Urban animal life
Mute swan (Cygnus olor) (see Anatidae). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Taiwan squirrel (Callosciurus erythraeus ssp. taiwanensis) (see Sciuridae). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Anatidae Swans, geese, and ducks
Anser anser Greylag goose
This species is widely distributed in northern Eurasia, from Iceland and Britain across northern Europe and Central Asia to northern China, with a scattered occurrence in south-eastern Europe, Turkey, Iraq, and Iran. In many countries, the species is now breeding in city parks, where it often becomes remarkably confiding – sometimes even showing a threatening attitude towards people.
Domestic geese are descended from the greylag goose. In some places, including North America and Australia, domestic geese have escaped to form feral populations.
Child, feeding greylag geese between bars in a fence, surrounding St. James’ Park, London. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
When they have goslings, greylag geese are often so bold that they sometimes threaten passing people. This male goose in a city park in Copenhagen, Denmark, is hissing at me because of its goslings in the foreground, but is itself being threatened by a male mute swan (Cygnus olor). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Cygnus olor Mute swan
In 1984, the mute swan was elected the national bird of Denmark – an appropriate choice, as it is very common. This was not always the case. In the 1800s, swans were hunted in Denmark, and by 1920, only three or four pairs were breeding in the vicinity of Copenhagen. Swans were protected in 1926, and the mute swan soon began spreading across the country.
In his fairy tale The Ugly Duckling, Danish poet Hans Christian Andersen relates the fate of a cygnet, which is ostracized by its fellow fowl in a farmyard, where it has been hatched together with ducklings. It has to undergo much suffering, before it realizes that it has matured into a beautiful swan. In reality, this story is about the fate of Andersen himself.
The mute swan is native to northern Europe, from southern Norway and southern Finland, southwards to southern France and Romania, and from Ireland eastwards to western Russia and Ukraine, and with patchy breeding occurrence in the Balkans, Turkey, and Central Asia, eastwards to southern Siberia, Mongolia, and northern China. It has also been introduced elsewhere, including North America, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.
As opposed to the other northern European swans, the whooper swan (Cygnus cygnus) and Bewick’s swan (C. columbianus ssp. bewickii), the mute swan is not very vocal, hence the appellation mute. The name Cygnus is a Latinized form of the Greek kyknos (‘swan’), whereas olor is Latin, also meaning ‘swan’.
Some pairs of mute swans build their nest in the most unlikely places. In this picture, and in a picture on top of this page, swans have occupied pontoons in a canal in Copenhagen, oblivious of passing people or tourist boats. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
In severe winters, many starving water birds gather in harbours, where conditions are often less harsh than in open areas. The picture below shows a woman in Lausanne, Switzerland, feeding various bird species, including mute swans, coots (Fulica atra, see Rallidae below), tufted ducks (Aythya fuligula), black-headed gulls (Chroicocephalus ridibundus, see Laridae below), and feral pigeons (Columba livia).
(Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Apus nipalensis House swift
Formerly, this bird was classified as a subspecies of little swift (Apus affinis), but today, most authorities regard populations, which are distributed from Nepal eastwards to Japan, and thence southwards through Southeast Asia to Indonesia, as a separate species.
Colonies of house swift on a residential building, Taichung, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Araneidae Orb-weaver spiders
In these pictures from the town of Anping, Taiwan, sunshine is reflected as the colours of the rainbow in an orb-weaver spider’s web. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Ardea cinerea Grey heron
The grey heron is distributed in the major part of Asia, Europe, Africa, and Madagascar. Formerly, this species was a very shy bird, but in later years it has adapted to a life in cities. In America, it is replaced by the similar, slightly larger great blue heron (Ardea herodias).
Other pictures, depicting grey herons, are shown on the pages Fishing, and Animals: Birds in Taiwan, whereas the great blue heron is presented on the page In praise of the colour blue.
This grey heron was encountered in the harbour of Enkhuizen, West-Friesland, Holland. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Gorsachius melanolophus Malayan night-heron
This small heron mainly breeds in Southeast Asia and the Philippines, with northern outposts in north-eastern India and Taiwan. The majority are resident, but Indian birds, as well as some northern birds of Southeast Asia, spend the winter in Indonesia or Malaysia. The main habitats of this species are forest and marshy areas, but in Taiwan, where it is fairly common, it is often found in city parks, where it can become remarkably confiding. The pictures below are from the city of Taichung.
