New Birds: A Proposal

Last August I posted my suggestion that we add inanimate objects to our life lists. For some reason, my idea didn’t meet with the enthusiasm I had hoped for. Still, I think it has merit. Birders love to catalog things, and think of all the different kinds of beer cans, water bottles, plastic bags, and similar items we can enjoy identifying and collecting.

In any case, I’m not giving up. Perhaps we balk at trash and rocks, but how about other living objects we might mistakenly perceive as birds? Surely we can consider such additions as…

…the Aspen Flutterer (shown above). Anyone who lives in Colorado has definitely seen these bright yellow songbirds. Their quaking behavior resembles that of hyperactive Yellow Warblers, but they tend to stay more or less in one spot. Sadly, we can only glimpse these from a distance. Try to approach them and they disappear into the foliage, becoming impossible to distinguish from the leaves.

The Cottonwood Flutterer is a closely-related species, but as you might surmise, they prefer to hang out in large cottonwoods. These birds are slightly larger, and a bit more sedate, than the Aspen Flutterers—a bit like the difference between warblers and vireos. Both these species are migratory; they are only abundant along the Front Range in the fall.

Another species you have probably seen around town is the Rough-breasted Wood-hawk. These medium-sized raptors (averaging about 15 inches in height) spend much of their time in deciduous trees, where they perch on large branches. With lighter plumage than the surrounding bark, they can be identified by their shaggy feathers, reminiscent of splintered wood. While the literature on these birds is limited, I believe them to be nocturnal, as I have never seen one in flight. They are most commonly found in spring after a severe wind storm.

Take a walk in the spring woods and you’re likely to hear a loud chattering coming from the treetops. That’s the raucous mating call of the Pine Rat-bird. With plumage in shades of gray or brown, a lighter breast, feathery ear-tufts, and a long tail, these birds are well camouflaged. They eat the pine nuts, acorns, and fungus that abound in the forest, but will enthusiastically consume corn nuts, Fritos, and any other junk food that tourists might offer. Their lack of fear is astounding, but their abundant population is proof that they breed faster than they get eaten.

My last species isn’t found in Colorado, but I checked off a number of them on a recent trip to Washington. The Kelp-bobber is found all along the Pacific coast from northern California to Alaska. They congregate along rocky shores in coves and inlets, keeping company with where large flocks happily sit on the surface for hours. In areas of breaking surf, they dive under the waves, popping up again after the breaker passes. They are usually found in the company of other BBB’s (Bobbing Black Blobs), just out of range of your best scope. Kelp-bobbers have stubby beaks suited for a diet consisting mainly of brown algae (also known as seaweed), although a bird may nab a random crustacean if it wanders within range.

Well, those are today’s proposed additions to the North American species list. I look forward to padding supplementing my life list with these and many others.

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