Bird Fact Friday— Black Redstart

For the next four weeks, David Lindo – author of How to Be an Urban Birder – will take over our Bird Fact Friday series. Check out these posts every week to learn about the different birds he’s encountered in his travels through the Concrete Jungle. In his latest entry, he highlights the Black Redstart.

The Black Redstart is one of two species of redstart to be found in the UK with other being the summer visiting Common Redstart. Globally, there are 15 species of redstart ranging from the large Güldenstädt’s Redstart to the charismatic river dwelling Plumbeous Redstart. The various species are mostly found in Asia. Formally classed as members of the thrush family the popular thinking is now is to include redstarts as Old World flycatchers.

Black Redstart

Photo credit: David Lindo

Black Red’s, as commonly coined by British birders, have a large distribution ranging from the UK across to Central China and south into Morocco. In Britian, it is a very rare breeder and thus Red-listed with between 40 – 100 breeding pairs. Their numbers are swelled to around 400 individuals during the winter. In Europe, their population is ranked at 4.5 million pairs. There are several theories as to why the British population is so low yet literally across the Channel they are numerous. One interesting supposition is that their numbers are kept low by competition with the far more dominant European Robin. Whereas on the Continent, the Robin is very much a shy woodland dweller and thus the Black Redstarts there can thrive in urban areas due to the lack of competition.

Although being well known to birders in the UK, Black Redstarts are virtually unknown to the general public. This is probably due not only to their rarity but to their propensity for nesting on derelict land or in business areas.

 

How to Be an Urban Birder
By David Lindo

Urban birding is fast becoming ornithology’s new rock ’n’ roll. Birds and birding have never been cooler—and urban birding is at the cutting edge.

How to Be an Urban Birder is the world’s first guide to the art of urban birding—which is so easy and great fun! Here, urban birding pioneer David Lindo tells you everything you need to know about birds and birding in towns and cities in the UK.

  • Includes a brief history of urban birding in the UK
  • Covers the best places to look for birds in towns and cities
  • Helps you get to know your urban birds
  • Gives useful tips on how to attract birds to your garden
  • Explains what gear you need and how to go about being an urban birde
  • Features hundreds of cool images and illustrations of birds in urban settings

David Lindo on How to Be an Urban Birder

Urban birding is fast becoming ornithology’s new rock ’n’ roll. Birds and birding have never been cooler—and urban birding is at the cutting edge.

How to Be an Urban Birder is the world’s first guide to the art of urban birding—which is so easy and great fun! Here, urban birding pioneer David Lindo tells you everything you need to know about birds and birding in towns and cities in the UK.

How did you first become interested in urban birding?

I believe that my interest in birds spawned from a previous life. Yes, I was once a Puma! I hunted birds then somewhere along the line I started to watch them. Fade to black. Credits.

Actually, I was born in northwest London with an innate interest in natural history. Initially, it was the invertebrates in my garden that caught my attention. Eventually, by the time I was six birds had entered my life. I had no mentor nor was there anyone around to teach me so I had to educate myself. By the age of eight I was a veritable walking encyclopedia on birds.

What are the characteristics that separate an ‘urban birder’ from a more traditional birder?

The biggest difference between urban versus rural birder is style. Urban Birders tend to wear less green and have a more fashionable look. As an Urban Birder you will have to work harder to tune into nature’s wavelength over the hubbub of the city but once you are locked in you will be on the same wavelength as the folks in the country.

What inspired you to write this book?

How to be An Urban Birder has to be defined as a labor of love. It took me five years to pen and I felt that it was a book that I needed to scribe. Over the years many people have asked me to define Urban Birding so I decided to write the definitive guide to being an urban birder, especially seeing as I am The Urban Birder!

What has been your best experience as an urban birder?

My best moments as an Urban Birder usually occur when I least expect it often in the most innocuous locations. Examples could include an Osprey flying over Covent Gardens in Central London, a Red-naped Sapsuckeron a solitary palm tree in the middle of Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles. Staying with LA, I will never forget watching a vagrant wintering Black-and-white Warblerin a rough junkie infested park in the Downtown area!

What about your biggest challenges?

I think that the biggest challenges in my urban birding life is getting members of the general public, local authorities and city councils to protect vulnerable urban sites. All too often the hand of ‘development’ has touched and ruined great urban wildlife spots.

What kinds of people are drawn to urban birding, and how are activities like this important to conservation efforts?

The types of people attracted to Urban Birding are often what I term as ‘bird-curious’. In other words, folk who are curious about birds but typically feel too nervous to get involved. Once these people realize that they do not have to be an expert or even know the names of birds, they come forward.

Urban Birding is a great way to get city people involved in nature. These people may not ever become full blown and paid-up birders but they will at least become aware that nature exists within their urban areas. Hopefully, they will then go on to become part of what I term as the ‘Conservation Army’ – a vast swathe of environmentally aware urbanites who will have empathy for the plight of nature around the world.

