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Nicole Bonello 5 Diamond


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Migratory Birds of the Maltese Islands Charles Robert Darwin, (12 February 1809 – 19 April 1882) was an English naturalist. He established that all species of life have descended over time from common ancestors, and proposed the scientific theory that this branching pattern of evolution resulted from a process that he called natural selection, in which the struggle for existence has a similar effect to the artificial selection involved in selective breeding. His five-year voyage on HMS Beagle established him as an eminent geologist whose observations and publication of his journal of the voyage made him famous as a popular author. Puzzled by the geographical distribution of wildlife and fossils he collected on the voyage, Darwin began detailed investigations and in 1838 conceived his theory of natural selection. Although he discussed his ideas with several naturalists, he needed time for extensive research and his geological work had priority. After delays, the voyage began on 27 December 1831; it lasted almost five years. As Fitz Roy had intended, Darwin spent most of that time on land investigating geology and making natural history collections, while the Beagle surveyed and charted coasts. He kept careful notes of his observations and theoretical speculations, and at intervals during the voyage his specimens were sent to Cambridge together with letters including a copy of his journal for his family. He had some expertise in geology, beetle collecting and dissecting marine invertebrates, but in all other areas was a novice and ably collected specimens for expert appraisal. Despite suffering badly from seasickness, Darwin wrote copious notes while on board the ship. Most of his zoology notes are about marine invertebrates, starting with plankton collected in a calm spell.


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On the geologically new Galรกpagos Islands Darwin looked for evidence attaching wildlife to an older "centre of creation", and found mockingbirds allied to those in Chile but differing from island to island. He heard that slight variations in the shape of tortoise shells showed which island they came from, but failed to collect them, even after eating tortoises taken on board as food. In Australia the marsupial ratkangaroo and the platypus seemed so unusual that Darwin thought it was almost as though two distinct Creators had been at work.

Like Charles Darwin who analysed different species around the world example birds when he arrived on the Galapagos Islands, we are going to analyse the variations in different finches (birds) that migrate on the Maltese Islands.


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Modern birds are characterised by feathers, a beak with no teeth, the laying of hardshelled eggs, a high metabolic rate, a four-chambered heart, and a lightweight but strong skeleton. All living species of birds have wings; the most recent species without wings was the moa, which is generally considered to have become extinct in the 16th century. Wings are evolved forelimbs, and most bird species can fly. Flightless birds include ratites, penguins, and a number of diverse endemic island species. Birds also have unique digestive and respiratory systems that are highly adapted for flight. Many species undertake long distance annual migrations, and many more perform shorter irregular movements. Birds are social; they communicate using visual signals and through calls and songs, and participate in social behaviours, including cooperative breeding and hunting, flocking, and mobbing of predators. Eggs are usually laid in a nest and incubated by the parents. Most birds have an extended period of parental care after hatching. About 120–130 species have become extinct as a result of human activity since the 17th century, and hundreds more before then. Currently about 1,200 species of birds are threatened with extinction by human activities, though efforts are underway to protect them.


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1.

Pellikan

Great White Pelican

Pelecanus onocrotalus

2.

Pitiross

Robin

Erithacus rubecula

3.

Gamiema

Turtle Dove

Streptopelia turtur

4.

Kuccarda

Honey Buzzard

Pernis apivorus

5.

Kangu ta’ Filfla

European Storm Petrel

Hydrobates pelagicus

6.

Russett Abjad

Great White Egret

Ardea alba

7.

Gallina

Woodcock

Scolopax rusticola

8.

Bagħadan Aħmar

Marsh Harrier

Circus aeruginosus


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1. Great White Pelican (Pellikan) Order: Pelecaniformes. Family: Pelecanidae Pelicans are large water birds with a distinctive pouch under the beak. As with other members of the order Pelecaniformes, they have webbed feet with four toes. There are about 8 species worldwide and 1 species which occurs in Malta. The wingspan can range from 226 to 360 cm. The total length of the Great White Pelican can range from 140 to 180 cm, with the enormous bill comprising 28.9 to 47.1 cm of that length. Adult males, weigh from 9 to 15 kg, 11 kg with few exceeding 13 kg. Females are considerably less bulky and heavy, weighing from 5.4 to 9 kg. Among standard measurements, the wing chord length is 60 to 73 cm, the tail is 16 to 21 cm and the tarsus is 13 to 14.9 cm. Immature Great White Pelicans are grey and have dark flight feathers. In flight, it is an elegant soaring bird, with the head held close to and aligned with the body by a downward bend in the neck. In breeding condition the male has pinkish skin on its face and the female has orangey skin.


