eastwards to Mongolia, eastern Kazakhstan, Tibet and northeastern China. In autumn the eagles migrate to their winter territories. Most European birds and those from western Asia spend the winter in eastern and southern Africa. Some also spend the winter on the Arabian Peninsula. Birds from farther east spend the winter in India and neighboring countries.

As the name indicates the Steppe eagle prefers open and dry landscapes as semi-deserts, savannahs and grass steppes. The birds are living up to a height of 3000 meter, but can overcome heights up to 7900 meters. An average home territory comprises between 30 and 50 square kilometers but sometimes even encompass more than 100 square kilometers.

As Steppe eagles are living in areas with very few trees they often build their nests on the ground, the slope of a hill and also on bushes and power poles.

Diet

To find food the Steppe eagle flies over its territory. When it discovers prey it rushes down and kills it on the ground with its powerful claws. Prey comprises predominately small mammals, especially gophers, but also small birds, insects and reptiles. The also feed on fresh carrion or steal prey from other animals. The Steppe eagle has a crop in the throat which allows it to store food before it is moved to the stomach or regurgitated in order to feed its offspring.

Behavior

Steppe eagles are migratory birds. In their breeding territories they are specialized on hunting gophers. During winter the eagles migrate to southern regions as India and Near East. Old birds start their flight to the breeding sites in the middle of February while young birds start around one month later.

Remarkable is the velocity that Steppe eagles can achieve during their flight. They can reach up to 60 kilometer per hour and when they dive they fall with a speed up to 300 kilometer per hour. Compared with other birds Steppe eagles spend relatively much time on the ground.

Steppe eagles are very quiet birds and use rarely vocalization for communication, except during the breeding season.

Reproduction

In March the southern breeding places are populated. During April and May breeding takes place. Nests are built by both partners on small elevations as hills, bushes, little trees or even on sandbanks. The nest is a pile of grass or hay. The female lays 1 to 3 white eggs and after an incubation time of 45 days the white-downed chicks hatch. After 60 days the young eagles have their young bird plumage and can leave the nest. The success of reproduction is directly linked with the population number of gophers.

Conversation Status

The species suffers from declining and destruction of natural habitat. The large scale destruction of steppe habitat and conversion of steppes to agricultural land (and the following reduction of prey like gophers) is the major reason for the decline of the Steppe eagle. Especially in western ranges the number of populations is decreasing. However, at the moment the number of individuals is relatively high and the species is not seen as endangered. Therefore it is qualified as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Eagles in culture

Eagles had always a place in the history of human culture. In antique mythology the eagle was the bird of the Greek god Zeus and a symbol for power and victory. After the lion eagles are the most used animals on coat of arms. In many countries they are the official national animal. Several native American tribes worship eagles as sacred and their feathers and claws were often used in religious ceremonies. Among Native American tribes one can also find whistles made out of the bones of eagles’ wings. These whistles should encourage warriors in battles.

Short Facts

  • The call of the Steppe eagle sounds like a barking crow.
  • The Steppe eagle is the national animal of Egypt.
  • During a dive Steppe eagles can reach a speed of 300 kilometers per hour.
Golden Eagle

Aquila chrysaetos

Golden Eagle

Scientific classification:

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Aves
Order: Falconiformes
Family: Accipitridae
Subfamily: Accipitrinae
Genus: Aquila
Species: Aquila chrysaetos

Description

The Golden Eagle is a well-known raptor of the northern hemisphere and the largest bird of prey in North America. The bird has a dark brown plumage with golden colored feathers on the crown and on the neck, gray ones on the wings and sometimes white ones on the tail. Genders are similar in coloration but differ in size: Females normally achieve a higher weight and a larger size. Whereas males weigh up to 4,5 kilogram, female birds expose a weight up to 6 kilogram. The length of Golden Eagles ranges from 70 centimeters to 84 centimeters, the wingspan from 185 to 220 centimeters. The species has gray-black claws and bills that are hooked in the end. The eyes are dark brown while cere and feet are yellow. The legs are feathered all the way down to the toes.

Young Golden Eagles look similar to adults but have light spots on the tip of their wings and a white band on the tail as well as a black one. When the juveniles are 4 to 6 years their plumage changes to the adult coloration.

The species is divided into 5 or 6 subspecies which differ in geographical distribution, size and coloration.

The average lifespan of a Golden Eagle in wild is reported to be 29 years. In captivity some birds even achieved an age of 46 years.

Range and habitat

The Golden Eagle is endemic to the Northern hemisphere and can be observed in the mountains and woods of Eurasia, North America and North Africa. Once widespread, today the species is very decimated because of habitat destruction through human activities. The birds live in semi-open landscapes as tundra, wood and brush lands and even in coniferous forests though they prefer mountainous areas up to an altitude of 3600 meters. The territory size ranges between 20 to 33 square kilometers depending on season and quality of the area.

Behavior

Golden eagles are normally solitary or build a strong pair bond with one partner. Only young birds can sometimes be found in groups. Only in cases of extreme food shortage adult birds will get together in a group. Some northern populations migrate in winter to southern regions whereas other birds are sedentary, for example most pairs in continental USA and southern Canada.

Golden eagles do not use a lot of vocalization to communicate, except during the breeding season in which they use nine different calls, most of them associated with food delivery to nestlings. Usually they are very quiet and they mark the boundaries of their territory not by calling, but by indicating their claim of the area by high flights above their home range.

Instead of their voice, their eyesight is the most important sense. The big eyes provide an outstanding sight which enables Golden eagles to discover their prey from very far. Connected with the ability to achieve high speed during their flight, they are dangerous and successful hunters.

Only very few animals hunt on Golden eagles but there are records that wolverines and grizzly bears go for Golden eagle nestlings.

Diet

Golden eagles are very strong and deft birds. They hunt often in low flight and try to catch their prey from short distances. Predominately they hunt smaller prey such as rabbits or squirrels, but they attack also animals which are larger than themselves, for instance young ibexes or chamois. The prey is mostly caught and killed with their powerful claws and carried away. Because of the fact that eagles cannot carry prey, that is heavier than themselves, they dissipate the cadaver and depose it in smaller portions. In smaller numbers also fishes, reptiles and other birds are eaten.

Eagle pairs also hunt together. While one chases the prey to exhaustion, the partner waits for the right moment to rush down and kill the prey.

Reproduction

Golden eagle pairs will stay together for life. Only migratory individuals may mate new when they return to their breeding places. Over the years the pairs will build several nests out of heavy branches, grass and leaves in their territory, which are getting bigger each year because the birds add more and more material. The nests are situated on trees and cliffs or sometimes on man-made structures as towers. Usually, once a year the female lays two eggs a few days apart. Depending on the geographical region this happens between March and August. Incubation is predominately the duty of the female though the male undertakes some of the incubation. After approximately 42 days the so called eaglets hatch in the order the eggs were laid. The older eaglet will probably attack and maybe even kill its younger sibling. 50 days the parents feed the chicks, before the youngsters will leave the nest for their first flight and start to eat on their own. However, in most cases only the older offspring survives until fledging. After 32 to 80 days the young eagles are independent. Young birds begin to breed in an age of 4 to 7 years after they attained adult plumage.

Conservation status

The population of Golden eagles was severely damaged in North America by hunting, mostly from aircraft, because humans believed that the birds kill livestock as young sheep and goats. Studies show that such allegations are not justified especially because 70 % of the diet consists out of rabbits. This food habit even supports farmers, as it controls the population size of rabbits which may destroy the plantations for forage crops. In 1962 the Bald Protection Act stopped the large scale killings of the species in the USA. However, further threats limited the population size of Golden eagles such as power lines, traps for other animals, poisoning and elimination of prey.

Nevertheless, the species is qualified as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, because the population size seems to be stable and the range is still quite big.

The Golden eagle in human culture

The Golden eagle is the most common national animal in the world. Five nations have chosen this animal as a national symbol: Albania, Austria, Germany, Mexico and Kazakhstan. It was used as a symbol of the Roman legions and the Roman civilization which had a big influence on the Western Culture. In Arab poetry the bird symbolizes power and according to the legend it was the personal symbol of Sultan Saladin, the conqueror of Jerusalem.

All in all eagles are often sacred birds, especially among some Native American tribes. Feathers are often worn on headdresses and used in various ceremonies.

Short Facts

  • The Golden eagles dive speed can reach 193 kilometer per hour when they chase a prey.
  • The birds are sometimes trained for falconry. Hunters in Kazakhstan use Golden eagles to catch deer.
  • The talons of Golden eagles are said to be more powerful than the hand and arm strength of a person.
  • It is used as an official national animal by 5 countries: Albania, Austria, Germany, Kazakhstan and Mexico.
Eurasian Black Vulture

Aegypius monachus

Eurasian Black Vulture

Scientific Classification

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Aves
Order: Accipitriformes
Family: Accipitridae
Subfamily: Aegypiinae
Genus: Aegypius
Species: Aegypius monachus

Description

The Eurasian Black Vulture, also named Monk Vulture or Cinereous Vulture, is one of the world’s largest and heaviest flying birds. It belongs to the family of Old World Vultures, which is separated from the family of New World Vultures.

