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Superb Fairy-wren- Malurus cyaneus
Member of one of the Australian families characterised by a cooperative breeding system, the Superb Fairy-Wren is a common and familiar bird found in eastern Australia. The breeding male Superb fairy-wren is distinctively colored black and bright blue on the face, and has a royal blue tail. The female is dull brown, with a greenish-blue tail and brown facial markings. The non-breeding males resemble the females, except that they have blue tails and paler facial skin around the eyes and bill. Superb Wrens have thrived in the environments created by human land use, and can be found in pastures, fields, and gardens. They prefer areas of mixed grassland for foraging and shrubby cover for nesting and protection from predators. Insectivorous, these birds forage in groups, so that insects stirred up by the activities of one bird may be captured by another. The social groupings of 6-12 birds usually consist of a breeding pair and non-breeding males or females. Social groups are sedentary in a single territory, where they remain all year. All species of Malurus live in groups and breed cooperatively, so this appears to be a "primitive" ancestral trait. Some authors claim that the Superb wrens cooperative breeding is a newly evolved trait, however the predominance of cooperative breeding in other endemic Australian bird taxa suggests that at the point of their radiation during the early Tertiary, Australian birds developed the cooperative breeding strategy in response to the local environment. Cooperative breeding systems are especially common in Eucalypt woodlands which developed before the Pleistocene (Heinsohn et all 1990). Australian birds, therefore, probably developed social behavior during the Pleistocene as well. Superb Fairy-wrens, by having a variable reproductive strategy which can be both monogamous and cooperative, and by being adaptable to a variety of habitats, have been able to fare well in the changing environments of the Australian landscape. The family includes the Blue-breasted (M. pulcherrimus), Lovely (M. amabilis), Purple-crowned (M. coronatus), Red-backed (M. melanocephalus), Red-winged (M. elegans), Splendid (M. splendens), Variegated (M. lamberti), and the White-winged (M. leucopterus) Fairy-wrens.

Birds photographed by John Young.

Quiz 17 picture


Northern Rough-winged Swallow-Stelgidopteryx serripennis
Broadly distributed throughout Central and North America, the Northern Rough-winged Swallow (Stelgidopteryx serripennis) is one of the nearly 80 martin and swallow species currently recognized. The species' name derives from the presence of barbs along the leading edge of the outer primary, a trait which is also present in the African roughwings (Psalidoprocne) and which is more prevalent in males than female roughwings. Five races of the northern rough-wing are recognized (S. s. serripennis, S. s. psammochrous, S. s. fulvipennis, S. s. ridgwayi, and S. s. stuarti.). The nominate race (S. s. serripennis) has the broadest distribution breeding from southeastern Alaska and southern Canada to the southern United States. The four remaining races breed between the southern U.S. and Panama, with the most southern races being nonmigratory or altitudinal migrants. Northern roughwings nest solitarily or in small scattered groups, and are most commonly found in open habitats. Preferred habitat is near water where banks or road-side excavations provide nesting opportunities in crevices and previously excavated cavities in the exposed banks. The species is also known to opportunistically nest in man-made structures such as enclosed guttering, drain pipes and other similar 'cavities' that have a relatively deep chamber (nest often > 30" from entrance). This non-discript New World swallow can be distinguished from all other 'brown and white' Hirundinids primarily by one or more of four morphological traits: degree of forking in the tail; relative bill-length; relative wing-length; and plumage-pattern, primarily on the upper breast and face. In general, New World Hirundinids tend to have longer relative bill-lengths than similar-sized Hirundinids elsewhere in the world, but often have a shorter folded-wing appearance (resulting from shorter primary projection beyond the tertials relative to the shoulder-to-tertial length). Relative to other "brown" Hirundinids, this species has a non-distinct brown over white appearance with no sharp contrast in coloration. Dorsal plumage of both sexes is gray-brown, with the remiges being darker brown than the head, nape and upper back. The lower back and rump are noticeably lighter which is easily seen in flight. Ventral coloration ranges from pale grayish-brown of the throat (often appearing grayish-white), to white of the undertail coverts, with a broad brownish wash present across the upper breast. Juvenile Northern Rough-winged Swallows differ from adults only in that feathers of the back and upper-wing have cinnamon versus grayish-white edging. The Northern Rough-winged Swallow can be distinguished from other closely-related New World roughwings as follows: from White-thighed Swallow (Neochelidon tibialis) by lighter overall coloration and square versus moderately forked tail; from Tawny-headed Swallow (Alopochelidon fucata) grayish-brown versus tawny-rufous coloration on the forehead, supercillium and nape which encircle a dark brown crown; and from Southern Rough-winged Swallow (Stelgidopteryx ruficollis) by pale grayish-brown to grayish-white versus cinnamon-buff coloration of the throat, absence of yellowish wash to the central breast, and presence of noticeable contrast between back and rump. Northern roughwings can be separated from other similar 'brown and white' Hirundinids as follows: - from similar plumaged juvenile Tachycineta swallows and second year (SY) females of this family that do not attained adult coloration until after second year (ASY), by absence of sharp contrast between grayish-brown head and white to grayish-white throat, and absence of a sharp contrast between the lower back and white of the posterior flank/undertail covert region that extends to, onto, or across the rump in Tachycineta swallows. - by lack of distinct breast-band and lack of strong contrast between grayish-brown head and grayish-white throat from following species: Bank Swallow [Sand Martin] (Riparia riparia)(cosmopolitan); Brown-chested Martin (Progne tapera) and juvenile Black-collared Swallow (Atticora melanoleuca)(South America); and African Banded Martin (Riparia cincta)(Africa). - by square versus moderately forked tail and lack of strong contrast between grayish-brown head and grayish-white throat from following species: juvenile Black-capped Swallow (Notiochelidon pileata) and juvenile Blue-and-white Swallow (Pygochelidon cyanoleuca)(South America).

Bird Photographed by Alain Hogue - Text by Keith Kimmerle.


Willow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilus
This abundant summer visitor throughout Europe must be separated from the Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita). Field identification of these two common species, which may at first appear very similar is mainly based on their respective songs, but several other features are quite useful. The Willow Warbler is more attenuated, sleeker and long-winged, compared with the rounder-headed, rounder-bodied Chiffchaff; Willow is longer-winged and pointed primary projection are about three quarters of , or equal to lenght of tertials. Willow has paler, orangy legs and often has obvious orange at base of bill, while Chiffchaff has dark legs and a darker-looking bill. Plumage differences are subtil and variable. Willow usually has a "sharper" facial expression, with stronger eye-stripe and longer, more definite supercilium, as shown here. Willow also tends to have better-marked green panel on tertial and secondaries, and much yellow underparts in adults and first-winters, constrasting with the more uniform and rather buff pattern of the Chiffchaff. The Wood Warbler (Phylloscopus sibilatrix) is very bright green above, with obvious narrow green edgings to black centred remiges. Throat and supercilium are bright primrose-yellow, with yellow ear-coverts. Its song is highly evocative as well. The Bonelli's Warbler (Phylloscopus bonelli) looks like the Willow but is usually more round-headed and distinctly pale-greyish, with pale head and upperparts. The rump is pale yellow, and legs are grey-brown. The Greenish Warbler (Phylloscopus trochiloides) is smaller than the Willow, with a short tail and a short dark bill. These birds show a narrow but noticeable clear-cut wingbar.

Listen to its song here:  

Bird photographed by Juhani Kyyro

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