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Fuerteventura Fauna - Birds
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Fuerteventura Fauna - Birds - Part 2

Article by Alex Bramwell, resident zoologist and author of the upcoming Sunshine Guide to Gran Canaria
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Berthelot´s Pipit

Anthus berthelotii berthelotii
Size: 14-15 cm.
Local Name: Pajaro de la virgen

Habitat and distribution

A Macaronesian endemic distributed on the Canary, Salvage and Madeira archipelagos. Berthelot's Pipit is among the most abundant of all breeding birds on the Canary Islands and is found in open areas from sea level up to 3000m. Common in open pine forest, lava fields and scrub zones but just as much at home in towns and on golf courses.

Common on Fuerteventura almost everywhere.

Diet

Berthelot's Pipit is an omnivore that hunts for insects and other invertebrates on the ground as well as taking seeds, flowers and shoots. It will often follow walkers and capture the insects they disturb with short runs and even jumps. This habit of following walkers and pilgrims may explain its common name of "Pajaro de la virgen" or Virgin Mary's bird.

Behaviour

A charismatic species that is always on the move and unafraid of humans, Berthelot's Pipit is easily observed at close quarters. It is an unwilling flier, almost always choosing to run rather than fly and very rarely perching anywhere other than on the ground. Pairs form strong bonds and it is unusual to see a single bird. Adults are known to draw attention away from the nest by feigning an injury.

Nesting

The breeding season is quite variable, stretching from December to July depending on altitude and the amount of rainfall. In years with abundant rain two clutches are common with the number of eggs as high as eight, although three to four eggs is more normal. The nest is placed on the ground under thickets or among rocks but may also be hidden among fallen pine needles.

Notes

The Canarian and Salvage archipelagos are home to the type species while A. b. madeirensis, with a longer and stouter bill, is found on Madeira. Up to eight pipit species have been recorded as migrants, with the most frequent being the tree pipit Anthus trivalis, meadow pipit Anthus pratensis and tawny pipit Anthus campestris.

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Black-bellied Sandgrouse

Pterocles orientalis orientalis
Size: 33-35 cm.
Local name: Ganga.

Habitat

The black-bellied sandgrouse is found on sandy and slightly rocky plains on Lanzarote and especially Fuerteventura. There have also been recent sightings on La Graciosa but the species has died out on Gran Canaria where it was once present along the south eastern coast. Currently there are thought to be a minimum of 300 pairs on the islands concentrated on Fuerteventura.

On Fuerteventura numbers are concentrated in the south along the isthmus and northern section of the Jandia peninsula with other important populations on the central and north-western plains.

Diet

The black-bellied sandgrouse eats seeds and fresh shoots.

Behaviour

While black-bellied sandgrouses are desert birds they need to drink water every day. On Fuerteventura they come to fresh water sources in the early morning and late evening to drink in small flocks. This behaviour made them vulnerable to shooting and snaring in the past.

They are fast flying birds with a characteristic liquid, bubbling call. Black-bellied sandgrouse are thought to migrate between Lanzarote and Fuerteventura. There may also be migrations between the Canarian and North African populations.

Nesting

Two or three pale brown to coffee coloured eggs with variable markings are laid in a simple scrape in the ground lined with bits of grass. The males display to the females in a similar fashion to pigeons from February with the breeding season lasting from February to June.

Notes

The pin-tailed sandgrouse Pterocles alchata has been recorded as an accidental migrant but there has only been one recent sighting from Fuerteventura.

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Black-bellied Sandgrouse Pterocles

orientalis orientalis
Size: 33-35 cm.
Local name: Ganga.

Habitat

The black-bellied sandgrouse is found on sandy and slightly rocky plains on Lanzarote and especially Fuerteventura. There have also been recent sightings on La Graciosa but the species has died out on Gran Canaria where it was once present along the south eastern coast.

Currently there are thought to be a minimum of 300 pairs on the islands concentrated on Fuerteventura. On Fuerteventura numbers are concentrated in the south along the isthmus and northern section of the Jandia peninsula with other important populations on the central and north-western plains.

Diet

The black-bellied sandgrouse eats seeds and fresh shoots.

Behaviour

While black-bellied sandgrouses are deset birds they need to drink water every day. On Fuerteventura they come to fresh water sources in the early morning and late evening to drink in small flocks. This behaviour made them vulnerable to shooting and snaring in the past. They are fast flying birds with a characteristic liquid, bubbling call. Black-bellied sandgrouse are thought to migrate between Lanzarote and Fuerteventura. There may also be migrations between the Canarian and North African populations.

