Friday, January 13, 2012

Bird Questions

One thing I didn’t quite realize when I started working for Connecticut Audubon Society in December is that when ordinary folks encounter a bird they don’t recognize or think is unusual or suspect is in the wrong place at the wrong time, they call or email the Audubon Society.
Another thing I didn’t realize is that it would be my job to respond. Not that I'm complaining. It's been kind of fun.

There was the day, for example, when I answered my phone at Connecticut Audubon’s state headquarters and a nice sounding gentleman wanted to know what was the biggest bird you would expect to see in Fairfield -- because he was sure he just saw it.

We talked it over and came to the conclusion that he had probably seen a great blue heron.

Or another day when a man called and wanted help identifying an owl. I asked why. Because there’s one sitting on the window shutter of my house, he said. I asked where that was.

Whitney Avenue in New Haven. It’s been here about a week, he said. It flies away at night and sits on the shutter during the day. It’s about a foot and a half tall, he said.

All of that seemed unlikely but not impossible (I guess), so I asked him to email me a photo. Unfortunately I never heard from him again.

This photo (at left) arrived in an email from a woman who lives in Lyme. The only words were in the subject line: “Strange junco?”

Nope. Brown-headed cowbird.

“You’re right,” she said. “I never thought of that. I’ve never seen one in the winter before, much less a lone wolf.”

A gentleman from Westport emailed: “There has been a flock of migrating birds at Compo Beach that I have been unable to identify. They are about half the size or smaller than our Canada Geese, have relatively long black necks and heads with a white ring on their neck about a third down from their head, white rumps, grey sides, and fly in a flock - not a V. I can't find anything like them in the books I've looked at. Can you help?”

I suggested they might be brant, and sent him a link to a page on the Cornell Ornithology Lab’s website. He responded:

"Thank you very much!!!! None of the books I looked at were any help other than finding that there were a range of Canada Geese sizes.

And finally this, which accompanied the photo above: “I took this picture of what I think is a Albino Chickadee in Coventry CT on 1-8-2012. I am not sure if this bird is uncommon in Connecticut or not. I have not seen one in the 45 years I have lived here.”

I forwarded the email to our bird experts and ... it turns out the gentleman from Coventry was just about right. It’s a leucistic chickadee, technically, rather than an albino, but close enough.

Got a bird question or identification problem? Let us know. We’ll try to help.

Tom Andersen
Director of Communications and Community Outreach

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