What are some tips you’d give to aspiring urban birders who are just starting to bird watch as a hobby?

My main tip to aspiring Urban Birders is to enjoy yourselves. Don’t worry about the need to learn all the names and songs but instead, revel in the excitement of just watching and listening. Over time, the names and identity of the birds will fall into place.

Discover a local patch and make it your own. Visit it on a regular basis and get to know the birds that inhabit the space. You will soon find that your knowledge of birds will increase at an amazing pace. Oh, and don’t forget to look up!

 

David Lindo, popularly known as The Urban Birder, is a naturalist, writer, broadcaster, speaker, photographer, wildlife tour leader and educator. His mission is to connect the city folk of the world with the wonderful wildlife that is all around them—even in the middle of the Concrete Jungle. His motto is simple: Look up! He is also the author of The Urban Birder and Tales from Concrete Jungles: Urban Birding around the World (both Bloomsbury). He is a Londoner and runs the website The Urban Birder World.

You can follow David Lindo on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Bird Fact Friday– Black-tailed Godwit

For the next five weeks, David Lindo – author of How to Be an Urban Birder – will take over our Bird Fact Friday series. Check out these posts every week to learn about the different birds he’s encountered in his travels through the Concrete Jungle. In his first entry, he highlights the Black-tailed Godwit.

Photo credit: David Lindo

This elegant species is a member of the strongly migratory Limosa genus of the wader family. There are three other species in the Godwit family: the Bar-tailed, Hudsonian and Marbled. The latter two species are restricted to the Americas. Although the Hudsonian Godwit has turned up in the UK a few times the Marbled, which is also the world’s largest godwit, is yet to make footfall on British mud.

Black-tailed Godwits are currently Red Listed in the UK and is a very rare re-colonised breeding bird. They once regularly nested across large parts of Britain but draining of the fenland habitat that they favoured plus, the over-harvesting by bird catchers coupled with their reputation as being good for the table led to their demise. They returned to East Anglia as breeders as recently as 1952.

The Islandic race islandica individuals are quite distinctive. This race tends to be brighter brick-red around the neck and underparts and on migration they tend to end up in Portugal.

How to Be an Urban Birder
By David Lindo

Urban birding is fast becoming ornithology’s new rock ’n’ roll. Birds and birding have never been cooler—and urban birding is at the cutting edge.

How to Be an Urban Birder is the world’s first guide to the art of urban birding—which is so easy and great fun! Here, urban birding pioneer David Lindo tells you everything you need to know about birds and birding in towns and cities in the UK.

  • Includes a brief history of urban birding in the UK
  • Covers the best places to look for birds in towns and cities
  • Helps you get to know your urban birds
  • Gives useful tips on how to attract birds to your garden
  • Explains what gear you need and how to go about being an urban birde
  • Features hundreds of cool images and illustrations of birds in urban settings

 

Bird Fact Friday – the Lesser Black-Backed Gull

Adapted from pages 266 to 273 of Gulls of the World:

The Lesser Black-Backed Gull is a four-year gull, and resembles a dark-backed, more slender version of Herring Gull, with rounder head and slightly thinner bill that appears less blunt-tipped and slightly drooping. They have long, slender wings are often held lowered when relaxed. Their head and underbody is whitish with dark streaking to mottling and dark eye-mask, while their central hindbelly and vent may lack dark spotting. The darkest of these birds have rather uniform brown head and underbody. Meanwhile, their upperwing is dark brown with blackish flight feathers, only rarely with indication of paler inner webs to inner primaries. They have two solid dark wing-bars, formed by blackish centres to greater coverts and secondaries, and an underwing that is blackish-brown to barred grey-brown in contrast to paler flight feathers. Finally, their rump is white with dense dark spotting reaching upper mantle as slight paler wedge against darker scapulars, and their tail is black with narrow white bases and spots along edges of t6; sometimes with more extensive white at base and narrower black tail-bar.

A gull

An adult Lesser Black-Backed Gull (intermedius). It’s a rather dark individual
with blackish upperparts, almost concolorous with wing-tip. Photographed by the author in Copenhagen, Denmark.

In flight, they are dark enough to be mistaken at range for juvenile skua (especially Pomarine, which is similar in size and dark overall plumage). The majority retain juvenile plumage in first part of autumn, unlike Yellow-legged, Caspian and many Herring Gulls, which from Sep have renewed mantle and scapulars and have slightly worn coverts. They breed colonially along coasts and on islands, locally on islands in lakes and rivers, on moors and on buildings.

There was a large increase since the 1940s with the extension of breeding range from 1920, so it is able to manage competition with Herring Gull. Since the 1990s, they have been breeding in Greenland; they probably also breed in North America, where scarce visitors to East Canada and USA. Most of the European population is migratory, but some remain near breeding sites to winter in milder parts of West Europe. Birds leave breeding sites from late July, with several stops during southward journey. Most winters are spent in the West Mediterranean and Atlantic coastline between the South Iberian peninsula and Mauritania, with some reaching southwards to interior West Africa and Gulf of Guinea coasts.

