ASIA'S BIRD HABITATS UNDER THREAT
In November 2004, AFP reported: “More than 300 bird species in Asia — about 12 percent of the region's feathered species — are under threat of extinction, with nearly half of their habitats left unprotected, a report warned. The report by conservation group Birdlife International also stressed that Asia's vast ornithological diversity would take a punishing hit in the next decade if governments did not move to formally protect the habitats of the threatened species, some 100 of which are listed as critically endangered. [Source: Agence France-Presse, November 18, 2004]
"If we do not take action we are going to lose 100 species or so in the next 10 years," Birdlife's Asia director Richard Grimmett told AFP at a briefing to launch the report, "Important Bird Areas in Asia". Some 332 bird species in Asia are under threat of extinction, mainly from the destruction of forest habitat, Grimmett said at a forum of the World Conservation Union (IUCN) gathering in Bangkok.
“Covering 28 countries from India to Japan, the report pinpointed 2,293 "important bird areas", many of them of global significance. Forty-three percent of the sites are not formally protected by governments, with another 14 percent only partially protected, said Grimmett. Indonesia is of particular concern, conservationists said, as it is host to 117 of the threatened species -- the highest number of endangered birds of any country on earth -- and has sufferedmassive deforestation.
“Huge tracts of Indonesian forests have been clear-cut in recent years to make way for oil palm or pulp plantations and crops such as coffee or bananas. Forest degradation was also cited as a key factor affecting bird species in the Philippines, while conversion of wetlands and grasslands, as well as pollution, invasive species and to a lesser degree the exotic pet trade, have impacted bird populations across the region.
Storm's stork live in the lowland forests of Borneo, Sumatra and Malaysia. They build their nests on platforms erected on tree branches near a river or swamp. The four-pound, 2½ -foot-tall birds have a red bill and feed on fish. [Canon advertisement in the April 1993 National Geographic].
The giant ibis lives in the lowland forests of northern Cambodia and southern Laos. It stands about 100 centimeters tall and weighs between two and four kilograms. The bird feeds in seasonal wetlands and sleeps in roosting trees at night. It was once thought the birds were extinct but a small population was found in the plains of northern Cambodia after the Khmer Rouge lost control of the area. [Canon advertisement in National Geographic].
Chickens were first domesticated from the red jungle cock, a bird native to Thailand, Burma, Laos, eastern India and Sumatra, about 5,000 years ago, apparently as much for the production of fighting cocks as meat and eggs. Male jungle cocks look just like conventional roosters. Jungle fowl chicks sometimes have coloring similar to chipmunks, which is ideal camouflage.
Red jungle fowl (Gallus gallus) live in mountain forests, bamboo woods, bushes and grass slopes. The length of male birds is 70 centimeters; females, 40 centimeters. They weigh 600 grams to one kilograms. They get food with their bill or peck after scratching with claws and eat seeds of vegetation, fruits, ants, termites and locusts. Resident bird that tend to stick to a particular area, red jungle fowls often spend their time in small groups. During mating the season, they utters sounds roosters but the sound at the end of their call stops suddenly. When competing for females during the mating season, male red jungle fowls often fight with one another. Wild jungle fowls are good at running and are extremely vigil. Red jungle fowls are the ancestors of modern chicken fowls. All species of domesticated chickens come from them.
The jungle fowl adapted easily to domestication. They became a dual-purpose bird. They produced eggs. When the bird grew to old to lay they could be killed for their meat. And of course they also provided cocks for fighting. Some have speculated that people may have first kept chickens for this symbolic connection with the dawn. In ancient India priests sacrificed chickens to the god of the sun. Other early Asian societies bred the birds for cockfighting.
Jungle fowl and chickens belong to the same family of birds as quails, partridges and pheasants. They are the only birds with combs, the fleshy growth on their heads; they generally eat seeds, insects and worms; and can fly several meters to make an escape. An average rooster weighs around 7 pounds, an average hen, 5 pounds.
