Ian’s Bird of the Moment – Christmas Island Birds

Ian’s Bird of the Incident he’s called it this time in his newsletter. By Ian Montgomery
Well, I’ve finally emerged from various Christmas Island induced rabbit holes and we can have our virtual trip to look at some of the special birds of this remote island. There aren’t any feral rabbits on Christmas Island, so Red Crab burrows might be a better metaphor.
Christmas Island is both remote and very old, making it an interesting place in terms of both biogeography and avian evolution. It is about 350km/220 miles south of the western tip of Java and 1,550km/960 miles northwest of Exmouth in Western Australia. There are no nearby islands – the Cocos Keeling Islands are 980km/610 miles to its west. It first appeared about 60 million years ago as a 5,000m/ high volcanic seamount which then underwent several geological uplifts over the following 10 million years giving it a layered structure with cliffs, both coastal and farther inland, formed by coastal erosion. Coral reefs deposited limestone over the basalt core.
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60 million years ago was shortly, geologically speaking, after the extinction event, thought to be a global collision with a large object, about 66 million years ago that marked the end of the Cretaceous period. This caused the extinction of many plants and animals, notably the dinosaurs, and resulted in rapid adaptive radiation of many surviving groups, particularly birds and mammals. At the time Australia was still attached to Antarctica and the other tectonic plates of the former Gondwana were still drifting to their current locations and resulting land masses: South America, Africa, Madagascar and India.
The island has an area of 135 sq km/52 sq mi and the coast is an almost continuous cliff with few bays or beaches, as shown in the photo of the east coast. Although known to European sailors from the 17th century, the cliffs made landing, exploration and settlement difficult and it remained uninhabited and consequently undisturbed until the late 19th Century. The largest bay is Flyingfish Cove near the north of the island where the Settlement is located. The photo below shows a typical stretch of coast looking south from Margaret’s Knoll on the eastern side of the island.
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You’ll probably know from previous posts that I’m particularly interested in the evolution and ecology of birds, and by extension their taxonomy and biogeography. Isolated islands both provide fascinating insights into and pose intriguing questions about both evolution and biogeography and I’m going to look at the species on Christmas Island from these angles. We’ll start with the taxonomically most unusual, Abbott’s Booby, which belongs to a monotypic endemic genus, then look at other interesting seabirds and finish with land birds.
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Three of the seven global species of Booby breed on Christmas Island: Abbott’s, Brown and Red-footed. Both the Brown and Red-footed are widespread, found throughout tropical waters around the world and members of the genus Sula which comprises all the species of Booby except Abbott’s.  Abbott’s, however, breeds only on Christmas Island and is the only member of the genus Papasula. It was originally included in Sula but structural differences between it and both Gannets and other Boobies led Olson and Warheit 1988 to move it to a new more primitive genus of its own. Subsequent DNA studies have confirmed this and Papasula is thought to have branched off the early Gannet-Booby lineage about 22 million years ago.
abbotts_boby_39566_pp.jpg
We can’t, however, conclude that it evolved in isolation on Christmas Island. The species was first described from a specimen collected by the American naturalist William Louis Abbott in 1892 on an island near Madagascar in the western Indian Ocean, either Assumption Island or the nearby Glorioso Island. Fossil evidence indicates that it was quite widespread in the Indian and Pacific Oceans and there are eyewitness reports of it breeding in the Mascarene Islands near Mauritius (as described in Wikipedia). So its endemic status on Christmas Island is a result of its extinction elsewhere. On Christmas Island the population, currently estimated at about 2,000 pairs, has declined owing to habitat clearance and the species is classified as endangered.
red_footed_booby_40375_pp.jpg
Here, by way of comparison, is the white morph of the Red-footed Booby. There is also a widespread brown morph of this species but all, or almost all of the ones on Christmas Island are of the white morph. You can see photos of the brown or dark morph here: Birdway Red-footed Booby.
Frigatebirds are very well represented on Christmas Island. Three of the five global species nest on the island: Lesser, Great and the endemic Christmas (Island) Frigatebird. The other two species are the Magnificent (Birdway: Magnificent Frigatebird) of Atlantic and eastern Pacific Oceans and the Ascension, endemic to Ascension Island in the Atlantic. The Lesser (Birdway: Lesser Frigatebird) has colonised Christmas Island in small numbers relatively recently while the Great (Birdway: Great Frigatebird) is an endemic subspecies (listeri) with a population of about 3,300 pairs.. The Christmas Frigatebird is globally the rarest with a population of about 1,200 pairs. The population has declined since human settlement and the species is now classified as critically endangered, both because of its small, declining population and the fact that its breeding range is limited to a single location.
