Montezuma Oropendola (Psarocolius montezuma)

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This New World blackbird (Icteridae) has got to be one of my all-time favourite birds to scan. Usually a few times a week (after you have been working with museum collections for a while and every species is not as exciting as it once was) you will open a draw and marvel at nature’s achievements. From its bright yellow tail to its simply fantastic multi-tonal face and beak, this bird is stunning. The joy at this species didn’t stop there, as not only did it look good but it scanned beautifully. It was done and dusted in 5 minutes flat. As someone who spends a large portion of their time 3D scanning birds this is quite the treat.

Montezuma Oropendola in flight.

Montezuma Oropendola in flight.

You can see how beautifully the scan of the Montezuma Oropendola or Great Oropendola came out by checking out our #BeakoftheWeek tweet.

 

References

. 2010. Montezuma Oropendola (Psarocolius montezuma), Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; retrieved from Neotropical Birds Online: http://neotropical.birds.cornell.edu/portal/species/overview?p_p_spp=680076

BirdLife International (2016) Species factsheet:Psarocolius montezuma. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 31/08/2016.

BirdLife International. 2012. Psarocolius montezuma. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2012: e.T22724004A39873355. http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2012-1.RLTS.T22724004A39873355.en. Downloaded on 26 August 2016.

Fraga, R. (2016). Montezuma Oropendola (Psarocolius montezuma). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from http://www.hbw.com/node/62242 on 26 August 2016).

Images and Videos

BirdLife International and NatureServe (2014) Bird Species Distribution Maps of the World. 2012. Psarocolius montezuma. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2016-1.

Montezuma Oropendola in all its glory is by Doug Janson and is licenesd under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Montezuma Oropendola in flight is by Paulo Philippidis and is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Montezuma Oropendola nest colony is by Charlesjsharp and is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Oropendola intrigued by song evolution? is by Jerry Oldenettel and is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Audio

Peter Boesman, XC274124. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/274124.

 

The Sickle-billed Vanga (Falculea palliata)

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From the fantastically diverse vanga family (vangidae) the sickle-billed vanga really is sight to behold.  When a species has a bill as distinctive as this you can see why it would be quick to identify on #BeakoftheWeek, and low and behold the bird that the bill belonged to was quickly ascertained in the weekly challenge. Some of the beaks we have had the opportunity to scan at the Natural History Museum collections in Tring are a joy to work with, and this was definitely one of those.

Here is a nice video from the internet bird collection for you to watch to get a feel for what this bird looks like and how it moves.

 

References

BirdLife International (2016) Species factsheet: Falculea palliata. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 26/08/2016.

BirdLife International. 2012. Falculea palliata. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2012: e.T22708041A39344831. http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2012-1.RLTS.T22708041A39344831.en. Downloaded on 25 August 2016.

Yamagishi, S. & Nakamura, M. (2016). Sickle-billed Vanga (Falculea palliata). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from http://www.hbw.com/node/60562 on 25 August 2016).

Images and Videos

BirdLife International and NatureServe (2014) Bird Species Distribution Maps of the World. 2012. Falculea palliata. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2016-1

ian_hempstead, IBC1195731. Accessible at hbw.com/ibc/1195731.

Keulemans’ Sickle-billed vanga by John Gerrard Keulemans is licensed Public Domain Mark 1.0.

Sickle-billed vanga by Cédric de Foucault is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.

Audio

Hans Matheve, XC155300. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/155300.

The Secretarybird (Sagittarius serpentarius)

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I say this far too frequently for it to warrant much merit but this is definitely a #favebird. Not only is it a highly skilled snake assassin but it has some rather fanciful “hair” to boot.

This one was solved pretty quickly on #BeakoftheWeek by our resident expert but it was mistaken for quite a few other accipitriformes first.

Check out the video below for a quick run through about this species before diving into a bit more detail.

