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Fuerteventura Fauna - Birds
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Fuerteventura Fauna - Birds
Part 1

Article by Alex Bramwell, resident zoologist and author of the upcoming Sunshine Guide to Gran Canaria
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European Storm-Petrel

Hydrobates pelagicus pelagicus
Size: 15-16 cm.
Local name: Bailarino

Habitat

Not known to breed on any of the other Macaronesian archipelagos with the possible exception of the Salvage Islands the Storm Petrel is at the southern limit of its breeding range on the Canaries. Apart from the confirmed colonies, it is suspected that the species breeds on all of the islands and the population is tentatively estimated at about 1000 pairs, of which about 500 breed on El Hierro and another few hundred on Alegranza.

Diet

Small fish, crustaceans and cephalopods (squid).

Behaviour

The smallest seabird in Canarian and European waters recognisable due to its dark undersides, weak, fluttery flight and habit of trailing its feet close to the surface of the water. Storm petrels travel in flocks and follow ships to search for food in their wake. The species leaves Canarian waters after the breeding season and seems to migrate south to the coasts of Namibia and South Africa.

Nesting

Storm petrels are late breeders with a single dull-white egg laid in a burrow or cave or under rocks in June or July. The chick abandons the burrow in September or later.

Notes

Some authors separate the Mediterranean population as the subspecies H. p. melitensis and consider it non-migratory. Storm petrels are common in the north east Atlantic and birds breeding further north probably migrate through the Canary Islands along with the similar Leach’s storm petrel Oceanodroma leucorhea.

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Manx Shearwater

Puffinus puffinus
Size: 30-36 cm.
Local name: Estampagado.

Habitat

The Manx shearwater breeds from Iceland and Newfoundland down to northern France, the Azores, Madeira and the Canary Islands, which are the southern limit of its breeding range. Nesting has been confirmed from Tenerife and La Palma and also probably occurs on El Hierro and La Gomera. Most of the Canarian population of at least 200 pairs breed in the barrancos of the north and northeast of La Palma. Another 500 pairs breed on the Madeira archipelago.

Diet

Pelagic fish, cephalopods and crustaceans.

Behaviour

Absent from Canarian waters in October, November and December when they disperse west to the east cost of South America. Recently fledged chicks are known to get confused by bright lights and every year some are seen in towns and cities. The call is uttered at night when the adults visit the nest site. While gliding the wings are held stiff and during flight rapid wing beats are typical.

Nesting

Nesting burrows are dug into damp earth in damp barrancos and among the roots of trees. Nests are also placed in caves and crevices under rocks. The single white egg is laid in March and April and the chick abandons the nest site in July.

Notes

Previously considered to be subspecies of the Manx shearwater P. puffinus, the Yelkouan shearwater and Balearic shearwater have now been separated as P. yelkouan and P. y. mauretanicus respectively. Some even consider the Balearic shearwater to be a separate species in itself under the name P. mauretanicus. Both have been recorded as migrants to Canarian waters.

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Eurasian Collared Dove

Streptopelia decaocto decaocto
Size:
cm.
Local name: Tortola

Habitat

The collared dove is probably present on the islands and has even been recorded from the nearby Salvage Islands. The species has been expanding its range across Europe in recent years and has now begun to colonise North Africa. It arrived on the Canary Islands during the 1980s and 1990s and has spread to many towns and cities, although not as successfully as the African or Barbary collared dove.  

Diet

Seeds and human scraps such as breadcrumbs.

Behaviour

Scavenges for scraps in urban and suburban areas as well as visiting arable land. Less approachable than the Barbary or African collared dove. The call is a unrolled “kuk-kooOO-kook” uttered repeatedly. The alarm call is a harsh, mewing cry.

Nesting

Tends to nest alongside the more abundant African collared or Barbary dove with hybridisation common. Two white eggs are laid in a nest made of sticks and placed in the fork of a branch. The nesting period is extensive and it probably breeds all year round except during the winter.

Notes

There is doubt as to whether the collared dove colonised the islands naturally or due to escaped cage birds. Its exact range is also in doubt due to confusion and hybridisation with the African or Barbary collared dove.

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Greenfinch

Carduelis chloris aurantiiventris
Size: 14-15 cm.
Local name: Verderon 

Habitat

The greenfinch is a recent colonist that has established itself in disturbed habitats over the last 30 years. It is now breeding on all the islands except La Palma and Lanzarote, where there are recent sightings but no breeding records. Greenfinches are present in barrancos, farmland, non-native pine and eucalyptus plantations and even urban areas.