The pair of Malayan night-herons in the upper picture was encountered in a park. The bird to the left is probably a male in breeding plumage, showing deep blue lores and a long crest, whereas the other bird presumably is a female, which is not yet sexually mature, or has retained the immature plumage – a character known from females of this species. (See Chuan-Chiung Chang: Malayan Night Heron Gorsachius melanolophus breeding in immature plumage, Forktail 16 (2000), pp. 167-168)
(Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Immature Malayan night-heron, foraging in a polluted stream. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This bird is sitting on its day-roost, a garden wall. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The windscreen of this long-term parked car is covered in guano, which has dropped from a Malayan night-heron nest in the tree above. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Nycticorax nycticorax Black-crowned night-heron
This smallish heron is found in most warmer parts of the world, except in Australia, where it is replaced by the closely related rufous night-heron (N. caledonicus). The generic name means ‘night raven’, from the Greek nuktos (‘night’) and korax (‘raven’), referring to the mainly nocturnal feeding habits of this genus, and their hoarse, raven-like call.
In Taiwan, the black-crowned night-heron is quite common and often confiding. This adult bird is sitting on a wall along a drainage canal in the city of Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
These immature black-crowned night-herons were also observed in a drainage canal in Taichung. The bird in the lower picture is searching for fish. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Many species of cockroaches have adapted to a life in cities, where they are often an immense nuisance. In traditional Chinese medicine, these animals are used against a number of ailments, such as abdominal problems, stroke, and bone fractions, and also as an anti-ageing agent. An ethnic minority in the Yunnan Province used cockroaches to treat open wounds. New research has shown that these animals contain at least nine different antibacterial substances, and one substance is able to kill AIDS virus.
For hundreds of years, cockroaches have been utilized as food in northern China. A cream, containing intestines of cockroaches and other ingredients, is applied by Chinese women to their skin to keep it young. A booming industry is producing skin cream and medicine from millions of cockroaches, kept in captivity.
Cockroaches prefer humid surroundings. This one was photographed in a bathroom in the town of Bontoc, northern Luzon, Philippines. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Cercopithecidae Old World monkeys
In Hinduism, Rama is the seventh incarnation of the supreme god Vishnu, and main character in the great epic Ramayana. One day, his fiancée, Sita, is abducted by Ravana, a demon king from Sri Lanka. Hanuman, who is the leader of the monkey army, is a great help to Rama in his struggle to liberate Sita. As a reward for his services, Hanuman was raised to become a Hindu deity.
Due to the great deeds performed by the monkey army in the Ramayana, monkeys are considered sacred among Hindus, and troops of rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta), bonnet macaques (Macaca radiata), or grey langurs (Semnopithecus) often live around temples, where part of their diet consists of rice, sweets, or other edibles, brought as offerings by devout Hindus. They also roam the cities in search of food, often being a pest to street vendors, who sell vegetables and fruit.
These monkeys, and numerous other species of monkeys and apes, as well as a more detailed account of the role of Hanuman in the Ramayana, are presented in depth on the page Animals: Monkeys and apes.
Macaca mulatta Rhesus monkey
The rhesus monkey is found in a wide variety of habitats in the northern part of the Indian Subcontinent and in Myanmar, including in cities, where it is often very common.
This rhesus monkey is walking along a narrow wall, surrounding the Hawa Mahal Palace in Jaipur, Rajasthan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Rhesus monkey, sitting on a balcony in front of a residential home in Varanasi. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This rhesus monkey jumps from one house wall to another, likewise in Varanasi. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Macaca radiata Bonnet macaque
In South Indian cities, this species takes over the role of the North Indian rhesus monkey, especially around Hindu temples, where they eat offerings of rice and flowers.
In temples, bonnet macaques often become obese, as this one, resting on a sculpture of an elephant in the Sri Minakshi Temple, Madurai, Tamil Nadu. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This street performer in the city of Tirumalai, Andhra Pradesh, has caught two young bonnet macaques, training them to perform. They seem to be arguing about something. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Semnopithecus entellus Northern plains langur
This species is widespread in northern, central, and south-central India, from Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and West Bengal southwards to Telangana and northern Karnataka and Kerala, with a small population in western Bangladesh.
The northern plains langur is quite common, living in a variety of habitats, including forests, scrubland, temple groves, gardens, and towns, up to an altitude of c. 1,700 m. It is locally threatened by habitat loss due to intensified agriculture and fires, and by hunting for food by newly settled people in Andhra Pradesh and Orissa.
Previously, western and southern populations of this species were regarded as a separate species, the southern plains langur (Semnopithecus dussumieri), but recent genetic research has declared this species invalid.
Like a bunch of street urchins, these northern plains langurs are sitting on a roof top in the city of Pushkar, Rajasthan, India, from where they survey the surroundings for fruit or other edibles to steal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
These langurs are resting in a pavilion near the sacred lake in Pushkar. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Columbidae Pigeons and doves
Columba palumbus Wood pigeon
Previously, this species was a shy forest bird, but in later years it has adapted to a life in cities, where it is now very common. This species is found all over Europe, the Middle East, and Morocco, with isolated populations in Central Asia and the western part of the Himalaya.
