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Bird World Part 4

The Reed Warbler Acrocephalus scirpaceus, shown here feeding its young belongs to a group of birds which even experienced birdwatchers have difficulty in identifying by sight, and the various Reed Warblers and their song. This is probably also the main way in which the various species identify their mates. Reed Warblers are only found in the Old World where they live in a wide variety of marshy habitats. Bird-lovers delight in the brilliant colours of the small finch-like tanagers of the New World. There are over 200 species and they nearly all retain their dazzling colours the whole year round. In the tropical jungles of South America the most vivid of these compact, active birds vie in colouring with the gaudy parrots as they fly through the trees.

The diversity in colour of the tanager family is amazing. Many species, such as the lovely Emerald-spotted Tanager Tangara punctata and the Black and Green Tanager Tangara nigrovirdis (bottom left), build open cup nests in bushes and trees, but there are also some species which build covered nests. Typical tanagers have short, stout beaks. One specialized group of nectar-eating tanagers, however, have long slender beaks which they use to hold and pierce flowers. Some tanagers are quite competent songsters while others, the blue tanagers among them, can scarcely sing a note.

The blue tanagers are busy little birds with a huge appetite for fruit and berries. They also eat insects which they catch, with amusing dexterity, on the wing. Their nests are shallow cups in trees or bushes and after mating a pair of blue tanagers nearly always stays together for the rest of the year. Frequent visitors to parks and private gardens, they are probably among the best known of all the tanagers. The picture is of the pretty Blue-headed Tanager, Tanagara cyanicollis.

Other well-known birds of the New World are the seed-eating cardinals. Perhaps the most popular of all the cardinals is the Red Cardinal Pyrrhuloxia cardinalis which is very common in the United States, where it is affectionately known as the ‘red bird’. A handsome bird, with its bold scarlet colouring, distinctive crest and stout conical-shaped beak, it is a familiar sight on the outskirts of cities such as New York. The female is easily distinguished from the male, as she is more brown than red.

Most cardinals build shallow cup nests which are similar to those of many of the tanagers, except that they are usually found on or very close to the ground. The three birds illustrated here are among the most colourful of the species breeding in North America. They are quite unrelated and have very different habits.

The Yellow Warbler Dendrica petechia is a summer visitor, arriving in North America when the apple trees are coming into blossom. The male is a loud and persistent songster, singing for most of the day and leaving the female to get on with building the nest. The Yellow Warbler is often parasitized by cowbirds but, unlike many other birds, Warblers will often build another nest over the top of the original if it contains the egg of a cowbirds; as many as six grow rapidly, leaving the nest about a fortnight later. Shortly afterwards the Yellow Warblers will set off on their journey south.
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Article Added on Wednesday, September 24, 2008
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