Three Birds

Top Photo: Gray catbird.

If the catbird in the photos looks a bit disheveled, it’s because it’s molting. By the time it’s ready to migrate south it’ll be neat and trim.

Catbirds arrive at the museum by mid April each year. By mid October, most are gone. I’ve seen catbirds on campus in mid winter, but it’s the exception, not the rule.

In the photo below you can see the rust colored feathers under the tail which are often overlooked in descriptions of the bird (and a bit messy in this molting catbird). They’re essentially an all gray and black bird, but they have a rust colored crissum or undertail coverts.

Catbird showing colorful, if messy, undertail coverts.

Coverts are feathers which cover the bases of other larger feather groups on a bird. There are primary coverts and secondary coverts. Each covers the bases of the flight feathers on the wings, the bases of the primaries and the bases of the secondaries of the wing. On the tail, there are uppertail coverts and undertail coverts. Each covers and protects the bases of the tail feathers above and below, respectively.

I first saw the bird as it jumped to the ground in the brush off to the side of the path near the new, yet to open, prairie trail in Catch the Wind. Even with such a quick glimpse, I could see the bird was mostly olive-colored above and yellow below. It seemed to have long legs. And, I thought I saw a distinct light colored ring around its eye. Could this be a Connecticut warbler?

I haven’t seen a Connecticut warbler in years. I don’t do as much birding as I used to and Connecticut is not a reliable bird to see on migration anyway.

The bird then hopped out onto the mulch in a nearby garden and up and over some plant stems revealing its undertail coverts (remember, from the catbird above?). Connecticut warblers tend to have long, yellow undertail coverts. This bird had long yellow undertail coverts. Hmmm.

Arrow points to long, bright yellow undertail coverts.

Then the bird poked out from under the coneflower leaves it had been under and showed its true colors. It had a bright yellow throat. No self respecting Connecticut warbler has a bright yellow throat, and the eye-ring, which a Connecticut warbler does have, was not as prominent as I had originally thought.

Yellow throat and no eye-ring make this a common yellowthroat.

It was a female common yellowthroat, a warbler yes, but not a skulking, brush-hugging, elusive and much sought after Connecticut warbler. Oh well, next time.

Local residents, like the catbird above, green herons will be departing for points south next month. But, for the next few weeks you can enjoy them in our wetlands. The one in the photo was fishing from an experimental floating dock on the north side of the habitat. If you don’t see one, they sometimes reveal themselves with a loud piercing keyow call.

Green heron.

I’ve seen green herons at the museum during winter, but like the catbird above, that’s the exception. They tend to leave the area during the colder months.

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