Jungle Fowl Characteristics and Behavior
Jungle fowl are ground-dwelling birds. They spend most of their time searching for food by kicking their feet backwards and seeing what fruit, seeds and insects turn up. "Jungle fowl roosters cry “cock-a-doodle-doo” to herald the sunrise. Their cock a doodle do is a high pitched, slightly strangulated version of the crow that modern roosters produce.
Jungle fowl have combs and wattles like chickens. Females usually select males with the largest combs and wattles to mate with. Jungle fowl attacked by round worms usually have smaller combs and wattles that non-infected birds.
The social behavior of jungle fowl is not all that different from modern chickens. Jungle fowl are sociable birds They live in groups with a rigid hierarchy — a pecking order. In spring the cocks fight for territory to share with their hens, then protect them while the hens incubate their eggs and rear their chicks." Jungle fowl chicks have coloring similar to chipmunks.
Females usually select males with the largest combs and wattles to mate with. Jungle fowl attacked by round worms usually have smaller combs and wattles that non-infected birds and consequently have a hard time getting a mate. Red combs of roosters contain relatively large amounts of the sugar molecule hylauronan, which some predict will be the next botox-like anti-wrinkle agent.
Females have a defined pecking order, which determines who eats and drinks first. Males control harem-like flocks, which they jealously defend. A rooster show his interests in a hen by spreading his wings and helping her find a nesting site. Chicks break out their shells after 21 days and are up around in a few hours.
When chickens see blood or even red they peck. To keep chickens from pecking each other to death scientists have experimented with outfitting chickens with red contact lenses so they don't see red.
Kingfishers are especially well represented in Southeast Asia. Kingfishers are birds with a long, straights beaks that hunt for fish and other small creature by dive bombing into shallow water. They often have bright iridescent feathers. Cobalt blue with a touch red are common colors. Some species have a slightly hooked beak. Straight beaks are suited mainly for striking and grasping prey while slightly hooked ones are designed for holding and crushing.
Kingfishers are usually monogamous. They make their nests in burrows in river banks or hollows of trees or rotted logs. Courtship displays often involve loud calls and flights over the treetops. Both sexes participate in digging a burrow. A male courting a female, brings her one or two fish, carry them crossways in his bill. Chicks are fed regurgitated pellets.
Kingfishers live primarily on small fish, frogs and crawfish they catch by diving into the surface of a lake or river. They like to perch on branches overlooking prime hunting spots and often sit on one spot patiently, without moving for long periods of time, waiting for an unsuspecting fish to come within range. Kingfishers especially like ponds or lakes with trees that they can use as perches overhanging the water. They ideally like to be near shaded areas, where fish often congregate.
Kingfishers rarely dive deeper than 30 centimeters and catch most of their prey near lake shores or river banks. They do not pursue their prey underwater like cormorant or grebes. If they don’t have any success in their initial plunge they return to their perch and try again later. If they catch a fish they do not tear it to pieces rather they maneuver it around into the right position inside their bill and swallow it head first. Sometimes they slam their prey against a branch to kill it or stun it and make it easier to swallow.
Kingfishers can hoover above the water, They can't do it as long as hummingbirds and most species need some wind to do it. Even their hoovering ability is quite extraordinary and required a radical alteration of the basic bird skeleton to achieve. Some kingfishers hunt over land rather water.
Describing a kingfisher capturing a small fish, David Attenborough, wrote in The Life of Birds, "the turquoise blue kingfisher sits on a perch above a stream, short of tail but armed with a long dagger of a beak. At the sight of a small fish in the water below, it will flash into action. If its perch is a low one, only a few feet above the surface of the water, it will fly upwards to gain height to give itself room to gain speed on its dive."
"Then down it comes increasing its momentum with a few flickering wing-beats. With its wings extended but folded back tightly against its body, it plunges into the river. Its target may be minnow or a stickleback, Even if it is as much as three feet below the surface, the kingfisher will be able to reach it. Beating its wings below water to help it rise, the little bird shoots through the surface and flies off to a perch. There is kills its victim by thrashing its head against some hard object, and with one gulp, swallows it."
