Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Spotted Dove (Streptopelia Chinensis)

(30 cm.) Pinkish-brown; long tail, black spotted patch on side of neck, white on the tip of the tail; large

The Spotted Dove, named for the speckled patch on its neck, is a pigeon, often generically referred to in Chinese as “ge zi.” It should be noted that there is more than one type of pigeon, and that the Spotted Dove is an entirely wild variety of pigeon and should not be confused with domestic pigeons which are raised by man. As its scientific name, “Streptopelia chinesis,” suggests, it is also known as the “Chinese Dove.”

Although it is closely related to domestic pigeons, one who encounters it in the field will quickly notice a difference in its temperament. Unlike the domestic pigeons that inhabit the cities in eastern China, this species is not approachable. In keeping with its completely wild status, this bird will not allow humans to venture too close. Even in city parks where people are common, the Spotted Dove has not lost its in-born fear of humans.

The Spotted Dove is a member of the order, “Columbiformes,” which contains all species of doves. The Spotted Dove, admired for its beauty and demure personality has been successfully introduced to many locations outside Asia including Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, and even Southern California.

The Spotted Dove, in keeping with its gentle nature is entirely a herbivore, feeding on vegetation, seeds and grain which it finds during its foraging sessions on the ground. It is a bird of open woodland, farms, and parks, making it well suited to life in and outside the city. It is not a social species, and will usually be found alone or with its mate.

The Spotted Dove, like other members of its order, mates for life, and shows true devotion to its mate. As a non-migratory species, this species breeds early in the spring with the female dove depositing two shiny white eggs in a nest. Both male and female parents attend to the feeding of the chicks and both parents can produce “pigeon milk” in their crops to help sustain the growing chicks.

The dove is the international symbol of peace, and the beautiful Spotted Dove conducts its business in a manner befitting this image.

Spotted Dove (Photo by Brian Westland)

Saturday, January 3, 2015


(40 cm.) Male: large; black  plumage; red frontal plate Female: brown with narrow bars on underparts.

Although often very common, rails, like the Watercock, are seldom seen as they frequent habitats that are rarely visited by the average person. Even birdwatchers who seek out these birds in their swampy habitats have a tough time glimpsing one. Most members of the rail family, “Rallidae”, are shy, skulking creatures that avoid any human contact if possible. Gallinules and coots are exceptions as they will often be seen swimming in open water in plain view.

The Watercock is one of the shy rails, and its often nocturnal way of life further complicates the chances of ever seeing one. Also, unlike many other bird species that will fly away when surprised by a passing human, rails will instead quietly run into dense vegetation never revealing their presence. On occasion, this bird will venture into rice fields to feed, and it is at these times that a few fortunate people may see it.

The Watercock is found throughout most of Asia from India and Pakistan in the west to Japan in the east, and south as far as Indonesia.  Throughout most of its range, it is a non-migratory, resident bird; however, in China it is a summer breeding season visitor, which can be found in the eastern half of the country from Sichuan along the south coast to Hainan and Taiwan and as far north as Liaoning Province.

This bird breeds in the swamps throughout its range where it can find ample tall vegetation in which to hide while it forages for food. It feeds by probing mud and shallow water for insects and small fish. It will also forage on the ground in search of grain and seeds at other times. The body of the Watercock is laterally flattened to allow it to pass easily among the reeds of its swampy home.

The female Watercock will choose a dry patch of ground among swamp vegetation to lay her eggs. A typical clutch is 3-6 eggs. Watercock chicks are entirely black, as with all other rail species.

Although Watercock sightings are rare and difficult to achieve, hearing these birds is not a difficult task at all. This bird is extremely noisy, especially during the summer breeding season when its deep, booming calls can be heard emanating from its swampy domain.

