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Blog Birding #184

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Regular observation of birds offers us front row seats to a whole host of bizarre behaviors and phenomena. Like this one, highlighted by Greg Laden at the blog of the same name, in which a Minnesota Bald Eagle adopts the egg of a prey animal, all viewable by nest cam.

Bird parental investment is intense, or at least it can be. You all know the stories. A bunch of carp are regularly fed in a pond, so they learn to come to the edge of the water when they detect a presence there, and stick their big round mouths out of the water to beg for bits of bread. A mother or father bird has just started to feed the little hatchlings, who beg for food with their gaping maws. A windstorm. A weakened branch. Some bad luck. The bough breaks and the nest, with baby and all, comes down. The rats and cats feast.

Speaking of bizarre phenomena, Laura Erickson documents a black-capped chickadee with a deformed bill visiting her feeder.

Since April 7, I’ve been hearing a chickadee singing occasionally, and on April 16, one was flitting outside my window expecting mealworms, so the next day I went out and bought some. Sure enough, it came back on Friday, April 18, and I noticed that it has a deformed bill. The upper mandible is way too long, and bends weirdly to the bird’s left. The lower mandible appears normal to my eyes and in my photos, but a closer look would be necessary to be certain. This is obviously one of the birds I fed regularly two years ago for it to remember that I open the window with mealworms in my hand. So this is especially heartbreaking for me to see.

Tis the season for thrush migration, and while the Catharus species can be difficult to ID at times, knowing the timing of their migration can narrows things down quite a bit. Victoria Campbell at Cornell’s All About Birds shares a post with some great ID tips and some phenomenal maps.

Timing, especially in winter and spring, can be immensely helpful in identifying Catharus thrushes. From November to March it’s easy—Hermit Thrush is the only one of the five species present in the U.S. and Canada. Swainson’s, Veery, and Gray-cheeked thrushes are in South America for the winter (Bicknell’s is in the Caribbean). Come spring, Hermit Thrush is the earliest migrant of this group. Check out this map (data drawn from eBird) of the three most widespread species. Redder colors indicate a higher percentage of the given species on eBird checklists. See how the map starts off with only Hermit Thrushes in the U.S.? Also note the different timing and paths of Swainson’s and Veery.

Amar Ayyash, of Anything Larus, celebrates the return of an odd and striking bird, a Laugh-ring Gull in the Chicago area.

I had been feeding Ring-billeds from the pier for about 5 minutes, when I suddenly heard a series of high-pitched mews from behind me. I said to myself, “It can’t be”, and sure enough, after searching for the noisemaker, I found the hybrid coming right for me. It made several close passes before ascending and heading up towards the old “state line energy plant”.

European and American Herring Gulls are considered to be separate species by some authorities, but the differences are extremely subtle and the extent of the former’s presence in North America is unclear. At Gulls to the Horizon, though, Maarten van Kleinwee offers a Dutch birder’s perspective on this vexing, and potentially relevant down the line, ID issue.

When checking this characteristic in some of the adult birds that I photographed in the southern Lake Michigan region in the USA in February 2014, most individuals did indeed show a long tongue. However, the tongue was not long enough to result in a medial band that was shorter than the length of the mirror. This could indicate that the birds that I saw originated from a different location than those described in the referenced article.

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Nate Swick

Nate Swick

Editor, Social Media Manager at American Birding Association
Nate Swick is the editor of the American Birding Association Blog, social media manager for the ABA, and the host of the American Birding Podcast. He lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, with his wife, Danielle, and two young children. He is the author of Birding for the Curious and The ABA Field Guide to Birds of the Carolinas.
Nate Swick

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