With a height up to 110 cm high, a length over 1 meter the Eurasian Black Vulture can achieve a wingspan of 2,9 meters and a weigh between 7 and 14 kilograms. The female birds grow larger than the males.

The bird’s plumage is dark black-brown colored and because of thick downs it can cope with low temperatures. Young birds’ feathers are much darker than the plumage of adult animals. At the neck the Eurasian Black Vulture’s feathers are heightened. This ruffle gives it its characteristic look and protects it from cold wind and weather. Typical of a vulture is its bald head, only covered with small downs. Its strong beak is brown and has a blue cere. Its eyes have a dark brown iris. Compared to other vultures its tail is relatively short and its wings are relatively broad.

As it is typical for an Old World Vulture it has a very good sense of sight so that it can discover carcasses – its predominate food – from long distances.

Range and Habitat

The Black Vulture is endemic to South Europe, some bigger Mediterranean Islands, the Balkans, the Caucasus and wide parts of Turkey and Crimea. Today in Europe it is only found in isolated areas, for instance in Spain, Greece or a small reintroduced population in France. The largest populations are found in northern Near East and Central Asia. In southern regions the animals constantly stay in the same territory. Vultures, which live in northern areas, migrate to warmer regions for wintering. In former times Black Vultures were also resident in northern Africa. Today one can’t find these populations anymore, mostly because of deforestation.

They prefer high steppes, hills and mountains and are seen up to a height of 4000 m. The Eurasian Black Vulture inhabits forested areas in hills and mountains at 300-1400 m in Spain, but it is found at higher altitudes in Asia, where it also occupies scrub and arid and semi-arid alpine meadows and grasslands up to 4500 m. Nests are built in high trees or on rocks (the latter extremely rare in Europe but more frequently in parts of Asia), often aggregated in very loose colonies or nuclei.

Behavior

Black Eurasian Vultures are often solitary or form a strong pair bond with another bird. They have a fixed territory and if there is enough food they will stay there permanently. Only young vultures roam until they are mature. Afterwards they will become sedentary.

Using its powerful bill, the bird is able to tear up the skin of dead animals and also to eat chewy parts as sinews. When vultures come together at a carcass the Black Eurasian Vulture often is the dominant species and chases smaller competitors.

The Eurasian Black Vulture usually mates for life. Both male and female incubate and care for the chicks. Both guard the nest site and hunt and regurgitate food for the chicks..

Eurasian Black Vultures literally don’t have natural predators and have a lifespan of about 40 years in the wild; however they are threatened due primarily to changes in their habitat, hunting and loss of food in their habitat range.

Diet

Eurasian Black Vultures eat predominately carrion of dead animals which they find exclusively by sight. Their strong immune system supports them while eating stale meat without getting ill. Sometimes they hunt small and weak mammals, reptiles and birds. Their bills aren’t adapted at bagging healthy and large animals.

Vultures never know when they will find their next food. Therefor they have a so called corp – a throat pouch – where they can store food and eat it whenever they want to or bring it to their hatchlings safely.

Reproduction

After 5 to 6 years a Eurasian Black Vulture is mature. If it finds a partner, the couple will stay together the whole life. The nest is built out of branches in a high tree, mostly on hillside, where the heavy birds can use thermal winds to start flight. The female only lays one egg and both adult birds take care of the incubation. After 50 to 55 days the young vulture hatches out with a weight of circa 200 gram. Its food is regurgitated by its parents.

Conservation Status

On the red-list of IUCN the status of Eurasian Black Vultures is qualified as “Near Threatened”.

The European population underwent a large increase over 30 percent between 1990 and 2000. Meanwhile there are some increasing populations again and in some nation the animals have been reintroduced. Unfortunately, numbers are decreasing in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Russia, Turkey and the Ukraine. Less information is available about ranges in Asia. The number is estimated to count over 1,000 pairs in the Asian part of the former Soviet Union and 1,760 pairs in China. Worldwide a number of 7,200 to 10,000 pairs are assumed.

Differences between New World Vultures and Old World Vultures

There are two families of vultures: The New World and the Old World Vultures. Black Vultures belong to the Old World Vultures, but what are the differences?

One aspect is their habit: New World Vultures are from North, Central and South America, whereas Old World Vultures live in Africa, Asia and Europe. In contrast to Old World Vultures, the New World ones don’t have a voice box and can only hiss. The latter also don’t built nests but hide their eggs in holes of high and rocky areas or in cavities of trees. With their horizontal nostrils, which have a space between them, New World Vultures possess a good sense of smell that Old World Vultures don’t have. The feet of New World Vultures aren’t built for grabbing while their older relatives have powerful feet.

Vultures in cultures

For many people vultures symbolize death and doom, predominately because of its eating habits.  Nevertheless also many cultures admired this bird:

For the old Egyptians the vulture was a symbol for love and motherhood, because they are monogamous and have a strong bond to their children. Their wide wingspan was a symbol for the ability to protect. The Egyptian Vulture was even used as representative for the goddess Nekhbes and as a hieroglyph which includes words like mother and grandmother. The vulture developed to the symbol of Upper Egypt.

In the Hindu mythology two semi-gods appear in form of two vultures named Jatayu and Sampaati. Their legend is about courage and self-sacrifice. Sampaati loses his own wings saving his brother’s life and later Jatayu dies when he tries to rescue Sita, wife of the god Rama.

In Tibet still exists the ritual of the sky burial. The human corpse is placed on a steep mountain slope or mountain top. Then vultures will come and ate the human corpses.

In the western world mainly the negative image exists. If one sees the importance of vultures for  the ecosystem as cleaners this reputation is actually quite unfair.

Short Facts

  • When a vulture is upset, its head turns red.
  • The name “Monk Vulture” for the Eurasian Black Vulture is the direct    translation of its German name “Mönchsgeier”, which refers to its appearance with bald head and riffle, which reminds the spectator of a monk’s cowl.
  • Despite the similar name the Eurasian Black Vulture is not directly related to the American Black Vulture that belongs to the New World Vultures. To distinct the Eurasian from the American, it was deliberately renamed with the Latin name Cinereous Vulture.
Griffon Vulture

Gyps fulvus

Griffon Vulture

Scientific Classification

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Subphylum: Vertebrata

Class: Aves

Order: Accipitriformes

Family: Accipitridae

Genus: Trigonoceps

Species: Trgonoceps occipitalis

Description

The white-headed vulture is a raptor, more precisely an Old World vulture. It is middle-sized, 80 to 85 cm in its length,  has a wide wingspan between 210 and 235 cm and weigh up to 5,3 kilogram. The females are heavier than male birds. Its genus is monotypic, which means that the white-headed vulture is the only species of Trigonoceps. No further species exists.

Its head is colorful: The powerful, strong and hooked beak for ripping off food from a carcass is pink, but the first part, called cere, is blue. Moreover it has a white crest on its head. The other parts of the head are unfeathered and pale. Due to the fact that several segments of the head are bald, white-headed vultures prevent getting infected while they eat decaying meat. Its eyes have a dark yellow iris.

The feathers are black-brown at the upside of its body and its wings. In the lower parts these feathers lack and the white downs are visible for example on legs, underneath wings and on the throat.

It has good sight in order to discover its prey from long distances.

Behavior

White-headed vultures are often solitary or form a strong pair bond with one other bird. They have a fixed territory and if there is enough food they will stay there permanently. Normally they avoid  contact to other vultures and only come together on feeding grounds. Fights over food aren’t rare. They use thermal processes to fly effortless and often fly in big circles over their territory.

Habitat

The white-headed Vulture is endemic to Africa, southward Sahara. It prefers to live in savannas with open landscapes and less trees. If it is searching for food you can find it in deserts or wooded areas as well. Plateaus and high regions up to 3000 meters can be part of its territory.

Diet

White-headed vultures eat predominately carrion of dead animals which they find exclusively by sight. It is said that they are often the first animal that arrives at a carcass, but they have to leave the carcasses to larger and more dominant vultures. A strong immune systems supports them when eating stale meat without getting ill. Furthermore they hunt small mammals, reptiles and birds or eat insects for instance grasshoppers or termites.

Vultures never know when they will find their next food. Therefor they have a so called corp – a throat pouch – where they can store food and eat it whenever they want to or bring it to their hatchling safely.

Reproduction

After 5 to 6 years a white-headed vulture is mature. Mating season is between May and August. If it finds a partner, the couple will stay together their hole life. The nest is built out of branches in a high tree. Its diameter can be longer than one meter. The female only lays one egg and both adult birds take care of the incubation. After 50 to 55 days the young vulture hatches out. Its food is regurgitated by its parents. Approximately after 110 days the young bird leaves the nest but furthermore it stays half a year with its parents.

