Blog Archive: Conservation

Birdorable Whooping Crane

Cutest Nickname Ever: Whoopsie the Hybrid Crane Chick

June 8th, 2015 in Conservation, Cranes, Cute Bird News 4 comments

Crane fans in Wisconsin are talking about a unique chick being raised by a mixed pair of cranes in Horicon National Wildlife Refuge. The chick appears to be the offspring of a male Whooping Crane (identified as DAR 16-11) and a female Sandhill Crane.

The chick, who has earned the nickname "Whoopsie" from crane fans, may be the first of its kind. It is certainly the first documented offspring from a mixed Whooping-Sandhill pairing in the Eastern Migratory Population of Whooping Cranes.

In the 1940s there were just 21 Whooping Cranes left. Since then, groups have been working to save the species and bolster the various flock populations. As of 2011, there were almost 600 birds, including both wild and captive birds.

Whooping Crane DAR 16-11, given the nickname "Grasshopper", was hatched on June 15, 2011. He was costume-reared by International Crane Foundation handlers. At about five months of age, he and his 2011 DAR (Direct Autumn Release) cohorts were released at the Horicon National Wildlife Refuge in the presence of wild Whooping Cranes. The wild birds show the DAR birds the migration route from their northern breeding grounds to their winter home in Florida.

Whoopsie the Whooping Crane and Sandhill Crane hybrid chick
Birdorable Greater Prairie-Chicken

The Plight of the Greater Prairie-Chicken

March 3rd, 2015 in Grouse, Conservation 5 comments
Birdorable Greater Prairie-Chicken

Best known for their elaborate mating dance, Greater Prairie-Chickens once thrived across large parts of North America. Hunting and habitat loss over the last century has drastically reduced these beautiful birds to near extinction. Once so abundant they were a main food source for pioneers settling in the west, the birds have become extremely rare and have disappeared in much of their range.

Prairie-chickens are of great significance to Native Americans and many tribes have prairie-chicken dances. The grassland birds are well-known for their mating ritual, in which male birds defend their 'booming grounds' by perform a display in hopes of attracting females. The dance involves inflating air saces on the side of their neck and snapping their tails. The strange booming sound gives the bird its nickname "Boomer".

There are three subspecies of this bird:

  • The Heath Hen was originally found along the Atlantic coast, but became extinct in 1932.
  • The Attwater's Prairie-Chicken is highly endangered and restricted to small coastal areas in Texas and Louisana. Around the year 1900 over a million Attwater's Prairie-Chickens lived in the gulf coastal prairie and huge numbers of males gathered to perform their elaborate courtship ritual. Now, less than one percent of the original coastal prairie habitat remains. Less than 100 Attwater's Prairie-Chickens are left in the wild, all resulting from release of animals raised in captivity. In 1967 the species was listed as federally endangered and in 1973 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service established the Attwater’s Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge in Texas.
  • The Greater Prairie-Chicken nominate subspecies is threatened, but remains numerous enough to still be hunted in four states. The bird went almost extinct in the 1930s due to hunting and habitat loss and now lives only on small parcels of managed prairie land. In states such as Iowa and Missouri, where Greater Prairie-Chickens were once abundant, only hundreds remain.
Greater Prairie Chicken Range
Greater Prairie Chicken Range Map by Cephas (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Read more about these amazing birds and prairie-chicken conservation efforts on the following websites:

Birdorable California Condor

Vulture FAQs on International Vulture Awareness Day

September 6th, 2014 in Fun Facts, Vultures, Conservation 2 comments

We're celebrating Vulture Week because today marks International Vulture Awareness Day! This commemorative day has been celebrated since at least 2009 and aims to highlight the importance of vultures and vulture conservation through education.

Why are vultures bald?

Bald VultureWhen vultures feed on animal carcasses, they may poke their heads into some messy spots to pick out yummy bits to eat. Having a bald head means that they won't get dirty feathers at mealtime, saving them from picking up nasty bacteria and carrying it around in their heads. Vultures may also regulate their body temperature by adjusting the amount of bare skin that's exposed to the environment. Some vultures do have feathers on their heads, like the Lammergeier and Palm Nut Vulture. Carrion is not the main source of food for these species.

