June 19, 2013
Written by Jack Sanders
Thursday, 29 May 2008 00:00
I have a very gray-backed, red-billed, cardinal-like bird on the deckoften, under the hanging feeder,” says John McGinley of Wilton. “Have not been able to get a good look at the breast, but the view from the top is s-o-o-ogray, I am wondering if a stray Pyrrhuloxia (whoever thought of that name?) has arrived from the South. I know their range is the Rio Grande and south; I’ve seen them there. Striking. Can it be?”
Very, very unlikely a Pyrrhuloxia — the desert-dwelling species hasnever been recorded as seen in Connecticut and lives so far from the Northeastand in such a different environment, it would take incredible global warming to make it at home in Connecticut. Pyrrhuloxia, by the way, comes from the Greekwords meaning “flame-colored” and “bent,” the latter referring to the shape of the beak.
Much more likely, John saw a female cardinal.
Especially when dealing with birds that have strong colors, variations of tint are always a possibility. Pigments produce the color in a bird’s feathers. Most birds use only one or two pigments: melanin, which produces black, brown, and gray shades, and carotenoid, which produce red and yellowtones. Most that use red have only spots of it, like woodpeckers. The male cardinal, however, is almost all red — a most unusual creature in that it isthe largest red animal in North America north of Mexico. The female has a fairamount of red tinting, but its back is typically gray-brown. A little pigment variation could make that just plain gray.
Inherited conditions like leucism can change the quantities of the pigments in feathers, producing different shades from the “standard-model”bird. So can diet. As we will see below, even birds famed and named for their red can wind up another color.
Creatures that are not in “Technicolor” can have dramatic tonal shifts,too. Two weeks ago while bicycling through Lewisboro, I passed a Gray Squirrel that would more appropriately be named a Black Squirrel. Both all black and allwhite Gray Squirrels are well documented in our area.
So never expect a field guide, even Sibley’s, to perfectly represent all the colorations of the species it carries.
The orange scarlet
Speaking of coloration, “today we saw what we thought was an oriole in a tree,” writes Vi Patek of Lewisboro, N.Y. “With the binoculars, however, Isaw that it looked like a scarlet tanager — but orange! Sure enough, Sibley’s shows a great image of the orange version. Amazing!”
The Owl Box
Tibby Clark of New Canaan reports that “I have two baby Screech Owls in my backyard. Their mother took up residence in an abandoned woodpecker box,which was full of field mice. Needless to say, she made quick use of the mice and the baby owls are thriving.
“We took a few photos, but we cannot venture too closely as she is very protective and no doubt would like to dive bomb us away.
“We also have a beautiful pair of Baltimore Orioles who enjoy grape jelly. They do not care to partake of oranges or the nectar. Our hummingbirds have also returned, two males and two females. We also have a male Yellow-throated Warbler and a female Yellow Warbler.
Lynn Nussbaum of 13 Autumn Ridge in Lewisboro has five baby birds — probably House Finches — in a nest the parents built on a wreath on the front door. “All five baby birds are doing well,” she reports.
Jay Dolcetti of Stamford had a Rose-breasted Grosbeak eating thistle seed on his deck recently. “I didn’t know they ate thistle,” he said.
HawkWatch Weekend Festival , bird-themed workshops, walks, games, shows, raptor counting, ‘green’ vendors,and much more, Sept. 13 and 14, Audubon Greenwich and Quaker Ridge Bird Club, 613 Riversville Road, Greenwich, 203-869-5272 x239.
Bird walks with Luke Tiller , mostly Saturdays at 8 a.m., $10 each; to register, www. sunrisebirding. com/ walks.htm;203-981-9924, luke.tiller @ gmail.com.
Bird walks , first Saturday at 7:45 a.m., free, meet at Wild Bird Center of Norwalk, 335 Westport Avenue (Route 1), www. wildbird. com/ Norwalk, 203-846-BIRD.
Copyright (c) 2008 by Jack Sanders. Send sightings or comments to: jackfsanders [at sign] yahoo.com, or to Bird Notes, Box 1019, Ridgefield, CT06877; or call 203-438-1183, extension BIRD (2473), and leave a message withyour report, spelling your first and last names and telling us your town. If you need help identifying a bird, try your local nature center. If you find aninjured bird, call wildlife rehabilitator Darlene Wimbrow of Redding,203-438-0618, Wildlife in Crisis of Weston, 203-544-9913, or Wild Wings of Greenwich, 203-637-9822. The columnist’s website is www. sandersbooks. com.
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