Conservation Status

The species listed in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Least Concern and listed in Appendix II of the CITES and in Appendix II of the Berne Convention.

Differences between New World Vultures and Old World Vultures

There are two families of vultures: The New World and the Old World Vultures. White-headed vultures belong to the Old World Vultures, but what are the differences?

One aspect is their habit: New world vultures are from North, Central and South America, whereas Old World Vultures live in Africa, Asia and Europe. In contrast to Old World Vultures, the New World ones don’t have a voice box and can only hiss. They don’t built nests but hide their eggs in holes of high and rocky areas or in cavities of trees. With their horizontal nostrils, which have a space between them, they own a good sense of smell that Old World Vultures don’t have. Their feet aren’t built for grabbing while their older relatives have powerful feet.

Vultures in cultures

For many people vultures symbolize death and doom, predominately because of its eating habits,  Nevertheless also many cultures admired this bird:

For the old Egyptians the vulture was a symbol for love and motherhood, because they stay in pairs and have a strong bond to their children. Their wide wingspan was a symbol for the ability to protect. The Egyptian Vulture was even used as representative for the goddess Nekhbes and as a hieroglyph which includes words like mother and grandmother. The vulture developed to the symbol of Upper Egypt.

In the Hindu mythology two semi-gods appear in form of two vultures named Jatayu and Sampaati. Their legend is about courage and self-sacrifice. Sampaati loses his own wings saving his brothers life and later Jatayu dies when he tries to rescue Sita, wife of the god Rama.

When sky burial took place in Tibet, vultures ate the human corpses, which were placed on mountaintops.

In the western world mainly the negative image exist. If one sees the importance of vultures for  ecosystem as cleaners and providing doctors, this reputation is actually quite unfair.

Short Facts

  • When a vulture is upset, its head turns red.
  • Because of its work as a cleaner it prevents diseases, its reputation of symbolizing death is illogical.
  • Thermal winds help them to achieve altitude and to fly a long period of time without flapping with its wings.
Emu

Dromaius novaehollandiae

Emu

Scientific classification:  

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Aves
Order: Struthioniformes
Family: Dromaiidae
Genus: Dromaius
Species: Dromaius novaehollandiae

 

Description

The Emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae) is a flightless bird. Flightless birds lack the ability to fly, relying instead on their ability to run or swim. The Emu is the only extant member of the species Emu. Other Emu species as the Tasmanian Emu and the King Island Emu became extinct in the 19th century. In its habitat, Australia, the Emu is the largest bird. It achieves a height up to 2 meters and a weight between 50 and 55 kilogram. In average the females weigh 5 kilogram more than the males. The Emu cannot fly; instead its body is perfectly built for running. With its unfeathered long, strong legs it can run up to 50 km/h and maintain this speed over some distance. Their feet have three toes.
Their plumage is soft-feathered and brown. Because of the lack of hooks, which normally lock together the feathers of flying birds, its plumage is looser and fluffier. Moreover this is caused by the fact that they have double feathers, in which a second feather starts at the base of the main feather and hangs simply from the body. This feather structure results in a good thermoregulation. After the molt the plumage is quite dark but it is soon becoming brown-greyish caused by the sunlight. The leg and the neck of Emus are long but the wings are tiny.
The color of Emu chicks is striped with black, brown and cream providing a perfect camouflage when hiding in long grass and bushes.
All in all the species is seen as divided in four subspecies which differ a bit in their coloration.
Emus are able to create loud sounds, which are heard over a distance up to 2 kilometers. This is possible because the birds develop a hole between their windpipe which they use as resonance box. The life span of Emus is 5-10 years in the wild, but longer in captivity.

Range and habitat

The Emu is native to Australia and inhabits almost all areas except rainforests and deserts. Still it is widespread in eucalyptus forests, woodland, open grasslands, desert shrubbery and sand-plains. It is even living close to big cities, but in areas, in which natural vegetation is destroyed e.g. for agriculture, the species has disappeared.

Behavior

Emus travel long distances, predominately in pairs, but sometimes even in large flocks, to get to new food sources. In summer the movement appears in northern direction, in the winter to the south. During their journey they easily cross rivers because of their ability to swim. The access to fresh water is needed every day whereas they can store food in form of fat. Meanwhile Emus occur in many areas in which new permanent watering points for cattle, sheep and agriculture provide enough water. The Emus’ migration routes are also influenced by climate. As they can find more food in humid regions the birds wander always to places were rain was falling down recently. It’s not yet clear how Emus orientate themselves and can detect rain from several hundred kilometers away. Researchers believe this is a combination of sighting distant rain cloud formations, smelling rain, and hearing the far-off sound of thunder from distances the human ear cannot.

Diet

Adult emus are the largest herbivorous animals in Australia. They eat native plants as well as imported plants from Europe, seeds, fruits, herbs and grasses. Especially young Emus eat besides vegetarian food insects as grasshoppers or grubs. The diet is quite nutritive.
To promote their digestion they don’t only pick food from the ground, but also small stones and sand, which fulfills similar work like teeth in the gizzard.
They save food as fat reserves and in times in which food is rare they can lose up to 20 kilogram of their own body mass.

Reproduction

Emus pair in December and January. This is unusual as most birds wait for longer days in spring before breeding, but for Emus it’s reversed. It’s shortening days that switch on their reproduction instincts (the Australian seasons are the opposite of those in the northern hemisphere!). The couples establish a territory of about 30 square kilometers where they mate. During the intensive courting period which lasts until April the Emus, in particular the females, make a drumming sound, which can be heard hundreds of meters away. While copulation the female emu is sitting on the ground, the male behind her uttering purring sounds. The male builds a nest by placing bark, grass, twigs, and leaves in a shallow depression in the ground. In April, May or June the pair mates every day, with the female laying an egg every two or three days, until a clutch is formed. Most clutches have about 8 to10 eggs but the number can go up to 20. This is due to the fact that female Emus visit other nests to lay eggs thus the clutches can contain eggs of more than one hen. Emu eggs are easily identifiable due to their large size, about the size of a grapefruit, and greenish-black color. The eggs are not a uniform shade and can range from a light shade of green to almost black. After about seven eggs the male gets ‘broody’ and sits on them for the entire 56 days of the incubation period. He will not leave the nest and the only time he stands up is to turn the eggs, which he does 10-12 times a day. During incubation the male Emu will lose up to one third of its body mass as he doesn’t eat or drink, just living off his fat and any nearby dew on the grass. When the male starts to incubate the hens go away and occasionally mate with other Emus laying the eggs in different nests. Some other females stay near the nest to defend the male. At the time that hatching takes place the male is getting aggressive and drives the females away. The cock takes care of the chicks, leading them to feeding areas and showing them what to eat. Emus are very caring fathers they even adopt lost young Emus from other broods if they are smaller than their own nestlings. 2 to 3 month later the young Emus are independent. They achieve sexual maturity in an age of 2 to 3 years.

Conservation Status

The species has an extremely large range and the population tends to be stable. On the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species the Emu is qualified as Least Concern. The species has even benefited by human activities as the constructions of stable watering points for agriculture.

The influence and role of Emus

For the Australian biodiversity the Emu has a very important role because it disperses seeds. Often the bird eats whole seeds which are still intact when they come out again and are spread along the Emus’ migration routes. According to their diet they furthermore control insect populations.

Humans are often afraid of damage caused by Emus. The birds pick up large quantities of grain and can easily jump over fences. In 1932 the Australian government launched the “Emu War”. With machine guns and grenades they tried to kill bird populations. The “war” was quite unsuccessful. Meanwhile a 1000 kilometer long fence has been built and protects successfully agricultural areas of the southwest.

70 years ago the farming of Emus started. They are kept for their meat and for their skin which is used for leather products. From the birds fat the Emu oil is extracted, which is used for pharmaceutical and cosmetic purposes. A by-product of the emu-breeding are infertile emu eggs. In the farms approximately 20% of the eggs cannot be used for breeding. These eggs are getting hand-painted and can reach high prices as collectibles.

History

For the Aboriginals the Emu was an important meat, fat and skin source. They hunted them with varied techniques. One method, for instance, was the contamination of water holes which were used by the large birds. There are many aboriginal myth and traditional art in which the Emu has a central role. One tribe ascribes the origin of the earth to an emu egg, which was thrown into the sky. Rock paintings of Emus, estimated to an age of 15.000 years, were also detected.
The first European settlers as well, hunted Emus because of food, but also in order to protect their farmlands. Unofficially the Emu is the national bird of Australia. It is seen on the emblem as well as on the 50 cent coins. Many places and products are named after this impressive bird.