This wood pigeon is sitting on a house chimney on the island of Fanø, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The wood pigeon may be identified by the white patches on the hindneck and wings. This one takes off from a pole near Säby Läge, Öland, Sweden. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Spilopelia chinensis Spotted dove
This species, also called pearl-necked dove, is a pretty bird, distinguished by its pearl-like white spots on black background on the side of the neck. Formerly, it was included in the genus Streptopelia (turtle doves), but studies on vocalization, together with DNA analyses, led to the conclusion, that this species and its near relative, the laughing dove (Spilopelia senegalensis), differed sufficiently from the other Streptopelia species to form a separate genus.
The spotted dove is widely distributed in Asia, from the Indian Subcontinent eastwards to China and Taiwan, thence southwards through the Philippines and Southeast Asia to Indonesia.
The spotted dove is very common in Taiwan, also in cities. In this picture, a pair is sitting on the rail of an apartment balcony in a skyscraper in Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Spilopelia senegalensis Laughing dove
This small dove is widely distributed, found in much of northern Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and the Middle East, eastwards to India. It is also found in Cyprus. In 1889, it was introduced to western Australia, where populations have been established in several locations. It lives in a variety of habitats, including semi-desert, scrubland, agricultural areas, and cities.
Other names include palm dove and Senegal dove, and in India it is known as little brown dove. The name laughing dove stems from its characteristic cooing, a low, drawn-out croo-doo-doo-doo-doo, somewhat reminiscent of a laughter. As mentioned above, its generic name has been changed from Streptopelia to Spilopelia.
In Dubai, where this picture was taken, laughing dove is a common city bird, showing no fear at all of passing pedestrians. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
“That dove would make a perfect lunch!” – This cat was lying in wait for a laughing dove in Istanbul, Turkey, but missed it. The laughing dove is very common in this city. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Streptopelia tranquebarica Red turtle dove
This tiny dove is found from Pakistan eastwards to eastern China and Taiwan, and thence southwards to Southeast Asia and the island of Luzon in the Philippines.
The male is quite distinct, having grey head, black collar on the hind neck, red wings, and reddish breast, which has given rise to the name of the species. The female is brownish, also with a black collar. The specific name means ‘from Tranquebar’, a former Danish colony on the east coast of South India, in present-day Tamil Nadu. Presumably, the type specimen of this species was collected here. – You may read about Tranquebar on the page Culture: Entrances.
The eastern race humilis of red turtle dove is common in the lowlands of Taiwan, especially in the south. In this picture, a pair has built their nest on a cornice in the Daoist Fushing Mazu Temple in the town of Xiluo. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Cooing male of the eastern race humilis, Taichung, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Corvids, such as crows, rook, jackdaw, magpie, and various treepies, are intelligent birds, which were formerly living in more or less open landscapes. Today, however, many corvids have readily adapted to a life in cities. Seven species are presented below.
Coloeus monedula Eurasian jackdaw
This small corvid, which was previously named Corvus monedula, is ubiquitous in cities all over Europe. It is distributed from southern Finland and Scandinavia southwards to the Mediterranean, and thence eastwards to Central Asia. In eastern Siberia, Mongolia, and China, it is replaced by a near relative, the Daurian jackdaw (C. dauuricus), which may possibly be a race of the Eurasian jackdaw, as they often interbreed.
The specific name monedula is derived from the Latin moneta (‘coin’), thus named by Swedish naturalist Carolus Linnaeus, or Carl von Linné (1707-1778), allegedly because this bird often picks up coins and other shining items.
Jackdaws, feeding on a lawn, Funen, Denmark. The plant with white flowers is common daisy (Bellis perennis). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Corvus corone ssp. cornix Hooded crow
As it is extensively hunted in most of its distribution area, the hooded crow is usually very wary of people, often fleeing at a considerable distance. In many cities, however, where hunting is banned, crows show little fear of people.
Around the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, Turkey, crows show no fear at all of people, as these pictures clearly show. In the lower picture, a crow is trying to open a zipper on a baby carriage but must give up. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Corvus frugilegus Rook
For hundreds of years, the rook, which breeds in colonies, has been much persecuted, as it was traditionally regarded as a pest which ate crops in the fields. However, it is an established fact that the rook also benefits the farmer through consuming lots of crane fly larvae and other harmful insects. Young rooks are much cherished as food, and lots of young are shot on the nests in spring.
During the last 30 to 40 years, many rooks have been moving from rural areas into towns and cities, where they are secure from hunters. However, they are also persecuted in many of these new breeding areas, as they are noisy and make a mess. As a result, the rook is diminishing in many areas.
Rooks are social birds, moving about in flocks. – Bornholm, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Rook, near Århus, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Corvus macrorhynchos Large-billed crow
This bird often lives near human habitation. In former days, it was called jungle crow. This name also included two other crows, which are today treated as separate species, the Indian jungle crow (Corvus culminatus) and the eastern jungle crow (C. levaillantii).