Unlike Abbott’s Booby, it’s probably fairly safe to assume that it evolved on the island and differs from the other species of Frigatebird mainly in the patterning of the plumage. The male has a diagnostic white belly, while the female has a white breast and belly extending further down the belly than in other species.
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Frigatebirds feed both by snatching prey such as squid and flying fish from on or near the surface of the water and by harrying Boobies, Tropicbirds and Terns until they drop their food. In the photo above, this female has just regurgitated a no doubt tasty mixture for its chick including a flying fish, the “wings” of which you can see sticking out on both sides of the chick’s mouth.
While we’re on the subject of tropical seabirds, Christmas Island has two of the three global species of Tropicbirds: the White-tailed and Red-tailed Tropicbird. Most of the local White-tailed Tropicbird population has black and apricot rather than the typical black and white plumage and has been ascribed to a separate subspecies fulvus. It is known locally as the Golden Bosunbird. However, 7% of the local population has the normal black and white plumage and apricot coloured birds occur in small numbers elsewhere, so it may be better to consider the differences just as colour morphs.
whitetail_tropicbird_39817_pp.jpg
For me, the Golden Bosunbird was the most beautiful bird on the island and I spent hours watching them in flight from this lookout near the settlement overlooking Tai Jin House, below, the former resident of the governor in more colonial times.
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The Red-tailed Tropicbird, or locally Silver Bosunbird, is quite beautiful too. In pristine condition, the birds have long red tail streamers, but these frequently get broken off when the birds are nesting. They do a spectacular fluttering display flight travelling downwards and often slightly backwards near the cliffs where they nest.
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Both of these Tropicbirds are quite widespread. The White-tailed occurs in tropical parts of the Indian, Pacific and Atlantic Oceans while the Red-tailed ranges from the western Indian Ocean to the central Pacific.
Special birds on Christmas Island are not restricted to sea birds: it has some unusual land birds as well. Here is the splendid and abundant Christmas Island Imperial Pigeon.
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The dorsal plumage is this lustrous green which reminds me of Connemara marble. The breast is plum-coloured, the vent rufous and the eyes are a spectacular golden. It’s endemic to the island and its closest relative is the Pink-headed Imperial Pigeon (D. rosacea), widespread in the Indonesian islands of the Java Sea.
xmas_is_imp_pigeon_40171_pp.jpg
A much more elusive member of this family is endemic race natalis of the Common or Asian Emerald Dove. This used to be treated as the same species as the Emerald Dove that occurs in Australia but the latter has been split into two species: the Common or Asian and the Pacific. As a result, Christmas Island is the only place in Australia where the Common or Asian species occurs.
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Also elusive is the only resident owl, the endemic Christmas Island Boobook. With a length of 26-29cm/10-11.4in, it is generally smaller than the rather variable Australian Bookbook of the mainland: 27-36cm/10.6-13.8in. We went out one night near the golf course with David James, one of the leaders of the first Christmas Island Bird Week, who was armed with a recording of the call. The recording was of poor quality but to our delight and surprise we got a response and a family of three appeared at close quarters. The species is regarded as vulnerable with a population of maybe 500 pairs and there are concerns that the introduction of yellow crazy ants is affecting the availability of the invertebrate prey that is its main source of food.
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Christmas Island also has an endemic diurnal predator, the Christmas Island Goshawk. Its taxonomy has proved a challenge for various taxonomists and it has generally been treated as a race of the Brown Goshawk (Accipiter fasciatus). In fact there are significant differences in structure, appearance and behaviour, so there is probably justification for treating it as a separate species. It is the rarest of the endemic birds with a population of probably less than 250 individuals. Unlike the Brown Goshawk, the birds are relatively tame and approachable.
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Christmas Island has only two endemic Passerines, the endemic race of the Island Thrush that was the subject of the last Irregular Bird and the Christmas Island White-eye. White-eyes are famous for finding their way to and settling on remote islands so there are nearly one hundred species ranging from Africa through the warmer parts of Asia to Australasia and the islands of the Pacific. This one is posing on a coral tree near Tai Jin House.
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So, there you are. Plenty of rabbit or red crab burrows to be explored by budding taxonomists and biogeographers. Talking about Red Crabs, itt wasn’t the right time of the year for the Red Crab spawning event and I don’t remember seeing any as they keep out of sight at other times of the year. We did encounter some Robber or Coconut Crabs, however. This species  is the largest terrestrial arthropod, weighing up to 4kg/8.8lbs and measuring up to 1m/39in in span from leg tip to leg tip. Their range comprises islands of the Indian Ocean and parts of the Pacific.
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Greetings and stay safe,
Ian

