Southern fulmar (Fulmarus glacialoides)

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Meet the Southern fulmar (Figure 1), Fulmarus glacialoides, one of the most elegant seabirds from the Family Procellariidae. Also known as silver-grey fulmar and Antarctic fulmar, this species is found in plentiful abundance in the Southern Ocean, with an estimated breeding population of “several million” around the Scotia Arc area and the Antarctic Peninsula (Crozall et al., 1984).

The Southern fulmar (Fulmarus glacialoides) in flight, taken in Tasmania, Australia. Author: JJ Harrison. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0.

Figure 1: The Southern fulmar in flight, taken in Tasmania, Australia. Author: JJ Harrison (CC BY-SA 3.0).

The family Procellariidae also comprises the gadfly petrels (Pterodroma spp.), the prions (Pachyptila spp. and Halobaena caerulea), and the shearwaters (mostly of the genera Calonectris and Puffinus).

The taxon was first described by Sir Andrew Smith (Figure 2), a Scottish naturalist from the late 19th Century, based on a specimen collected from the Cape of Good Hope. The Southern fulmar’s first taxonomic classification placed it in the genus Procellaria. However, in 1949, this was reclassified to Fulmarus, the same genus as its sibling, the Northern fulmar (F. glacialis), a revision justified by mitochondrial DNA (cytochrome b) phylogenies (Nunn and Stanley, 1998). Although similar in appearance to its namesake, there is no overlap in area where both species occur.

Antique Lithograph from Andrew Smith’s "Illustrations of the Zoology of South Africa", published in 1838-49, London.

Figure 2: Antique lithograph from Sir Andrew Smith’s “Illustrations of the Zoology of South Africa“, published in 1838-49, London.

With their large distribution, many Southern fulmars migrate north during winter months to areas along the coasts of the Falkland Islands, South America, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, with the occasional migration to tropical latitudes (Creuwels et al., 2007). They somewhat resemble gulls in their appearance, with a white head, silver-grey neck and mantle, which gradually becomes darker towards the back and upperwings. Its bill was featured on Beak of the Week on the 16th of November. Though not visible from the scan, the beak is typically pale pink with a black tip. Large nasal tubes on the top of the bill cover the blue-grey tubular nostrils.

Southern Fulmars feeding in the Gerlache Strait, Antarctica. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license. Liam Quinn from Canada.

Figure 3: Southern fulmars feeding in the Gerlache Strait, Antarctica. Author: Liam Quinn (CC BY-SA 2.0).

The Southern fulmar breeds on steep rocky slopes and cavities on precipitous cliff edges, feeding on fish (normally Pleuragramma antarcticum and Electrona antarctica), Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba) and various squid species (Figure 3). Currently classified as “Least Concern” according to the IUCN (Figure 4), there is currently no evidence of serious threats to its global breeding population. In fact, some argue that an increase in fishery activities could have positive effects through a greater supply of discards, and less competition for food resources (Creuwels et al., 2007). The future remains bright for the Southern fulmar!

The Souther fulmar has an extremely large range and population size, with a stable population trend.

Figure 4: Based on its most recent classification, the Southern fulmar has an extremely large range and population size, with a stable population trend (IUCN, 2016).

 

References:

Creuwels, JC, Poncet, S, Hodum, PJ, & van Franeker, JA (2007). Distribution and abundance of the Southern Fulmar Fulmarus glacialoides. Polar Biology 30 (9): 1083–1097.

Croxall JP, Prince PA, Hunter I, McInnes SJ, Copestake PG (1984) The seabirds of the Antarctic Peninsula, islands of the Scotia Sea and Antarctic continent between 80°W and 20°W: their status and conservation. In: Croxall JP, Evans PGH, Schreiber RW (eds.) Status and conservation of the world’s seabirds. ICBP, Cambridge, pp 637–666.

IUCN – BirdLife International and Handbook of the Birds of the World (2016) Fulmarus glacialoides. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2016-3.

Nunn GB, Stanley SE (1998) Body size effects and rates of cytochrome-b evolution in tube-nosed seabirds. Mol Biol Evol 15: 1360–1371.

The Common Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)

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Starling

Time for another #BeakoftheWeek species post!