Nesting

Two or three pale brown to coffee coloured eggs with variable markings are laid in a simple scrape in the ground lined with bits of grass. The males display to the females in a similar fashion to pigeons from February with the breeding season lasting from February to June.

Notes

The pin-tailed sandgrouse Pterocles alchata has been recorded as an accidental migrant but there has only been one recent sighting from Fuerteventura.

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Meade-Waldo’s Stonechat

Saxicola dacotiae dacotiae
Size: 12.5 cm.
Local name: Caldereta

Habitat

Meade-waldo’s stonechat inhabits the rocky plains and barrancos of Fuerteventura where there is at least some vegetation. It is most common close to fresh water sources such as barranco streams and favours terrain with steep gradients.

Also encountered around cultivated land but only rarely on the more barren plains and lava fields. While Meade-waldo’s stonechat has never been known to nest on Lanzarote there are sporadic sightings in the south of the island. The subspecies from the islet of Alegranza died out before 1950. The total population is probably around 750 pairs, although one recent estimate put it as low as 100 to 200 pairs.

Diet

An insectivore that feeds on ants, caterpillars, wasps, flies and terrestrial arthropods such as woodlice. Meade-Waldo’s stonechat is also reported to be fond of the fruits of the boxthorn Lycium intricatum.

Behaviour

A restless species that constantly jerks its tail up and down and occasionally otters a low “cut-chut” call. While fresh water does not seem to be essential, Meade-Waldo’s stonechat seems to favour sites close to streams or pools even if they are brackish. Meade-Waldo’s chat hunts on the ground or from a post site. Outside the breeding season the birds are more widespread and have been known to visit parks and gardens.

Nesting

Meade-Waldo’s stonechat breeds very early with egg-laying beginning in December and January. The nest is placed on the ground at the base of a rock or boulder or in stone wall crevices. Occasionally nests are found under thickets or even in the low branches of a bush. The clutch is of two to five quite round, greenish-blue eggs with reddish markings.

Notes

The stone chat Saxicola torquata passes through the eastern islands during its winter migration while the whinchat Saxicola rubetra and the superficially similar pied flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca are also recorded as migrants, the latter species being quite abundant in some years.

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Lesser Short-toed Lark

Calandrella rufescens polatzeki
Size:
Local name: .

Habitat

Calandrella rufescens polatzeki is found on the arid, stony plains of the eastern islands and the southern plains of the central islands. They are most at home on Fuerteventura where large flocks are often disturbed. Short-toed larks are fond of the open plains and low hills of Fuerteventura

Behaviour

During early spring the males display in typical lark fashion, singing on the wing and dropping spectacularly through the air. Outside the breeding season large flocks form and roam widely. Small flocks of feeding larks can be found on suitable habitat throughout the year but are often not evident until they take off. The fist sign that they are present is often a flock disappearing rapidly into the distance.

Diet

Seeds, shoots and insects, the latter especially during the breeding season.

Nesting

The grass stem nest is placed in a hollow scratched in the earth under brush or close to a rock. Two to five creamy-white eggs with pinkish-brown or greenish-brown markings are laid between January and May.

Notes

The species is distributed from North Africa to China where suitable habitat exists. Nine other lark species have been recorded from the islands, with the Calandra lark Melanocorypha, short-toed lark Calandrella brachydactyla and skylark Alauda arvensis most frequently recorded.

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Slender-billed Gull

Larus genei
Size: 37-44 cm.
Local name: Gaviota.

Habitat

The slender-billed gull may have bred on Fuerteventura in the 1976 but its current status is unclear. Considered only an accidental migrant until quite recently, sightings have increased on the Canary Islands and the species may still be breeding on Fuerteventura.

Diet

Feeds on fish and crustaceans.

Behaviour

Nesting

The clutch in other areas of the slender-billed gull’s range is of two to three eggs, laid on the ground in mixed colonies with other gull species.

Notes

The slender-billed gull can be distinguished from the very similar black-headed gull Larus ridibundus by its much longer bill. In June 2001 a pair of lesser black-backed gulls Larus fuscus successfully raised at least on chick on Alegranza. There may be a small colony of about half a dozen pairs on the islet and nearby La Graciosa.