Gulls of the World
By Klaus Malling Olsen

With more than 50 gull species in the world, this family of seabirds poses some of the greatest field identification challenges of any bird group: age-related plumage changes, extensive variations within species, frequent hybridization, and complex distribution. 

Gulls of the World takes on these challenges and is the first book to provide a comprehensive look at these birds. Concise text emphasizes field identification, with in-depth discussion of variations as well as coverage of habitat, status, and distribution. Abundant photographs highlight identification criteria and, crucially, factor in age and subspecific field separation. Informative species accounts are accompanied by detailed color range maps.

Gulls of the World is the most authoritative photographic guide to this remarkable bird family.

  • The first book to provide in-depth coverage of all the world’s gull species
  • More than 600 stunning color photographs
  • Concise text looks at variations, habitat, status, and distribution
  • Informative species accounts and color range maps

 

 

 

Bird Fact Friday— Mediterranean Gull

Adapted from pages 68-71 of Gulls of the World:

The Mediterranean Gull is a three-year gull. They are medium-sized and compact with large squarish head, a deep parallel-edged bill with drooping tip, dark eyes and long legs. The largest males of this species are almost size of Common Gull and have the heaviest bills. Meanwhile, the smallest females are Black-headed Gull-sized with shorter, stubby bills. Settled birds look stocky with long legs; when relaxed, often appear compact and neckless with flat back. Swimming birds sit high on water.

In flight, these gulls are full-bodied with a short neck, ‘well-fed’ belly and shortish-looking wings, appearing rounded and in adults very pale. Flight with stiffer wing-beats than Black-headed and Common Gulls, somewhat recalling that of small egrets (particularly in the case of palewinged adults). May feed with short dips, but will also chase flying insects like Black-headed Gull.

A Mediterranean Gull.

Their most common call is a mellow yelping ee-ar or yee-ah, slightly reminiscent of male  Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope, or small barking dog.

These gulls nest along coasts and lagoons with sparse vegetation, generally avoiding barren sand. They breed mainly from Black Sea region westwards; extension of breeding range from 1940s to scattered regions of S Europe northwards to Denmark and westwards to southern England.

Migration takes place mainly coastal with large concentrations around W Black Sea in September before leaving for winter quarters in S Black Sea and Mediterranean. Most of W European population gathers in N France following breeding season. They are regular visitors to Europe north of breeding range. Vagrant to Iceland, Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Macaronesia, Africa S to Senegal, The Gambia and Kenya, and Jordan, Iraq, Arabian Gulf and Kazakhstan.

Gulls of the World
By Klaus Malling Olsen

With more than 50 gull species in the world, this family of seabirds poses some of the greatest field identification challenges of any bird group: age-related plumage changes, extensive variations within species, frequent hybridization, and complex distribution. 

Gulls of the World takes on these challenges and is the first book to provide a comprehensive look at these birds. Concise text emphasizes field identification, with in-depth discussion of variations as well as coverage of habitat, status, and distribution. Abundant photographs highlight identification criteria and, crucially, factor in age and subspecific field separation. Informative species accounts are accompanied by detailed color range maps.

Gulls of the World is the most authoritative photographic guide to this remarkable bird family.

  • The first book to provide in-depth coverage of all the world’s gull species
  • More than 600 stunning color photographs
  • Concise text looks at variations, habitat, status, and distribution
  • Informative species accounts and color range maps

Bird Fact Friday — Pallas’s Gull

Adapted from pages 46-48 of Gulls of the World:

Pallas’s Gull is a four-year gull, but with initial rapid plumage development as in three-year gulls. The largest hooded gull by far, Pallas’s Gull is almost as large as Great Black-backed Gull, and dwarfs almost any other gull in its company. Its pear-shaped head has flat crown that peaks well behind dark eyes. These gulls have a long, heavy bill, while its head looks small relative to heavy, barrel-shaped body. In settled birds, the breast appears full, but their rear is attenuated with wings extending moderately beyond tail-tip. Loosely folded tertials create a prominent hump. Meanwhile, their legs are long and thin, with long visible tibia. 

With regards to their in flight profile, it is front-heavy with triangular head, protruding breast and slender wings, like an oversized Caspian Gull. They fly ponderously and slowly with heron-like wing-beats, gliding on angled wings with little flexing at carpal joint. The birds are known for often lowering their bill in flight. They frequently catch fish by hovering and diving. Swimming birds sit higher on water than other large gulls.

A gull.

A Pallas Gull in Uttar Pradesh, India.

These gulls are not very vocal. Calls deep and short, on breeding sites a deep há-u. Flocks utter a goose-like ga-gaga. They also make a low, slightly nasal oow, similar to the calls of the Common Raven Corvus corax. Finally, their alarm call a barking whe-ow.

