Bird O'clock

10 fascinating facts about the Black-winged Pratincole

The Black-winged Pratincole (Glareola nordmanni) is a small but striking bird found in the wetlands of Asia and Europe. With its unique plumage and distinctive shape, the Black-winged Pratincole is a fascinating and sought-after species for birdwatchers and avian enthusiasts alike.

Identification:

Field Identification: The Black-winged Pratincole has a striking appearance that makes it easily identifiable in the field. It has a slender body, long wings, and a distinctive forked tail.

Its bill is short and straight, and its legs are long and slender. In flight, it shows off its striking black and white wings with contrasting grey underwings.

Similar Species: The Black-winged Pratincole can easily be mistaken for the Collared Pratincole (Glareola pratincola), which has a similar shape and plumage. However, the Collared Pratincole has a distinct brown collar on its neck, which sets it apart from the Black-winged Pratincole.

Plumages:

The Black-winged Pratincole has distinctive plumages that change with age and season. -Non-Breeding Adult: The non-breeding adult has a dull plumage with brown upperparts and grey underparts.

Its wings are black with bold white lines, and its tail is forked. -Breeding Adult: The breeding adult has a brighter plumage with a black crown and nape, and a rusty-orange throat.

Its upperparts are grey, and its underparts are white with black bars. Its wings and tail remain the same as the non-breeding adult.

-Juvenile: The juvenile has a similar plumage to the non-breeding adult, but with a more uniform brownish-grey coloration. Molts:

The Black-winged Pratincole goes through two molts during its lifetime: a pre-basic molt and a pre-alternate molt.

-Pre-Basic Molt: The pre-basic molt occurs after the breeding season and involves replacing all of its feathers. The non-breeding adult molts into a duller plumage that it retains throughout the non-breeding season.

-Pre-Alternate Molt: The pre-alternate molt occurs before the breeding season and involves replacing only some of its feathers. The breeding adult molts into a brighter plumage, which it retains throughout the breeding season.

In conclusion, the Black-winged Pratincole is a unique and fascinating bird with a striking appearance and distinctive plumages. Its distinctive shape and plumage make it easily identifiable in the field, and its molts add to its intrigue and complexity.

Birdwatchers and avian enthusiasts alike will find the Black-winged Pratincole a fascinating species to study and appreciate in the wild. Systematics History:

The Black-winged Pratincole (Glareola nordmanni) belongs to the family Glareolidae, which includes the swift-like birds commonly known as pratincoles and coursers.

The Black-winged Pratincole was first described scientifically by German naturalist Johann Georg Wagler in 1829. It was named after the German explorer and naturalist Carl Friedrich von Nordmann, who first discovered the species on the shores of the Black Sea in the early 19th century.

Geographic Variation:

The Black-winged Pratincole is a migratory bird that is found in Europe and Asia. It breeds in the steppes and semi-arid regions of central Asia, from northern Iran and southern Russia, eastward to Mongolia and China.

During the non-breeding season, it migrates to the east coast of Africa, from Somalia to South Africa, and the Indian subcontinent. Subspecies:

There are two recognized subspecies of the Black-winged Pratincole:

-G.

n. nordmanni: This subspecies breeds in the western part of the Black Sea region, including Romania, Bulgaria, and Ukraine.

-G. n.

longipennis: This subspecies breeds in central Asia, from Kazakhstan and northwestern China, to eastern Mongolia. These subspecies are distinguished by differences in size and plumage, with G.

n. longipennis being larger and having a paler plumage.

Related Species:

The Black-winged Pratincole is closely related to other species within the Glareolidae family, including the Collared Pratincole (Glareola pratincola), which has a similar appearance and range. Other related species include the Oriental Pratincole (Glareola maldivarum), African Collared Pratincole (Glareola nuchalis) and Madagascar Pratincole (Glareola ocularis).

Historical Changes to Distribution:

Historically, the Black-winged Pratincole’s breeding range extended further west than it currently does, covering much of Eastern Europe and parts of the Middle East. However, due to habitat loss and hunting, the species has experienced a significant decline in its populations throughout this range.

As a result, the species is now largely restricted to its core breeding range in Central Asia. The Black-winged Pratincole has also experienced changes in its non-breeding range.

In the early 1900s, the species was known to migrate to the east coast of Africa, from Somalia to Mozambique. However, since then, the species has expanded its range further south, and it is now also found in South Africa.

