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November 10, 2008


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The Zen Birdfeeder

Westcoast birder - thanks for weighing in; I appreciate it! I think the Winter Wren and Blackpoll are emerging as certainties while the others may remain "unknown"...
Thanks again for visiting.

The Zen Birdfeeder

From Katie of the Erie PA Wild Birds Unlimited store:
Mystery birds are always fun. Here is what I've come up with for your remaining mysterious feathered visitors. I've tried to be as detailed as possible in my reasoning so you can check my arguments/thoughts against others you have recieved, plus your own notes.
Bird #5 - Fall Blackpoll Warbler. We get so many warblers through our backyard every spring and fall, and I admit, while I love the colors of warblers in spring, I live for the challenge of fall warblers. First glance narrows this guy into one group-the Fall Bay breasted/Blackpoll/ Pine complex. The quick and dirty method with this group is to look at the feet first. Luckily, your bottom picture shows off a foot - and even luckier for us, it's bright orange. Blackpolls are the only ones in that group that have that.
Bird #4 - A toss-up between Hermit and Swainson's. Thrushes are another group that we see a ton of in our yard, especially in the fall when they stop to fuel up on our wild grapes and bathe in our stream. We get everyone except for Bicknell's Thush like clockwork each fall. These pictures are little harder to work from - it seems like there is a yellowish cast to the light. Still, we can eliminate 2 thrushes pretty safely. It's spots are too heavy to be a Veery. The spots are not heavy enough and the overall color of the bird is not rich enough to be a Wood Thrush. So, that leaves us with Hermit, Gray-cheeked, and Swainson's. I'm eliminating Gray-cheeked off of the facial features - it's just not a Grey-cheeked face. Okay, Hermit vs. Swainson's. This is where your observations of the bird will come into play. The 1st shot of this guy shows what appears to me to show a rufuos patch on the rump, but tail color is hard to distinguish in this or the other pictures. If that area actually was the same olive-brown as the rest of the bird's back, then that can eliminate Hermit. However, if that is a rust patch, Hermit's is still in the game. The next thing to look at is the face. Swainson's usually have a distinguished buffy supraloral line (a line that runs above the lores from the beak to above the eye) that shows up pretty well, especially when you look at the bird head-on. ( http://erie.wbu.com/content/show/15616 Bottom picture here is a Swainson's facing the camera in our backyard. Picture is small, but the supraloral lines are very easy to see - makes it look like he's wearing a dark cap on his head.) Your 1st and 2nd pictures suggest a line, but it's not as strong as I would expect from a Swainson's. It is, however, much stronger then lines that Hermit's typically show. The yellow-cast light in all of the photos makes it hard to determine how much buffy wash he has on his sides and cheeks. If you thought he looked very buffy at the time you observed him, then I'd go with Swainson's, if it was hard to tell, then Hermit is still a possibility. The tail-cocking behavior is common to Hermit's, but the other thrushes may engage in that as well for balancing, so I tend to ignore that as a sole diagnostic. If it was pretty regular, though, and accompianied by wing-flicks, too, then it does suggest Hermit over Swainson's. One final thought on this bird comes in regards to the date these were photographed. Locally, Swainson's Thrushes usually migrate through our area before Hermits do. At home this year, we recorded Swainson's from September 14th- Oct 2nd. Hermits began showing up September 29th and ran through mid-October. So, timing-wise he may be a Swainson's...
Bird #3 - Winter Wren. Last photo has a great diagnostic mark - Winter's black butt. Super short and stubby tail also makes this a Winter Wren. I adore these guys; so small and round and energetic. I'm impressed this guy stayed in place long enough to be photographed!
Bird #2 - a juvenile sparrow, and again a toss-up. Eye stripe certainly suggests Chipping, especially if you had them around during summer. Was he really petite? He looks a bit clunky for a Chippy in these photos, but I know how deceptive shape can be if the bird fluffs it feathers and such. That pink bill, though, is much more characteristic of Field Sparrows. Young Field Sparrows are also streaky capped and streaky on the breasts, but they usually don't show as stong of an eye-line. Young Chippings can show some pink in their beak, but I don't think they have such bright, all-pink beaks. I don't have a sparrow book on hand to refer to, so I will have to get back to you on him.
Bird #1 - Got to love those baby birds. Old enough to leave the nest, not always far enough along to be in their typical juvie plumage. I think the Yellow-rumped is the best bet for this guy. Few young warblers are so heavily streaked. It also shows nice dark-tipped white tail spots, even with the tail half-hidden by the branch. Several warblers have tail spots like that, but their young aren't streaky like this guy is. And then there's the timing and location. This individual has to be the result of a local breeding population and there are /relatively/ few breeding warblers in your area and even fewer who would be streaky with white tail spots.
Hopes these explainations help!