These gulls breed from Central Asia W to Ukraine and the S Caspian region, along with E to W Mongolia. They nest on barren islands in saline and fresh waters, generally in warm, dry steppe areas and mountain lakes. Colonies often relocate from year to year. Main winter areas are between E Mediterranean (westwards to Sicily) and Bay of Bengal along fish-rich coasts, rivers and lakes, also fish-ponds and reservoirs. Populations from Tibet winter mainly in Bangladesh. They are scarce southwards to Lake Turkana in Kenya and eastwards to Gulf of Thailand and Hong Kong. Regular visitor to SE Europe in increasing numbers from late 1980s, with most records May–Sep; majority recorded Hungary, Romania and Poland, probably after following Dnieper River system from Ukraine. Vagrant NW Africa, Canary Islands, Madeira, most European countries northwards to Norway, Uganda, Burundi, Vietnam, E China, Taiwan, Korea and Japan.

 

Gulls of the World
By Klaus Malling Olsen

With more than 50 gull species in the world, this family of seabirds poses some of the greatest field identification challenges of any bird group: age-related plumage changes, extensive variations within species, frequent hybridization, and complex distribution. 

Gulls of the World takes on these challenges and is the first book to provide a comprehensive look at these birds. Concise text emphasizes field identification, with in-depth discussion of variations as well as coverage of habitat, status, and distribution. Abundant photographs highlight identification criteria and, crucially, factor in age and subspecific field separation. Informative species accounts are accompanied by detailed color range maps.

Gulls of the World is the most authoritative photographic guide to this remarkable bird family.

  • The first book to provide in-depth coverage of all the world’s gull species
  • More than 600 stunning color photographs
  • Concise text looks at variations, habitat, status, and distribution
  • Informative species accounts and color range maps

 

Bird Fact Friday—Giant Hummingbirds

Adapted from page 156 of Birds of Chile:

The Andean Giant Hummingbird is from the North Andes, and is fairly common in precordillera, south of Tarapacá. Their wingbeats are slow and strong, which causes undulating flight broken by glides. Their flight is often seen in jerky, hovering bursts of ‘slow-motion’ fly-catching. These birds are slightly larger and longer-billed than the Chilean Giant Hummingbird (more info on that one below) – these two birds do not have any range overlap. Adults have broader, dark tail tips, and buffer under tails than the Chilean hummingbirds. Juvenile birds have whitish feather tips on wings. Both sexes are similar. Their call are high, shrill squeaks in a short series.

An Andean Giant Hummingbird

An Andean Giant Hummingbird

A Chilean Giant Hummingbird

A Chilean Giant Hummingbird.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meanwhile, the Chilean Giant Hummingbird is typically seen in Central Chile, where it is a fairly common breeding visitor in material, open woodland, and gardens from south Atacama to south Araucanía. Despite having no range overlap, their habits are similar to the Andean Giant Hummingbird. These birds often feed at Puya and Eycalyptus trees, and perch atop Puya trees, along with phone wires. The nests for these birds are often conspicuous. Their calls are loud, sharp seek! noises, and slightly whining tseeich chee-chee

Birds of Chile
A Photo Guide
By Steve N. G. Howell & Fabrice Schmitt

This is the first modern-style photographic field guide to the birds of Chile, an increasingly popular destination with birders and naturalists. Compact and easy to carry, pack, and use, Birds of Chileis ideal for curious naturalists and experienced birders alike, providing everything anyone needs to identify the birds they see. Clear photographs and brief, facing-page species accounts highlight what to look for and how to quickly identify species. The photos include both close-ups and birds-in-habitat images to further aid real-life identification. An introduction and maps provide an overview of Chile’s geographic regions and their distinctive birdlife. Birds of Chile is also a great resource for birding in nearby countries, especially Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru.

  • The first field-friendly photographic guide to the birds of Chile
  • More than 1,000 real-life photos and brief, facing-page text make bird identification easy
  • Overview and maps describe the distinct bird regions of Chile
  • Perfect for curious naturalists and experienced birders alike
  • Compact and easy to carry and pack
  • Also a great resource for birding in Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru

 

Bird Fact Friday – the Andean and Austral Negrito

Adapted from page 189 of Birds of Chile:

The Austral Negrito is frequently found in central or southern Chile. These birds are common summer residents from eastern Aysén, and south to Tierra del Fuego. They are fairly common from northern Chiloé to southern Atacama, mainly near the coast. Additionally, they are local in Andes. During the winter, these birds withdraw north, when they are common in Central Chile, and rare north of Arica. They prefer open areas, from sandy beaches to grassy plains, lakeshores, and riverbanks. They’re also rather quiet, with soft, high chips at times, and in display flight males give high, accelerating chips and a high slurred tssiu that carries well. Sexes are similar while immature, while the adult male is darker.

andean negrito

An adult male Andean Negrito (Lessonia oreas).

an austral negrito

An adult male Austral Negrito (Lessonia rufa).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Andean Negrito inhabits the North Andes, and is fairly common but somewhat local to Coquimbo. They frequently live in bogs, adjacent to open ground. Their calls are quiet, slightly frog like peeks. Both sexes have whitish wing patches, but female are paler. Their habits are very similar to the Austral Negrito. 

