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'" CARD 141 I

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Emberiza citrin ella
The yellowhammer is the best known of the seven bunting species
that nest in Europe. After a crop is harvested, it gathers
in flocks to pick fallen grain from the fields.
Length: 61h in.
Weight: 1 oz.
Sexual maturity: 1 year.
Breeding season: End of April to
No. of broods: Usually 2.
Eggs: 3 or 4, pinkish white
streaked with black or brown.
Incubation: 12-14 days.
Fledging period: 16 days.
Habit: Lives in pairs during the
breeding season; social in winter.
Diet: Mainly seeds but also fruit,
vegetable matter, and insects.
Call: Single "tweak" or "twit"
when flying; distinctive song.
lifespan: Oldest on record, 12
There are 38 species of bunting in
the genus Emberiza.
Range of the yellowhammer.
The yellowhammer is found in a band across the northern
hemisphere from Great Britain and Portugal in the west to
central Asia in the east.
The population decline in recent decades may be the result of
changing agricultural practices, such as burning stubble, which
depletes an important food source for the yellowhammer.
Flight: Sometimes straight,
sometimes wavy. White
flashes on the outer tail
feathers are revealed.
Bill: Short, stout, and coni-
cal, for stripping tough husks
from seeds and crushing
Female: Has
duller plumage,
with less yellow
than the male.
Has more
streaks on the
underparts and
Eggs: 3 or 4 per
clutch. Usually 2
broods a year.
Pinkish white
with scribble-
like markings
of black or
Male: Distinctive
bright yellow
head and breast,
with red-brown
and black streaks
on the upper
parts. Chestnut
rump and back.
0160200511 PACKET 51
Also known as the yellow bunting, the yellowhammer
is usually found on farmland. Fields surrounded by
rows of shrubs or low bushes make an ideal habitat
for this bird, which prefers to live in areas that have
plenty of ground cover. Its distinctive song can be
heard in spring. It is described as sounding like
1/ a-little-bit-of-bread-and-no-cheese. 1/
The yellowhammer can be
found in scrubland, farmland,
and pastures. It seldom ven-
tures into woods or urban areas
and rarely visits gardens.
Populations that breed in the
northeastern part of the range
usually migrate in late Septem-
ber. They winter in western
Europe or around the Mediter-
ranean Sea and return north
between March and May.
Birds in the southern part of
the range remain in the same
area all year. The yellowham-
mer adopts a territory during
the breeding season but later
Right: In the breeding season the
male sits on a high perch and sings
to ward off rival males.
abandons it to join a flock.
Yellowhammer flocks may
include several other species
of seed-eating birds such as
finches, other buntings, and
sometimes sparrows. At this
time of year, yellowhammers
have a communal roosting
spot, usually located in thick
hedges or bushes.
The yellowhammer is a ground-
feeding bird. It often joins oth-
er species searching for food in
fields. It lives mainly on seeds
but also eats berries, other
plant matter, and insects. Its
stubby conical bill is typical of
seed eaters. The shape is ideal
for removing husks and crush-
ing the seeds inside.
Nestlings are given a high-
left: Like many other seed eaters,
the yellowhammer has a stubby
but powerful beak.
Yellowhammers do not
seem to suffer from the cold
in areas where they remain
through the winter. Birds
have been found roosting
on vegetation under a foot
of snow.
A relative of the yellow-
hammer, the ortolan bunt-
ing, is considered a delicacy
protein diet of insects, especially
caterpillars and butterflies. The
food is partially digested in the
parent's crop (pouched enlarge-
ment of the gullet) before it is
given to the young birds.
Like many seed-eating birds,
the yellowhammer swallows
grit, which helps to grind up
tough plant matter in its giz-
zard (part of the stomach).
Right: The yellowhammer probes
the soil for seeds but also snaps up
insects and worms.
in some Mediterranean
countries. Like other small
birds that migrate south,
it is caught in nets and
sold for food.
In some areas the yellow-
hammer is known as the
"scribble lark." This name
refers to the scribblelike
markings on the eggs.

The yellowhammer rarely visits
gardens. In spring and sum-
mer, the male may appear on
the branch of a bush or tree or
on a telephone wire or post.
From these perches, he sings
to protect his breeding ground
from other males.
Breeding begins at the end of
April, when yellowhammers
frequently engage in a fast
and furious courtship flight.
Twisting and turning, the
male flies after a female un-
til the two finally fall to the
ground and mate. When dis-
playing on the ground, both
birds flutter their wings in
front of each other. The male
also raises his crest, spreads
his tail, and circles the female.
The female builds the nest,
choosing a site that is concealed
by vegetation. The site may be
under a hedge or in low bushes,
but it is rarely more than three
left: During their first few days, the
young are fed by their parents.
In fall, yellowhammers can
be seen among flocks of seed-
eating birds on farmland. The
juvenile and the female are
both duller in color than the
male, and thei r heads and
underparts are streaked rath-
er than yellow.
feet above the ground. The
cup-shaped nest is made of
grass and moss and lined with
hair and fine grass.
There are usually three or
four eggs, pale pink or cream-
colored, with fine lines of black
or brown. The eggs are almost
always incubated by the fe-
male, who is fed by the male.
The male has been known to
incubate the eggs, but this
behavior is rare.
After 12 to 14 days, the
eggs hatch, and both adults
feed the nestlings. Within two
weeks the young can fly and
leave the nest. A pair of yel-
lowhammers raises two, rarely
three, broods a year.
'\: CARD 142 I
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Merops nubicus
The carmine bee-eater is the largest of the African bee-eaters. It is
also the most flamboyant in appearance. This vividly colored bird
plucks its prey from the air with great skill.

Length: Head and body, 9-10 in.
Tail streamers, 4-5 in.
Weight: 1-2 oz.
Sexual maturity: 1 year.
Breeding season: Varies with
No. of eggs: 2-3, occasionally
more, glossy white.
Incubation period: About 20 days.
Fledging period: About 1 month.
Habit: Social.
Range of the carmine bee-eater.
DISTRIBUTION Diet: Airborne insects, mainly bees,
grasshoppers, ants, and locusts.
lifespan: Not known.
The northern subspecies breeds in central Africa from Senegal
east to Somalia. The southern subspecies breeds in central
southern Africa from Angola east to Mozambique.
There are 24 species of bee-eater
in 3 genera. The 21 species in the
genus Merops include the closely
related rosy bee-eater, Merops
Despite some local threats-especially by beekeepers-the
carmine bee-eater remains common throughout its range,
with a total population of around five million.
The southern carmine bee-
eater is larger than the
northern bird and does not have
its blue-green throat plumage.
Plumage: Bright red body with blue-
green underparts and wing flashes.