References

BirdLife International. 2013. Sagittarius serpentarius. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2013: e.T22696221A49946506. http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2013-2.RLTS.T22696221A49946506.en. Downloaded on 23 August 2016.

Kemp, A.C., Kirwan, G.M., Christie, D.A. & Marks, J.S. (2016). Secretarybird (Sagittarius serpentarius). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.).Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved fromhttp://www.hbw.com/node/53186 on 23 August 2016).

Images and Videos

BirdLife International and NatureServe (2014) Bird Species Distribution Maps of the World. 2013. Sagittarius serpentarius. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2016-1.

Fuertes’ Secretarybird by Louis Agassiz Fuertes is licensed under Public Domain Mark 1.0.

Nesting Secretarybirds by Peter Dowley is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Secretarybird by Ian White is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Secretarybird with a tasty treat by Jean & Nathalie is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Planet Doc Full Documentaries. 2015. Secretary Birds of Africa | Nature. [Online]. [23/08/2016]. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t1UEneEPZO8.

 

The Apostlebird (Struthidea cinerea)

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I couldn’t wait to write a blog about this species, so I have waded straight into it before the dust has even settled from another round of #BeakoftheWeek.

I had the pleasure of working at a research station (Fowlers Gap) in New South Wales a few years ago where there was a group of habituated apostlebirds, which was a fantastic experience. All you had to do was give a whistle and they would fly over and gather around you in the search of tasty treats. This allowed me to get some great photos like the one below.

Apostlebird1

Apostlebird PC Elliot Capp @ornithzoologist

This social, cooperatively breeding passerine species is an Australian mudnester (Corcoracidae) and is one of many species that had the pleasure of first being described by British Ornithologist John Gould (in 1837). Yup, that is the man who pointed out to Charles Darwin that there was something special about those birds he had brought back from the Galapagos. The 12 seminal ground finch species. This subject could cause me to massively go off on a tangent as I am sometimes wanton to do, but I will stick to the apostlebirds this time.

Apostlebirds are the only member of their genus and one of only two species in the Corcoracidae family, along with the white-winged chough (Corcorax melanorhamphos). If you head over to Onezoom you can see what other species they are closely related to.

References

BirdLife International. 2012. Struthidea cinerea. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2012: e.T22705385A38386489. http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2012-1.RLTS.T22705385A38386489.en. Downloaded on 29 July 2016.

Rowley, I. & Russell, E. (2016). Apostlebird (Struthidea cinerea). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from http://www.hbw.com/node/60602 on 28 July 2016).

Photos and Videos

BirdLife International and NatureServe (2014) Bird Species Distribution Maps of the World. 2012. Struthidea cinerea. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2016-1 – range

Investigative Apostlebird by Benjamint444 is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Audio

Marc Anderson, XC171837. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/171837.

The Tawny Frogmouth (Podargus strigoides)

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The Tawny Frogmouth (
Podargus strigoides), a #BeakoftheWeek contender from last year,  is a weird and wonderful member of the Podargidae family.

Adult tawny frogmouth, perching in daylight, Queensland

Adult tawny frogmouth, perching in daylight, Queensland

Alongside oilbirds, potoos and some nightjars, frogmouths are part of the wider order of birds known as Caprimulgiformes. Literally meaning ‘goat-milker’ in Latin, this peculiar name is said to have derived from folk tales regarding the feeding habits of the European nightjar, thought to surreptitiously suck the milk from goats in the depths of night!

The Tawny Frogmouth was first described in 1801 by the great English naturalist John Latham who was able to study and name many species of Australian birds from specimens finding their way into England’s growing natural history collections at the turn of the 19th century. In his first great ornithological work ‘A General Synopsis of Birds’ he actually focuses on the unusual bills of these then so-called ‘goatsuckers’ as follows: 
“The bill in this genus is very short, and hooked at the end. Gape vastly wide: on the edges of the upper mandible seven or more stiff bristles.”

