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Blog Birding #374

We don’t always think of woodpeckers as a troublesome taxonomic family, but at Avian Hybrids, Jente Ottenburghs suggests that maybe we should.

Let’s start in North America. Here, you can find one of the best studied avian hybrid zones, namely the one between red-shafted flicker (Colaptes auratus cafer) and yellow-shafted flicker (C. a. auratus). The species complex to which these woodpeckers belong also includes the gilded flicker (C. chrysoides). Previous studies, using traditional molecular markers – such as allozymes – could not discriminate between these three taxa. Even a recent genomic analysis was unable to tell them apart.

At The Nemesis Bird, Tim Healy gets his priorities in order. His listing priorities, naturally.

While I was packing to depart from Lake George the morning after the owl’s visit, I checked reports back at home on my phone. The forecast predicted an interesting change in the weather. Strong southeast winds off the sea, combined with a patchy wave of rain and fog sweeping up the coast towards New York, made great conditions for seawatching. Having grown up along the coast, I absolutely adore seabirds. Until this week, my 2018 list was sorely lacking in pelagic species. Initial updates from Long Island indicated that the birds were definitely on the move: shearwaters, storm-petrels, jaegers, and gannets were all reported early on Sunday morning. As much as it always pains me to leave the lake, the place where I was truly introduced to the great outdoors, I was eager to get back to the Island.

At Anything Larus, Amar Ayyash explores the staggering diversity among young Herring Gulls in mid-summer.

A set of 10 juvenile American Herrings Gulls from Lake Michigan (Milwaukee, Wisconsin). Herring Gulls nest throughout the downtown area here on rooftops, along riverbanks and undisturbed outcrops along the lake.

Of particular interest is the variation found in the greater covert patterns. See for instance the lightly marked and checkered pattern on individual #2 & #5 versus the heavily blotted pattern of individual #4 & #6.

Ptarmigan are fascinating and exceptionally bizarre birds, with their impressive plumage and strange behaviors. at Birding Newfoundland, Dave Brown takes a look at the island’s two species of ptarmigan.

Ptarmigan are plump birds, with short legs and small conical bills, which are perfect for cracking seeds or plucking berries from their barrenness habitat. All Ptarmigan belong to the genus Lagopus. This name is fittingly derived from the Greek lagos, meaning “hare and pous meaningfoot. This is in reference to the birds feathered legs and feet, which help them stay warm and gain purchase on their, rocky and often icy terrain.

There’s still a lot we don’t know about the ABA’s newest endemic bird species, Cassia Crossbill. At The AOU-COS Pubs Blog, Craig Benkman looks at the impact of changing climate on this newly recognized species.

Based on the size and structure of the lodgepole pine cones and the abundance of crossbills in the South Hills and Albion Mountains, Idaho, that I observed on the way to a joint AOU and COS meeting in Boise in 1996, I told several colleagues at the meeting that I might have discovered a new form of crossbill. Although they were skeptical, over the years my students and I have found that this crossbill is engaged in a coevolutionary arms race with the pine, favoring an increase in seed defenses directed at the crossbills. This has caused the crossbill to diverge and speciate into what we now call the Cassia Crossbill (Loxia sinesciuris).

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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.