Crown of head also blue-green. Black
head stripe and tail streamers.
Bill: Long
and sturdy.
Curves down.
Ideal for
snatching in-
sects in midair.
Eggs: 2 to 3 glossy white
eggs per clutch. Laid and
hatched at intervals.
Despite its name, the carmine bee-eater
also eats most other flying insects. This social bird
is found in both central and southern Africa-in
two populations that are regarded by some experts
as separate species. The northern carmine bee-eater
is smaller than the southern bird, and it can also be
distinguished by its blue-green throat plumage.

The carmine bee-eater spends
most of the day flying high
above its African domain. On
its sharp-pointed wings it sails
effortlessly over mangrove
swamps, wood and scrub
savannas, grassy plains, lake-
shores, cultivated flood plains,
and open pastures. All that
seems important to the bee-
eater is that the land below
supports sufficient insect prey
and offers suitable nest sites.
There is only one habitat that
the carmine bee-eater shuns-
the rainforest.
I the action usually
mune to the sting of the extracts most of the venom
wasp and honeybee. It can and reduces the sting's effect.
also "de-sting" its prey before This behavior is largely instinc-
eating it by holding the bee tive, but young birds benefit
sideways in its beak and then from practice as their early at-
repeatedly rubbing it on a tempts are often unsuccessful
perch. Even if the sting is not and they get stung.
Large flocks of carmine bee-
eaters devour insect swarms.
Grasshoppers, locusts, flying
ants, and honeybees are fre-
quent targets.
The carmine bee-eater sails
on thermals (warm air currents)
150 to 325 feet above the
ground, diving often to pluck
insects from the air. After hunt-
ing, it rests on a favorite perch
Left: Unlike the southern carmine
bee-eater, the northern bird has
blue-green throat plumage.
I : The carmine bee-eater will
sometimes skim over water in
flight, and it may even sub-
merge itself. Freeze-frame
photography has shown that
in doing this the bee-eater
sometimes catches fish.
The carmine bee-eater may
prepare its nest site up to four
but stays alert for any signs of
more prey.
The bee-eater also rides on
the backs of antelope, cattle,
ostriches, and bustards so it
can catch insects disturbed by
the host animal. This bird even
perches on tractor cabs, and
it may fly alongside cars and
trucks, snatching insects from
the slipstream. Another tactic is
for the carmine bee-eater to fly
toward a bush fire and feed on
fleeing insects.
months before it is needed.
By starting early, the bird can
dig in soil that is still soft and
moist after the rainy season.
One of the local names for
this bird means "cousin to
the fire," referring to its fiery
plumage as well as its habit
of feeding near bush fires.

The carmine bee-eater is a so-
cial bird that forms flocks of
50 or more. In the breeding
season colonies of as many as
10,000 birds gather at prime
nest sites.
The bee-eater digs a burrow
into a cliff face by a river. It of-
ten starts two or three tunnels
for each one it completes, so
cliff sites that are used regularly
become honeycombed with
burrows and may collapse.
Before they nest, the males
become aggressive and chase
each other in flight . The win-
ner offers food to a female. If
Left: Continual nest building may
undermine the sandy banks where
the bee-eater burrows.
carmine bee-
eater eats
many kinds of
flying insects.
Left: Although
the bee-eater is
sociable year-
round, it forms
even larger
flocks during
the breeding
she accepts, the birds mate.
Usually the first eggs are laid
just before the rains begin in
the north and a little later in
the south. Because the eggs
are laid at roughly two-day
intervals, the young do not
hatch together. Young bee-
eaters grow quickly, so the
oldest and youngest chicks
differ in size. The youngest
chick often cannot compete
for food and starves. Some-
times a nonbreeding bird
helps a pair feed their young,
so the whole clutch survives.
The young bee-eaters fledge
after about a month. Then all
the birds disperse north and
south of the breeding areas.
"11IIIIIIII Charadiiformes
Larus marinus
"' CARD 143 ]
The great black-backed gull is a highly successful predator. It is
easy to distinguish from other gulls by its large size, black
back and wing feathers, and heavy yellow bill.
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Length: 2 - 2 ~ ft.
Wingspan: 5 - 5 ~ ft.
Weight: 2-4 lb.
Sexual maturity: 4-5 years.
Breeding season: April to May.
No. of broods: 1 per year.
Eggs: 2 or 3.
Incubation: About 4 weeks.
Fledging period: 8 weeks.
Habit: Sociable, but often in small-
er groups than other gulls.
Breeding range of the great black-backed gull.
Call: Harsh /lark-ark-ark./I DISTRIBUTION
Diet: Marine invertebrates, carrion,
birds and their eggs, small mam-
mals, some vegetation.
Lifespan: Maximum recorded,
The Baltic, the Scandinavian coast, Great Britain and Ireland,
and south to Brittany in France. It also breeds around Iceland,
southwestern Greenland, along the eastern seaboard of Cana-
da, and as far south as North Carolina.
20 years.
The closest relative is the kelp gull,
Larus dominicanus.
Like most gulls, the great black-back has increased in numbers
in this century. Its range has also increased.
Plumage: Dark gray to black back and wing feathers; white
body and head. Sexes similar. Juvenile has brown and white
markings on its upper parts.
Eggs: 2 or 3 per clutch. Buff
or olive brown, speckled
with brown or gray.
Bill: Heavy and strong, with hooked
tip. Distinguishes great black-back
from other gulls. Able to snatch and
grip prey such as puffins while flying.
Legs: Flesh colored. Lesser
black-backed gull has
yellow legs.
0160200571 PACKET 57
The great black-backed gull has increased both
its numbers and its range in the last hundred years.
In winter this large bird relies on scavenging for most
of its food. It eagerly consumes a variety of animal
waste products thrown out by humans. The great
black-back can also be a fierce predator, attacking
other bird species as well as fish and mammals.
The great black-backed gull is
now found in areas where it was
previously unknown. It usually
breeds on small coastal islands
and rocky outcrops. But as its
numbers have grown, the gull
has moved inland, inhabiting
islands on freshwater lakes and
nesting on heathland.
Mature gulls from the south-
ern areas of the range do not
migrate far in winter. Young
birds are more likely to move
south. Black-backs banded in
Great Britain have been found
in northwestern France and
Spain. Gulls breeding in the
north of the range-Norway,
Sweden, Denmark, and along
the Murmansk coast of the So-
viet Union-are more likely to
move south in winter. Many fly
to locations near the North Sea.
Birds banded in Iceland have
been found in northwestern
Britain and Ireland in winter.
Similarly, gulls from Green-
land and northern Canada
migrate south to the eastern
seaboard of Canada and the
United States each winter.
