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Aimophila,{ American Sparrows} and Aix {perching ducks}. A-Z of Bird genera -part 14

Updated on February 29, 2016

Rufous crowned sparrow

Uploaded to Commons by Helmy Oved
Uploaded to Commons by Helmy Oved | Source


In this series A-Z of bird genera we review the species that occur within a particular genus. These birds occur throughout the world. They are diverse in size and form and occur in a variety of habitat. each species is unique. Here we review three genera which are described, along with images. We look at their lifestyle,breeding habits and current conservation status. We commence with the genus Aimophila, the American sparrows, The genus name derives from Greek words that roughly translates as 'Thicket Loving'

They belong to the family Emberizidae and the order of birds known as the Passeriformes. It is another genus that has had species transferred to other genera in this case the genus Peucaea,leaving the genus under review containing just three species. We commence with the species Aimophila rifuiceps,which may also be found under the scientific name Ammodramus ruficeps and Peucaea ruficeps.

Rufous-crowned sparrow

The Rufous crowned sparrow, Amophila ruficeps, { See header image} is a small American sparrow which may be encountered across south-western United States and much of Mexico. However,distribution is somewhat patchy with many populations being isolated from each other.

The bird has a brown back with darker streaks, the under parts are a greyish colour. They have a brown or rufous streak extending from each eye and a thick black malar streak {cheek}. The crown is rufous and the face and eye stripe greyish. The tail is relatively long.

The diet of this bird consists of seeds during the winter and insects in the spring and summer. males tend to be very territorial, marking their territories by means of song and displaying. these birds may often be observed walking or running along the ground. They inhabit hot,dry rocky hill sides They forage on the ground between sparse shrubs and grasses.

The males sing a song that is short and jumbled,reminiscent some say of that of the House Wren. They are sedentary birds, they do not migrate. They build a nest on the ground,generally located beneath an over-hanging rock or in tree roots. The female builds the nest which is a loose ,but thick cup,consisting of dried grasses,rootlets and a few twigs or strips of bark. It is about four inches across {10 cm } There are records of some nest being located a meter or so above the ground at the base of a tall shrub.

The parents use methods such as feigning injury to lure predators away from the nest. Mexican Jays and Rattlesnakes prey on the eggs and young. There are several sub-species recognized.

Oaxaca sparrow- Bathing

Taken in Mexico
Taken in Mexico | Source

Oaxaca Sparrow

Uploaded to Commons via Sadalmalik.
Uploaded to Commons via Sadalmalik. | Source

Rusty Sparrow at El Triunfo Mexico

Uploaded to Commons via Terathopius
Uploaded to Commons via Terathopius | Source

Oaxaca Sparrow and the Rusty Sparrow.

Aimophila notosticta, is the Oaxaca sparrow, which is endemic to the Mexican state of Oaxaca, where it is encountered in the dry forests, brush ravines and adjacent overgrown grassy areas, at elvations of up to nineteen hundred meters.

Although this species has suffered from some habitat degradation,it has recently been downgraded from being classed as Near threatened, because its range is now estimated to be larger than previously thought.

The Rusty Sparrow, Aimophila rufescens, is found in Countries such as Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico.It is a bird of subtropical or tropical moist mountain forests and high tropical and subtropical shrub land. It is a widespread species occurring in a variety of vegetation types. It is found near to the sea up to elevations of about two thousand seven hundred meters.

It is relatively large {eight inches { 20 cm } and there are two distinctive sub-species. The north western sub-species which approaches the US border in the Mexican states of Sonora and Chihuahua is duller and is superficially like the Rufous crowned or Oaxaca sparrows, with which it shares a rufous crown,dark lores, a pale eye ring and dark lateral throat stripes. The bill is larger.

The more widely spread sub-species in the southern parts of their range have more rufous wings and tail and the back is more distinctly marked and they have a lighter coloured throat stripe. generally they have darker to their chestnut crown. They are not a species of conservation concern.

