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1-7 June 2005
Installment #272b---Visitor #

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Part 2 (back to part 1)

If, like our friend, you had trouble identifying the "mystery bird" from full frontal view, allow us to present you with the bird in profile . . . and we'll even blow it up a little (below).

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

"Hmmm," our friend said again when viewing the bird from the side. "Now I can see it has white spots on its shoulder and on the tips of its wing covert feathers. And it has a BLUE tail.

"Unfortunately," our friend lamented, "this doesn't really help me at all. The only BLUE birds I know are Blue Jay, Eastern Bluebird, Blue Grosbeak, and Indigo Bunting, and this bird doesn't resemble any of them."

"Look again," we replied, "and think a little about bird taxonomy and what time of year it is."

"It's June," he said.

"What season?" we asked.

"Spring. Late spring."

"Good," we continued, "and what's going on in the bird world in late spring?"

"Well," the friend responded, "among other things late spring is when some young birds are already leaving the nest, so this could be some kind of fledgling."

"WHAT kind?" we asked.

"What do you mean?"

"Think about taxonomy," we replied.

"You mean think about birds that are related?" he asked.

"Yep." we encouraged. "Go on."

"Well, birds that are related have something in common," our friend correctly concluded. "Is that what you mean?"

"And so . . . ?"

"Well, let's see. You said I'd probably know what the bird was when it turned around, so it must have something to do with its blue tail that I couldn't see from the front. It's a young bird and its tail is blue, so maybe this bird is related to other species of birds with blue tails."

"It's not the tail you should be looking at," we said, steering our friend in a better direction.

"How about the shape of the bill, then?" he asked.

"Probably won't help," we responded.

"Is it the spots on the breast?" he asked.

"Now we're getting somewhere."

"Great," replied the friend with noticeable relief, "but the only birds I know with spotted breasts are Brown Thrasher and Wood Thrush, and they both have brown tails, not blue."

"Think about the Wood Thrush for a minute," we said, "from the standpoint of taxonomy."

"Okay," he started, "the Wood Thrush is related to . . . hmmmm . . . oh, yeah, I forgot about Swainson's Thrush . . . and Veery . . . and Gray-cheeked Thrush."

"You're right," we said, "and what family are they in?"


"Yes, along with what else?" we asked.

"Let's see," replied the friend. "The American Robin is also in the Turdidae."

"And what's another name for the Turdidae?"

"Spot-breasted thrushes?" our friend replied quizzically.


"But a robin doesn't have a spotted breast," our friend countered.

"What time of year did you say it is again?" we cautioned.

"Late spring. Oh, I see," the friend said with a hopeful glimmer of understanding. "Baby American Robins DO have spots on THEIR breasts" (see photo at right).

"Go on."

"So this spot-breasted bird outside the window actually IS a baby of some kind?" he asked.

"What kind?"

"Well, it's got a blue tail . . . Oh! I've GOT it! Bluebirds are ALSO in the Turdidae. This bird's a baby Eastern Bluebird!"

"You are exactly right," we responded. "The bird outside the window IS a spot-breasted thrush in the Turdidae, but some members of that family--American Robins and Eastern Bluebirds, for example--only have spots when they're young. When you asked 'What IS this bird?' our answer was 'You KNOW what it is,' and you did. It was just a matter of using the Socratic Method to 'pull' the answer out of you. It's a pretty safe bet you'll never again miss identifying a juvenile Eastern Bluebird . . . especially after we show you some close-up photos of a fledgling we caught last week here at Hilton Pond Center."

That's how our friend identified the "mystery bird," and now everybody knows the bird on the branch was a spot-breasted thrush--more specifically, an Eastern Bluebird, Sialia sialis. If we were to guess, the bird in question was a sibling of the one we banded last week and photographed in the hand (see above and below). In fact, several times this week we sighted a trio of recently fledged bluebirds drinking from a birdbath just below the dead dogwood branch, and one of them was indeed wearing a band. We look forward to capturing the two that aren't banded and, if we're lucky, holding them up to some inquisitive visitor at Hilton Pond Center and asking (as the first of many Socratic questions):

"What IS this bird?"

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

(Back to Part 1)

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Be sure to scroll down for an account of all birds banded or recaptured during the week, plus other nature notes of interest.

"This Week at Hilton Pond" is written & photographed
by Bill Hilton Jr., executive director of
Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History.

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Please report your
sightings of
Ruby-throated Hummingbirds


1-7 June 2005

Ruby-throated Hummingbird--4
Northern Cardinal--3
House Finch--17
Carolina Wren--1

* = New species for 2005

4 species
25 individuals

42 species
837 individuals

(since 28 June 1982)
124 species
46,144 individuals

(with original banding date, sex, and current age)

Carolina Wren (1)
07/01/04--2nd year male

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

This Week at Hilton Pond
is part of the

--After several days of rain, the skies finally cleared on 4 Jun and we were able to run a few mist nets at Hilton Pond Center. Lo and behold, we caught two unbanded Ruby-throated Hummingbirds--the first in nearly a month and only the sixth and seventh of the year. (The most recent captures were back on 7 May.) One of today's birds was an adult male with full red gorget, but the other was particularly interesting; a recently fledged male with a throat streaked with light gray, a very yellow gape, and a bill not quite fully grown. This young bird-of-the-year was of interest because it is earlier by five days than the earliest fledgling ever banded at the Center. Previous records were for 9 Jun, including a male in 2000 and a female in 1994. After complaining about our cool, wet, windy spring and lamenting that the weather might impact negatively on nesting success, we now have to think about how this youngster was able to survive. He must have had a very attentive mother.

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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.

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