Thursday, April 19, 2007

Birds of Iraq

This is the first, of many, postings on the wildlife we've come across here. This place is a plethera (big word of today) of animals that most of us have seen either in National Geographic documentaries, read about in high school and college biology, or had first-hand experience dealing with. We'll be starting with the avian species of Iraq.

Barn Owl
The Barn Owl (Tyto Alba) is an owl in the barn owl family Tytonidae. This is one of the two groups of owls, the other being the typical owls Strigidae. Any member of the family Tytonidae is sometimes referred to as a Barn Owl)
These are pale, long-winged, long-legged owls, 33-39 cm in length with an 80-95 cm wingspan. They have an effortless wavering flight as they quarter pastures or similar hunting grounds. All races have grey and ochre upperparts. These are birds of open country such as farmland, preferentially hunting along the edges of woods. They are fairly sedentary and nocturnal or crepuscular. Barn Owls occur worldwide, on every continent except Antarctica. Sometimes they are called monkey-faced owls because of their appearance. Other common names are church owl, golden owl, rat owl, and stone owl.

Barn Owls feed on voles, frogs and insects, but are economically valuable birds as they also prey on animal pests like rats, shrews, moles and mice. Other than human persecution, they have few predators, although large owls such as the Eurasian Eagle Owl and the Great Horned Owl will kill smaller species if the opportunity arises. Farmers often encourage Barn Owl habitations for rodent control by providing nest sites such a wooden nest box or a large drum installed sideways in a barn. An adult Barn Owl will eat approximately 3 mice per day. A pair raising 3-5 owlets will consume many more rodents


Eurasian Collared Dove
The Eurasian Collared Dove, (Streptopelia decaocto) also called the Eurasian Collared-Dove or simply the Collared Dove, is one of the great colonizers of the avian world. Its original range was warmer temperate regions from southeastern Europe to Japan. However, in the twentieth century it expanded across the rest of Europe, reaching as far west as Great Britain by 1953, and Ireland soon after. It also now breeds north of the Arctic Circle in Scandinavia. It is not migratory.

It was accidentally introduced into the Bahamas in the 1970s and spread to Florida by 1982. Its stronghold in North America is still the Gulf Coast, but it is now easily found as far south as Veracruz, as far west as California, and as far north as British Columbia and the great lakes. Its impact on native species is as of yet unknown; it appears to occupy an ecological niche between that of the Mourning dove and Rock pigeon; some have suggested that its spread represents exploitation of a niche made available by the extinction of the Passenger pigeon. It breeds wherever there are trees for nesting, laying two white eggs in a stick nest. Incubation lasts 14-18 days, and young fledge after 15-19 days. It is not wary and is often found around human habitation.

This is a small dove, buff grey with a darker back and a blue-grey wing patch. The tail feathers are tipped white. It has a black half-collar on its nape from which it gets its name. The short legs are red and the bill is black. The eye is reddish/brown. From a distance the eyes appear to be black, as the pupil is relatively large and only a narrow rim of reddish-brown eye color can be seen around the black pupil.


European Bee-eater
The European Bee-eater (Merops apiaster) is a near passerine bird in the bee-eater family Meropidae. It breeds in southern Europe and in parts of north Africa and western Asia. It is strongly migratory, wintering in tropical Africa (or to North-Western India, southern India and Sri Lanka in the case of Asian birds). This species occurs as a spring overshoot north of its range, with occasional breeding in northwest Europe.

This species, like other bee-eaters, is a richly-colored, slender bird. It has brown and yellow upper parts, whilst the wings are green and the beak is black. It can reach a length of 27-29 cm, including the two elongated central tail feathers. Sexes are alike.

This is a bird which breeds in open country in warmer climates. Just as the name suggests, bee-eaters predominantly eat insects, especially bees, wasps and hornets, which are caught in the air by sorties from an open perch. Before eating its meal, a European Bee-eater removes the sting by repeatedly hitting the insect on a hard surface. It eats some 250 bees daily.

These bee-eaters are gregarious, nesting colonially in sandy banks, preferably near river shores, usually at the beginning of May. They make a relatively long tunnel in which the 5 to 8, spherical white eggs are laid around the beginning of June. Both the male and the female take care of the eggs, which are brooded for about 3 weeks. These birds also feed and roost communally.


