Ravin’ about Corvid Hybrids: Something to Crow About!

Ravin’ about Corvid Hybrids:

Something to Crow About!

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

HoodedCrow.WorldLifeExpectancy-photoHOODED CROW   (World Life Expectancy photo)

“Every raven after his kind”   (Leviticus 11:15)

Who provides for the raven his food? When his young ones cry unto God, they wander for lack of food.   (Job 38:41)

Consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap; they neither have storehouse nor barn, yet God feeds them; how much more are ye better than birds?   (Luke 12:24)

There is, as Moses noted, a “kind” (i.e., genetically related family) of birds that we call “corvids”, crow-like birds, including ravens. [In the English Bible (KJV), these birds are always called “ravens”.]

These black (or mostly black – see Song of Solomon 5:11) omnivores are known to “crow”, often calling out a harsh KAWWWW!   Also famous for their “ravenous” appetites and eating habits, it is no wonder that the English labeled many varieties of these corvid birds as “ravens”.

The HOODED CROW (Corvus cornix) lives and thrives in the Great North – including Sweden, Finland, and Russia.  This I learned firsthand, on July 6th of AD2006, while visiting a grassy park near the Vasa Museum of Stockholm, Sweden.  The next day (July 7th of AD2006), it was my privilege to see another Hooded Crow in a heavily treed park in Helsinki, Finland.  Again, two days later (i.e., the 9th of July, AD2006), while visiting Pushkin (near St. Petersburg, Russia), I saw a Hooded Crow, in one of the “garden” parks of Catherine’s Palace.  Obviously, Hooded Crows appreciate high-quality parks of northern Europe!


HOODED CROW   (photo credit:  Warren Photographic)

The physical appearance of a Hooded Crow is, as one bird-book describes, “unmistakable”.

Unmistakable. Head, wings and tail black, but body grey (can show pinkish cast in fresh plumage).

[Quoting Chris Kightley, Steve Madge, & Dave Nurney, POCKET GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF BRITAIN AND NORTH-WEST EUROPE (Yale University Press / British Trust for Ornithology, 1998), page 271.]

Like most large corvids, the Hood Crow is quite versatile in filling various habitats.

Wary, aggressive scavenger found in all habitats from city centre to tideline, forest to mountain top. Generally seen in ones and twos, but the adage ‘crows alone, rooks in a flock’ unreliable; often accompanies other crows, and hundreds may gather at favoured feeding spots and roosts. Watch for crow’s frequent nervy wing flicks whenever on ground or perched. Calls varied. Typically a loud, angry kraa, usually given in series of 2—6 calls. Unlike Rook, pairs nest alone (usually in tree).

[Again quoting Kightley, Madge, & Nurney, POCKET GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF BRITAIN AND NORTH-WEST EUROPE, page 271.]


CARRION CROW   (Yves Thonnerieux / Ouiseaux-Birds photo)

Yet the HOODED CROW is not a genetically self-contained “species”, regardless of what taxonomists might wish about them.  They happily hybridize with other crows, especially the CARRION CROW [Corvus corone], whose international range the Hooded Crow overlaps.



CARRION AND HOODED CROWS. The familiar crow. Two distinct races occur … [In the]British Isles and western Europe, Carrion Crow (Corvus corone) is common everywhere except north and west Scotland, Ireland, Isle of Man and Europe east of Denmark, where it is replaced by Hooded (Corvus cornix). Where breeding ranges overlap hybrids are frequent [emphasis added by JJSJ].

[Again quoting Kightley, Madge, & Nurney, POCKET GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF BRITAIN AND NORTH-WEST EUROPE, page 271.]

The Carrion-Hooded Crow hybrids are also noted within a larger discussion (i.e., pages 224-228) of Corvid family hybrids, in Eugene M. McCarthy, HANDBOOK OF AVIAN HYBRIDS OF THE WORLD (Oxford University Press, 2006), at page 227.