Short Facts

  • Their strong legs allow them to rip metal wire fences.
  • After the ostrich, the Emu is the second largest bird in the world.
  • The first occurrence of genetically identical bird twins was discovered in the Emu species.
  • More than 600 places in Australia are named after the Emu.
  • The name Emu is not an Aboriginal word. It comes from an old Arabic word that means “large bird”.
  • Emus have been resident in Australia at least 80 million years, which means they have already been around since the time of the dinosaurs.
Egyptian Vulture

Neophron percnopterus

Egyptian Vulture

Scientific classification

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Aves
Order: Falconiformes
Family: Accipitridae
Subfamily: Accipitrinae
Genua: Neophron
Species: Neophron percnopterus

 

Description

The Egyptian vulture is a bird belonging to the group of Old World vultures. Other names are White Scavenger Vulture or Pharaoh’s Chicken. Its plumage is white colored with black flight feathers at the wings. Typical of a vulture is its pale and unfeathered face with a long slender bill whose upper tip is hooked. The delicate beak is perfect to clean bones of prey from last bits of tissues and the naked face provides thermoregulation as well as hygiene. The skin of the head shifts from yellow to orange. In general Egyptian vultures are built lighter and smaller than most Old World vultures. The weight ranges between 1,5 and 2 kilogram while female birds mostly achieve a higher body mass than their male conspecifics. All in all the Egyptian Vulture is a quite small vulture with a length up to 70 centimeter and a wingspan up to 1, 70 meter.

Range and Habitat

Birds that breed in the temperate region migrate south in winter while tropical populations are relatively sedentary. Populations of this species have declined in the 20th Century and some isolated island forms are particularly endangered.

Main part of the resident population is found in Ethiopia and East Africa, Arabia and the Indian Subcontinent. Small populations also occur in Morocco, parts of West Africa, on the Cape Verde and Canary Islands, Angola and Namibia. Migratory Egyptian vultures breed in Southern Europe, Caucasus and central Asian countries as for example in Turkmenistan or Afghanistan.

Egyptian vultures live in open landscapes with several elevations due to their use of thermal updrafts. According to the fact that flapping flight is exhausting for them, they prefer to take off from higher levels. Therefore they nest in high trees, on cliffs or even on the top of old buildings from where they can easily start their soaring flight. Scavenges can sometimes also be observed near human settlements for example at garbage dumps.

Behavior

Vultures are often solitary or form a strong pair bond with another bird. Depending on food and space availability individuals congregate with other birds and carnivores. In the hierarchy at feeding sites the Egyptian vulture is above crows and kites but below larger griffons. The animals have territories which they defend and especially males are sometimes involved in aerial battles to save their nesting area.

The longevity in nature is hard to determine, because the birds do not always return to the same locations between the seasons. In captivity the average lifespan is 37 years.

Purely the Egyptian vulture uses its eyesight to discover prey and carrion. Amn individual will discover food because it notices individuals of its own or of other species, flying lower in the sky above a dead animal.

Egyptian vultures do not have natural predators. They are endangered by human activities and habitat destruction. Often the carcasses of animals are poisoned because of unnatural diets or consuming to much medicine, which leads to an indirect poisoning of the vulture.

Diet

Egyptian vultures eat predominately carrion of dead animals. Their strong immune system supports them while eating stale meat without getting ill. Sometimes they hunt small and weak mammals, reptiles, insects and birds. Their delicate beaks aren’t adapted at catching healthy and large animals, but shaped to remove scraps of meat remaining on the carrion after more dominant species have eaten. Egyptian vultures are also well known for egg-eating. They are among the only known birds in the world to use stones as tools. They will repeatedly strike at an abandoned ostrich egg with stones, than use their beak to enlarge the hole and penetrate membrane. This behavior is not instinctive, but learned from other vultures, as the species is very intelligent.

Vultures never know when they will find their next food. Therefore they have a so called corp – a throat pouch – where they can store food and eat it whenever they want to or bring it to their hatchling safely.

Reproduction

Egyptian vultures are monogamous and between breeding seasons they migrate with their mate. They build a huge nest in a tree or on a high building using also old hair and fur. Once a year the birds breed. Depending on the region, the breeding season is between March and May in which beginnings the male bird performs displays to impress the female. 1 to 3 eggs are laid and in the first days only the female incubates before duties as incubation, defending and feeding are shared between the partners. After around 42 days the chickens hatch. Often one of the young vultures is some days older than its siblings because the eggs are not all laid at the same time. They are fed with regurgitated food as well as whole pieces milled by their parents. After nearly 85 days the grayish-white downed nestlings fledge and learn to hunt on their own within the next month. They stay in the family group but with the beginning of the migration season they separate from their parents at the latest. In an age of 6 years an Egyptian vulture becomes mature.

Conservation Status

The species is qualified as Endangered on the Red List of Threatened species of IUCN. In the last years the species underwent a drastic decline. It faces a number of threats as disturbance, direct and indirect poisoning and electrocution by power lines. In Europe also new introduced regulations controlling the disposal of animal carcasses, reduced food availability. The vulture population declined here more than 50% over the last three generations. Similar declines are reported from the Middle East. Furthermore also the resident populations within Africa seem to decline. The situation is worst in India: Since 1999 the decline is estimated to be 35% a year.

Meanwhile there are some monitoring programs and campaigns in India against illegal use of the dangerous poison and the government banned the blamable veterinary drug Diclofenac.

Ecosystem Roles

Vultures have an important role in the recycling of organic waste. They prevent potential diseases caused by carcasses. They also help to control the population sizes, on the one hand through its hunt for small animals, on the other through the fact that it eats eggs of other birds.

Differences between New World Vultures and Old World Vultures

There are two families of vultures: The New World and the Old World Vultures. Egyptian Vultures belong to the Old World Vultures, but what are the differences?

One aspect is their habit: New World Vultures are from North, Central and South America, whereas Old World Vultures live in Africa, Asia and Europe. In contrast to Old World Vultures, the New World ones don’t have a voice box and can only hiss. They don’t built nests but hide their eggs in holes of high and rocky areas or in cavities of trees. With their horizontal nostrils, which have a space between them, they own a good sense of smell that Old World Vultures don’t have. Their feet aren’t built for grabbing while their older relatives have powerful feet.

Vultures in cultures

For many people vultures symbolize death and doom, predominately because of its eating habits. Nevertheless also many cultures admired this bird:

For the old Egyptians the vulture was a symbol for royalty, love and motherhood, because they stay in pairs and have a strong bond to their children. Their wide wingspan was a symbol for the ability to protect. The Egyptian Vulture was even used as representative for the goddess Nekhbes and as a hieroglyph which was used to compose words like mother and grandmother. The vulture developed to the symbol of Upper Egypt.

In the Hindu mythology two semi-gods appear in form of two vultures named Jatayu and Sampaati. Their legend is about courage and self-sacrifice. Sampaati loses his own wings saving his brother’s life and later Jatayu dies when he tries to rescue Sita, the wife of the god Rama.

When sky burial took place in Tibet, vultures ate the human corpses, which were placed on mountaintops.

In the western world mainly the negative image exists. If one sees the importance of vultures for ecosystem as cleaners and providing doctors, this reputation is actually quite unfair.

Short Facts

  • The Egyptian vulture is among the few birds that make use of tools. For example it opens ostrich eggs by dropping stones on them.
  • When a vulture is upset its head turns red.
  • The Egyptian vulture is part of the ancient Egyptian alphabet.
  • Without a sense of smell, the Egyptian vultures rely on their keen eyesight to find food. Their vision is twice as refined as that of a human, allowing them to see an object 4 to 8 centimeters in diameter from as high as 1000 meters.
Demoiselle Crane

(Anthropoides virgo

Demoiselle Crane

Scientific classification

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Aves

Order: Gruiformes

Family: Gruidae

Genus: Anthropoides

Binomial name:  Anthropoides virgo

 

Description

Generally, cranes are large birds, ranging from a length of 90 cm to 150 cm. Anthropoides virgo is known to be the smallest crane, with an average adult length of 90 cm. Cranes are recognized for their long necks and legs, their streamlined bodies, and long rounded wings. Most cranes have bare, red skin patches on their heads, however, demoiselles have a completely feathered head with a white line that extends from the corner of their red eye, to the back of their head. During display, they can elongate these feathers on the sides of their head. With feathery gray areas ranging from the crown to the nape, the bird has a dark underside, with black legs and toes. The length and positioning of the trachea can also distinguish a demoiselle crane from other cranes; Demoiselles have a trachea that makes a slight indentation on the sternum. After hatching, demoiselle chicks are silver gray, and as they develop into a juvenile demoiselle, they become predominately grey at the time of fledging. This color assists in camouflaging the bird. Once developing into an adult, they appear as previously described above. An important fact about A. virgo is that the male and female are monomorphic – identical in their external features; however, the males are usually larger.