The common starling (Sturnus vulgaris) is one of four species in the genus Sturnus, although this group is complex, with opinions differing on which species truly belong to this genus. It also has many subspecies, up to 13 according to some sources.

The common starling appears dull and uninteresting at a distance, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Although its plumage is black, it has a metallic sheen of greens and purples throughout its feathers. Being gregarious birds, they spend most of their time in flocks. It is the species that famously forms ‘murmurations’ before roosting for the night, creating breath-taking spectacles around the UK in autumn and winter time. In the evening, before dusk, is the best time to see them performing this aerial display. It is not known exactly why they form murmurations, but one suggestion is that it gives safety in numbers, as predators such as peregrine falcons find it difficult to target one bird in amongst thousands of others. Another reason is that this helps them share information with each other, such as good feeding sites.

Although starlings are omnivorous, they tend to feed on invertebrates more than fruits, seeds, and grains, and are commonly seen feeding on the ground in pasture or grassy areas. They have three main ways of feeding: probing, hawking, and lunging. ‘Probing’ is the most common behaviour, which consists of probing the ground with their beaks randomly until invertebrates are found. This also involves bill gaping, where they open their beaks while in the soil to widen the hole. Less common is ‘hawking’, when the birds catch insects from the air, and ‘lunging’, when the bird strikes forward to catch moving prey on the ground. It is common to see “roller-feeding” in starlings, where the birds at the back of the flock fly to the front continuously, making use of the better foraging opportunities ahead.

To attract a mate, males must find a suitable cavity in which to construct a nest. To make the nest appealing to a female, the male must decorate it with fresh greenery or flowers. Starlings are both monogamous and polygamous, depending on the situation, but reproductive success is greater when a male remains monogamous. Females lay four to six eggs, pale blue in colour, which both the male and female incubate for around 13 days. Intraspecific brood parasitism does sometimes occur, with unpaired females laying eggs in the nest of another pair, sometimes removing one of the hosts’ eggs to maintain the same number and avoid detection. Nestlings remain in the nest for around three weeks, and are fed for one to two weeks after fledging. A mating pair can raise as many as three broods in a season, relining and reusing the same nest, but two broods is more common.

Starlings are very noisy birds, having fast and complex songs including much variation and mimicry. Males can be heard singing most of the year, whereas females’ song is supressed in the breeding season. Starlings are able to mimic parts of other species’ songs, and incorporate them into their own repertoire.


 

Starlings have an impressive global distribution, spanning five of the seven continents. The species is native to Europe, Western Asia, and North Africa, but has since spread due to successful introduction attempts. They were introduced in Australia in an attempt to control insect pests affecting crops, but have since been deemed pests themselves. Similarly, they were introduced in North America, and now are thought to have a population size of 150 million.

map

Starlings are common and widespread across the UK, but don’t let their impressive global distribution fool you, they are listed as having ‘Red Status’ here. This is due to their population size falling by 80% in recent years, declining most notably in urban areas. The reason for this decline is thought to be a shortage of food and nesting sites, a lack of permanent pasture, and increased use of chemicals and pesticides in farming. Until land management practices and farming techniques improve, the species could continue to decline, along with many others.

 

References

BirdLife International. 2016. Species factsheet: Common Starling Sturnus vulgaris. Accessed 19/01/2016.

RSPB. 2016. Starling. Accessed 19/01/2016.

Winkler, H., Christie, D.A. & Kirwan, G.M. 2016. Common Starling (Sturnus vulgaris). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.) 2016. Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. Retrieved from http://www.hbw.com/species/common-starling-sturnus-vulgaris on 20/01/2016.

BirdLife International. 2015. Sturnus vulgaris. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Accessed 20/01/2016.

Images (from top to bottom):

Common starling (Sturnus vulgaris) taken by Pierre Selim is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Common starlings in field (Sturnus vulgaris) taken by Henry Clark is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

BirdLife International and NatureServe. 2014. Bird Species Distribution Maps of the World. 2015. Sturnus vulgaris. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2015-3.

Audio

Mikael Litsgård, XC290451. Licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/290451.