Peafowl are ground-dwelling forest birds that are native to Asia. They are members of the pheasant family and related to chickens and jungle fowl. There are three species. The blue peafowl have been adapted to humans and share parks with them in India and Europe. The green peafowl is regarded as endangered in its native Southeast Asia, mainly through destruction of its forest habitat.
There are all together three species of peafowl: the green peafowl, the blue peafowl and the Congo peafowl. Blue peafowl are quite similar with green peafowl; only that the color of their tails are mainly blue and the feather crest of blue peafowl are like a bat. The Congo peafowl was only discovered in 1936 in the rain forests of the eastern Congo.
The blue peafowl (peacocks) are native to Southeast Asia, India and Sri Lanka, where they are still common in the wild. They are also known as the common peafowl and the Indian peafowl. Males are called peacocks. Females are called peahens. A group of peacocks is called an "ostentation" or a "flock." In the wild this usually consist of one cock and three of hour hens.
Green Peafowl(Pavo muticus) are the largest pheasant bird. The body and tail length of males, is 2.3 meters; of females, about one meter. Adults weigh seven to eight kilograms. They live in mountain forests and in low latitude tropical and sub-tropical forests, bamboo woods and bush lands. They get food with their bill or peck after scratching with claws and eat leaves, flowers, fruit of vegetation of various kinds and insects. They can be found South and Southeast Asia.
Green Peafowl like to hang around at ground level and get most of their food there. They don’t fly much except to escape when threatened The rest on trees during the night. The build their nests and lay their eggs in hiding places in the bush. During the mating season, males display their tails to show their beautiful feathers while making "ah, wu, ah, wu" noises. The tail feathers of green peacocks can number more than 100 pieces.
Peafowl can fly over fences and houses. Peacocks can be vicious fighters. They have been observed attacking cobras.
Peacocks and History
The peacock has been domesticated for at least 4,000 years in Asia and is found now in almost every country in the world. Its spectacular tail feather display has been an inspiration for rulers and elite. The seat of power of the Mogul empire and the later the Shah of Iran was the "Peacock Throne," a magnificent throne with an image of a peacock with an expanded tail wrought in gold and precious stones in the background.
The Greeks knew of peacocks and called them Juno's bird. The Romans associated the eyespots on the peacock's tail with the hundred-eyed giant Argus. For early Christians they were a symbol of immortality. The Chinese gave peacock feathers to distinguished mandarins; medieval European aristocrats served peacocks at banquets as a special delicacy. "Proud as a peacock" is an old saying.
In India, peacocks have traditionally been associated with good luck and kept to ward off snakes, tigers and evil spirits. A sacred Hindu law forbids harming a peacock in any way. Some shrines are home scores of peacocks that roost on nearby trees and live off handouts.
Peacocks and their tails initially presented Charles Darwin with a challenge to his theory on evolution but then let to a great insight. Nicholas Wade wrote in the New York Times, “Showy male ornaments, like the peacock’s tail, appeared hard to explain by natural selection because they seemed more of a handicap than an aid to survival. “The sight of a feather in a peacock’s tail, whenever I gaze at it, makes me sick,” Darwin wrote. But from worrying about this problem, he developed the idea of sexual selection, that females chose males with the best ornaments, and hence elegant peacocks have the most offspring. [Source: Nicholas Wade, New York Times, February 9, 2009]
Peafowl live to a maximum age of 30 years. Adult males weigh between nine and 13 pounds and are six to eight feet in length, including their tail. Females weigh between six and nine pounds and are two to three feet in length. They lack the large tail feathers that males have.
Like chickens peafowl can only fly for short distances. Flying is regarded mainly as means of escaping predators not traveling long distances. Not bogged down by a large train females can fly better than males. When covering long distances they move in a series of short flights of several meters rather than one long flight. To get from place to place they walk, jump and run. They have spurs on their feet which they can use to fight off attacks much as fighting cocks do.
The males are the ones with the elaborate tail plumage, which is called a train. These feathers are believed to play a role in attracted females and intimidating rivals. Males and females have similar in appearance until they are two years old. After that the male begins to develop their brilliant tail plumage. The feathers grow on back of the male just above the tail, not on the tail itself.