Range and Habits

There are six main locations of populations of Anthropoides virgo. In central Asia, there is a stable and increasing population of 100,000 individuals. Kalmykia is the third eastern population, which consists of 30 to 35,000 individuals, and this count is presently stable. Northern Africa holds a declining population of fifty individuals on the Atlas Plateau. Demoiselle cranes are a cosmopolitan species found within the wide range of the Ethiopian, Palearctic, and Oriental regions. As demoiselles are migratory birds, their winter habitats include those of Northeastern Africa, Pakistan, and India.

Found primarily in open spaces with a wide range of visibility, A. virgo lives in upland areas, unlike most other cranes which can be found in wetland habitat. Space and solitude are important for the maintenance of demoiselle cranes, therefore their habitats vary from semi-arid savannas, grasslands, and steppes, to high plateaus. They can also inhabit semi-deserts to true deserts as long as water is available within 200 to 500 meters. Ranging in habitat from sea level to 3,000 meters, they are usually found no farther than a few hundred meters away from rivers, for they need the source of water to survive.

Behavior

Anthropoides virgo is both social and solitary in behavior. Besides the fundamental activities of sleeping, walking, eating etc., these birds are solitary when performing the activities of preening, bathing shaking, stretching, scratching, ruffling, and feather painting. However, in response to other cranes and other external stimuli, demoiselles are very social. Forming bonds and mating with one other individual for life, and forming flocks for migration and socialization are key factors of their social behavior. Demoiselles are migratory birds, and will fly at high altitudes, and travel long distances between their breeding and wintering grounds. Between August and September, A. virgo will collect into flocks of up to 400 individuals and will migrate to their winter ranges.

Diet

Foraging during the morning and the early afternoon, A. virgo are generalists and opportunists with respect to their diet and foraging behavior. With more efficient shorter bills and toes for feeding in dry uplands, croplands, and pastures, these birds hunt with their heads lowered to peck at the ground. Precisely, their diet includes: seeds, leaves, acorns, nuts, berries, fruits, waste grains, small mammals, birds, insects, worms, snails, grasshoppers, beetles, snakes, lizards, and rodents.

Reproduction

The mating system of A. virgo is monogamous. A male and a female will remain a pair for their entire lives. However, this remains true only if reproduction is successful, and reproduction is usually not successful until the age of four to eight years. The breeding season of demoiselle cranes coincides with the local rainy season. The cycle of reproduction has many stages. First, there is a three to five month nesting period, whereas the non-breeding period is much longer. Migrating between breeding grounds and wintering grounds, when in the breeding season, these birds nest in grasslands. Usually the nest is on the bare ground consisting of a few twigs and pebbles. As discussed above, incubation lasts for a duration of twenty-seven to twenty-nine days, the fledging periods lasts from fifty-five to sixty days, and it is well up to eight to ten months before the juvenile crane is independent from his/her parents. On average, the clutch size of a demoiselle crane consists of two eggs that are yellow-green in color with spots of lavender. Both sexes assist with the incubation of the eggs over a period of twenty-nine days, however females perform the major part of the task. Until the next breeding season, for eight to ten months immature cranes remain with their parents.

Conservation Status

The species listed in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Least Concern.

Bearded Vulture

Gypaetus barbatus

Bearded Vulture

Scientific Classification

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Aves

Order: Accipitriformes

Family: Accipitridae

Genus: Gypaetus

Species: Bearded vulture

Description

The distribution range includes  Southern Europe, Asia, the Caucasus (including Armenia), Africa, some parts of India, Tibet. The body length is 94-125 cm, the wingspan is 2.31-2.83 cm. Bearded vultures are variably orange or rust on their head, breast and leg feathers. The tail feathers and wings are gray. Full maturity takes up to five years.

Reproduction

Bearded vulture lives and breeds on crags in high mountains in southern Europe, Asia, the Caucasus (including Armenia) ; this species occupies an enormous territory

Diet

Eighty percent of the bird’s diet consists of bone and bone marrow. Its stomach acid has a pH of about 1, so the dense material can be digested in under 24 hours. The Lammergeier is a scavenger; after finding a picked-over carcass, the bird will drop it from a tremendous height to shatter it into swallow-able pieces. Bearded vultures even have favorite breaking spots like ossuaries.

Reproduction

Bearded Vultures are most commonly monogamous, and breed once a year. Sometimes, especially in certain areas of Spain and France, bachelor lammergeiers will join a pre-existing couple to create a polyandrous trio. Females accept secondary mates because it increases the chances of producing offspring and doubles her protection.

Conservation Status

It is listed as “Least Concern” species according to IUCN Red List since 2014. Their population trend is decreasing. The vultures were completely eradicated from most areas in Eastern Europe by the 1990s.  The main causes of on-going declines appear to be non-target poisoning, habitat degradation, disturbance of breeding birds, inadequate food availability. In Europe, captive breeding and reintroduction programmes have been carried out which ensured stable populations.

Silver Pheasant

Lophura nycthemera

Silver Pheasant

Scientific classification

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Subphylum: Vertebrata

Class: Aves

Order: Galliformes

Family: Phasianidae

Genus: Lophura

Species: Lophura nycthemera

Description 

The Silver Pheasant is a relatively large pheasant species which shows a big sexual dimorphism.
The plumage of females is olive brown and indistinct sprinkled, the feathers on the head are black, the belly is brown with white to gray patterns. Alike male birds their feet and the unfeathered skin around their eyes is red, though the colored part is smaller and duller. Males have a  black crest, a black throat and a black-bluish belly. The rest of the plumage is white with several black stripes. In contrast to females their tail is quite long and all in all they are larger. Depending on the subspecies the body-length ranges between 70 – 125 centimeters including a tail of 30 to 75 centimeters.  Female size ranges between 55 and 90 centimeters comprising the length of a 44 – 32 centimeter tail. Moreover the weight of females with 1,3 kilogram is notably smaller than the male maximum weight of 2 kilogram.
All in all the species of Silver Pheasant can be divided into 15 subspecies.

Range and habitat

The species is found in Southeast Asia as in eastern and southern China, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam. Some populations were introduced in Hawaii and in some parts of the USA. It inhabits mountain forests and dense scrubland in heights between 1500 and 1800 meters. In Vietnam it can be seen in tropical rainforests above 900 meters and in broadleaf forests and pinewoods above 1200 meters.

Behavior

In contrast to other pheasants, displays before breeding are considered as very simple. The red head wattles of the males blow up and the males draw nearer to the female from the side. Breeding starts relatively early in the end of February and lasts until May.

Diet

The diet consists out of fruits, beers and seeds, but also worms and insects are eaten. Especially young pheasants eat more insects than old birds that have a diet which is more based on plants.

Reproduction

The Silver Pheasants are polygamous and one cock breed often with 2 to 5 hens. Also after breeding season the birds live often in small groups. No nest is built and the eggs are laid in a hallow in the ground or simply on vegetation. Data about clutch diversify but probably ranges between 6 and 8 eggs, but in captivity a single female lays even more than 15. After around 26 days the young Silver Pheasants hatch. Incubation is duty of the mother whereas the male defends the territory. The chicks grow fast and after two years the young birds reach sexual maturity. In wild the birds achieve an age around 10 years, in captivity the lifespan can be longer.

Conservation status

The species listed in the IUCN Red List and evaluated as Least Concern.

Lady Amherst Pheasant

Chrysolophus amherstiae

Lady Amherst Pheasant

Scientific classification

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Subphylum: Vertebrata

Class: Aves

Order: Galliformes

Family: Phasianidae

Subfamily: Phasianinae

Genus: Chrysolophus

Species: Chrysolophus amherstiae

 

Description

Lady Amherst Pheasants expose a strong sexual dimorphism, which means that males and females differ in their appearance.
Adult males are colorful, with a green, blue, white and yellow body plumage. The head is decorated with a red cap, which can be elongated during displays.  The iris is light yellow and the bill color ranges between greyish, bluish and greenish. Typical of the Lady Amherst Pheasant is the white collar which reaches from the crown to the neck. The collar feathers are bright white but have a rounded black ending. Also the feathers on the back show black hemmed patterns as well as almost all tail feathers. The underparts a mostly white. The tail is compared to the length of the body quite long and measure up to approximately two thirds of the total body-length. The upper feathers are white, lower ones tend to be more greyish and there are some orange feathers to find.

The plumage of the female Lady Amherst Pheasant is more simple and resembles to other female pheasants as the Golden Pheasant. The feathers are brown and the upper parts and becoming lighter in the underparts. The black stripes are showier than the male ones. Male birds alike, the eye parts are unfeathered.

Range and habitat

The species is endemic to China and Myanmar, in which the animals inhabit forested areas and bamboo thickets. Introductions have been taken place in different countries, for instance New Zealand and Hawaii.

Behavior 

These birds have elaborate mating rituals. Males will dance and spread the ruff of feathers on their heads. Females select the strongest and most brightly colored males.

They have a variety of vocalizations: advertising, contact, alarm, and contentment.

Diet 

They feed on the ground on grain, leaves and invertebrates, but roost in trees at night.

