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Picture of two flamingos

Picture of two flamingos.

Picture of a caribou crossing a road

Picture of a caribou crossing a road.

Amazing facts about the southern ground hornbill

 Picture of a southern ground hornbill.

Chances you may have never met them.

They are birds, and most people know them as southern ground hornbills.

Apart from their striking looks, there are other interesting facts about them.

For one thing, as its name suggests, the birds spends much of it's time on the ground.

In size they are somewhat similar to the turkey, and like the turkey, they really does not fly that much.

With their distinctive, ponderous waddle, they wanders the central and southeastern regions of Africa.

If you should ever meet the bird, you would not fail to recognize it because of it's scarlet throat bags and eye patches and, of course, their long, stunning eyelashes!

Unique breeding characteristics

A southern ground hornbill.

The ground hornbill is a shy breeder—on average, it raises one chick to fledgling every six years.

During the breeding season, the males provides a good supply of dry leaves to line the nests, which are usually in hollow trees or rock cavities.

Then the females carefully tend the eggs for a period of 40 days.

Together with other members of the family bird group, they scurry to and fro, providing a steady supply of worms, grubs, and other delicacies to the ‘mother in waiting'.

It is a joyous occasion when, three months after hatching, the new arrivals leave the nest to join the rest of our family unit.

The road to maturity is a slow one—it takes at least six years before the young ones to reach full adulthood.

And it takes even longer for one of them to succeed in establishing his own family.

Of course, the fact they live long (many of them up to 30 years) gives them ample time to pass their genes on to other generation.

As you can see, the bird is family oriented, with groups of no more than eight birds living and working together.

Each family operates in an area of about 40 square miles [100 sq km] of African savannas, woodlands, and grasslands.

In some parts of southern Africa, they have lost up to 70 percent of their habitat to agriculture and human habitation.

However, they are very protective of their ranges and regularly patrol their borders.

Their food—snakes, grubs, tortoises, and insects—is not to be shared, even with hornbills from other families.

In their aggressiveness to ward off intruders, they sometimes make fools of themselves. How?

When they see their own reflection on a windowpane, they often charge into the window, mistaking the reflection for an intruder.

Inevitably, the impact of the long hard bill shatters the window.

Because of the many broken windows, some people have placed wire mesh over their windows.

Their habitats threatened

 Southern ground hornbill in it's habitat.

People have crowded the birds out of their habitat.

Others shoot them with guns.

Farmers often put out poisoned bait for jackals and other animals deemed undesirable.

But since the ground hornbill normally digs for food with their long beaks, they dig their own graves, in a manner of speaking, when they dig up the poisoned food.

On the other hand, there are some people are working hard to protect them from these dangers.

So whenever you happen to be in their area and hear their booming call, du-du-dududu du-du-dududu, know you are in the realm of the ground hornbill.

A monkey from landskron castle area

A monkey from landskron castle area.

Picture of a great spotted woodpecker

Picture of a great spotted woodpecker.

Picture of a warbler bird

Picture of a warbler bird.

Picture of a bee-eater making sounds

Picture of a bee-eater making sounds.

Meet a bird who raises children on high voltage wires

A stork bird with it's nest on electrical wires.

Storks favor a nesting place in a prominent place, such as the top of a tall tree, although they will sometimes make do with a modern-day counterpart, an electrical pole."
But for centuries, rooftops, churches, and chimneys throughout Europe have been favorite nesting sites.

Picture of a stork walking on a rooftop.

Both the male and the female bird patiently build the nest, an extraordinary structure that may well look as if it will topple off its perch at any moment.

Picture of a stork pair and their nest.

But appearances can be deceptive, and the large nests are rarely dislodged even during the most violent storms.

So durable are the nests that the storks on returning each year usually just spend a week or so making minimal repairs to their home.

This repair work, which involves adding twigs and other material, is usually done by both storks as soon as they arrive from their winter quarters.

And eventually, it is this repair work that brings about the nest’s demise—it just collapses under its own weight.

By that time the nest may well be as much as seven feet [2 m] high and three or more feet [a meter or more] in diameter.

Just as the parents return to their nest every spring, so the offspring try to find a site as near as possible to their place of hatching.

Thus, some old buildings become host to a dozen or more enormous nests, all occupied by descendants of one original pair.

Comings and Goings

Picture of storks on a tree.

Some European storks winter in West Africa south of the Sahara, while others travel as far as South Africa.

They start the long journey south in August. As they are not strong fliers, the journey is done in stages.

They prefer to migrate in groups of varying size, and often all the storks in a certain area will join up before departing on their migration.

Being among the earliest migratory birds to return north, they arrive back at their nests in February or March.

Picture of stork birds migrating.

