Blog Archive: Avian Extreme

Birdorable American Flamingo

Flamingo Extreme Facts & Oddities

September 21st, 2018 in Avian Extreme, Flamingos, Fun Facts No comments
Birdorable Plastic Yard Flamingos

Flamingo Week continues today with some interesting flamingo extremes and odd facts about this family of pink birds.

Extremely Social Birds

Flamingos live in colonies that may number thousands of individuals. Breeding is also colonial, with birds typically separating into smaller groups of 7-25 pairs. Breeding follows synchronized dancing displays whicih are performed by both male and female birds.

The range of the James's, Chilean, and Andean Flamingo overlap in some areas. These social birds of different species will live in colonies together and even share nesting sites.

Popular In Plastic

In the United States, plastic pink flamingos are a famous kitschy lawn ornament. The decorations were first designed for the U.S. market in 1957. While some homeowners associations ban the plastic pinkies, the city of Madison, Wisconsin designated the plastic flamingo as the city's official bird in 2009.

Unique Feeding Adaptations

Flamingos are omnivores. They filter-feed on brine shrimp, blue-green algea, small insects, mollusks, and other small aquatic animals. Flamingo bills have a unique shape designed to filter feed, separating mud and silt from their food. The bill is used to filter in an upside-down position.

Another special filtering anatomical adaptation flamingos have is lamellae, hairy structures that line their beaks and tongues. Their long legs allow them to stand in water of varying depths, and their webbed feet are used to stir up silt in their search for food items.

Close-up of flamingo's lamellae
Photo by Eric Kilby (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Pink Milk?

Both male and female parent flamingos feed their young chicks a sort of crop "milk", a fat and protein-rich substance produced in upper digestive tract glands and expelled through the beak. This milk is not actually pink. It is similar to the pigeon milk fed to squabs by parent birds in the pigeon and dove family.

Old Flamingos

A Greater Flamingo resident at the Adelaide Zoo in Australia was believed to be at least 83 years old at the time of its death in 2014. That is considerably older than the known longevity record for a wild Greater Flamingo, which was at least 27 years and 6 months, recorded via a rediscovered living banded bird in France.

The longevity record for a wild American Flamingo is just over 13 years, determined via a banding program.

The Most Endangered Flamingo

The Andean Flamingo is considered to be Vulnerable to Extinction. A rapid population decline occured during the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, reducing the global number of wild birds to less than 35,000. Today the population is considered to be stable.

The Most Abundant Flamingo

The Lesser Flamingo is the most abundant species of flamingo, yet it is considered to be Near Threatened due to threats including breeding site degredation.

Height Extremes

While all flamingos are considered to be relatively tall birds, the tallest of the bunch is the aptly named Greater Flamingo, reaching the greatest height at up to 59 inches tall (approximately 150 cm). The smallest is the also aptly named Lesser Flamingo, which may reach only 25 to 35 inches in height (approximately 63 to 89 cm).

Birdorable Common Yellowthroat

Warbler Week Extremes

May 25th, 2018 in Avian Extreme, Fun Facts, Warblers 1 comment

We're celebrating New World warblers! This diverse family has over 100 recognized species. Here are some extreme facts about these amazing feathered friends.

Smallest Warbler Species
The smallest New World warbler is Lucy's Warbler, which averages just 4.2 inches tall.

Lucy's Warbler
Lucy's Warbler by Bettina Arrigoni (CC BY 2.0)

Largest Warbler Species
The largest species of New World warbler is a tie between a few different birds. The Ovenbird, Russet-crowned Warbler, and Semper's Warbler, may all measure over 5.9 inches tall. The Yellow-breasted Chat, which is sometimes considered to be a New World Warbler, measures a whopping 7.2 inches tall.

Longest Migration
The Blackpoll Warbler has the longest migration of any of the New World warbler species. During fall migration, many Blackpoll Warblers fly from their breeding grounds in northeastern North America over the Atlantic Ocean to their wintering grounds. This route averages nearly 2000 miles flown over water, potentially non-stop.

Extremely Early Migrant
When warblers migrate depends on their breeding strategy and availablilty of food diet. The Louisiana Waterthrush is an extremely early neotropical migrant, usually arriving on breeding ground by early April, nearly two months before most other longer warbler migrants reach their summer breeding destination. After breeding, some Louisiana Waterthrushes depart as soon as early July.