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2. Robin (Pitiross)

Order: Passeriformes Family: Muscicapidae The Robin, is a small insectivorous passerine bird that was formerly classed as a member of the thrush family (Turdidae), but is now considered to be a chat. Around 12.5–14.0 cm in length, the male and female are similar in colouration, with an orange breast and face lined with grey, brown upper parts and a whitish belly. It is found across Europe, east to Western Siberia and south to North Africa; it is sedentary in most of its range except the far north. The Robin is usually associated with Christmas time is a sign that autumn migration is coming to an end. The Robin arrives in large numbers in October and November and stay with us until March-April. A few also stay in summer in wooded areas with water present but never breed. Many of these winter in Malta and therefore set up and defend their territory and keep other Robins out of it.


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3. Turtle Dove (Gamiema)

Order: Columbiformes Family: Columbidae The Turtle Dove is a medium-sized dove. Have orange-brown feathers on wing, pinkish chest, striped patch on neck and grayish head. In flight, is whitish from below with striking tail pattern. In Europe it breeds in open low land, woods and agricultural areas. It nests in trees. It breeds in all of Europe except in the far north. In autumn, migrates to south of the Sahara and return passage in spring. The overall European population has declined in recent decades mainly due to agricultural changes, development and as it is also heavily hunted on passage through the Mediterranean countries. Turtle Dove diet consists of seed, fruit and even small insects. The Turtle Dove is a common and regular migrant especially in spring. In autumn appears in smaller numbers. Many migrants arrive at night, while some arrive in the early hours of morning in flocks. It is known that in the past Turtle Doves were seen in larger numbers with flocks even reaching several hundred unlike today. Some pairs try to breed in wooded areas like Buskett, Girgenti, Mizieb, and Wied Lunzjata amongst others but all end up being killed illegally during the summer period. If it wasn't for this, maybe the Turtle Dove could establish itself as a regular breeder if only is given the chance. It is one of the most heavily hunted species shot in large numbers each year. With the ban on spring hunting, prospective breeding birds are being recorded more but eventually disappear within days of the opening of the Rabbit Hunting Season in June.


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4. Honey Buzzard (Kuccarda)

Order: Accipitriformes Family: Accipitridae Common Autumn migrant in September till October and in Spring April till May. Mainly seen in the afternoon in flocks and occasionally roost in wooded areas and other undisturbed land. On a good day with favorable winds, numbers can reach to over 500 individuals. A big long winged buzzard with a small head and a rather long tail with three dark bands. It has variable plumage patterns. The male has a grey head, Female has a brownish head and juvenile has a much whitish head with a yellow base at the bill. The Honey Buzzard migrates in flocks and is usually seen in the afternoons. They spend their winter in Africa south of the Sahara. Like many other birds of prey, the honey buzzard finds it difficult to fly over open sea difficult so they prefer to soar on rising air which occurs on land therefore their migratory routes concentrate over short sea crossings like Gibraltar, Sicily, Falsterbo (Sweden), Greece, Bosphorus (Turkey) and Malta. It likes eating Honey, wasps, bees, ants and other insects.


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5.

European Storm Petrel (Kangu ta’ Filfla )

Order: Procellariiformes Family: Hydrobatidae

The Storm Petrel is a small bird, only the size of a House Martin, which it superficially resembles with its dark plumage and white rump. It is 15–16 cm in length with a 38–42 cm wingspan. It can be distinguished from Leach's Storm Petrel and Wilson's Storm Petrel by its smaller size, different rump pattern and flight behaviour. Distribution: It breeds on inaccessible islands in the north Atlantic and western Mediterranean, with the largest colony in the Mediterranean is found in Filfla island Malta where there is up to 5,000 pairs. Breeding: It nests in colonies close to the sea in burrows or rock crevices. It lays a single white egg. It is strictly nocturnal at the breeding sites to avoid predation by gulls and skuas, and will even avoid coming to land on clear moonlit nights. Feeding: It picks planktonic food items from the sea surface. Folklore: This bird is familiar to sailors, and much folklore is associated with this harbinger of stormy weather. Its most common folk name is "Mother Carey's Chicken", Mother Carey being a supernatural figure representing the sea. The birds were sometimes thought to be the souls of perished sailors.


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6.