CORVIDS   Jelmer Poelstra / Uppsala Univ. image

Dr. McCarthy, an avian geneticist, has accumulated and summarized genetic research on Carrion-Hooded hybrids, especially examples observed in Eurasia:

Because the Carrion Crow has a split range … with the Hooded Crow intervening … there are two long contact zones, one extending from N. Ireland, through N. Scotland, to N.W. Germany, then S to N Italy, and another stretching from the Gulf of Ob (N Russia) to the Aral Sea. … Even in the center of the [overlap] zone, only 30% of [these corvid] birds are obviously intermediate. Due to hybridization these [corvid] birds are now sometimes lumped, but Parkin et al. (2003) recommend against this treatment since the two have obvious differences in plumage, as well as in vocalizations and ecology, and because hybrids have lower reproductive success than either parental type. Hybrid young are less viable, too, than young produced from unmixed mating (Saino and Villa 1992). Genetic variability increases within the hybrid zone (as has been observed in many other types of crossings). Occasional mixed pairs occur well outside [the overlap range] zones (e.g., Schlyter reports one from Sweden).

[Quoting Eugene M. McCarthy, HANDBOOK OF AVIAN HYBRIDS OF THE WORLD (Oxford University Press, 2006), at page 227.]

Dr. McCarthy, on pages 224-228, lists several other examples of documented corvid hybridizations, including: Corvus capellanus [Mesopotamian Crow] X Corvus corone [Carrion Crow]; Corvus cornix [Hooded Crow] X Pica pica [Black-billed Magpie]; Corvus albus [Pied Crow] X Corvus albicollis [White-necked Raven];  Corvus albus  [Pied Crow] X Corvus ruficollis [Brown-necked Raven]; Corvus albus [Pied Crow] X Corvus splendens [House Crow]; Corvus brachyrhynchos [American Crow] X Corvus caurinus [Northwestern Crow]; Corvus corax [Common Raven] X Corvus brachyrhynchos [American Crow]; Corvus corax [Common Raven] X Corvus corone [Carrion Crow]; Corvus corax [Common Raven] X Corvus cryptoleucus [Chihuahuan Raven]; Corvus corax [Common Raven] X Corvus levaillantii [Jungle Crow]; Corvus corax [Common Raven] X Corvus macrorhynchos [Large-billed Crow]; Corvus corax [Common Raven] X Corvus ruficollis [Brown-necked Raven]; Corvus corone [Carrion Crow] X Corvus macrorhynchos [Large-billed Crow];   Corvus daururicus [Jackdaw, a/k/a “Coloeus dauuricus”] X Corvus monedula [Jackdaw, a/k/a “Coloeus mondela”]; Corvus levaillantii [Jungle Crow] X Corvus macrorhynchos [Large-billed Crow]; Pica nuttalli [Yellow-billed Magpie] X Pica pica [Black-billed Magpie]; plus it looks like an occasional Rook [Corvus frugilegus] joins the “mixer”, etc.   Looks like a good mix or corvids!

Avian hybrids, of course, often surprise and puzzle evolutionist taxonomists, due to their faulty assumptions and speculations about so-called “speciation” – as was illustrated, during AD2013, in the discovery of Norway’s “Redchat”  —  see “Whinchat, Redstart, & Redchat:  Debunking the ‘Speciation’ Myth Again”, posted at https://leesbird.com/2017/12/12/whinchat-redstart-redchat-debunking-the-speciation-myth-again/ .


CORVID RANGES of the world   (Wikipedia map)

Meanwhile, as the listed examples (of corvid hybridizations) above show, corvid hybrids are doing their part to “fill the earth”, including Hooded-Carrion Crows.

Now that is are something to crow about!               ><> JJSJ   profjjsj@aol.com


What’s Good For The Goose . . . May Be Relocating (To Another Summer Home)


Dr. James J. S. Johnson BarnacleGoose-3swimming.BirdArt-Kuvat-Finland

BARNACLE GOOSE trio, swimming in Finland  (photo credit: Kuvat / ArtBird)

And Solomon’s provision for one day was 30 measures of fine flour, and 60 measures of meal, 10 fat oxen, and 20 oxen out of the pastures, and 100 sheep, beside harts, and roebucks, and fallow-deer, and fatted fowl.   (1st Kings 4:22-23)