Birds of Chile
A Photo Guide
By Steve N. G. Howell & Fabrice Schmitt

This is the first modern-style photographic field guide to the birds of Chile, an increasingly popular destination with birders and naturalists. Compact and easy to carry, pack, and use, Birds of Chileis ideal for curious naturalists and experienced birders alike, providing everything anyone needs to identify the birds they see. Clear photographs and brief, facing-page species accounts highlight what to look for and how to quickly identify species. The photos include both close-ups and birds-in-habitat images to further aid real-life identification. An introduction and maps provide an overview of Chile’s geographic regions and their distinctive birdlife. Birds of Chile is also a great resource for birding in nearby countries, especially Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru.

  • The first field-friendly photographic guide to the birds of Chile
  • More than 1,000 real-life photos and brief, facing-page text make bird identification easy
  • Overview and maps describe the distinct bird regions of Chile
  • Perfect for curious naturalists and experienced birders alike
  • Compact and easy to carry and pack
  • Also a great resource for birding in Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru

Bird Fact Friday – the Tyrant Birds of Chile

Adapted from page 187 of Birds of Chile

The Patagonian Tyrant is found in central and southern Chile, and is an uncommon summer resident from Maule to the Tierra del Fuego. In the winter, they are fairly common from Biobío to Coquimbo, and become uncommon south of the Lake District. These birds breed in native forests and edge, as well as the woodland and gardens during the winter. Breeding birds go to the mid-upper levels of tall trees, at times forming small flocks in fruiting trees. Their songs are varied arrangements of high, thin, plaintive or penetrating whistles (s-weeu s-weeu w-syiu or swii-ii w-syiin). Their calls are thin, whining, drawn out whistles (pssiiiiiiiiui). These birds are understated, “soft-faced” flycatcher with a rounded head and dark cheek patch, along with rusty wingbars. There are no similar species in Chile.

A Patagonian Tyrant (Coloramphus parvirostris) perched on a tree.

A Patagonian Tyrant (Coloramphus parvirostris) perched on a tree.

Meanwhile, the Spectacled Tyrant can be found in central and southern Chile, where it is fairly common, particularly from Atacama to Chiloé, or Aysén to Magallanes, in the summer. They inhabit marshes with tall rushes, brushy fields, damp grassy plains with scattered bushes, and other locations typically near water. The males perch atop bushes and have near-vertical display flight, swooping back to perch with a flourish. Females often hide in vegetation, and are overlooked easily. In display flight, male wings make low, booming drrrrup that may suggest a bullfrog. These birds are distinctive and attractive; males have white wing flashes, while these flashes are rusty on females. Additionally, males from Aysén have bigger white wing patches. Juveniles have dark eyes, and are uniformly smaller. There are no similar species in Chile.

To catch a glimpse of the Spectacled Tyrant, along with an additional photo of the Patagonian Tyrant, head over to our Instagram

Birds of Chile
A Photo Guide
By Steve N. G. Howell & Fabrice Schmitt

This is the first modern-style photographic field guide to the birds of Chile, an increasingly popular destination with birders and naturalists. Compact and easy to carry, pack, and use, Birds of Chile is ideal for curious naturalists and experienced birders alike, providing everything anyone needs to identify the birds they see. Clear photographs and brief, facing-page species accounts highlight what to look for and how to quickly identify species. The photos include both close-ups and birds-in-habitat images to further aid real-life identification. An introduction and maps provide an overview of Chile’s geographic regions and their distinctive birdlife. Birds of Chile is also a great resource for birding in nearby countries, especially Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru.

  • The first field-friendly photographic guide to the birds of Chile
  • More than 1,000 real-life photos and brief, facing-page text make bird identification easy
  • Overview and maps describe the distinct bird regions of Chile
  • Perfect for curious naturalists and experienced birders alike
  • Compact and easy to carry and pack
  • Also a great resource for birding in Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru

Bird Fact Friday — Flamingos

Adapted from page 116 of Birds of Chile:

Flamingos are unmistakable, social wading birds. They are often associated with hot climates, but 3 species breed in the North Andes, where lakes often freeze at night. Juveniles are typically dirty whitish and brownish, with dark streaking. 1st-years are whitish overall with little pink, but attain fully pink adult plumage in 2–3 years. Within mixed-species flocks, each species tends to group together. They nest colonially in remote areas, building raised mud cup nests on ground.

An adult Chilean flamingo.