Despite these splits, the large-billed crow still has a very wide distribution, found from Afghanistan in the west, across the Himalaya and Tibet to northern China, south-eastern Siberia, and Taiwan, southwards through Southeast Asia to Indonesia and the Philippines. In the Indian Subcontinent, it is generally found at higher elevations than the Indian jungle crow.
Large-billed crow, resting on a house roof in the town of Namche Bazaar, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Corvus splendens House crow
In its native area, viz. the Indian Subcontinent, southern Iran, and Myanmar, the house crow is an extremely common bird. During the last hundred years or so, it has spread to many cities in Asia and Africa, arriving as ‘blind passengers’ on board ships. It is also found in a few coastal towns of Europe and North America.
House crows, resting on a rail around the golden Lawkananda Pagoda, Bagan, Myanmar. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
These house crows are inspecting the remains of butchered water buffaloes in Kathmandu, Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Dendrocitta formosae Grey treepie
This bird, which is also called Himalayan treepie, is distributed along the foothills of the Himalaya, eastwards through montane areas of northern Indochina and southern China to Taiwan. In Taiwan, however, the nominate subspecies, formosae, lives almost down to sea level. In most areas, this bird is rather shy, but in Taiwan it has become accustomed to people, showing no fear at all.
Other pictures, depicting this species, may be seen on the page Animals: Birds in Taiwan.
Grey treepie, calling from the top of a street lamp pole, Taichung, Taiwan. (Foto copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This grey treepie is feeding on seeds of a Chinese tallow-tree (Triadica sebifera), Taichung. – A collection of pictures, depicting the gorgeous winter foliage of this tree, is shown on the page Autumn. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Pica pica Eurasian magpie
Divided into ten subspecies, the magpie is distributed from western Europe eastwards to Kamchatka, southwards to North Africa, Arabia, the Himalaya, and northern Indochina. Some authorities maintain that four of the subspecies are separate species.
The word pie is of Indo-European origin, meaning ‘pointed’, probably referring to the long, pointed tail. The prefix mag- dates from the 16th Century, a short form of the name Margaret, which was a term used for women in general. The call of the bird was likened to the chattering of women, and so it was called mag-pie. (Source: etymonline.com/word/magpie)
The noisy and garrulous ways of the magpie appear in a passage in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, in which the babbling and bumptious daughters of Pieros dare to challenge the Muses in a song contest, which they, naturally, lose, causing them to hurl abuse at the winners. The leading Muse, Calliope, then says:
“Seeing that you deserve punishment enough for your challenge,
And now add profanities to your offence,
And since our patience is not unlimited,
We will move on to sentence you,
And follow where anger prompts us.
The Emathides [daughters of Pieros] laughed and ridiculed these threatening words,
But as they tried to speak, and attack us with insolent hands,
Making a great clamour,
They saw feathers spring from under their nails,
And plumage cover their arms. Each one saw
The next one’s mouth harden to a solid beak,
And a new bird enters the trees.
When they wanted to beat their breasts in sorrow,
They hung in the air, lifted by the movement of their arms,
Magpies now, the slanderers of the woods.
Even now, as birds, their former eloquence remains,
Their raucous garrulity, and their monstrous capacity for chatter.”
Like the hooded crow, the magpie was formerly a shy bird, fleeing from people at a long distance. Today, however, it is a common breeding bird in cities, where, under normal circumstances, people do not constitute a danger to the birds.
Magpie, resting on a gravestone in a Jewish cemetery, Copenhagen, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This young magpie is sitting on the rail of a foot bridge across a canal in Copenhagen. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Magpie nest, built in a silver birch (Betula pendula) with thousands of catkins. – Copenhagen. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Gekko gecko Tokay gecko
This species is found from the Indian Subcontinent eastwards to Southeast Asia, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Melanesia. In the United States, it has been introduced to the Florida Keys, where it has become invasive. It is easily identified by its loud call, rendered as geck-oo or tuc-too.
In Chinese medicine, tokay geckos are used for various ailments and diseases, including stroke, paralysis, arthritis, impotence, premature ejaculation, frequent urination, nocturnal urination, and emaciation. New research has shown that it has a positive effect on malignant tumours, especially in the digestive system. Today, the species is threatened due to over-collection and habitat loss.
Formerly, in China, a number of superstitions were related to the tokay gecko. It was believed that its urine was deadly poisonous. If a pregnant woman consumed it, she was certain to deliver a boy. As tokay geckos mate for a very long time, it was believed that consuming them would cure impotency.
