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GENUS &: SPECIES
"'" CARD 2<ITJ
The royal tern is the second largest member of the tern family.
An elegant diver, it catches fish and crabs by plunging into
shallow waters and seizing them in its bill.
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Length: 18-20 in.
Wingspan: 3-4 ft.
Weight: 12-16 oz.
Breeding season: April to August.
No. of broods: 1.
Eggs: 1; color varies.
Incubation period: 1 month.
Fledging period: 1 month.
Habit: Sociable; breeds in large
Diet: Mainly fish and crabs; also
other crustaceans and squid.
Calls: Bleating notes, throaty whis-
tles, and hoarse alarm cries.
Lifespan: Up to 1 7 years.
The royal tern is one of 8 species
of large crested tern. The largest
of these terns is the Caspian tern,
Breeding range of the royal tern. Winter range.
Breeds on Central, North, and South American coasts. Also
breeds on the coast of West Africa. Winters mainly south of
Tidal flooding can cause entire colonies of royal terns to fail to
rear any young. Disturbance by humans and predators also
poses problems. Young birds are vulnerable to oil spills.
FEATURES OF THE ROYAL TERN
Plumage: Wing and back feathers are gray.
Underparts, face, and neck are mainly white.
Much of the black on the head disap-
pears in winter (as shown) . The
ragged crest at the back re-
mains all year. Adults
of both sexes
Egg: 1; color
varies from white
to light brown,
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short, and rather
stocky. Feet are
and strong for
US P 6001 12 067 PACKET 67
The royal tern is one of the eight species of large
crested tern. It can be recognized by the black crest
on its head and its orange-red bill. In the United States
this bird breeds along the Atlantic coast from Maryland
south to Florida, as well as in the southernmost parts
of California. In late summer, nonbreeding birds
can be found to the north of the nesting areas.
Second in size only to the Cas-
pian tern, the royal tern has the
slender body, forked tail, and
long, pointed wings of its small-
er relatives. But its orange-red,
daggerlike bill is much bigger
and more powerful.
The royal tern spends much of
its time in the air. When it is on
land, it stands with its head low
and its long wings extended far
beyond its tail feathers. It runs
along the shore on its short legs
and rarely alights on water.
The royal tern usually inhabits
coastal creeks, lagoons, harbors,
and beaches. But outside the
breeding season, it may travel
short distances up larger rivers.
It rests for much of the day, es-
pecially when the tide is unsuit-
able for feeding. At night the
royal tern roosts in small flocks
on sandbanks, mud flats, reefs,
and other undisturbed sites.
Breeding colonies are often
next to, or even mixed with,
those of Caspian and Sandwich
terns. During the winter royal
terns are likely to join groups of
other terns and gulls.
Right: A royal tern erects its crest,
stretches its neck, and lunges to
defend its young.
~ FOOD &: FEEDING
The royal tern feeds at midtide
and in the early morning and
late afternoon. In the breeding
season it also fishes at night. Fly-
ing 15 to 30 feet above the sea,
it patrols long stretches near the
shore in search of fish, crabs, or
The royal tern usually fishes by
itself or in pairs, but occasional-
ly it feeds in flocks of up to 150
birds. Although it rarely travels
more than 300 feet from the
shore, it may venture 40 miles
left: Much of the black color on
top of the royal tern 5 head disap-
pears in winter.
DID YOU KNOW?
• In a large colony of royal
terns, the nest sites may form
hexagonal patterns, making
maximum use of the space.
• In one African colony, young
royal terns have been eaten by
sharks preying in shallow wa-
ters. Other predators include
jackals, larger gulls, and even
the Caspian tern.
from the colony to find food for
After spotting prey, it hovers
with its long, sharp bill pointing
downward. Then it plunges ver-
tically into the water and seizes
the victim in its bill.
Prey includes small fish such
as sardines, anchovies, and cer-
tain eel species, as well as crabs,
shrimp, and squid. The bird fol-
lows fishing boats in winter to
feed on any offal (animal waste
products) thrown overboard.
Right: Terns are called sea swal-
lows because of their slender bod-
ies, forked tails, and pointed wings.
• A young royal tern may get
caught on the hook of a fish-
ing line because it has not yet
learned to distinguish the bait
from live food.
• The royal tern may steal fish
from the pouches of brown
pelicans, but frequently it is
harassed by frigatebirds that
force it to drop its catch.
Although a few individuals win-
ter near their breeding colonies,
the royal tern is mostly migrato-
ry. Birds that breed on the Paci-
fic and Caribbean coasts of the
Americas winter as far south as
Peru. Those that breed on the
Atlantic coast travel as far as
Argentina. Most West African
birds fly south as far as Angola,
~ BREEDI NG
The royal tern breeds in a noisy
colony that may contain over
10,000 pairs. Pairs court at a
roosting site near the colony.
The male flies slowly overhead,
then glides in to land, carrying
food for his intended mate. If
interested, she accepts the gift.
The two birds choose an open
nest site on the sand, circling
the spot several times. They
scrape out a hollow with their
feet, sometimes making several
scrapes before selecting one.
Both parents incubate the
single egg, but they sometimes
leave it unattended for several
but a few move north and may
reach Spain. Birds were known
to nest on West Africa's coast,
but their breeding colonies were
discovered only 30 years ago.
The young migrate with their
parents. But royal terns in their
first summer and non breeding
birds may remain in the colony
throughout the year.
hours. They also share the task
of caring for the downy chick.
The young of an American
royal tern leaves the nest with-
in 24 hours of hatching. By the
time it is two or three days old,
it joins other chicks in a large
nursery. A West African chick
stays in the nest for a week and
joins a nursery after about 15
days. Chicks stay in the nursery
until they fledge, and the par-
ents feed only their own young.
The young tern can fly about
a month after hatching, but its
parents feed and protect it for
five to eight months.
GROUP 2: BIRDS
GENUS &: SPECIES
The golden oriole is a shy, secretive bird that feeds in the tops of
tall trees. The beautifully colored male has a sweet, fluting
song that is often the only clue to his presence.
--"l KEY FACTS
~ Length: 9 - 9 ~ in.
~ I BREEDING
.. Breeding season: May to June.
Eggs: 2-5; white with dark spots.
Incubation: 2 weeks.
Fledging period: 2 weeks.
Habit: Usually solitary. Prefers the
cover of thick foliage at the tops of
Diet: Insects, spiders, fleshy fruit,
Call: Sweet, fluid song.
There are 24 species in the genus
Oria/us, including the maroon
oriole, O. traillii; the black oriole,
O. hasii; the African golden oriole,
O. auratus; and the black-napped
oriole, O. chinensis.
Breeding range of the golden oriole. Winter range.
The golden oriole breeds in northwestern Africa, much of Eu-
rope, and also Asia. It winters in Africa, south of the Sahara.
Numbers are stable across the range. While flying south, how-
ever, specific populations encounter hunters and nets, and tens
of thousands of birds are killed every year.