More specifically, the Chilean Flamingo is widespread throughout the country, but fairly common in the North Andes, south of Atacama. They wade in shallow, saline lakes, with non-breeders also at fresh lakes, sheltered inshore waters. Their calls suggest geese, and is made while in flight,  sounding like a honking 3-syllable ah ah-ah. The first note is quieter, last note more emphatic. Feeding birds typically give quieter bleating and honking calls. While immature Chilean flamingos soon develop pale eyes, adults are distinctive: they are pale pink with reddish-pink bustle, have red ‘knees’ on grayish legs, and pale eyes. First years are appreciably smaller than adults. 

To see what an juvenile flamingo looks like, head to our Instagram.

Birds of Chile
A Photo Guide
By Steve N. G. Howell & Fabrice Schmitt

This is the first modern-style photographic field guide to the birds of Chile, an increasingly popular destination with birders and naturalists. Compact and easy to carry, pack, and use, Birds of Chile is ideal for curious naturalists and experienced birders alike, providing everything anyone needs to identify the birds they see. Clear photographs and brief, facing-page species accounts highlight what to look for and how to quickly identify species. The photos include both close-ups and birds-in-habitat images to further aid real-life identification. An introduction and maps provide an overview of Chile’s geographic regions and their distinctive birdlife. Birds of Chile is also a great resource for birding in nearby countries, especially Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru.

  • The first field-friendly photographic guide to the birds of Chile
  • More than 1,000 real-life photos and brief, facing-page text make bird identification easy
  • Overview and maps describe the distinct bird regions of Chile
  • Perfect for curious naturalists and experienced birders alike
  • Compact and easy to carry and pack
  • Also a great resource for birding in Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru

Bird Fact Friday — The Owls of Chile

Adapted from pages 142-143 of Birds of Chile:

The Magellanic (Lesser) Horned Owl is a very large owl with barred underparts; there are no similar species to it in Chile. They are widespread and common throughout virtually all of Chile, from the Patagonian steppe to city parks. They are mainly nocturnal, but in Patagonia can be seen in daytime, as on roadside fence posts. Their songs are two deep hoots, followed by, or run into, a quavering purr (hoo-hoo’urr-rr-rr). But, at a distance, only the hoo-hoo is audible. 

Meanwhile, the Rufous-legged Owl is mainly found in central or southern Chile, typically seen in old growth forests. They hunt at clearings and edges from low to mid-level perches, making roots and calls mainly at upper-to-mid levels. Its song is a varied series of pulsating barks run into low hoots, intensifying and then fading abruptly. These calls have a slightly maniacal quality; they’re a short series of resonant hoots (wuh-wuh wuh-wuh) followed by a rasping shriek. They are distinctive due to their rounded head, dark eyes, and voice.

A perched Magellanic Horned Owl.

The Peruvian (Pacific) Pygmy-Owl is the only pygmy-owl in northern Chile. These owls live on oasis valleys and farmland, in villages, and usually with some taller trees. They hunt from perches, low to high, including roadside wires, but are often mobbed noisily by smaller birds. They fly fast and are slightly undulating. Their song is a rapid tooting noise, almost too fast to whistle, with 10 notes/1.6-2.2 seconds (huihuihui). Their call is a high, chipping twitter. Their plumage is gray to brown overall.

Finally, the Austral Pygmy-Owl is native to central and southern Chile, commonly seen in the Tierra del Fuego, but some withdraw to the north and downslope in winter. These birds live in the woodland and forest, but can be seen in town parks, farmland, and semi-open country (at least in winter). Behaviorally, they are very similar to the Peruvian Pygmy-Owl. Their songs are fairly rapid, ringing toots, easily whistled at 10 notes/2.4-2.8 seconds, often with occasional changes in pitch and tempo (whih’whih’whih…). Their calls are high, chipping twitters. Their plumage is typically brown to rusty brown. 

To see photos of all these owls, head to our Instagram.

Birds of Chile
A Photo Guide
By Steve N. G. Howell & Fabrice Schmitt

This is the first modern-style photographic field guide to the birds of Chile, an increasingly popular destination with birders and naturalists. Compact and easy to carry, pack, and use, Birds of Chile is ideal for curious naturalists and experienced birders alike, providing everything anyone needs to identify the birds they see. Clear photographs and brief, facing-page species accounts highlight what to look for and how to quickly identify species. The photos include both close-ups and birds-in-habitat images to further aid real-life identification. An introduction and maps provide an overview of Chile’s geographic regions and their distinctive birdlife. Birds of Chile is also a great resource for birding in nearby countries, especially Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru.

  • The first field-friendly photographic guide to the birds of Chile
  • More than 1,000 real-life photos and brief, facing-page text make bird identification easy
  • Overview and maps describe the distinct bird regions of Chile
  • Perfect for curious naturalists and experienced birders alike
  • Compact and easy to carry and pack
  • Also a great resource for birding in Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru

 

Katrina van Grouw: Flight of the Peacocks

A peacock’s train is not its tail! You can see its real tail, lying flat against the magnificent fan-shaped train when it’s fully spread.