westcoast birder

Nice blog and a pretty impressive yard list!

Here's what I think. hope it helps:
#2 Juvenile Chipping Sparrow
Most juvie sparrows will be heavily streaked, what is distinctive is the dark lores - the black stripe goes through the eye and touches the beak - distinctive to the Chippy.

#3 Winter Wren
The very short tail held nearly vertically in every picture was enough to clinch it for me. However, in pic 1 you can see the bill:short thin and needle-like. A House wren's would be thicker and more curved.

#5 Blackpoll Warbler (1st year). The lack of white stripes on the back rules out Blackburnian. The streaking on the breast sides, the impression of a being more white than buffy under the tail, and the general impression of color (more gray - less buffy) leads me to Blackpoll rather than Bay-Breasted.

The others: I either agree with your conclusions or have no firm basis to guess on.

Good Birding!

The Zen Birdfeeder

From Rich Guthrie by email:
Whew! Not so good photos to work from, but here goes:
# 1 don’t know;
#2 don’t know for sure – perhaps Chippie
#3 maybe Winter Wren – a clearer picture of the flanks would have helped;
#4 maybe Hermit Thrush – the picture seems to be color distorted with a yellow wash;
#5 maybe Blackpoll Warbler, a view of the legs and feet would help clinch it;
The rest OK.
Sorry I can’t nail them all down for you.

The Zen Birdfeeder

Thanks to everyone for your input. I've been updating the post when we reach a confirmation point but still need help on birds #1 through 5. Please continue to register your opinions.


I'm of no help on these. But would love your opinion on my warbler in Nov.10 post: http://vickiehenderson.blogspot.com/2008/11/sweet-encounters.html


I can see from the answers that you have given a good ID quiz!

Of course I have no idea what I am looking. I too must copy this idea from you do a post like this!


Further on Bird #9 - The clean yellow undersides and prominent eyering of this bird has me bothered in a way that only a bird-nerd can be. Not wanting to beat a dead bird, but not wanting to lead you astray either, I checked my bird software, and it does indeed show a NAWA with reddish legs and orangey feet. So I'm tending to lean towards that at present. Nice to know that they are in our area. We don't seem to be in much of a warbler migration route.

Brian McAllister


I'm thinking that #5 bird is a Pine Warbler, and #9 bird is a Nashville Warbler


Nancy - I see that others have opined that Bird #9 is a Nashville Warbler; however, my understanding is that a NAWA has rather blackish legs?

Lovely photos - you seem to get all the good birds. In future, I'll just have to bird near your house!

Hope Batcheller

Whoops...I withdraw my Hermit Thrush on bird number 4... It is a Swainson's.
For bird 1 - Yellow-rumped (at any age) should show a cleaner throat...not the grayish with light edges that this bird has. Yellow-rump's belly streaking should also be more limited...this bird's streaks go all the way across the belly, and all the way down. Somewhat similar bird: http://mariewin.server304.com/marieblog/uploaded_images/CALCAPE-763546.jpg


#1: Pine Siskin
#2: Chipping Sparrow
#3: Winter Wren
#4: Swainson's Thrush
#5: Blackpoll Warbler
#6: BH Vireo
#7: RC Kinglet
#8: Hermit Thrush
#9: Common Yellowthroat


1. juvenile Yellow-rumped Warbler
2. juvenile Chipping Sparrow
3. Winter Wren
4. Hermit Thrush
5. Pass on this one for now
6. Blue-headed Vireo
7. Ruby-crowned Kinglet
8. Hermit Thrush
9. Nashville Warbler


I'll give this a try!