FEATURES OF THE GOLDEN ORIOLE
Female: Plumage is much
duller than the male's, with
pale green underparts and
green upperparts. Some-
times also has brown speck-
ling on a buff breast.
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Bill: Long, sharp, and conical. Ideal
for tearing fruit and picking
insects from bark.
Eggs: 2 to 5. White
with dark blotches.
Incubated by both
parents for 2 weeks.
with the black wing
and tail feathers and
the black eye streak.
PRINTED IN U.S.A. US P 6001 12074 PACKET 74
The golden oriole is one of the few migratory members of
its family. It spends the winter months in tropical parts of
Africa and then moves north to its European and Asian
breeding grounds in the spring. The golden oriole is
usually a solitary bird. But during its long migration
flights it travels in small all-male or all-female flocks.
The migrating birds travel only during the day.
The golden oriole is a shy tree-
dwelling bird that favors the
cover of dense tree foliage. It
rarely descends to the ground
except to feed. In Europe this
bird is found during summer in
deciduous woods, parks, and
large orchards, often near rivers
The golden oriole also inhab-
its coniferous woods that have
stretches of open land or decid-
uous trees. It rarely lives at eleva-
tions higher than 2,000 feet.
Many oriole species stay in the
same area all year. But the gold-
en oriole migrates south for the
winter. In late September, when
the juvenile birds are able to fly
and the weather turns colder,
populations in Europe set off on
their long migration south to
The birds spend the winter
months mainly in forest areas
south of the equator. The range
is from Kenya and Zaire in the
east to South Africa in the south.
Some birds from North Africa
and western Europe migrate to
the west coast of Africa.
Right: The hammocklike nest of the
golden oriole hangs from a forked
branch in a tree.
The male golden oriole utters a
loud, melodious song to an-
nounce his arrival at the breed-
ing grounds. He establishes a
territory and defends it fiercely.
Females arrive a few days later.
Once paired, the birds search
for a nest site.
The female builds the nest,
usually in the high branches of
a tree. She lays grass and strips
of bark over the fork of a branch
and glues them with saliva. The
strips form the base for an intri-
left: The golden oriole tends to live
alone except in the early summer
DID YOU KNOW?
• Because it returns from Afri-
ca late in spring, the golden
oriole is also called the Whit-
sun bird in Germany. The
name comes from Whitsun-
day, which is the seventh day
• The golden oriole is the only
species in its genus that breeds
outside the tropics.
cate hammock that she weaves
between the supports.
The female lays two to five
eggs in the grass-lined cup of
the nest. The chicks hatch two
weeks later and are fed protein-
rich insect larvae by both par-
ents. At the age of two weeks,
when they are independent, the
chicks leave the nest and spread
out over a wide area. They may
choose a roost farther south in
preparation for the migration
flight to Africa.
Right: The young golden oriole is
difficult to see because it stays high
in the tree canopy.
• The golden oriole gets its
name from aureo/us, a Latin
word that means "made of
gold." This refers to the male's
striking yellow plumage.
• The large family of orioles in
North America is not related
to the family Orio/idae, but the
two families share some simi-
~ I BIRDWATCH
With her dull green plumage,
the female golden oriole is
difficult to spot in her wood-
land habitat. The male is also
hard to see, despite his bright
plumage. In flight, however,
the male is quite distinctive,
creating a bright flash of yel-
~ FOOD &: FEEDING
The golden oriole feeds mostly
on insects and fruit. In the early
summer it prefers to eat insects
and their larvae, spiders, and a
few mollusks. But in late sum-
mer, when fruit begins to fall
low between the trees. His
gently bounding flight ends
with an upward swoop onto
The male's song is frequently
heard long before he is seen.
His stream of loud, sweet calls
can last for an entire day.
from trees, it eats the fleshy fruit
of such plants as the bird cherry,
mulberry, and wild cherry.
One of the few times this shy
and wary bird ventures down to
ground level is when it feeds. It
uses its long, strong, conical bill
to pick up fallen fruit and peck
at the flesh. It also uses its beak
to pry insects from bark. Hold-
ing the wriggling prey with its
feet, the golden oriole devours
it while keeping a watchful eye
on its surroundings.
left: The adult bird eats a great
deal of fruit. But the young are fed
mainly on insects.
,\ CARD 203 I
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GENUS & SPECIES
The common shelduck is a distinctive gooselike bird that has
bright, bold plumage. Its name comes from the word sheld,
an old English word that means /I multicolored. "
Length: About 2 ft.
Weight: 2-3 lb.
Wingspan: 3 ~ - 4 ~ ft.
Sexual maturity: Female, 2 years.
Male, 4-5 years.
Mating: April to June.
No. of broods: 1.
Incubation: 1 month.
Fledging period: About 2 months.
Habit: Pairs for life. Mostly seden-
tary but migrates to molt.
Diet: Mainly mollusks; also crabs,
shrimps, insects, and seeds.
Lifespan: Oldest recorded, 15
There are 6 species of shelduck in
Europe, Asia, Australia, and Africa,
including the ruddy shelduck,
Range of the common shelduck.
Found throughout coastal areas in Europe and parts of central
Asia, and sometimes found farther inland. Winters in coastal
areas from China to northwestern Africa.
After a decl ine in the 19th century, the common shelduck in-
creased its numbers. It has adapted to inland water habitats.
Its molting grounds are better protected than they once were.
FEATURES OF THE COMMON SHElDUCK
Drake (male): Larger than female
but with similar plumage. Striking
pattern of dark green, black, chest-
nut, and white. Large red knob at
base of bill.
Eggs: 8 to 15
laid in a single
bated for about
Duck (female): Lacks the knob at the
base of the bill. Plumage is slightly
duller than the male's with more
white facial markings. Coloring on
the underparts is not as dark.
a hollow near
and lines it
The common shelduck is found in coastal areas of Europe
and parts of Asia. It is often seen searching the shoreline
for mollusks and crabs. Each summe" as many as 100/000
birds fly to the tidal waters off the coast of northwestern
Germany to molt/ or shed their feathers. A few adults stay
behind in the nesting grounds to tend the young.
Like most members of the duck
family, the common shelduck is
usually found near tidal waters
in sheltered estuaries and on
sandy or muddy coasts. But
unlike most ducks, it also lives
on inland marshes, lakes, grav-
el pits, and reservoirs.
The common shelduck nests
on stable sand dunes as well
as in sheltered places such as
burrows, hollow trees, and un-
der rocks. In recent times, this
bird has been nesting farther
inland, finding nest sites on
farmland in abandoned barns
or among bales of hay. In such
cases, the young chicks have a
long first journey to the coast
or water's edge.
The common shelduck is now voi rs, and fl ooded gravel pits.
a common sight along the This large bird has a disti nc-
shoreli nes of coastal flats and tive red bill and bright, bold
estuari es as well as on dunes plumage. Its flight is quite si m-
I and near marshes, lakes, reser-__ i_la_r t_o_t_he fli ght of a goose.