Are geese alluded to in Scripture, although not by the name “goose”? Maybe. King Solomon was famous for providing banquets on a daily basis, including “fatted fowl” – which likely included geese, according to British zookeeper-zoölogist George Cansdale:

[Consider the likely] possibility that domestic geese were the fatted fowl —  Heb. barburim —  supplied daily to Solomon’s table.  . . .  This wild goose [i.e., the Greylag Goose, mixed with all geese that hybridize with it] breeds naturally in N. and central Europe and may have first been domesticated there. It was kept, perhaps already fully domesticated, very early in Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, probably as a resutl of trapping some of the many winter migrants.  . . .  [Although we don’t know] when they first reached Palestine … [carved] ivories of the eleventh century B.C. from Megiddo illustrate tame geese beiogn tended, and this is the century before Solomon, so there is no doubt that they were available [to King Solomon, who procured resources from neighboring regions in Europe, Asia, and Africa].

[Quoting George S. Cansdale, ALL THE ANIMALS OF THE BIBLE LANDS (Zondervan, 1976), page ; see contextual discussion at pages 178-180.]

The mostly-migratory Barnacle Goose is a favorite of many birdwatchers in northern Europe.  It is more likley to be seen during its wintering months, unless one ventures above the Arctic Circle.  (The exception is a Barnacle Goose population residing in Baltic Sea coastlands, which appears content to dwell there year-round – see range map below.)


BARNACLE GOOSE RANGE MAP  (Cartographic credit: Wikipedia Commons)

In my sporadic wanderings, during years past, specifically on July 7th of AD2006 – I saw several Barnacle Geese (Branta leucopsis) strolling about in Kaivopuisto Park, by the Helsinki Harbor, in Finland.


BARNACLE GOOSE pair, in Kaivopuisto Park, Helsinki, Finland  (photo credit: Juha Matti / Picssr)

This migratory goose, which during the summer is common in (and near) Helsinki’s Kaivopuisto Park (where I saw some loitering and lounging on the park grass), has been described as follows:

An immaculate, sociable little goose, only slightly larger than a Mallard. Tiny bill and a white face peering out of black ‘balaclava’ diagnostic.  Unlike the much larger Canada Goose, black extends over [its] breast and body is grey (not brown). All [seasonal] plumages similar, but juvenile duller with plain, unbarred flanks. Feral or escaped [e.g., from British zoos] birds are also frequent at inland sites in England [e.g., Leeds Castle, in Kent, where I visited in AD2003], often [mixed] with Canadas [i.e., with Canada Geese].

[Quoting Chris Knightley, Steve Madge, & Dave Nurney, POCKET GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF BRITAIN AND NORTH-WEST EUROPE (London & New Haven, Yale Univ. Press, 1998), page 31.]


BARNACLE GOOSE at Leeds Castle, Kent, England  (photo credit: Thomas Cogley)

Like other geese, these birds know how to use their voices:

Noisy, even when feeding, their high-pitched, yelping barks [!] reaching a crescendo as the shimmering flock rises – sounds not unlike a pack of chasing hounds.

[Quoting Knightley, Madge, & Nurney, POCKET GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF BRITAIN AND NORTH-WEST EUROPE, page 31.]   These geese are herbivores  —  feeding mostly on grasses, leaves, roots, tubers, aquatic plants, and/or agricultural crops (such as grains grown in northern Europe’s farmlands), and their digestive processes adi  in seed dispersals.  Predators of Barnacle Geese – especially during the breeding season  —  include Peregrine Falcons, Arctic Foxes, and Polar Bears.

Besides Sweden’s (and other) Baltic coastlands, these cool-weather-loving geese habitually summer in the Arctic’s far north, including breeding grounds in Iceland, Svalbard, Greenland, and Russia’s arctic archipelago Novaya Zemla (and on the Siberian coast just south of Novaya Zemla).

Students of the Cold War can appreciate that Novaya Zemla was a scary place to be on October 30th of AD1961, when the USSR tested its RDS-220 hydrogen bomb “Ivan” (a/k/a Tsar Bomba (Russian Царь-бомба, i.e., “Tsar Bomb”), the largest man-made explosion detonated in world history.


