Saturday, October 17, 2015

Guess Who's Coming For Breakfast!

This morning my husband and I had breakfast with a new friend.

While my husband fixed the omelettes for our breakfast (yes, he cooks—and is quite good at it, too!), I went outside to adjust some of the sprinkler heads that had been malfunctioning.  As I stood on the patio watching to see that the sprinklers were all spraying in the right direction, I noticed a small grey/brown bird perched on one of my planters, hunting for his/her breakfast.  Since I had been standing very still, I guess the bird had decided that I was just another part of the environment and he/she eventually perched on a small arbor only about two feet from me at eye level.  We stared at each other for quite a while, and then the bird went on with its hunting.

He came and perched on our patio chairs (Photo: Gay Schroer)

By now breakfast was ready and we decided to eat on the patio, as I had been telling my husband about this bold little bird.  As we ate our breakfast, the bird landed on one of the other chairs at the table.  Needless to say, we sat very still and waited to see what it would do (all the while with me cursing inwardly because I hadn’t grabbed my camera before coming outside). 

The bird flitted back and forth between the chairs and eventually landed on my husband’s head and began to “forage” in his hair (with a few “OWs!” on my husband’s part).  At that point I was really kicking myself for not grabbing the camera!  The bird then flew off to forage elsewhere, and I immediately went into the house for my camera and my Sibley Guide To Birds.

...and then he hopped onto my Sibley Guide to Birds (Photo: Gay Schroer)

Of course, I figured that with camera and bird book in hand we would see no more of this little bird.  As I began to leaf through my Sibley’s to try to identify him, to our surprise, the bird actually returned to the table.  I immediately began taking pictures, and to my further surprise, he landed on the open Sibley’s as if to say “Look—how can I make it any easier for you?” 

He decided to forage in some strange brown "grass" (Photo: Art Schroer)

As a final curtain call he landed on the back of my chair, and then flitted up onto my head.  I slyly passed the camera to my husband who took a few shots of this rare occurrence.  After a while the bird flew off to hunt elsewhere.

Then began the scramble to identify our little friend.  Cardinals, Bluejays, Robins, and other more commonly seen birds are pretty easy to identify—not so much the multitude of small brown or gray birds that many casual birdwatchers lump into the category of LBJs (little brown jobs).

At first I thought it might be an Eastern Wood-Peewee, but then realized that unlike the Peewee, this bird did not have a pronounced eye ring.  He did have the “vest” and pale yellow breast feathers, but our friend’s bill was totally black, unlike the Pewee’s yellow bill. 

The Olive-sided Flycatcher caught my interest for a while, but 7.5” seemed too large, and again, there was no trace of yellow in our friend’s bill. 

Could it be an Acadian Flycatcher?--No—they have an eye ring and a yellow bill.  How about a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher?--Again—the lack of an eye ring and  yellow bill on our little bird ruled out this species.  Willow Flycatcher?--Same problem.

He hung around for quite a while, checking out everything on the table (Photo: Gay Schroer)

Finally, my search stopped at the Eastern Phoebe—probably a juvenile because of the pale dusting of yellow on the breast.  Black bill?—Check, Black legs?—Check, Pale yellow on the breast?—Check, Dark head?—Check.  An almost indistinguishable eye ring at the lower edge of the eye only?—Check,  Dark smudge on the upper sides of the breast?—Check.  The only questionable point was the size.  Sibley’s says the bird measures 7” long.  We had been guesstimating 5.5”—but then, it’s pretty hard to measure a bird which is definitely not going to stand still for us to take a measurement.  I believe we have a winner in the Eastern Phoebe!

The moral of this story is that if you like watching the birds, and want to know what it is you’re seeing, the best investment you can make is a good bird identification book.  Almost every serious birdwatcher I know owns a Sibley’s Guide to Birds.

So, the next time you visit the World Bird Sanctuary, if you don’t have a really good bird I.D. book, check out our Raptique Gift Shop.  We have the Sibley Guide to Birds, plus a number of other good guidebooks for sale.  Even if you don’t need one for yourself, perhaps there is a bird lover on your Christmas list who would be thrilled to receive a good Bird I.D. book.

Submitted by Gay Schroer, World Bird Sanctuary Volunteer/

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