Right: Swallowing a fish whole is
commonplace for the great black-
backed gull.

The great black-backed gull
may form large colonies. But it
tends to be more solitary in its
nesting habits than many other
gull species. It usually chooses
a site close to the breeding col-
onies of other seabirds so that
it can prey on them.
The great black-backed gull
often returns to the same spot
each year to breed. The nest-
ing site is often a high point
such as a rock, wall, or fence
post, from which the gull can
Left: Its black back, heavy bill, and
large body distinguish the great
black-back from other gulls.
A chick frightened from its
nest may be preyed on by
other birds in the colony. Even
if it returns to its nest, it may
be eaten by its own parents.
The black-backed gull pop-
ulation is increasing and has
squeezed out smaller sea-
birds. Birds like terns return
to their nesting colonies in
survey its surroundings. It con-
structs its saucer-shaped nest
from dry vegetation.
The female usually lays two
or three eggs at two-day inter-
vals in April. Both parents incu-
bate the eggs for about four
weeks. A few days after hatch-
ing, the down-covered chicks
are able to leave the nest. They
develop a mottled grayish plum-
age and begin to fly at seven to
eight weeks of age. Soon after-
ward, they leave the colony.
Right: The mottled chicks are well
developed when hatched and soon
leave the nest.
spring but find that they are
full of gulls.
Records show that on an
island off the coast of Wales,
27 great black-backed gulls
ate 2,536 Manx shearwaters.
After killing and eating an-
other bird, the black-backed
gull leaves its victim's I
neatly turned inside
The great black-backed gull
can be identified by its black
back, large body, and massive
yellow bill . It can be seen year-
round along the East Coast,
especially in fishing ports. It
follows fishing boats to catch
fish that escape from the nets.
Young great black-backed gulls
are fed animal waste products
by their parents. They are also
provided with digested shellfish,
rabbits, mice, and voles as well
as the eggs, young, and even
Birds from Canada boost the
great black-back population in
winter, when the gulls can be
seen on most coastlines. The
birds may also be seen farther
inland in winter, scavenging in
garbage dumps, meat facto-
ries, and sewage plants.
adults of other seabird species.
The gull kills prey by shaking
it violently, then pecking it thor-
oughly and tearing it apart. The
great black-backed gull often
has food preferences. Gulls that
favor other seabirds can have a
disastrous effect on the popula-
tions of rarer species like puffins,
storm petrels, and Manx shear-
waters. The great black-backed
gull also preys on the fledging
chicks of razorbills, guillemots,
and even its own species.
Left: Great black-backed gulls that
live in temperate areas do not mi-
grate long distances.
~ Gruiformes
Porphyria montelli
A flightless bird from New Zealand, the takahe was mistakenly
classified as extinct at two different times. Today, about 400 takahes
survive in New Zealand ~ Fiordland National Park.
Height: 1 Yz- 2 ft.
Weight: 5-6 lb .
Sexual maturity: About 2 years.
No. of broods: 1 .
Breeding season: From September
to Oct ober.
Eggs: 1 or 2; cream with brown and
gray blotches.
Incubation period: About 1 month.
Habit: Pairs for life.
Diet: Alpine grasses, herbs, and
ferns. Young are fed insects.
Call: Repeated pairs of long, deep
notes like a donkey's bray.
Li fespan: Up to 12 years.
The takahe is a member of the rail
family of over 100 species. Its clos-
est relative is the purple gallinule,
Porphyria porphyria, of Africa, Asia,
and Australia.
Plumage": Shades of
blue ari d green with
a wlitteHaSh
u n ~ ~ t a i l
If eathers.
Range of the takahe.
Found only in the Murchison and Kepler mountain ranges in
the Fiordland National Park on South Island, New Zealand.
Captive-bred birds have been introduced on Mana Island.
The takahe is now protected, but it remains an endangered
species despite conservation measures. It is thought that there
are between 180 and 250 pairs in existence.
Body: Its plump body makes
the bird look clumsy, but
it is a very fast runner.
Large and
very sturdy for
ripping out and
chewing tufts
of grass.
clumps of grass
while it ri ps out t ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ i ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
tender shoots with
its bill.
Eggs: 1 or 2; cream with
gray and brown blotches.
Laid in a sheltered nest
on the ground.
The takahe is a large, plump bird about the size of
a small turkey. It compensates for its inability to fly
by being a remarkably good runner. With its vivid
red bill, its pink legs, and the blue and green shades
of its silky plumage, the takahe is one of New
Zealand's most attractive native birds. It has
been a protected species since 1948.
The takahe lives in the Fiord-
land National Park on South
Island, New Zealand. It inhab-
its inaccessible mountain val -
leys at altitudes of up to 6,000
feet . These valleys are dotted
with small lakes surrounded by
alpine grasses, which thrive in
the damp, peaty ground. Fre-
quent heavy rain, gales, and
snow make the environment
The takahe's range is limited
mainly to a valley called Taka-
he Valley in the Murchison and
Kepler mountains. This area is
a designated sanctuary. Public
access is prohibited to avoid
habitat disturbance by tourists.
Takahes live in pairs in terri-
tories that may be as large as
one and a half square miles. If
a pair is separated within its
territory, the two birds call to
each other and perform a brief
display when they meet. They
display in a similar manner if
an intruding takahe appears.
The takahe feeds primarily
on the tender leaf bases of al-
pine grasses. It prefers young
leaves, which are rich in pro-
tein and other nutrients. The
takahe uses its bill to pull up
a tuft of grass by the base. It
holds the tuft in its foot while
chewing the new growth, and
then it throws the rest away.
Piles of discarded stalks are a
sign that a takahe has been
feeding nearby. The takahe
also eats grass seeds. It holds
several grass stalks in its beak
and then runs its beak along
Left: Like many animals that eat
only vegetation, the takahe must
feed nearly all the time.
The takahe is one of several
flightless birds in New Zea-
land. Over centuries, the
birds lost the ability to fly be-
cause there were no native
predatory mammals.
The skin of the first living
takahe found by settlers is
now in the British Museum.
the stems to fill it with seeds.
When the ground is covered
with snow, the takahe moves
down into the woodlands to
feed on herbs, ferns, and for-
est grasses. The fact that this
vegetation is less nutritious
t han alpine grasses may be
one reason why the takahe
population has not thrived in
recent years. The takahe also
suffers from the presence of
other alpine grass eaters, es-
pecially red deer. The deer eat
so much that little nutritious
grass is left for the takahe.
Right: The takahe will venture into
shallow water to drink, but it has
not been known to swim.
'. The species was named
mantelli after Walter Mantell,
the first person to find taka-
he bones.
The takahe was hunted by
Maoris for its tasty flesh.