In Southeast Asia, the tokay gecko is often encountered in houses, as in this picture from the island of Mindoro, Philippines. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Tokay geckos, conserved in alcohol, displayed for sale in a shop in Wuzhou, Guangxi Zhuang, China. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Geckos of this genus are often called house geckos, as many of the species have adapted to a life inside houses. They are native to most tropical areas of the world, and a few species are also found in subtropical parts of Europe and Africa. Presently, about 90 species are known, with new species being described every few years.
House gecko, sitting on a house wall, Bali, Indonesia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Hirundinidae Swallows and martins
Hirundo javanica House swallow
Previously, one of the common swallows of South India, Sri Lanka, Southeast Asia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Taiwan was regarded as belonging to the widespread Pacific swallow (Hirundo tahitica). However, 7 subspecies from these areas have recently been split to form a separate species, the house swallow. (Source: hbw.com/species/house-swallow-hirundo-javanica)
This species can be told from the barn swallow (below) by its shorter outer tail feathers, the greyish, checkered vent, and lack of black breast band.
House swallows readily nest in cities. Subspecies namiyei is common in the lowlands of Taiwan, and is also found on the Ryukyu Islands, southern Japan. This bird was observed in Taichung, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Hirundo rustica Barn swallow
This bird is the most widespread swallow in the world. It mainly nests on or inside buildings, very often in stables or barns – hence its name. Six subspecies are spread across the major part of the Northern Hemisphere, from the British Isles eastwards to Japan, and from northern Norway, central Siberia, and Kamchatka southwards to North Africa, Egypt, southern Iran, and southern China, and in most of North America, from northern Canada southwards to southern Mexico. Four of the subspecies are migratory, spending the winter as far south as South Africa, northern Australia, and Argentina. The birds may be seen year-round in southern Mexico, southern Iberian Peninsula, Egypt, the Himalaya, southern China, and Taiwan.
Subspecies gutturalis is a common summer visitor in Taiwanese cities, and some birds are resident. The pictures below all show this subspecies.
Barn swallows, Taichung. In the lower picture, the bird is sitting on a door lamp. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Nesting barn swallow, Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This nest, containing two almost full-grown young, is resting on a wire on a house wall in Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Barn swallows, feeding over a lawn, being watered, Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Shrikes are a group of striking passerines, which perch on trees, bushes, poles, or wires, scanning the surroundings for small prey, such as beetles, dragonflies, bees, lizards, and mice, sometimes impaling them on thorns to be consumed later. Five species of the genus Lanius (true shrikes) have been observed in Taiwan. The generic name is from the Latin lanio (‘butcher’), referring to their food-storing habit.
Lanius cristatus Brown shrike
Altogether four subspecies of this bird have been described. They breed over much of eastern Asia, in most of Siberia, Mongolia, China, Korea, and Japan, spending the winter in Tropical Asia. Further west, it is replaced by two sister species, the red-backed shrike (Lanius collurio) and the isabelline shrike (L. isabellinus).
The pictures below are from Taiwan, where subspecies lucionensis is a common migrant and winter visitor.
Male brown shrike, resting on a concrete pillar in a city park, Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This immature bird was photographed in front of a blooming Taiwanese cherry tree (Prunus campanulata), Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Laridae Gulls and terns
Previously, the majority of the World’s gulls were breeding in wetlands, and they were rather shy of people. During the last 50 years, however, many gull species have readily adapted to a life in cities, often breeding on house roofs, and eating mainly garbage.
Chroicocephalus ridibundus Black-headed gull
In former days, this small species was very common in most of Europe, but has declined drastically during the last 30 to 40 years. It often breeds in city parks, but not on house roofs.
Black-headed gulls, resting on a pleasure boat in a harbour, central Jutland, Denmark. The bird in front is wearing a numbered plastic ring. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Larus argentatus Herring gull
Previously, the herring gull was regarded as being a circumpolar species, divided into a number of subspecies. Today, however, it has been split into several species, and the herring gull proper is restricted to north-western Europe, from Iceland, northern Norway and north-western Russia, southwards along the coasts of the Baltic Sea, North Sea, and the Atlantic Sea, to southern France.
In later years, numbers of European herring gulls have increased significantly in cities, where the birds place their nest on top of high-rise buildings.
The following birds, which are now regarded as full species, were formerly treated as subspecies of the herring gull: western yellow-legged gull (Larus michahellis) (see below), Caspian gull (L. cachinnans), Armenian gull (L. armenicus), Vega gull (L. vegae) (see below), and American herring gull (L. smithsonianus).
Herring gulls, feeding on scraps from a fishing vessel, Copenhagen, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This herring gull is waiting for tidbits beside a fisherman, who is gutting fish in the harbour of Kerteminde, Funen, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Larus canus Common gull
This species has a very wide distribution, from Ireland and Scotland eastwards through the Siberian taiga belt to Alaska and western Canada. It mostly breeds on the ground in coastal regions and lakes, but may occasionally build its nest on roofs or in trees. It resembles the herring gull, but is smaller and has a narrow red eye-ring, and greenish-yellow bill without a red dot. The European and Russian subspecies also have dark eyes.