Diet

Greenfinches are seed eaters that are fond of thistle seeds.

Behaviour

Forms small and wide-ranging flocks outside the breeding season and can be met with almost anywhere on the islands where it breeds. Greenfinches are often sighted along with other small seedeaters feeding in fields or thistle clumps.

Nesting

There is still little information about greenfinch breeding habits on the Canary Islands. Nesting is thought to begin in March and last until June with several clutches of three to five eggs per season. The nest site tends to be in pine or fruit trees.

Notes

The subspecies present on the Canary Islands is believed to be the southern European and North African race C. c. aurantiiventris, although the alternative subspecies C. c. vanmarli has been proposed for nearby North Africa. The greenfinch has also recently colonised Madeira. Migrants are sighted regularly on the eastern islands and adjoining islets. Sub fossils of a recently extinct goldfinch species with a very robust head and beak have recently been discovered on La Palma. There is a remote possibility that the bird, named Carduelis triasi, still lives in remote areas of the island.

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Common Quail

Coturnix coturnix
Size: 16-18 cm.
Local name: Codorniz, cuascará.

Habitat

Once abundant enough to allow hunters to bag fifty birds in a single morning the quail has declined in recent years due to over-hunting the piping of fresh water streams and a decline in grain farming. Found in scrubland at all altitudes as well as forest clearing, agricultural land and plains with abundant vegetation.

Diet

Seeds, insects and small fruits.

Behaviour

A shy bird that is more likely to be heard than seen the quail is probably more abundant than thought. The bulk of the population seems to abandon the islands after the breeding season although some may remain permanently, especially on the wetter western islands. The “what’s that?” or “wet my lips” call of the males is unmistakeable and frequently uttered during the breeding season.

Nesting

Seven to twelve yellowish-buff eggs with variable markings are laid in a nest well hidden amongst vegetation. Breeding can begin as early as December and continue until August with up to three broods possible per season.

Notes

Sub fossil finds indicate that a now extinct quail species inhabited many of the islands. Named Coturnix gomerea it has smaller wings and larger feet that C. coturnix. The exact status of the Canarian quails is still in doubt and there may be two forms; the migratory C. coturnix on the eastern islands and maybe seasonally in the western islands and C. c. confisa permanently resident at higher altitudes on the western islands. C. c. confisa is also resident on Madeira and the Azores while on the Cape Verdes Coturnix coturnix inopinata is present.

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Rock Dove

Columba livia
Size: 33 cm.
Local name: Paloma.

Habitat

Wild type rock doves can still be found nesting in remote barrancos and sea cliffs all over the Canary Islands. Domestic pigeons are common in all towns and tourist resorts as well as living feral around farmland. Wild type birds are wary and very difficult to approach. They are best observed when they come to drink at isolated sources of fresh water.

Diet

Wild rock doves feed on seeds, shoots and fruits.

Behaviour

Rock doves are birds of regular habits that tend to drink, feed and rest at similar times every day. Flocks of several dozen wild type birds visit remote streams and pools in the mornings and evenings. They are still hunted on the Canaries and are wary as a consequence. Large numbers descend on fields to feed.

Nesting

Rock doves choose inaccessible caves as nest sites, often in barranco walls and sea cliffs. Some birds nest in the crowns of palm trees and on the Chinijo archipelago the nests tend to be lower down and more easily reached. The nest is nothing more than a few twigs and the clutch of two plain white eggs is laid in spring and summer. Several broods are raised per season and some birds seem to nest all year round.

Notes

The Canarian population of rock dove is considered to be smaller and darker than the type subspecies and is given the name C. l. canariensis by some authors. Others consider it to be within the type subspecies. Pure wild type birds are now scarce and the subspecies may have disappeared due to hybridisation with domestic pigeons.

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African Collared Dove ( Barbary Dove)

Streptopelia roseogriscea (risoria)
Size: 15-16 cm.
Local name: Tortola

Habitat

A recent colonist that has rapidly expanded its range on the islands since the first records in the 1980s. The population is likely to be descended from escaped birds of the domesticated variety of African collared dove, known as the Barbary dove Streptopelia roseogriscea risoria, a common cage and aviary bird on the islands. On the Canaries it is now present in most towns and also on farms, arable land and forest fringes.