I. Puppets of mother takahes
are used to rear captive chicks,
which are later released.
Early European settlers in New
Zealand were told of a flightless
bird called the takahe. They as-
sumed the species was extinct
since only fossils were found.
This theory was disproved when
four takahes were discovered in
the mid- to late 19th century.
After that the bird was not seen
The takahe pairs for life, mating
during September and Octo-
ber. Male and female build
their nest between clumps of
grass. After piling up a thick
layer of soft grass stalks, they
pull the tall surrounding grass
across to form a bower that
shelters the nest.
The female lays one or two
cream-colored eggs that have
Left: At eight weeks old, takahe
chicks still rely on their parents to
bring them food.
for 50 years and was once again
classified as extinct.
In 1948 the takahe was redis-
covered in Fiordland. It has been
protected ever since. Today, the
New Zealand Department of
Conservation is establishing a
breeding program to ensure
the bird's survival.
brown and gray blotches. The
hatchlings have a black bill
with a white tip and are cov-
ered with black down. They
can leave the nest a day or two
after birth, but they are fed in-
sects by their parents for a few
weeks until they are indepen-
dent. If snowfall is heavy, the
parents may be unable to get
enough food for the chicks.
Only about half of the takahe
hatchlings survive the harsh
weather of their first winter.
Charadriiformes Recurvirostridae
Himantopus himantopus
~ R D 1 4 5
The black-winged stilt is a tall, elegant bird that lives on coastal
and inland wetlands in warm regions. This wading bird
is named for its long, thin, stiltlike legs.
Body length: 14-16 in.
Wingspan: 2-3 ft.
Bill: 2-3 in.
Legs: 7 in.
Weight: 6-7 oz.
Sexual maturity: 2 years.
Breeding season: April to July.
No. of eggs: Usually 4.
No. of broods: 1 per year.
Incubation: 25 days.
Fledging period: 28-32 days.
Habit: Lives in small colonies.
Diet: Insects and their larvae.
Call: Shril!, piping cal!.
Lifespan: Oldest banded bird,
1 2 years, 2 months.
Range of the black-winged stilt.
Found in southern Europe, China, India, and centra! Africa.
There are 5 species in the genus
Himantopus, ranging throughout
the warm regions of the world.
In the tropics, the black-winged stilt is not under any immedi-
ate threat. Populations have increased in Italy and Spain, where
there are about 20,000 pairs. But in the heavily polluted areas
of eastern Europe, especially Romania and Bulgaria, numbers
have fallen sharply.
Male: Black back and wings with white
underparts. In spring and summer, the
back of the head is also black. In winter
the head is pure white.
Eggs: 4. Light brown with darker brown
speckles. Laid in a scrape or nest on the
ground near water or on a sandbank
fti;(' ..,.----- or clump of floating vegetation.
Bill: Black. Long, straight, and sturdy.
Enables the stilt to snap up food
rapidly from the water.
Legs: Bright pink.
Very long in relation
to the bird's body
size. Enable the stilt
to wade into deep
water to forage
for food.
Female: Dark
markings on
the crown.
Markings are
\.. brownish,
._> lighter than
l:Jese of the
adult bird.
0160200581 PACKET 58
The black-winged stilt is a black and white marsh bird
that is related to the avocet. When it walks on dry land,
the stilt's long, spindly legs give it a peculiar appearance.
But in the water its legs give it a distinct advantage
over other wading birds. The stilt can wade out
farther than most birds. As a result, it can take
advantage of food that others cannot reach.
The black-winged stilt lives in col-
onies of 20 to 100 birds. These
birds are found around still, shal-
low lakes with water that is fresh
or brackish (salty) but not tidal.
An opportunistic bird, the black-
winged stilt may move frequent-
ly in order to find richer or safer
feeding grounds.
On exposed ground, the stilt
can tolerate strong winds and
high temperatures without seek-
ing shelter. But it is not limited
to unsheltered areas. The black-
winged stilt may feed around
artificial environments such as
fish ponds, sewage treatment
areas, and water tanks. Yet it
is wary of humans and flies off
even when an intruder is quite
a distance away.
The black-winged stilt walks
in long, delicate strides. It has
long, spindly legs that are per-
fect for wading in deep water.
But they are awkward to bend
when the stilt is feeding on dry
land. In flight, the stilt beats its
wings rapidly and uses its long
legs as a rudder.
The black-winged stilt swims
readily, but it dives only in an
emergency. The chick is uncom-
fortable in the water at first be-
cause it has difficulty paddling
with its oversize legs.
The black-winged stilt's long
legs enable it to wade farther
out than most wading birds, so
it can exploit food sources that
others cannot reach.
While wading in water up to
its belly, the stilt can submerge
its head to probe the bottom
for mollusks and plant seeds.
But most of the time the stilt
picks insects and other inverte-
brates off water plants or the
surface of the water. The bird's
Left: The black-winged stilt's long
legs enable it to wade into deep
water to find food.
The black-winged stilt's legs
are longer in proportion to
the size of its body than the
legs of any other bird except
the flamingo.
In India and other hot areas
the black-winged stilt keeps
its eggs cool by splashing its
breast feathers with water be-
fore sitting on its clutch.
diet includes beetles, fly larvae,
worms, snails, and tadpoles.
The bill of the black-winged
stilt is quite different from the
avocet's bill. The avocet has a
curved bill that enables it to
scoop up food, while the stilt
has a straight beak that is well
adapted for rapid snapping. The
stilt's bill also has a strong grip
for grabbing insects like drag-
onflies and caddis flies as they
land on the water.
Right: When foraging in shallow
water or on bare mud the stilt
bends down awkwardly.
When incubating the eggs
on its nest, the black-winged
stilt folds its legs into a long,
awkward V shape that ex-
tends out behind its body.
The black-winged stilt has
been known to breed in En-
gland only on four occasions:
twice in 1945 and twice in
the 1980s.
The black-winged stilt nests
near its feeding grounds. Nest-
ing colonies vary from a few
birds to several hundred pairs.
The stilt often builds its nest on
a raised platform of pebbles on
a sandbank in the water, so the
birds may appear to be floating
as they sit on their nests. A nest
may be little more than a shal-
low hole in the ground. Or it
may be a substantial structure
made of grasses and reeds.
Black-winged stilts pair for on-
ly one season. The female takes
Left: The stilt's nest may be a neat
construction made of woven grass
and stalks.
downy black,
white, and
light gray
plumage of
the stilt chick
helps to hide
it from preda-
tory birds as it
walks on the
open mud of
salt pans and
the initiative by intruding on the
male's territory in order to draw
attention to herself. The male is
hostile at first, but he soon be-
comes interested. He develops a
protective concern for his mate
and her eggs.