Explosion of Soviet Union’sЦарь-бомба Hydrogen Bomb 
seen from 100 miles away   (public domain)

Based on migratory habits the Barnacle Gees were likely absent when the blast occurred  —  but what was it like, during the next spring, when the geese would have migrated north, to their usual breeding grounds in Novaya Zemla?  Some emigrants of the Novaya Zemla-breeding population of Barnacle Geese, however, relocated to and colonized (from their ancestral breeding grounds in Russia’s Novaya Zemla) various coastlands around the Baltic Sea’s northern shores, i.e., they now summer upon islands or coastlands of Sweden, Finland, Denmark, and Estonia (and afterwards winter within and near the Netherlands).

Meanwhile, during winter, other Barnacle Goose populations (such as those that breed in Iceland or Greenland) migrate to the much milder “Western Isles” of Scotland (i.e., the Hebrides, e.g., Islay)  — or on the western coast of Ireland  —  or in the Solway Firth region of the England-Scotland border.


BARNACLE GOOSE parent & goslings   (photo credit: Joe Blossom / Arkive.org )

Of course, many “species” of geese descend from the ancestral pairs of goose-kind that survived the Genesis Flood aboard Noah’s Ark. Consider, for example, the photograph below (by David Appleton), showing a goose standing in grass of Holkham Park (in Norfolk, England)  —  which appears to be a Barnacle Goose X Greylag Goose hybrid.


Barnacle/Greylag Goose hybrid, Norfolk, England  (photo credit: David Appleton)

Meanwhile, if I was a Barnacle Goose  – and thank God that He created me to be me, instead! –  I’d prefer Helsinki’s Kaivopuisto Park as my year-round home habitat, rather than summer in Novaya Zemla.   (As far as I’m concerned, let the Arctic Ocean polar bears have that arctic archipelago!)   ><> JJSJ    profjjsj@aol.com

Winter flock of Barnacle Geese, Islay, Inner Hebrides   (photo credit: Stef McElwee / Birdguides)


Eurasian Jay: ‘Jay of the Oaks’ Admired in Finland

Dr. James J. S. Johnson


           EURASIAN  JAY      (photo by Richard Steel)

And Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God, and took a great stone, and set it up there under an oak that was by the sanctuary of the LORD.   (Joshua 24:26)


Oak Leaves   (southern Finland – public domain)

Oaks are well-known for foliage that provides shade from sunlight.  However, for birds, oak trees are probably more appreciated for their branches and their acorns – branches for nesting and perching, and acorns for eating.

One bird that loves acorns, for eating, is the Eurasian Jay (Garrulus glandarius). These jays are called Geai des chênes in French, meaning “jay of the oaks”.

For some youtube footage, showing some Eurasian Jays eating quite energetically, see  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kkx2mDE4pGc  —  “Crazy Jays” by Paul Dinning), one group photo from which youtube video is shown (below).


Eurasian  Jays   foraging    (from  Paul Dinning’s “Crazy Jays”  youtube)

Busy, busy, busy!  There is nothing lackadaisical about how these jays hunt for food!

A fairly shy but common woodland bird seen in highest numbers in autumn; Jays shuttle between the ‘home wood’ and the district’s oak trees to gather in supplies of acorns for the winter. In longer flights the wingbeats are fluttering and the flight course slow and unsteady. Flying along a woodland edge it glides in gentle undulations. … Breeds in both deciduous and coniferous trees favouring coppice and stands of young spruce or pine trees, has also colonized parks and suburban areas. Feeds on insects, tree fruits, eggs and young of passerines etc.

[Quoting Lars Jonsson, BIRDS OF EUROPE WITH NORTH AFRICA AND THE MIDDLE EAST (Princeton University Press, 1993), page 488, emphasis added.] These jays are called Geai des chênes in French, meaning “jay of the oaks”.