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Turtle Dove

Streptopelia turtur
Size: 27-28 cm.
Local name: Tortola.

Habitat

A widespread species on the Canaries that can be found from the coastal fringe right up to the upland scrub zones. They are most at home in open forests and barrancos but are also common in large parks and gardens and on golf courses. Most of the population leaves the islands in August, returning in April or March. Numbers seem to vary considerably from year to year. Common on Fuerteventura in good years around farmland, gardens and tamarisk groves.

Diet

A seed eater that will also take insects.

Behaviour

Turtle doves are almost always encountered in pairs. They will descend to the ground to feed but prefer to perch in trees and shrubs. Turtle doves are much more wary on the Canaries than the collared dove or Barbary/African collared dove as they are still hunted. The call is a deep, cat-like purring: "turr-turr".

Nesting

Two white eggs are laid in a basic nest made of sticks, frequently placed in dense shrubs and small trees. Breeding begins in March and lasts until July.

Notes

The turtle dove is declining in Europe due to large scale hunting during its migration through southern Europe and North Africa. It may also be affected by the increasing numbers of sedentary collared doves Streptopelia decaocto. The Canarian population is of the type subspecies but there are records of S. t. arenicola, the subspecies from North Africa and the Middle East through to China. Turtle doves also breed on Madeira.

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Yellow-legged Gull

Larus cachinnans atlantis
Size: 56 cm.
Local name: Gaviota.

Habitat

The yellow-legged gull has greatly increased its population on the Canaries in the last 50 years as it has learned to scavenge from rubbish tips. There are now thought to be around 4500 pairs breeding on the islands with. Present all along the coast but concentrated in ports the yellow-legged gull can also be seen inland, especially during stormy weather.

Diet

An opportunist that will scavenge almost anything edible from bread to fish guts. Away from human habitations yellow-legged gulls capture young shearwaters and petrels and eat bird eggs as well as insects, marine invertebrates and land snails. The species also robs other seabirds of their catch.

Behaviour

Large numbers of yellow-legged gulls can be observed resting on quiet beaches and rocks at low tide or soaring above cliffs and inland barrancos. Some birds follow inter-island ferries for long distances and the largest concentrations are seen over rubbish dumps. The call is a mewing “kweeow” and the alarm cry a loud laugh.

Nesting

Yellow-legged gulls on the Canary Islands nest in cliff holes or on offshore rocks and islets. The clutch tends to be of two to three pale olive green or umber brown eggs with uniform brown spotting or blotches.

Notes

The yellow-legged gull Larus cachinnans was previously considered a subspecies of the herring gull Larus argentatus but is now considered a separate species in its own right closely linked to the lesser black-backed gull Larus fuscus. The subspecies L. c. atlantis breeds on the Canary, Salvage, Madeira and Azores archipelagos. It is also sometimes referred to as L. michahellis atlantis.

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Barbary Partridge

Alectoris barbara koengi
Size: 33-34 cm.
Local name: Perdiz.

Habitat

Now reported from all of the main islands the Barbary partridge may well have been introduced to the Canaries for hunting purposes. It colonised Fuerteventura in the early 20th Century with the populations on other islands probably also dating from the same period.. Found in lowland scrub, lava fields, forest borders and clearings and alpine scrub areas on the high islands. The distribution and abundance of the Barbary partridge vary considerably due to rainfall levels and releases by hunting associations.

Diet

Feeds on seeds and shoots as well as insects, especially grasshoppers and will also take cactus fruit, figs and grapes.

Behaviour

Reluctant to fly even when pressed Barbary partridges are hunted on the islands and consequently very wary. Coveys tend to drink in the evenings. The call, uttered by the males during the breeding season is a single note "Pooooweeeeeeet” rising in tone towards the end.

Nesting

The nest is a scrape on the ground in dense vegetation. The clutch of nine to fourteen eggs is laid between March and June. It is not unknown for two females to share a single nest.

Notes

The Barbary partridge is also present on Madeira.

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Great Grey Shrike

Lanius excubitor koenigi
Size: cm.

Habitat and distribution

A Palearctic species also present to the south of the Sahara Desert. The Canarian great grey shrike prefers lowland euphorbia scrub and is most common on Lanzarote and Fuerteventura where this habitat is extensive.

Numbers have declined in recent years and the species has vanished from La Palma. Often seen perched on the highest point of a bush or telegraph pole on Fuerteventura.

