Today our Birdorable Bonanza: 2015 Advent Edition continues with the largest bird of prey found in Australia, the Wedge-tailed Eagle!
Wedge-tailed Eagles are named for the unique shape of their tails. Across their range, which includes all of mainland Australia as well as Tasmania and southern New Guinea, they are fairly common. In fact, they are the most common of the world's large eagle species.
Wedge-tailed Eagle by Ron Knight (CC BY 2.0)
Wedge-tailed Eagle by James Niland (CC BY 2.0)
Wedge-tailed Eagle by Patrick_K59 (CC BY 2.0)
Wedge-tailed Eagles are non-migratory and established mated pairs will defend their territory throughout the year, even outside of breeding season. Earlier this year a territorial Wedge-tailed Eagle was captured on video taking down a drone.
The Wedge-tailed Eagle is our 622nd Birdorable bird and our 44th cute Birdorable bird of prey. Our Bonanza continues tomorrow with an unusual Asian forest species with fire in its name. Can you guess tomorrow's species?
Kites belong in the Accipitridae* family of birds of prey. They are divided into two subfamilies. Elaninae kites are sometimes considered to be "hovering kites" and are generally smaller in size. Milvinae kites may be known as "soaring kites" and tend to be larger birds.
There are approximately 22 recognized species of kite in the world. Eight belong to the Elaninae subfamily, while 14 are Milvinae kites.
Not all kites are called "kites". The Bat Hawk of Africa and Asia is an Elaninae kite with a falcon-like profile and a preference for dining on bats. The Black-breasted Buzzard of Australia is an eagle-like bird that is sometimes considered to belong in a different family or subfamily altogether.
Three different raptors in the subfamily Perninae are called kites, though they are not closely related to the other kites. They are the Grey-headed Kite, White-collared Kite, and Hook-billed Kite.
Some kites are migratory, while others are year-round residents throughout their range. The Mississippi Kite, for example, breeds across the southeastern United States and winters as far south as Argentina, while the Snail Kite is a permanent resident across its range.
Kites are found on all continents except for Antarctica.
Black Kites are found on four continents: Africa, Asia, Australia, and Europe. They are common throughout their range and may be the most abundant species of raptor in the world.
Most kite species lack global population concern, though some species have local issues (like the Snail Kite in Florida). The Letter-winged Kite of Australia and the Red Kite of Europe and Africa both have a conservation status of Near Threatened.
Red Kite by Tony Hisgett [CC BY 2.0]
In most kite species, adult birds all look alike. An exception to this rule is the Snail Kite. Male Snail Kites are mostly dark blue-grey, while females are brown with streaked underparts.
* Note that different taxonomical classifications may organize these and other birds in another way. As scientists learn more about birds and DNA, changes are noted and accepted and eventually integrated or rejected by various naming organizations and protocols.
The Saker Falcon is one of our newest additions to Birdorable. The falcon, which is almost as large as the Gyrfalcon, breeds across parts of eastern Europe and much of central Asia. They prefer open plains and desert-type habitats and hunt by horizontal pursuit unlike the Peregrine Falcon that hovers and stoops down from great heights.
Saker Falcons are beautiful birds, with brown upperparts and contrasting grey flight feathers. The head and underparts are paler brown, with streaking from the breast down. The birds are excellent hunters and often take on prey that is larger than itself. Because they are so swift and powerful they are a popular falconry bird and have been used by humans in hunting for thousands of years.
In the Arabian Peninsula falconry is an integral part of desert life and Saker Falcons are the favorite bird of many Arab falconers. The birds are trapped in Arab countries on their migration to the Middle East or caught throughout Asia and sold to the Middle Eastern falcon market. Unfortunately this is one of the reasons the bird has been put on the endangered species list. Thousands of falcons are caught every year and sold illegally on the black market. In addition the species is facing pressure from habitat loss and destruction.
In contrast, the bird is strongly protected in Hungary, where it is the national bird. Even though Saker Falcons are relatively abundant in Hungary, numbers are still low; the estimated total European population in 2010 was just 450 pairs, with 40% of these in Hungary and Slovakia. The Middle East Falcon Research Group has a nice table with estimated breeding populations in each country.
Check out these websites for more information about the Saker Falcon:
It is a sure sign of spring, here in Florida, when the iconic outline of Swallow-tailed Kites can be seen overhead once again. These graceful black-and-white birds, with their deeply forked tails, breed near the coast from Texas to Florida and spend the winter in South America. They are just now starting to arrive in the United States again and we saw our first one this week.
Every morning they take to the sky on thermal drafts and never seem to land, always soaring like a kite and rarely flapping their wings. The bird is one of the most acrobatic flier of all raptors, being able to make sharp turns and quickly rotate its tail to trace tight circles in the sky. Swallow-tailed Kites need their mad flying skills to snatch small animals off the top of trees, which they frequently eat on the wing. In this way it catches most of its diet, which consists mainly of large insects and small birds, reptiles, mammals and amphibians who dare to sit in tree tops.
We love these beautiful birds and are looking forward to seeing them soar overhead in the coming months. Check out these cute Swallow-tailed Kite gifts from our Birdorable shop.
The first bird in our 2014 Bonanza is a small falcon with a widespread range: the Merlin!
The Merlin is a small-sized falcon found across much of the northern hemisphere. For the most part they are migratory, breeding in the northern Holarctic (northern parts of the Old World and New World) and wintering in the tropics and subtropics. They are found in a wide variety of habitats, including open prairies, taiga forest, and shrubland.
Merlin by NatureShutterbug (CC BY-ND 2.0)
Merlins are also sometimes known as pigeon hawks. This is an old colloquial name used in North America. Merlins are similar in size to Rock Pigeons and somewhat resemble them in flight -- hence the name. There are even pigeons in their scientific name, Falco columbarius. Pigeons and doves are in the family Columbidae. As birds of prey, Merlins may also hunt and successfully take a Rock Pigeon as a meal. Like Great Horned Owls and some other birds, Merlins don't build their own nests. They reuse stick nests made by other birds, mostly crows or other raptors. Merlin joins Birdorable today as our 558th species, our 39th bird of prey, and our 9th falcon. If you like Merlins as much as we do, be sure to check out our selection of cute Birdorable Merlin t-shirts and gifts. Our Bonanza continues tomorrow with an LBJ with a lot of range. Can you guess tomorrow's species?
The Bateleur is a beautiful and rather colorful species of eagle found in parts of Sub-Saharan Africa and Arabia.
The name Bateleur means "Street Performer" in French. The bird is so named particularly after tight-rope walkers, because of its habit of rocking while soaring or gliding, as if keeping its balance. Adult Bateleurs are notable for their extremely short tails, especially when compared to other birds of prey.
It takes seven or more years for a Bateleur to reach full adult maturity; before that time their tails are actually longer than those of full-grown adults! Juvenile wing feathers are longer as well; as young birds learn to fly, they use the longer feathers to keep stable in the air. During each molt from hatching to adulthood, the wing and tail feathers grow in shorter and shorter.
The Bateleur is thought to be the species represented by stone-carved Zimbabwe Bird sculptures. The carvings, found in the ruined city of Great Zimbabwe, were created in the 11th century and later. The country is named for the ancient city and the Zimbabwe Bird is the national emblem of modern Zimbabwe.
We recently added the Bateleur to Birdorable. If you can't get enough of this very interesting and colorful bird of prey, be sure to check out our collection of cute cartoon Bateleur gifts!