Friday, 23 August 2013

Passerines 6: Sumatran Laughingthrush

Sumatran Laughingthrush
Widespread throughout Asia are a group of medium sized to large passerines, the laughingthrushes, Garrulax spp., with at least 50 species. Despite their name, they are not considered especially close to the true thrushes, Turdus spp., instead being placed currently in a separate family Leiothricidae, generally considered close to the various species of babblers in the Timaliidae.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Passerines 5: Azure-Winged Magpie

Asian Azure-Winged Magpie, Bristol
 The only species of the crow family that Bristol currently has in its collection is a bird with (until recently) a rather mysterious distribution. The Azure-Winged Magpie is know from only two parts of the world, the Iberian peninsula in Europe, and eastern Asia, with no known populations in between. This was so confusing a picture that for a long time it was believed that the birds in Spain and Portugal originated very recently as escaped sailors pets, brought back by Spanish or Portugese navigators to the Far East in the 16th or 17th centuries, but it is now known that they are relicts of a much more widely spread population, which diverged from the Asian birds at least a million years ago. The European birds do look somewhat different, being rather smaller and lacking a white end to the tail, but otherwise look and behave the same as the Asian birds. The Bristol zoo birds are the Asian form, Cyanopica cyana. The European birds have been classed as a separate species, C.cooki, but this is not yet on the official lists.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Passerines 4: White-Rumped Shama

White Rumped Shama, Bristol Zoo (male)
Moving on from starlings, one of the most musical birds in our collection can be seen in the Forest of Birds, where we have a pair of White-Rumped Shama, Copsychus malabaricus. These birds have an extensive range through India and south East Asia, and have been divided into numerous subspecies. In addition, they have been introduced to Hawai’i and Taiwan, where they are considered invasive and a possible threat to native species.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Passerines 3: Bali Starling

The last, and rarest, of the starlings we have at Bristol is one of the most beautiful of the group, the Bali Starling (or Mynah) Leucopsar rothschildi. Only scientifically described in 1912, it is endemic to the island of Bali in Indonesia, and is the only surviving endemic vertebrate. Bali is densely populated, and the resultant habitat destruction resulting of conversion of its native habitat for agriculture means that it is classed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN.

Unlike most starlings, which often feed on the ground, Bali Starlings feed by gleaning through the canopy, searching for fruit and insects. They nest in holes in trees, both those excavated by other birds and natural cavities. As with most starlings, male and female are identical, and the song of the male is a series of wheezes and crackles.