Lee’s Addition:

“Thus the heavens and the earth were completed, and all their hosts. By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done.” (Genesis 2:1-2 NASB)

Very interesting how these birds have developed and interbred over the centuries. With isolation, much interbreeding within the species has helped influence these varieties within the families and orders.

See More of Ian’s posts at:

Ian’s Bird of the Week

Who Paints the Leaves?

Creation Moment’s – Tool Users That Are Something To Crow About

New Caledonian Crow (Corvus moneduloides) by Ian Montgomery

Genesis 4:22

And Zillah, she also bare Tubal-cain, an instructor of every artificer in brass and iron: and the sister of Tubal-cain was Naamah.”

Many creatures have been found that use sticks, leaves and other items as tools. Chimpanzee parents teach their youngsters to poke sticks in termite holes to get termites. However, no animal has shown an instinctive tendency to make and use tools, until now.

Caledonian crows are among the known tool-users. A pair of captive New Caledonian crows were having trouble incubating their four eggs. So researchers decided to incubate and raise the young crows themselves. Upon hatching, the young crows were separated into two pairs. One pair received lessons on how to use twigs to poke food out of slots. The other pair received no lessons, nor were they allowed to see their siblings using tools. When they were given sticks and leaves, they spontaneously began using the twigs to poke food out of a slot. One of them also tore a leaf into a food poker. After evaluating all the behavioral data, researchers concluded that while crows have a natural tendency to make and use tools, they also learn how to make improved tools from their elders.

Tool making is not what separates man from animals, although we can make tools far superior to those made by animals. The Bible tells us that the earliest man was made in the image of God and that the earliest generations of man were already making iron tools.

Prayer: Father, thank You for making me for a relationship with You and making a relationship possible through Christ. Amen.

Author: Paul A. Bartz

Ref: Science News, 1/15/05, p. 38, S. Milius, “Crow Tools.” Image: New Caledonian crow (PD)

© 2020 Creation Moments. (Used with permission)


Lee’s Addition:

We have had several previous articles about the tool usage of birds:

Birds of the Bible – Uniquely Created Tools

Interesting Things – Fleas, Birds and Tools

The Best Toolmakers in the World by Emma Foster

The Crow and the Screwdriver – by Emma Foster

*

Hope for Hard Times

 

Bobble-Body or Gaze Stablization

A friend placed this video on my Facebook. Another friend commented that instead of a bobble-head, it seems to have a bobble-body. That appears to be a very appropriate name for this Kingfisher’s actions.

