Birds. Every country has them. From the remarkable to the totally mundane. Time to preen the plumage and get to know some of our favourites from around the Earth. By Ian Colvin, ecologist and ornithologist.

Alaska, home of the wonderful Crested Auklet, a crazy-sounding bird with looks to match. These critters boast a bright orange forehead crest and in the breeding season the males have a strong smell of tangerines!

In the same region, Canada is famed for all manner of birds, and the handsome Canada Goose, with its white ‘chinstrap’ takes the first prize. Famed for long migrations in elegant v-shaped formations and serenading the skies with mournful honking, these geese are seasoned travellers.

The Sichuan Bush Warbler is our pick for the most interesting Chinese bird. It may be brown, drab and boring, but the elusive little creature was only discovered in 1992, and it took 20 years before it was finally named as a species.

The Indian Vulture has a unique relationship with humans on the subcontinent, being largely responsible for consuming their corpses.

The Indian Vulture has a unique relationship with humans on the subcontinent, being largely responsible for consuming the corpses of people of the Parsi faith. Parsi who have passed on are placed in tall towers to decompose naturally – a process known as sky burial – and then the vultures do the rest.

For a great Italian bird you can’t fault the Isabelline Wheatear. A restless little critter, always bobbing about, and it chooses to nest underground. Might sound weird, but why build a nest when you can use an old mole burrow?

The lovely Vietnamese Pheasant, or ‘fireback’, is the bird of Vietnam. Only discovered in 1954, this shy pheasant is a forest dweller with metallic plumage and is limited to three fragmented parts of the country – a rare gem.

And finally, Africa , where the Brown Snake Eagle inspires fear amongst the serpents, feeding on cobras and other venomous species. Snake Eagles have thick skin on their legs to protect them against bites and to crush the snake’s head to discharge its venom before eating it.

Now fly forth and get into the world of birds! – Ian Colvin.

Images (clockwise from top left): The Brown Snake Eagle, Crested Auklet (top), Vietnamese Pheasant (middle), Sichuan Bush Warbler, Indian Vulture, Canada Geese, Isabelline Wheatear.

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