A clutch of four eggs is laid in
summer. Both parents defend
the chicks from predators such
as gulls, hawks, and crows. The
adults fly around the intruders,
performing displays to draw at-
tention away from the nest. The
young stilts develop full adult
plumage as well as the distinc-
tive bright pink legs almost a
year after hatching.
, , ~ - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
~ Strigifarmes
Otus asia
",CARD 146 I
The eastern screech-owl is one of the smallest owls in North
America. Although it is only the size of a thrush, this nocturnal
bird has the strength and predatory instincts of a small hawk.
Height: 7-10 in.
Wingspan: 16 in.
Weight: 3- 3 ~ oz.
Sexual maturity: 1 year.
Breeding season: Spring.
Eggs: 3-7; white.
No. of broods: 1 .
Incubation: About 4 weeks.
Fledging period: 5 weeks.
Habit: Nocturnal.
Diet: Small mammals, birds, and
large insects.
Call: Hollow whistle or long, trem-
bling trill.
The eastern screech-owl is replaced
by the western screech-owl, Otus
kennicotW west of the Rockies. It
is also closely related to the scops
owl, O. scops.
Range of the eastern screech-owl.
Found in eastern and central North America, from southern
Canada, through the United States, to central Mexico.
The eastern screech-owl is generally thriving throughout its
range, but there may be some localized persecution by farm-
ers and lumber companies.
Plumage: Adult coloring
varies from mostly gray to
red-brown. The reasons
for the variations are not
clear. Even members of
the same brood may have
different coloring. The
back and tail feathers have
dark brown flecks and
stripes. The young's wings
and tail are similar to the
adult's. Its upperparts are
broadly striped, and the
feathers are tipped with
dull white.
Eggs: Clutch size varies
to 7. Eggs laid 2 to 3 d
usually in a tree cavity I
sticks, grasses, leaves, and feath-
ers. Incubated by female only.
Head: Prominent
tufts of feathers on
its crown help dis-
guise the owl as
part of a branch
while it is perched
in a tree during the
day. The owl has
yellow eyes with a
black border.
0160200661 PACKET 66
Because it is active during the night, the eastern
screech-owl is heard more often than it is seen. This
bird's mournful, trembling calls and hollow whistles
can only loosely be described as screeches. But they
are eerie enough to have given rise to a well-known
superstition. Whenever the screech-owl is heard, the
saying goes, death and disaster are not far away.
The eastern screech-owl is com-
mon throughout eastern and
central North America, with a
range that stretches from the
Great Lakes south to the Gulf
of Mexico. It frequents wood-
lands, including the most re-
mote forests, but it may also
venture onto farmland and
orchards. The owl may even
make its home near human
dwellings or in city parks.
This night-active bird spends
the day in a concealed spot, so
Right: The eastern screech-owl
may use the same nesting site for
several years in a row.
it is rarely seen. It usually stays
all year in the same well-defined
territory-an area that meets
its needs for food and provides
a safe place in which to roost,
bathe, and raise a family.
When night falls, the eastern
screech-owl sits on a branch,
looking and listening for signs
of prey. Its eyesight is especially
keen at dusk, although it does
not see much better than hu-
mans in very dark conditions.
In the dark, its sharp hearing
proves valuable.
The eastern screech-owl eats a
large and varied diet. It pounces
from its high perch onto small
mammals, birds, and large in-
sects. Mice and voles are popu-
Left: The eastern screech-owl can
raise or lower its prominent ear
tufts at will.
lar prey, as are small birds such
as robins and swallows. Some-
times this owl kills pigeons and
other birds larger than itself.
The eastern screech-owl uses
its strong talons to seize worms,
locusts, beetles, and large grass-
hoppers from the ground. It can
also catch insects flying in the
air with a loud snap of its horned
bill. The owl may occasionally
supplement its diet with bats,
flying squirrels, moles, shrews,
fish, reptiles, and amphibians.
Right: While the female rears her
young, the male collects food for
the whole family.
Left: The size
of the eastern
eyeballs indi-
cates how im-
portant vision
is to it. The owl
seems to have
a fixed stare
because its eye-
balls cannot
rotate much in
their sockets.
The eastern and western
screech-owls are very similar,
but they have different calls
and occupy different ranges.
Screech-owls like to bathe
themselves, and dead owls are
at times found in rain barrels.
Woodsmen used to com-
plain that the owl's eerie call
kept them awake at night.
The male eastern screech-owl
begins to look for a mate in Feb-
ruary. He calls to attract her to
a chosen nesting site. The two
birds sometimes make use of a
large birdhouse, but they may
have to kill the rightful owners
before taking over. More often,
they use a hole where a branch
has fallen from a tree or a hol-
low left by a woodpecker.
The female lays three to seven
round, almost perfectly white
eggs at intervals of two to three
Left: After leaving the nest, the
young sit in the tree, where the
parents can eosily find them.
Some believed that throwing
a horseshoe into the campfire
or turning their pockets inside
out would keep the owl quiet.
Bird-watchers occasionally
play tape recordings of the
eastern screech-owl's call to
attract flocks of songbirds,
which gather to attack the
noisy "owl."
days. She remains in the nest to
incubate the eggs for about four
weeks, while the male brings
food to her.
The chicks are covered with
white down. They open their
eyes after about six days and
remain in the nest for several
weeks. The mother feeds them
with food supplied by her mate.
Once able to fly, the young
leave the nest and perch togeth-
er on a branch. They make loud
squealing noises when hungry.
Their parents continue to feed
them until they become inde-
pendent, about two weeks later.
'" CARD 147 I
, , ~ - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
"11IIIIIIII Anseriformes
~ ~ -
- - -- - - -- -
Anas crecca
The green-winged teal is one of our smallest ducks, not much
larger than a pigeon. It keeps its tail feathers dry so that it can
take to the air quickly whenever danger threatens.
Length: 13-1 5 in.
Wingspan: 2 ft.
Weight: 6-1 6 oz.
Sexual maturity: 1 year.
Breeding season: April to June.
Eggs: 8-11; yellowish white.
Incubation: 3-4 weeks.
Fledging period: 25-30 days.
Habit: Usually forms small flocks
outside the breeding season.
Diet: Seeds of water plants, water
beetles, bugs, and larvae.
Call: Male whistles. Female gives
high-pitched, rapid quacks.
lifespan: Oldest known bird, 16
years, 9 months.
The green-winged teal is one of
36 species in the genus Anas,
which includes the familiar mal-
lard, A. platyrhynchos.
Breeding range of the
green-winged teal.
Winter range.
Found throughout North America, Europe, and Asia. Many
birds migrate farther south for the winter.