This expansion is likely due to changes in habitat availability and climate conditions. The Black-winged Pratincole has also been introduced to parts of Europe, including the Netherlands, where it was released as an experimental population in the 1990s.

While the population has not established itself, it demonstrates the species’ adaptability to new environments. In conclusion, the Black-winged Pratincole is a migratory bird with a range that has historically included Eastern Europe and parts of the Middle East, but now largely restricted to breeding in Central Asia.

Its non-breeding range has expanded southward to South Africa, likely due to changes in habitat availability and climate conditions. The species is closely related to other pratincole species within the Glareolidae family and has demonstrated its adaptability to new environments through the introduction of experimental populations in the Netherlands.

Habitat:

The Black-winged Pratincole is a bird species that typically inhabits open grasslands, savannas, and steppes with sparse vegetation. During the breeding season, the bird prefers dry, open habitats with short grasses and bare ground, such as semi-desert areas or steppes that border wetlands.

The Black-winged Pratincole prefers areas with little or no vegetation and may also use bare patches of land within agricultural landscapes. During migration and the non-breeding season, this bird is found in coastal mudflats, lagoons, and wetland habitats with shallow water.

In general, the Black-winged Pratincole avoids densely forested areas and prefers open habitats that provide unobstructed flight paths to catch flying insects. Movements and Migration:

The Black-winged Pratincole is a migratory bird that breeds in Asia, east of the Caspian Sea.

During winter, it migrates southwards to Africa, covering a distance of around 5,000 km. The bird is highly migratory and often seen in flocks of up to a thousand individuals during migration.

The Black-winged Pratincole is a nocturnal migrant, and during its migration, it flies at high elevations to avoid collision with terrestrial obstacles. Its migration route follows the northeastern coast of the Caspian Sea, across the Arabian Peninsula towards the Red Sea, and then across the Indian subcontinent to reach its wintering grounds in Africa.

Migration of the species depends on the breeding ecology as well as environmental cues. In breeding grounds, they need to wait for warmth to spur the insect outbreaks they depend on for food, while on wintering quarters the length of daylight is the precursor of when the birds will leave and return to the breeding areas.

Temperature, air pressure, and prevailing winds are other important factors that influence the timing, route, and duration of the Black-winged Pratincole migration. The Black-winged Pratincole shows a high degree of site fidelity, with individuals returning to the same breeding and wintering sites each year.

The young birds typically spend two to three years in their wintering quarters in Africa before returning to their breeding grounds. In conclusion, the Black-winged Pratincole is a migratory bird that breeds in Asia, east of the Caspian Sea, and migrates southwards to Africa to overwinter.

The species prefers open habitats with short grasses and bare patches of land during the breeding season, while in migration and non-breeding season, they move towards coastal mudflats, lagoons, and wetland habitats with shallow water. Migration of the species depends on both breeding ecology and environmental cues like temperature, air pressure, and prevailing winds.

Diet and Foraging:

Feeding:

The Black-winged Pratincole is an insectivore and captures its prey while in flight. The bird can be seen hawking insects like mosquitoes, grasshoppers, and beetles in flight, often near waterbodies such as lakes, rivers, and wetlands.

The way of capturing insects is unique among birds, using its short straight bill and wide gape to scoop up and catch the prey mid-air. Diet:

The Black-winged Pratincole primarily feeds on insects, but occasionally can also be seen feeding on spiders, crustaceans, and small fish.

The bird feeds during the day, but also hunts during late evenings and early mornings when insect activity is at its peak. During breeding, the Black-winged Pratincole targets reproductive insects like grasshoppers, crickets, and beetles, offering high nutritional value for the young.

Metabolism and Temperature Regulation:

The Black-winged Pratincole has a unique metabolic profile that allows it to regulate its body temperature through external mechanisms. The bird seeks shade under trees or large solid objects to limit solar radiation and avoid overheating.

Additionally, it uses its mouth and air sacs located around its bill as a cooling mechanism by panting. Studies show that the bird reduces panting frequency and foraging activity to maintain body water balance and cope with high ambient temperatures.

