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Coursers and Pratincoles

Species Of Coursers, Species Of Pratincoles

Coursers and the closely related pratincoles are 17 species of birds that comprise the family Glareolidae, in the order Charadriiformes, which also contains the plovers, sandpipers, and other families of waders and shorebirds. The pratincoles occur in southern Europe and Asia, Africa, Southeast Asia, and Australasia, but coursers only occur in Africa, the Middle East, and India.

Coursers and pratincoles breed in sandy or stony deserts, in grassy plains, or in savannas, but always near water. Both types of birds fly gracefully, using their long, pointed wings.

Coursers have relatively long legs, three toes on their feet, a square tail, and a relatively long, thin, somewhat down-curved beak. Coursers are nomadic during their non-breeding season, undertaking wanderings in unpredictable directions, as is the case of many other bird species that breed in deserts.

Pratincoles have shorter legs, four toes, a deeply forked tail, and a short bill with a wide gape. Pratincoles undertake long-distance migrations during the nonbreeding season, usually in flocks. The sexes are similar in both of these types of birds.

Pratincoles largely predate on flying insects, much in the manner of swallows (an alternate common name for these birds is swallow-plover). They also feed on the ground, running after their prey with rapid, short bursts of speed. Coursers are also insectivorous, but they feed exclusively on terrestrial insects, which are caught on the run. Coursers will also eat seeds when they are available.

Pratincoles occur in groups and nest in large, loosely structured colonies. Coursers are less social than this and do not nest in colonies. The nests of coursers and pratincoles are simple scrapes made in the open. In most species there are two eggs in a clutch, which are incubated by both the female and the male parents. These birds mostly nest in hot habitats, so the purpose of incubation is often to keep the eggs cool, rather than warm as in most birds. Some species moisten their eggs to keep them cooler.

Young coursers and pratincoles are precocious, hatching with their eyes open and are able to walk one day after birth. However, they are led to a sheltering bush or other hiding place as soon as they are mobile, and they shelter there while the parents bring them food. The young birds are well camouflaged to blend in with their surroundings.

If a predator is near the nest or babies, adult pratincoles will perform injury-feigning distraction displays meant to lure the animal away. Both coursers and pratincoles also have startle displays that they deploy under these conditions, in which the wings and tail are raised suddenly to reveal bold patterns of coloration in an attempt to unnerve the predator.

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