Eurasian Jay (Garrulus glandarius) with acorn in beak, Lower Saxony, Germany

Eurasian Jay  (Garrulus glandarius)   /   credit:  Nat’l Geo

Acorns are the nuts produced by oak trees.  As seeds, they are ready for planting, capable of producing a new generation of oak trees.  Like other nuts, acorns are often eaten, by animals (including birds and squirrels) and some humans!  Nuts are even mentioned in Scripture as food worthy of cultivation, valuable enough to be used in gift-giving (see Genesis 43:11 & Song of Solomon 6:11).


            Eurasian  Jay   with  acorn     (by  Hans-Jorg Hellwig)

On the 7th of July AD2006, in a park-like tall-treed area next to a restaurant at Haikko Manor, Finland (about 3-to-4 miles from Porvoo, on Finland’s southern coast), my wife and I watched an energetic Eurasian Jay, hopping about, foraging  –  then it decided, for a moment, to perch upon a rock.  (A passer-by took a photograph of my wife and me, just before we walked through the parking lot toward the restaurant, by which we saw the busy “Jay of the Oaks” – the Eurasian Jay.)


JJSJ  &  wife  Sherry,  July 7th 2006 (Haikko Manor,  near Porvoo,  Finland)

But when I tried to photograph the Eurasian Jay, using the same camera, it hopped sideways, flitting about, so quickly I missed getting a focus – and then it then flew away.   Was it camera-shy?  Or was it just humans-shy, regardless of any camera?  (It didn’t say.)  But busy it was, and it appeared to find a few bugs to eat, just before it flew off.


  Eurasian Jay in flight    (by Lennart Hessel)

Regardless, it was fun while it lasted – watching the colorful Jay hop and hunt for acorns (and bugs), then rest briefly upon a rock, then flit away, to somewhere under the huge, dark, old-growth oak trees (mixed with occasional clusters of birch and evergreen trees) that shaded the lawn, in the garden-like area next to the Finnish restaurant.

Suffice it to say: southern Finland is stunningly, refreshingly, relaxingly beautiful, beyond words — and a wonderful, clean, marvelous, splendid,  country for birding.


       Eurasian  Jay   with  acorn     (by Phil Winter)

The Jay of Eurasia is a permanent resident of virtually all but the northern-most parts of Europe, plus various swaths of Asia (see range map below), so it is no surprise to see one hopping sideways under shady oak trees, in a wooded park, near coastal Porvoo.


        Eurasian Jay   range map     (Wikipedia)

This oak-loving corvid is colorful, matching this bird-book’s description:

Pigeon-sized [i.e., about 13 inches long]. Colourful woodland corvid, notoriously shy and wary – generally glimpsed as a coloured bird with black tail and white rump [who] flashes through the trees, screeching its harsh warning. Typical call is a dry, rasping skaak, a familiar woodland sound. Adult: Overall pinkish-brown coloration is relieved by the beautiful shining blue shoulder patch and thick black moustache. All plumages similar. Noisy and excitable; short crest is readily erected, exposing dark streaking. Flight: Action is hesitantly undulating on broad, blunt wings; rising birds initially show black tail contrasting with white rump and wing flashes, and bright blue shoulder patches. Unlikely to be confused [with any other local bird], but compare similar-sized Hoopoe. From below, the black tail contrast with pinkish-brown body.
• Common woodland bird, but especially with oaks – acorns a favourite food
• In recent decades, has moved increasingly into towns; in many city parks, has become bold and fearless
• Feeds on ground, jauntily hopping sideways as it searches for acorns [or insects or berries, such as blackberries]
• Their long persecution by gamekeepers as an egg-thief [i.e., snatching eggs of other birds] belies their importance as a planter of forests; Jays bury acorns throughout the autumn – indeed a single Jay can plant 3,000 acorns in a month
• Rarely seen far from the shelter of trees, a party usually breaks cover one at a time, hurriedly flapping across a clearing or valley
• As well as its angry screeches, wide repertoire of calls includes a buzzard-like mewing note [as well as other calls demonstrating mimicry].

[Quoting Chris Kightley, Steve Madge, & Dave Nurney, POCKET GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF BRITAIN AND NORTH-WEST EUROPE (Yale University Press, 1998), page 264, emphasis added.]