Tawny Frogmouth 2

Ornithological painting from the Natural History Musuem’s collection of First Fleet artwork: “Strigoid Goatsucker”, native name “Birreagal”

One of the earliest known images of these birds is part of the collection of artworks created during the First Fleet expedition of the 1780s that saw the formation of the first European colony in Australia. Over half the natural history artworks focus on birds, with a number acting as iconotypes (where an image has survived but the specimen it was taken from (usually the earliest known to science) has not).

This fantastic painting, noted as a type and labelled around its time of creation as depicting a ‘Strigoid Goatsucker, native name Birreagal’ was re-examined in 1970 and confirmed as being detailed enough to accurately identify as Podargus strigoides.

Tawny frogmouths can be found throughout Australia and Tasmania and are known to live in most available habitats- from forests and woodland to heaths and urban areas. Known for their ‘cryptic plumage’, their colouration is variable, but usually consists of greyish upperparts, streaked with barring and vermiculation in blacks and brown with females usually having darker feathers.

Frogmouths have often been confused with owls, seemingly as a result of their nocturnal habits, brilliant camouflage and expressive faces alongside some quirks of historic synonymy. Confusingly, some of the most commonly used names for the Tawny Frogmouth are ‘Birreagal’ and ‘mopoke’, a name also shared by the boobook, a small Australasian owl. The Latin name strigoides itself reiterates this, with strix meaning owl, and oides meaning form. Many resources continue to refer to frogmouths as ‘false owls’ or simply ‘tawny frogmouth owls’ for good measure; there are however a number of key differences between these taxa.

Unlike most owls with their strong legs and curved, pointed bills for killing prey, the tawny frogmouth has an extraordinarily wide, chunky bill ideal for catching and consuming insects. So too, during daylight hours frogmouths tend to perch on branches, utilising their extraordinary camouflage to blend in with their surroundings and avoid detection. Unlike owls, they gather most of their food by ‘pouncing’ from low branches to the ground where they mainly feed on worms, slugs, snails, reptiles, frogs and small mammals.

Tawny Frogmouth family- these birds have some of the most fantastical looking chicks.

Tawny Frogmouth family, New South Wales. Frogmouths have some of the most fantastical looking chicks.

Tawny Frogmouths breed between August and December with both sexes sharing incubation duties. Their nests are fairly loosely formed structures, primarily comprised of sticks and usually creating a platform between forked tree branches to safely raise their young  (having an average clutch size of 2 to 3 eggs) from the ground. These birds have distinctive ‘soft and low’ pitched calls, most commonly sounding like sequential bursts of ‘oom-oom-oom’ sounds, and are known to loudly bill-snap when threatened:


You can find out more about which species are related to the Tawny Frogmouth at OneZoom. For now though, I’ll end this post with a passage from another historical text, The Birds of Australia of 1911, which brilliantly captures the appearance and character of these birds:

‘The Frogmouths are beautifully soft-plumaged birds, with a motley of grey, brown, black and white markings. In the coloration then they resemble the dead bark of the bough on which they sit. To render it still more difficult of detection, the bird does not sit across the bough, but along it, assuming the stiff attitude of a rugged branch broken off short. The eyes are large and adapted to the diminished light of night, the brighter light of day seemingly making them dazed and inert. In both these characters they resemble the Owls. Their disposition is however, much milder, and they can be handled by day without attempting to offer any resistance. They are invaluable insect feeders, and capture their food, Cicadas, Phasmids and Beetles, &c., on the branches of the trees. After swallowing an insect they bring their mandible together with a loud snap, as if in satisfaction over the tit-bit.’

