Sunday, July 31, 2011

Birding notes from a new world location

Common grackle Birds on Miami beach

Old world and the new world are two geographical differentiations that is referred to when discussing the land mass of the earth. The term new world does not relate to the term modern world as the latter refers to a historic period. This reference comes in to the usage in the late 15th century as the Europeans until then did not know of the Americas and thought of the world as consisting only of Europe, Asia and Africa; them which are now referred to as the Old World while the Americas and Australasia being referred as the New World. It is a general practice to refer to the old and new world in the study of natural history.

The British colonized much of the old world; resulting in much literature and records on Natural History available in the old world to that of the new world.

I was fortunate enough to visit part of the new world in April 2009 when I happened to visit Miami, Florida in the United States.

Being a person bitten by the travel bug and always looking out for avian creatures, my first look out as the plane touched down at the Fort Lauderdale airport and waiting to be docked into a jet bridge was a blackish bird with iridescent wing coverts picking on the mowed grass. My first impression was that this bird was a crow or raven but later reference showed it to be a grackle, a most common bird around. The three most common birds about here are all in the family Corvidae; the Blue Jay, the Common Grackle and the Boat-tail Grackle. The other most common bird seen around is the all famous Mocking Bird referred to in most American folklore.

Bathers and birds Laughing gull

The Miami's South Beach the famous seafront is so populous with bathers nevertheless bird life is again plenty when compared to the Sri Lankan beaches which are frequented often by crows. Sanderlings and the Laughing Gulls are a common sight on the edge of the shore line. The Brown Pelican hovers above you and lands among the bathers in their feeding habits undisturbed. The palm trees that line the streets are a haven for the noisy Red-crowned Parrot.

The Matherson Hammock Park (an area of forested land that rises above a marsh) in the Coral Gable is a rendezvous for many pets that have been released when they are oversized to be handled. Exotic iguanas of various colour forms and birds from finches to parrots and common myna to the hill myna could be seen. It was almost stunning to hear two large blue and yellow Macaws flying over calling each other so loudly. On inquires made it was said that, them and many other exotic birds are escapees of the zoo during a devastating hurricane and are now developing in the wild.

Several common birds in North America, such as the House Sparrow, the Rock Pigeon, the European Starling, and the Mute Swan are all introduced species. In comparison the Spotted Dove is represented by the Eurasian Collared-Dove; the Common Myna by the European Starling while the Ravens are confined to forests the Grackle is common in the cities. The Woodpeckers are numerous while the nocturnal owl species are high above proportion to the diurnal bird species. North America has very little nocturnal avian behaviour when compared to the tropics. It has no fruit bat species and the home gardens are laden with luscious mangoes right now in Miami. Generally most birds are drab in coloration even in the form of male to female. However the Northern Cardinal and the Indigo Bunting represent much colour that most others lack.

Indigo bunting Sanderling

A general literature survey of birds in the new world gives interesting information that varies from the old world to which reasons need to be found scientifically. Of them the most interesting is that almost all cuckoos in the old world are brood parasites, while the new world cuckoos, excepting two species build clumsy nests similar to those of the pigeons in which they raise their own young.

The Cattle Egret is historically said to be an African bird that has colonized North America and is found throughout the lower states. It is said the Cattle Egret is the only old world bird to have establish itself in North America in historical times without being introduced by man.

It is also strange to note that the North America with a land mass of 24,230,000 square kilometres holds around 750 bird species while Sri Lanka with a land mass of 65,610 square kilometres has a species richness of 489. It would be interesting to have a scientific explanation to this phenomenon while on the other hand North America holds the largest populations of migratory birds during the northern winters. 

Published in the Sunday Observer  Impact 2009 - 5 - 17

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