There’s something missing from my living room.

I know there’s something missing because there’s over a square yard of bookcase visible that I haven’t seen for years, revealing a lot of books I’d forgotten I own. The obscuring object, shrouded in cloth wraps, has now gone, and my books have re-materialised as from behind a stage curtain.  It’s a small step back towards normality after the domestic chaos that came with The Unfeathered Bird (and became even worse with Unnatural Selection).

Although the house is, and will probably always be, full of skeletons, saying farewell to the two enormous paintings—the diptych— that was created for the jacket illustrations of The Unfeathered Bird is at least a step in the right direction. As I write, the paintings are somewhere on the Atlantic Ocean on a one-way trip to America. Their final destination: the offices of Princeton University Press, New Jersey, where they belong.

If you’re not already familiar with the book, the paintings are of a peacock; front and back view. It’s an unfeathered—well, partly unfeathered peacock. One of the most frequently-repeated untruths about birds is that a peacock’s splendid fan-shaped train, bedecked with glittering iridescent “eyes”, is its tail. It’s not. Its elongated feathers actually originate from the lower back and rump. A peacock’s tail feathers are actually very plain things, just long grey-brown feathers that you can see lying close to the back of the train when it’s fully spread. For this reason I chose to leave the train and tail feathers onthe otherwise naked skeleton.

The idea came from a specimen in the collections at Naturalis, the Natural History Museum of the Netherlands in Leiden, where Husband was formerly curator in charge of birds and mammals. It was one of a set of now rather old and tatty skeletal preparations that included some feathers left in place. This particular specimen happened to be a white peafowl, which I decided would be a good idea so as not to detract from the limited palette used in the book.

Although the Leiden specimen provided the inspiration for the paintings, its posture, like that of so many historical museum specimens, wasn’t sufficiently accurate for my needs. For that we had to prepare a fresh specimen of our own. By pure co-incidence a taxidermist friend of Husband’s, a man named Bas, had recently acquired a dead peafowl that was surplus to requirements. The story’s quite an amusing one and is worth telling:

Bas was contacted one day by a farmer asking the price of having a dead pheasant mounted. He quibbled over the price but reluctantly agreed; only to turn up not with a pheasant but with a fully-grown peacock. Any taxidermist will tell you that peafowl are a lot more difficult to prepare than pheasants. Bas quite correctly pointed out that peafowl and pheasants were not the same price, at which the irate farmer (equally correctly) pointed out that peafowl are members of the pheasant family. The two scowled at one another for a matter of minutes before the farmer, accepting defeat, flung the dead bird at Bas and stormed off, never to return!

Husband prepared its skeleton in the required posture from knowledge gained during a lifetime of studying living birds. Like virtually all the skeletons in both my books, it was boiled down on the kitchen stove, bleached and dried on the draining board, and re-assembled on the dining table. This was also the skeleton that I used for the peacock illustration in side view, inside the book. For several months the two paintings, along with a very large easel, and the skeleton, formed a little enclave; a little ‘world of peacocks,’ circling the window, as I worked on them simultaneously; blocking out the light, filling the house with the smell of paint, and allowing peacocks to dominate the living room for the first time.

Inspired in my formative years by John James Audubon’s colossal Birds of America I have the ridiculous habit of producing all my artworks life-sized (I’ve only recently grown out of this since I’ve been producing illustrations of cattle and horses). All the skeletons in The Unfeathered Bird—the storks, pelicans, swans; even the ostrich body— were drawn to this scale, which entailed wrestling with easels in spaces barely big enough for even the cat to squeeze past, and all of the pictures have had to be stored somewhere in our very, very tiny house.

The skeleton used in side view in the book doubled up as the model for the cover paintings.

While peacock skeletons may not be that big, with the feathers on and shown life-sized, they’re enormous; too big by far to hang on the walls at home, or even to take upstairs to be stored. So apart from a few outings to be hung on exhibition, they’ve been blocking access to my living room bookshelves since 2011.

The paintings were done in acrylic, with paler layers underneath the darker brown surface. I worked in pencil on top of that, and scraped away the top layer of paint for some of the highlights on the bones, and added deeper shadows in acrylic. So if you look at them closely you can see pencil lines as well as painted areas.

On the ground, at the bird’s feet is a cast feather—a homage to the 17thCentury Dutch painter Melchior d’Hondecoeter whose splendidly animated scenes of poultry, waterfowl and exotic birds were always marked by his motif of a floating feather. I put these feathers on the inside flaps of the jacket, too.

I painted the entire bird almost to the tips of its spread train, but in the end chose to crop the digitized versions significantly for the book jacket, so as not to lose the details of the skeleton. I came frighteningly close to cropping the actual paintings—cropping with a saw, I mean—too, when I was faced with the problem of transporting them to exhibitions. Thankfully I decided not to.