Thus, as both an eater and planter of oak-seeds (which is what acorns are), the Eurasian Jay’s behavior is not unlike that of the Pinyon Jay, which both eats and plants Pinyon Pine seeds, in America’s Great West.  [See “Providential Planting: The Pinyon Jay”, CREATION EX NIHILO, 19(3):24-25 (June 1997), posted at http://creation.com/providential-planting .]


Eurasian Jay   perching    (by Luc Viatour)

What clever birds God has made these busy woodland-dwelling corvids to be!

Who knows?  Maybe my wife and I will get to re-visit Scandinavia, sometime, for more birdwatching.  If so, I hope to see another Eurasian Jay – that colorful character that the French rightly call Geai des chênes: “jay of the oaks”.    ><>  JJSJ  profjjsj@aol.com


Eurasian  Jay,    taking a bow   (by Charlie Fleming)


More article from James J. S. Johnson


Ian’s Bird of the Week – Barnacle Goose

Barnacle Goose (Branta leucopsis) by Ian 1

Barnacle Goose (Branta leucopsis) by Ian 1

Ian’s Bird of the Week – Barnacle Goose ~ by Ian Montgomery

Newsletter – 9-10-12

I’m back in Dublin after the sad and sudden death of my brother-in-law Gerald, so I’ve chosen a soberly dressed and elegant bird with, for me, an Irish connection, the Barnacle Goose. Barnacle Goose nest in the arctic and winter the more remote areas in Western Europe including the West of Ireland. During a particular severe winter in the 1960s I once saw a flock on the Bull Island in Dublin Bay, a place better known for as a winter haunt of the closely related Brent (British Isles) or Brant (North America) Goose.

On the last day of my trip to Finland in June, I came across a flock grazing near the beach in Hanko on the south east coast. I assumed that it was a feral flock as they were very approachable and I discovered only later that Barnacle Geese have been nesting on islands in the Baltic for the past 40 years.

They are relatively small with a length of 55-70cm/22-28in and, I think, very beautiful. The specific name leucopsis means ‘white-faced’ and the genus Branta comprises the mainly black and white geese including the Brant/Brent and the Canadian.

Barnacle Goose (Branta leucopsis) by Ian 2

Barnacle Goose (Branta leucopsis) by Ian 2

The name ‘Barnacle’ was originally applied to the goose not the crustacean and the two are linked by a strange myth that developed in the middle ages when the nesting sites of the goose were unknown and the nature of bird migration was not understood. To explain the mysterious appearance of these geese, it was proposed that they hatched from the goose-liked stalk barnacles Lepas anserifera (‘goose-bearing’) which grows on drift wood. The confusion was confounded by the notion that the goose barnacle was actually a plant and sometimes called the goose tree, below, reproduced from Wikipedia.

Barnacle Goose (Branta leucopsis) by Ian 3

Barnacle Goose (Branta leucopsis) by Ian 3

The myth naturally had religious consequences as it was argued that the Barnacle Geese were not of animal origin or not really fowl. So, eating the goose on meat-less fast days was considered by some Christians to be acceptable. The Jewish faith took a different approach and ruled that they were kosher and must be slaughtered appropriately.

Best wishes

Ian Montgomery, Birdway Pty Ltd,
454 Forestry Road, Bluewater, Qld 4818
Tel 0411 602 737 ian@birdway.com.au
Check the latest website updates:

Lee’s Addition:

and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7 NKJV)

Thanks, Ian. Sorry to hear about Gerald. We will keep you and your sister’s family in our prayers. That is an interesting myth.

See more of Ian’s Bird of the Week.

Ian’s Birdway – Ducks & Allies.


