Eva was jumping up and down, pointing at a medium-sized light blob on a near-by lightpost.
“Wow, what a great bird to start our day!” she enthused. We had just met up to go birding, and hadn’t even left the parking lot yet. I grabbed my binos and squinted harder at the blob.
“Um, do you think that could be a camera?” I suggested. “I don’t think it’s the right shape to be a falcon, and it hasn’t moved… plus this isn’t exactly prime falcon habitat.”
“No, no, I’m sure it’s a Prairie Falcon! See the stripe through its eye?”
While we aren’t usually as confident as my friend Eva, most of us have at one time or another identified an inanimate object as a bird. Rather than allowing these errors to lead to a potential loss of status with our birding buddies, I’d like to propose an alternate approach. Why not assign the more common objects a species name and add them to our life lists. Here are some suggestions to start us off.
Closely related to the Wide–eyed Camerabird Eva saw in the parking lot, the Knob-headed Insulator is another small raptor usually found perched on high tension wires. They sit for hours without moving a muscle, waiting for their prey to come into range. Then, they swoop down on unsuspecting mice, baby ground squirrels, and other small rodents. Ornithologists believe that Insulators build their camouflaged nests in near-by treetops, where they raise only one or two young per season.
If you’ve spent any time in a riparian habitat, you’ve probably seen the Pepsi-Coke Wader, a member of the Literbird family. The adults waders are about the size of a football, although more elongated, with a narrow neck and more robust body. The young leave the nest before they are fully grown, typically when about half the size of the adults.
Colors range from green to clear, probably due to natural selection. Scientists are studying the possible relationship between color and habitat, with the green waders expected to be concentrated in areas with more foliage. These are fairly secretive birds, and little is known of their habits. The presence of gravel mixed with grasses and algae in their stomachs points to a plant-based diet.
Waterounzes are closely related to Literbirds, but are much smaller and are always clear. They can be found in all habitats, from city parks to the most pristine wilderness. One species of Waterounze, the Blunt-nosed Nestler, has a sky-blue band around its upper body.
It was originally thought that the Lager Bottlebill was also related to the Literbirds. However, more careful observation revealed that, while they share the same shape, their plumages are strikingly different. Waders have flexible feathers, enabling them to live where rushing streams might otherwise injure them. Bottlebills are fragile and must avoid rocky areas. This is why they’re more often seen in the tall grass alongside back roads. Bottlebills are also somewhat smaller, and are usually dark green or an amber brown in color. (Clear Bottlebills are occasionally spotted, and are considered a fairly rare mutation.)
Probably the most abundant new species is the ubiquitous Filmy Bagger. Found over most of the country, they are especially common in urban areas. Preferred habitats include highways, parking lots, and (on windy days) fences and treetops. They love to spread their wings to catch the sun, and are most often found in this stance.
Many individuals are white while others are a light gray, enabling them to blend in better with their cement-and-blacktop environment. A few come in other colors. There is much discussion regarding taxonomy. The “lumpers” consider them all one species, as they usually flock together, While the “splitters” believe that the different plumages and sizes indicate a multitude of species. More studies are needed to make a final determination.
I’ll be featuring more suggestions in future posts, giving us many new “birds” to watch for and record. Just think of the Big Year potential! In the meantime, what candidates for new species do you propose?