neoaves

The Bat Hawk (Macheiramphus alcinus) is unique among the raptors for its diet, which consists almost exclusively of bats. It ranges across Sub-Saharan Africa, the Malay Peninsula, Indonesia and New Guinea, and is unmistakable for its appropriately Batman-like dark plumage.

It is a gracile, medium-sized raptor (about 45 cm in length) with a number of adaptations which enable its high-speed-pursuit hunting style.

These proficient and strikingly beautiful hunters are ranked as a Least Concern species.

Pic: by Gary Albert, Sandakan, Malaysia, 2 June 2007 (via Wikimedia Commons)

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The Chestnut-flanked sparrowhawk (Accipiter castanilius) is a small, poorly understood accipiter from Central and Western Africa. It is a specialized hunter of small vertebrates, and is commonly found in lowland rainforest habitats.

Pic: by Niall Perrins, Tchimpounga, Republic of Congo, October 2013 (via African Affinity Birding)

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The Kagu (Rhynochetos jubatus) is a curious bird native to the montane forests of the French overseas collectivity of New Caledonia. Its placement among the avian family tree has been complicated since the time of its discovery, Once thought to be an ardeid like egrets and herons, it was considered in more recent times to be a gruiform. Of late, it’s usually been allied to the sunbittern of Central and South America, suggesting that the two species may be part of an ancient, Gondwanan radiation of birds.

It’s average-sized so far as ground-dwelling birds go, averaging at around 55 cm long. Strictly carnivorous, its diet consists mostly of invertebrates and small reptiles from the forest floor. Its generic name (‘rhyno’ = nose and 'chetos’ = corn) stems from the 'nasal corns’, a pair of flaps over the nostrils unique to the Kagu among all birds.

It is the heraldic bird of New Caledonia, and despite pressure from introduced mammals which has reduced its range on the island, is the focus of a number of dedicated conservation efforts which have seen considerable success.

Black Baza (Aviceda leuphotes) by Johnson

The Black Baza is a baza (genus Aviceda), a small group of accipitrid birds of prey. In contrast to other raptors, who tend to have fairly sleek and aerodynamic forms, bazas are a little shorter, snout-to-tail wise, and more “plump” looking. This has earned them a second common name, cuckoo-hawk. Black Bazas grow to about 35 cm in length, flying with a crow-like stroke, often in small flocks. Their favored prey are insects.

The Black Baza is a Least Concern species.

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Demoiselle cranes (Anthropoides virgo) are avian migrants par excellence. The smallest crane in the world, standing at a mere 76 cm (30 inches), the demoiselle still achieves the most goliath task in the avian world every year. In August and September, tens of thousands of the birds take wing to avoid the icy winters of Central Asia, passing over the Himalayas on their way to the warmer climes of India. The way is arduous, with intense attrition rates from inclement weather and predation by eagles. All the same, they are resilient fliers, capable of traveling hundreds or thousands of miles without needing to land or to eat, and most of the birds surmount this monumental obstacle for years on end.

While some western populations winter in northern Africa instead, it is in India that the demoiselle is best known. In fact, the people of Rajasthan, who call the demoiselle the koonj, revere the crane for its historic place in Indian literature and mythology. Demoiselles typically mate for life in monogamous pairs, and care for hatchlings for about two months until they fledge. Unlike most cranes, the demoiselle is not a bird of the wetlands, instead preferring upland regions, where it feeds upon a wide array of both plant and animal matter.

Photo: by Sumeet Moghe (at Wikimedia Commons), at Tal Chappar, Churu, Rajasthan, 1 February 2014.

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One of the world’s most spectacular hummingbirds must be the White-bearded Helmetcrest (Oxypogon lindenii). Small and comparatively short-billed, it is found exclusively in the Andes of northwestern Venezuela, where it can be seen perching upon boulders or feeding on the nectar of flowering shrubs. It is unmistakable for its resplendent crest and striking black-and-white facial patterning.

Until 2014, all bearded helmetcrests were counted as a single species, but a study by Collar & Salaman split it into four, of which the White-bearded variety is the most common.

Although uncommon, the White-bearded Helmetcrest is considered a Least Concern species.

