Wednesday, May 13, 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: "Sending photo of what I am pretty sure is a Purple Finch?? It had a very white belly. Is it: 'plain belly-Purple Finch, striped underside-House Finch'???? Thanks so much for your help."

Betty at Foster Lake, Oregon

Answer: You got it right, Betty! That is a male Purple Finch. One way to help separate Purple and House Finches is that the House Finch has most of its orange-red concentrated on the forehead, upper breast, and rump. As you can see on your photo (click photo for larger view), your bird is generally washed with pinkish-red across the top of the head and all down the back and wing coverts--too much reddish wash for House Finch. Another clue. Purple Finches have a pale eyebrow that wraps around the back of the ear coverts. This is obvious on females, but on the male (including your photo) these are pinkish red, but still obvious. House Finches are rather streaky on the head, but without any obvious pattern wrapping around the ear coverts. This photo of Purple Finch shows the relatively unstreaked flanks. As shown in our previous post, In the backyard... House Finch, these birds have heavily streaked sides and flanks.

Question: "I am sending you a photo I took today--I think there were actually two different birds very similar to this one. This bird was black, not brown, and when it flew it had the red wing bar above the obvious yellow bar. It would seem to me to be a male red-wing but it is so striped as the females."

Betty at Foster Lake, Oregon

Answer: In a previous Question and answer column, Johnny sent in a photo of a female Red-winged Blackbird. Your bird is similar, a bit darker, but showing a bit of red and yellow wing stripe (click photo for larger view). What is it? Well, Betty, this is a first-year male Red-winged Blackbird. It is almost a year old, having hatched out some time last year between May and July. While in many species, birds-of-the-year molt into adult-like plumage in fall and winter, some species--like this Red-winged Blackbird--have a distinctive first-year plumage. You can tell that this bird has fresh, new plumage because the feather edges of the back and wing feathers are all outlined with crisp, pale feather edges. These soon wear off. By mid summer this bird will be solid black throughout and look quite like an older adult male.

Question: "I am attaching a photo I put on flickr for OBOL ID. They confused me because of the different head color I was thinking male/female but found out it was possibly age difference on the birds so I couldn't identify them originally. Another good lesson learned."

Betty at Foster Lake, Oregon

Answer: Thanks for the additional photos, Betty. The bird on the left with the buffy or ruddy eyebrow and throat is an adult female Red-winged Blackbird (click photo for larger view). As it is too early in the year for juvenile blackbirds, the bird on the right is a one-year-old female Red-winged Blackbird. In my previous answer I mentioned the fresh feathers with the crisp, pale edges, remember? Can you see that this right hand bird has fresher feathers? Notice especially the pale edges that almost create wingbars on that younger bird. Then see how those pale tips are not so obvious on the older bird. You know, most experienced birders don't look at these common birds as closely as you have. Well done. We have certainly learned a lot about Red-winged Blackbird plumage. Thank you for your questions, Betty!

1 comment:

  1. Hi! Thanks for pointing out which wren it was. I was looking at the right bird, but grabbed the wrong name. Your site is wonderful, the pics are gorgeous!