Earn your spot­ting stripes

Middlesbrough Herald & Post - - NEWS -

HERE is your na­ture study starter for ten points. What is this weird and won­der­ful bird?

It’s not a visi­tor from the Far East or Aus­tralia, yet you might not find this strangely striped in­di­vid­ual in your handy bird ID book.

It’s not a hum­bug bird or a ze­bra duck, but in fact is a ju­ve­nile great crested grebe.

True, it looks noth­ing like its most at­trac­tive par­ents, but at least they will al­ways be able to iden­tify their young.

This fine photo was taken by Paul Whit­ting­ham at Charl­ton’s Pond in Billing­ham.

Great crested grebes are very pro­tec­tive par­ents. Once the eggs are laid, if the birds need to leave the nest for any rea­son, they cover the eggs with wa­ter­weed.

This has some­thing to do with the eggs chang­ing colour be­fore they hatch. They start off white, but then turn a muddy brown, which makes them less vis­i­ble to preda­tors.

Once hatched the young birds leave the nest very quickly, along with their par­ents, and are ini­tially car­ried around on their par­ents’ backs.

The two adults also take dual re­spon­si­bil­ity and split up the fam­ily, which can be any­thing from two to six chicks. Each adult in­de­pen­dently looks af­ter its own half of the brood.

An­other bird which may or may not fea­ture in your bird book is the lit­tle-known Egyp­tian goose, which orig­i­nates from Africa but is now res­i­dent in Bri­tain as a re­sult of a healthy breed­ing pop­u­la­tion which is mainly based in the South of Eng­land.

We do spot the odd Egyp­tian goose in our area from time to time. When you spot one, you will never for­get it be­cause the goose looks from a dis­tance as if it has got two huge black eyes.

Oth­er­wise it has a red­dish brown back, buff un­der­parts and is slightly larger than a shel­duck.

We had an Egyp­tian goose on Cow­pen Marsh three years ago while re­cently one was quite view­able on a pond close to Bishop Mid­dle­ham.

One bird which will def­i­nitely ap­pear in your birds books is the star­ling. Has there ever been a more suc­cess­ful breed­ing sea­son?

There are lit­er­ally thou­sands of the grey-brown ju­ve­niles around and they ap­pear to be even more ag­gres­sive than their par­ents when it comes to squab­bling over gar­den scraps.

These some­times ma­ligned young birds, which eat all kinds of creep­y­crawlies and leather­jack­ets from our lawns, will soon start to de­velop the more fa­mil­iar spot­ted plumage of their par­ents.

Eric would like to hear from read­ers about what they have seen. Email him at eric.pay­lor@gmail.com

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