 

How can I tell the difference between Black Vultures and Turkey Vultures?

Both of these New World vultures can be found throughout much of Central and South America. In North America, both Turkey and Black Vultures occur in the southeast. There are a few ways to tell the species apart. Black Vultures are smaller than Turkey Vultures. Turkey Vultures have red heads; the Black Vulture's head is very dark grey. While soaring, Turkey Vultures fly with their wings in a slight V-shape, known as a dihedral angle. The entire trailing edge of the Turkey Vulture's wing is light grey or white. In the Black Vulture, only the very outer flight feathers appear white.

Differences between Black Vulture and Turkey Vulture

Why are vultures endangered?

Vultures around the world are facing various threats. Yesterday we covered some of these threats in our blog post Threats Facing Vultures.

Are vultures and buzzards the same?

The short answer is no. Technically speaking, vultures and buzzards belong to very different families of birds. Vultures are large carrion-eating birds. Buzzards are buteos -- North America's Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) and Europe's Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo) are both part of this family. North Americans call buteos "hawks", while the rest of the world may know this same family of birds as "buzzards". In North America, a common colloquial name for vulture is buzzard. Early settlers may have called all of the large birds they saw "buzzards" -- and this common name stuck to the vultures.

I Love Vultures

Why do vultures vomit?

New World species of vulture may vomit when they feel threatened. This serves two purposes. Vomiting empties the stomach and lightens the bird if it needs to make a quick get-away. Vulture vomit is also extremely foul, and the putrid puke may serve to repel or at least distract any potential predators or threats.

Why do vultures fly in circles?

Black Vulture circlingWhen you see vultures circling above, they are not loitering in the sky waiting for a potential prey item to die. Vultures do use thermals, or naturally occurring rising columns of hot air, to assist in soaring flight. In this way they are able to conserve energy as they search for carrion.

 

Where do vultures live?

New World vultures are found in the Americas, while Old World vultures inhabit parts of Europe, Africa, and Asia. Vultures are found on every continent except for Antarctica and Australia. We have this informative Vultures of the World map available for download or purchase.

Vultures of the World Map

Birdorable Rueppell's Vulture

Vulture Week: Threats Facing Vultures

September 5th, 2014 in Conservation, Vultures No comments

We're celebrating Vulture Week because this Saturday, September 6th, 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.

Vultures around the world are in trouble. Over half of the world's vulture species are considered to be threatened with extinction or endangered. What are some of the threats facing these ecologically important birds?

Poison, including secondary poisoning

Vultures feed on carrion. In some places, a primary source of food for vultures is domestic cattle. Cattle that has been medicated may be toxic to the vultures that consume them. The anti-inflammatory livestock drug diclofenac is a huge problem for vultures across parts of Asia and Africa. Lead poisoning is a particular problem for the California Condor. Lead ammunition falls into the food chain when hunted animals are left behind by irresponsible hunters. Big game poachers in Africa are also accused of deliberately poisoning vultures to help conceal the sites where their illegal poaching takes place.

Top of the pile
Top of the pile by Lip Kee Yap (CC BY-SA 2.0) (Rueppell's Vulture)

Persecution

Some cultures believe vultures to be harbingers of death. There is also belief that vultures threaten healthy domestic livestock. These mistaken beliefs lead to direct hunting or persecution of vultures. Power lines and windmills Due to their large size and tendency to soar in flight, vultures are particularly vulnerable to power line collisions and electrocution. Windfarms placed in areas with strong wind currents may be sharing space with large birds that use these same currents to conserve energy during flight. Windfarms are dangerous for vultures and many other species of bird, especially when mills are placed close to known bird migration routes.

Collisions with vehicles

Vultures that live in populated areas often find roadkill to be an easy source of food, but a dangerous one as well. Roadside dining is unsafe and vultures may suffer the same fate as their last meal.

What can you do to help vultures?