#1 - no idea
#2 - It may be just the lighting in the photo, but the bill looks pale pink to me, suggesting Field Sparrow... on the other hand, the dark eye line is more characteristic of Chipping Sparrow! Not sure.
#3 - Short stubby tail: Winter Wren
#4 - Is the yellowish breast due more to the lighting than the true color of the bird? I don't think it's a Hermit Thrush; in fact, I wonder if it's a thrush at all. Tail-cocking behavior - could it be an Ovenbird?
#5 - no idea
#6, 7, 8 - I agree with what you have
#9 - Grayish head, white eye-ring, yellow undersides: Nashville Warbler


Here are my guesses (and they are only that):

1) ? - The lack of a whitish throat steers me away from Yellow-Rumped. The crescent under the eye reminds me of a Prairie, but have never had them up here.

2) Juvie and winter Chippings can have streaky crowns, so I'll go with that. Pinkish bill is interesting.

3) Winter Wren

4) Needs more thought! Swainson's can have a buffy forebreast but, again, I've never had them here. I think they prefer a different elev?

5) Blackpoll?

6) Blue-Headed Vireo

7) Ruby-Crowned Kinglet

8) Hermit Thrush

9) Common Yellowthroat. (I don't have them on the hill, but have heard them around the pond. They always look a little chunkier to me that most other warblers).

The Zen Birdfeeder

I sent this link to members of the Hudson-Mohawk Birds Yahoo Groups and here's what a couple have said so far. I'm still far from consensus on many so please still weigh in!

From Larry Alden, HMBirds
Here's my opinion on your birds:
#1 This could well be a juvenile Yellow-rump, but I've never seen one this young. It looks like what's depicted in Sibley.
#2 Probably a chippie, but the pink bill throws me a bit.
#3 Winter Wren
#4 Swainson's Thrush
#5 Blackpoll Warbler
#6 Blue-headed Vireo
#7 Ruby-crowned Kinglet - I wouldn't hazard a guess as to its sex, though.
#8 Hermit Thrush
#9 Nashville Warbler
I suggest you tally your results from others (Rich Guthrie is usually pretty good) before you accept all of my IDs, though I'm certain of most unless I've stated otherwise!

From Hope Batcheller, HMBirds
1. I'm tempted to say Cape May Warbler....
2. juvi Chipping Sparrow
3. House Wren (they can appear very short tailed, but a Winter Wren would look even stubbier - and darker)
4. Hermit Thrush
5. Blackpoll Warbler (note the "robust", and short-tailed look...many warblers look much daintier than Blackpolls)
6. Blue-headed Vireo
7. Ruby-crowned Kinglet (could be either male or female...the male's red crown is often hidden)
8. Hermit Thrush
9. Nashville Warbler
Nice pictures!

Connie Kogler

Love your site. Here are my comments on your bird photos.

#1 - I believe is an immature Yellow-rumped Warbler.

#2 - Chipping Sparrow.

#3 - Winter Wren.

#4 - I'm leaning toward Swainson's Thrush.

#5 - I believe that is a Blackpoll, my guess is it is a first winter male.

#6 - I'd agree with you - Blue-headed Vireo.

#7 - Yep, Ruby-crowned Kinglet.

#8 - Tough with the lighting here,but I think Hermit Thrush.

#9 - Nashville Warbler.


One and two have me stumped. 3 looks like a Winter Wren with all the barring and that stub of a tail. 6 is definitely a Blue-headed Vireo and 7 is definitely a Ruby-crowned Kinglet. 8 looks like a Hermit Thrush based on the contrasting cinnamon rump and the dark spots on the breast.

And 9 looks kind of like a Nashville Warbler, but I'm not super good with warblers.

Nice photos!

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