Diet

A seed eater that scavenges for scraps in towns and cities.

Behaviour

African collared doves on the Canaries are very tame and usually found close to human habitation. In less urban settings they are often encountered in pairs feeding on seeds in open areas.

Nesting

The nest is a basic structure made of sticks and placed in the fork of a branch. Two white eggs are laid with breeding concentrated in spring and again in autumn.

Notes

The African collared dove Streptopelia roseogriscea is native to a narrow strip of Sub-Saharan Africa from Mauritania to Arabia.

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Common Tern

Sterna hirundo hirundo
Size: 31-35 cm.
Local name: Golondrina de mar, garajao.

Habitat

Huge tern colonies at Maspalomas on Gran Canaria and Corralejos on Fuerteventura have completely disappeared and there are now probably no more than 50 pairs nesting on the Canaries, mostly on the western islands. The Maspalomas colony was large enough in 1856 to allow naturalist Dr Carl Bolle to collect 400 eggs in under an hour. By 1905 the colony had vanished. Common terns can be seen almost anywhere along the Canarian coast.

Diet

Small fish swimming close to the surface such as sardines.

Behaviour

The breeding peopulation abandons the archipelago after the breeding season to overwinter further south. During the summer common terns on migration pass though the islands with a flock of around 1000 birds sighted in Fuerteventura in 1992. Common terns hunt by plunge diving directly from a hovering position. The call is a loud “ Kee-aah ”. During courtship the males offer small fish to the females. Pairs will vigourously efend the nest site by dive bombing intruders.

Nesting

The nest is a slight scrape sometimes lined with grass or seaweed. In the Canaries nests are placed on inaccessible coasts or offshore islets. Two to four olive or brown eggs are laid from March to May.

Notes

The common tern subspecies present on the Canaries also breeds on the Azores, Madeira and the Salvages as well as on both Atlantic coasts. The gull-billed tern Gelochelidon nilotica is a migrant that occurs in small numbers every year, mostly during spring and autumn. Other recorded tern species include the overwintering sandwich tern Sterna sandvicensis which is fairly abundant, the Arctic tern Sterna paradisaea, the little tern Sterna albifrons, whiskered tern Chlidonias hybridus and black tern Chlidonias niger.

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Little Shearwater

Puffinus assimilis baroli
Size: 30-36 cm.
Local name:Tahoce, papagayo (latter is generic name for all shearwaters/petrels).

Habitat

The subspecies present on the Canary Islands also breeds on the Salvages, Madeira and the Azores. Currently known to breed on Tenerife and La Gomera but probably nests on all the other islands and islets. The little shearwater chooses inaccessible inland nest sites and only visits late at night, making it a difficult species to study. A tentative estimate puts the Canarian population at under 400 pairs.

Diet

Little known but assumed to consist of fish and cephalopods.

Behaviour

Little shearwaters are believed to be fairly sedentary although numbers around the Canaries are definitely higher during the summer months. The flight is low with infrequent tilting glides and little shearwaters fly during the day in groups, sometimes resting on the surface of the sea. The call is described as “phwee-her-her-her-wher” with an excited, wheezy, whistling finish.

Nesting

The breeding season is thought to vary between islands but basically stretches from January or February until May or June when the chicks leave the nest. There is activity at some nest sites throughout the year.

Notes

Both P. a. baroli and the Cape Verde subspecies P. a. boydi may be more closely related to Audobon’s shearwater P. a. iherminieri than to the little shearwater. Some also consider P. a. boydi to be a separate species named Boyd’s shearwater P. boydi. Field identification of the Audobon/little shearwater complex is very difficult even under ideal conditions.

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White-Faced Storm Petrel

Pelagodroma marina hypoleuca
Size: 20-21 cm.
Local name: Bailarino

Habitat

Long known to breed on the nearby Salvage Islands, the white-faced storm petrel or frigate petrel was only confirmed as a breeding bird on the Canaries in 1987 with the discovery of a small colony on the islet of Montaña Clara. The colony of between 24 and 30 pairs is sited on the sandy southern half of the island but more may breed inside the caldera and even on the neighbouring islets of Alegranza and La Graciosa and perhaps even on Lobos off northern Fuerteventura. At sea, the species is most likely to be sighted of northern Lanzarote but sightings have also occurred around the other islands.

