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Blog Nature

Look Twice

Yellow rumped warbler sits in black willow.
Yellow-rumped warbler in black willow.

With many species, you don’t have to see much of a bird to identify it. The yellow-rumped warbler in the photo above is but one of several species of warbler with a patch of yellow feathers in the same location as this bird; magnolia, palm, and Cape May warblers are three others. The yellow-rumped is the only one you’re likely to see here in central North Carolina at this time of year. Cape May and palm warblers are possible, but not likely. And, the yellow-rumped warbler’s yellow rump really sticks out, more often than not the bird’s buttery butt is obvious as the bird shoots in and out of the brush.

Yellow-rumped warblers have the ability to switch-over and become, at least part-time, frugivores during cold spells when insects, its normal food preference, are not as abundant as the birds would probably like. But this is not about yellow-rumped warblers. It’s about the bird in the next two photos.

I was standing on the Main Wetlands Overlook waiting for yellow-rumped warblers to come in to feed on the wax myrtle fruit next to the overlook. There were a couple of mixed flocks of small birds hanging out with the warblers, nuthatches, kinglets, chickadees, and a few others. I was taking pot-shots of any bird that came within range of my modest camera equipment and hoping to get a few “good” shots for the blog. I’d focus on movement in the shrubs and hope a bird came into full view to be photographed. Sometimes, it works. More often, you get a bunch of out of focus birds obscured by branches and twigs, like the ones displayed here.

Even so, you can still identify each bird in the photos, though you can’t see the whole bird. The yellow-rumped in the top photo is an obvious, big, bright yellow rump. The other bird, the bird in the two photos in the text of this post, while not perhaps as obvious, can still be identified quite easily.

Bird sits in black willow
Unidentified bird in the flock.

When I took the photos I thought the bird was a yellow-rumped warbler. It’s about the same size as a yellow-rumped warbler. It wasn’t till later when I viewed the photo on the camera’s LCD screen that I realized it was a pine siskin. The streaking on the breast and sides, and brown finely streaked head help sort out the difference as does the almost shrew-like eye of the bird. To me, siskins seem to have small eyes, probably due to lack of eye-ring or eye-line to accentuate the eye. But what really clinches it is the notched tail and finely tipped bill (second photo).

Bird sits in black willow
Along with the streaking, the fine-tipped bill and notched tail says siskin.

Now, siskins are not rare in this area, in fact, they’re sometimes quite common in winter here in the Piedmont. And, as you can see, they’re quite easy to identify, if you take the time to look. I wonder what else was in that loose flock of birds?