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Monday, November 26, 2007

Black Oyster Catcher, Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska


The oystercatchers are a group of waders; they form the family Haematopodidae, which has a single genus, Haematopus. They are large obvious and noisy plover-like birds, with strong bills used for smashing or prising open molluscs.

In some species, the bill shape varies according to the diet. Those birds with blade-like bill tips prise open or smash mollusc shells, and those with pointed bill tips tend to probe for annelid worms.

They are found on coasts worldwide apart from the polar regions. They are all-black, black and white or brown and white in appearance.

White Ibis at Dawn, Fort Meyers, Florida

Australian White Ibis (Threskiornis molucca) is a wading bird of the ibis family Threskiornithidae, also known as the "Sheep bird". They are widespread in eastern and south western Australia.

This ibis occurs in marshy wetlands, often near open grasslands and has become common in Australian east coast city parks and rubbish dumps since 1998, which along with its large size has has led to the nickname of "Tip Turkey". The Australian Ibis is known to have a putrid smell of rotting fish or rubbish dumps.

This ibis feeds on various fish, frogs and other water creatures, and also insects and garbage.

This species has a bald black head and neck and a long black downcurved beak. The body plumage is white with some black feathers near the tail. The legs are dark and red skin is visible on the underside of the wing. The head and neck are feathered in juveniles.

Black-Headed Gulls

The Black-headed Gull (Larus ridibundus) is a small gull which breeds in much of Europe and Asia, and also in coastal eastern Canada. Most of the population is migratory, wintering further south, but some birds in the milder westernmost areas of Europe are resident. Some birds will also spend the winter in the northeastern United States.

This gull is 38-44cm long with a 94-105 cm wingspan. It breeds in colonies in large reedbeds or marshes, or on islands in lakes, nesting on the ground. Like most gulls, it is highly gregarious in winter, both when feeding or in evening roosts. It is not a pelagic species, and is rarely seen at sea far from coasts.

The Black-headed Gull is a bold and opportunist feeder and will scavenge in towns or take invertebrates in ploughed fields with equal relish.

In flight, the white leading edge to the wing is a good field mark. The summer adult has a chocolate-brown head (not black, despite the name), pale grey body, black tips to the primary wing feathers, and red bill and legs. The hood is lost in winter, leaving just dark vertical streaks.

This species takes two years to reach maturity. First year birds have a black terminal tail band, more dark areas in the wings, and, in summer, a less fully developed dark hood.

This is a noisy species, especially at colonies, with a familiar "kree-ar" call. Its scientific name means "Laughing Gull".

The Black-headed Gull is the prefectural bird of Tokyo and the Yurikamome mass transit system is named after it.

Brown Pelicans in Flight

The Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) is the smallest of the eight species of pelican, although it is a large bird in nearly every other regard. It is 106-137 cm (42-54 in) in length, weighs from 2.75 to 5.5 kg (6-12 lbs) and has a wingspan from 1.83 to 2.5 m (6 to 8.2 ft).

It lives strictly on coasts from Washington and Virginia south to northern Chile and the mouth of the Amazon River. Some immature birds may stray to inland freshwater lakes. After nesting, North American birds move in flocks further north along the coasts, returning to warmer waters for winter.

This bird is distinguished from the American White Pelican by its brown body and its habit of diving for fish from the air, as opposed to co-operative fishing from the surface. It eats mainly herring-like fish. Groups of Brown Pelicans often travel in single file, flying low over the water's surface.

The nest location varies from a simple scrape on the ground on an island to a bulky stick nest in a low tree. These birds nest in colonies, usually on islands.

Pesticides like DDT and dieldrin threatened its future in the southeast United States and California in the early 1970s. Pesticides also threatened the pelican population in Florida in this period. A research group from the University of Tampa headed by Dr. Ralph Schreiber conducted research in the Tampa Bay/St Petersburg area and found that DDT caused the pelican eggshells to be overly-thin and incapable of supporting the embryo to maturity. As a result of this research, DDT usage was eliminated in Florida and the rest of the country.

Along with the American White Pelican, the Brown Pelican is protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.

The Peruvian Pelican, Pelecanus thagus, used to be considered a subspecies of the Brown Pelican (P. o. thagus). However, due to its well-defined allopatry and because it is much larger and heavier than its relatives, it was reclassified as a separate species.

The Brown Pelican is the state bird of Louisiana.

Lesser Flamingos in Motion, Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya, Africa

The Lesser Flamingo (Phoenicopterus minor) is a species in the flamingo family of birds which occurs in Africa (principally in the Great Rift Valley), across to Pakistan and northwest India. It is a very rare vagrant to southern Europe, with several records from Spain. Birds are occasionally reported from further north, but are generally considered to be escapes.

It is the smallest and most numerous flamingo, probably numbering up to two million individual birds. In Africa, where they are most numerous, the Lesser Flamingos breeds principally on the highly caustic Lake Natron in Northern Tanzania. Like all flamingos, they lay a single chalky white egg on mounds they build of mud. Most of the plumage is pinkish white.

Chicks join creches soon after hatching, sometimes numbering over a hundred thousand individuals. The creches are marshalled by a few adult birds who lead them by foot to fresh water, a journey that can reach over 20 miles.

The clearest difference between this species and Greater Flamingo, the only other Old World species, is the much more extensive black on the bill. Size is less helpful unless the species are together, since the sexes of each species also differ in height.


This species feeds primarily on Spirulina, a cyanobacteria which grows only in very alkaline lakes. Although blue-green in colour, the bacteria contains the phtotosynthetic pigments that gives the birds their pink colour. Their deep bill is specialised for filtering tiny food items.

Lesser Flamingos are predated on by a variety of species including Marabou Storks, baboons, African Fish Eagles and jackals.

The population in the two key east African lakes, Nakuru and Bogoria, have been adversely affected in recent years by suspected heavy metal poisoning.

Its primary African breeding area in Lake Natron is currently under threat by a proposed soda ash plant by Tata Chemicals.

Yellow-crowned Night Heron

The Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Nycticorax violaceus or Nyctanassa violacea, is a smaller heron, similar in appearance to the Black-crowned Night Heron.

Adults are 61 cm long and weigh 625 g. They have a white crown and back with the remainder of the body grayish, red eyes and short yellow legs. They have a white stripe below the eye. Juveniles resemble young Black-crowned Night-Herons, being mainly brown flecked with white or gray.

Their breeding habitat is swamps and marshes from the eastern United States to north-eastern South America. They often nest in colonies, usually on platforms of sticks in trees or shrubs overhanging water. they lay 3–5 pale blue-green eggs.

In warmer locations, some are permanent residents; others migrate to Central America and the West Indies. They may occasionally wander north to the lower Great Lakes or Ontario after the breeding season.

A related heron was endemic to Bermuda (Bermuda Night Heron), but became extinct following human colonisation. American Yellow-crowned Night Herons have been introduced to fill its ecological niche.

These birds stalk their prey or wait in ambush at the water's edge, mainly at night. They mainly eat crustaceans, mollusks, frogs, aquatic insects and small fish.