Archive for March, 2013

Bird names can be confusing.  One reason is that birds can actually have three or more different names.  First, there is a scientific name which consists of two Latin words and follows a structured naming system established by the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus.  The first word is the genus name, the second is the species name.

Unless you are British, most birders never use (or know) the scientific name.  They just use the common name, such as American Goldfinch or just “goldfinch” if there is only one common goldfinch species in the area.  Finally, there may be a colloquial name, a name used historically by local residents to identify a bird.  For example, my mom referred to a goldfinch as a Wild Canary.  Some birds have different colloquial names in different parts of the country.

So a single species may be identified by three different names

Scientific Name:          Turdus migratorius

Common Name:          American Robin

Colloquial Name:        Robin Red-breast

The American Ornithologists Union (AOU) is the official arbiter of both the scientific and the common name.  It maintains The Checklist of NA Birds which is “the standard” for identifying the more than 900 species seen in NA.  Periodically the list is update.  These update often cause arguments and confusion, not among the birds, but among birders.

One source of confusion is the definition of a species.  In the old days birds were consider a separate species if they did not interbred with other species, or, if they did, their offspring were infertile.  Today DNA is used to separate species.  As more and more information becomes available the total number of species changes.  The process is often called Lumping or Splitting.  In Lumping, two birds that were once considered separate species are lumped together into a single species.  Splitting is just the opposite with one species suddenly becoming more than one species.  It is all confusing, but as long as the birds know what is going on it really doesn’t matter.  There is one advantage for a birder who maintain a Life List – when a species is split you often get to add one species to your life list.

In my next few blog posts I will talk more about bird names and how they got that way.  For example, I will explain why if you want to see a Cape May Warbler, you don’t want to go to Cape May.  Or why you never see a red belly on a Red-bellied Woodpecker.

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Albino Birds


Albino Hummingbird - 2

I’ve never seen an albino bird, a bird with white, colorless feathers and pink eyes.  They are very rare.  When scientists reviewed the records of 30,000 birds that had been captured for banding over many years, they discovered that only 17 of the birds were albino – that is less than ½ of 1%.   Maybe that rarity is why I have never seen one.

 I have seen a partial albino bird, a birds where portions of the plumage are white. (Technically they are called leucino birds)  For a while we had a house sparrow coming to the feeder in front of the store that looks exactly like thousand of other house sparrows except it had a white head.  It really stood out.

 Sometime you get a reputation for being an expert at something you are not.  Missi Gottesman, the woman who recently spotted the very first Barnacle Goose ever seen in Westchester may have achieved that status, at least among her friends. 

 A friend emailed this photo to Missi showing an unusual looking goose she had just seen.  Missi, having just found the Barnacle Goose, had become a legend is identifying rare geese.  She was sure to know what this one is.   It turned out to be a partial albino Canada Goose.  It had the shape, size and color of a normal Canada Goose with the exception of some white areas.   I think the white gave the bird something of a strikingly handsome look.  

Unfortunately I deleted Missi’s photo so you can’t see how handsome it was.  But below are some photos of a partial albino Redwing Blackbird.  I think this bird is much more attractive the real thing.

 Albino Redwing - 1 Albino Redwing - 2



   Athough partial albino birds are not as rare as fully albino birds they are not common.  But you never know.  This one was found and photographed, not by an ornithologist, but by a true amateur who couldn’t tell a chicken from a chickadee.


Look closely at all the birds you see.  You never know what you might find.





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Audubon magazine has an annual photography contest to identify the best bird photos. The results are extraordinary – so many great photos.

Check this link to see 100 exceptional bird photos:

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Bird Photography

Bald Eagle - 11

Many of my customers love to take pictures of birds, birds of prey are a favorite subject. And with the latest digital cameras, nature photography has become easier to take good quality pictures. Great picture still take skill, a good eye and a good lens.

These pictures of bald eagle were taken at Croton Point Park by Gerald Huay, a customer from Larchmont. I’ll think you will agree that they are very good.

Bald Eagle - 10

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The sun didn’t listen to the weather forecast and decided to shine brightly. That was good. But the wind was assertive. That made the morning chilly in unprotected areas. But it did not deter 18 hardy souls from enjoying our walk at Read Sanctuary.

Havoc remaining from Super Storm Sandy forced closure of the entrance road, so we hiked in along the shore of Playland Lake which held an assortment of waterfowl giving us good views of Red-breasted Mergansers, Bufflehead, Rudy Duck and others including Black-crowned Night Heron and Great Blue Herons on the island. Too early in the year for Osprey.

Watching the bird feeders through the picture window in the nature center gave us a chance to warm up while getting great close-up looks at many birds including the return of the black birds. They were all there. Grackles, Cowbirds, Red-winged Blackbirds almost looked attractive as the sun highlighted their iridescence. Other bird flocked to the free food in the feeders.
By the end of the walk we managed to uncover a total of 27 species. See list below for a complete list. All in all, it was a nice way to start the day.

Birds Seen:

Waterfowl: Canada Goose, Mallard, Black Duck, Ruddy Duck, Red-breasted Merganser, Bufflehead, Canvasback, Greater Scaup, Brant, Cormorant
Shore Birds: Great Blue Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron
Gulls: Herring, Ring-billed and Great Black-backed Gulls
Black Birds: Red-wing Black Bird, Common Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird, Starling, Fish Crow, Am. Crow
Backyard Birds: Cardinal, Chickadee, Titmouse, House Sparrow, House Finch, Song Sparrow, Tree Sparrow,

All in all, it was a lovely way to start the day.

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