Because of their size—they have a wingspan of about six feet [1.8 m]—and their dependability, migrating storks have always attracted attention.

The distance they travel every year—a round-trip of over ten thousand miles [16,000 km] in some cases—is remarkable, all the more so considering that they glide most of the way.

Like the large birds of prey, they rely on thermals, rising bodies of hot air, to gain altitude, after which they take advantage of their broad wings to glide effortlessly for long distances, only rarely beating their wings.

A unique feature of the storks’ migration is their passage across the Mediterranean. They prefer not to travel over water, where thermals are absent.

Thus, every August thousands of storks congregate to make the crossing at the two points where the distance over the water is the shortest (the Strait of Gibraltar and the Bosporus).

Surprisingly, the long journey across the Sahara Desert does not daunt them as much as the nine-mile [14 km] stretch of water separating Spain and Africa, which can take them as much as five hours.

Storks and Babies

Picture of a stork carrying a baby.

For centuries, children have been told that babies are brought by storks, and storks still feature prominently on cards congratulating parents on the birth of a baby.

Where did the story originate?

Apparently, the idea is based on two legends. Years ago, people noticed that storks appeared seemingly miraculously each year at the same time.

Some thought that they went to Egypt during the winter months and became men, only to revert to being birds in the spring (this explained their attachment to human dwellings).

It was also noticed that storks spent most of the day feeding in marshy areas, which were said to be the dwelling place of the souls of newborn babies.

As storks were birds that were most solicitous parents, it did not require too much imagination for people to link fact and fiction and come up with the notion that babies were brought by storks.

The stork—traditional harbinger of spring, babies, and good fortune—has long held a special place in human’s myths and affections.

Its graceful flight, its affinity for human settlements, and its useful role in controlling agricultural pests have all contributed to its popular image.

But perhaps its most endearing feature is its faithfulness—faithfulness to its nest, to which it returns every year, and loyalty to its mate, with which it forms a lifelong bond.

In fact, its name in Hebrew means “loyal one” or “one of loving-kindness” because, as the Talmud explains, it is a creature distinguished for treating its mate with affection.

Thanks to this popular image, nearly two hundred years ago the stork was a protected species in Holland and, reportedly, tame storks could be seen strutting around the fish market of The Hague.

It was later made the national bird of Germany. And nowadays, in some European towns, platforms are erected on roofs to encourage this friendly bird to nest on them. Storks are welcome neighbors!

Let hope this altitude will persist into the future!

Amazing facts about a whale

Picture of a humpback whale jumping out of water.

The ocean surface is smooth and tranquil.

Suddenly, there is an explosion of water and spray!

A 40-ton black beast makes what appears to be an abortive launch into flight.

The animal falters for a moment at the peak of its upward thrust.

Then, with a resounding crash, it disappears below the surface of the water.

For those who witness this, the impression left on them is lasting.

They have privileged to witness one of the largest of earth’s animals, the whale, rear itself above the water to catch a breath of air.

For many hundreds of years humans has marveled at the whale, believing at one time that its appearances near coasts or on shores were portents heralding great events.

While to a great extent superstitions concerning the whale have disappeared, awe and amazement have not.

A closer look at this giant’s form and habits will show why.

What is a whale?

Picture of a whale.

A whale is not a fish, but a mammal that is warm-blooded.

It breathes air, suckles its young and even has some of the external hairs so characteristic of mammals.

However, the only time a whale breaks the water’s surface is to exhale a blast of steamy breath, known as the blow, and to inhale more life-sustaining air.

Unlike other marine mammals, whales cannot lounge around shorelines.

For some of the ‘great whales’ to be beached even temporarily means certain death.

Without water to support such a huge bulk, their ribs collapse and death occurs by suffocation.

Whales are divided into two basic groups, the baleen whales (with whale bones, rather than teeth) and the toothed whales.

Perhaps the best known of the baleen group is the giant blue whale, spanning a length of some 100 feet (30 m) and weighing up to 134 tons.

Picture of a blue whale.

Says the book Whales, by E. J. Slijper, that weight is equivalent to four brontosaurs or 30 elephants, or 200 cows, or 1,600 men!

Certainly this monarch of the deep is the largest creature, living or dead, ever known to move upon planet Earth.

The baleen or whalebone itself is a horny growth, edged with frayed bristles that hang from the whale’s upper jaw.

It is made of a substance similar to our own hair and nails and is constantly growing and being worn away.

A row of these long tapered baleen plates on each side of the mouth creates a large sieve that separates plankton, a major part of the diet for this type of whale, from tremendous quantities of water.

On the other hand, toothed whales are not equipped to catch the tiny plankton.

Instead, they prey primarily on fish, squid and other seagoing mammals.

