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Rare Bird Alert: October 11, 2019

Either birders have given up or the restlessness of the season has finally captured our long-staying ABA rarities, as none were reported this week. At least not to eBird from whence I usually glean that information.

It’s getting to the end of the season in Alaska, and the long fall is slowly turning into winter, but there are still a few birders in the far flung regions of the state, though they are not long for it. A  White-tailed Eagle (ABA Code 4) was seen in Nome this week, one of very few records for the North American mainland of this Old World equivalent to our Bald Eagle. And on St. Paul Island in the Pribilofs, mid-October brings multiple Rustic Buntings (3), Eyebrowed Thrush (3), and a sharp Gray Wagtail (4).

There is one 1st record to report, and it is once again a southern bird moving north. Alberta’s 1st provincial record of Ash-throated Flycatcher was photographed this week in Edmonton, gamely surviving -10C overnight temperatures.

In the wake of the province’s 1st Brown Shrike, British Columbia has seen some exceptional records in the last week, including a Common Crane (3) at Peace River which is the province’s 2nd, a Green-tailed Towhee in Lumby which is the 12th, and an apparent Red-shouldered Hawk at Metchosinm, the 2nd.

In California, another Nazca Booby (4) was seen in Santa Cruz. 

Utah’s 6th record of Reddish Egret was seen in Moab.

Texas had its second Fork-tailed Flycatcher (3) in as many weeks in Willacy. 

In Arkansas, a Brown Booby (3) turned up at a lake near Fort Smith.

Two noteworthy birds were seen in North Dakota this week, a Black-throated Blue Warbler in Fargo and a Black-chinned Hummingbird at a feeder in Stanley.

Minnesota had a pair of southwestern species with a Black-throated Sparrow near Duluth and a Rock Wren in Minneapolis.

Ontario also had a Black-throated Sparrow this week, in Courtice. This is the province’s 3rd.

Notable for Massachusetts was a Lark Bunting in Essex. 

Virginia had a Kirtland’s Warbler in Northampton this week.

Tennessee’s 2nd record of Virginia’s Warbler was found in Union. Its 1st was only earlier this year. And a Harris’s Hawk in Sevier is notable, though this bird is commonly kept in captivity and local birders are unsure as to its provenance.

Alabama’s 3rd record of Crested Caracara was seen in Baldwin this week.


Omissions and errors are not intended, but if you find any please message blog AT and I will try to fix them as soon as possible. This post is meant to be an account of the most recently reported birds. Continuing birds not mentioned are likely included in previous editions listed here. Place names written in italics refer to counties/parishes.

Readers should note that none of these reports has yet been vetted by a records committee. All birders are urged to submit documentation of rare sightings to the appropriate state or provincial committees. For full analysis of these and other bird observations, subscribe to North American Birds, the richly illustrated journal of ornithological record published by the ABA.


How to Know the Birds: No. 18, Flickers in the Flick of a Tongue

At my daughter’s soccer practice the other day, I saw an adult male Red-shafted Flicker:

Photo by © Ted Floyd.


Pretty typical for this kind of woodpecker—feeding on the ground. Hm. There actually is a bird called the groundpecker, so I guess we’re stuck with “flicker” for Colaptes auratus cafer. Anyhow, if you calculated a time budget for the bird, I’m pretty sure you’d find that it spends more time feeding on lawns and in meadows than pecking on limbs and boughs.

Here’s a short video of our flicker (with an Allard’s ground cricket, Allonemobius allardi, singing in the background):


My guess is, The bird’s feeding on ants, said to be favored by flickers—so much so that the birds’ tongues have converged on anteater morphology: sticky, notably long, and with reduced barbs compared to “normal” arboreal woodpeckers. Is evolution awesome, or what.

I walked down the path, away from the practice field, and over by the fence along the third base line of a baseball field, where I saw another flicker. This guy:

Photo by © Ted Floyd.


I’m pretty sure it is in fact a “guy,” a male, but not an adult. I believe this is a hatch-year male flicker. Here’s another photo of the same bird:

Photo by © Ted Floyd.


What was that again about flicker tongues? In the last installment of How to Know the Birds, we looked at the avian eyelid, so I suppose it was inevitable that there would follow this appreciation of the avian tongue. Honest, it was just one of those things. I clicked the clicky button on my camera at precisely the instant this woodpecker stuck out its tongue. But there’s a bigger lesson here: A bit of Q. T. with a bird, any bird, even a very ordinary bird, especially an ordinary bird, more often than not yields a delectable discovery like this one. I’m sure I’ve seen tens of thousands of flickers over the years, but this is the first time I ever saw one stick its tongue out in the manner recorded here.

There’s something else about this flicker. I don’t think it’s a Red-shafted Flicker after all. At least not entirely. See those couple of strands of reddish on the nape? Those are indicative of Yellow-shafted ancestry. I wouldn’t call this an “FI” (first-generation) hybrid, but maybe it had a Yellow-shafted grandparent (making it an “F2”) or great grandparent (“F3”)? Discerning flicker backcrosses, like documenting flickers sticking out their tongues, is one of those things we’re doing a lot more of in this age of digital birding.