Great White Egret (Russett Abjad)

Order: Pelecaniformes Family: Ardeidae This is a very scarce and irregular migrant. Used to be considered as a rare bird till the mid-1990's but has lately become more common, with multiple records each year, especially in spring and autumn. The largest flock ever recorded in Malta was of 11 from Imriehel, on the 5th of October 2002. It used to be seen mostly in March/April and August/September but in recent years has been recorded in nearly all months of the year. The Great White Egret is a large bird with all-white plumage that can reach one meter in height. It is thus only slightly smaller than the Grey Heron. Apart from size, the Great White Egret can be distinguished from other white egrets by its yellow bill and black legs and feet, though the bill may become darker and the lower legs lighter in the breeding season. In breeding plumage, delicate ornamental feathers are borne on the back. It has a slow flight, with its neck retracted. This is characteristic of herons and bitterns, and distinguishes them from storks, cranes, ibises and spoonbills. The Great White Egret feeds in shallow water or drier habitats, feeding mainly on fish, frogs, small mammals, and occasionally small birds and reptiles, spearing them with its long, sharp bill most of the time by standing still and allowing the prey to come within its striking distance of its bill which it uses as a spear. It builds a bulky stick nest. The Great Egret is a large heron with all-white plumage. Standing up to 1 m tall, this species can measure 80 to 104 cm in length and have a wingspan of 131 to 170 cm. Body mass can range from 700 to 1,500 g, with an average of around 1,000 g. It has a slow flight, with its neck retracted


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7. Woodcock (Gallina)

Order: Charadriiformes Family: Scolopacidae The Woodcock is an extremely difficult bird to see because of its plumage that blends in with its surrounding habitat. It has a long straight bill with brownish pattern on upperparts and barred underside. Its eyes are set at the backend of its head. In flight it shows its broad wings and distinctive bill. In Europe is found in woodland areas, often flying at dusk with regular grunts and whistles. Otherwise is rarely seen in broad day time as it spends its time hidden in the ground. It probes for worms, beetles and other insects in muddy ditches and ponds. In Europe it breeds in almost all counties except those of far north and parts of Spain and Portugal, is resident in north-west areas while the rest migrate to the Mediterranean for the winter. It is known to live up to 10 years. Length 33–38 cm, wingspan 55–65 cm, weight 225–370g It is quite scarce but one should keep in mind that this bird is a very popular game bird with some local hunters, those migrants arriving at night, hunted in the early hours of morning giving the chance of seeing one after very narrow. Sometimes influxes occur. The Woodcock is associated with the month of November but also recorded in October and December. Small return passage also noted in some years in March.


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8.

Marsh Harrier (Bag침adan A침mar)

Order: Falconiformes Family: Accipitridae This is the largest and heaviest harrier, with the shortest tail. The male's plumage is distinctive; pale grey with dark tips underneath and rufous back and body. The female is dark brown with golden patches on the head and shoulders. As its name suggests, the Marsh Harrier spends most of its life hunting around marshes. The Marsh Harrier's diet consists mainly of waterside birds and animals such as voles, moles and rabbits. The Marsh harrier nests in dry fields close to a marsh. The female may lay up to 8 eggs but the mortality rate is very high because of predation and flooding. The Marsh-harrier is 43 to 54 cm in length, and has a wingspan of 115 to 130 cm and a weight of 400 to 650 g in males and 500 to 800 g in females. Common Migrant, both in Spring and Autumn. This bird is mostly seen in Malta from March till May and August till November. In Spring is usually seen flying low above fields. Good place to see Marsh Harrier in spring is at Luqa Airfield. In Autumn it is seen migrating,usually high in the sky. It is also seen roosting in large numbers in wooded areas and valleys with reeds. Buskett is the best place to see migrating and roosting Marsh Harriers in autumn. In Autumn it is seen in very large numbers, mainly in September, migrating in flocks. A good peak-day for Marsh Harrier in Autumn may mean seeing up to 400 birds while a on really good peak day up to 700 Marsh Harriers are seen. An exceptionallly good year was the year 2002 when on a peak day an approximate total of 1000 Marsh Harriers was seen.


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After giving some information about migratory birds of the Maltese Islands, I am going to analyse some factors which in the end make a variation from each other.

Size of Birds

Colour of Birds

Size of leg

Structure of beak

Type of feathers


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Size of Birds

Pellikan

Great White Pelican

Pelecanus onocrotalus

160cm

Pitiross

Robin

Erithacus rubecula

10cm

Gamiema

Turtle Dove

Streptopelia turtur

20cm

Kuccarda

Honey Buzzard

Pernis apivorus

55cm

Kangu ta’ Filfla

European Storm Petrel

Hydrobates pelagicus

15cm

Russett Abjad

Great White Egret

Ardea alba

100cm

Gallina

Woodcock

Scolopax rusticola

35cm

Bagħadan Aħmar

Marsh Harrier

Circus aeruginosus

50cm

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As we can see from the table given, there are many different sizes of birds which vary from one order to another. They range from 10cm to 160cm. The smaller birds which are most common can fly with more ease high in the sky, they do not need big trees to build their small nests, and they can look for small sized foods which are enough for them. These can be found in soil, bark of tress, holes, between rubble walls etc. The larger birds seek food in larger places which can be more difficult. Also, they would need larger or more abundant food. They are heavier to fly although they still migrate to distant countries with ease.


