Sunday, May 3, 2009

What bird is that?... Questions and answers

Send your queries about Pacific Northwest bird identification or behavior or other topics. I'll do my best to figure out what you saw. I'll do some research. Then I'll write an article to answer your question. If you have a certain question, no doubt others will, too, and appreciate knowing the answer. My goal will be to do one Q & A article each week, answering all the questions I receive that week. I'll just use your first name and city in my answers. If you send photos I will likely use them (perhaps cropping and adjusting exposure for the web) so others can see what you are seeing.

Send questions to me using this link: PNWBB Q & A

Question: "Hey Greg, My name is Mark.. and I live in... Lake Oswego. I was just looking out my rear window 2 stories up into a large Big Leaf Maple and saw what I thought was a Solitary Vireo (which one I am not sure, Cassin's?) but it had a red patch on the top of its head. This startled me, so I tried to find photos or mention of a red headed vireo but there doesn't seem to be such a you know what it was I saw? Greenish with white wing bars and buff colored underneath, belly and breast. Don't currently have access to my bird books. TIA, Mark"

Mark in Lake Oswego, OR

Ruby-crowned Kinglet Answer: A small green bird such as you describe could be a vireo, as you first guessed, Mark. Both Cassin's and Hutton's vireos match your description in the Pacific Northwest--except for one important detail as you discovered--vireos do not have red crowns! A small green bird that does have a red crown is Orange-crowned Warbler. They are very common in spring migration (right now) and through the summer in the West. However, they do not show obvious white wingbars as you describe. That leaves the tiny Ruby-crowned Kinglet (as shown in the thumbnail to the left; click for a larger view). Now, only the males have the red crown. And as in the Orange-crowned Warbler, the red only shows when the bird raises its crown feathers. This happens when they are aggitated--perhaps when displaying before a female or when upset about an intruder into their territory.

Question: "Hi Greg, I spotted this wonderful bird having a mid-afternoon meal in my garden. What beautiful markings he/she had. I’ve not seen birds like this here before.... Can you tell me what species it is? Thank so much."

Claudia in Portland, OR

Answer: Your bird is a male Northern Flicker, Claudia, a type of woodpecker. They are often found on the ground eating ants--their favorite food! We have an article on that bird here: In the backyard... Northern Flicker.

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