Kingfisher, which aired on the BBC’s Winterwatch

Audubon’s comments had this remark about this birds video:

“Here’s an experiment: While reading this sentence, shake your head back and forth, and then nod up and down. Notice how the words on your screen remain in focus? Congratulations, you just experienced “gaze stabilization.

It’s this natural ability that allows us to maintain a clear line of vision even when our bodies are in motion.”

Sacred Kingfisher (Todiramphus sanctus) ©WikiC

“Gaze stabilization found in nature has inspired modern technologies, such as those used to stabilize images in cameras and drones. “Any cameras that films movies have image stabilization,” Dickman says.” Read this whole artcle at For Birds, a Steady Head Is the Key to Incredible Focus

Gazing, or keeping our eyes focused on things, is mention frequently in Scripture.

“Look up at the heavens and see; gaze at the clouds so high above you.” (Job 35:5 NIV)

Stephen Gazed: “But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and said, “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” (Acts 7:55-56 NKJV)

Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) by Ian

“He has regarded the prayer of the destitute And has not despised their prayer. This will be written for the generation to come, That a people yet to be created may praise the LORD. For He looked down from His holy height; From heaven the LORD gazed upon the earth, To hear the groaning of the prisoner, To set free those who were doomed to death,” (Psalms 102:17-20 NASB)

“At Lystra a man was sitting who had no strength in his feet, lame from his mother’s womb, who had never walked. This man was listening to Paul as he spoke, who, when he had fixed his gaze on him and had seen that he had faith to be made well, said with a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And he leaped up and began to walk.” (Acts 14:8-10 NASB)

Where are we gazing?

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2 NASB)

What will you do with Jesus?

Which One Do I Feed First?

I have been a subscriber to Alois Absenger. He is a great photographer in Southeast Styria, I believe. I could not resist sharing his latest photo.

Which One Do I Feed First?

11 Mouths to feed ©Alois Absenger

11 Mouths to feed ©Alois Absenger

“For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? “Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?” (Matthew 6:25-26 NASB)

Check out his site at: https://aloisabsenger.wordpress.com/2020/06/19/11-hungrige-kohlmeisen/

Various Birds From Creation Moments

Creation Moments has articles frequently about birds. I seem to get behind in checking my mail, so they sort of “pile up.” Today’s post is excerpts, with links to some of those posts.

Dueling Bird Songs

Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) - ©WikiC

Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) – ©WikiC

The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land;…” Song of Solomon 2:12

“There is a lot more to bird song than meets the ear. Digital recording and computer technology have enabled researchers to study, in detail, various song-birds’ reactions to neighboring birds’ songs.

“In most species, singing is the male’s job. There is much more going on when he sings than simply establishing territory or attracting a mate. Researchers refer to one characteristic of bird song as “song matching.” While a male bird doesn’t like another male in his territory, he is more tolerant of a related male in a neighboring territory than of a complete stranger. A male will challenge a stranger by repeating the stranger’s song……”

Continued at Dueling Bird Songs


Hooded Crow. Warren Photographic

Are European Crows Evolving?

“And God created … every winged fowl after his kind…” Genesis 1:21

“A recent report on the Science Alert website discussed the evolution of two species of crow in Europe. The two species concerned are the carrion crow, which is black, and the grey-hooded crow. These crows are very different in appearance. They both populate continental Europe, with the grey-hoods in the East and the carrion crows in the West. Their boundary appears to be approximately where Germany’s Elbe River is. At this overlap point, it is possible for birds of the two species to interbreed. The hybrid birds are themselves fertile, which, while unusual for hybrids, is by no means unknown…..”

Continued at Are European Crows Evolving?


An Old Dead Bird And An Egg

Fossil-Avimaia Schweitzerae With Unlaid Egg ©WikiC

Fossil-Avimaia Schweitzerae With Unlaid Egg ©WikiC

“And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth.” Genesis 1:22

“I like to keep ducks because I love their eggs. Last summer, one of my ducks became ill, with eggs trapped inside her. Despite my best efforts, she died. Scientists believe the same thing may have happened to a specimen of Avimaia. This fossil, dated by evolutionists at 110 million years old, had evidence of an unlaid egg inside it.” ..

