Friday, June 26, 2009


I saw an odd-looking bird at Paul Rushing Park yesterday and just couldn't work out what it was.

After poring over Sibley, I decided the closest match was a Dickcissel, a bird I haven't seen yet this year. To check, I posted photos on and asked for help.

I was embarrassed when several people immediately replied "Female Red-winged Blackbird," a bird that I often see and that's really nothing at all like a Dickcissel.

So how did I go so wrong? Well, my first mistake was to be hoping for a Dickcissel and therefore willing the "mystery" bird to be one. But my real mistake was to focus on specific fieldmarks rather than looking at the bird as a whole. If I'd done the latter, I'd have noticed right away that the bird was way too big for a Dickcissel; it was almost the size of the Eastern Kingbird which was sitting a few feet away. I would also have noticed the beak and the breast streaking were not right for a Dickcissel. Instead, I got obsessed with the head and throat markings. Memo to self: Look at the whole before focusing on the details.

It isn't the first time I've been led astray by a female Red-winged. For some reason, I just can't seem to store their image in my memory and I'm almost always confused when they appear. Perhaps I should start assuming that every streak-breasted bird is a female Red-winged until I can prove that it isn't.


grannyblt said...

Last month a birder friend and I tried to make a first year male Orchard Oriole into a warbler. We were hoping to find warblers and didn't recognize the obvious.

Jeff said...

Hi, grannyblt. Last weekend I almost did the exactly the same thing as you!

Stephanie said...

As you will see in a past entry...I mistook a female redwing as a young redwing. I chalked it up to still being quite the rookie, but now I see it can just happen. I visit frequently. I was reading one of the 'birding hallucination' threads. I guess the poster thought he saw something through his bins & his birding buds asked (while looking in their own bins), "where is it in relation to the orange pop can?" lol! Gotta love it!