FOOD &: FEEDING
The common shelduck's feeding
habits are determined by the
ebb and flow of the tide. When
the waters are high or advanc-
ing, the bird rests on the sea or
the shore. As the tide retreats,
it forages for food around the
shoreline, rock pools, or mud
flats. The bird looks for stranded
crustaceans such as crabs and
small shellfish. It also eats aquat-
ic plants, worms, insects, and
Left: The male common shelduck,
or drake, has a distinctive knob
above its bill.
DID YOU KNOW?
• A female common shelduck
without a nest may lay her
eggs in another female's nest.
This practice may be repeated
so often that a female with a
nest may find herself with up
to 32 eggs to incubate.
• In Great Britain the common
The common shelduck feeds
largely on mollusks, especially a
small marine snail called Hydro-
bia. The bird searches beneath
the surface of shallow waters to
find the snails. It digs them out
by "upending" and dragging its
bill along the bottom.
Although the common shel-
duck thrives on marine rather
than freshwater food, it some-
times forages in fields near the
water for grain and seeds.
Right: The shelduck forages in
shallow waters by sweeping its
flat bill from side to side.
shelduck has various regional
names, including skeel goose,
burrow duck, bay duck, and
• Examination of the stom- .
ach contents of one common
shelduck revealed the remains
of over 3,000 Hydrobia.
The common shelduck is mainly
or nonmigratory. But
every summer, almost all adult
birds make a long flight to their
molting ground, where they
shed their wing feathers. They
remain there for the month-
long molting season, during
The male common shelduck, or
drake, can breed at four or five
years of age. The female, called
a duck, usually breeds by age
two. Once they pair, the birds
tend to stay together for life.
Courtship occurs in spring at
feeding grounds on the shore.
Up to eight drakes may pursue
a single duck. The successful
drake performs courtship pos-
tures, straightening his neck,
raising his head, and then whis-
tling as he brings his head down
The female chooses the nest
Left: The hatchlings leave the nest
almost immediately, accompanied
by both parents.
which they are unable to fly.
In Europe, over 100,000 com-
mon shelducks fly to the north-
western coast of Germany to
molt every year. It is not known
why so many birds gather to
molt in one place, but the rea-
son may be safety in numbers.
site, which is usually a hollow or
an abandoned burrow, and lines
it with grass and down. Pairs of
birds often nest in colonies, but
the common shelduck is territo-
rial. It chases other birds away
from its patch and may engage
in vicious fights.
The female lays up to 1 5 eggs
and incubates them for about a
month. The hatchlings are soon
led to the water by their moth-
er, while the drake guards the
group. After a few weeks the
chicks may join other broods in
a "creche" that is supervised by
a few adults. The young are in-
dependent by the time they can
fly at two months old.
Laridae Chlidonias niger
The black tern is a light, graceful marsh tern that crosses much of
the United States on the round-trip between its northern breeding
grounds and its winter home in South America.
.. Length: 9-11 in.
Wingspan: 2 ft.
Weight: 2-3 oz.
Sexual maturity: 2-4 years.
Breeding season: May to July.
No. of broods: 1 .
Eggs: 2-4, usually 3. Pale brown,
mottled brown, or black.
Incubation: 3 weeks.
Fledging period: 4 weeks.
Habit: Social, living in colonies in
the breeding season. Migratory.
Diet: Small aquatic animals, in-
cluding insects and larvae.
Call: High-pitched call.
Lifespan: Up to 17 years.
Other marsh terns include the
white-winged tern, Chlidonias
leucopterus, and the whiskered
tern, C. hybridus.
Breeding range of the black tern. Winter range.
In North America the breeding range extends across the northern
United States and much of Canada. In Europe it extends east from
Spain to southwestern Siberia. European and Asian birds winter in
Africa. North American birds migrate to northern South America.
The black tern appears to be in no danger and conservation
measures are not necessary.
FEATURES OF THE BLACK TERN
Summer adult: Mainly slate gray with
black head and chest, pale silvery
gray underwings, and white patch
underneath the tail.
(C)MCMXCVI IMP BV/ IMP INC. WILDLIFE FA T FILETM
Winter adult: Black and gray fade
to mostly silvery gray and white,
except for black cap and a black
Eggs: 2 to 4, but usually 3. Pale
brown with darker brown or
black blotches. Incubated by
both adults on a reed platform.
PRINTED IN U.S.A.
patch near the wing.
US P 6001 12 076 PACKET 76
About the size of a robin, the black tern is a slender,
fork-tailed bird with narrow, pointed wings. It has dark
spring and summer plumage that turns pale later in the
year. This migrant frequently pairs for life. Even though
the adult black terns separate outside the breeding
season, they return to the same nesting site year
after year, in search of their former mates.
The black tern is referred to as
a double-passage migrant be-
cause it usually passes through
the same area two times a year.
From late July to early Septem-
ber, the bird flies south from its
breeding area in the northern
United States and Canada. In
April and May, it returns in the
Black terns often migrate in
flocks of 100 birds. But these
flocks are small compared with
the huge groups of birds that
gather in northern South Amer-
ica during winter. Each of these
winter flocks may have several
Unlike the fast, direct flight of
the Arctic tern, the black tern's
flight seems slow and erratic.
But this bird can soar from the
ground, rising to great heights.
When migrating over land, it
often flies between stretches of
fresh water or marshland. But it
is also found in coastal areas and
close to salt pans.
FOOD &: FEEDING
The black tern feeds mainly on
freshwater insects and their lar-
vae. When insects are scarce, it
takes small fish from shallow wa-
ter. It also eats spiders, leeches,
tadpoles, and small frogs.
The feeding ground of the
Left: The black tern scoops small
fish or insects from the marshes to
take to its young.
The black tern is black and
gray in spring and summer.
Later in the year it turns white
and pale gray after molting
(shedding its feathers) .
Watch for migrating black
DID YOU KNOW?
• The black tern takes most of
its food from the water. But in
summer, when midges and
mosquitoes swarm over its
marshy nesting areas, the tern
catches them in the air.
• Huge migrating flocks of
black terns have been seen
feeding from the sea, picking
black tern ranges in size from a
pond to a reservoir. It hunts by
flying low over the water and
turning its lowered head to look
for prey. It then dips down and
plucks a victim from the water
with its sharp bill.
Right: Until fledged, the nestlings
remain on the reed nest or hide in
terns flying low over the water
and dipping down to feed.
They can be seen over
ponds, reservoirs, and slow-
moving rivers, often in flocks
of a hundred or more.
small fish from schools forced
to the surface by dolphins.
• Many marsh terns cross ex-
panses of inhospitable land
when migrating. Black terns
from the eastern part of the
range sometimes cross the
Sahara Desert to winter on
the west coast of Africa.