Toothed whales range in size from the four-foot (1.2-m) long porpoise through the well-known dolphins and killer whales right up to the 60-foot (18-m) long sperm whale.

Amazing Abilities

Picture of a whale tail.

At first it appeared that the whale’s ability as a swimmer ran counter to physical law.

How can such a huge creature plow through the ocean at speeds rivaling a nuclear-powered submarine?

Investigations have shown that, unlike the rigid submarine, a whale’s body is flexible.

A layer of blubber thwarts friction and reduces turbulence to a minimum.

Another endowment of the whale is its ability to produce an array of noises ranging from creaks and squeaks to chirps and shrill whistles.

Use of these sounds appear to be twofold: they help to keep the family groups, known as pods, together, and also are a form of sonar, enabling the whale to locate food and “see” in the dark.

The gigantic bodies of whales have long been viewed as enormous bags of “goodies.”

Originally people sought the flesh as food and the blubber for oil.

Nowadays people produce from whale carcasses such things as automatic transmission fluid, candles, fertilizer and, yes, even lipstick.

What will be the whale’s future?

Will it become extinct?

Some efforts have been made to ensure the survival of whales.

The International Whaling Commission (IWC) is a voluntary body made up of representatives of whaling nations.

Since 1946 the Commission has placed bans and quotas on catching various species.

But its effectiveness and true loyalties have come under fire from conservation groups.

Whether efforts to preserve the whale population will succeed remains to be seen.

How a red grouper fish uses color signals like traffic lights?

Red grouper fish.

Sure enough, the red color of a red grouper fish is impressive.

But what many do not realize is that the red grouper fish uses it's red color as signals, somewhat like we use traffic lights.

When the red grouper is hunting rather than merely keeping watch over his territory, his color turns a darker shade of red.

The clown fish, which is preyed upon by the grouper, can tell from the grouper’s color when he is ‘off duty.’ 

Picture of a clown fish.

During these safe periods, a clown fish will boldly chase away a grouper who invades his territory.

A beautiful chaffinch

A beautiful chaffinch.

Meet the 'spiderman' frog with human-like fingers and toes

Picture of a el cogui frog.

'El coqui' a frog with unusual features

This little frog averages 36 mm (less than an inch and a half) in length. Its body is not much larger than a human’s thumbnail.

The head, with its large, protruding eyes, is wider than the torso.

Those eyes are ever on the alert for any careless insect that might fly close enough to become a tasty morsel.

Unlike other frogs, coquí does not have webbed feet but has long human-like fingers and toes.

Its skin changes from light to dark, to match its surroundings.

Another non-frog like feature is its development from eggs to embryo to frog.

There is no tadpole stage.

The female is a giant compared to the male.

She usually lays about 36 eggs on the leaf of an air plant, just at the surface of the water in the lower part of the leaf.

The eggs form an oval mass six to eight mm (about one-fourth inch) in diameter.

At night coquíes sit about on vegetation, enjoying their own harmonious sounds.

Only the males sing.

Sometimes they begin their melodious song softly, going up the musical scale, “co-qui-qui-qui-qui-qui!” very rapidly.

As the song gets louder, it settles down to the common two-note “ko-kee! ko-kee!”

The residents of Puerto Rico where the frog is usually found find this a most pleasing accompaniment to their evening meals.

They particularly enjoy the nightly songs of this little frog in the bromeliad plant hanging on the porch.

Unfortunately, many times his privacy was often invaded as people pulled down a leaf of the plant to peep in at the small body from which that big voice came.

The frog usually puffs himself up to twice his size, then squeezing out the “ko-kee!” whistles, his body pulsating with each note.

Creating a coqui family

A coqui frog.

In a small town in Puerto Ricoa woman had the delight of actually witnessing the birth of a coquí family.

One night she saw the female high up on the kitchen wall.

The darker, somewhat warty female is not nearly as good-looking as the male.

In the morning the woman checked the hole that was the male’s living quarters, and found him sitting over a mass of eggs.

The nights were quiet now, for while attending to his duties papa coquí does not sing.

The woman kept close watch on the eggs, and her vigilance paid off.

Finally, she noticed a stream of water going over the eggs.

Again and again the male sprayed them.

Soon one of the eggs seemed to be whirling, but just for a moment.

The membrane broke and out hopped a tiny coquí, about the size of a common ant but with long legs.

The tiny animal disappeared quickly.

Then other eggs began hatching.

Finally, the hole was alive with swirling eggs and tiny coquíes scurrying for cover.

The father kept spraying water at intervals, apparently unconcerned about the flight of his offspring.

When his work was finished, he left.

His voice was not heard for several evenings.

But after a week or so the familiar sound came from the same window perch he formerly used.

And there he sat, his little body pushing out those two welcome notes, “ko-kee! ko-kee!”