The green-winged teal is common over a large range. Num-
bers are decreasing slightly in Great Britain, Ireland, and south-
ern Poland because of the loss of wetland habitat. Many are
killed for sport in their first year.
Flight: Fast, with rapid wing beats.
Both male and female have distinc-
tive black and green patches on their
wings. When disturbed, the bird takes
off almost vertically, climbing steeply
while twisting in the air.
Eggs: 8 to 11 ; white with a yel-
lowish tinge. Laid in a hollow nest
lined with leaves and grass and
concealed in tall vegetation.
Female: Brown-striped plumage helps to
conceal her while she rears her young.
Male: Chestnut head and neck with
broad green stripe. Finely striped gray
upper parts with mottled breast. Black
and yellow feathers under tail.
The green-winged teal is found throughout North America
and Eurasia, but the duck's appearance differs slightly in
these two places. In Europe and Asia the male birds have
a horizontal white stripe along their sides, but in North
America the males have a vertical white stripe on each
side of the breast. All these birds have a distinctive
green patch on the upper surface of the wings.
The green-winged teal likes
shallow water where there is
plenty of vegetation. Small
ponds and slow-flowing rivers
are ideal habitats. The bird is
also found on wetlands made
up of several shallow areas of
water. It usually breeds in areas
with scrub not far from water.
In winter, when an ideal habi-
Winter is often the best time
to watch green-winged teals,
because t he resident popu-
lation is enlarged by visitors
from farther north. Another
good time to see the birds is
tat may be difficult to find, it
can be seen along the coast,
on estuaries, salt marshes, la-
goons, or even reservoirs de-
void of plants.
Most green-winged teals mi-
grate south for the winter. But
many that breed in Europe are
resident year-round, unless the
winter is severe.
the breeding season because
the male in breeding colors is
easy to identify. If you see a
small duck fly up vertically
into the ai r, it is probably a
green-winged teal.
The green-winged teal eats in-
sects and plants that it finds on
the water's surface or plucks
from the mud. In summer it
feeds mainly on insect larvae,
mollusks, water beetles, and
bugs. In winter it relies more
on plant seeds.
The green-winged teal is
adapted for life in and around
shallow water. It pumps water
left: The male green-winged teal's
whistling call is unlike the female's
high-pitched quack.
or mud through its bill to sift
out bits of food. When feeding
on land, it walks slowly on its
short legs in a typical duck's
waddle. The male may venture
into deeper water, upending to
find food below the surface.
In some locations the green-
winged teal feeds at night. But
in quiet areas, it prefers to feed
during the day.
Right: The green-winged teal is a
dabbling duck, feeding on the sur-
face or in shallows.
left: The
female green-
winged teal's
plumage is
duller than
that of the
male. But she
has green and
black patches
on her upper
wings that can
be clearly seen
during flight.
Even if paired, a male green-
winged teal will join other
males around an unattached
female and display to her.
When a female leaves the
nest to feed, she covers the
eggs with down to hide them.
The male molts (sheds his
feathers) in June or July. The
female molts later, in August

The male green-winged teal
becomes aggressive at the start
of the breeding season. He is
quick to attack other males to
keep them from his mate. But,
unlike many water birds, he
does not defend his territory.
Once a pair has formed, the
birds search for a nest site. The
nest is set on the ground, often
in the center of a tussock of
grass. It is surrounded by thick
vegetation to conceal it and is
never far from water. The fe-
male begins building the nest
by sitting on the chosen spot
to create a shallow cup shape
left: The green-winged teal is usu-
ally found in areas of shallow wa-
ter with dense vegetation.
or September. For a brief
period, before his breeding
plumage emerges, a molted
male looks like a female.
Hunters like the green-
winged teal because of its
agility in the air. Shooting
accounts for more than half
the deaths in much of the
bird's range.
with her body. She gathers
leaves and grass to line the
indentation, then adds a lay-
er of down.
The female lays between 8
and 11 eggs, which all hatch at
the same time. The chicks are
well developed and can leave
the nest almost immediately.
The female leads them to the
water, where they eat while she
keeps a dose watch. For the
first few nights, the chicks may
return to the nest, and even
later they huddle close togeth-
er to keep warm.
An average of only four or five
young from each brood survive
to become independent. They
can fly after 25 to 30 days.
"'CARD 148 I
, , ~ - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - ~ ~ - - ~ ~ ~
~ Gallinago gallinago
The common snipe is a long-billed wader native to Eurasia and
the Americas. This member of the sandpiper family is known
for its spectacular diving display flight.
Length: 11 in.
Bill length: 2%1-3 in.
Weight: 3-5 oz., depending on
the season.
Breeding season: April to July.
Broods: 1.
Eggs: 4; pale green or light yellow
with brown blotches.
Incubation: 1 7-20 days.
Fledging period: 19-20 days.
Habit: Shy, solitary, territorial.
Diet: Insects, larvae, worms.
lifespan: Up to 10 years.
Year-round range of
the common snipe.
The three main subspecies are
the Eurasian, Faroe, and North
American snipe. The Paraguayan
snipe, Gallinago paraguaiae, and the
Magellanic snipe, G. magellanico,
are sometimes considered to be
The Eurasian snipe is found in Great Britain, northern Europe,
Scand.inavia, and the U.S.S.R. The Faroe snipe occurs in the Faroe,
Shetland, and Orkney islands and Iceland. The North American
snipe is found in the northern United States and Canada.
The widely distributed common snipe is under no threat.
Tail: Fan-shaped,
with 2 special
stiffened feath-
ers. As the snipe
dives, these 2
feathers swing
out, and the air
passing over
them produces
a drumming
Plumage: Brown, light
yellow, and black, with some
feathers edged in white. This
coloration provides excellent
camouflage in wetland
Eyes: Set rela-
tively far back on
the head to give
the snipe all -
round vision.
Eggs: 4; pale
green or light
yellow with
dark brown
Flight: For its display flight, the snipe
dives almost vertically from a great
height, with its wings still beating
and its tail fanned out.
Bill: Up to 3 inches long. Very
strong but slender, tapering
to a point. Ideal for probing in
soft soil, sand, and mud, with
a flexible tip that can grasp
underground prey.
0160200561 PACKET 56
The common snipe is also known as the fantail snipe
because of the shape of its tail feathers. This shYt
mostly solitary game bird can be found in marshes
and meadows throughout its range. When disturbed,
the snipe flies off in a zigzag pattern that is easy to
recognize. It can also be identified by the unusual
drumming sound it produces during its courtship display.
There are three subspecies of
the common, or Wilson, snipe.
Named after the areas where
their breeding grounds are lo-
cated, the subspecies are the
Eurasian, the Faroe, and the
North American snipe.