In late May, the black tern re-
turns to its breeding grounds,
joining a large colony beside a
slow-moving river, marsh, or
reservoir. Using reeds and other
vegetation, each pair builds a
crude floating platform and an-
chors it to submerged plants.
Some pairs nest on clumps of
grass beside the water.
The female usually lays three
Left: The black tern flies at four
weeks old and develops adult
plumage in its second spring.
Left: The black
tern breeds in
Asia, and Eu-
each year to the
sites. Its body
plumage is dark
during this peri-
od, and its wings
are a paler gray.
blotchy pale brown eggs, but
sometimes she lays two or four.
Like most terns, the adults share
the three-week incubation.
The chicks are active soon af-
ter they hatch. They leave the
nest after a few weeks but stay
close by until they fledge, at
four weeks old. At that age they
learn to fly and dive, but the
adults feed them for a few more
days until they are independent.
A black tern takes at least two
years to reach sexual maturity.
"" CARD 205 I
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GENUS & SPECIES
The long-tailed tailorbird is remarkable for the ingenius way in
which it sews together the edges of leaves. Using this method,
it deftly constructs a container to hold its nest.
Length: 5 in.
Weight: } 4 - ~ Ol.
Tail: 1 ~ - 2 in.
Sexual maturity: 1 year.
Breeding season: From March to
December, but mainly from June
No. of broods: 2-3.
Eggs: 3 or 4; various colors.
Incubation: 11-12 days.
Fledging period: 12-14 days.
Habit: Solitary or in pairs.
Diet: Insects and flower nectar.
Call: Loud, brief, rapidly repeated
There are 10 species of tailorbird in
the genus Orthotomus. All occur in
Southeast Asia, and all sew leaves
to form nest containers.
FEATURES OF THE
Range of the long-tailed tailorbird.
The long-tailed tailorbird inhabits the Indian subcontinent as
far east as southern China and through Myanmar (Burma), to
the Malay Peninsula and south to Java.
The long-tailed tailorbird is one of the most common species of
tailorbird. It has benefited from the presence of humans and is
often seen in gardens throughout most of its range.
Plumage: Mainly olive above with pale buff underparts. Similar
in both sexes. Tail characteristically held almost vertically erect.
Nest material: Plant fibers with
horsehair and fine grass used
for lining. Male collects materi-
als, but female builds nest.
Eggs: 3 or 4; various colors.
Incubated by both sexes for
11 to 12 days.
© MCMXCII IMP BV/ IMP INC WILDLIFE FACT FILETM PRINTED IN U.S.A. 0160200651 PACKET 65
The long-tailed tailorbird has adapted to the presence
of humans and is often found in urban gardens. But
its extraordinary nest pouch may be hard to spot
because it is frequently hidden in the undergrowth.
Although the bird is called "long-tailed, /I only the
male of the Indian subspecies can actually be
said to have lengthy tail streamers.
~ H A B I T
The long-tailed tailorbird is oc-
casionally found at altitudes of
about 6,500 feet. But it usually
inhabits lowland scrub vegeta-
tion or the undergrowth at the
edges of forests. This bird is also
frequently found in urban and
The tailorbird's small size and
drab coloring make it hard to
spot in the undergrowth, where
it searches for food. It makes its
presence known, however, with
its loud call, which it repeats reg-
ularly throughout the day.
The tailorbird is tame around
humans and frequently appears
alone or in pairs. In flight, the
bird holds its long tail over its
back or quickly pumps it up and
down. The tailorbird rarely flies
far. It usually moves only a short
distance from one area of cover
The tailorbird regularly flicks
its long, pointed tail from side
to side when it hops along the
ground. In its characteristic pos-
ture, however, the bird holds its
tail erect. In this posture, the tai-
lorbird resembles a wren.
Right: The long-tailed tailorbird
usually perches with its tail feath-
ers cocked high.
The long-tailed tailorbird breeds
from March to December. But
the peak of the breeding season
is from June to August, when
there are more of the large fig,
mango, and canna leaves that
the bird uses for its nest pouch.
It takes three to four days to
make the pouch. The male col-
lects the materials, and the fe-
male does the sewing. She folds
a large leaf and sews the edges
together to make a bag, or she
sews some small leaves together.
left: The long-tailed tailorbird is
one of the most common species
DID YOU KNOW?
• The long-tailed tailorbird is
featured in "Rikki-tikki-tavi,"
one of the stories in Rudyard
Kipling's Jungle Book.
• If a large leaf is not avail-
able, the tailorbird may sew
rose petals together to form
its nest pouch.
• Tailorbirds remain paired
at the end of the breeding
The female uses her beak to
pierce holes along the edge of
the leaf. She then passes threads
of plant fiber, cocoon silk, or spi-
der webbing through each pair
of holes, forming stitches that
make a seam.
The bag holds a nest made of
plant fibers and lined with horse-
hair and grass. Three or four
eggs are laid in the nest and
incubated by both sexes. The
young are fed by both parents
and fly at about two weeks old.
Right: The young tailorbird leaves
the nest when it is two weeks old
and breeds after a year.
season. Pairs of birds are of-
ten seen huddled together,
roosting on a branch or even
in a potted houseplant set
on a porch.
• Nestlings call loudly to their
parents from inside the nest.
But they become silent the
moment their parents sound
the alarm call.
~ FOOD & FEEDING
The long-tailed tailorbird looks
for insects in bushes, on vines,
and in the branches of fig and
mango trees. It feeds primari-
lyon beetles, bugs, ants, and
flies, but it also eats butterflies
Flower nectar is another im-
portant part of the bird's diet.
The long-tailed tailorbird hides
its nest carefully. But the low po-
sition of the nest makes it acces-
sible to rodents, mongooses,
cats, lizards, and snakes, which
take the bird's eggs and young.
Left: The long-
hides its nest
pouch in low-
tation. When a
large leaf is not
bird may sew
together to cre-
ate the nest
While it feeds on nectar, pollen
accumulates on the long-tailed
tailorbird's feathers and is then
transferred to other flowers. As
a result, the tailorbird plays an
important role in pollination.
For this reason, and because
it eats insect pests, it is a wel-
come visitor in gardens.
The nest may also be taken
over by Cacomantis merulinus,
a cuckoo common in the tailor-
bird's range. This intruder lays
its eggs in the nest and tosses
out the tailorbird's young.
,,'-_________________ G_R_O_U_P 2: BIRDS
GENUS &: SPECIES
The griffon vulture is a huge bird with a wingspan of about nine
feet. A graceful and effortless flyer, it is able to soar high
in the air with only an occasional beat of its wings.
Body length: ft .
Tail length: 9-11 in.
Wingspan: 8-9 ft.
Weight: 15-22 lb.
Sexual maturity: 4-5 years.
Mating season: January to March.
No. of broods: 1 .
Eggs: 1; white.
Incubation: About 7 weeks.
Fledging period: About 16 weeks.
Habit: Nests and roosts in colonies.
Feeds in groups.