Sounds and Vocal Behavior:

Vocalization:

The Black-winged Pratincole is a musically talented bird and during breeding season, males can be heard to produce different calls to communicate with mates, display their territory and warn intruders. The Black-winged Pratincole’s vocalizations consist of several phrase types with varied frequencies and tempo, including kek-ke-kick, sweet-sweet-sweet, chee-chai-chai, and chup-chup for different courtship activities.

The song is loud, clear and carries over long distances and the bird produces a range of sounds to communicate with other members of their species. The chicks produce a series of loud hissing sounds, which is one of their parent recognition vocalizations making it easier to keep the chick closer to themselves.

In conclusion, the Black-winged Pratincoles diet primarily consists of insects that are caught in flight. During breeding they feed on reproductive insects to provide good nutrition to their young.

The bird has developed unique adaptations through biochemical pathways to regulate and manage its body temperature through external mechanisms. Its vocalizations are varied and easily distinguished, consisting of several phrase types with varied frequencies and tempo.

Behavior:

Locomotion:

The Black-winged Pratincole has a distinctive and elegant flight pattern that is characterized by rapid wing beats and gliding. Its long and slender wings help it achieve exceptional aerodynamics while capturing insects in flight.

It is a highly agile bird, capable of making quick aerial maneuvers, such as sharp turns and dives, to catch prey. Self-Maintenance:

The Black-winged Pratincole engages in self-maintenance behaviors, such as preening and sunbathing, to maintain the quality of its feathers, and stay healthy.

Preening is a crucial behavior that allows the bird to keep its feathers clean and for proper alignment of the feathers, which provides efficient flying. Sunbathing is another important activity that helps to regulate the bird’s body temperature and get rid of external parasites that may infest the feathers.

Agonistic Behavior:

The Black-winged Pratincole is a territorial bird and will defend its breeding territory against intruders by displaying agonistic behavior. This involves the use of displays, vocalizations, and physical attacks on intruders.

Sexual Behavior:

The Black-winged Pratincole is monogamous and typically forms mating pairs before breeding. Males initiate courtship by displaying aerial acrobatics and calling out to attract females.

After forming a pair, the birds build a shallow scrape on the ground and the female lays two to four eggs. Both sexes take turns incubating the eggs and caring for the young.

Breeding:

During breeding season, the Black-winged Pratincole is known to form loose colonies and defend its individual territory from intruders. The bird mates monogamously and forms pairs before breeding.

The breeding season starts in late April and continues till August in Asia, with peak egg-laying recorded in May and June. The mating ritual begins with the males performing aerial acrobatics and vocalizations to attract females.

Once a pair bond has been established, they construct a small scrape on the ground, lined with bits of vegetation, into which they lay their eggs. The female typically lays two to four eggs that are incubated by both parents for up to 22 days until the eggs hatch.

Both parents take care of the young, feeding and protecting them until they leave the nest after ten days. Demography and Populations:

The Black-winged Pratincole’s populations are declining, primarily due to the loss of suitable breeding habitat.

The drainage of wetlands for drainage, agricultural expansion, and over-grazing has led to the habitat degradation of the species, resulting in a significant reduction in populations. Furthermore, hunting and the collection of eggs for human consumption have also contributed to the declining populations of Black-winged Pratincole.

International agreements have been put in place to protect the bird, including the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, which aims to conserve wetlands and their biodiversity. Along with a legal mechanism to protect the bird from hunting, the conservation of breeding habitats and wetlands along migration routes is required to sustain the species.

In conclusion, the Black-winged Pratincole engages in various behaviors such as locomotion, self-maintenance, agonistic, and sexual behavior. During the breeding season, the bird forms pairs and constructs small scrapes on the ground in which to lay their eggs.

The species faces threats from habitat loss, hunting, and egg collection, which have led to a decline in populations. Conservation efforts that protect the breeding habitats and wetlands along migration routes are essential to sustain the species.

The Black-winged Pratincole is a unique and fascinating bird that is found in Asia and Europe. It is a highly migratory bird that is known for its striking appearance, distinctive plumage, and elegant flight pattern.

With its fascinating behavior, monogamous mating system, and unique metabolic profile, the Black-winged Pratincole is a valuable species to study and appreciate in the wild. However, the species faces numerous threats, including habitat loss, hunting, and egg collection, that have led to significant declines in populations.

The conservation of breeding habitats and wetlands along migration routes is essential for protecting the Black-winged Pratincole and ensuring that this remarkable species remains a part of our natural heritage for future generations.

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