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Colour of Birds

Pellikan

Pitiross

Grey is the most common colour. In breeding condition the male has pinkish skin on its face and the female has orangey skin. Orange breast and face lined with grey, brown upper parts and a whitish belly. The upper parts camouflage well with the countryside colours but the red chest makes it conspicuous especially to frighten away any competitors or predators, or to attract attention.

Gamiema

Kuccarda

Different shades of grey, brown, white and black. Very good to hide by camouflaging in the countryside colours. Brownish. Permit hiding by camouflage in trees, fields, countryside


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Kangu ta’ Fifla

Very dark brown all over with a white patch on his tail so from the upper parts it would be very good to camouflage whilst flying over the waters, however it can open its wings and stay straight to expose its under parts and be conspicuous either to attract attention or to frighten away any predators.

Russett Abjad

White which doesn’t permit camouflage.

Gallina

Patterned with different shades of browns, white and black. Good camouflage in the countryside colours.


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Bagħadan Aħmar Dark brown with

golden patches. Good camouflage in the countryside colours.

Size of Leg

Pellikan

40cm

His long feet enable him to walk well on land and to paddle in water

Pitiross

2cm

It has small feet that enable him to move quickly through branches and on ground, and to fit well in its small nest.

Gamiema

3cm

Small feet used for perching in trees and almost on all other terrain even wire.

Kuccarda

10cm

It has strong feet with sharp claws to grab and firmly hold the prey that it catches while flying, and also to perch on branches or rocks.

Kangu ta’ Filfla

5cm

Adapted for paddling in water.

Russett Abjad

40cm

Its feet are adapted to

walk through shallow muddy marshes in search for small fish, reptiles and insects.


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Gallina

6cm

Small feet that are good for walking and to move through the ticket in search of insects and worms.

Bagħadan Aħmar

12cm

It has strong feet with sharp claws to grab and firmly hold the prey that it catches while flying, and also to perch on branches or rocks.

Structure of Beak Pellikan

Its beak is long and wide to be able to catch fish from underwater

Pitiross

Short narrow pointed beak to catch insects and worms

Gamiema

Short narrow beak that is suitable for feeding on seeds

Kuccarda

Short curved pointed beak that enables it to grasp and tear the flesh from its prey such as mice, small mammals and reptiles

Kangu ta’ Filfla

Its beak is around 2cm long and very narrow and pointed to be able to grab small insects and worms from holes and crevices.

Russett Abjad

It has a very long (8cm) pointed beak that enables it to find food

Gallina

Relatively long narrow beak to reach food that is amongst crevices, holes, between rocks and in barks of trees.

Bagħadan Aħmar

Short curved pointed beak that enables it to grasp and tear the flesh from its prey such as mice, small mammals and reptiles


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Type of Feathers

Pellikan

Very long feathers that cover all the body. Long feathers cover the forearms for good flight. Various layers of feathers cover the body to make it waterproof and increase insulation while flying in cold weathers.

Pitiross

Short feathers on the body but longer feathers on the wings. Its feathers are able to provide good insulation even in very cold temperatures.

Gamiema

Fine feathers on its main body. The feathers on the upper side are bigger and more colourful than the underside. The ones on the wings are taller for flight

Kuccarda

It has 3 phases of feather change and colour during its life time. Long feathers on the wings that enable it to exploit the air currents to be able to hoover and glide

Kangu ta’ Filfla

Short dark feathers cover its main body, but longer feathers cover the forearms that enable very efficient flight and gliding over the waters.

Russett Abjad

Very short narrow feathers cover the main body. Longer feathers cover the wings. Again the reason is that it needs to provide a large surface area for good gliding during its very long flights.

Gallina

Short and fluffy feathers all over its body. The differently coloured feathers provide a colourful pattern all over that makes it very good at camouflaging with the surroundings. The wings are good for flight.

Bagħadan Aħmar

Long feathers on the wings that enable it to exploit the air currents to be able to hoover and glide.


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In my project I only included 8 birds but in reality there is a more vast variation. Migration happens for a lot of reasons like those made in response to changes in food availability, habitat, or weather. I wanted to point out the different variations in only 5 characteristics; however, this small project shows that variations are important for different lifestyles of the species. The better adapted species will be better during competition for food, shelter, mate, etc. and therefore they will be able to survive more. I would like to conclude by saying that us humans should not hunt birds which probably they would be on migration from one country to another. They should have freedom and let to live flying not in a cage or preserved.


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First of all, I would like to thank my biology teacher Mrs. Ebejer Grech, because she helped me a lot to finished my investigation right on time and guided me to the right information. These following websites also helped me to do my investigation: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bird_migration

http://www.birdinginmalta.com/home.htm

Several pages about Maltese Birds from Wikipedia

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_birds_of_Malta

Google (Images)

Nicole Bonello's Project  

Migratory Birds Across Europe

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