Wood duck. A Beautifully Coloured bird


Male on land


Female Wood duck


Wood duck duckling


Wood duck pair.


The genus Aix

Aix is a genus that contains two species of duck. The Wood duck Aix sponsa and the Mandarin duck Aix galericulta. The genus is placed in the Anatidae family of birds within the order Anseriformes. { This Order has been extensively covered in my series Bird orders here on Hubpages type into your search bar to read it}

The name Aix is from Greek and indicates Waterfowl. The birds in this genus are very attractive beautifully coloured birds.

The Wood duck or Carolina duck Aix sponsa is sometimes referred to as a perching duck and are found in North America. The male is wonderfully coloured and along with its distinct patterning offers a superb sight for any birder. It is one of a few species of duck with strong claws that allow it to perch in trees,unlike most ducks this is a species that nests in tree holes, and the resulting ducklings may have to leap to the ground from substantial heights when they are ready to leave their nursery abode.

In late summer the male Wood duck, moults into its eclipse plumage when the flight feathers are replaced. During this time it has a look of the female {described below} , however, it still retains the red eye, white cheek lines and colourful beak. The female Wood duck, is much less brightly coloured than the male,being largely olive brown to a greyish colour with purple-green or bronze sheen on the upper parts, white mottling on the breast and sides and a white belly. Like the male the female has a shaggy crest, however, the head and crest are mainly a dark grey colour with a green or purplish gloss, a narrow white line around the base of the beak , a white patch around the eye and a white chin and throat. She has a dark grey beak,dark brown eyes and a yellowish -grey legs and feet with dark webbing. After breeding the female becomes duller and and browner with a reddish white eye patch and reduced crest. The patterning and bright colours of the male make it very easy to identify.

The Wood duck has a varied diet that includes a range of seeds, fruits and aquatic and terrestrial invertebrates. It typically forages in shallow water dabbling at the surface or sometimes upending,but only very rarely resorts to diving. They may also be encountered foraging along the forest floor ,{from which it takes its alternative name of 'Acorn duck' }. Also in fields to feed on grain.

Although the male will defend his mate they are not territorial and nesting territory is not defended. The timing of the breeding season depends on the distribution within their range,with southern populations starting to breed as early as January or February,while northern populations commence their breeding operations in March or April.

As previously mentioned the Wood duck nests in tree holes or even man-made nest boxes. The female will select a site usually in trees near the water will be chosen. She is accompanied at all times by the male. The lining of the nest consists of downy feathers plucked from the females breast.She will deposit from six to sixteen creamy white eggs which she will incubate for a period of between twenty seven and thirty seven days. When the ducklings hatch they are well developed and are able to leave the nest the same day .

They first use their sharp claws and long tails to reach the entrance of the nesting chamber, before they jump to the ground ,encouraged by the calling female on the ground below.They usually achieve this fete without sustaining any injuries. it is a further eight to ten weeks before the ducklings are able to fly. The Wood duck is the only North American duck to regularly produce two broods per season.

This species is often a victim to predatory animals such as snakes,mink,racoon and woodpeckers. It is widespread across North America. A small Pacific coast population breeds from British Colombia in Canada to Washington and California in the USA, while a larger population is known to breed from Manitoba east to Nova Scotia and south to Texas Florida and the Gulf of Mexico and it also breeds in Cuba. Northern populations move south for the winter reaching as far south as Mexico. Other populations remain resident throughout the year. During the winter Wood ducks are known to utilize more open forested wetlands. There are no current conservation concerns.

Male Mandarin Left and male Wood duck Right.


The Mandarin Duck Aix galericulata

Aix galericulata is the Mandarin duck , another species often referred to as a perching duck. This species is native to east Asia, breeding as far east as Russia in north east China and Hokkaido. It is a summer visitor to their northern parts of its breeding range ,wintering in Japan and eastern China.