A peacock’s train is made up of around 150 feathers that can rise up to five feet from the body. The peacock plumage comes in metallic shades of bronze, blue, green and gold. Most of the times these are folded up in train begin the tail. When the male is aroused the feathers and the quills of the tail stand erect and spread like a fan. The tail feather are short, stiff quills that hold the fan in place. The 150 “feathers” in the fan are protective extensions, or vervets, that cover the quills. The wing feathers beat rapidly behind a spread fan.
Male peacock tails are twice as long as their body length and are clearly a burden to carry around. The tail makes it harder to escape predators and gives the predators a large target to aim for. The feathers also require a lot of maintenance. Peacocks spend a great deal of time preening.
The plumes of the peacock look multicolored but are actually brown. The plums are made of keratin, the same material found in human fingernails. The color is created by microscopic melanin reflective rods in the tiny barbules that line each of the feather’s barbs. Slight differences in the spacing and layering of the melanin rods in the keratin causes different colors to be reflected. Melanin is the substance that causes darkness in human skin. The process is somewhat similar to the way water droplets create rainbows. Sir Isaac Newton had suggested this possibility 300 years ago.
Peacocks are social birds who prefer to sleep and move around in a group. If any members of the group senses a theat it lets out an alarm call that alerts the others. Male peacocks make a strange whooping noise that has been described as resembling a half-human half baboon. .
Peacocks generally stay in one area as long as they have a reliable source of food and a tree to roost in. At zoos and parks they are generally allowed to run free because it is known they will not wander far.
Peafowl sleep on the tops of trees, rear to rear, for protection from predators. They are hunted by leopards, tigers, jackals, dholes. martens, civets and hawk eagles. They prefer brush land with scattered bushes and trees.
Green peacocks have a reputation for being much more hostile and aggressive than blue peacocks. When these birds are in an aggressive mood they first erect their trains and engage in a strutting display. They then rush and scream and fight like roosters in a cock fight.
Peacock Mating and Parenting
Males use their spectactularly colored plumage in elaborate courtship displays. The most desirable ones in the eyes of the females can presided over a harem of three to five peahens,
Male peacocks raise and fan out their tail feathers during courtship displays. They may beat their small wings behind the fan and strut around, this way and that and let out loud scream. It is not entirely clear what attract the females the most: size, sheen, or color. Females seem to prefer males with elaborate, heavily spotted trains and loud calls. Young males with less developed trains and softer calls generally don’t attract a mate.
In May 2008 Natural History magazine reported: Show-off males are common among birds, but peacocks stand out for their extravagantly long tail feathers adorned with dramatic spots (let's not call them "eyespots"). There is general agreement that long and elaborate trains have evolved as a result of female preference, but a new study suggests that this selection may not be operating anymore. [Source: Natural History magazine and Animal Behavior, May 2008]
Mariko Takahashi of the University of Tokyo and three colleagues studied the sexual behavior of a feral population of the Indian peafowl, Pavo cristatus, in Izu Cactus Park, Japan. After seven years, the team concluded that peahens are not sweeter on males with longer trains, more symmetrical arrangements of tail sports or greater number of tail spots...Feamles di however spend more time with males that shook their tails at them — a display called shivering...Takahashi warns that high rates of shivering may be a consequence of a female already having chosen a male not a cause of it.
Peafowls make their nest in the ground on low branches or in a hole behind a cover of grass, bamboo, or shrubbery. The peahen usually lays three to eight eggs. Sometimes the eggs of several peahens are mixed and different mothers take turns incubating them.
