Friday, December 26, 2014

Eurasian Wryneck (Jynx torquilla)

(17 cm.) White eye line over brown eye line; grayish-brown head and back; heavily barred whitish underparts; often twists neck from side to side.

The Eurasian Wryneck is perhaps the oddest bird in China. The bird gets its name from its habit of twisting its neck from side to side when it is alarmed. It has a bizarre, even alien air about it. The bird is a member of the woodpecker family, “picidae,” but it does not behave much like a woodpecker at all. It seems to be more the avian equivalent of an anteater, that odd, strangely shaped mammal that eats ants exclusively and laps them up with a long, sticky tongue.

Most woodpeckers conform to a standard mode of behavior that consists of climbing around on the trunk of a tree and probing for insects that can be found in the bark. If none can be found, drill holes in the tree and extract the insects that way. The wryneck rejects this established behavior and chooses instead to hunt on the ground for its favorite food, ants, in a most un-woodpecker-like manner.

The Eurasian Wryneck is another semi-cosmopolitan bird species that can be found in Europe and Asia and in winter, in Africa. In China, the Eurasian Wryneck can be found in the northeast during summer, through the Central East Coast during spring and fall and in the Southeast in winter.

If a female Eurasian Wryneck is disturbed while at its nest, it will engage in its head-twisting behavior while making with loud hissing noises. This odd behavior was noticed by some in Europe who practiced witchcraft and the bird was often used in rituals. Part of the bird’s Latin name, “jynx,” means to put an evil spell on someone, more often spelled “jinx,” in English.

Like other woodpeckers, the Eurasian Wryneck nests in the cavity of a tree. This species, lacking the powerful bill and adaptations for drilling that other woodpeckers possess, will not make its own hole, instead it will find abandoned cavities left by other woodpeckers.

The Eurasian Wryneck’s appearance is just as strange as its curious habits. It looks unlike any other bird and its long heavily barred and mottled body gives it a rather reptilian look. For all its strangeness, this species must be appreciated its uniqueness, for it is truly just one of a kind.

Eurasian Wryneck (Photo by Martien Brand)

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