A large bird approximately the size of a swan, which is almost completely covered in feathers. The feathers are blue except the ones along the spine as well as the back and top of the head which are orange. It has a tubular red beak with a light blue pattern and a very long tongue. It is named for its peculiar tongue movement as it swings the tongue around in the air to catch flies and other bugs. Though it is able, this heavy bird rarely takes flight as it nests and feeds around ponds in lush areas.
Anatomy & Morphology
The Tossabeak has a long slender neck, a thick skull with a strong beak, a round low body and two relatively long stilt-like legs. It has a very long thin sticky tongue with peculiar movement patterns, which is used for some rather unusual feeding strategies. *schematic of male and female drawn next to each other*
Females are slightly larger and more aggressive than males, especially between mating seasons. This results in feathers in the head region being more ruffled in females than in males. Females prefer to stay at the same pond and will only move if they have social problems, lack of food, or if the pond dries out. In this case the females of the group will disperse, and males follow or lead their preferred females to a new nesting spot. Social problems might include inappropriate interactions with males mating other females, incompatibility with more dominant females, or accidents involving chicks. Males are smaller and have shorter legs than the females and generally avoid conflicts with other tossabeaks. In their attempts to impress females, they often appear clumsy as they vie for her attention side by side with other males. They spend much of their lives on the move as they can only stay with the same female after her chicks have become big enough to, or already left, till the end of mating season. He will typically return to that female for every mating season, but spend the time in between either visiting females at other nesting sites, or searching for new females. A successful male can have up to 4 female mates at different nesting sites. The smaller size of the males makes travelling easier and reduces their need for food. As they can only stay at good feeding sites with females for limited durations and must travel far in between, this is a great benefit for tossabeak males. *nesting schedule and migration example for one male, calendar on the left, map with migration routes and nesting sites on the right*
Genetics and Reproduction
Tossabeaks enter mating season twice a year. This is the only time at which males are allowed at the nesting sites.
Mating SeasonsTossabeak mating season is not dependent on seasons and as such, different groups of females might enter mating seasons at different times. Some males have been find to migrate between multiple nesting sites between mating seasons. To mate, a male and a female must first choose each other. Males often choose larger females due the percieved ability to better protect the chicks, but if those reject them, they will still go for smaller females as well. They can only mate with one female at each nesting site, or the group as a whole will reject that specific male. Once succesful, they will usually return to that same female every time her group has a mating season. *beak variation* Females are picky with males, but their chosing methods are unknown. It has been observed that the same female often accepts males with similar beak patterns, but the significance of this is unknown. It is entirely possible for one female to mate with multiple males each season. Most males accept this, as females reject males that initiate aggressions, even though only one or two males will be succesful in reproducing. Males often migrate close to the nesting site long before the beginning of mating season, even if food and water is scarce. The earlier they can mate, the higher their chance of succesfully reproducing becomes. After mating, the males are not allowed to return before the new chicks are ready to leave the nest. *nest with Tossabeak Eggs*
EggsA batch of Tossabeak eggs typically consists of 8 tennis ball sized eggs with strong shells. One batch has been found to have eggs from to 3 different males. The eggs hatch after a few weeks, during which the mother sits on the eggs about 90% of the time. She must protect them from egg eating predators (and egg snatchers) at all hours, so she must stay strong and fed, but leaving them to feed is risky.
Growth Rate & Stages
Beginning as chicks, the childhood of Tossabeaks is relatively short but dangerous. They have not developed a solid beak and skull before hatching, and are easily crushed. It is speculated that this is the reason for Tossabeak females to keep males away from the nest while the chicks are small. This odd behavior is believed to be due to the clumsiness males show as they try to impress the females during mating season. A male tumbling onto an egg or a young chick would be fatal for the chick. Under their mothers care the chicks grow strong, and their bones strengthen. Already about one week after hatching, the chicks are ready to follow their mother around, and walk with her to the feeding sites. This makes them easier to protect and thereby significantly increases their chance of survival, even if they are still fragile. Roughly 3-4 months later they are ready to leave the nest, and they join the males in homeless wandering between nesting sites. Around age 2 they are ready themselves to join in the mating and raise the next generations. Approximately 25 % of eggs eventually become mating adults. *Chick development schematic*
Ecology and Habitats
Tossabeaks prefer areas close to freshwater ponds both for nesting and feeding due to the high availability of bugs and algae. Hidden areas in surrounding grass and bushes are also beneficial for safe nests as the females cooperate to protect chicks from predators, though this effort is not always successful. *nesting area near pond*As long as food and water is available, they can survive in any area as long as it is not at any point covered in snow. Depending on temperature, they adjust the thickness of their feather coats by rubbing against each other or the ground. Their droppings nurture surrounding vegetation, but many tossabeaks in a small pond can quickly pollute it to the point where its normal inhabitants cannot survive, though it leads to an increased growth of algae for the birds to continue feeding on. Tossabeaks produce antibodies against most insect and algae caused diseases. *figure demonstrating the feeding strategy of tongue circling*
Dietary needs and habits
The main feeding strategy of Tossabeaks is circular swinging of the tongue, either within swarms of bugs to collect them on the tongue, or in water to collect algae and other small organisms. They are not picky but are not capable of chewing, which means all food must be small and fragile enough to be swallowed. The females feed their chicks by gathering food on the tongue and then allowing their chicks to suck the gathered food off of their mother's tongue.
Tossabeaks are social creatures, often living in groups around the same pond. After mating season, males are excluded from the groups and not allowed back till the chicks are ready to leave the nest. Any nearing the nesting sites results in aggressive behavior from the females during this time. It has been speculated that this behavior serves to preserve food sources as many birds might flock around the same pond and protect chicks from their clumsy fathers.
At one point, domestication was attempted to make obtaining their meat, feathers and beaks easier. Tossabeaks were captured and placed in small enclosures not unlike those used for hen or geese, but the birds became excessively aggressive, and were attacking farmers and structures with headbutts and beakslams. In addition they did not reproduce in captivity. *Examples for the use of Tossabeaks. from left: Stewed tossabeak, decorated hat, beak trophy, beak flower pot, tossa potion, short-boiled Tossaeggs served at tea*
Uses, Products & Exploitation
The meat of tossabeaks is edible but not very tasty, though a few areas consider it a delicacy. The feathers have a wide variety of uses though, and are also considered decorative. In some countries, beaks are kept as early hunting throphies and used as pen holders, flower pots and the likes. The eggs of tossabeaks are eaten with great joy, often served whole after a short boil alongside pastries or biscuits. They are then stiff enough and the shells weak enough for pieces to be cut off like a cake. For them to be used for this delicacy, they must be collected in the middle of the gestation period. At this time, the egg has matured enough to soon produce the chick, but not enough that actual chick structures are observed. This is usually difficult due to the protection of tossabeak mothers. The collection time is extremely important, more than once a noblewoman has let out a scream after cutting a piece and finding a premature chick inside.
Exact spread and pattern of red feathers in facial region might vary. Different patterns of blue on beaks have also been observed.
Generally curious creatures, but not particularly bright. Will most likely not see through traps.
- 14 years
- Conservation Status
- Average height
- 0.75 m
- Average weight
- 50 kg
- Average physique
- Rather large with a solid skull and beak. Generally strong but has no sharp weapons, so uses headbutts and beakslams as usual means of both offence and defence.
Related ReadingOne of the places you might encounter the tossabeak:
Small world with three suns populated by humans and Terranians.
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