Avian Wildlife

ByDr. Girish Chandra

The Bird Fauna

(Dr. Girish Chandra)

The Flightless Birds

African Ostrich,Struthio camelus

            Head and neck without feathers; feet with two toes; height up to ten feet and weight up to 150 kg; male incubates eggs.

 

South American ostrich, Rhea americana

             Head and neck feathered; feet with 3 toes, webbed at base; smaller than African ostrich; eggs lemon yellow, incubated by male.

 

Emu, Dromaeus novehollandae

              Found in Australian grasslands; feathers are dull brownish.

Cassowary, Casuarius casuarius

           Found in Australia and New Guinea. 4 species. Brownish colour; 180 cm tall; aftershaft on feathers; monogamous; cassowaries are brightly colored with horny helmet on the head.

           

Kiwi (Apteryx australis; A. hoasti; A. oweni).  

           Found in New Zealand. Feathers hair-like; wings reduced; tail absent; long beak with nostrils at the tip; acute sense of smell; nocturnal and burrowing birds; lay one egg at a time in burrows.

 

Tinamous (Eudromea elegans; Crypturellus variegatus)

           Found in South America, south of Mexico; 50 species.  Partridge-like birds, cryptically coloured; not tail; can fly short distances; keel present; palate paleognathous; male incubates eggs which are laid in a nest on ground.

Penguins (Spheniscus; Aptenodytes; Eudyptes)

            Found in southern hemisphere and Antarctica; body streamlined; feather compact, scale-like; fatty insulating layer under the skin; air sacs absent; wings modified, paddle-like for swimming; toes webbed for swimming; beak fish-eating; one egg laid at a time which is incubated on the feet; gregarious.

All penguins, except six species that are adapted to inshore life, migrate over long distances and return to land only for the breeding season. Satellite telemetry of Adelie penguin migration shows that these birds travel a path along the coastline of the Antarctic continent to a winter feeding ground in an area north-west of the Balleny Islands, off the Ross Ice Shelf, a distance of 5,500 km.

The Flying Birds

Grebes (Podiceps, Podilymbus)

            Aquatic birds with rudimentary tail; bill compressed, pointed; front toes wsdith broad lateral vane-like lobes; nails broad and flattened; feed on fish and crustaceans. Migratory.   

Albatross (Diomedea)

           Ocean birds with a wing span up to 11 feet; beak long, hooked at tip; wings narrow, long and pointed; feet webbed with strong hind claw; tail short and rounded; hallux reduced or absent; soaring and migratory birds.  The Wandering Albatross, Snowy Albatross, or White-winged Albatross, Diomedea exulans, is a large seabird, which has a circumpolar range in the Southern Ocean. Based on tracking the precise movements of 22 birds, reveals that males are most likely to circumnavigate the world, with the fastest managing a distance of 14,000 miles in 46 days – the equivalent of a steady 13mph. More than half then made amazing round-the-world journeys – the fastest in just 46 days.

Pelicans

           Large birds with short legs and large webbed toes; upper mandible flattened and hooked at tip; lower mandible has a pouch of loose skin; tail short; food mainly fish.

Herons

           Long legs and long slender, flexible neck; bill long straight, sharp and dagger-like; middle and outer toes webbed at base; many migratory.

Siberian Crane (Grus leucogeranus). The Siberian Cranes nest in Yakutia and western Siberia of Russia and migrate to India. The migration route stretches for 4000 miles. Their resting place at the time of migration is the Lake Ab-i-Estada in Afghanistan. The Kaladeo Ghana National Park or the Bharatpur National Park has been declared a world heritage site because the Siberian Crane traverses nearly half of the globe to reach it.

Ducks, Swans, Geese, Teels, Pochards.

           Large conspicuous water birds; bill broad, flat with comb-like margin for straining food particles; wings usually narrow and pointed; tail short; feet webbed; tongue thick and fleshy.

Vultures, Kites, Eagles

           Birds of prey; beak short, upper mandible longer and hooked at tip for tearing flesh; feet strong and powerful, with hooked claws; hallus strong; predators or scavengers.