References
Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive, Podargus strigoides: http://www.hbw.com/species/tawny-frogmouth-podargus-strigoides (accessed April 2016)

White, John, A General Synopsis of Birds: Vol 2, Part 2, London, Printed for Leigh, Sotheby, & Son (1801). Available via Biodiversity Heritage Library:  http://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/item/105238#page/7/mode/1up

The First Fleet Expedition and Collections, Natural History Museum London- Library and Archives Collections: http://www.nhm.ac.uk/nature-online/art-nature-imaging/collections/first-fleet/art-collection/index.dsml (accessed April 2016)

Australian Museum, Podargus strigoides factsheet: http://australianmuseum.net.au/tawny-frogmouth (accessed March 2016)

Lucas, Arthur Henry Shakspere & Le Souëf, W. H. Dudley, The Birds of Australia,  London, Whitcombe and Tombs Limited (1911). Available via Biodiversity Heritage Library:
http://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/item/114952#page/9/mode/1up

Images and Audio

Adult tawny frogmouth, Queensland by Tatters is licensed under CC BY 2.0

“Strigoid Goatsucker”, native name “Birreagal” from the Natural History Museum’s collection of First Fleet artworks, available online: http://www.nhm.ac.uk/nature-online/art-nature-imaging/collections/first-fleet/art-collection/nathist.dsml?sa=1&lastDisp=gall&notes=true&beginIndex=264&desc=true

Tawny Frogmouth family, New South Wales by tinykettle is licensed under CC BY-NC 3.0

Audio recording of Tawny Frogmouth (Podargus strigoides) call, XC150467, by Marc Anderson. Accessible at: http://www.xeno-canto.org/150467

 

The Grey-necked Picathartes (Picathartes oreas)

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One of our #BeakoftheWeek nominees was the delightful grey-necked picathartes.

Grey-necked Picathartes (Picathartes oreas)

Grey-necked Picathartes (Picathartes oreas)

This rather bizarre-looking passerine is known by a number of other names: the red-headed picathartes, the grey-necked rockfowl and red-headed rockfowl. It is placed in the family Picathartidae along with the white-necked picathartes (Picathartes gymnocephalus).

The grey-necked picathartes lives in the rainforests of equatorial Africa, and tends to feed on invertebrates. It also sometimes feeds on plant matter, such as fruit and flower buds and vertebrates which it plucks from the forest floor and low lying vegetation. It’s IUCN Red List status is vulnerable as despite having a large range, it’s population is thought to be fragmented and declining.

Sadly there are currently no recordings available on xeno-canto, perhaps partly owing to the mostly silent nature of the grey-necked picathartes. It has been reported to sometimes makes a quiet hissing noise that lasts for a couple of seconds. Additionally, on approaching the nest it makes a single or double ‘peep’ call and then a low, repeated ‘ga-a-a’ sound.

This bird breeds during the wet season and can nest twice annually in areas where rainfall is high at two different times of the year. Both males and females contribute to building a cup-shaped nest made from mud, roots and fibrous vegetation, that is placed on cliffs, rocks and caves.

 

References

BirdLife International. 2015.  Picathartes oreas. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015: e.T22708119A85077576. . Downloaded on 05 April 2016.

BirdLife International (2016) Species factsheet: Picathartes oreas. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 05/04/2016.

Thompson, H. (2007). Grey-necked Picathartes (Picathartes oreas). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.) (2014). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from http://www.hbw.com/node/59384 on 7 July 2015).

Images

Grey-necked Picathartes (Picathartes oreas) taken by Stijn Cooleman is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

The King Eider (Somateria spectabilis)

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This #BeakoftheWeek challenge allowed us to take a closer look at the king of the seaducks, the King Eider.

This is definitely in my top 5 favourite ducks, not least because it looks like Picasso got creative with its face in the design stage, and it is right up there on my “to see list”.

King Eiders taking flight

King Eiders taking flight

I have gone for a different approach with this blog entry, so that you can click on what you want to read about rather than having to scroll through to find what you are looking for. Hopefully it works a bit better!

The King Eider is from the anatidae family and is one of three members of the genus Somateria, which also includes the spectacled eider and common eider. The common eider is the duck that gives us eiderdown.   When the common eider nests it sheds feathers which are then collected and used to make some extremely comfortable pillows and duvets. If you fancy splashing out, a pillow alone can set you back around $3,000. I know, a bargain. Fortunately goose down pillows are available for far more reasonable prices.

