15-21 January 2001

Part 1

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Identifying the
"Stubby-tailed Squeaky Toy"

Novices often ask experienced birders how they are able to identify birds so quickly. For most of us, the answer would simply be "Practice." Nonetheless, the best birders are probably born, not made, for they have keen eyes and ears and encyclopedic minds that are able to absorb and recall instantly the nuances of bird behavior and appearance and habitat; the rest of us simply have to work at it constantly, poring over our field guides, learning and re-learning year after year the subtle differences between warbler songs or duck plumages.

So here's a little test. Listed below are 19 characteristics of a relatively common Piedmont bird that was trapped and banded this week at Hilton Pond Center. The list is constructed so the further you go down the list, the more likely it is you'll be able to name the bird. The challenge is to make the identification before you get to the end of the list.

When you think you know the answer, click on the question marks at right to go to a new page and photo that will verify your educated guess.

1. Measures about 4" long
2. Occurs primarily in southeastern U.S.
3. Usually found in pine woods
4. Sociable, often occurs in small flocks
5. Takes suet and black sunflower seeds at feeders
6. Nests "semi-colonially"
7. Gleans insects from bark and cones
8. Nest in cavities, sometimes in birdhouses
9. Sexes are similar in appearance
10. Relatively long beak is straight
11. Legs are short, but toes are long
12. Tail is stubby
13. Call resembles a baby's "squeaky toy"
14. Often forages head-down on trees
15. Has gray wings and back
16. Breast is white and unmarked
17. May use a "tool" when feeding
18. Nape of neck has white spot
19. Species name means "very small"
20. Wears a cap of brown in all seasons


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Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History is a non-profit research & education organization in York, South Carolina USA; phone (803) 684-5852. Directed by Bill Hilton Jr., aka The Piedmont Naturalist, it is the parent organization for Operation RubyThroat. Contents of this Web site--including articles and photos--may NOT be duplicated, modified, or used in any way except with the express written permission of Hilton Pond Center. All rights reserved worldwide. To obtain permission for use or for further assistance on accessing this Web site, contact the Webmaster.