Diet: Carrion of medium to large
There are 7 species in the genus
Gyps, including the Cape vulture,
G. coprotheres, and Ruppell's grif-
fon vulture, G. rueppel/ii.
• Range of the griffon vulture.
Found in mountainous parts of Asia, northwest Africa, Turkey,
France, Portugal, Spain, Sardinia, Crete, Cyprus, and Sicily.
The European population has declined in the last century because
modern farming practices have diminished the vulture's supply of
carrion. In Spain and Sardinia, the World Wide Fund for Nature J
(VVWF) provides carrion to the dwindling vulture population.
FEATURES OF THE GRIFFON VULTURE
Eggs: 1 with broad oval
shape. White but some-
times speckled with red-
Plumage: Dark brown and black flight
feathers. Ginger or buff on the body.
Head and neck are covered with short
white down. At the base of the neck
there is a white ruff.
Feet: Strong, but weak
claws are used for walk-
ing, not catching prey.
Although the griffon vulture has a sinister appearance,
it plays a helpful role in the ecology of its mountain
environment. Specially adapted for feeding on the flesh
of dead animals, this adept scavenger acts as a natural
garbage collector. By discovering and then picking clean
rotting carcasses, the griffon vulture helps eliminate a
potential source of disease throughout its habitat.
The griffon vulture lives in open
areas with mountains or cliffs on
which it can roost and nest, but
it avoids very high, cold, and
wet mountains. Although the
bird has little contact with hu-
mans, it usually lives near farms,
since it feeds mostly on the flesh
of dead livestock.
The griffon vulture roosts in a
colony of 30 to 40 birds on a
cliff edge or rocky outcrop. It
leaves the roost in the morn-
ing, after the air warms enough
to produce rising air currents
called thermals. Once the bird
reaches the top of a thermal, it
glides to another thermal on
outstretched wings. In this way
it can soar for hours at a time.
About two or three hours be-
fore sunset, the vulture returns
to its roost and may circle for
several hours before settling
for the night.
With modern farming, the
vulture's range has shrunk con-
siderably. Farmers no longer
leave carcasses where they fall,
providing food for the vulture.
Moreover, there are fewer dead
sheep and cattle, since livestock
are less susceptible to disease or
attack by wild animals.
The griffon vulture mates from
January to March. Before mat-
ing, the male and female per-
form a graceful series of soaring,
wheeling flights until one of the
birds flies along a hill or cliff with
its partner behind it.
The griffon vulture nests in a
colony of 20 to 30 birds. Its nest
is located on a ledge or in a shal-
low crevice, usually protected
by an overhang. A pair of grif-
fon vultures may use the same
site each year, repairing the nest
Left: The griffon vulture's long neck
is very strong and helps it pull flesh
from a carcass.
DID YOU KNOW?
• The griffon vulture frequent-
ly eats so much that it cannot
flyaway from the carcass. The
bird may regurgitate some of
its meal in order to reduce its
load for takeoff.
• Because the griffon vulture
eats only flesh, its diet con-
tains little calcium and the
chicks grow very slowly.
with twigs, leaves, and grass.
The female lays one large egg,
which both parents incubate for
about seven weeks. The blind,
featherless chick is given regur-
gitated food which is mainly
flesh, but which may contain a
few bone fragments. The par-
ents place the food on the floor
of the nest for the chick. After
about 12 weeks, the chick takes
its first steps outside the nest.
About 16 weeks after hatching,
it makes its first flight.
Ri ght: The griffon vulture uses the
same nesting and roosting sites
o The griffon vulture stays with-
in its roost and does not at-
t empt to fly in rainy weather
or heavy mist.
.. By using thermals, the vul-
ture needs only a few f laps of
its wings to flyaway from its
roost. But on the ground, it
must sprint a good distance
to become airborne.
II ' SPECIAL ADAPTATIONS
The griffon vulture has many
adaptations that allow it to
get at the flesh on an animal
carcass. It first uses its sharp
beak to rip open the carcass.
Then it breaks the bones with
its powerful jaws to get to the
innards. Its head and neck are
~ FOOD & FEEDING
The griffon vulture feeds on car-
rion (dead animal flesh) but may
occasionally prey on very young
or weak animals. It prefers to
feed on the carcasses of large
mammals such as cows, horses,
donkeys, goats, and at times red
deer, camels, and fallow deer.
In the morning the entire col-
ony leaves the roost in search of
food. When the vultures have
flown for some distance, they
separate and scan the ground
below for a suitable carcass,
Left: The griffon vulture may fly
over 35 miles from its roost in
search of food.
covered only in down, so it
can reach inside without get-
ting too matted with blood.
The vulture is adept at re-
moving flesh from the carcass.
It uses its beak to strip any re-
maining meat from the bones
with scissorlike movements.
while spiraling upward on air
currents. The vultures keep a
close watch on each other.
When one bird lands next to
food, the rest swoop down to
If the carcass is large enough,
all the birds feed on it simulta-
neously. Each vulture tears off
a piece of flesh and goes to a
quiet spot to devour it. But if the
carcass is not big enough, ritual-
ized fights break out to deter-
mine the feeding order. Loud
hisses and squawking accompa-
ny these fights, but they rarely
result in injuries.
GROUP 2: BIRDS
GENUS &: SPECIES
The Eurasian treecreeper lives up to its name by creeping up a
tree and spiraling around the trunk in search of insects. It uses its
stiffened tail feathers to support itself on its jerky, hopping climb.
Length: About 5 in.
Weight: x - ~ oz.
Breeding season: Early April to
Eggs: 4-8; white with reddish
No. of broods: 1-2.
Incubation: 14-15 days.
Fledging: 14-16 days.
Habit: Active and solitary by day.
May roost with other treecreepers
Range of the Eurasian treecreeper.
Diet: Spiders, wood lice, many
insect species and their larvae.
lifespan: Up to 7 years.
Found across a wide range stretching from western Europe
through Scandinavia, central Europe, and Asia as far as Japan.
RELATED SPECIES CONSERVATION
There are 7 species in the family
Certhiidae, and 6 species in the ge-
nus Certhia, including the brown
creeper, C. americana, which is com-
mon in North America.
The rotting elms and dead trees that once provided roosts are
no longer common. But the Eurasian treecreeper has found
other homes, and the population is healthy.
FEATURES OF THE EURASIAN TREECREEPER
Eggs: 4 to 8, but
usually 6. White
with reddish brown
speckles at the
often over only
a very short
Bill: Thin and down-
ward curving. Excel-
lent for probing crev-
ices in tree bark.
Plumage: The adult is warm
brown above, streaked with
buff and silvery white below.
When perching close to
bark, it can be identified by
its light brown sides and
white eye stripe. The juvenile
is grayer and more spotted
than the adult.
Tail: Long, dividing
into points at the
end that show up
clearly in flight.
