Thursday, January 18, 2018

Mexican Birds

It's easy to separate animals from their natural habitats when you've only seen them in zoos. Not to say that you should go seek dangerous animals in the wild, of course, but it can be a thrill to see even the smallest and tamest exotic animals in their native homes. If you're on vacation in Mexico, keep an eye out for these birds.

Eared Quetzal: The Eared Quetzal is a lovely iridescent bird in the trogon family. It is found in the Sierra Madre Occidental of Mexico, in the state of Michoacan, though it has also been spotted in Arizona once or twice. It prefers pine-oak forests near fresh streams, building nests in trees that have naturally occurring shallow cavities--pine, fir, maple, and aspen. Abandoned woodpecker holes are a frequent nesting choice for these birds. The Eared Quetzal reaches just over a foot in length, with iridescent green feathers on its back and dark blue tail feathers. The males have a bright red belly and a black head; females have gray on their heads and smaller red spots on their fronts. Eared Quetzals feed on insects and fruits, and will often grab food while hovering in the air.

Pinnated Bittern: You're never going to forget the experience of seeing a Pinnated Bittern. This bird is a member of the heron family, measuring about 30 inches long at its largest. It has buffy brown feathers covered in cryptic patterning; their necks are shorter than other herons, and they frequently inhabit shallow marshy areas where they can wade for amphibians and fish. Their necks can extend or retract out of their bodies to grasp food or hide from predators. Despite the fact that the Pinnated Bittern is quite widespread throughout Central and South America, very little is known about them; they are rarely seen and notoriously shy, preferring to skulk around swampy marshlands at night. Pinnated Bitterns are mostly solitary; catching a glimpse of one is a rare treat indeed!

Giant Cowbird: Sometimes animal names are far more incredible than the animal itself. Take, for example, the Giant Cowbird; disappointingly, this bird is not as large as a standard bovine. However, that doesn't mean it's not interesting or unique; the Giant Cowbird is full of odd contradictions. For instance, it's the only cowbird that lives in the deep forest; most species in the Molothrus genus prefer open woodlands. The Giant Cowbird is usually very quiet; they have an unpleasant high screeched whistle, but are also good vocal mimics. Also, Giant Cowbirds don't really perch on cows; they prefer to ride on Capybaras and remove horse flies from the mammal's flesh. Giant Cowbirds are brood parasites; mothers lay their eggs in the nests of other species of birds, usually cacique blackbirds who viciously defend their territory. The Cowbirds may fly over several square miles to find egg-laying opportunities. Find out about birds on the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds website:

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