Avian fireworks

If you’re impatient for the New Year’s fireworks displays, here are some explosions of color in bird form.

Nicobar Pigeon. Photographed at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago.

Nicobar Pigeon. Photographed at Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago.

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Greenish bycatch

I just noticed that I forgot to post the last bycatch of the season. Whoops! Here it is—only about three months late.

Adult Green-tailed Towhee

2013_bycatch4_adtowhee2When I saw my first Green-tailed Towhee, I had only just moved to California and was not at all familiar with western birds. I remember looking through my binoculars at the bird singing from the top of a tuft of sagebrush, memorizing traits in order to look it up in my bird guide, and thinking “No way am I going to find this. This is going to be one of those birds that I’m seeing in a weird light so that I’ll never be able to ID it, and I’ll tell people, ‘I swear it was green with a red cap!’ and they’ll never believe me.” But then there it was in my Sibley’s: green with a red cap. I love these birds.

2013_bycatch4_adtowhee1

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Red finch, orange finch, yellow finch

In general, we understand red birds thusly: the brighter the red, the better the bird. (Why? See this post.) The better the bird, the better his genes/parental care/mate, and the better his reproductive success.

But sometimes it’s more complex—and interesting—than that.

Red male House Finch. Photo by M. LaBarbera.

Red male House Finch. Photo by M. LaBarbera.

Yellow and orange male House Finches. Photo by Ken-ichi Ueda.

Yellow and orange male House Finches.
Photo by Ken-ichi Ueda.

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Photo sequences: vulture vs. rake; flamingo fight

At the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago recently, I got the chance to see some particularly charismatic birds, including a colony of squabbling flamingos, and Sophia the young Cinereous Vulture. Abandoned as an egg, Sophia was raised by humans—with a vulture puppet—until she was old enough to rejoin her parents.

Sophia the Cinereous Vulture, at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago.

Sophia the Cinereous Vulture, at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago.

The morning I saw her was overcast and cold, but she was in high spirits: a man was raking her enclosure, and while her parents mostly ignored him, Sophia was fascinated. She chased the rake; he shooed her away; she stalked it. “I helped to raise her,” the man said; then, rolling his eyes, “It’s impossible to get anything done with her around.” Eventually he dropped the rake, and Sophia got to investigate.

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Funny-looking birds look like that for a reason

ARKM the Dark-eyed Junco showing off his perfect birdiness. Photo by M. LaBarbera

ARKM the Dark-eyed Junco showing off his perfect birdiness.
Photo by M. LaBarbera

I think we can all agree that the junco is pretty much the Ideal Bird. Ask any small child. Brownish, feathers all over, small round body, short neck, cute twiggy legs, little triangle for a bill: that’s what a bird looks like.

Um...

Um…

Or not. None of the following birds look like a small child’s quintessential Bird, because these birds—with their spoonbills, mustaches, and scary dinosaur feet—are awesome weirdos.

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