Reproduction 

Breeding season varies with climate, but usually begins in May. The mating ritual is among the most elaborate of all the pheasants. It may take place over several hours, with the hen choosing the strongest and most brightly colored cock from the group. The posturing and dance of the male occurs within an area in a clearing on the forest floor. The male spreads a large ruff of feathers on the head like a fan during the courtship display. A small wattle under the eye is expanded to cover the lower part of the cheek. Nests are concealed in dense undergrowth where they are difficult to be seen. The clutch usually consists of 5-12 eggs that hatch in about 22 days. During a season, 30-40 eggs in various clutches may be laid.  They will readily hybridize (crossbreed) with the Golden Pheasant, producing fertile offspring.

Conservation Status

The species Listed in the IUCN Red List and evaluated as Least Concern.

Mute Swan

Cygnus olor

Mute Swan

Scientific classification

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Subphylum: Vertebrata

Class: Aves

Order: Anseriformes

Family: Anatidae

Genus: Anserinae

Species: Cygnus olor

 

Description

Based on the height of 144 to 158 cm the mute swan belongs to the large birds. The wingspan obtains a size of 2 to 2.5 meters. In appearance the two sexes display no differences besides the fact that the male is in general larger in comparison to the female. The dazzling white plumage covers the up to 12 kilo heavy swan. Both sexes have an orange bill and additional a black border plus a black knob at the base of the bill. Typically for the mute swan is their gracefully S shaped neck. The white color is sometimes disturbed in form of a brown or orange color at the neck and near the bill.

 

Range and Habits

The breeding areas of the mute swans extend from the British Isles over North Central Europe to North Central Asia. For the winter quarters the mute swans fly to North Africa, the Near East and the Northwest of India and Korea. The successfully introduction in North America, where they become a widespread species, offers an area for a permanent residence.

In the wild, in parks or on country possessions in their local range, the mute swan is the most common species. In winter they relocate to marine waters especially in well-sheltered bays, open marshes as well as lakes.

Habitat range of this species includes Armenia.

Behavior

Mute swans don’t migrate in big groups, just in winter they cluster that is about 100 individuals in open salt water. During the floatage, the mute swans pointing their bill downward while holding their neck in a graceful curve in opposite to swans that keep their body more erect.

Diet

Mainly the diet of the mute swan is made of aquatic vegetation and a little serving of aquatic insects, fish and frogs. Instead of diving, this swan species dump their head just as the long neck below the water’s surface. Because of different soundings it exist no direct fight about food with other animals like ducks or waterfowl that share the same habitat. The mute swans allocate parts of plants for other birds. While the swans are feeding the orts float to the surface and are easily available for the others. The only natural enemies are similar swan species with the same habits.

Reproduction

Mute swans don’t search for eternal love because of that they are not paired for life. Researches figured out that some live polygamous with up to four different partners. Separation from one partner in order to have a relationship with someone else is quite normal. In breeding established pairs are more successful than volatile couples and at least for the breeding season they form pairs.

Nesting in a colony is rare occurrence for mute swans. The breeding season starts in March or early April after the exactly nest location is found. Building a new nest or using an already constructed mound, like a muskrat house, is depending on the swan pairs. Aquatic vegetation form the basics of the large nest in addition the swans use feathers and down to make it complete. Preferred the breeding place is situated in swampy places near a pond or lake above the normal water level. The clutch size is about 5 to 7 eggs; the maximum number of the pale grey to pale blue-green eggs is 12. After the incubation period of at least 35 to 38 days the little brownish gray chicks hatch and stay just one day in the nest. The first-hatched cygnet is often taken by the more to the water while the female incubates the remaining eggs. The flight capacity starts after 60 days.

Ոսկեգույն փասիան

Chrysolophus pictus

Ոսկեգույն փասիան

Scientific classification

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Aves

Order: Galliformes

Family: Phasianidae

Subfamily: Phasianinae

Genus: Chrysolophus

Species: C. pictus

Description

The adult male is about 100 cm in length, with his tail accounting for two-thirds of the total length. This is an unmistakable pheasant, with a golden-yellow crest with a hint of red at the tip, a golden rump and bright red body. The deep orange “cape” can be spread in display, appearing as an alternating black and orange fan that covers all of the face except its bright yellow eye, with a pinpoint black pupil. The face, throat, chin, and the sides of neck are rusty tan. The wattles and orbital skin are both yellow in colour, and the ruff or cape is light orange. The upper back is green and the rest of the back and rump are golden-yellow in color. The tertiaries are blue whereas the scapulars (shoulder feathers) are dark red. Another characteristic of the male plumage is the central tail feathers which are black spotted with cinnamon as well as the tip of the tail being a cinnamon buff. The upper tail coverts are the same colour as the central tail feathers. Males also have a scarlet breast, and scarlet and light chestnut flanks and underparts. The female is much less showy, with a duller mottled brown plumage. She is darker and more slender than the hen of that species, with a proportionately longer tail (half her 60-80 cm length). The female’s breast and sides are barred buff and blackish brown, and the abdomen is plain buff. She has a buff face and throat. Both males and females have yellow legs and yellow bills.

Range and Habitat

The Golden Pheasant, also known as the ‘Chinese Pheasant’ is one of the more popular species of pheasant which is native to the mountainous forests of Western and Central China.

Behavior

Despite the male’s flashy appearance, these hardy birds are very difficult to see in their natural habitat, which is dense, dark young conifer forests with sparse undergrowth. Consequently, little is known of their behavior in the wild. They can fly in short bursts they are quite clumsy in flight and spend most of their time on the ground.

Diet

They feed on the ground on grain, leaves and invertebrates (animals without internal skeleton, such as insects, larvae, earthworms, millipedes, snails, spiders), but roost in trees at night.

Reproduction

Female Golden Pheasants lay around 8-12 eggs in April. Incubation time is around 22-23 days. The chicks fledge after 12 – 14 days. Males acquire their bright colors during their second year of life but are sexually mature in their first year. The life span of a Golden Pheasant is 5 – 6 years.

Conservation Status

The species Listed in the IUCN Red List and evaluated as Least Concern.

Chukar Partridge

Alectoris chukar

Chukar Partridge

Scientific classification:  

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Aves
Order: Galliformes
Family: Phasianidae
Subfamily: Perdicinae
Genus: Alectoris
Species: Alectoris chukar

 

Description

The Chukar Partridge is the most common member of the genus Alectoris. It has a reddish parting on the head and a gray-brown plumage. Remarkable is a black bond across the eyes, the face and down to the breast which separates a white throat from the gray part of the body. The flanks show a barred pattern with black and white-chestnut feathers. Also some tail feathers are chestnut colored. Bill, eyelid, feet and legs are red. Both sexes are similar in their appearance but males often are larger than the female birds. Body length ranges between 31 to 35 centimeters and a weight up to 800 gram for males and 680 gram for females is achieved.
Young Chukar Partridges are mottled brown-gray and the flanks are only slightly brown barred.
The species is divided in several subspecies and coloration varies in different geographical regions.

Range and habitat

Originally the Chukar Partridge was endemic to mountainous areas of the Middle East and Asia from Turkey, along the Himalayas to Nepal and up to China. However, it had been successfully introduced in North America, Hawaii and New Zealand as a game bird. Nowadays some wild populations can been found in mountainous and arid areas of the Western States in USA. In the east birds are released for hunting but no autonomous population could survive.
Preferred are rocky open hillsides with grass, scrub or cultivation which provides on the one hand possibilities to hide, on the other hand sufficient food. Areas with a high humidity are avoided. Predominately, the birds are found in an altitude of 2000 – 4000 meters.

Distribution range of this species includes Armenia.

Behavior

Besides the breeding-season, Cuckar Partridges are living in coveys consisting out of varying numbers of adults and their offspring. They are sedentary birds with a very small home range and prefer to run instead of flying. In the air they just bridge short distances and mostly downhill. In winter also unrelated groups form large flocks. The birds are diurnal and searching for food especially in the morning and in the afternoon. For communication various vocalization and physical signs are used.

Diet

The diet mainly consists out of seeds, fruits, crops and buds. To gain some proteins also insects and small vertebrates are eaten and especially feed to young chicks. Chukar Partridges search for their food on the ground. In more urban areas they can be found on farmlands and in agricultural regions providing suitable eating possibilities. Water sources are vital, because the bird needs fresh water every day.

Reproduction

Depending on environmental conditions Chukars breed once every year between April and July. The male performs displays involving showing its barred flanks and tilting its head. This is followed by the so called “tidbitting display” in which both birds pecking at various objects. Calls accompany this process.
Once a pair is formed they remain monogamous. The female builds a simple nest in a hollow in the ground which is padded with grass and feathers. It lays approximately 7 to 14 eggs, but in some cases more than 20 eggs were reported. After more or less 24 days the young birds hatch and are already much developed. In a few weeks they are able to fly and are as large as adults after 3 month. Incubation is duty of the female but the male often stays until the chicks are reared even if in some cases they leave the clutch earlier and form groups with other males.

