Blogs & Videos: Birds

Things seen in the Bird Division #7 (or: Same bird, different stripes)

As long as the bird that we know as Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) has existed, they've had a charming yellow stripe across the tip of their tail. The yellow pigment actually comes from carotene in their fruit diet, and that diet has been changing as humans have brought different fruit-bearing trees into their native range. Now, a small percentage of Cedar Waxwings have orange tail tips instead of yellow, probably the result of eating certain types of non-native honeysuckle berries when their tail feathers are developing.

Follow up: A first for Illinois, discovered in the Field Museum's collection

Last week I wrote about the recent publication detailing the detective work that uncovered the first record of Western Flycatcher for Illinois. I didn't have time to include photos of the actual specimen, so here they are. The two birds on the left are Yellow-bellied Flycatchers from Illinois and the two on the right are Western Flycatchers from California (presumably Pacific-slope Flycatchers). The star of the show--Illinois' only Western Flycatcher--is in the middle.

Live interview on Chicago's PBS affiliate: "A Sky Full of Cranes"

Last night I was a guest on "Chicago Tonight," a live nightly news program that is broadcast on Chicago's PBS affiliate, WTTW. I was talking about the wonderful Sandhill Crane migration that the Chicago area experienced over the last couple of days, with thousands pouring through the area, including many right over and around downtown. It's been great publicity for birds. My interview was accompanied by the beautiful photographs that Jerry Goldner took of the migrating cranes.

Jizz and/or Gestalt

Earlier this summer, there was a discussion on an on-line ornithological bulletin board about the best word to use to describe how birders and ornithologists use their experience with subtleties of species to identify them.  The word that immediately came to mind for me was “gestalt,” which is a German word for “shape” or “form” that is associated usually associated with psychology.  It was the word I had heard growing up.  I specifically remember an ornithologist, Scott Mills, using it when he was talking to a Tucson Audubon Society workshop about identifying the various spe

Meet the newest species of bird in North America: A Gunnison Sage-Grouse specimen arrives in Chicago

The last new species of bird to be described in the United States--in fact the first since the 19th century--was Gunnison Sage-Grouse (Centrocercus minimus), described to science in 2000 on the basis of behavioral, vocal, and morphological (size and plumage) differences from its larger, more widespread cousin, the Greater Sage-Grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus).

Hermon Bumpus and House Sparrows

" ... on February 1 of the present year (1898), when, after an uncommonly severe storm of snow, rain, and sleet, a number of English sparrows [= House Sparrows, Passer domesticus] were brought to the Anatomical Laboratory of Brown University [, Providence, Rhode Island]. Seventy-two of these birds revived; sixty-four perished; ... " (p. 209). "... the storm was of long duration, and the birds were picked up, not in one locality, but in several localities; ... " (p. 212).

A Cassin's Sparrow meets its end a long way from home

Every day during fall migration, the Chicago Bird Collision Monitors deliver to the Field Museum a bag of birds that died flying into windows in the loop as they tried to make their way south to their wintering grounds farther south. These salvaged birds provide a critical component of the museum's bird collection, specimens that can be used by researchers for generations to come to learn about many aspects of our area's birdlife.

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