Sunday, November 24, 2013

Wood Stork

Wood Stork

Mycteria americana
Photo: Wood stork in water
Wood storks fish with an unusual but effective method: Opening their bills underwater, they wait for a fish to pass by, then snap!, like a mousetrap, the bill is closed, and the fish is eaten.
Photograph by Joel Sartore
Wood storks are tall, white denizens of freshwater or brackish wetlands and swamps. They can be identified by their long legs, featherless heads, and prominent bills.
These waders feed on minnows in shallow water by using their bills to perform a rare and effective fishing technique. The stork opens its bill and sticks it into the water, then waits for the touch of an unfortunate fish that wanders too close. When it feels a fish, the stork can snap its bill shut in as little as 25 milliseconds—an incredibly quick reaction time matched by few other vertebrates.
The storks prefer to employ this technique in isolated pools created by tides or falling freshwater levels, where fish congregate en masse. In some areas, such as Florida, breeding begins with the dry season that produces these optimal fishing conditions.
Though wood storks eat small fish, they eat a lot of them. An average nesting pair, with two fledglings, may eat over 400 pounds (181 kilograms) of fish during a single breeding season.
Wood storks are social animals. They feed in flocks and nest in large rookeries—sometimes several pairs to a single tree. Females lay two to five eggs, which both sexes incubate for about one month. Young fledge about two months after hatching.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Wild Turkey

Wild Turkey

Meleagris gallopavo
Photo: A wild turkey
Wild turkeys, with their distinctive feathers and gobbling call, were Benjamin Franklin's choice for the national bird of the United States.
Photograph courtesy Gary M. Stolz/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
The turkey was Benjamin Franklin's choice for the United States's national bird. The noble fowl was a favored food of Native Americans. When Europeans arrived, they made it one of only two domestic birds native to the Americas—the Muscovy duck shares the distinction.
Yet by the early 20th century, wild turkeys no longer roamed over much of their traditional range. They had been wiped out by hunting and the disappearance of their favored woodland habitat.
Wild turkeys typically forage on forest floors, but can also be found in grasslands and swamps. They feed on nuts, seeds, fruits, insects, and salamanders.
Wild turkey reintroduction programs began in the 1940s, and the birds were relocated to areas where populations had been decimated but woodlands were recovering. Such efforts worked so well that wild turkeys now live in areas where they may not have occurred when Europeans first reached the Americas. Today, flocks are also found in Hawaii, Europe, and New Zealand.
Only male turkeys display the ruffled feathers, fanlike tail, bare head, and bright beard commonly associated with these birds. They also gobble with a distinctive sound that can be heard a mile (a kilometer and a half) away.
Females lay 4 to 17 eggs, and feed their chicks after they hatch—but only for a few days. Young turkeys quickly learn to fend for themselves as part of mother/child flocks that can include dozens of animals. Males take no role in the care of young turkeys.
Domestic turkeys have white-tipped tails because they are the descendants of a Mexican subspecies that was taken to Europe for domestication in the early 16th century. The feature distinguishes them from most modern wild turkeys, though captive diet, lifestyle, and breeding have caused other physical discrepancies.
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