Thursday, 23 February 2012

Birds of a Feather....

Gentoo penguins, Sea Lion Island
Although penguins seem to have a universal appeal, there are also lots of other birds in the Falklands, some of which can be found nowhere else.  Most are amazingly tame, despite some of them being severely persecuted in the last 2 centuries. (I should add that there is something very profound when you see creatures wander up to you without a care.  I suppose penguins recognise seals and skuas as threats, as they've been around for millions of years, but we resemble giant penguins, walking upright.  Maybe we have some krill?).

Striated Caracara

Striated Caracara killing gull chick, Sea Lion Island
 The Striated Caracara is thought to have less than 500 breeding pairs, and is only found on some islands - those where cats and rats  have not been introduced.  They spend most of their time on the ground, patrolling colonies of penguins and other breeding birds.  (There is one in the Cotswolds Wildlife park near Burford, if you want to see one in the UK.)

It attacks its prey by running quickly along the ground and jumping on its victim.  This strategy is obviously flawed when it comes to cats....
Gentoos  observing observers.
Flightless Steamer Duck.  Endemic
The Flightless Steamer Duck can be seen along most shores in the Falklands.  Its wings are not developed enough to enable flight, but when it attacks rivals, it swims under the surface and then pops up, and "steams" at them, flailing its stubby wings like a paddle-steamer.
Kelp goslings

Upland Geese, male is white
The Upland Goose gave its name to a famous hotel in Port Stanley, which is now a row of private cottages.  The geese were numbered in their hundreds of thousands when settlers first arrived in the mid-1800s.  But as it was thought that the geese competed with sheep for pasture, they were hunted and killed in their thousands.
Upland Geese in front of the old Upland Goose Hotel

Black-face Ibis, probably blown here in a storm from Argentina

Turkey Vulture in Stanley garden 
As there are no crows or magpies in the Falklands, the role of scavenger falls to the large Turkey Vulture, which can be seen frequently soaring in the breeze, looking for scraps.  But they also have little fear of man, despite a bounty being paid for their beaks in former days, so can often be found in Stanley's gardens!
Turkey Vultures at roadside, near Stanley
Speckled Teal
Magellanic penguins, Gypsy Cove, nr Stanley
There are 5 species of penguin (out of 17 worldwide) to be found on the Falklands:  in order of size - King, Gentoo, Macaroni, Magellanic and Rockhopper.

Magellanic penguin at his burrow
Magellanic penguins live in burrows, but outside of the breeding season, spend most of their lives at sea.
Gentoos in the gale, Bertha's Beach
A Macaroni interloper in a Rockhopper colony

Pale-faced Sheathbill
The Sheathbill (or sometimes Antarctic Dove) is a summer visitor to the Falklands.  It breeds in Antarctica, and is unique in that region, in that is a land bird, and does not have webbed feet.  It feeds on scraps of food and often intervenes between adult and chick penguins when the parent is regurgitating food!
Gentoos are very fast swimmers, porpoising out of the waves up to 25mph.  They eat mainly lobster krill, which is found around the coast, so they stay in colonies onshore all year round.  In fact, the Falkland Islands has the largest number of Gentoos anywhere - a recent census estimated over 120,000 pairs!
Upland goslings
Falklands snipe
Magellanic penguins, calling
Royal cormorant
Rockhopper penguin
Rockhoppers are the smallest penguin, and were once used for their oil.  They often breed on cliff-top sites amongst large colonies of Royal Cormorants.
Magellanic Oystercatcher
There are also lots of birds that may be familiar to northern hemisphere birders, but what is very unusual is how the birds will fly or walk up close to the observer.
Meadowlark.  Endemic
There are also Falklands Thrushes, and house sparrows (imported from Uruguay in 1919!) hopping around the gardens.
Black-crowned night heron
Dolphin gull
Cobb's wren or Falklands grass wren?
If you want more information about birds and animals on or around the Falklands, the worthy Falklands Conservation organisation's site is well worth a look.  Find out how far penguins travel, or adopt a penguin!




  1. Wonderful photos again. I love the rockhopper penquins in particular - do both sexes have those weird sprouting/spikey things on their heads? They look slightly punk!

    1. As far as I know, all adults have the blonde highlights!

  2. Enjoying this a lot Peter. I get to read a batch at a time.
    Keep em coming. Never knew you were a birder.

    1. Many thanks. I think it's easier to appreciate birds when you don't need binoculars to see them in the distance. I got some great photos of a heron last night that was almost perched on my shoulder...