What the bird… #6: Mute Swan

•February 12, 2014 • 2 Comments

Again –  the Mute Swan normally is just “the swan” and actually the only Swan we have. As winter guests on Lake Constance we do have other all-white Tundra- and Whooper Swans with partially yellow beaks.
Mute Swan

The Mute Swan has a beautiful orange beak in nice contrast with the all white appearance.
Mute Swan

When I was still little I always thought that the nose hole is the eye. And my mother told us the story that the swans are married if they are wearing a ring. Today she says that she never would have said something like this and maybe I heard the story somewhere else or I invented it myself.
In German the Mute Swan (cygnus olor) is called Swan with knuckle (Höckerschwan). It isn’t really mute – it can grunt and its wings creak when flying. So the mute is probably to show the difference to the Whooper Swan (called Singing Swan in German) – but I have never heard one of these and so I can’t say anything about it.

And by the way: can you see an “ugly duckling” here?

More information: http://vogelwarte.ch/mute-swan.html

Portrait in German

What the bird… #5: Mallard

•February 5, 2014 • 1 Comment

One of the most abundant ducks on Swiss lakes is probably the Mallard, that’s why most people just call it “the duck”.
Mallard female

Male and female are pretty easy to distinguish. A small problem is, that there are some other female ducks looking very alike, e.g. the Gadwall, who doesn’t have the blue part on the wing* or the Eurasian Teal who is much smaller. The male Mallard is unique in his colorful breeding plumage.
Mallard male

Mallards start courting in fall. Here are two older blog posts about males fighting and the courtship behavior. When they have found each other they stay together until spring.
Mallard with chicks
Only the females look after their little ones in spring and summer.
male Mallard while molting

The shiny drake gets very dull in summer while molting and looks almost like the female. As a child I always thought that they are gone, spending summer somewhere “on holiday”. But they stay – distinguishable from the females almost only by their yellow beak.

*no blue wing feathers visible on the first photo

More information: http://vogelwarte.ch/mallard.html

Portrait in German

What the bird… #4: Collared Dove and Wood Pigeon

•January 29, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Besides the “normal pigeon” the two more unknown but still abundant pigeons in Switzerland are the Eurasian Collared Dove and the Common Wood Pigeon.

collared dove
The slender Collared Dove is beige-grey and its name giving black collar is a good field mark. The German name “Turkish Dove” shows that it came from the orient but is spreading more and more, for example in cities:
collared dove in nest in the middle of Zurich

The bigger Wood Pigeon is mostly seen on fields or in woods. It is definitely bigger than the other pigeons and it has a white dot on the side of the neck. While flying it shows a white band on every wing.
Wood Pigeon

Even I can distinguish the two pigeons by sound:
Collared Dova three parts: du-Duu do
Wood Pigeon five parts: DUH-duu, doo-doo … du

More information: http://www.vogelwarte.ch/eurasian-collared-dove.html http://www.vogelwarte.ch/common-wood-pigeon.html

German version

What the bird… #3: Rock Pigeon

•January 22, 2014 • Leave a Comment

There is a saying in German “rather the sparrow in the hand than the pigeon on the roof top”. Meaning, that having something small is better than looking at/not having something big. I like pigeons and sparrows where they belong. Pigeons used to belong on rocks or in the woods. But streets and houses are like rocks and so the Rock Pigeon or Rock Dove came to stay. They also eat whatever is around. The more food the more offsprings and then there are suddenly too many pigeons and too much dirt.
Rock Pigeon

But have you ever looked closely to see their sparkly neck part. Beautiful pink and turquoise – the undervalued beauty of a Rock Pigeon.
Rock Pigeon

More information: http://www.vogelwarte.ch/feral-pigeon.html

Portrait in German

What the bird… #2: Tree- and Italian Sparrow

•January 15, 2014 • 1 Comment

Do those little brown birds all look alike for you, too? Last time I wrote about the House Sparrow. It is abundant in Switzerland and mostly just “the sparrow”. If you are a little bit used in bird watching you can see the differences between a House and an Eurasian Tree Sparrow.
Eurasian Tree Sparrow

The male House Sparrow has a grey cap, the Tree Sparrow a brown one. Male and female Tree Sparrows look the same, not like the House Sparrow. A good field mark to identify the Tree Sparrow is its brown dot on the cheek.
Eurasian Tree Sparrow

The Italian Sparrow has only one big difference to the House Sparrow: a brown instead of a grey cap. It lives south of the Alps, in the Ticino and in Italy. I once saw them in the very south of Italy and I wasn’t able to take a photo.

More information on the Tree Sparrow: http://www.vogelwarte.ch/eurasian-tree-sparrow.html
More informatione on the Italian Sparrow: http://www.vogelwarte.ch/italian-sparrow.html

Portrait in German

What the bird… #1: House Sparrow

•January 8, 2014 • 2 Comments

The House Sparrow is everywhere in Swiss towns. They clean out all the crumbs of sandwiches and other food consumed on the street.
House Sparrow

Whole shrubs seem to tweet when families of sparrow gather together for information sharing.
House Sparrow

Even though they seem abundant, their number is declining. If sparrow parents feed their fledglings too much bread instead of chewy protein in forms of caterpillars and insects, the little ones don’t survive.
House Sparrow female with food
House Sparrow egg

Even sparrows are important for our biodiversity. An evident story is the one from China: Mao thought that sparrows eat too much corn or rice on the fields. They handed out money for dead sparrows and soon millions of them were killed. But the missing birds did not only eat no rice but also no insects and soon there was a plague of locusts, followed by a famine.
House Sparrow female
House Sparrow male

For a long time I didn’t know that there is more than one sparrow. The field sparrow and the italian sparrow do look very similar. More next time.
More information; http://www.vogelwarte.ch/house-sparrow.html

Duck, Gull, Pigeon and Sparrow – what the bird…

•January 2, 2014 • 3 Comments

There is a children’s song in German called “Amsel, Drossel, Fink und Star” (Blackbird, Thrush, Finch and Starling). Probably not too many know how those birds look like. And most of the time people just say “the” duck, gull, pigeon or sparrow.
In the series “What the bird…” I’d like to give a little information and show some photos of the birds, that are around us (here in Switzerland).

Black-headed Gull
For the start of the new year I show the first bird I saw on January 1st: “the gull” or more precisely the Black-headed Gull.In the winter months big flocks sit on bridges or in harbors. As soon as there is food they come flying and then fight about the pieces they caught.
Black-headed Gull

Gulls are pretty hard to identify, because they look just a little different every calendar year. The Black-headed Gull is not so hard. It is one of our smaller Gulls and the juveniles don’t look too different from the adults.
Black-headed Gull juvenile
They still have some brown feathers but already have the brown spot on the ear. The adults don’t have any brown anymore and in breeding plumage they have a distinctive chocolate brown hood.Black-headed Gull breeding plumage

More information: http://www.vogelwarte.ch/common-black-headed-gull.html

Portrait in German


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