Louisiana Waterthrush
Louisiana Waterthrush by Bettina Arrigoni (CC BY 2.0)

Long-living Warblers
Life in the wild as a little migratory bird is tough. Before reaching adulthood, warblers have to survive nest predation from a variety of different sources, including squirrels and chipmunks, snakes, and domestic cats. Other birds also feed on the eggs and nestling of small birds. If a baby migratory warbler survives to fledge, it has to make two migration journeys, dodging weather and more predators and unfamiliar surroundings and other hazards before it can even breed.

A lifespan of around five years is common among many warbler species. Several species boast longevity records up to 9 years, but very few species have a recorded longevity record of more than 10 years. These include the following.

A female Audubon's Warbler (on-again / off-again subspecies of the Yellow-rumped Warbler) banded and recaptured in Wyoming was at least 10 years old. On her recapture the band was removed.

Several individual warblers are known to have survived at least 11 years in the wild: a female Yellow Warbler banded and recaptured in New York; a Common Yellowthroat banded and recaptured in Massachusetts; and an Ovenbird banded and recaptured in Connecticut.

A female Black-and-white Warbler was banded in North Carolina in 1957 and found dead in Pennsylvania in 1968. She lived to be at least 11 years and 3 months old.

The all-time longevity record among warblers goes to the Louisiana Waterthrush. A male Louisiana Waterthrush banded in New Jersey in 1995 was refound in 2006, making the bird at least 11 years and 11 months old.

Singing Common Yellowthroat
Common Yellowthroat by Amy Evenstad (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Birdorable Ross's Gull

Gull Week Extremes: Facts & Stats

February 19th, 2018 in Avian Extreme, Fun Facts, Gulls No comments

This week, we're celebrating gulls! There are about 55 widely recognized species of gull in the world. We'd like to share some of the extreme facts and interesting statistics found within this diverse family.

Smallest Gull Species
The Little Gull, weighing in at around 4.2 ounces (120 grams), is the smallest species of gull. Its length is  9.8 to 12 inches (25 to 30 cm).

Largest Gull Species
The largest gull species in the world is the Great Black-backed Gull, which weighs in at around 62 ounces (1750 grams), almost 15 times as heavy as the Little Gull. It's length is 2.1 to 2.6 feet (64 to 79 cm). 

Compare sizes of Great Black-backed Gull and Little Gull

The Longest Living Gulls
Gulls, particularly the large "white-headed" gulls, can be long-lived. The longevity record for the European Herring Gull is 49 years! The longest-lived wild Great Black-backed Gull was over 27 years old.

Cross-Species Parenting
The Black-headed Duck of South America is known to be a brood parasite of the Brown-hooded Gull. The duck lays eggs in nests of other birds (including other ducks and other gulls) and lets the nest-owners do the incubating! The ducklings are able to leave the nest just hours after hatching, making their escape without otherwise disturbing the nest. The Brown-hooded Gull or other nesting adult will continue to care for its own eggs and chicks.

Tale of the Tails
Most species of gull have a rounded tail. There are only three exceptions: the Sabine's Gull and Swallow-tailed Gull have forked tails, and the Ross's Gull has a wedge-shaped tail.

Longest Migration
Many species of gull are migratory. The Franklin's Gull may have the longest migration of all the gulls. They breed as far north as central Canada, and spend the winter as far south as Chile and Argentina.

Franklin's Gull Migration Map

Rare Gulls & Threatened Species
The Lava Gull of the Galapagos Islands is considered to be Vulnerable to extinction. The small population of less than 400 pairs is relatively stable but the species is probably the rarest of all the gulls.

The Black-billed Gull of New Zealand is considered to be Endangered. The population has been on a rapid decline since the introduction of invasive predators to New Zealand, like weasels and cats.

Other species considered to be Vulnerable to extinction are the Relict Gull of central Asia, the Saunders's Gull of eastern Asia, and the both the Red-legged Kittiwake and the Black-legged Kittiwake.

Most Abundant
The Ring-billed Gull was once hunted for its feathers. With protection the species has rebounded and is likely the most common species of gull in North America.

Birdorable Flock of Ring-billed Gulls

Night Vision
The Swallow-tailed Gull is a "black-headed" gull found in the Galapagos Islands. They are the only completely nocturnal gulls in the world! They feed on squid and fish that only come to the water's surface at night. In order to be able to see in the dark, the Swallow-tailed Gull has very large eyes -- larger than any other gull species!

Birdorable Eurasian Griffon

Vulture Week: Vulture Extremes

September 2nd, 2015 in Avian Extreme, Fun Facts, Vultures No comments

We're celebrating Vulture Week because this Saturday, September 5th, marks International Vulture Awareness Day (IVAD). This commemorative day has been celebrated since at least 2009 and aims to highlight the importance of vultures and vulture conservation through education.

