The World’s Most Beautiful Birds

1. Quetzal

   The quetzal is a beautifully colored bird in the trogon family. They are found in forests and woodlands, abundantly in more humid highlands.

They can be hard to spot in their wooded habitats, even with their brightly colored feathers. Their feet are unique with having two toes facing forward and two back, aiding the bird in perching high in the trees.

2. Mandarin Duck

   The mandarin duck is a perching duck species found in China and Japan.

Both males and females have crests, but the crest is more pronounced on the male. The male molts after mating season into eclipse (summer) plumage. When in eclipse plumage, the male looks very similar to the female, but can be told apart by their bright yellowish/orange beak.

3. Bluejay

   The bluejay is native to most of the eastern and central United States, western populations may be migratory. They are also found in Newfoundland and Canada.

This vibrantly colored bird feeds on nuts and seeds such as acorns, soft fruits, insects, and occasionally small vertebrates. They can sometimes be seen to catch insects while in flight.

4. Victoria Crowned Pigeon

   This stunning beauty is named after the British monarch Queen Victoria. The Victoria crowned pigeon is native to lowland and swamp forests of northern New Guinea.

The Victoria crowned pigeon is now uncommon around human established areas due to heavy hunting for it’s plumage and meat. The bird is easily tamed so it easily falls prey to hunters. As such it was named Near Threatened in the IUCN Red List.

5. Lesser Bird of Paradise

   The lesser bird of paradise is native to forests of New Guinea, and the nearby islands of Misool and Yapen. They are omnivorous, their diet mainly consisting of fruit, insects, and snails.

The lesser bird of paradise is considered to be at low risk, but its habitat, the tropical rain forests of Papua New Guinea and Irian Jaya are increasingly threatened and quickly disappearing.

6. Long Tailed Widowbird

   This hauntingly beautiful species, the long-tailed widowbird, is found in Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, South Africa, Swaziland and Zambia. They live in swampy grasslands, in flocks consisting of one to two males and a larger amount of females.

The long-tailed widowbird’s diet mainly consists of seeds and insects. They do most of their foraging in flocks on the ground, though they are sometimes seen catching insects mid flight.


Five Destinations You Should Visit This Winter

My love’s favorite destination NUMBER 1 πŸ˜Š

1. Amsterdam

For travelers who don’t fear the cold, Amsterdam can be a great winter getaway. It’s a good idea to start out with a brisk walk around the city center or a boat tour of the canals, where light installations and sculptures will be on display during the Amsterdam Light Festival in December and January. Ice skating is another favorite winter activity here and there are plenty of ice rinks β€” or in some years, frozen canals β€” available. Our recommendation: Ice Amsterdam, a rink on the Museumplein beside the stoic Rijksmuseum, the Dutch national museum. Afterwards, warm up inside one of the city’s authentic bruin cafes (brown cafes), which are local pubs named for their wooden interiors.

2. Sicily

While it won’t be warm enough for the beach, off-season Sicily offers mild temperatures (typically in the 50s and 60s) that are ideal for touring around on foot. This is the season to try hiking from Taormina to the little town of Castelmola via the ancient Saracens path, which offers views of Mount Etna, Saracen castle, and the sea en route. Or, spend a day strolling around the narrow cobblestone streets of Syracuse’s old town, which tend to be clogged with tourists during the summer, but pleasantly quiet in January and February. The Greek theater of Taormina, where winter travelers can check out the ruins without having to navigate huge crowds, is another great option. Just be aware that some restaurants may be closed and there can be chilly or rainy days β€” in which case, ride on the Ferrovia Circumetnea, a small (and cheap) train that circles the base of Mount Etna.

3. Cyprus

With 340 days of sun per year and comfortable winter temperatures, Cyprus is a good bet for off-season rejuvenation. The number of tourists is five to six times higher from May to September than other times of year, which means some coastal hotels close up in January and February and there are deals to be had at those that do stay open. In any case, the low-key scene makes it easier to chat with locals and explore the island’s incredible archaeological sites, such as ruins of the ancient Greco-Roman city of Kourion and the entire UNESCO-protected town of Paphos. It’s also a good season to hike, bike, or ski in the Troodos Mountains β€” the highest peak is Mount Olympus β€” as trails empty out.

4. Barcelona

Travelers looking for a big European city with tons of cultural activity and charm, but without the gray skies like London, should head to Barcelona. The air will be chilly but the sky will likely be clear and blue, making it ideal for strolling the quiet or even empty streets, the tree-lined La Rambla, and La Boqueria open-air market. There’s plenty of crema catalana (a crΓ¨me brulee-like custard) to warm up with in between stops at Gaudi masterpieces like La Sagrada Familia and the paths of Park Guell, where you’ll find amazing views of the city. Plus, Barcelona’s museums and galleries often hit their stride in the wintertime, considering fewer crowds get in the way.

5. Iceland

Embrace the snow and cold in Iceland, where winter brings unique experiences not available any other time of year. First of all, winter months offer the best chance of seeing the Northern Lights on clear, super-dark nights. Secondly, streams of water running through glacial caves freeze, resulting in so-called crystal caves. Ice cave tours are a must for winter visitors. Prices on flights (particularly from the East Coast) and hotels can drop significantly, as tourism dies down from December through February. If you happen to be there during New Year’s Eve, check out the fireworks in Reykjavik, the country’s capital city.

Why Are Fireflies Disappearing?

Do you have a summer firefly memory? I have many, having grown up next to a wetland. I knew it was finally summer when I would be outside playing after dinner and those little flying lights appeared. I imagined each light was a fairy with trailing long blonde hair like my own at the time.

But like bees, amphibians and butterflies, fireflies are disappearing. While the exact reason isn’t known, three main factors are suspected: Habitat loss, toxic chemicals (which tend to linger in aquatic environments where fireflies start their lives) and light pollution.

According to

“Most species of fireflies thrive as larvae in rotting wood and forest litter at the margins of ponds and streams. And as they grow, they more or less stay where they were born. Some species are more aquatic than others, and a few are found in more arid areas β€” but most are found in fields, forests and marshes. Their environment of choice is warm, humid and near standing water of some kind β€” ponds, streams and rivers, or even shallow depressions that retain water longer than the surrounding ground”

As the human population continues to grow, more and more wild habitat will be developed for our use. As long as we keep interrupting forest land with houses, turning meadows into lawns and paving over wetlands, the fewer fireflies there will be β€” unless we start living in some radically different ways.

The Other Part of the Problem is Light Pollution

A Firefly

Both female and male fireflies use their glowing lights to communicate with one another, to find mates, keep interlopers away and establish territory. Depending on the species, those flashy messages are coordinated β€” often across huge groups of thousands of bugs. Research has shown that lights β€” both stationary, like streetlights or lights from a house, and temporary, like car headlights β€” make it harder for fireflies to communicate. If mom and dad firefly can’t find each other to mate because they’re thrown off by car headlights, young fireflies never get created.

While firefly numbers will continue to decline in some places, in others they’re becoming an attraction. In China, firefly pupae were brought into an urban park to re-establish a colony of the beetles there. “Entrepreneurs are trying to revive the population of bioluminescent insects in special firefly parks. One of the first of these parks, in the city of Wuhan in Hubei province, opened this year. The response was so positive that the park plans to open annually (from May through early October each year),” writes Josh Lew here on MNN.

Kids who grow up without fireflies will never know what they’re missing. The bioluminescent bugs are a magical addition to the landscape, but once they cease to exist, they will exist only in the summertime memories of older people. If you’d like to keep fireflies around in real life and not just as a memory, you can help create firefly habitat in and around your own home, with these ideas.