Snipes are found in areas that
are rich in damp, organic soil
such as peatlands, bogs, and
swamps. They also inhabit
marshy tundra, moist farm-
land, and overgrown areas
near small rivers and ponds.
The snipe is well adapted
for life in its wetland habitats,
where it is well camouflaged
by its brown, yellow, and black
plumage. This camouflage, as
well as the bird's tendency to
remain hidden in the under-
growth, make the snipe diffi-
cult to spot on the ground.
The snipe has short legs but
long, slender toes that enable it
to wade across marshy ground.
It uses its long bill to probe deep
in the earth for food. With its
large eyes set relatively far back
on its head, the snipe can watch
for enemies while feeding.
In winter snipes fly south to
warmer climates. They usually
winter in freshwater environ-
ments but are sometimes seen
on coastal meadows.
The common snipe usually for-
ages for food during the twi-
light hours. It feeds on insects
and their larvae, earthworms,
snails, and small crustaceans.
The snipe also eats plant fibers
and seeds as well as grit, which
serves to grind up food in the
bird's stomach.
The snipe forages for food in
shallow water, probing the soft
soil with its bill. It moves as lit-
tle as possible when feeding
Left: Large eyes set relatively for
back on its head enable the snipe
to see in all directions.
The word snipe is thought
to be Scandinavian in origin,
and was once a term of abuse
in English.
The common snipe and oth-
er birds of the genus Gallinago
are described as limocoline,
which means "mud-dwelling."
The snipe's large eyes help it
see while feeding at twilight.
and pivots on its legs while dig-
ging into the ground around
its body. Its three-inch-Iong bill
-the longest of any wading
bird-is strong and very sensi-
tive. It has a flexible tip that can
be opened while the rest of the
bill remains closed. As a result,
the snipe can probe deep in the
earth for prey, grasp it, and pull
it out without having to force
open the whole bill in the dense-
ly packed soil.
Right: While searching for food,
the snipe can keep its long bill sub-
merged for up to 30 seconds.
The snipe beats its wings 11
times per second when pro-
ducing its characteristic drum-
ming sound.
In its display flight, the snipe
may dive from heights of up
to 230 feet.
It is thought that the snipe
flies away from danger with its
chicks held between its legs.
The well-camouflaged com-
mon snipe is hard to spot on
the ground. It is easiest to see
when it is standing in shallow
water, foraging for food.
If it is disturbed, the com-
mon snipe will emerge from
cover and fly off in a zigzag
Loose flocks of snipes fly togeth-
er to their breeding grounds.
The males arrive before the fe-
males to establish territories.
To attract a mate, the male
soars high in the air and begins
to circle. He then dives, with
his tail fanned horizontally and
his wings still beating. The air is
pushed through the outer tail
feathers, making them vibrate
and producing the distinctive
drumming sound.
Both male and female build
the nest in a small, fairly dry hol-
Left The newly hatched chick is
covered in down, but it soon takes
on the colors of its parents.
pattern, giving a harsh call.
Watch for the male's div-
ing courtship flight between
late March and mid-June. The
drumming sound is most of-
ten heard at this time, even
though it occurs throughout
the year.
low on the ground. They line
the hollow with grass and then
pull vegetation over the top to
disguise it.
The female snipe lays four pale
green or yellow eggs speckled
with brown. The eggs hatch
after 1 7 to 20 days, within four
to eight hours of each other.
Both parents take care of the
young. The chicks can leave the
nest a day after hatching but
remain nearby for three weeks
until they can fly. If disturbed,
the chicks burrow headfirst in
the grass, while the parents
make a distracting show of
running back and forth.
CARD 149
Trichoglossus haematodus
The rainbow lorikeet is one of Australia ~ most colorful birds. With
its large curved bill and bright plumage, it is easily recognized
as a member of the parrot order.
Length: 10-11 in.
Weight: 3 ~ - 5 ~ oz.
Breeding season: Mainly August
to January in Australia but also in
most other months.
Eggs: Usually 2, white.
Incubation: 3 ~ weeks.
Fledging period: 7-8 weeks.
Habit: Sociable. Lives in flocks.
Diet: Mainly pollen, nectar, and
fruits but also seeds, berries, leaf
buds, insects, and larvae.
Call: Sharp screech in flight, chat-
ters while feeding.
Lifespan: 10 years in the wild.
The lorikeets, of the family Loriidae,
are related to cockatoos, parrots,
and parakeets. All are found in
Range 'of the rainbow lorikeet.
The rainbow lorikeet is widespread in wooded areas of eastern
Australia. It is also found in New Guinea and nearby Pacific
islands, south to the Solomon Islands, New Hebrides, and
New Caledonia.
The rainbow lorikeet is a common bird, particularly in northeast
Australia. It is under no particular threat.
Plumage: Green upperparts, blue head,
and yellow band around neck. Breast is
Tail: Long and
pointed, with
bright green
Legs: Short, covered in
small scales.
Feet: 4 long toes, 2 point-
ing forward and 2 back-
ward. Used for gripping
branches and climbing
orange-red, and belly is
a dark violet blue.
The rain-
bow lorikeet
lays 2 white
eggs in a tree
hollow. The nest has a soft
lining of decayed wood dust.
Beak: Red.
Shaped like pin-
cers for grasping
food. Large
fleshy tongue
has brushlike tip
for extracting
US P 6001 12 052 PACKET 52
Rainbow lorikeets live in large flocks that fly
in short, swift bursts through the trees of
their woodland habitat. When they find a tree
that has a good food supply, hundreds of these
chattering birds descend onto its branches,
transforming the tree into a mass of color.
~ H A B I T A T
The rainbow lorikeet is found
mainly in eastern Australia and
on islands in the South Pacific.
It lives in woodlands or at the
edges of forests, where vege-
tation is not very dense. The
lorikeet is also seen in gardens
and parks. The city of Sydney
has a flourishing population.
In northern Australia the birds
stay in the same area all year
round. Farther south, where
vegetation changes with the
seasons, they are nomadic, con-
stantly on the move in search
of flowers and fruit.
left: Once
fledged, the
young lorikeet
roosts at the
nest for a few
Right: Lorikeets
often perch in
The rainbow lorikeet has a
varied diet. It eats berries,
seeds, leaf buds, insects, and
larvae, but its favorite foods
are pollen, nectar, and fruit.
The bird crushes flowers or
fruit in its beak and then laps
up the juices with its tongue,
which has a brushlike tip.
Because large flocks of rain-
bow lorikeets can cause great
damage to orchards, the birds
are sometimes hunted and
killed by farmers.
A flock of rainbow lorikeets
left: A rainbow lorikeet finds a
source of food by listening for the
sound of birds already feeding.