You can check out what other species are closely related to the king eider on OneZoom.

References

BirdLife International. 2012. Somateria spectabilis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2012: e.T22680409A40146039. http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2012-1.RLTS.T22680409A40146039.en. Downloaded on 03 February 2016.

Carboneras, C. & Kirwan, G.M. (2016). King Eider (Somateria spectabilis). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from http://www.hbw.com/node/52915 on 2 February 2016).

Suydam, R. S. 2000. King Eider (Somateria spectabilis). In The Birds of North America, No. 491 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.

Images and Videos

Arctic Fox by A Neumann is licensed under CC BY-NC 3.0.

Audubon’s Colour Plates by Johan Audubon is licensed under Public Domain Mark 1.0.

BirdLife International and NatureServe (2014) Bird Species Distribution Maps of the World. 2012. Somateria spectabilis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2015-3

Female King Eider by Ómar Runólfsson is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

King Eiders taking flight by Ron Knight is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

groenelantaarn. 2013. King Eiders. Online. 04/02/2016. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QK9qZHa79Do.

Seabird plate from Birds of North America is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Audio

Andrew Spencer, XC141727. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/141727

The Masked Flowerpiercer (Diglossa cyanea)

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This beautiful member of the Thraupidae (tanager) family proved to be a difficult species to identify on #BeakoftheWeek.

Diglossa cyanea

Diglossa cyanea

This large flowerpiercer is easily identifiable with its striking ultramarine plumage, red eyes and black mask. It is slightly larger than a great tit at 15cm and weighs between 12 and 22.5g.  Females are similar to males but slightly duller, with juveniles duller still and greyish.

The bill of this species is long and slender with a slight upturn and a small hook at the end of its upper mandible.  This small hook is sometimes used to pierce flowers and fruits to get to their internal nutrients, which is where the name “flowerpiercer” comes from.  More often than not it feeds on fruits and berries (particularly Melastomataceae species) and some insects.

This species is highly sociable often found in monospecific groups of up to 30 individuals, as well as in mixed flocks of tanagers, other flowerpiercers, warblers and others.  They are found in cloud forests (usually above 2000m) of North Western South America from the coastal mountains of Northern Venezuella to Northern Bolivia.

This species breeds at varying times across South America, with immatures reported nearly all year round. They lay their eggs in feather-lined open cup nests made of moss, grass and feathers, usually in bushes. Unfortunately no more information is available on the breeding methods of this species. Seems to me like someone should head out on an expedition…

The songs of this species remind me of those of fairy wrens in Australia.  You can have a listen to one singing below, or you can navigate yourself to Xeno Canto for a greater range of flowerpiercer songs.

I have managed to find a few videos of the masked flowerpiercer, and I am rather fond of this one of one feeding some chicks on the internet bird collection.  In fact the IBC has got loads of fantastic videos of this species doing all sorts of things. A nice way to while away five minutes or so.  I couldn’t get those videos into my post, so here is one I found on the ever reliable youtube to whet your appetite.

Good news relating to the status of this species as it is listed as of Least Concern on the IUCN redlist due to its large range size and the belief that its population size does not approach the thresholds for vulnerable.

Last but not least you can check out what species this fellow is most related to on OneZoom by clicking this link.

References

. 2010. Masked Flowerpiercer (Diglossa cyanea), Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; retrieved from Neotropical Birds Online: http://neotropical.birds.cornell.edu/portal/species/overview?p_p_spp=637356.

BirdLife International. 2012. Diglossa cyanea. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2012: e.T22723715A40010593. http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2012-1.RLTS.T22723715A40010593.en. Downloaded on 03 December 2015.

Hilty, S. (2011). Masked Flowerpiercer (Diglossa cyanea). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.) (2014). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from http://www.hbw.com/node/61776 on 3 December 2015).