A pair of common gulls have established their nest on a building at Alvesta Railway Station, Kronobergs Län, Sweden. In the two lower pictures, the male mates with the female, who remains lying on the nest. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Larus michahellis Western yellow-legged gull
This species is found in the Mediterranean Sea. It resembles the herring gull, but can be identified by its yellow legs and very powerful beak. This bird is extremely common in Istanbul, Turkey, where these pictures were taken. In this city, it often breeds on house roofs, and if a window is left open, it may enter to search for edibles.
Western yellow-legged gull with chicks in its nest, which is placed on a house roof. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This narcissistic western yellow-legged gull is gazing at its reflection in a window pane. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Western yellow-legged gull, drinking from a fountain, oblivious of the courting couple in the background. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
“Get lost! This is my lamp!” (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This western yellow-legged gull has just killed a domestic pigeon and is now eating it on a roof top. It shows a threatening attitude towards an intruding hooded crow (Corvus corone ssp. cornix), which is very interested in the kill. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Larus vegae Vega gull
Previously, the Vega gull was treated as a subspecies of the herring gull, but is today regarded as a separate species. It is distributed in north-eastern Siberia, from the Lena River eastwards to the Bering Sea.
Vega gulls, resting on the roof of a shed in Anadyr Airport City, Chukotka Peninsula. Note the different eye colour of the birds. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Motacillidae Wagtails and pipits
Motacilla alba White wagtail
Altogether eleven subspecies of this bird breed from eastern Greenland eastwards across Europe and Siberia to Alaska, southwards to Morocco, Iran, the Himalaya, and Taiwan.
The nominate race, alba, is found in eastern Greenland, Iceland, and the entire Europe, apart from the British Isles, and further east, almost to the Ural Mountains. In the British Isles, it is replaced by the race yarrellii, in Morocco by subpersonata, and in the Ural Mountains, southwards to the Caspian Sea, by dukhunensis. In Siberia and western Alaska, the race ocularis is breeding, in Iran persica, in the western part of Central Asia personata, in Central Asia baicalensis, in the Himalaya alboides, in China, Korea and Taiwan leucopsis, and in Japan, Sakhalin and Kamchatka lugens. Many of the northern races are migratory, whereas southernmost are resident.
The white wagtail is confiding, often breeding in buildings.
Male of the nominate race of white wagtail, ssp. alba, photographed on the island of Christiansø, Bornholm, Denmark. Red roof tiles are seen in the background. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Male of the nominate race, sitting on the roof of a lighthouse building at the northern tip of Öland, Sweden. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Male Amur wagtail, ssp. leucopsis, sitting on a concrete wall along a river in the city of Taichung, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Male Amur wagtail, feeding in a drainage canal, Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This male Amur wagtail is feeding in some muck that has accumulated beneath a leaking water pipe, Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Male Himalayan wagtail, ssp. alboides, sitting on a dilapidated wall in Hutiao Xia (Tiger Leaping Gorge), Jinsha River, Yunnan Province, China. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Male masked wagtail, ssp. personata, stretching a wing on a boat, Phewa Lake, Pokhara, Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Motacilla cinerea Grey wagtail
The grey wagtail is distributed over a huge area, breeding in most of Europe, Morocco, the Middle East, the Himalaya, Siberia, Central Asia, China, Japan, and Taiwan. Northern populations spend the winter further south, in Ethiopia, the Arabian Peninsula, the Indian Subcontinent, Southeast Asia, and Indonesia.
In Taiwan, where subspecies melanope breeds in the lower hills, it is common in winter along streams and canals, also in cities. This bird is sitting on a wall along a drainage canal in Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Muridae Old World mice and rats
Rattus rattus Black rat
The black rat originated in Asia, probably India or Southeast Asia. Later, it spread to the Near East and Egypt, and then throughout the Roman Empire. Research indicates that it reached Britain as early as the 1st Century A.D., and when Europeans began emigrating, it was spread to almost all parts of the world.
Formerly, the black rat was a serious pest, consuming huge amounts of cereals and other food items. Furthermore, it spread various diseases among humans. During the Middle Ages, rat fleas were carrying bubonic plague, which in some places reduced the human population by 50 to 75%. This much feared disease was aptly named The Black Death.
The brown rat (Rattus norvegicus) spread throughout the world at a later stage than the black rat. It is a much stronger and more adaptable species, and the black rat has now been expelled from many of its former strongholds by its more aggressive sister species
In the town of Deshnok, Rajasthan, north-western India, a local goddess, Karna Mata, is regarded as an incarnation of the great Hindu goddess Durga (see Religion: Hinduism). Her followers believe that if you are reborn as a rat, you escape the wrath of Yama, the God of Death. For this reason, rats are sacred, and pilgrims feed them in temples.