Conservation Status

Though human activities and habitat loss affect some local populations in their native habitats the population size is mostly stable. In some hunting areas governments try to protect the species by introducing restrictions and limiting the hunting seasons. To create more water sources is one of the most important factors to improve the habitat for Chukar Partridge. All in all it is not seen as vulnerable and on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species it is qualified as Least Concern.

Chukars and humans

Chukars were introduced into the USA in 1893 as gamebirds. They are popular because their meat has the reputation to be very tasty. Their fast flight and ability to fly some distance after being shot makes it difficult for hunters to succeed in a Chukar hunt in particular without dogs which can retrieve the bird. In Hawaii the bird filled up a gap in the ecosystem which had emerged because a native bird species had been extinct. Negative effects on humans and environment can arise because the species is able to transfer diseases and to disperse non-native plants, for example cheat grass in North America.

Short Facts

  • Both sexes of Chukar Partridge use a common call which sounds like chukar chukar and is therefore the reason for the name of the species.
  • The Chukar is the national bird of Pakistan and in some places it is a symbol of strong love.
  • The bird is difficult to hunt, because its flight is quite fast.
  • Golden Eagles sometimes prey on them.
Pheasant Romanian

Phasianus colchicus var. romanisch

Pheasant Romanian

Scientific Classification

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Aves

Order:  Galliformes

Family: Phasianidae

Genus: Phasianus

Species: Common Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus)

Subspecies: Pheasant Romanian (Phasianus colchicus var. romanisch)

Description

There are many colour forms of the Romanian pheasant ranging from yellow to blue and other colors. The head and the neck of the bird is green and dark blue. The upper part of its head is greenish-gray. The neckline and wings are covered with dark brown and purple feathers. Its legs are dark grey. There are bright red wattles around the eyes of male pheasants. Male birds have mainly blue coloured feathers. Adult males are boldly coloured and with a long tail. Male birds can be distinguished from females also by their size. Females are smaller than the males, their tail is shorter and they are paler in colour, with yellow and brownish spots and streaks. Romanian pheasant’s can weigh up to 3 kg.

Behavior

They are social and mostly non-migratory birds. They spend most of their time on the ground, sometimes also roost on the trees.

Habitat

Romanian pheasants live in forests, brushy hedgerows. They are found near rivers and lakes and in the wildwoods. This bird is widely distributed throughout Europe, Asia, North America, Ukraine, Russia.

Diet

Pheasant’s diet is rather broad incorporating wide variety of insects, snails, earthworms, seeds, fruits, leaves, cereal grains.

Reproduction

Females lay 18-60 eggs per year. The pheasants are polygamous; males mate with several females. Females lay eggs from April to June. The chicks stay near the hen for several weeks after hatching, resembling adult birds by 15 weeks of age. The weight of 6 weeks old chicks is approximately 1 kg.

Conservation Status

This subspecies is not included on the IUCN Red List.

Common Pheasant

Phasianus colchicus

Common Pheasant

Scientific classification

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Aves

Order: Galliformes

Family: Phasianidae

Genus: Phasianus

Species: Phasianus colchicus

 

Description

The Common Pheasant is a medium-sized bird with a pear-shaped body, a small head and a long thin tail. Typical of a pheasant species is the sexual dimorphism according to the different coloration of their plumage. Males have remarkable and colorful feathers which glare metallic in sunlight and have rich golden-brown and black markings. The head color ranges between dark green to purple and is adorned with red eye patches. Especially in breeding times these red wattles are very imposing. Several subspecies have a white collar around their neck. The iris appears in a light orange. Females are buff brown mottled which provides a good camouflage, the iris varies from orange to brown. The tail is long and pointed but a bit shorter than the tails of male birds.  All in all are males larger than females. Whereas the length of males ranges between 70 and 90 centimeters, the wing-length around 250 millimeters and the weight around 1,5 kilogram, the females only achieve a body length up to 70 centimeters, a wing-length around 230 millimeters and  a weight  between 1,1 and 1,4 kilogram.
The feet of Common pheasants are unfeathered.Young birds are beige-brown and patterned.
Overall more than 30 subspecies are listened, but it can be differed in two main groups. Firstly there are the ring-necked pheasants or so called members of the colchicus group which are native to the Eurasian mainland and expose the prominent neck ring. Secondly there is the smaller versicolor group, which lacks the neck-ring and is endemic to Japan.

Range and habitat

Actually the species is native to Eurasia and the range encompassed the Caspian Sea, central to east Asia, China and includes Korea, Japan and former Burma. Over the years it was introduced in Europe, North America, New Zealand, Australia and Hawaii.

Common pheasants live in open landscape as grasslands and farmlands and prefer areas with relatively  light cover. All in all they  occupy a wide range of habitats except dense rainforest, alpine forests or and very dry places. This flexibility is the reason for the successful introduction of the species in many countries.
The  Common pheasant does not need open water because it can obtain their water out of plants and insects. 

Behavior

Common Pheasants are social, mostly non-migratory birds. They are found in large groups in autumn and winter, flocking together in places with cover and food. Groups can be mixed or single-sexed and may contain up to 50 birds. Migratory are only reported in some northern populations which travel southwards for more food availability during winter. Before breeding season in early spring males start to leave the group.  Pheasants spend a lot of time on the ground and are good runners as well as fliers. They can start their fly in nearly vertical and males often call during the starting process. To clean their plumage from old feathers and excess oil the birds bath in dust and sand. Calls by males are made to clarify their territory and to attract females during mating season. Female birds are more quiet and their calls are less audible.

Diet

Common Pheasants do not have a very specific diet but eat a wide variety of plant matter as seeds, grain, berries and other fruits but also insects and invertebrates as grasshoppers and crickets. Mostly the birds search for food scratching in the ground with their bill.

Reproduction

Common pheasants are polygynous which means that one single man has a harem of several females. In spring males establish territories for breeding. These areas do not have settled boundaries. One harem consists out of 2 to 18 females and lasts through mating and nesting period. Normally a female stays in the same harem for one breeding season.
Females are attracted by displays which are performed by wing-whirring and crows. Furthermore the face wattles of the males are more conspicuous than in the rest of the year. Sometimes fights between competitive males take place. Studies report that females prefer males with long tails and that the length of ear tufts and the looks of the wattles influence the choice of the female.
A female bird lays approximately one egg a day until 7 to 15 eggs all in all. Sometimes females share a nesting site. They do not build a nest, but digs a shallow hollow in the ground which is protected by a dense cover. Incubation is only duty of the females which only leave their eggs to feed. After ca. 23 days after the final egg the full downed chicks start to hatch. Their eyes are already open and they are able to walk in order to accompany their mother to food sources. The main role of the hen is after hatching: It helps to feed his offspring until it becomes independent after approximately 70 to 80 days. 12 days after hatching young common pheasants are already able to fly. In the age of one year they achieve sexual maturity.

Conservation Status
Common pheasants are widely distributed. On the IUCN Red List of  Threatened the species  is qualified as Least Concern.

Rainbow lorikeet

Trichoglossus haematodus

Rainbow lorikeet

Scientific Classification

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Aves

Order: Psittaciformes

Family: Psittaculidae

Genus: Trichoglossus

Species: Rainbow lorikeet

Description

Small birds with average size 30cm weighing up to 75-157g. They have intense colors; from emerald green, orange, red, yellow, purple to violet, grey.

Behavior

Rainbow lorikeets often travel together in pairs and occasionally respond to calls to fly as a flock, then disperse again into pairs. Rainbow lorikeet pairs defend their feeding and nesting areas aggressively against other rainbow lorikeets and other bird species. They chase off not only smaller birds, but also larger and more powerful birds such as the Australian magpie.

Habitat

The rainbow lorikeet is native to Australia. It is common along the eastern seaboard, from South Australia and Tasmania.

Diet

This bird spends a lot of time for feeding. Most of its food comes from flowers, nectar, pollen, berries and fruits. Rainbow Lorikeet possesses a tongue adapted especially for their particular diet. The end of the tongue is equipped with a papillate appendage adapted to gathering pollen and nectar from flowers, and rainbow lorikeet is important pollinator of these flowers.

Reproduction

Breeding usually occurs in September-December, but can vary from region to region with changes in food availability and climate. Nesting sites are variable and can include hollows of tall trees such as eucalypts, palm trunks, or overhanging rock. They are dependent on flowering trees. Pairs sometimes nest in the same tree with other rainbow lorikeet pairs, or other bird species.

Conservation Status

The global population size has not been quantified, but the species is described as abundant in northern Australia and rare in Tasmania. It is listed as “Least concern” according to the IUCN Red List.

