Plumas birds differ around the world

Tony Hall
Special to Feather Publishing

When traveling abroad, take your binoculars. You might see some interesting birds that enhance the overall traveling experience. Also, obtain a field guide for the area you are visiting and be careful about common bird names; they can be misleading.

In some parts of the world you could see many bird species that are not seen in the wild in North America. For example, 10 years ago I worked at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics at Patancheru near Hyderabad, India.

I only was there for a few days and my busy schedule gave me little free time, but I managed to do some birding. By getting up before dawn I was able to bird for an hour or two in a marsh and surrounding areas on the research station prior to taking breakfast. In two short morning bird walks I saw 75 bird species, virtually all of which would not be seen in the wild in North America.

How was this possible? This 3,600-acre research station has diverse habitats that attract many birds; 257 different bird species have been seen there.

The beginning of the year is a good season to visit Patancheru station. At this time some birders have seen 100 bird species in one day. However, be careful if you bird the marsh; after my visit I learned that it has a large population of spitting cobras.

In other parts of the world birding can be more complicated. You could see the same birds that you also have seen in Plumas County, similar birds but of a different species, and distinct new birds that you would not find in North America. Recently I traveled to England to visit family and wherever I went I managed to do some birding.

I took the opportunity to compare the birds I was seeing with similar birds I have seen in North America, and also to note some of the changes in the populations of birds I was now seeing with those I remembered seeing in the 1950s when I worked on the family farm in England.

In those early days we would harvest wheat with a binder and bring the sheaves of straw with heads of grain and make stacks in the barnyard. These stacks would remain for weeks or even several months before we threshed them. The grain attracted thousands of house sparrows.

On my recent three-week visit to England I didn’t see a single house sparrow. These days combine harvesters are used so there are no stacks with grain in the farmyards. But a website I checked said there has been no clear explanation for the dramatic decline of the population of house sparrows in England.

I was pleasantly surprised to see numerous woodpigeons. This pigeon is similar in appearance and behavior to the band-tailed pigeon of Plumas County but is a different species. In the early days we didn’t see as many woodpigeons, possible because we hunted them. We shot them because they could destroy our fields of peas by pecking the seedlings as they emerged from the soil and also because we liked eating them. The woodpigeons I saw on my recent visit mainly were in suburban areas where hunting is not permitted.

I saw Eurasian collared doves in England and I do not recall seeing them in the 1950s. This dove is the same bird species that came to Quincy a few years ago and can be seen roosting in the trees near the high school.

There are several corvids in England that one would not see in Plumas County: carrion crow, hooded crow, rook and jackdaw. A few jackdaws have been seen in North America where they are called Eurasian jackdaws. In England, I saw many jackdaws, whereas in the 1950s I recall seeing very few.

I saw many magpies in England. They are similar in coloring and shape to the black-billed magpie of Plumas County but the magpies of England are a bigger bird and they are a different species. I recall seeing fewer magpies in England in the 1950s than I saw on my recent visit.

Beware of common bird names when traveling abroad. The robin is one of my favorite English birds and it is completely different from the American robin. The English robin is smaller than a sparrow and tends to live in bushes, whereas the American robin is a much bigger bird and often forages on the ground. A major similarity is that both birds have red breasts. The tree sparrow is one of the few sparrow species occurring in England and it has totally different field marks from the American tree sparrow and is a different species.

Some birds in England look like birds seen in North America but have different names and even belong to different genera. For example, there are several tits in England and the willow tit looks very similar to the black-capped chickadee of North America. The great tit, coal tit and blue tit of England are pretty birds that often visit back yards.

Other birds one can see in England are very similar to and belong to the same genus but are different species from birds of North America. The sparrowhawk of England is similar to the sharp-shinned hawk of Plumas County.

The English nuthatch is similar in coloring to the red-breasted nuthatch of Plumas County except that it doesn’t have a white eyebrow and it is larger. The grey heron of England is similar to but smaller than the great blue heron of Plumas County. While in England I saw a grey heron swallow a fish that was 10 inches long. Quite a feat … it did not do it quickly.

Some English birds are identical to those one would see in North America but have slightly different common names. The common raven of Plumas County is simply called a raven in England. The northern shoveler of Plumas County is simply called a shoveler in England.

The northern lapwing is a rarely seen shorebird in North America. In England it is more simply called a lapwing and I saw many of them on mudflats. While farming in the 1950s we enjoyed seeing lapwings because they accompanied us when we prepared the land for sowing in the spring.

We had to be careful because they laid their eggs on the newly harrowed soil. When we saw their eggs, we stopped the tractor and moved them to the side so that we would not plant through them.

Other birds are identical to those one would see in North America but have completely different common names. The bird called the goosander by the English is the same species as the common merganser of Plumas County.

One extremely beneficial big change I noted in England is that there now are many nature reserves, which offer excellent opportunities for bird watching. In the 1950s, my recollection is that there were very few nature reserves in England. How about establishing more small nature reserves in the U.S. to complement the magnificent national and state parks and provide more opportunities for people to watch birds?

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