© MCMXCII IMP BV/ IMP INC WILDLIFE FACT FILETM PRINTED IN U.S.A.
lined with feathers
and wool. Usually
built behind loose
bark or other
0160200791 PACKET 79
The Eurasian treecreeper is found in woodlands, parks, and
farmland across a wide range that stretches from western
Europe as far east as Japan. This agile, sparrow-size bird is
well camouflaged in the trees, where its excellent sense
of balance helps it climb up and down trunks and across
branches. It is constantly moving, probing the crevices
in bark for food with its long, pointed, curved bill.
The Eurasian treecreeper is very
good at climbing trees because
its long, curved claws give it a
strong grip. But it is not a strong
flier. It usually flutters from the
top of one tree to the bottom of
another one, or it hops up a tree
trunk, looking for food. It moves
up the trunk in a spiral, with its
supporting tail feathers pressed
against the bark. Sometimes it
works its way down again, go-
ing backward rather than head-
first. The bird will also cling to
the underside of a branch and
scurry along upside down.
This treecreeper is usually sol-
itary, but it may be seen with a
flock of titmice or nuthatches
in the fall and winter. On cold
nights up to 15 treecreepers may
huddle together to keep warm.
At other times the Eurasian
treecreeper is territorial, attack-
ing any bird that tries to invade
its roost. It roosts beneath eaves
at night, behind loose bark, or
in a hole that it digs in soft bark.
~ FOOD & FEEDING
Woods, parks, and even farm-
land with large trees are perfect
feeding grounds for the Eurasian
treecreeper. Its streaked brown
plumage camouflages it against
the bark, and it flits along the
branches looking for insects.
With its long, curved, pointed
bill, it probes deep into cracks
to find insects, their eggs, and
other invertebrates. Creatures
such as spiders, wood lice, small
moths, earwigs, and weevils
form the basis of the bird's diet.
It especially likes larvae, which
it pries from crevices and swal-
left: Softwood trees provide excel-
lent nesting and feeding sites for
the Eurasian treecreeper.
DID YOU KNOW?
• Because the tail acts like a
stiff prop as the treecreeper
climbs, the feathers suffer
wear and tear. This is not a
problem for the bird, which
sheds its old feathers and
grows new ones.
• The Eurasian treecreeper
utters high-pitched, mouse-
like squeaking calls.
lows whole. Occasionally it eats
seeds and even spiderwebs.
The treecreeper methodically
works its way up a tree. If the
tree is a good source of prey,
the bird flies down to the base
and searches it again. When it
finishes, it flies to the base of
the next tree and begins its spi-
raling hunt once more.
Unlike the woodpecker, the
Eurasian treecreeper does not
have to peck for food. But it
may need to brace itself with
its stiff tail as it tugs away at a
Right: The parents share the task
of finding food such as caterpil-
lars for their young.
• Like other birds that are very
small, the Eurasian treecreep-
er has a total of only 1,400 to
• The Eurasian treecreeper
was first observed in Britain
more than 900 years ago.
• Other treecreepers of the
genus Certhia occur across
~ I BIRDWATCH
The Eurasian treecreeper is not
shy. It can be seen clinging to
a tree, seemingly undisturbed
by the presence of people. But
the best time to study this bird
at close range is in the dark. A
roosting hole can frequently
be identified by the droppings
The male Eurasian treecreeper
begins his courtship display in
early April. He may chase the
female up a tree or through the
air, quivering his wings. Or he
may feed her and utter his shrill
call. Breeding lasts until early Ju-
ly, and sometimes there is time
for a second brood.
The pair builds a nest in a nar-
row crack, usually behind a flap
of loose tree bark. The base of
left: The Eurasian treecreeper pre-
fers dead trees with peeling bark.
on the bark beneat h it. With a
flashl ight, the protruding tail
feathers of the sleeping bird
can often be seen.
In flight, the Eurasian tree-
creeper can be easily identi-
fied by the li ght bands on
the nest is built up with twigs,
and the oval cup is made of
plant matter and lined with
bark, feathers, and wool.
The female usually lays six
eggs and incubates them for
about two weeks. Both parents
feed the chicks, which leave
the nest within 14 or 15 days.
Although they can climb, the
chicks are very weak fliers. They
may cling to the bark outside
the nest for a day or two be-
fore flying off.
, , ~ - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
GROUP 2: BIRDS
GENUS &: SPECIES ORDER
Sittidae Sitta europaea
The European nuthatch is a tree-climbing bird about the size of a
sparrow. This agile bird inhabits mature woodlands in much of
Eurasia, where it hops up and down trunks with equal ease.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - ~ ~ - - - - ~ - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - ~
Length: 6 in.
Weight: ~ - 1 oz.
Sexual maturity: 1 year.
Mating season: April to May.
No. of broods: 1, sometimes 2.
Eggs: 6-9; white with reddish
Incubation: About 2 weeks.
Fledging period: 3 ~ weeks.
Habit: Rarely sociable outside the
Diet: Insects, larvae, caterpillars,
nuts, and seeds.
Call: Loud, piping notes.
lifespan: Oldest on record,
over 8 years.
There are 21 nuthatches, including
the white-breasted nuthatch, Sitta
carolinensis, of North America.
• Range of the European nuthatch.
Breeds from England, Wales, and central Scandinavia across Eu-
rope, excluding Corsica. Also found in Morocco, Turkey, Iran,
and across Asia to China and Japan.
The European nuthatch is not in immediate danger in any part
of its range.
TWO RACES OF THE EUROPEAN NUTHATCH
Sitta europaea caesia: Blue-gray up-
perparts; light orange or chestnut un-
derparts. White cheeks. Broad, black
eye stripe from bill to neck. Found in
western and southern Europe.
Eggs: 6 to 9;
white with reddish
brown spots. Laid
on bark chips in
Bill: Thick with
a sharp point.
Ideal for crack-
ing nuts and
Sitta europaea europaea: White
underparts. Found in
and 1 backward.
Typical of perch-
ing bi rds that be-
long to the order
The European nuthatch was originally called "nut-hack,"
a name that is thought to derive from the birds unusual
feeding habits. The nuthatch wedges nuts in the crevices
of tree bark and repeatedly hammers them with its sharp
bilt cracking the shells to expose the tasty kernels inside.
The European nuthatch ranges
over Europe and Asia east to Ja-
pan. It is found most frequently
in mature forests of deciduous
trees such as oak and beech. It
requires a fair amount of decay-
ing wood within its habitat.
This bird also lives in parks, or-
chards, and large, wooded gar-
dens. It may even be seen along
The European nuthatch may
be seen clinging to trees in
wooded areas. This nuthatch
also uses birdhouses and eats
from feeders. In spring pairs
can often be seen searching
for nest holes.
tree-lined suburban roads. The
European nuthatch is becoming
more common in areas where
homeowners have set up feed-
ers and birdhouses.
The European nuthatch moves
about in the trees rather like a
woodpecker. It climbs easily up
and down trunks, using its sharp
claws to cling to the bark.
