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Monday, May 16, 2011

Indigo Bunting



More than just this birds face is hidden.
I am so bad at bird identification. Thirty years ago, when I was a regular birder, I thought I was pretty good. But now that I am again trying to pay attention, I see that I am awful.  I have so much difficulty distinguishing between similar species.  
Names are important.  We want to know the name of birds we see. to do so adds to our "mastery" The more skill we have, the more names we know. That sentence can be reversed because to make it more of an ego thing: The more names we know, the more skill we (must) have.  
I see more to it than that, though. Knowing the name gives us a reference point, a common language that we use to learn more about the bird from others.  Knowing this brilliant blue bird is an Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea) helps me discuss it with other birders and lets me look it up online or in books.
This is the first Indigo bunting we have had in our yard in many years.  I used to be familiar with it and its call, but I have forgotten most of what I have known. This one seemed bigger than I remembered.  I wanted it to be a Blue grosbeak.  It wasn't.  I just didn't know. 
I read my books (I need a better one). The photos on my phone app are horrible, more like a picture from a coloring book.  My identification book said the Blue grosbeak had obvious buff wing bars.  What does "obvious" mean? I could see buff wing bars - they are right there at the top of its wings, aren't they? But are they "obvious?"  Evidently not.
I know that if I had both birds side-by-side I could tell which was which. I would know the grosbeak to be bigger with a much bigger bill and more "obvious" wing bars but these comparatives only work when there is more than one bird.  If I had previously seen a Blue grosbeak I would know this wasn't one. 
So, yes, knowing the name shows skill that comes with experience. Experience would have told me that this was Passerina cyanea, Indigo Bunting. But even experience isn't as good as friendship.  My friends on facebook identified it for me. I was finally convinced when Julie Zickefoose kindly dispelled my thoughts of grosbeaks.  
I am happy with the Indigo bunting. In fact there are more.  Friday, as I spread mulch, two barely missed me as they chased each other out of the woods into my garden.  I'm glad that when they flew by I knew who they were.

11 comments:

Michelle said...

We had an indigo bunting pair visit us the other day, too. I'd never seen them before so it was quite a thrill.

Jain said...

Beautiful.
I've read that the feathers are actually drab and that the blue we see is a trick of light. I don't believe it.

KaHolly said...

Oh, you are so lucky. Such beautiful birds!!

Κωστής Τζαγκαράκης said...

Beautiful bird. Great photographs.
Costas

mary said...

Thanks for sharing the pics. I have never seen one. I am learning so much about nature from you. I was thinking how to translate some of the colors into my quilts, and realized I just bought a blue that is perfect indigo bunting. Now, what to do with it?

Beyond My Garden said...

A couple cool facts about Indigo buntings: they migrate at night using the stars for guidance, and they really have no blue pigment in their feathers. it is a trick of refraction of light through the structure of their black feathers.
By-the-way, I set this up to post Monday morning, I'm not sure what happened.

Catherine@AGardenerinProgress said...

What a pretty bird, we don't see them here in the Seattle area. I know what you mean about trying to distinguish birds from what you read in a bird book versus what you see. I have seen a few birds in my yard that I still haven't figured out, illustrations to me aren't realistic enough and so many bird books use them. I'm still working on my birding skills too though.

Mia said...

I find your blue bird charming, what ever name one give it. Birdnames is not one of my specialities, I know but a few. But I do enjoy watching them, listing to their songs. Beautiful pictures :)

Rick said...

Beautiful captures, Nellie ! Whatever causes the blue - doesn't matter - it still looks BLUE !

I too rely on fellow bloggers with much more knowledge than me to identify things I see and post.

floweringmama said...

Beautiful blue! I've got Indigo's this year myself. First time ever!

Prairie Pond Woods said...

Nice close-ups of the Indigo Bunting! Isn't it nice to have such wildlife in our own backyards?