Village of the Damned Cocky Peacocks
In May 2004, Nick Britten wrote in The Telegraph: “There are strange goings-on in Cookley [England]. Signs of vandalism are everywhere — cars scratched, gutters torn down, gardens ripped up. The culprits can be constantly heard but not easily seen. When they are, residents head for the safety of their homes. The village has become home to a flock of 14 peacocks, and they are causing quite a stir. No one knows where they arrived from, but most are hoping they won't stay long. Pensioners and children have been warned to keep their distance, while anyone who has tried to capture them has discovered a stubborn, gang-like mentality as they strut around in packs and refuse to give themselves up. [Source: Nick Britten, The Telegraph, May 6, 2004]
"Although it sounds funny, it is quite a serious issue," said Chris Nicholls, a local councillor who has been receiving complaints from residents. "One man said one of the peacocks saw his own reflection in his car and started attacking it, thinking it was another male. 'When he went to stop it, a group of them, about six, became quite aggressive and backed him off." A male and a female have been seen on and off in surrounding woodland next to the Worcestershire village for the past few years, but in recent weeks the numbers have swollen. Showing little regard or concern for their new hosts, the peacocks are being blamed for damaging brick walls, knocking off slate roofing, wrecking guttering and destroying manicured lawns.
Worse still is the infernal racket they make, adding sleepless nights to the list of woes that the residents of Cookley have begun compiling. The fear is that the first human casualty is not far off. Talk in the village yesterday centred around two topics: where the peacocks came from and when are they going. The general consensus on the former is that they escaped from a private owner, hence their cockiness - even by peacock standards. As for the latter, opinion is split. Those unaffected think they are rather cute, while for anyone who has had their property damaged or fingers threatened, the sooner they are caught the better.
Mr Nicholls, 54, said: "Everyone likes peacocks. They are very beautiful creatures, until they start causing damage to your home and property. "I watched as one of the birds landed on guttering by the bedroom window. Due to its sheer size the lot came toppling down." Hilda Ward, 66, said she was having to have her roof repaired. "They are very graceful creatures but they are doing a lot of damage to homes in this part of the village. Every time I plant new flowers they are pulled out and there are droppings on my lawn and all over the roof." Their size and unwillingness to be imprisoned has so far made them impossible to catch. A number of human-bird stand-offs have taken place, and all have ended in the same result.
Surrounded by woodland and canals, Cookley is clearly too comfortable a home to leave easily. Paul Hancock, 43, a toolmaker, said: "We get them landing on our garage at all times of night and day. They fly on to the roof and start making a terrible noise. When they see their own reflections in the landing window, they really become aggressive. "I've tried everything to get them off my property but there is no way I'm getting too close. The males are quite frightening. And they have sharp claws that would be able to cut the skin to ribbons. "Two or three peacocks could quite easily hurt someone badly especially because there are always two or three of them. They seem to hang around in packs.
"I have tried everything from spraying them with water to playing loud music, but it just doesn't seem to bother them." Nancy Rixon, 36, said her two children, Bethany, 10, and Christopher, eight, were "fascinated" - but she had warned them to admire the birds from afar. She said: "There is no denying that they are extremely beautiful. They are always at the front or the back of the house and although I still let the children go out and play I warn them not to get too close. "They are enormous birds and if they become aggressive, they could be extremely intimidating."
Pheasants with Long Feathers
Most pheasants originated from Southeast Asia, including ones that are found in Europe and North America today. The male crested argus pheasant of Southeast Asia has the longest feathers of any bird. The tail feathers average around one meter in length and can be as long as two meters. The wing feathers are also very long. The crested argus is found in only two places: the Tuong San area of Vietnam and Laos and the montane areas of Malaysia.
The male argus crested pheasant uses its feathers in a bizarre courtship ritual in which he arranges the long feathers in a fan and then peer at the female through the middle with one eye. Images on feathers look like huge eyes (the bird’s name id derived from the multi-eyed mythical Greek monster Argus).
Before the courtship ritual the male clears an area in the forest about six meters or so across. He is so thorough that seedling on the space are picked and uprooted. Females are summoned to the “arena” with loud calls. When a female arrives the male dances. As he dances he becomes more exited. Suddenly he erects his enormous tail feather and unfurls his wings so that he looks like a wall of feathers covered in eyes. The hope is that the female will be so blown away by the display that she will let him mount here.
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: National Geographic, Natural History magazine, Smithsonian magazine, Wikipedia, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, The Guardian, Top Secret Animal Attack Files website, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, The Economist, BBC, and various books and other publications.
Last updated July 2022