In winter the birds frequent-
ly feed among mixed flocks of
treecreepers, gold crests,
titmice. The European nut-
hatch can be identified by its
blue-gray upperparts, short
tail, and black eye stripe.
European nuthatches form pairs
in the mating season, between
April and May. The male and
female look for a suitable nest
site, which may be an aban-
doned woodpecker hole or a
natural tree crevice about 30
feet above the ground. The
birds then "customize" their
chosen site, using wet mud to
build up a rim around the en-
trance and to narrow the hole.
The narrowed hole helps keep
Left: There are about 20 races of
nuthatch thraughout the bird's
DID YOU KNOW?
• The European nuthatch is
probably Europe's most sed-
entary bird. During its life-
time it stays within a mile of
the tree where it hatched.
• The European nuthatch
will nest in a birdhouse. But
out intruders such as starlings
Using small bark and wood
chips, the female lines the nest
chamber. She then lays six to
nine eggs and incubates them
for about two weeks, while the
male feeds her.
Both parents feed the chicks
with insects and caterpillars.
The young are fledged and
ready to leave the nest after
three and a half weeks.
Right: Both male and female Euro-
pean nuthatches stuff food into
their chicks' gaping bills.
it still uses wet mud to build
up a rim around the entrance
hole and to fill up any cracks
or gaps. :J
• A nuthatch is the only Eu-
ropean bird that can creep
headfirst down a tree.
FOOD &: FEEDING
The European nuthatch catches
insects as well as their larvae in
the treetops, picking them out
of crevices in the bark with its
sharp bill. In spring the birds
often feed on caterpillars.
Later in the year, the Euro-
Left: The European nuthatch makes
a slow, hammering sound when it
pounds nuts open.
Left: The small,
is a sedentary
bird. The race
found only in
pean nuthatch feeds on acorns,
seeds, and nuts, especially ha-
zelnuts and beechnuts. After se-
lecting a nut, the bird carries it
to a familiar branch and wedges
it into a crevice or the fork be-
tween branch and trunk. The
bird then hammers the nut with
the point of its bill until the soft
kernel is exposed.
Left: The Euro-
has a sharp bill
that is adapted
nuts. The bird
also feeds on
GENUS &: SPECIES
The Eurasian dotterel is a small, very tame member of the plover
family. Its trusting nature has made it an easy target for
hunters and given it a reputation for stupidity.
Length: 8-9 in.
Weight: 3-5 oz.
Sexual mat urity: 2 years.
season: May to July.
Eggs: 3; beige with heavy reddish
brown or black blotches.
Incubation: 3-4 weeks.
Fledging peri od: 4 weeks.
Habit: Sociable outside the breed-
ing season. Usually has a single
mate, but pairs for only one sea-
son. Active by day and night.
Diet: Insects, spiders, mollusks,
worms, and some plant matter.
Call s: Soft, peeping notes; also var-
ious trilling and tinkling calls.
RELATED SPECI ES
One of 64 species of plovers in the
Breeding range of the
The Eurasian dotterel breeds from the Scottish Highlands and
Scandinavia east through northern Asia to Alaska. It winters in
North Africa and parts of the Middle East.
The Eurasian dotterel was common in Great Britain until the
mid-19th century, but now suffers from hunting and tourism in
Scotland. Birds in northern Eurasia seem to be in little danger.
FEATURES OF THE EURASIAN DOTTEREl
Summer plumage: Distinctive
in both sexes, but the female is
usually brighter. Includes a dark
brown crown, a long white stripe
going over the eye, a white stripe
across the chestnut breast, and
a black belly.
Legs: Yellowish, long, and strong.
The bird runs around a lot when
foraging or displaying.
Eggs: 3; beige with heavy
dark blotches that disguise
them against a rocky
Chick: Small and plump. Patchy gold
and brown upperparts; white and buff
underparts. Lacks the chestnut breast
of the adult, but quickly develops a
pale stripe over the eye and across
The Eurasian dotterel is one of the few bird species
in which the female is both bigger and more brightly
colored than the male. As the dominant sex, she takes
the lead in courtship, calling to the male and chasing
him. After laying her eggs, the female loses all interest
in them. The male assumes the task of incubating
the eggs and then rearing the chicks on his own.
When breeding, the Eurasian
dotterel prefers flat mountain
areas with scattered boulders
and moss or other low vege-
tation. In Siberia and parts of
Europe the bird breeds on bar-
ren mountain plateaus at alti-
tudes of more than 3,000 feet.
It also breeds on tundra at low-
er elevations in northern Asia
and Scandinavia. In the Neth-
erlands, it has been known to
nest on polders-areas of land
reclaimed from the sea.
In its breeding grounds, the
dotterel's distinctive plumage
provides effective camouflage.
The bold patterns on the plum-
age break up the bird's outline,
so that it merges in with rocks
and low vegetation.
In its African winter habitat,
the Eurasian dotterel is found
mainly in open areas of semi-
desert and other dry regions,
including barren plateaus and
Right: The Eurasian dotterel's re-
mote habitat is at some risk from
hikers and grazing sheep.
The usual roles of courtship are
reversed in the case of the Eur-
asian dotterel. The brighter, larg-
er female calls and chases the
male, often raising, stretching,
and then folding her wings. She
soon isolates him from the rest
of the small flock, or trip.
The two birds then choose a
nest site that provides a clear
view of approaching predators.
Both birds take turns making a
scrape in the ground. The bird
that is digging flings out moss
or other vegetation, which its
mate uses to line the scrape.
After the female lays a clutch
Left: To distract its predators, the
male fakes injury or runs off, imi-
tating a small mammal.
DID YOU KNOW?
• Charadrius, the Eurasian dot-
terel's generic name, comes
from the Greek and means
"bird dwelling in clefts." The
name is misleading because
the dotterel does not live in
• A female dotterel may mate
again after she has left her first
partner incubating her eggs.
of three eggs, she leaves to form
a small flock with other females.
The male incubates the eggs by
himself for four weeks. His pat-
terned plumage camouflages
him on the nest. The eggs are
camouflaged by dark blotches.
The chicks are covered with
boldly patterned down. They
can soon run and feed them-
selves, but they are still closely
guarded by the male. If a preda-
tor approaches, he may pretend
to be injured, flopping to the
ground as if his wings were bro-
ken. His display lures the intrud-
er away from the eggs or chicks.
Right: Chicks learn to fly in about
four weeks, although they can run
around within days.
• Dotterel feathers are used to
make fishing lures and to dec-
• Up to 90 percent of the Eur-
asian dotterel's eggs hatch,
but fewer than two-thirds of
the chicks survive. In severe
weather, when deep snow
covers the ground during
hatching, many chicks die.
In North America the Eurasian
dotterel can be seen in sum-
mer, when it nests in western
Alaska, between Point Barrow
and Seward Peninsula.
