Monday, October 25, 2010

ABC Wednesday: O is for Oropendola

Photobucket
Oropendola. What a great name. I have no idea where it comes from, though. The birds you can see here are Crested Oropendolas (Psarocolius decumanus).
Photobucket
Oropendolas are Icterids, which makes them related to cowbirds and grackles for example. They breed in colonies and build woven nests that are about 4 feet (120 cm) long.
Photobucket
A single male mates with all the females in the colony, but there are more males there who try to find an unobserved moment with the females.
Photobucket
They feed on fruit and insects. I took the photos while they were fed with mealworms, this bird in particular tried to grab all he could and ended up with 12 mealworms held in his beak.
Photobucket
Here's a juvenile
Photobucket
and here you can see the feathers of the crest, it's usually not really visible
Photobucket
The males will attract females with a bowing display and then you can see the crest (females don't have one). Here's a video, you can also find a recording of their call on that site (which is a great resource for birds in general).

See what else O stands for at ABC Wednesday

Photo of the nest was taken at Burgers Zoo, all others at Tierpark Berlin.

Monday, October 18, 2010

ABC Wednesday: N is for Nightjar

Photobucket
Nightjars are a big bird family with species found all over the world. They are sometimes called nighthawks or goatsucker, the sceintific name for the family Caprimulgidae also means goatsucker. This is because they were thought to drink the milk from goats since nightjars hunt insects and goats of course draw a lot of insects, so there were a lot of those weird nocturnal birds with the huge beak around.
Photobucket
These are all Tawny Frogmouths (Podargus strigoides), an Australian nightjar species - the one above is a chick. They will eat small rodents and reptiles as well as insects and the name Frogmouth is well-given.
Photobucket
It's very hard to see any nightjar species when it doesn't want to be seen. Many nest on the ground and will stay very still - it's possible to walk right by a nest without seeing it. Frogmouths will strike a pose that makes them resemble broken tree limbs and blend in with the bark. Like this:
Photobucket
If you look closely, you can see stiff feathers around the bird's beak. Those will let the bird know when it touches an insects or even when an insect is close. They are even more visible with other nightjar species (who are not as fluffy as the Frogmouth), check the photo of the European Nightjar I linked below.
Photobucket
I have seen a European Nightjar once, in a nature reservoir close to Hamburg. They have a distinct call, like a cross between a frog and an idling diesel engine, and males will call for hours on end. They are very hard to spot, but the nightjar did us the favour to fly directly over our group, looking very much like a giant moth, beating its wings once and then gliding silently. I couldn't get a photo since it was already dark, but listen to the call here

See what else N stands for with ABC Wednesday
Photos were taken at Vogelpark Walsrode, London Zoo and Zoo Wuppertal

Monday, October 11, 2010

ABC Wednesday: M is for Mara

Photobucket
Maras (, Dolichotis patagonum in this case, there is one other species) are also known as Patagonian Hares or Cavy. They are rodents and related to guinea pigs and capybaras. They live only in Argentinia, where they populate grasslands, with some scrubs and trees for cover.
Photobucket
Here's something unusual: a white Mara. It's not an albino, it's two siblings and both parents are coloured normally. This condition is called leucism, which means that no pigments at all can be produced or only in small amounts. Albinos just can't produce melanine.
Photobucket

Maras travel in pairs and they are monogamous, often mating for life. They can be found in large groups when food is plenty, though. Females are only ready to mate for a very short time - half an hour every three months or so, which may be one reason for the monogamous lifestyle.
Photobucket
Baby maras are able to walk right after being born. They are kept in a kindergarden where several pairs deposit their young and one pair keeps watch. The females will come to nurse their young and usually they will face the problem of letting only their own babies drink because all others will try, too. The babies are weaned when they are about 80 days old.
Photobucket
Maras are threatened by loss of habitat and by introduced animals like hares and cattle who compete with them for food. They are often seen in zoos and can become quite tame. I took these photos at Hagenbecks Tierpark in Hamburg and the Maras there will come really close when you keep still, although they won't let you touch them.

See what else M stands for with the ABC Wednesday meme

Monday, October 4, 2010

ABC Wednesday: L is for Lemur

Photobucket
Lemurs are primates native and endemic (living nowhere else) to Madagascar. There are about 100 different species, many of which were discovered in the last 20 years. They were named after the Latin lemures, which refers to ghosts that the Romans exorcise during the Lemuria festival. Many lemurs are nocturnal, move silently and ghostlike and some are considered to be ghosts of ancestors, all of which contributed to their name.
Photobucket
This and the group in the first picture are Ring-Tailed Lemurs (Lemur catta). Such a group huddling together is called a lemur ball (seriously!). Ring-Tailed lemurs are well known for sunbathing, with their legs spread wide and their face turned to the sun, like this. Their tails are much longer than their bodies and the lemurs use them for communication. When males fight, they will impregnate their tails with the scent from their wrists and wave them at each other, it's called a stink fight (again, seriously!). Females are attracted in the same fashion. I once had a close encounter with one of them and he was absolutely fascinated by my long hair - maybe he was puzzled why I was wearing my tail on my head. Their own fur is wonderfully soft and their hands are like warm, soft leather.

Photobucket
These are Black and White Ruffed Lemurs (Varecia variegata).
Photobucket
The Red Ruffed Lemur is closely related to them and they share their habitat, but they don't mingle. Both species eat mainly fruit, with a special liking for figs. They are rarely seen on the ground and spend most of their life high up in the canopy, jumping deftly from tree to tree and often feed while hanging upside like this
Photobucket
Ruffed lemurs are very vocal and communicate with a wide range of calls. They for example have different alarm calls for predators on the ground and for birds of prey.
Photobucket

There are many more lemur species. The Aye-Aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis) is probably the most weird. My favourite lemur are the Sifakas, though, because of their charming method of getting around on the ground by jumping. I always expect them to make boing-boing noises when they do it. Here's a video:


Photos were taken at Hagenbecks Tierpark (Ring-Tailed Lemur), ZOOM Gelsenkirchen (Red Ruffed Lemur) and Tierpark Berlin (Black and White Ruffed Lemur).

See what else K stand for over at ABC Wednesday