Blog Archive: 2017

Birdorable Macaroni Penguin

They Called It Macaroni

November 17th, 2017 in Penguins No comments

Birdorable Macaroni Penguins

    Yankee Doodle went to town
    A-riding on a pony,
    Stuck a feather in his cap
    And called it macaroni.

American fans may recognize these lyrics from the song "Yankee Doodle", a popular tune dating back to the American Revolution. The above stanza, used in later versions of the song and still sung today, refers to a fashion style popularized in the early 19th century: maccaronism. This referred to a fashion style adopted by young men who wore flamboyant clothing with unique and bold ornamentation. Does this remind you of any birds you know?

The Macaroni Penguin was first named for science at a time when macaronis were deeply embedded in popular culture. The flamboyant yellow head feathers found on this dapper little black and white penguin gave the species its common name.

Birdorable Red Knot

Bird Term: Neotropical Migrant

November 3rd, 2017 in Bird Terms No comments
Birdorable Red Knots

A lot of bird species are migratory. That means that they spend part of the year in one place and then travel (fly) to another place for some time. Migration is typically based around ideal conditions for breeding versus availability of food depending on location and season.

By the way, migration isn't limited to birds. In fact, some species in all major animal groups experience migration. Some well-known examples include the great wildebeest migration in Africa, the multi-generational migration of Monarch butterflies, and salmon runs from the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans into freshwater rivers.

Birds that breed across North America and migrate south to New World neotropics for the winter are known as Neotropical Migrants. Some definitions of the term use the latitude of the Tropic of Cancer (23 degrees north) as a benchmark: birds that breed above this line and winter below it are considered to be Neotropical Migrants.

The over 200 species of Neotropical Migrant birds come from different families, though a majority of species are songbirds. Shorebirds, birds of prey, and waterfowl may also be Neotropical Migrants.

Among these long-distance migrants are Red Knots, with a breeding range that extends into northern Canada and a winter range as far south as the southernmost point of South America. A Red Knot could travel up to 10,000 miles per one-way trip!

Bobolinks are also Neotropical Migrants; individual birds may travel over 6,500 miles one way, from northern Canada down to Argentina.

Neotropical Migrant birds face a variety of threats to their populations. For these birds, ample suitable habitat is required on their breeding grounds, winter sites, and all of the places that they stop along their long journeys.

Birdorable Brown-headed Cowbird

Bird Term: Brood Parasite

February 8th, 2017 in Bird Terms 1 comment

Birdorable Common Yellowthroats with Brown-headed Cowbird

Brood parasites are birds that rely on other birds, often of a different species, to raise their young. Brood parasitism occurs in organisms other than birds, including fish and insects, but we'll focus on a few well-known bird examples here.

This type of breeding strategy allows biological parents to avoid the stress and time involved in raising young.

Brown-headed Cowbird chick in Wood Thrush nest by Kelly Colgan Azar (CC BY-ND 2.0)

The strategy often involves laying eggs in several different nests in order to maximize the chances of young being raised successfully to fledge. The parasite bird also often removes an egg from the host parent to reduce discovery and improve their own offspring's chances of survival. Brood parasite birds generally have a shorter incubation period (with incubation actually starting internally within the biological mother bird) which also gives their offspring a head start over its adopted nest mates.

Common Cuckoo chick in host nest by Per Harald Olsen (CC BY 2.0)

A big risk with this strategy is discovery of intruder eggs. Some host species have learned to recognize intruder eggs in their nest, which may lead to total abandonment of the nest. Sometimes the discovery is made after hatching, and the parasitic chick is expelled from the nest. Another risk is using a host with a diet unsuitable for the growing chick. American Goldfinches are vegetarian; Brown-headed Cowbirds have an omnivorous diet and will not survive to fledge from finch parents.

Cowbirds and cuckoos are probably the most well-known species of brood parasites in the bird world.

The Brown-headed Cowbird is widespread across North America. This species has at least 221 known host species, from hummingbirds to birds of prey.

Common Yellowthroat feeding Brown-headed Cowbird by Bill Thompson (CC BY 2.0)

The Common Cuckoo of the Old World has wide distribution across Europe, Asia, and Africa. It takes a female cuckoo just 10 seconds to remove one egg and lay her own in a host's nest. Common Cuckoos have been recorded using over 100 host species. They are generally much larger than their hosts and the quickly-growing chick typically will remove all of the other eggs from the nest itself.

Brown Thornbill feeding Common Cuckoo chick by Wayne Butterworth (CC BY 2.0)

Have you ever seen a Brown-headed Cowbird, Common Cuckoo, or other brood parasite being fed by a host parent?

Birdorable Rosy-faced Lovebird

9 Awesome Lovebird Facts

January 20th, 2017 in Fun Facts, Lovebirds 3 comments
Birdorable Lovebirds on a branch

The nine species of lovebird in the world all belong to the genus Agapornis, which is Greek for love (agape) bird (ornis). These small and colorful parrots are known for their social affection and strong pair-bonding between lifelong monogamous mates. Their beauty and natural personalities make some of them popular species in aviculture (pet birds). Here are some facts about the species in the lovebird family.

  • Lovebirds are native to Africa. Eight species come from the mainland African continent, while the Grey-headed Lovebird is native to the island nation of Madagascar.
  • Most lovebirds have a varied diet which consists of fruits, vegetables, and seeds. Some lovebirds also eat figs and insects. The Black-collared Lovebird has a special diet in the wild, feeding on local figs. This dietary requirement makes the species one of the least popular lovebirds in the pet trade.
  • Lovebirds typically live from 10 to 15 years, but may reach up to 20 years in captivity.
  • Lovebirds are cavity nesters. Females take care of nest building, bringing material to the nest either in their beaks or tucked into their tail feathers. Red-headed Lovebirds nest in termite mounds. Established feral Rosy-faced Lovebirds in Arizona nest inside cactus plants.
  • Because of their popularity in aviculture, several species of lovebird have multiple color mutations. Some lovebird species have mutiple common names, like the Rosy-faced Lovebird, which is more commonly known as the Peach-faced Lovebird in the pet trade.
  • Most species of lovebird are not considered to be threatened by conservation experts. Lilian's Lovebird and Fischer's Lovebird both have the status of Near Threatened. The Black-cheeked Lovebird has a status of Vulnerable, facing threats from the pet bird trade, loss of habitat, and changes in local agriculture practices.
  • Lovebirds are among the smallest species of parrot. The Grey-headed Lovebird is the smallest of the lovebirds, measuring about 13 cm in length. Rosy-faced Lovebirds and Black-winged Lovebirds are the largest, measuring over 16 cm in length.
  • In most species of lovebird, males and females have similar plumage and are difficult to tell apart (if you're not a lovebird). Three species of lovebird exhibit sexual dimorphism: the Grey-headed Lovebird (named after the male -- females are entirely green); the Black-winged Lovebird (males have red at the forehead that the female lacks); and the Red-headed Lovebird (the male has more red in the head than the female).
  • Rosy-faced Lovebirds, known more commonly as Peach-faced Lovebirds in aviculture, are among the most popular of all pet birds. There are many different color mutations and understanding Peach-faced Lovebird genetics can be somewhat complicated.