Monday, December 29, 2014

The coastal Chinese city of Qingdao is known for beer and beaches, but that's only part of the total picture. The city, as located on the East Coast of the country, is also a pretty good spot to find migrant Asian bird species in spring and fall as they navigate the the coast during spring and fall migration. The city also hosts a number of interesting resident species as well.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Eurasian Wryneck (Jynx torquilla)

(17 cm.) White eye line over brown eye line; grayish-brown head and back; heavily barred whitish underparts; often twists neck from side to side.

The Eurasian Wryneck is perhaps the oddest bird in China. The bird gets its name from its habit of twisting its neck from side to side when it is alarmed. It has a bizarre, even alien air about it. The bird is a member of the woodpecker family, “picidae,” but it does not behave much like a woodpecker at all. It seems to be more the avian equivalent of an anteater, that odd, strangely shaped mammal that eats ants exclusively and laps them up with a long, sticky tongue.

Most woodpeckers conform to a standard mode of behavior that consists of climbing around on the trunk of a tree and probing for insects that can be found in the bark. If none can be found, drill holes in the tree and extract the insects that way. The wryneck rejects this established behavior and chooses instead to hunt on the ground for its favorite food, ants, in a most un-woodpecker-like manner.

The Eurasian Wryneck is another semi-cosmopolitan bird species that can be found in Europe and Asia and in winter, in Africa. In China, the Eurasian Wryneck can be found in the northeast during summer, through the Central East Coast during spring and fall and in the Southeast in winter.

If a female Eurasian Wryneck is disturbed while at its nest, it will engage in its head-twisting behavior while making with loud hissing noises. This odd behavior was noticed by some in Europe who practiced witchcraft and the bird was often used in rituals. Part of the bird’s Latin name, “jynx,” means to put an evil spell on someone, more often spelled “jinx,” in English.

Like other woodpeckers, the Eurasian Wryneck nests in the cavity of a tree. This species, lacking the powerful bill and adaptations for drilling that other woodpeckers possess, will not make its own hole, instead it will find abandoned cavities left by other woodpeckers.

The Eurasian Wryneck’s appearance is just as strange as its curious habits. It looks unlike any other bird and its long heavily barred and mottled body gives it a rather reptilian look. For all its strangeness, this species must be appreciated its uniqueness, for it is truly just one of a kind.

Eurasian Wryneck (Photo by Martien Brand)

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Dusky Thrush (Turdus eunomos)

(25 cm.) Heavily-patterned black and white; reddish-brown wing linings; broad reddish-brown wing patch.

The Dusky Thrush is a member of a large family of sweet-singing songbirds, the thrushes, of the family, “Turdidae.” Thrushes throughout the world are considered among the most gifted of avian singers for their beautiful, rich flute-like warblings. Many thrush species in China are also gifted musical performers, with the Song Thrush as perhaps the most gifted of the clan.

The Dusky Thrush is also quite musical, performing its simple whistled song many times from the time it sets off on its spring migration north through the breeding season in mid- summer.

Thrushes and other species of songbirds sing not only to attract a mate, but also to set up territories during the annual summer breeding season. Each pair of birds of a particular species needs several square kilometers of space in a particular location from which they build nests and have exclusive food-gathering rights. The maintenance of strict territories ensures that chicks raised by parent birds of a particular species will have access to the necessary food resources for their survival.

The Dusky Thrush’s song is less often heard in China, however, as its breeding range is in the Far North of Russia. This bird seeks out grassy fields, pastures, and similar open country with scattered trees as its preferred habitat. The female lays 3-5 eggs in a rather messy-looking nest.

Following the breeding season, Dusky Thrushes will migrate south and spend the winters in Central and Southern China and Southeast Asia. It is during the winter that the Chinese observer will most often have the opportunity to glimpse this handsome bird in city parks. This bird is quite common and can be readily found in southeast China during the winter  months.

The Dusky Thrush is another versatile omnivore that is fond of insects, especially mosquitoes, and berries.

Dusky Thrush (Photo by Brian Westland)