It has been introduced to other countries and here in the UK it has become established,with its main breeding areas in the southern counties of England. However, there are breeding records from throughout England and as far north as Perth in Scotland. They also occur in France, Germany, Belgium, Denmark, and Switzerland. Because of persecution in its native Asia , the British population is becoming increasingly more of importance. Indeed , it is now estimated that there are now more birds in the UK than in China. There are also small populations in North America ,many escapees from collections which have formed small feral flocks.

In its native lands it is a bird of lakes and Rivers in forested regions, marshes and more open waters in winter. In the UK it is found on lakes and streams in parkland and farmland which are adjacent to deciduous woodland.

Male Mandarin-not just a pretty face

Taken at Richmond Park London England
Taken at Richmond Park London England | Source

Male Mandarin

Note the erect  wing 'sails'
Note the erect wing 'sails' | Source

Mandarin female


Description of the Mandarin Duck

The male of this species is every bit as colourful and as attractive as the male of the previous species, to which they are closely related. The Mandarin and Wood ducks are the only species that have a silver white leading edge to their flight feathers.

The male Mandarin has an overall 'golden colour'. He is adorned with a long blue green and copper crest which droops down the neck. A white area of feathers curve around the dark eyes and tapers to a thin line at the tip of its crest. The rest of the face has buffy-orange feathers which extend down into the orange-gold feathers which form a mane around the neck. These feathers are shorter under the chin and longer at the back of the neck.

He has mainly olive -brown feathers on the upper parts and tail. There is a hint of metallic blue on his back and side feathers. The unusual orange-gold 'central wings', stick up about two inches from his back and form sails when he his sitting or swimming. His breast is purple. Two white vertical bars are behind the breast bordering his buff-coloured flanks. His underparts are white with gold and black. He has a red bill with a pink or white tip, yellow feet and legs.

When the male is not breeding during June -September, there is less white on the face and less spotting below. {During the eclipse moult the male looks similar to the female but still retains the red bill.}

The female is a lot like the female wood duck,but she is lighter and has more grey on her body. She has a white eye ring with the tail of the ring tapering off towards the neck. Her breast and sides are buff and grey with white spots. Her under parts are white. She does not have the 'sail' feathers like the male. She has a metallic blue speculum and several white stripes on her secondary wing feathers. Her bill is brown with a pink or yellow base. The bill is square at the base and not coming to a point as in the female Wood duck

The Diet and Nesting Habits of the Mandarin Duck

Mandarin ducks feed on Grashoppers,small fish, frogs,and even small snakes. They supplement this with invertebrates,grasses and seed. They dabble for their food in water and walk on land.

Nesting---They tend to fly in pairs to their spring nesting grounds. The female chooses the nesting site. They are known to choose the same tree cavity year after year. In many cases this is located by a stream or other water body,which supplies an ample supply of insects with which they feed to the resulting chicks. The female will deposit eight to ten eggs over a period of about a week and incubation commences when the last egg has been laid, this ensures all the ducklings hatch out at the same time. to aid their warmth she plucks feathers from her breast to cover the eggs. During this period the male remains close by.

As with the previous species the ducklings are encouraged from the tree by the female calling to them from the ground below. For the first week the male stays with his family. Despite their parental care many ducklings fall victim to predators. Those ducklings that escape such a fate are ready to fly by August and will be ready and able to migrate by September.

Mandarin duckling

Taken at Osterley Park London
Taken at Osterley Park London | Source


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    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      24 months ago from England

      Hi Dave, glad I found you back on here, forgot what your name on here was! lol!

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      2 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      hello Devika,

      Thank you so much for your kind comments always appreciated. Best wishes to you.


      hi Deb, glad to share with you our passion for birds Your comments are appreciated. Best wishes to you.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      I adore sparrows and ducks. This was a great combination.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      2 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Beautiful as always! You shared and a very interesting part of nature here and I appreciate your honest and good work.


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