Common Pochard

Aythya ferina

Common Pochard

Scientific classification

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Aves

Order: Anseriformes

Family: Anatidae

Genus: Aythya

Species: A. ferina

 

Description 

The pochard is a stocky diving duck, smaller than a mallard. The male is pale grey with a rusty red head and neck, and a black breast and tail. The female is brown with a dark head and blotchy cheeks. In flight, birds show a pale grey wing-stripe.

Range and Habitat

The species distributed in South Caucasus, Europe, Asia and Africa.

Vegetated swamps, marshes, lakes and slow flowing rivers with areas of open water. In winter, opten on larger lakes, brackish coastal lagoons and tidal estuaries.

Behavior 

The Common Pochard dives with noticeable leap; moves feet to stir up vegetation. Often occurs in large flocks.

Diet

The species is omnivorous, its diet consisting of seeds, roots, rhizomes and the vegetative parts of grasses, sedges and aquatic plants, as well as aquatic insects and larvae, molluscs, crustaceans, worms, amphibians and small fish.

Reproduction

Lays 8-10 eggs in May. Only females incubate, for 24–26 days. Ducklings leave the nest soon to forage in broods, staying close to their mother, and learn to fly within 7–9 weeks.

Conservation status

The  species listed in IUCN Red List and evaluated as Least Concern.

Gadwall

Anas strepera

Gadwall

Scientific classification

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Aves

Order: Anseriformes

Family: Anatidae

Genus: Anas

Species: A. strepera

 

Description

The Gadwall is 46–56 cm long with a 84-95 cm wingspan. The male is slightly larger than the female, weighing on average 900 g. The breeding male is patterned grey, with a black rear end, light chestnut wings, and a brilliant white speculum, obvious in flight or at rest. In non-breeding plumage, the drake looks more like the female, but retains the male wing pattern, and is usually greyer above and has less orange on the bill.

Range and Habitat

The Gadwall breeds in the northern areas of Europe and Asia, and central North America. They live in ponds, marshes, shallow rivers and wet meadows.

Behavior

Gadwall feed with other dabbling ducks, tipping forward to feed on submerged vegetation without diving. They sometimes steal food from flocks of diving ducks or coots. You’ll often see these ducks in pairs through the winter, because they select their mates for the breeding season as early as late fall.

Diet

The food consist of different types of plants.

Reproduction 

Gadwall breed near seasonal and semi-permanent wetlands, mainly in the short grass and tall grass. Substantial numbers also breed in wetland habitats of the Great Basin. Gadwall tend to begin breeding later than most ducks. Female gadwall nest in fields and meadows, and on islands and dikes in wetlands, and lay an average of 8-12 eggs.

Conservation status

The species listed in the IUCN Red List and evaluated as Least Concern and listed in the Armenian Red Book.

Mallard

Anas platyrhynchos

Mallard

Scientific classification 

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Subphylum: Vertebrata

Class: Aves

Order: Anseriformes

Family: Anatidae

Genus: Anas

Species: Anas platyrhynchos

 

Description 

Without any doubt the mallard is the most recognizable waterfowl in the world. In both sexes the familiar duck morphology is supplemented with a shimmering blue speculum on the wings. Ordinary for duck species is the big difference in the appearance between the males and the females. Characteristic for the male mallards are the green iridescent plumage on the head and neck in addition to the curled black feathers on the tail compared to the female’s drab brown plumage. The male’s shiny green head ends up in a white-ringed neck, a brown chest and grey sides. The bill appears in a yellow color and the legs as well as the webbed feet are orange. The smaller hens are less colorful with her with and brown feathers that helps to blend in the wetland surroundings.

Range and Habitat

The Distribution of the mallards reaches regions all over the world. The Northern Hemisphere is dominated nevertheless mallards also spread out in Southern countries and continents e.g. South America or Oceana. The mallard can deal with different climatic situations, from Arctic Tundra to subtropical regions. In general they favor wetlands, where productive waters produce amounts of floating, emergent and submerged vegetation. The production of aquatic invertebrates in this area is large and beneficial as mallards feed on them.

Distribution range of this species includes Armenia

Behavior 

Towards the breeding season, the flocks formed by the mallards migrate from northern regions to the warmer southern areas. The flocks are normally middle sized, big bevy are a mixture of different duck species. Until the next breeding season begins, they wait in the southern hemisphere. A few mallards pick to stay while the winter in areas where food and shelter is available, these are the so called resident populations. “Quack”, the familiar sound of ducks comes originally from the “decrescendo call” of the female mallard that sounds within miles. The aim of the call is to give other ducks the signal to come to her e.g. her duckling.

Diet

Vegetation, insects, worms, gastropods and arthropods, mallards subsist on a broad variety of food. Human food sources like gleaning grain from crops are taken by mallards as a special advantage.

Reproduction

From October to March the pair bonding takes place. They just pair up during the breeding season, at that time the male advocates a little territory and acts like a guard towards the female before the egg-laying and during the beginning of the incubation period. After the mating occurs the males forsake the hens as soon as possible. Naturally the female mallard lays 9 to 13 eggs in a nest, a grass bowl. The breeding ground is situated on the ground near the waters. After 26 to 28 days the ducklings hatch and the hens accompanies them to the water and never returns to the nest. The hen cares alone for the feeding and raising of the young mallards. Very quickly the ducklings are able to swim and feed themselves. In danger they hide until the mother calls them back. As yearlings most mallard females start to breed, but the success is proved to be less. Researches reveal the duckling death rate of older hens is lower.

Conservation status

The species Listed in the IUCN Red List and evaluated as Least Concern.

Black Swan

Cygnus atratus

Black Swan

Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class:Aves
Order:Anseriformes
Family:Anatidae
Tribe:Cygnini
Genus: Cygnus
Species: Cygnus atratus

Description

In adult Black Swans the body is mostly black, with the exception of the broad white wing tips which are visible in flight. The bill is a deep orange-red, paler at the tip, with a distinct narrow white band towards the end. Younger birds are much greyer in colour, and have black wing tips. Adult females are smaller than the males.

A mature Black Swan measures between 110 and 142 centimeters in length and weighs 3.7–9 kilograms. Its wing span is between 1.6 and 2 meters. The neck is long (relatively the longest neck among the swans) and curved in an “S”-shape.

 

Range and Habitat

Black Swans are found throughout Australia with the exception of Cape York Peninsula, and are more common in the south. The Black Swan has been introduced into several countries, including New Zealand, where it is now common, and is a vagrant to New Guinea.

Black Swans prefer larger salt, brackish or fresh waterways and permanent wetlands, requiring 40 m or more of clear water to take off. Outside the breeding season, Black Swans travel quite large distances. Birds fly at night and rest during the day with other swans.

Behavior

The Black Swan utters a musical and far reaching bugle-like sound, called either on the water or in flight, as well as a range of softer crooning notes. It can also whistle, especially when disturbed while breeding and nesting.When swimming, Black Swans hold their necks arched or erect, and often carry their feathers or wings raised in an aggressive display. In flight, a wedge of Black Swans will form as a line or a V, with the individual birds flying strongly with undulating long necks, making whistling sounds with their wings and baying, bugling or trumpeting calls.

Feeding and Diet

The Black Swan is a vegetarian. Food consists of algae and weeds, which the bird obtains by plunging its long neck into water up to 1 m deep. Occasionally birds will graze on land, but they are clumsy walkers.

Reproduction

Black Swans form isolated pairs or small colonies in shallow wetlands. They pair for life, with both adults raising one brood per season. The hatching time generally begins with the raining season. In the north-eastern part of Australia it is around February whereas in the western part it can be in August. The swans are sexually mature at the age of 18 months; however they start hatching usually at the age of 3-4 years. The nest is placed either on a small island or floated in deeper water. The black swan is very aggressive when defending its territory and nest from intruders, including other swans. The nest is approximately 40 cm high, elliptic shaped with a diameter of 2 meters. It is made of twigs, sticks, grass fixed with mud. The hen has usually from 5 to 12 light greenish eggs, 110×70 mm. Both parents take care of eggs for 40 days. The chicks (cygnets) are covered in grey down and are able to swim and feed themselves as soon as they hatch. After three months the young are able to fly. Life expectancy is about 10 years.

History

The Black Swan’s role in Australian heraldry and culture extends to the first founding of the colonies in the eighteenth century. It has often been equated with antipodean identity, the contrast to the white swan of the northern hemisphere indicating ‘Australianness’. The Black Swan is featured on the flag, and is both the state and bird emblem, of Western Australia; it also appears in the Coat of Arms and other iconography of the state’s institutions.

In Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, the sinister and seductive black swan, Odile, is contrasted with the innocent white swan, Odette.

Conservation

The Black Swan is protected under the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Act, 1979. It is evaluated as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Short facts

  • Black swans are able to fly all over Australia with only a few stops by the water resources.
  • Black Swans are strictly monogamous just like other swans (only 6% divorce rate).
  • There are seven species of swans in the world, all pure white except for the Australian Black Swan and the South American Black-necked Swan.