Images and videos

Diglossa cyanea by Ken-ichi ueda is licensed under CC BY-NC 3.0.

Nikhil Patwardhan. 2015. Masked Flowerpiercer – Guango Lodge. Online. 03/09/2015. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q-nLkj9G_-A.

Audio

Jerome Fischer, XC234634. Licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0. Accessible at: http://www.xeno-canto.org/234634.

The Hamerkop (Scopus Umbretta)

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Another one of my favourite birds came up for this episode of #BeakoftheWeek.

Hamerkop flying

Hamerkop flying

As instantly recognisable as horse in a dog show, there is no mistaking the Hamerkop. With its hammer-like head (hence the name) and cocksure strut, this bird seemingly knows it is something special.

The hamerkop is endemic to sub-saharan Africa and Madagascar and is usually found around wetlands foraging in shallow waters for frogs, tadpoles and small fish.  The “peacocking” that this species exhibits is added to by the purple iridescent gloss on its back that stands out from its brown plumage.

They are not shy and many pictures and videos that I have found show it happily fishing in the company of crocodiles and chilling out on the backs of hippos.

Scopidae is a monotypic family, with the hamerkop being the only member.  Its closest relative is the intimidating Shoebill stork, of BBC Africa fame and the stuff of nightmares.  If you click this handy link to OneZoom you can peruse other close relatives of this species.

Standing are around 50cm and weighing just under half a kilo, this species is a medium sized wading bird.  It has partially webbed feet and a comb-like (pectinated) middle-toe that it uses to groom.  Here is a nice short article on pectinate toes if you wish to read more.

The Hamerkop is known to breed all year round in Eastern Africa although breeding times vary across the rest of the continent.  This species is famed for its penchant of building large elaborate nests which I will go into shortly.  They normally lay 3-6 eggs which take around 30 days to hatch and a further 44-50 days to leave the nest.

Hamerkop chilling on the back of a hippo whilst snacking on an amphibian treat.

Hamerkop chilling on the back of a hippo whilst snacking on an amphibian treat.

The internet bird collection has a charming picture of a 7 day old chick which I highly recommend taking a look at.

The monstrously large nest that this species builds can weigh between 25 and 50kg and stand up to 2 metres high and 2 metres wide.  This behemoth of a nest, made up of thousands of twigs, takes between 3 and 6 weeks to build. A serious amount of effort goes into making a nest of that size, which makes the fact that a pair can build numerous nests, some of which will never be used, even more impressive.  I think they are the avian equivalent of that friend who always has to out-do your achievements.  Although saying that you would have to try hard to get noticed if a Shoebill was your closest relative.

Hamerkops are known to be quiet when on their own, but vocal when in the company of others.  You can have a listen to some below, or you can head over to Xeno Canto for a greater variety of audible delights.

I was pleased to see that this species is of Least Concern on the IUCN redlist due to its very large range and population size.  This may be helped by the following…

As I have mentioned before, we here at team MacroBird love myths and legends, and one that has persisted about this species is that you will get struck by lightning if you steal from its nest.  This has led to it being dubbed the ‘lightning bird’ by the Kalahari bushmen.  I have even read tales of how you can get Leprosy from destroying their nests.  I think what we have learnt here is that it is best to just stay away from their nests altogether.

References

BirdLife International. 2012. Scopus umbretta. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2012: e.T22697356A40280654. http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2012-1.RLTS.T22697356A40280654.en. Downloaded on 02 December 2015.

Elliott, A., Garcia, E.F.J. & Boesman, P. (2014). Hamerkop (Scopus umbretta). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.) (2014). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from http://www.hbw.com/node/52732 on 2 October 2015).

Images and Videos

Hamerkop flying taken by Mattias Hofstede, IBC238943. Accessible at ibc.lynxeds.com/node/238943.

Hamerkop on Hippo taken by David Cantrille, IBC257371. Accessible at ibc.lynxeds.com/node/257371.

