Saturday, May 12, 2012

Really Weird Birds: Part 3

On Tuesday, April 24th, I participated in the judging of a creative contest hosted by the World Bird Sanctuary.

Younger children who entered had to also submit in writing why they like birds.  Many of them said things along the lines of, “because they are cute and fluffy and can sing pretty songs!”  So innocent!  Little do they know that there are many birds that are none of the above.  Many are downright gross and merciless!  One such example is the Marabou Stork, native to sub-Saharan Africa. 
 The marabou stork’s wingspan can reach 10 ½ feet, making it one of the largest wingspans of any land bird, competing only with the Andean Condor.

The Marabou Stork doesn’t win any award for beauty, but it is a master opportunist.

Marabou is French for “ugly, misshapen, old man.”  It has a naked pink head and neck, an oversized beak and a gular sac.  The gular, or throat sac can be inflated during courtship, when it is threatened, or to help with heat loss in hot weather.  Like some vultures, it will also defecate down its legs to help with cooling through evaporation.

This stork survives by scavenging meat that vultures tear free from carcasses, since it cannot do so with its straight bill.  It will also stir up water in shallow pools and stab catfish with its beak then swallow them, head first.  Marabous will walk in front of small grass fires, snatching up the fleeing small animals.  They have also become more dependent on human garbage and have even been seen fighting with feral dogs for scraps in the streets of African villages.  They’ve been observed to consume anything that will fit down their throat, even shoes and pieces of metal!
 The Vampire Finch is native to Wolf Island and Darwin Island in the Galapagos.

Currently, the idea of vampires is very popular in movies, TV and books.  Bats are often connected to vampires in one way or another.  But have you ever heard of the Vampire Finch?
 The Vampire Finch is a distinct subspecies of the sharp-beaked ground finch.

Native to very arid islands of the Galapagos, these birds need moisture rich foods.  They seek out nectar from cacti, but that’s not where their name comes from.  They will also peck at the feet and wings of other birds, mainly Blue Footed Boobies, until they bleed.  They will then feed on the warm nutritious blood.  These birds will also roll freshly laid eggs away from other bird nests and hit them on rocks until they break, so they can enjoy what’s inside.  What monsters!

A group of birds call Petrels, coastal birds found all over the world, have a similar foul habit to vultures.
 Petrels have two tube nostrils joined together on the top of the bill.  Shown above is a Giant Petrel chick.

Their stomach contains thick, horrible smelling oil.  If a predator comes too close, they will projectile vomit that oil all over the intruder.  The oil is dangerous for other birds in that it actually makes their feathers less waterproof.  Giant Petrels, nicknamed the Stinker, will regurgitate the foul-smelling oil into their gravel nests to keep predators at bay.  Even after 100 years in a museum, their eggshells still smell.

This is just a sampling of some really weird birds that are not cute nor do they sing pretty songs, but do have odd and fascinating behaviors. 

You can help in the World Bird Sanctuary’s mission of maintaining earth’s biological diversity so future generations can enjoy the same amazing animals.  You can visit us and spread the word about what you learn, become a member or friend, or adopt-a-bird and feed that bird for a year!

Submitted by Sara Oliver, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

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