The paintings’ first trip was to the picture framers’ and it was very nearly disastrous. Artists have a tendency to work on borrowed time and when it came to exhibitions I was no different. I had the diptych submitted for its first exhibition almost before it was finished and rushed the paintings to the framers thoroughly encapsulated in bubble-wrap without realizing that the varnish wasn’t fully dry. I peeled off the packaging to find a pattern of circular marks all over the surface, like a magnified newspaper photo.

You know how sometimes when things are truly calamitous you just stay unnaturally calm and collected, while you might over-react at a lesser accident? Well, this was one of those moments. The framer repeated in awe how he wouldn’t have been so cool in the same circumstances, as he scurried about the workshop finding rags to soak in turpentine. Amazingly with solvents, a hairdryer, and a lotof patience we managed to restore the surface to its desired finish. 

The first aid accomplished, we set ourselves to choosing a frame. I’m usually a person who knows exactly what I want when I go to a picture framers’, but this diptych was unlike anything I’d done before. Grinning, the framer disappeared into a back room. “I always knew the right picture for this would show up sooner or later” he called above the grating of heavy objects being moved around. “You’ll either love this, or hate it.” He emerged some minutes later with a splendidly extravagant white baroque moulding, several inches thick. I loved it.

Diptych on display. The peacocks were exhibited publicly several times and looked stunning wherever they went. Here they’re at an exhibition of artworks from The Unfeathered Bird.

The paintings’ public debut was at the prestigious Society of Wildlife Artists’ annual exhibition at the Mall Galleries in London. After that it was the David Shepherd Wildlife Artist of the Year exhibition at the same gallery. Then a series of solo exhibitions: at the Natural History Museum at Tring, Nature in Art, and my local museum in Buckinghamshire. They looked spectacular every time.

I had various offers of private sales, including one from a wealthy art collector in Florence, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t tempted by the money and by the space to be regained in my living room. But it simply didn’t feel right to separate them from the context they were created in. As paintings they’re not, in fact, the best things I’ve ever done. But they’re the cover of The Unfeathered Bird—the book that dominated and changed the course of my adult life—and, for me, that makes them very special indeed.

In the idyllic world of daydreams there is a Katrina van Grouw Museum, established to preserve for posterity all the artworks from the books along with the skeletons and other specimens that were prepared exclusively for them. In that world, the peacock diptych hangs on the far wall to greet awestruck fans as they enter. “Are those the cover pictures?” they’ll whisper, “They’re so much larger than I thought they’d be”. “I can’t believe I’m finally seeing the real thing.

Sadly that world doesn’t exist and probably never will. But there was another option…

I am blessed with having a truly excellent publisher. No, I’m not just saying that because I’m writing this blog post for them. Princeton University Press has been marvellous. They’ve given me free rein to produce the books I want, trusted my every decision, and rooted for me every step of the way. They’ve shown endless patience, wild enthusiasm, and heart-warming kindness.  For a long time I wondered how I could possibly thank everyone. I could send flowers – or give some prints to individuals. But the more people I worked with, the more it seemed the entire staff was on my side. There would be bound to be someone I’d miss, and there are probably people who’ve worked on my books whose name I don’t even know.

Then it struck me that I could thank everyone, every single day, by sending my peacocks to Princeton where they’d be permanently associated with me and my books, and a permanent message of thanks to everyone who works there. Not just as a message to those directly involved, but as a symbol of generic appreciation from an author to a publisher.

Authors can be a bit surly on occasion. We work alone for years nurturing our ideas into tangible form and, at the end of it, when we’d guard our creations with our very life, we’re thrust into a team-work situation with our precious books in the middle. Perhaps unsurprisingly we can come across as rather defensive; resentful even, so I can imagine that working for a publishing company must sometimes seem a thankless task.

My peacocks are there to say that it’s not a thankless task.

If you work for Princeton University Press I hope that, as you walk past the two paintings in the foyer—and especially if you might not be having the best of days—you’ll look up at them and know that an author is grateful.

I, meanwhile—well I’ll be happily re-acquainting myself with all those books I’d forgotten I own…

 

Katrina van Grouw, author of The Unfeathered Bird and Unnatural Selection, inhabits that no-man’s-land midway between art and science. She holds degrees in fine art and natural history illustration and is a former curator of ornithological collections at a major national museum. She’s a self-taught scientist with a passion for evolutionary biology and its history.

Unnatural Selection is a stunningly illustrated book about selective breeding–the ongoing transformation of animals at the hand of man. More important, it’s a book about selective breeding on a far, far grander scale—a scale that encompasses all life on Earth. We’d call it evolution.

Suitable for the lay reader and student, as well as the more seasoned biologist, and featuring more than four hundred breathtaking illustrations of living animals, skeletons, and historical specimens, Unnatural Selection will be enjoyed by anyone with an interest in natural history and the history of evolutionary thinking.