Ian’s Bird of the Week – Black Woodpecker

Black Woodpecker (Dryocopus martius) by Ian 1

Black Woodpecker (Dryocopus martius) by Ian 1

Ian’s Bird of the Week – Black Woodpecker ~ by Ian Montgomery

Newsletter – 6/26/12

I said last week that my main target in Finland the Black Woodpecker was another story. It’s a story that started 50 years ago when I started bird watching in Ireland as a teenager and received, as a Christmas present in 1962, the classic Guy Mountfort Field Guide to the Birds of Britain and Europe. It had, for its time, superb colour plates of all the European bird species by Roger Peterson. Some of these birds were to this Irish teenager unbelievably exotic and, living on a woodpecker-free island, I was struck by the woodpecker page in general and the huge Black Woodpecker in particular (I still have the field guide):

The concept of a bucket list (things to do before you ‘kick the bucket’) hadn’t been articulated then, but the Black Woodpecker went straight onto mine. So, when the only route that Qantas could offer me a few months ago for a frequent-flyer ticket in the general direction of Ireland was on Finnair via Helsinki, I immediately thought ‘Black Woodpecker’ (and ‘owls’, another great page in the field guide).

In fact finding birds such as woodpeckers and owls in the endless forests of Finland proved very difficult, so eventually I went out with an excellent Finnature guide, Antti (Finnish for Andrew) and a delightful English birding couple in the Kuusamo region. It was a very bad year for owls (owl years are very dependent on cycles in the vole population) but Antti did eventually find us a distant Pygmy Owl and, last bird of all, showed us the nesting site of a pair of Black Woodpeckers.

Black Woodpecker (Dryocopus martius) by Ian 2

Black Woodpecker (Dryocopus martius) by Ian 2

We were treated to a view of the male – the female lacks the red crown, having on a small red patch on the back of the head – arriving to feed the young, but there then followed a long period without any activity and, as it was time to return to the hotel for breakfast, I returned later on my own so that I could photograph them at my leisure. Again, the male arrived (second photo) and three hungry chicks appeared at the nest entrance. The male then fed them, presumably by regurgitation – third photo – as he didn’t appear to be carrying any food when he arrived.

Black Woodpecker (Dryocopus martius) by Ian 3

Black Woodpecker (Dryocopus martius) by Ian 3

At 45-50cm/18-20in in length, these are crow-sized birds are the largest Eurasian Woodpecker and comparable in size to the related Pileated Woodpecker of North America. Their white bill is 5cm/2in in length and an impressive implement. They usually dig a new nest hollow each year, but Antti told us that this pair had used the same one for two years running. The Black Woodpecker is quite widespread in mature forest in Eurasia and is expanding its range.

Black Woodpecker (Dryocopus martius) by Ian 4

Black Woodpecker (Dryocopus martius) by Ian 4

After feeding the young, the male left the nest for several minutes and then returned and entered the hollow. Nothing further happened for over half an hour until the female, who had been in the nest all along, emerged and flew off (fourth photo). The nest was in a tree on a quiet road outside a house, so I was able to watch it in comfort from my rental car (fifth photo), the red arrow indicating the location of the nest.

Black Woodpecker (Dryocopus martius) by Ian 5

Black Woodpecker (Dryocopus martius) by Ian 5

So, my visit to Finland reached a satisfactory conclusion and the Black Woodpecker lived up to expectations. Three days later I flew to Dublin, where I am now to join the rest of the family and await the arrival of the first member of the next generation. My niece went into hospital yesterday and the arrival of the baby, ten days overdue, is anticipated either tonight or tomorrow.

Best wishes,

Ian Montgomery, Birdway Pty Ltd,
454 Forestry Road, Bluewater, Qld 4818
Tel 0411 602 737 ian@birdway.com.au
Check the latest website updates:

Lee’s Addition:

The trees of the LORD are full of sap; the cedars of Lebanon, which he hath planted; Where the birds make their nests: as for the stork, the fir trees are her house. (Psalms 104:16-17 KJV)

Congratulations on a new generation beginning. Also obtaining another of your bucket list birds. What a neat bird. That camera lens is something else!

Thanks again, Ian, for sharing your birdwatching photography with us. We await your next adventure in to the domain of the birds.

The Woodpeckers are in the Picidae – Woodpeckers Family of the Piciformes Order. Check out Ian’s many Woodpecker photos.


