Saturday, 24 November 2012

Galliformes 14: And finally…

Japanese Onagadori - tails can grow to 8m!
The last of this series should perhaps have been the first, as its Latin name Gallus domesticus is the source of the name of the whole order Galliformes – the ‘chicken-like’ birds. These are actually the commonest bird in Britain (115 million adults in mid-summer according to official statistics) and the British eat 877 million each year, plus a vast number of eggs. It is probably the main source of animal protein in the British diet, but production is notorious for animal welfare issues, especially around housing conditions for the birds during the few short weeks it takes for them to grow to a saleable size. Partly as a result, many more people these days are keeping chickens in their back gardens. Unfortunately, a desire to see their eggs produced in a more humane living environment is not always matched by a proper knowledge of medical care and diet, and concerns have been raised that these back garden birds may constitute a disease reservoir that may be a problem to commercial flocks. In addition, many cities now have large populations of urban foxes, which can be a serious threat to birds kept in open-topped pens, especially when the owners are at work.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Galliformes 13: Turkeys, domestic and wild

Stag (male) turkey displaying
A survey of all the galliform birds that can be encountered in the UK would be incomplete without covering the two domesticated species that just about everyone except vegetarians will eat each year, the turkey and the chicken. I will cover chickens (which have a long and complex cultural as well as culinary history) next week, but this week I will look at a bird that is going to feature in a lot of peoples meals in the next month or so.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Galliformes 12: Common Quail

Common Quail Coturnix coturnix
One of the smallest gamebirds in the UK is also one of the hardest to see, as a result of its secretive nature and its fondness for living in cornfields. While the gamebirds I have covered so far in this series are highly sedentary, the Common Quail Coturnix coturnix that we have in the UK are highly migratory, with western European birds overwintering in the Sahel region just south of the Sahara and with eastern European birds travelling to India. The British population is at the extreme northern edge of its range, and only a few hundred males are heard calling each year. Part of the problem with counting them is that once paired up males become silent, and small silent birds in the middle of a large cornfield are impossible to detect. They arrive in late April and depart for winter quarters in late summer.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Galliformes 11: The Capercaillie

Male Western Capercaillie
One of the largest birds in Britain is also a close relative of the Black Grouse, the Capercaillie Tetrao urogallus. Among other distinctions, it was the first native species to be reintroduced to this country after having been exterminated by human activity (mostly deforestation and over-hunting). Although the reintroduction was at first highly successful, today the species is in trouble once more, and a good deal of intervention is underway to prevent it going extinct a second time.