The Eurasian Wryneck (Jynx torquilla)

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Eurasian_Wryneck

Another fantastic bird that has featured on #BeakOfTheWeek – the Eurasian wryneck (Jynx torquilla)! It is one of only two species in the genus Jynx, along with the red-throated wryneck (J. ruficollis), both of which belong to the woodpecker family (Picidae). Like other woodpeckers, it has the characteristic large head and long tongue, but with a few slight differences. Most woodpeckers have a powerful bill, whereas the wrynecks have a shorter, more slender bill. This is suited to their feeding behaviour as they don’t use their bills to make holes in trees, but instead find and catch insects in crevices using their sticky tongue. They have an unusual threat display in which they twist their head in a snake-like manner while hissing. Consequently they have long been associated with ancient spells and witchcraft, and are responsible for the origin of the word “jinx” (cf. Jynx). The meaning of the species name torquilla also relates to this behaviour, as it comes from the Latin verb “torqueo”, meaning “to twist”.

Despite belonging to the woodpecker family, the species can seem more characteristic of the thrush family. It prefers foraging on the ground, and can be seen sitting on branches more often than clinging to tree trunks. This is most likely because it lacks the stiff tail feathers that most woodpeckers have which help brace themselves against upright trunks. Individuals are  around 16–17 cm long and weigh 30–50 g. Their plumage pattern and colouring is reminiscent of nightjars (Caprimulgidae). Both males and females are mottled brown, buff, and grey on their upper body, and barred dark brown and buff on their underside, giving them a slight ‘dirty’ appearance. This colouring acts as very effective camouflage, making them very difficult to spot. Their song is a series of 8–15 loud “kwia” notes in quick succession, sounding quite similar to the lesser spotted woodpecker (Dendrocopos minor) but slightly more nasal in sound. Their alarm calls can either be shrill hissing, or a series of loud ‘tak’ sounds in close succession, sounding almost like clucking.

Here’s an example of their song:

 

The Eurasian wryneck is not a particularly common sight in the UK, being seen mostly on the Eastern and Southern coasts during autumn migration time, and less commonly in spring. It is estimated that around 280 birds visit the UK when migrating. However, it is a very widespread visitor to much of Europe and Asia in breeding season during the summer months, and is present in both Asia and Africa outside of the breeding period. Their preferred habitat consists of open country with orchards, woodland, fields, scrubland, and pasture. They primarily feed on ants, finding nests in holes and crevices using their slender bills and long tongues. They also feed on beetles and their larvae, aphids, flies, and spiders.

tree hole

As Eurasian wrynecks cannot excavate their own tree hole, they often use the old nest sites of other woodpeckers, sometimes even removing the nest and brood of another individual. When meeting, a mating pair will exhibit head swinging and feather ruffling, which acts as a courtship display. The species is generally monogamous, staying faithful to one mate. However, occasional polygyny occurs, meaning some males mate and raise offspring with more than one female. A clutch of 7–12 eggs is laid in May–June, and sometimes a second clutch is laid in June. Incubation of the eggs lasts around 11–12 days, and is shared between the male and the female equally, as is the feeding of the young. The nestlings fledge at 20–22 days, and become fully independent 1–2 weeks later.

The species has “Red Status” in the UK due to severe declines between 1800 and 1995 without substantial recovery. However, on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, it is of “Least Concern“. This means that the species isn’t globally threatened. Let’s hope it stays that way!

 

References

BirdLife International. 2015. Species factsheet: Eurasian Wryneck Jynx torquilla. Accessed 18/10/2015.

RSPB. 2015. Wryneck. Accessed 18/10/2015.

Winkler, H., Christie, D.A. & Kirwan, G.M. 2015. Eurasian Wryneck (Jynx torquilla). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.) 2015. Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. Retrieved from http://www.hbw.com/node/56121 on 21/10/2015.

BirdLife International. 2012. Jynx torquilla. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Accessed 18/10/2015.

Wink, M., Becker, D., Tolkmitt, D., Knigge, V., Sauer-Gürth, H. & Staudter, H. 2011. Mating system, paternity and sex allocation in Eurasian Wrynecks (Jynx torquilla). Journal of Ornithology. 152: 983–989.

Images (from top to bottom):

Eurasian wryneck (Jynx torquilla) taken by Robert Nash is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Eurasian wryneck (Jynx torquilla) taken by Åsa Berndtsson is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Audio

Patrik Åberg, XC26770. Licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 3.0. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/26770.