Ian’s Bird of the Week – Ruff

Ruff (Philomachus pugnax) by Ian 1

Ruff (Philomachus pugnax) by Ian 1

Ian’s Bird of the Week – Ruff ~ by Ian Montgomery

Newsletter ~ 6/19/12

This week we have nothing short of a fashion parade, male Ruffs at a communal display ground or lek in eastern Finland. Finland is my second stop-over on the way to Ireland to visit my family and I am spending a week in the northern part of the country in search of some unusual northern European birds. I spent a couple of nights in Oulo on the west coast, a 1 hour flight north of Helsinki and then drove north west to Kuusamo near the Russian border where I am now.

In Oulu, the birding and wildlife tour company Finnature put me very early in the morning in a hide that they had set up near the lek. I settled down to watch a rather unpromising-looking piece of raised ground in a meadow, having been assured that, though it was late in the season, a couple of birds had been seen at the lek on the previous morning.

Ruff (Philomachus pugnax) by Ian 2

Ruff (Philomachus pugnax) by Ian 2

After about half an hour and shortly before 4:00am the black-ruffed bird in the second photo arrived but flew off when I moved the camera. Happily, it soon returned and this time the second white-ruffed bird arrived too and the pair started their extraordinary display, spreading their ruffs and wings apparently to make themselves appear as intimidating as possible. Sometimes, they jumped vertically in the air and at other times they crouched low on the ground in submissive looking postures.

Ruff (Philomachus pugnax) by Ian 3

Ruff (Philomachus pugnax) by Ian 3

Although the birds often came into close physical contact, there was no actual fighting and no physical damage. These black- and white-ruffed birds were the main performers during the 4 hours that I remained in the hide, but other birds joined in and at one stage there were about 10 birds on the lek. The colours of the ruffs and the erectile feathers on the head were varied. Here is a buff and black one with the white bird.

Ruff (Philomachus pugnax) by Ian 4

Ruff (Philomachus pugnax) by Ian 4

The colour of the bare wattled skin on the face varied too, being sometimes yellow and sometimes red, though it was my impression that this colour wan’t permanent and the red flush was associated with more intense display. This non-displaying one with a chestnut cap, piebald ruff has yellow facial skin.

Ruff (Philomachus pugnax) by Ian 5

Ruff (Philomachus pugnax) by Ian 5

This one is mainly chestnut.

Ruff (Philomachus pugnax) by Ian 6

Ruff (Philomachus pugnax) by Ian 6

While this one with an ermine ruff look suitably regal.

Ruff (Philomachus pugnax) by Ian 7

Ruff (Philomachus pugnax) by Ian 7

Ruffs are unusual among lekking birds in that the display is aimed mainly at other males to establish dominance, rather than at attracting females. Females may mate with multiple males producing young with different fathers and homosexual mating also occurs. The different ruff colours are apparently significant and white-ruffed males are smaller and less dominant and called satellite males.

Ruff (Philomachus pugnax) by Ian 8

Ruff (Philomachus pugnax) by Ian 8

The females, called Reeves, are quite plain and look rather like other sandpipers such as Sharp-tailed and Pectoral. In non-breeding plumage, the males resemble the females but are larger and longer-necked. Ruffs breed across northern Eurasia from Scandinavia to Siberia and winter in Africa, Asia and, in small numbers, Australia. You can see a female and ruff-less male, photographed in India, here: http://www.birdway.com.au/scolopacidae/ruff/index.htm.

Who said waders are plain and boring? I had a wonderful time at this lek. The Ruffs wasn’t one of my target species in Finland but an unexpected bonus, thank you Finnature. My main target was the largest Woodpecker in Europe, the Black Woodpecker, but that’s another story.

Best wishes

Ian Montgomery, Birdway Pty Ltd,
454 Forestry Road, Bluewater, Qld 4818
Tel 0411 602 737 ian@birdway.com.au
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Lee’s Addition:

What a group of “show offs.” I find these birds amazing. Never thought of this family as having leks like the pheasants and those in that order. Just goes to show you that the birds are doing what they are suppose to and that is reproducing. What a show for the females to get to watch.

Bring out with you every living thing of all flesh that is with you: birds and cattle and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, so that they may abound on the earth, and be fruitful and multiply on the earth.”
(Genesis 8:17 NKJV)

The Ruff is in the Scolopacidae – Sandpipers, Snipes Family in the Charadriiformes Order.