“These deep-time ages do not make sense in the light of the creatures’ appearances. For example, the fact that the avimaia fossil has this unlaid egg within it suggests that the process of egg laying has not changed for these birds, which even evolutionists are having to admit must have co-existed with the very type of dinosaurs which supposedly evolved into them……”

Continued at AN OLD DEAD BIRD AND AN EGG

You can find more of these type articles in the Interesting Things and When I Consider

Who Paints The Leaves?

Hoatzin Bird: Evidence Against Evolutionary Ideas – Answers

Hoatzin(Opisthocomushoazin) by Kent Nickel

Hoatzin(Opisthocomushoazin) by Kent Nickel

Hoatzin Bird: Evidence Against Evolutionary Ideas from Answers in Genesis, by Harry F. Sanders, III

Answers in Genesis has a very interesting article about the Hoatzin Bird on line. See Hoatzin Bird: Evidence Against Evolutionary Ideas, by Harry F. Sanders, III.

I would like to share a few quotes from the article, trusting that you will follow the link to read the full article. The Hoatzin is one of those birds that the evolutionist can’t figure out what to do with. It is not a typical bird that can be neatly tucked into a family or an order. Evolutionist try so hard to convince us that dinosaurs evolved into birds, that they are really puzzled about this unique Avian Wonder from Our Creator.

“The hoatzin is a very unique bird, something of a conglomeration of traits typical of birds, reptiles, and even mammals. As a bird, it shares characteristics typical of birds such as being warm-blooded, having feathers, and so on. It is roughly the size of a turkey, with a colorful, crested head and long tail feathers. However, its most interesting and unique features are distinctly un-birdlike.”

The Hoatzin history is traced through Africa mainly, and then found in France, Brazil, and Columbia. Yet, all they find is a single bone or two in each place, and come up with their conclusions.

“The enigmatic Opisthocomus (hoatzin) still cannot be confidently placed, but some putative sister relationships can be rejected.”10 The hoatzins unique traits and obvious discontinuity from other birds have completely impeded any evolutionary attempt to classify it. Evolutionary scientists have no explanation for the origin of the hoatzin, despite numerous attempts to create a phylogenetic tree that will fit them.”

Hoatzin ( Opisthocomus hoazin) by Ian

“Let them praise the name of the LORD: for he commanded, and they were created.” (Psalms 148:5 KJV)

One of the paragraph headings tells the whole story, at least as I see it. “Designed to Do What It Does Do” It eats leaves only, has a claw on wing when born, has a unique stomach and digestive system,

“Even ignoring the devastating blow hoatzin deals to Archaeopteryx as a transitional form, it causes evolutionists other significant problems, as evidenced by the trouble it gives to their cladistic models. They simply cannot determine what its ancestor was. However, if they would pause long enough to consider Genesis 1, they might recognize that hoatzin likely is its own created kind and thus its ancestor was a hoatzin.29

[Above quotes from the article Hoatzin Bird: Evidence Against Evolutionary Ideas]

From Wikipedia: “The hoatzin (Opisthocomus hoazin), also known as the reptile birdskunk birdstinkbird, or Canje pheasant, is a species of tropical bird found in swamps, riparian forests, and mangroves of the Amazon and the Orinoco basins in South America. It is notable for having chicks that have claws on two of their wing digits.

It is the only member of the genus Opisthocomus (Ancient Greek: “long hair behind”, referring to its large crest). This is the only extant genus in the family Opisthocomidae. The taxonomic position of this family has been greatly debated by specialists, and is still far from clear.”

Hoatzin

Interesting Birds – Hoatzin

Hoatzin – The Stinker

Opisthocomidae – Hoatzin