Diet

A catholic feeder that will consume small mammals and reptiles, large insects such as dragonflies, grasshoppers and crickets, and small birds. Lizards make up a significant part of the diet but great grey shrikes will gorge on locusts when these are present and will also feed on roadside carrion, especially on the eastern islands.

Behaviour

The Great Grey Shrike is a conspicuous bird due to its habit of sitting on the highest point of a euphorbia shrub or small tree and its brilliant white breast. It is famous for impaling prey on thorn bushes as a kind of larder for leaner times.

The dipping flight and conspicuous white wing patches make the Great Grey Shrike easy to identify on the wing. The call is a not unmusical whistle.

Nesting

The bulky nest is placed low down in shrubs and small trees. Records also exist of nests in cliff crevices and palm tree crowns and even on the ground. Breeding starts as early as December and the season extends until May or June, especially at higher altitudes. The clutch consists of three to six eggs which are highly variable in colour, from salmon pink to pale green with darker mottles.

Notes

It has recently been suggested that the Canarian subspecies of great grey shrike in fact belongs to the complex of the southern grey shrike Lanius meridionalis present in Southern Europe and North Africa. Other Shrike species recorded as migrants on the islands include the red-backed shrike L. collurio and the woodchat shrike L. senator.

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Hoopoe

Upupa epops epops
Size: 28 cm.

Habitat and distribution

The hoopoe is most common on arid scrubland but is also found on farmland and upland scrub and even in forest clearings. Numbers seem to have declined significantly on all the islands except Lanzarote and Fuerteventura. The hoopoe has however colonised large parks and gardens, even in urban settings, and is common on many golf courses.

Diet

An omnivorous species that takes invertebrates and small reptiles, especially lizards.

Description and Behaviour

Hoopoes are striking birds that are instantly recognisable due to their long, curved bill, salmon pink plumage and black and white wing and crest feathers. In flight their leisurely, looping flight is unique among Canarian birds. At the end of the breeding season, pairs and their brood are sometimes seen together foraging on lawns and in scrubland. Most birds migrate after the breeding season although there are hoopoes present all year round, especially on the eastern islands. The call is a peculiar “ta-bo bo” and gives rise to the bird’s local name.

Nesting

The nest is placed in cracks and crevices in barranco walls, old buildings and even in trees or on the ground amongst roots or rocks. The breeding season is variable, starting as early as December and extending into June. The clutch is of four to six plain chalky-white to yellowish or bluish eggs.

Notes

The Canarian hoopoe population is so variable that some authors have proposed two subspecies for the islands along with the type subspecies Upupa epops epops, which breeds on the islands and then departs. U. e. pulchra on the western and central islands is said to have a longer bill and shorter wings while U. e. fuerteventurae on Lanzarote and Fuerteventura is larger with a longer bill and brighter colours and may be resident throughout the year, even breeding during the winter. Hoopoes also breed on Madeira.

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Little Ringed Plover

Charadrius dubius curonicus
Size: 15-16 cm.
Local name: Zarapico.

Habitat

The little ringed plover is almost always found closely linked to fresh or brackish water although some birds live on the coast. It appears to have extended its range on the Canaries in recent years and there are now a minimum of 75 pairs breeding on the three largest islands, some of these on Fuerteventura.

Almost any stretch of fresh water with gently sloping banks and a relatively constant water level will hold little ringed plovers, often in the company of the similar Kentish plover.

Diet

Insectivorous.

Behaviour

Little ringed plovers are active birds that have a characteristic stop-go hunting style and often stand motionless on one foot for a few seconds. During courtship the male flies in circles with slow wing beats. Outside the breeding season the population disperses along the coastline and to stretches of water unsuitable for nesting. Little ringed plovers will also forage on farmland and anywhere where insects are concentrated. The call is a drawn out, whistling “pee-oo” often uttered at take off while the alarm call is a short “pip”.

Nesting

The standard clutch is of two to four dull white to fawn eggs with brown speckles laid on gravel close to the waterline. Pairs are sometimes helped by a third and even a fourth bird, probably a previous year’s offspring.

Notes

The little ringed plover lacks an obvious wing bar in flight. Numbers increase in the winter due to overwintering birds. The ringed plover Charadrius hiaticula is a regular migrant that also overwinters while the dotterel Charadrius morinellus, American golden plover Pluvialis dominica, golden plover Pluvialis apricaria, grey plover Pluvialis squatarola and lapwing Vanellus vanellus are also recorded.

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