Keep Calm & Save VulturesVultures can use all the friends they can get! Do your part to help make the world a better place for our vulture friends. You can support policies and lawmakers that favor vultures and the environment. If you know someone that hunts, talk with them about using lead-alternative ammunition and practicing wildlife-friendly habits. If you find yourself driving by birds on the roadside, slow down and be prepared to stop if needed and if it is safe to do so. Consider your own use of pesticides or any other cases of adding chemicals to the environment. Learn about the vultures that live in your area and what specific threats they may be facing. Visit local wildlife centers to learn more about vultures. You might even get to meet a vulture in person!

Birdorable Andean Condor

Vulture Week: Andean Condor species profile

September 4th, 2014 in Condors, Vultures, Conservation 1 comment

We're celebrating Vulture Week because this Saturday, September 6th, 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.

Birdorable Andean Condor

The Andean Condor is one of two types of condor, along with the California Condor. Both of these fall under the family Cathartidae, or New World Vulture. The Andean Condor is one of the world's largest flying birds, with a wingspan that may measure over 10 feet across. Among vultures found in the Americas, the Andean Condor is the only species to show sexual dimorphism. This means that males and females have a different appearance. Mature male Andean Condors have a large fleshy comb resting atop the head, which is reddish. Adult females have dark, uncombed heads. In most birds of prey, females are larger than males, but the Andean Condor defies this rule; males are larger than females.

Male Andean Condor
Male Andean Condor by Eric Kilby (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Like most other vulture species, the Andean Condor feeds primarily on carrion. They may travel 100 miles or more in a day in search of food, which includes the carcasses of large mammals like llamas, deer, cattle, and boar. Andean Condors are excellent at soaring using rising columns of hot air called thermals. Andean Condors can be found along the western mountain ranges of South America, including the Andes and the Santa Marta Mountains. Their range overlaps with other New World vulture species, and they may follow Turkey Vultures, Lesser Yellow-headed and Greater Yellow-headed Vultures to carcasses.

andean condor
andean condor by vil.sandi (CC BY-ND 2.0)

The Andean Condor is a national symbol for several South American countries, including Bolivia, where it is the official national bird. Condors were revered in Andean mythology and is sometimes considered to be a symbol of power and health. Andean Condors mate for life. They reach full maturity after five or six years and may live to be 50 years old or more in the wild; a captive condor lived to be at least 72 years of age. Pairs typically raise one chick every other year. The population trend for the Andean Condor is decreasing, and the IUCN Red List considers the species to be Near Threatened. They face challenges from habitat loss, secondary poisoning, persecution, and other man-made threats.

Birdorable Harpy Eagle

Endangered & Unusual Birds: The World's Top 100

April 28th, 2014 in Conservation No comments

Earlier this month, scientists named the 100 most unusual and endangered birds in the world. The species on the list were taken from the world's approximately 10,000 bird species, and ranked by their evolutionarily distinctiveness and conservation status. Here at Birdorable we like to highlight both unusual birds as well as species that need conservation help.

top-unusual-birds

Eleven of the birds on the top 100 list can be found here in our unique cute cartoon style. Birds on the list include the iconic California Condor, struggling back from the brink of extinction thanks to dedicated scientists and conservationists, and the unusual Shoebill, which is also known as Whalehead or Shoe-billed Stork.

Return of the California Condor

The list of endangered and unusual birds also includes species in the parrot family, like the nocturnal and non-flighted Kakapo, endemic to New Zealand, and the Spix's Macaw of Brazil. Other Birdorable birds on the list: Philippine Eagle; Spoon-billed Sandpiper; Northern Bald Ibis; Red-headed Vulture; Secretary Bird; Egyptian Vulture; Kokako.

These birds and all of the others on the list are in conservation trouble, just like the Passenger Pigeon was over 100 years ago. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the final loss of this species. In September 1914, the last Passenger Pigeon died, and the species was lost forever. If you can, please support groups working hard to save species by conserving habitat, enacting regulations that help the environment, and other heroic deeds to help our fellow creatures of Earth. Share your love of birds and the environment so that others may share your passion and work to save those in trouble, too!

Billions of Passenger Pigeons