I heard the bird call, and that got me to thinking about something I’d discussed a while back with flicker fanatic Steve Shunk. Do Yellow-shafted and Red-shafted flickers differ in their vocalizations? And, if they do, what about their hybrid progeny?

Hoping to document the bird vocalizing, I made a video (with a fall field cricket, Gryllus pennsylvanicus, singing in the background):


Audio procured. And while we’re waiting on Shunk to perform the acoustic analysis, did you notice something else? The bird blinks its eyes several times! Gotta take a closer look at that. Here are videograbs, from the 0.02 sec., 3.63 sec., and 4.99 sec. marks, respectively:

Videograb by © Ted Floyd.

Videograb by © Ted Floyd.

Videograb by © Ted Floyd.


So, the Northern Flicker, at least in the case of the hatch-year backcross male, has gray eyelids. I’m working up the manuscript right now: “On the spectral reflectance of the palpebrae of the HY backcross ♂ Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus caferC. a. auratus.”

Remember when the Dunn and Garrett warbler guide came out? (And can you believe it’s been almost a quarter century??) Many of us, I think it’s fair to say, were just a bit incredulous about those plates showing warbler after warbler in up-the-undertail poses we’d dismissed as more-or-less useless for real birding applications. But we’re come to our senses, thanks to Jon and Kimball’s book, and ID’ing warblers from below is now de rigueur for birders.

The avian palpebra is destined to be the next big thing in hardcore ID for the serious field birder—you heard it here first. I’m joking. But I haveta say, I’m really starting to get into this matter of learning the colors of birds’ eyelids. Pick a bird. Any bird. Except for the dipper (whose eyelids are famously white), can you tell me the color of its palpebrae?

In the same ball field as the flickers were a bunch of magpies. And like the flickers, they were feeding on the ground. So I took a few photos. For example:

Photo by © Ted Floyd.


Curious, that patchwork of brown and black on the face. That’ll be something for me to look into. For now, though, let’s just look straight into the bird’s staring eye, dark chocolate–brown. You know what’s next:

Photo by © Ted Floyd.


Aha! We can now say that magpies, like Great-tailed Grackles and Common Grackles, but unlike Red-winged Blackbirds and Northern Flickers, sport blue eye shadow.

I wonder what color their tongues are.




Blog Birding #419

The news that the US and Canada have lost nearly 3 Billion breeding birds in the last 40 years is certainly affecting. Don Torino of The Meadowlands Birding Blog argues that it should be our rallying cry.

The plummeting numbers of these birds has been slow and sinister like a disease that seems to come [read more…]

Rare Bird Alert: October 4, 2019

Continuing rarities in the ABA Area include Jack Snipe (4), Siberian Accentor (4), and Marsh Sandpiper (5) persisting in Alaska, and California continues to be Sulid central with both Red-footed Booby (4) and Blue-footed Booby (4) hanging around into this week.

It’s always pretty remarkable when a banding station turns up an exceptional record, just [read more…]

American Birding Podcast: 3 Billion Birds Lost, A Discussion with Jordan Rutter & Ted Floyd

3 Billion breeding birds have been lost in the last 40 years in the US and Canada. These are certainly sobering numbers. This was the conclusion of a paper published recently in the journal Science, and the core of the 2019 State of the Birds report. This report, spearheaded by American Bird Conservancy, Cornell Lab [read more…]

Blog Birding #418

As Bald Eagle populations continue to rebound, some pairs have to move into more developed areas to nest, causing complications for humans and eagles. Get the scoop at

Some eagle lovers have blocked traffic by setting up tripods in the middle of the road; others have tossed rocks at the eagles to get [read more…]

Rare Bird Alert: September 27, 2019

Continuing rarities in the ABA Area include Blue-footed Booby (ABA Code 4) and Red-footed Booby (4) in California, Marsh Sandpiper (5) in Alaska, and the Thick-billed Vireos (4) in Florida that almost certainly bred this year.

It’s a good time to be in Alaska, especially the Bering Sea. Both St Paul and Gambell have turned [read more…]

How to Know the Birds: No. 17, Grackles in the Blink of an Eye

On a sunny afternoon a couple of weeks ago, we were at a truck stop on I-70 in eastern Colorado. It was a solid two hours from home, what with the Friday evening rush in the Denver metro region still to come. The establishing shot:

You know the saying. “You’re never not a birder.” [read more…]

Blog Birding #417

29% of the North American birds that were present in 1970 have disappeared in the intervening 50 years, the result of the study published in Science by researchers associated with the American Birding Conservancy. The good news is that the declines are reversible. Ed Yong has more at The Atlantic.

A new study, [read more…]

Rare Bird Alert: September 20, 2019

Noteworthy continuing birds in the ABA Area this week include the re-discovered Thick-billed Vireo (ABA Code 4) and Black-faced Grassquit (4) in south Florida. The extraordinary Eurasian Wryneck (5) stuck around into the beginning of the week on Gambell, as did at least one of the multiple Siberian Accentors (4) there. A Red-footed Booby (4) [read more…]