Vulture week rolls on with some cool vulture facts. These extreme facts show how diverse this amazing family of birds can be.

Largest Vulture
Among New World vultures, the Andean Condor and California Condor can both reach up to 48 inches in length, and weigh 26 pounds or more. In the Old World, the Cinereous Vulture reaches up to 47 inches in length. Female Cinereous Vultures may weigh up to 31 pounds!

Smallest Vulture
In the Old World, the Palm-nut Vulture has this record. They only grow to be about 24 inches long and weigh just around 3.5 pounds. The Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture is the smallest in the New World, reaching between 22 and 24 inches in length.

Compare sizes of Andean Condor vs. Palm-nut Vulture

Vulture Longevity Records
The longest lived Eurasian Griffon reached over 41 years of age in captivity. A captive-raised Lammergeier lived to be over 45 years old. The Andean Condor is believed to be capable of living 50 years or more in the wild. A captive Andean Condor that lived at a zoo in Connecticut lived 79 years! The longevity record for a wild Turkey Vulture is over 17 years, while a wild Black Vulture reached over 25 years of age.

Most Abundant Vulture
The Turkey Vulture is the most abundant species of vulture in the world, with a population that probably numbers into the millions of individuals.

Turkey Vultures (Cathartes aura) Preflight Warmup
Turkey Vultures by docentjoyce (CC BY 2.0)

Fastest Decline
Many vulture species in Africa and on the Indian subcontinent are in peril. The population decline of the White-rumped Vulture is an unfortunate example of this. In the mid 1980s, the White-rumped Vulture was considered to be the most abundant large bird of prey in the world. Since that time, the species has declined rapidly, losing up to 99.9% of its total population in just 20 years.

Longest Migration
Most vulture species are sedentary, year-round residents throughout their range. In the New World, the Turkey Vulture is the only vulture spcies that has regular seasonal migration. Birds that breed in southern Canada probably travel at least 1,000 miles to reach their wintering grounds to the south, traveling around 100 miles per day of migration. In the Old World, Egyptian Vultures may travel up to 5,500 miles when they migrate from their breeding grounds to their wintering grounds at the southern end of the Sahara Desert.

Ancient Birds
Relatives of vultures have existed for millions of years. Early ancestors of Old World vultures, in the now extinct Diatropornis family, existed in the Eocene epoch about 56 to 38 million years ago.

Highest Flyer
The Rueppell's Vulture of Africa is thought to be the world's highest flying bird. It has been recorded flying at an altitude of 11,300 meters or 37,000 feet above sea level!

Can't get enough of these amazing and important birds? Be sure to check out our great collection of cute and original vulture apparel and gifts.

Birdorable Leach's Storm Petrel

The Immortal Bird?

November 10th, 2012 in New Birds, Petrels, Avian Extreme 1 comment
Birdorable Leach's Storm Petrels

Leach's Storm-Petrels live a remarkably long life for being so small. A lifespan of up to 36 years is not unheard of for this pelagic (sea-dwelling) species. This is about 25 years longer than would be expected for a bird this size! Why is this? Telomeres are pieces of DNA that alleviate cell division and oxidation. Longer telomeres usually occur in younger living things; telomeres typically shorten as aging occurs. However, the telomeres in Leach's Storm Petrels appear to actually grow with age. Does this mean that Leach's Storm-Petrels are immortal? In theory, maybe. But the birds still die. Their remarkable cell structure is an interesting source of study for scientists. Leach's Storm Petrel was added to Birdorable on October 13, 2012. If you can't get enough of this cute, little, and possibly immortal pelagic bird, be sure to check out our range of Leach's Storm Petrel gifts and apparel! Further reading:

Birdorable Brown Kiwi

Avian Extreme: Brown Kiwi

July 7th, 2011 in Kiwis, Avian Extreme 3 comments
Birdorable Brown Kiwis with egg

The Brown Kiwi is one of five species of kiwi. All kiwis, native to the islands of New Zealand, are flightless. The national symbol of New Zealand holds at least two avian records. First, these grown-dwelling birds have the largest egg in relation to their body size. The kiwi is about the size of a domestic chicken, while the egg is about the size of an emu's egg! The egg may be up to 1/5 of the body weight of the mother bird. Kiwis are also unusual in that after the egg is laid, the male takes care of incubation and nest maintenance. The other record held by the kiwi relates to unusual anatomy: it is the only bird with nostrils at the end of the bill. Unlike most other bird species, the kiwi has a good sense of smell. It uses scent to find prey. If you can't get enough of this extreme avian species, be sure to check out Birdorable's collection of cute Brown Kiwi t-shirts & gifts.