The rainbow lorikeet has
become a tourist attraction in
South Queensland, Australia.
Visitors feed the birds a diluted
honey mixture.
When feeding from flowers,
the rainbow lorikeet transmits
pollen from one flower to the
can often be found feeding be-
side other parrots as well as
honeyeaters and flowerpeck-
ers. The flock may travel long
distances in search of food,
landing when one of the birds
spots a good food supply.
The rainbow lorikeet leaves
its nighttime roosting site at
sunrise to set off in search of
food. When the sun becomes
too hot, it rests in the shade of
a tree. Then the lorikeet feeds
until sunset, when it returns to
its roost.
Right: The rainbow lorikeet's
plumage is a familiar sight in
Australian gardens.
next. In doing so, it helps to
pollinate shrubs and trees such
as coconut palms and eucalyp-
tus trees.
The rainbow lorikeet is very
agile. It can hang upside down
from a branch to reach the
nectar and pollen of flowers.
The rainbow lorikeet spends
most of its life in trees. It usual-
ly comes down to the ground
only to drink. Like all parrots,
its feet are adapted for perch-
ing in trees. It curls its four toes
around a branch-two in front
and two behind.
The rainbow lorikeet usually
breeds between August and
January. The nest site is well
above the ground, usually in
the hollow of a tree. The mat-
ing pair does little to the nest
site except to line it with a
cushion of decayed wood dust.
Rainbow lorikeets live in
noisy flocks. The size of a flock
can vary from a few birds to
several hundred if food is
plentiful. At night the birds
settle down in communal
roosts, and their loud voices
subside to a twitter.
The female lays two white
eggs, which she incubates for
about 25 days. The male does
not help to incubate the eggs,
but he takes part in feeding the
chicks. Approximately seven or
eight weeks after hatching, the
chicks are able to fly.

Sarcoramphus papa
"" CARD l5O]
The king vulture lives in the rainforests of Central and South
America, where it feeds on the flesh of dead animals. It has a
strong, hooked bill that can tear into the toughest animal hides.
Length: ft.
Wingspan: Up to ft.
Sexual mat urity: 3-4 years.
Breeding season: Variable.
No. of broods: 1, but probably
does not breed annually.
Clutch size: 1.
Incubation: About 2 months.
Fledging period: months.
Habit: Solitary; scavenges during
the day.
Diet: Carrion.
lifespan: Maximum on record, 30
years in captivity.
There are 7 species of American
vulture. The 2 largest species are
the Andean condor, Vultur gryphus,
and the California condor, Gymno-
gyps californianus.
Range of the king vulture.
Found in Central and South America from central Mexico to
northern Argentina. Also found in Trinidad.
Unlike some of its close relatives, the king vulture does not face
any immediate threat. But it is one of the countless species af-
fected by the clearing of tropical rainforests.
Flight: Soars on rising thermal air
currents. Circles on outstretched
wings, searching for carrion and
signs of other vultures looking
for food. Its flight once made it an
easy target for ranchers, but today,
it is no longer shot.
Egg: Single, white. Instead of
building a nest, the king vul-
ture leaves the egg in a hollow
stump. It is incubated by both
parents for about 2 months.
Head: Has wattles (loose folds
of skin) and orange cere (fleshy
swellings) at the base of the upper
part of the bill. The hooked bill is typi-
cal of a bird of prey.
Striking black
flight feathers;
creamy white
underside and
covert feathers
(at the base of
flight feathers) .
0160200511 PACKET 51
The king vulture is the largest of the vultures that soar above
the forests of Central and South America. Its black and
cream-colored plumage, combined with the colorful skin
wattles on its bare head and neck, make the king vulture
one of the most striking of all birds of prey. Its name comes
from the fact that other birds stop feeding on a carcass
and make way for the "king" when this vulture appears.
The king vulture is a bird of prey
whose main habitat is dense
rainforest. It also hunts in the
savanna, where food is more
easily seen from the air. Unlike
other birds of prey, the vulture
has weak feet. Since it eats only
dead flesh, its feet are adapted
for walking rather than for grasp-
ing live prey.
The king vulture is generally
solitary, but sometimes three or
four birds circle together, soar-
ing on thermals (rising currents
of warm air). Up to 50 birds may
gather around a carcass, usually
dominating other species.
The breeding season begins
with courtship rituals of cir-
cling, flapping, and whistling.
The king vulture does not build
a nest, and the female lays her
single white egg in a hollow
tree stump.
Both parents help to incu-
bate the egg for almost two
months. The young is born
with black skin and a coat of
fluffy white down. The male
regurgitates carrion (dead ani-
mal flesh) and feeds it to the
left: The king vulture's rounded
eyeballs let it see in detail from
a distance.
Because vultures have no
syrinx (voice box), they are
voiceless. They can only make
weak, hissing sounds.
The king vulture's family
includes the largest bird that
ever lived: the fossil Teratornis
incredibilis, meaning "incredi-
ble bird monster." This bird
sitting female and her chick.
Ayoung king vulture stays
in the tree stump for up to
three months and is depen-
dent on its parents for anoth-
er five months after leaving.
The young often stays near its
parents for two years. The bird
acquires its adult plumage and
bright facial coloring in its third
or fourth year. The mixture and
tone of the colors give an indi-
cation of an individual's age
and health.
Right: The single young is cared for
by both parents, sometimes for up
to two years.
had a wingspan of more than
16 feet.
Vultures sunbathe. They
spread their wings so the sun
can condition the oil that
lubricates their feathers.
When a vulture is angry, its
bare head turns red and it
appears to be blushing.
Flying high above the tree
canopy, the king vulture can
locate carrion far below on the
forest floor. Its success in finding
food seems to result from two
key factors: keen eyesight and
constant alertness. It may also
be able to detect the odor of
carrion in dense vegetation.
The king vulture watches in-
dividuals of its own and other
vulture species. As soon as a
carrion-eating bird descends,
the king vulture swoops down
left: The king vulture's hooked bill
can pierce tough hides like that of
an armadillo.
left: The king
vulture has a
strong bill with
a sharp hook
for ripping
flesh. It some-
times eats so
much carrion
that it has diffi-
culty flying.
from a distance of about a mile
and is led by the other bird to
the source of food. In return,
the king vulture uses its stronger
bill to pierce tough hides that
other vultures are not equipped
to tackle. It may also drive small-
er and weaker birds away from
the carcass, which it feeds on
using its rough tongue.
The vulture eats only rotting
carcasses and garbage. Its bald
head and neck are special adap-
tations to its diet of carrion. If
the vulture's head were covered
in feathers, they would become
matted with blood as it ate.