Helen Kavanagh. 2012. Group of Hammerkop birds in the maasai mara. Online. 02/12/2015. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vacI9VT_NbE.

Audio

Andrew Spencer, XC269286. Licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. Accessible at http://www.xeno-canto.org/269286.

The Eurasian/Winter Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes)

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Wren calling

Wren calling

For us Brits, this is THE wren, perhaps unsurprisingly as it is the only member of its family (Troglodytidae) found in the Europe (and Africa) and indeed the only one found outside of the Americas.  You’ll find them across the UK and much of the Northern hemisphere, they are usually flitting around voicing their distinctive calls and they are easily noticed on a woodland walks.  They are the most common breeding bird in the United Kingdom with an estimated 8,600,000 breeding pairs (wow!) and recently came 4th in a poll to find Britain’s national bird, losing out to the Robin – there are worse birds to lose to!  Its popularity probably goes some way to explaining how quickly someone identified it on #BeakoftheWeek.

It is on the small side measuring around 10cm long and weighing 6-12g (so about the same as a £1 coin). The sexes are similar in appearance but if you see one singing it is likely to be a male as the females are not known to sing, although recent work has shown that other female songbirds do indeed sing.  They mostly eat invertebrates such as spiders and earwigs and small vertebrates such as small fish and tadpoles.  They have also been known to eat vegetable matter such as berries.  You can most often see them foraging low on the ground in vegetation.

A common behaviour seen in many species when breeding is that the males will build numerous nests and the female will then check them all out before choosing her favourite to lay her eggs in.  The nests of this species are made from grass and fibres and are domed with side entrance holes. The female adds lining to these structures before she starts to lay. Laying begins around late march/early April and lay on average 5-8 eggs. The female incubates these alone and after 16 days some cute little chicks will emerge. On average the chicks leave the nest 17 days later and become fully independent of their parents 9-18 days later.  Both parents take responsibility with chick feeding.

This species is not sexually dimorphic although differences in colouration, size and plumage barring has led to there being over 30 different subspecies classified worldwide.  You’ll find these guys all year round in the UK and they tend to be residential, with ring recoveries showing movements of only 50km or less. Polygamy is quite frequent in western populations .

Feeding Time

Feeding Time

They have got to be one of my favourite birds to come across with their calls that are curiously loud for such a small creature, so I am pleased to say that it is of ‘Least Concern’ on the IUCN redlist.  Given how abundant this species is in the UK alone it is no shock to learn this. One more interesting fact about the wren is that its name “troglodytes” means cave dweller or hermit.  Perhaps why although it is the commonest bird in the country it most certainly isn’t the one we will see the most of.  The little skulker.

Okay a few more snippets about this great little bird. It appeared on the farthing and in European folklore it is know as the king of birds. How did it receive this esteemed title?  Well of course it was by having a battle with an Eagle to see who could fly highest and by having the cheek to sit on the back of its adversary, therefore taking it highest.  They say cheats never prosper…

You can head to OneZoom if you want to check out how related the wren is to your favourite bird species.

Here’s an example of one of their calls that can be found on Xeno Canto to get you started. For more follow the earlier link.

 

References

BirdLife International 2014. Troglodytes troglodytes. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2015.2. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 03 September 2015.

Kroodsma, D., Brewer, D., Christie, D.A. & Bonan, A. (2013). Northern Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.) (2013). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from http://www.hbw.com/node/58150 on 3 September 2015).

RSPB. 2015. Wren. Online. 04/09/2015. Available from: http://www.rspb.org.uk/discoverandenjoynature/discoverandlearn/birdguide/name/w/wren/.

Images and Videos

Feeding time by Sonja Kübelbeck is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

WIld Bird Video Productions. 2011. Winter Wren. Online. 03/09/2015. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qw-NqhxwGWQ.

Wren calling by Biopix is licensed under CC BY-NC 3.0.