The dotterel's identification
marks include its white breast
band and eye stripes, chestnut
~ FOOD & FEEDING
The Eurasian dotterel eats main-
ly insects, as well as earthworms,
spiders, small snails, and some
plant matter. It finds this food
on stony ground and among
In winter the Eurasian dotterel
lives in the semiarid belt be-
tween Morocco and Iran. Birds
that breed in Siberia must trav-
el over 6,000 miles to reach
their winter home.
underparts, and a band on its
wing that is visible when the
bird flies. The male's plumage
is duller than the female's.
The Eurasian dotterel can be
recognized by its sweet trilling
and tinkling calls. It also utters
distinctive soft, peeping notes.
The dotterel feeds in the early
morning or at night, often trav-
eling some distance from its
nest. Like all members of the
plover family, it runs across the
ground, stopping to get prey.
Dotterels that breed in north-
western Europe migrate in fall.
But those from Siberia migrate
in July. Males leave about two
weeks later than the females
and fly with the young birds.
GROUP 2: BIRDS
GENUS & SPECIES
The ruff is an unusual wading bird that breeds in northern marshes
and on damp grassland. When trying to attract a mate, the
male bird takes part in complex communal displays.
length: Male, 10-12 in. Female,
8-10 in .
Weight: Male, 4-8 oz. Female,
Sexual maturity: 1-2 years.
Breeding season: May to August.
Eggs: 4; pale olive green with dark
Incubation: About 3 weeks.
Fledging period: 3-4 weeks.
Habit: Social; active by day or
night. Male and female live sepa-
rately and meet to breed.
Diet: Crustaceans, mollusks, fish,
frogs, insects, and seeds.
lifespan: Up to 11 years.
A member of the sandpiper family,
the ruff is most closely related to
the dunlin and other species of the
FEATURES OF THE RUFF
Breeding range of the ruff. Winter range.
Breeds throughout northern Europe and Asia. The majority of
birds winter in Africa, south of the Sahara Desert.
There has been a noticeable decline in the ruff population, es-
pecially in the south and west of its range, mainly due to the
drainage of wetlands. Numbers have increased in Norway and
Finland, however, and a sizable population remains in Siberia.
Wings: Long and
broad. All ruffs have
a white wing bar and
white rump and tail
patches. Flight is
Eggs: 4; pale olive green with
black or greenish brown
blotches. Incubated for
about 3 weeks by the female.
Male: In spring the male
develops ear tufts and a
huge ruff around his neck.
No two breeding males
look exactly the same
since these special dis-
play feathers come in
a wide range of col-
ors, including white,
red, gold, purple,
and black. The
feathers can be
are shed in
©MCMXCIV IMP BV/IMP INC WILDLIFE FACT FILETM PRINTED IN U.S.A.
Head: Small, with a
long neck. Bill curves slightly down-
ward and is relatively short
for a wading bird.
Female (reeve): Mottled buff
plumage throughout the year. Red-
dish brown legs. Female is quite a bit
smaller than the male, and in winter
both sexes look similar. In the breed-
ing season, they are easy to distin-
guish because the male has his
colorful breeding plumage.
US P 6001 12 068 PACKET 68
In the breeding season, the male ruff acquires two long ear
tufts and a huge ruff of long feathers around his neck. These
display feathers vary greatly in color and pattern, so no two
breeding males ever look quite the same. When trying to
attract a mate, the male erects his ruff to form a dramatic
fan around his face. A male with a white ruff is low in the
social hierarchy and rarely gets a chance to mate.
The ruff courts and mates at an
arena called a lek, which is on
open ground often near water.
Here the males display, and the
reeves (females) select mates.
Each male has his own small
area, or "residence," which is
worn bare by his displays. Dur-
ing the displays he runs around,
holding his head and neck hori-
zontal, raising his ear tufts, and
fluttering his wings. He then
crouches with his bill to the
ground, his ruff and tail spread,
and his feathers quivering.
Ritualized fighting among
males may occur, sometimes
escalating into actual combat.
The birds use their feet, wings,
bills, and toes when fighting.
A complex hierarchy exists
among male ruffs. The most
junior birds, known as "satellite
males," do not have territories.
A satellite male may gain a ter-
ritory by fighting the resident
male, who is then demoted.
Right: When he is engaged in his
display, the ruff is an easy target
FOOD &: FEEDING
The ruff feeds mainly by day.
It walks around a watery site,
picking food from the edge or
from nearby vegetation. With
its short bill, it probes mud
looking for prey. It also wades
into shallow waters and will
even swim in pursuit of food.
In the breeding season the
ruff eats mainly insects, which
it takes from land or water. At
other times its diet includes
mollusks, crustaceans, frogs,
fish, worms, and seeds.
Most ruffs winter in Africa, south
of the Sahara. Nonbreeding ruffs
sometimes remain at the winter
grounds all year.
In late March male ruffs be-
gin to appear at the breeding
left: A bird with a white ruff is a
"satellite" male. He is tolerated but
rarely gets a chance to mate.
DID YOU KNOW?
• The bird's name probably
comes from the huge ruff
that the male develops dur-
ing the breeding season. In
the 16th and 17th centuries,
people wore huge wheel-
shaped collars called ruffs.
• Although it is the female
ruff that is called a reeve, this
word seems to refer to the
grounds in northern Europe and
Asia. The reeves do not start to
arrive until mid-April. After mat-
ing, the male leaves the lek first.
The females and young migrate
later, from mid-July onward.
Right: Female birds, known as
reeves, are substantially smaller
than the males.
aggressive behavior of the
male bird. The word is prob-
ably derived from an Old
English term for an adminis-
trative official who worked
for the king.
• Ruffs that breed in north-
eastern Siberia fly more than
9,000 miles to their winter
grounds in southern Africa.
In summer t he ruff is found on
wet meadows. In winter it ap-
pears near lakes, reservoirs, or
other watery sites. The male
looks like a much larger ver-
sion of the female, except in
the breeding season, when he
has his display plumage.
A male ruff may mate with sev-
eral reeves (females) in a short
period. A reeve may also visit
more than one lek and mate
with several males. As a result,
the bond between breeding
pairs is very brief.
Before mating, the reeve nib-
bles at the male's expanded ruff.
Unlike many wading birds, the
male abandons the female after
mating. She builds a nest, incu-
bates her eggs, and rears her
The reeve chooses a nest site
The ruffs hunchbacked ap-
pearance is revealed in flight,
whi le the bird flies with well -
spaced wing beats and long
glides. The long, broad wings
have a white wing bar, and
the rump and tail have distinc-
tive white patches.
within 1,600 feet of the lek. The
nest is simply a shallow scrape
lined with leaves, stems, and
grass. It is hidden in meadow
grasses or marsh plants. The
reeve lays four eggs in late May
or early June, and she incubates
them for about three weeks.
Camouflaged with down, the
chicks leave the nest soon after
hatching. Their mother feeds
them insects for a few days until
they can find food themselves.
She guards and broods her off-
spring until they are fledged.