Pics:

[1] - by Peter Boesman, 16 July 2007, Mérida State, Venezuela

[2] - by Émile Parzudaki, 1849

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The Red rail (Aphanapteryx bonasia) was the largest of Mauritius’ rails and certainly the strangest in appearance. Similarly to the dodo and many other birds native to the Mascarene islands, it was completely flightless, and its small wings would have been concealed in life beneath its shaggy, reddish-brown plumage. The only physical remains known from this species are its pelvis and leg bones, which makes it difficult to gauge its full size in life, but contemporary accounts compare it in size to a large hen. Within the rail family, its closest relative seems to be the Rodrigues rail (Erythromachus leguati), also extinct. More distantly, it is allied with the White-throated rail (Dryolimnas cuvieri) of Madagascar, the Seychelles, and Comoros, which today appears to be the only endemic flightless bird remaining on the Indian Ocean’s islands.

Its slender, vaguely ibis-like bill suggests a cursorial foraging lifestyle, preying on small invertebrates. The now-extinct land snail Tropidophora carinata, also endemic to Mauritius, appears to have been one such prey item, as some subfossilized shells belonging to this species carry blunt damage marks consistent with this bird’s beak.

Sadly, very little is known for sure about the Red rail, since like many other flightless birds of the world’s oceanic islands, it became extinct a short time after humans colonized its home. The tropical forests of Mauritius began to shrink after the island was claimed by the Dutch East India Company in the 17th Century, spelling doom for this rail, the dodo, and many others, as overhunting and deforestation disrupted their habitat. By 1700, the Red rail had disappeared forever.

Puzzling over this flightless rail and the dodo, centuries before Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, English adventurer Peter Mundy observed:

“Of these 2 sorts off fowl afforementionede, For oughtt wee yett know, Not any to bee Found out of this Iland, which lyeth aboutt 100 leagues From St. Lawrence. A question may bee demaunded how they should bee here and Not elcewhere, beeing soe Farer From other land and can Neither fly or swymme; whither by Mixture off kindes producing straunge and Monstrous formes, or the Nature of the Climate, ayer and earth in alltring the First shapes in long tyme, or how.”

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Images: Above: a plate by Frederick William Frohawk (1861 - 1946), wildlife artist; via Wikimedia Commons. Below: sketch of a hunted specimen ca. 1601, attributed to one Joris Joostensz Laerle; via Wikimedia Commons.

The Bateleur (Terathopius ecaudatus) is a striking eagle which ranges widely across Sub-Saharan Africa, as well as the far southwest of Yemen and Saudi Arabia. So-named for the French bateleur, ‘street performer’, for the way its wings recall a balancer’s pole in flight. With a wingspan of as much as 1.8 meters (6 ft, 1 in.), the bateleur is a proficient hunter, its preferred prey being the avifauna of its native veld, but it may also seek out carrion.

Female bateleurs are tawny in color, in contrast to the black-and-red raiment of males. The bateleur is estimated to number in the tens of thousands, but populations across its range are in a marked decline due to accidental deaths from pesticide, and from hunting. It is classified by the IUCN as Near Threatened.

Photo: by 'cyrusbulsara’ (at Wikimedia Commons), San Diego Zoo, 7 November 2009.

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The future of the Bali Myna (Leucopsar rothschildi) is an uncertain one. This strikingly-colored starling, the emblematic animal of the Indonesian island of Bali, is nearly extinct in the wild, with only a couple hundred individuals left in the Balinese jungles. Captive breeding programs are hard at work to save this unique and beautiful species, though the illegal bird trade continues to endanger what few populations are left.

The Bali Myna reaches lengths of as much as 25.4 cm (10 inches) with little sexual dimorphism. It commonly approaches the ground, unlike many other starlings, where it feeds upon plant matter and small invertebrates.

Pics:

[1] - by “Cburnett”, Milwaukee County Zoological Gardens, 6 October 2006 (via Wikimedia Commons)

[2] - by the Begawan Foundation, Sibang, Bali, 17 June 2014 (via Wikimedia Commons)

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(And yes, that is Jane Goodall!)