The Karna Mata Mandir Temple in Deshnok is teeming with black rats. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Passer domesticus House sparrow
In later years, the house sparrow has declined drastically in large parts of Europe, whereas it is very common in the United States, where it was introduced several times between 1851 and 1875, and in New Zealand, where it was introduced around 1865. In both countries, it was thought that the sparrows would be able to control populations of harmful insects in cereal crops. However, they only catch insects when feeding their young, whereas the rest of the year they eat the very crops they were supposed to protect. However, as early as the 1880s, the sparrow itself was regarded as a pest in New Zealand, and in North America, it is considered a serious crop raider in large parts of the continent.
Male house sparrow, sitting on a roof, Bornholm, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Hand-feeding house sparrows in St. James’ Park, London. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
House sparrows at a roadside restaurant, Muriwai Beach, New Zealand. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Passer montanus Tree sparrow
This bird, which is a close relative of the house sparrow, has a huge distribution, found from western Europe across Central Asia to Japan, and thence southwards through Southeast Asia to Indonesia and the Philippines.
The pictures below are from Taiwan, where the tree sparrow is very common and has taken over the role of the house sparrow as a city bird, as the latter is not found in Taiwan.
This flock of tree sparrows is sitting on plastic dividers on the roof of a greenhouse in Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Tree sparrows, feeding on seeds of a Chinese tallow-tree (Triadica sebifera), Taichung. – A collection of pictures, depicting the gorgeous winter foliage of this tree, is found on the page Autumn. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Tree sparrows, gathered on a mast, Central Taiwan Science Park, Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This tree sparrow is sitting on a sculpture in a Daoist temple, depicting a dragon, Taichung. – Dragons and other aspects of Daoism are dealt with in detail on the page Religion: Daoism in Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Podiceps cristatus Great crested grebe
This bird has a very wide distribution, found from the British Isles and the Mediterranean, across temperate regions of Eurasia eastwards to China. Furthermore, it has isolated populations in southern Africa and in Australia. In many European countries, it has adapted to a life in harbours.
Great crested grebe in the harbour of the town Enkhuizen, West-Friesland, Holland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Pycnonotus sinensis Light-vented bulbul
This species, also called Chinese bulbul, is distributed from central China southwards to Vietnam, and eastwards to Japan and Taiwan. This species is one of the commonest birds in Taiwan, living in a wide variety of habitats, such as secondary forest, farmland, parks, gardens, and even city areas with scant vegetation.
This bird and other bulbuls are described in detail on the page Animals: Birds in Taiwan.
Light-vented bulbul, surveying its surroundings from the top of a white leadtree (Leucaena leucocephala), Taichung, Taiwan. – This tree is presented on the page Nature: Invasive species. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This light-vented bulbul is enjoying the morning sun, sitting on the rail of a balcony in Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Rallidae Coots, rails, crakes, and allies
Fulica atra Eurasian coot
As a breeding bird, the black coot is widely distributed across Temperate Eurasia, eastwards to Japan, and in north-western Africa, the Indian Subcontinent, New Guinea, and Australia. Siberian populations are migratory, whereas African, Indian, Australian, and most European birds are resident. Very similar species are found in the Iberian Peninsula, Africa, the Americas, and Hawaii.
In many places, the Eurasian coot has adapted to a life in cities. This bird in Enkhuizen, West-Friesland, Holland, has built a nest in a canal, made from twigs, water plants, and plastic bags. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
In cities, especially city parks, squirrels often become very tame. These pictures show three examples.
Callosciurus erythraeus ssp. taiwanensis Taiwan squirrel
This squirrel, which is ubiquitous in the lowlands of Taiwan, is a subspecies of the widespread red-bellied squirrel, which is distributed from eastern Nepal, Bhutan, and north-eastern India eastwards to Southeast Asia, southern China, and Taiwan.
In the pictures below, and in a picture on top of this page, Taiwan squirrels are feeding on food, put out for birds, near the Confucius Temple, Tainan, southern Taiwan. This has caused these otherwise rather shy squirrels to have become remarkably tame.
(Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This Taiwan squirrel is eating bark of a blackboard tree (Alstonia scholaris), Tunghai University Park, Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Funambulus pennantii Five-striped palm-squirrel
This species is native to south-eastern Iran and to the Indian Subcontinent, southwards to the state of Karnataka. It is very common in North Indian cities, even metropoles like Delhi and Kolkata. It has also been introduced to New Guinea and to many Pacific islands, and a population is found in the city of Perth, Australia, established from zoo escapes.
The five-striped palm-squirrel is ubiquitous in North Indian cities. This picture is from Jaisalmer, Rajasthan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Sciurus carolinensis Eastern grey squirrel
This is the most widespread squirrel in North America, and it has also been successfully introduced to South Africa, Britain, and other places. In Britain, it has become a pest, as it competes with the native European red squirrel (S. vulgaris), which is now scarce south of Scotland.
