Catching the fleeting scenes of many splendored life with a camera.
'Look closely. The beautiful may be small' — Kant

13 December 2015

Elusive Guests. Black Rat (Rattus rattus), Water Rail (Rallus aquaticus) and Little Owl (Athene noctua)

Black rat (Rattus rattus, also known as the ship rat, roof rat, house rat, Alexandrine rat, old English rat, and other names) is a common long-tailed rodent of the genus Rattus (rats) in the subfamily Murinae (murine rodents). The species originated in tropical Asia (in India and Southeast Asia) and spread through the Near East and Egypt in Roman times before reaching Europe by the 1st century and spreading with Europeans across the world.
Black rats are generalist omnivores and thus not very specific in their food preferences, they feed on a wide range of foods, including seeds, fruit, stems, leaves, fungi, and a variety of invertebrates and vertebrates. Which makes them a kind of pest in nature (hmm, a lot in common with humans). They are vectors of many diseases including the bacterium Yersinia pestis, an agent of bubonic plague, (which I suspect is just another attempt to blame every mysterious disaster on an animal — the speed of propagation of the desease, as well as its geographic distribution raise doubts about the rodent’s role in the epidemics more likely caused, among other things, by the destruction of European forests, mini glaciation in the Middle Ages, overpopulation and consequent famine, and lack of hygiene).
Like tree squirrels rats prefer fruits and nuts. They are a threat to many natural habitats because they feed on birds and insects. They are also a threat to many farmers since they feed on a variety of agricultural-based crops, such as cereals, sugar cane, coconuts, cocoa, oranges, and coffee beans. The black rat is again largely confined to warmer areas, having been supplanted by the brown rat (Rattus norvegicus) in cooler regions and urban areas. In addition to being larger and more aggressive (I’ve seen big fat brown rats feed with chicken and porks at the same trough and chase cats), the change from wooden structures and thatched roofs to bricked and tiled buildings favored the burrowing brown rats over the arboreal black rats. In addition, brown rats eat a wider variety of foods, and are more resistant to weather extremes
Black rats adapt to a wide range of habitats. In urban areas they are found around warehouses, residential buildings, and other human settlements, especially in dry upper levels of buildings, so they are commonly found in wall cavities and false ceilings.. In agricultural areas they live in barns and crop fields. In the wild, black rats live in cliffs, rocks, the ground, and trees. They are great climbers and prefer to live in trees, such as pines and palm trees. We often see them in the neighbourhood walk up and down the trees and scutter along the power lines that serve as suspension bridges. Their nests are typically spherical and made of shredded material, including sticks, leaves, other vegetation, and cloth. In the absence of trees, they can burrow into the ground. Black rats are also found around fences, ponds, riverbanks, streams, and reservoirs.

Black rat (Rattus rattus). (by-nc-nd)

The little owl (Athene noctua) is a bird that inhabits much of the temperate and warmer parts of Europe, Asia east to Korea, and north Africa. It was introduced into the British Isles at the end of the nineteenth century and into the South Island of New Zealand in the early twentieth century. This owl is a member of the typical or true owl family, Strigidae, which contains most species of owl. It is a small, cryptically coloured, mainly nocturnal species and is found in a range of habitats including farmland, woodland fringes, steppes and semi-deserts. It feeds on insects, earthworms, other invertebrates and small vertebrates. Males hold territories which they defend against intruders. This owl is a cavity nester and a clutch of about four eggs is laid in spring. The female does the incubation and the male brings food to the nest, first for the female and later for the newly hatched young. As the chicks grow, both parents hunt and bring them food, and the chicks leave the nest at about seven weeks of age. The epitome of family!

Little Owl (Athene noctua) looking out of birdhouse. (by-nc-nd)

The water rail (Rallus aquaticus) is a bird of the rail family which breeds in well-vegetated wetlands across Europe, Asia and North Africa. Northern and eastern populations are migratory, but this species is a permanent resident in the warmer parts of its breeding range. It has mainly brown upperparts and blue-grey underparts, black barring on the flanks, long toes, a short tail and a long reddish bill. The water rail breeds in reed beds and other marshy sites with tall, dense vegetation, building its nest a little above the water level from whatever plants are available nearby. The off-white, blotched eggs are incubated mainly by the female, and the precocial downy chicks hatch in 19–22 days. The female will defend her eggs and brood against intruders, or move them to another location if they are discovered. This species can breed after its first year, and it normally raises two clutches in each season. Water rails are omnivorous, feeding mainly on invertebrates during summer and berries or plant stems towards winter. They are territorial even after breeding, and will aggressively defend feeding areas in winter.

Water rail (Rallus aquaticus). (by-nc-nd)

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