Steppe Eagle
The Steppe Eagle (Aquila nipalensis) is a large bird of prey. It is about 62-74 cm in length and has a wingspan of 165-190cm. Like all eagles, it belongs to the family Accipitridae. It was once considered to be closely related to the non-migratory Tawny Eagle (Aquila rapax) and the two forms have previously been treated as conspecific. However, DNA studies have shown that these birds are not even each other's nearest relatives.

The Steppe Eagle breeds from Romania east through the south Russian and Central Asian steppes to Mongolia. The European and Central Asian birds winter in Africa, and the eastern birds in India. It lays 1-3 eggs in a stick nest in a tree. Throughout its range it favors open dry habitats, such as desert, semi-desert, steppes, or savannah.

This is a large eagle with brown upperparts and blackish flight feathers and tail. This species is larger and darker than the Tawny Eagle, and it has a pale throat which is lacking in that species.

The Steppe Eagle's diet is largely fresh carrion of all kinds, but it will kill rodents and other small mammals up to the size of a rabbit, and birds up to the size of partridges. It will also steal food from other raptors.


Kestrel
The name kestrel is given to several different members of the falcon genus, (Falco). Kestrels are most easily distinguished by their typical hunting behavior which is to hover at a height of around 10–20 m over open country and swoop down on prey, usually small mammals, lizards or large insects. Other falcons are more adapted to active hunting on the wing.

Kestrels require a slight headwind in order to hover, hence a local name of wind hover for Common Kestrel. Their ability to spot prey is enhanced by being able to see ultraviolet which is strongly reflected by vole urine.

Plumage typically differs between male and female, and (as is usual with monogamous raptors) the female is slightly larger than the male. This allows a pair to fill different feeding niches over their home range. Kestrels are bold and have adapted well to human encroachment, nesting in buildings and hunting by major roads.

Kestrels do not build their own nests, but use nests built by other species.


Blue-cheeked Bee-eater
The Blue-cheeked Bee-eater (Merops persicus) is a near passerine bird in the bee-eater family, Meropidae. It breeds in Morocco, Algeria, and subtropical Asia from eastern Turkey to Kazakhstan. It is strongly migratory, wintering in tropical Africa. This species occurs as a rare vagrant north of its breeding range.

This species, like other bee-eaters, is a richly-colored, slender bird. It is predominantly green; its face has blue sides with a black eye stripe, and a yellow and brown throat; the beak is black. It can reach a length of 24-26 cm, including the two elongated central tail feathers.

This is a bird which breeds in sub-tropical semi-desert with a few trees, such as acacia. It winters in open woodland or grassland. As the name suggests, bee-eaters predominantly eat insects, especially bees, wasps and hornets, which are caught in the air by sorties from an open perch. However, this species probably takes more dragonflies than any other food item. Its preferred hunting perch is telephone wires if available.

These bee-eaters are gregarious, nesting colonially in sandy banks. They make a relatively long tunnel in which the 4 to 8, spherical white eggs are laid. Both the male and the female take care of the eggs. These birds also feed and roost communally.


Hooded Crow
The Hooded Crow (Corvus cornix), sometimes called the Hoodiecrow, is an Eurasian bird species in the crow genus. It is so similar in structure and habits to the Carrion Crow that some authorities consider them to be merely geographical races of one species, however since 2002 the Hooded Crow has been elevated to full species status. It breeds in northern and Eastern Europe, and closely allied forms inhabit southern Europe and western Asia.

The Hooded Crow, with its contrasted grays and blacks, cannot be confused with either the Carrion Crow or Rook, but the "kraa" call notes of the two are almost indistinguishable. The flight is slow and heavy and usually straight. The length varies from 48 to 52 cm.

The bulky stick nest normally placed in a tall tree, but cliff ledges, old buildings and pylons may be used. Nests are occasionally placed on or near the ground. The nest resembles that of the Carrion Crow, but on the coast seaweed is often interwoven in the structure. The four to six brown-speckled blue or eggs are incubated for 17-19 days by the female alone, who is fed by the male. In Israel this species is parasitized by the Great Spotted Cuckoo, whose normal host, the European Magpie is absent from that country.

Except for the head, throat, wings, tail and thigh feathers, which are black and mostly glossy, the plumage is ash-grey, the dark shafts giving it a streaky appearance. The bill and legs are black. There is only one molt in autumn, as in other crows. The male is the larger bird, otherwise the sexes are alike. When first hatched the young are much blacker than the parents.

2 comments:

SolarisGal said...

OMG, the barn owl is soooo gorgeous!!!!

Klaus said...

Nice pictures indeed. I wonder how the war affected the wildlife there...