Sunday, October 11, 2009

Grail Bird?

My husband just came back from Mexico today (the ABA conference in Veracruz) and as soon as he was unpacked (and the laundry machine was going), I eagerly began to examine his photos.  Beautiful, striking birds  appeared before me on the screen. And then along came this bird.  Given the context--exotic birds my spouse got to see and I didn't--and the bird's general shape, especially the cut-off rear end, my initial reaction was "ah, some species of rail that I don't know."  (In my defense the preceding picture was of Gray-necked Woodrail--so I clearly had rails on the brain).  Fortunately, I quickly realized that in fact this was one of my old friends: Great-tailed Grackle, missing its tail feathers.  The eye, too, of course is pale and the bill just doesn't fit a Rail bill.  If I'd been paying better attention, I would have realized that the habitat was more typical of a Grackle than a Rail, too--mowed lawn and concrete.  I know what a Grackle looks like and what a Rail looks like, but thinking about Mexico and expecting something exotic, I merged the two and came up with that centuries old treasure: the Grail -- in bird form, of course!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

How Old are You?

I can now generally identify an Osprey when I see one, though in my earlier years I called plenty of Bald Eagles Ospreys.  There is no rest for the wicked, however, and now I constantly find myself trying to determine the age of the sighted Osprey.

At first study (with binoculars), I looked at the eye color and thought that because the eye was yellowish, this would be an adult (juveniles have orange eyes).  But skeptical as I am of using color as my only identification tool--and because eye color gradually changes over the autumn--I turned to the pattern of the bird.  Juveniles, according to Wheeler, have white tips to all the feathers which gradually wear off as the bird ages.  My bird has a few white tips to go with the yellowish eyes, so it seems to me I have an old juvenile bird.

Still not quite sure, I looked into the migration timing of Ospreys.  It turns out that adults and juveniles don't migrate together; adults leave earlier (beginning in late August and early September), while juveniles are on the road (or the telephone pole) later in the month.  I saw this bird in Utah at the end of September.  That timing supports the 'old juvenile' status I have bestowed on this bird.

I'm never quite sure of age--birds, like people, seem to enjoy hiding their real age.  However, my best guess for this one would be that this white-tipped, yellowish-eyed bird (I haven't mastered sexing Ospreys yet) was on its first migration and thus would be an old juvenile.