This squirrel, as well as many other North American squirrels, are presented in detail on the page Animals: Squirrels of North America.
This man is feeding an eastern grey squirrel, as well as feral pigeons, in Kew Botanical Gardens, London. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Family Scolopacidae Sandpipers and allies
Actitis hypoleucos Common sandpiper
This small wader breeds across large parts of temperate and subtropical Eurasia, spending the winter in Africa, southern Asia, and Australia. In North America, it is replaced by a close relative, the spotted sandpiper (A. macularia).
The generic name is from the Greek aktites (‘living on the coast’), derived from akte (‘coast’), whereas the specific name is from the Greek hupo (‘beneath’), and leukos (‘white’), referring to the whitish belly of this species.
In the Nukumanu Islands of Papua New Guinea, the common sandpiper is called matakakoni, meaning ‘the bird that walks a little, then copulates’, referring to the habit of this bird of pumping its hind body up and down while foraging. (Source: D.W. Hadden, 2004. Birds of the northern atolls of the North Solomons Province of Papua New Guinea. Notornis. 51 (2): 91-102)
The common sandpiper is a rather common winter visitor to Taiwan, often feeding in drainage canals, like this bird in the city of Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Sturnidae Starlings and mynas
Acridotheres ginginianus Bank myna
The smallish bank myna is restricted to the Indian Subcontinent, from the Indus Valley eastwards to the Ganges delta, and from the foothills of the Himalaya, southwards almost to the southern tip of India. The original habitat of this bird was open country, but it has adapted to a life in cities, where it is often observed along rivers, in markets, in railway stations, and even in airports. It has been introduced elsewhere and has formed feral populations a number of places, including Kuwait, the Maldives, Taiwan, and Japan.
The bank myna is similar to the common myna (A. tristis, below), but is a bit smaller, its plumage is more greyish, and the bare skin around the eye is orange rather than yellow.
The pictures below were all taken on the banks of the Ganges River, Varanasi.
(Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The bird to the left in this picture had escaped from captivity. The string, which was used to attach the tiny bells to its leg, was tied to tightly, causing the leg to swell, but it didn’t seem to bother the bird too much. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This bank myna is preening by taking ants in its bill, gleaning its feathers with them. Presumably, the purpose of this behaviour is to kill pests with the formic acid. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Acridotheres tristis Common myna
This bird, also called Indian myna, is native to Asia, distributed from Turkmenistan and eastern Iran eastwards across the Indian Subcontinent and Southeast Asia to south-western China, and thence southwards to Singapore. Escaped cage birds have established populations in numerous other countries, including South Africa, Madagascar, several Arabian states, Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia, Australia, and New Zealand.
The common myna was originally a woodland bird, but has adapted very well to agricultural as well as urban environments. In many places, it has become a pest, which expels native birds, especially in Australia, where it has been called “a most important problem”. The IUCN Species Survival Commission has declared it one of the world’s most invasive species and a threat to “biodiversity, agriculture, and human interests”.
Common mynas, feeding on the remains of a discarded lunch box, together with tree sparrows (Passer montanus) and a single Javan myna (Acridotheres javanicus, the slate-black bird), Taichung, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Common mynas, resting on electric wires, Taichung, Taiwan. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Gracupica contra Asian pied starling
This colourful bird, which was formerly known as the pied myna (Sturnus contra), is native to the northern part of the Indian Subcontinent and Southeast Asia. It lives mainly in lowlands, but may be found up to an altitude of c. 700 m. In later years, it has been expanding and is now found in Pakistan, Sumatra, and Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The population in the latter country was established from escaped cage birds.
Asian pied starling, feeding among washed-up marigold garlands, which have been brought as an offering to the sacred Ganges River, Varanasi, India. – The important role of the Ganges River to Hindus is related on the page Religion: Hinduism. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
In Dubai, where this picture was taken, Asian pied starling has established a population from escaped cage birds. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Turdus merula Blackbird
The black plumage of the male blackbird has given rise to its name. Until about the 17th century, another name of this thrush was ouzel, or wosel, from Old English osle. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, by William Shakespeare (1564-1616), the weaver Nick Bottom sings:
The woosell cocke, so blacke of hew,
With orenge-tawny bill,
The throstle, with his note so true,
The wren and little quill.
Formerly, the blackbird was a shy forest bird, but in the last hundred years or so, it has spread to virtually all urban areas in Europe, today being one of the most common city birds. It is distributed across Europe and the Middle East, eastwards to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, and it has also been introduced to Australia and New Zealand.
The blackbird and other thrushes are described in depth on the page Animals: Thrushes.
Male blackbird, preening on a house roof, Funen, Denmark. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
(Uploaded September 2020)