Diet

Little known but assumed to consist of small fish and marine invertebrates as well as egg masses.

Behaviour

The flight is erratic with much banking and weaving and the wings are almost always held fully extended. The feet are held dangling just above the surface of the water. White-faced storm petrels seem to be fairly sedentary in their habits as the large numbers that breed around the Salvage Islands are rarely seen off Madeira. There is some westerly movement outside the breeding season and occasionally individuals range widely.

Nesting

A single white egg is laid in burrows dug into soft sand often around plant roots. The egg is laid in March or early April with the chicks leaving the burrow in July.

Notes

The Salvage Islands are home to between 10,000 and 25,000 breeding pairs of P. m. hypoleuca while the Cape Verdes host P. m. eadesi. Other subspecies breed in the southern Atlantic and Indian and Pacific Oceans.

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Cory’s Shearwater

Calonectris diomedea borealis  
Size: 45-48 cm.
Local name: Pardela, llantina.

Habitat

The Cory’s shearwater subspecies C. d. borealis breeds on all the Canary Islands and islets as well as the Salvages, Azores, Madeira and Berlengas archipelago off Portugal. It is the most common breeding seabird on the Canary Islands with a population probably in excess of 30,000 pairs with 8000 to 10,000 pairs on Alegranza alone. Exact numbers are hard to ascertain as the species only visits the nest at night and chooses inaccessible sites both on the coast and inland. Numbers have declined at accessible nest sites, especially on the main islands, due to historical nestling harvests and disturbance

Diet

Fish such as mackerel and needlefish seem to make up the bulk of the diet although cephalopods are also taken. There are even records of Cory’s shearwaters taking flying fish spooked by boats.

Behaviour

Absent from Canarian waters from November to February with breeding adults departing to South America and young birds migrating to European and North American waters. The call, most often heard at breeding sites, is a drawn-out, wailing “ouwa-ouwa ouwa-ouwa ouwa-ouwa” uttered in the hours approaching dusk and at night.

Nesting

The single white egg is laid in May or June with the chicks abandoning the nest site in October and November. While single pairs may be found Cory’s shearwater prefers to nest at communal sites with up to 200 birds sharing a single cave on Alegranza. The nest is placed in cracks and caves, in burrows, under rocks, inside lava tubes and sometimes under dense vegetation.

Notes

C. b. diomedea breeds around the Mediterranean and is also know as Berlenger’s shearwater. A third subspecies breeding on the Cape Verde Islands is now considered a separate species under the name Calonectris edwardsii. Both C. b. diomedae and C. edwardsii are recorded as migrants around the Canaries along with the great shearwater Puffinus gravis, sooty shearwater Puffinus griseus and yelkouan shearwater Puffinus yelkouan. Up to 20,000 Cory’s shearwater chicks were once collected on the Salvage Islands per year for their fat and meat. Small scale and illegal collection of chicks on the Chinjo archipelago may continue to this day.

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Madeiran Storm-Petrel
Band-Rumped Storm-Petrel

Oceanodroma castro  
Size:
19-21 cm.
Local name: Bailarín, pájaro cojo.

Habitat

Confirmed as a breeding bird on the Canaries only in the 1980s the Madeiran storm petrel probably nests on all the islands. Because it breeds predominantly during the winter months its presence on the Canaries was missed by early ornithologists. Nesting has been confirmed on Tenerife, Lanzarote and the Chinijo archipelago although it is also considered very likely on the three western islands. The species also breeds on all the Macaronesian archipelagos as well as the Berlengas off Portugal, southern Atlantic islands and islands of the Pacific Ocean.

Diet

Small fish, crustaceans and cephalopods.

Behaviour

Largely absent from Canarian waters between February and June when the Madeiran storm petrel spreads out across the northern Atlantic. Madeiran storm-petrels hang low over the water with their feet dangling and often touching the surface. The flight is erratic with shallow wing beats and shearwater-like glides. The call has been likened to the sound of a finger rubbing on wet glass.

Nesting

The breeding season is very variable between archipelagos and even between neighbouring islands. On the Canaries there may well be a winter and summer breeding population as occurs on the Azores or continual breeding as on Madeira. The bulk of eggs on the Canary Islands are laid in October and November. The single egg is laid under rocks, in crevices or in empty Cory’s shearwater burrows.

Notes

Recent studies have found differences between the winter and summer breeding populations on the Azores and have suggested that they be treated as sister species.

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