Saturday, September 28, 2013

Whooping Crane

Whooping Crane 

Grus americana
Photo: Whooping crane standing in water
Back from the brink of extinction, the endangered whooping crane is making a slow recovery. Only about 200 are currently living in the wild.
Photograph courtesy Luther Goldman/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Whooping cranes nearly vanished in the mid-20th century, with a 1941 count finding only 16 living birds. But since then, these endangered animals have taken a step back from the brink of extinction. Captive breeding programs have boosted their numbers, and successful reintroduction efforts have raised the number of wild birds to over 200, with roughly the same number living in captivity.
The massive whooping crane management effort involves numerous U.S. and Canadian governmental agencies, nonprofit organizations, volunteers, and other contributors. The process even includes using ultralight aircraft to lead young whooping cranes on their first southward migration, from Wisconsin to Florida.
These majestic white birds are the tallest in North America. They live in family groups and frequent marshes, shallow lakes, and lagoons. Cranes feed by foraging with their bills and gobbling up plants, shellfish, insects, fish, and frogs.
The whooping crane's primary natural breeding ground is Wood Buffalo National Park, in Canada's Northwest Territories and Alberta. Here the cranes perform elaborate running, leaping, wing-flapping dances to choose mates that they will keep for life.
When summer ends, these migratory birds set out for the Gulf Coast of Texas, where they winter in the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. Managers hope to establish a Wisconsin breeding population that will winter in Florida, where a small introduced population lives year-round on the Kissimmee Prairie.
Whooping cranes are generally safe from hunting and egg collection, which hastened their decline. However, their biggest threat—loss of wetlands—persists. Though the areas that the birds frequent are protected, they are isolated and make the entire population vulnerable to any disastrous ecological event or change.

Ostrich

Ostrich

Struthio camelus
Photo: Portrait of an ostrich
Portrait of an ostrich
Photograph by Carsten Peter
The flightless ostrich is the world's largest bird. They roam African savanna and desert lands and get most of their water from the plants they eat.
Though they cannot fly, ostriches are fleet, strong runners. They can sprint up to 43 miles (70 kilometers) an hour and run over distance at 31 miles (50 kilometers) an hour. They may use their wings as "rudders" to help them change direction while running. An ostrich's powerful, long legs can cover 10 to 16 feet (3 to 5 meters) in a single stride. These legs can also be formidable weapons. Ostrich kicks can kill a human or a potential predator like a lion. Each two-toed foot has a long, sharp claw.
Ostriches live in small herds that typically contain less than a dozen birds. Alpha males maintain these herds, and mate with the group's dominant hen. The male sometimes mates with others in the group, and wandering males may also mate with lesser hens. All of the group's hens place their eggs in the dominant hen's nest—though her own are given the prominent center place. The dominant hen and male take turns incubating the giant eggs, each one of which weighs as much as two dozen chicken eggs.
Contrary to popular belief, ostriches do not bury their heads in the sand. The old saw probably originates with one of the bird's defensive behaviors. At the approach of trouble, ostriches will lie low and press their long necks to the ground in an attempt to become less visible. Their plumage blends well with sandy soil and, from a distance, gives the appearance that they have buried their heads in the sand.
Ostriches typically eat plants, roots, and seeds but will also eat insects, lizards, or other creatures available in their sometimes harsh habitat.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Carolina Wren

Carolina Wren 

Thryothorus ludovicianus

Photo: A Carolina wren
Favoring warmer southern climates, the Carolina wren—the state bird of South Carolina—fills its habitat with sweet songs.
Photograph by Mark Chappell/Animals Animals—Earth Scenes
The Carolina wren is an adaptable dweller of forestlands, swamps, farms, and tree-filled human communities.
Carolina wrens (Thryothorus ludovicianus) are small but very vocal animals. Males are especially outgoing and are the only ones to produce songs. They employ one of the loudest songs per volume of birds. They are apt to sing anytime and anyplace they happen to be.
Carolina wrens are usually found in pairs, and each pair stays on its home territory all year long. Because these wrens cannot survive cold winters, they tend to live in southern climes, and are the official state bird of South Carolina. They are found as far north as the Great Lakes, and warm winters spur them to extend their range northward. However, when colder years arrive, many northern birds are unable to survive and fringe populations plummet.
These large wrens feed on insects, larvae, and spiders but also eat berries and fruit. They forage on or near the ground and hop along far more often than they fly. They use their bills to poke about and search for hidden meals and try to remain close to brush in which they can hide.
Carolina wrens are monogamous, and breeding pairs may stay together for years. They work together to construct nests—which may be found almost anywhere. Wrens nest in natural locations such as branches, tree-holes, and stumps but also frequent windowsills, mailboxes or other attractive human-made spots.
Females lay about four eggs and incubate them for two weeks while their mates bring them food. Both parents feed their chicks for an additional two weeks before they gain independence. A mating pair of Carolina wrens may have several broods each year.
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