Peacocks, Pheasants

           Terrestrial; legs stout and unfeathered; hind tarsus with a spur in male; claws short, strong and blunt; beak short and stout; legs adapted for running. Male plumage highly colourful and shiny and used for courtship display.

 Plovers, Gulls, Terns

           Waders and good fliers; beak variously modified; hallux small or absent; anterior toes webbed; terns have forked tail and short legs; feed on fish. They are great migrants covering thousands of kilometres to reach their destinations.

          The Arctic Tern (Sterna paradisaea) is a sea bird that breeds in Arctic and sub-Arctic regions of Europe, Asia, and North America in marshes, tundra lakes and shorelines. The species is strongly migratory, seeing two summers each year as it migrates from its northern breeding grounds to the oceans around Antarctica and back, covering a distance of about 38,000 km each year that take 90 days each side. This is the longest regular migration by any known animal.

          The American Golden-Plover (Pluvialis dominica) breeds in Arctic Tundra and has a long, circular migration route. In the fall it flies offshore from the East Coast of North America non-stop to South America. On the return journey in the spring it passes primarily through the middle of North America to reach its arctic breeding grounds. The bird has one of the longest known migratory routes of over 25,000 miles, of which 2,400 miles is over ocean where it cannot stop to feed or drink.

Pigeons, Doves

           Grain or fruit-eating birds; slender beak; legs for perching; eggs pure white; youngs are fed on milky food produced in crop; base of beak covered with a soft swollen membrance in which lie the nostrils.

Parrots, Macaws

           Fruit eating birds; bills stout and strongly hooked; upper mandible movable; tongue thick and fleshy; feet zygodactylous; tail pointed. Highly colourful birds.

Cuckoos

            Feet zygodactylous; young do not grow down feathers; brood parasitic, lay their eggs in the nest of other birds; wings long and pointed; migratory between south Africa and Asia.

            Pied Crested Cuckoo (Clamator jacobinus) migrates to large areas in northern India in monsoon and has often been called the harbinger of monsoon or “rain visitor” from Africa. They move across the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean to reach India in May or June. Some believe that the bird uses monsoon winds to assist its flight during this migration. It breeds during June-August and leaves the subcontinent in September/October for Africa.

The Common Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) is a widespread summer migrant to Europe and Asia, and winters in Africa. It is a brood parasite, which lays its eggs in the nests of other bird species, such as meadow pipits and reed warblers.

Owls (Bubo)

           Nocturnal birds of prey hunting small mammals and reptiles; eyes large, directed forward; upper eyelid large; beak short and hooked, sharp; ear opening large; neck highly flexible; fight soundless.

Hummigbirds

            Small birds found in Americas, that suck nectar from flowers. Tongue long and can be rolled into a tube for sucking nectar. Feet with 4 toes, all directed forward; legs weak; capable of flying backward. and also hovering flight.

Woodpeckers

            Insectivorous.birds, adapted for climbing on tree trunks; feet zygodactylous; beak strong adapted for wood cutting; tongue very long, armed with spines at tip; tail feathers strong to support the body; eggs are laid in tree hole.

Perching birds

            More than half of total number of bird species are perching birds which have their feet adapted for perching on trees; front toes are free and hallux long, opposable and movable; highly variable species, adapted for various habitats.

 

Black-headed bunting (Emberiza melanocephala). The males are quite gorgeous with their black heads, brilliant yellow underparts and rich reddish-brown upperparts. The females are much duller although they often show at least a hint of yellow, especially on the undertail coverts and the head is usually distinctly darker than the throat, creating a hooded effect which mimics the pattern of the male. Migratory, wintering in western and central India. Arrives in the breeding areas in late April or May and departs in July or early August. 

            Black poll warbler (Dendroica striata) is a New World warbler. These birds breed in northern North America, from Alaska, Canada, and up to New England and winter in north-western South America.   Part of their fall migratory route is over the Atlantic Ocean from the north-eastern United States to Puerto Rico, the Lesser Antilles, or northern South America. This route averages 1,864 miles over water, requiring a potentially non-stop flight of up to 88 hours. To accomplish this flight, they nearly double their body mass and take advantage of a shift in prevailing wind direction.

  


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