Utah Birds, Utah Birding, and Utah Birders. Promoting the sharing of information, and the conservation of habitat for birds in Utah and elsewhere. We are a group of people who want to share what we know, and create a positive birding experience in Utah.


a blog by and for Utah Birders

Hybrid Ferruginous x Red-tailed Hawk

posted by Jerry Liguori at
on Wednesday, March 30, 2011 

I spend most of my weekends wandering around Wayne County looking for birds (or just about anything else) to photograph. There were lots of raptors in the valley this past winter, far more than in the two previous winters. There is little traffic and we usually have the roads to ourselves. Tammy Lyman is my partner in this endeavor. Upon seeing a hawk in the distance, we prepare our cameras and approach slowly trying not to startle the bird. As we get close enough, I turn the pickup and hit the brakes with the hope of finding the bird in the viewfinder before it flies. If the bird flies, we move on in search of others. Occasionally we see birds in flight and Tammy will take the wheel while I hang out the window trying to find it in the viewfinder. If I can get the bird in the viewfinder, I have a reasonably good chance of getting a photo in focus.

On March 5th of this year Tammy and I were driving south on Highway 24 between Lyman and Bicknell and saw a Red-tailed Hawk sitting on a pole. I pulled off the side of the road and Tammy said, “there’s another one coming in.” I turned my attention to the bird in flight and snapped several frames before it landed by the Red-tail. I remarked to Tammy that it was odd to see a Ferruginous and Red-tail on the same pole. Both birds took off, so I followed the Ferruginous (or so I thought) with the camera since it was closer, and in all, I was able to get 21 frames of it (two of which are above, "click" to enlarge).

They were just more in a long list of reasonably good photos, but nothing to hang on the wall. Of course, that’s the goal, to get one that begs to be printed and hung on the wall. A few of the images were good enough to post to my Flickr account and I thought nothing more about it, until Jerry Liguori contacted me on March 27th, and said, “When I saw this photo on your flickr site after reading your Turkey Vulture post, my jaw dropped!!!!! I bet you are aware of this, the bird is a Red-tail x Ferrug hybrid. I am interested to hear more about it if you'd like to share.” I was not aware of that. I just thought it was a variant of sorts.

Thank you Jerry for looking at my Flickr photos and thank you for pointing this out to me. Bottom line for me is, these rare experiences make this incredible hobby that much more incredible. Can’t wait for the weekend to get out again. Maybe I’ll find something else that is rare, and if I’m really lucky, maybe someone will even point it out to me.

Steve Christensen

Hybridization between two separate raptor species is rare, but does occur. Typically, hybrids are the result of two similar species (from the same family) breeding together. I am aware of one Ferruginous / Red-tail mated pair in Utah with nestlings, one documented Ferruginous x Red-tail hybrid (which appears to be this same bird, but lack information regarding it), and several falconry hybrids. What makes this bird a hybrid and not a pure Red-tailed Hawk or Ferruginous Hawk? Simply put, the mixed traits of both species.

Overall the bird shows rufous underwing coverts, rufous leggings, and a prominent yellow gape like a Ferruginous Hawk. However, the tail pattern is red with multiple black bands and a broad sub-terminal band like a Red-tailed Hawk. Some Ferruginous Hawks can have nearly all-red tails but they lack symmetrical bands (pg. 67 Hawks From Every Angle, pg. 90 Hawks at a Distance). The remiges (primaries and secondaries) are Red-tail-like showing obvious banding, a broad, dark sub-terminal, and prominent dark wing tips. The brown color to the head is more similar to Red-tailed Hawk as well, adult Ferruginous have a slightly paler brownish, or grayish head. The bird lacks the dark brownish-black patagial marks that Red-tailed Hawk shows. The wing shape seems a bit lengthy and slim for a Red-tail and more like a Ferruginous Hawk, but that is subjective, difficult to say from the photos, and possibly inaccurate.

Jerry Liguori

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Lesser Sandhill Crane?

posted by Ryan O'Donnell at
on Sunday, March 27, 2011 

While out this afternoon, I photographed a Sandhill Crane in Benson, Cache County, Utah that was significantly smaller than its 20 or so companions. I've been under the impression that the only subspecies of Sandhill Crane expected in Utah is Greater (Grus canadensis tabida). This one looked to me like a Lesser Sandhill Crane (G. c. canadensis). However, I don't know whether I've ever seen the third migratory subspecies, Canadian Sandhill Cranes (G. c. rowani), which are intermediate in size between Greaters and Lessers. eBird is of little help here because apparently no Sandhill Crane records from Utah in eBird have been identified to subspecies. Does anyone know anything about subspecies of Sandhill Crane in Utah? Does this (left-most bird) look like a Lesser to you?

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Hawks at a Distance: A Review

posted by Tim Avery at
on Saturday, March 26, 2011 

In book stores today...

The ultimate must-have guide for identifying raptors”… I think that line from the back cover pretty much sums up how I feel about Jerry Liguori’s new book, Hawks at a Distance. It is a reference, it is a field guide, and it is as David Sibley calls it, “a gold mine of information”. If you have any interest in hawk watching you need this book.

Just picking up a copy of the book and from the front cover you are already entranced. A beautiful full frame shot of a Red-shouldered Hawk graces 2/3 of the front cover. Down the right hand side, the other 1/3 are thumbnails of 6 other wide ranging hawks and falcons. That Red-shouldered Hawk is the money-shot though. It is crisp, colorful, and makes you want to open up and see what Jerry has to say.

Pete Dunne’s foreword covers over 100 years of birding history and speaks to the advances in birding and identification over the years. He ends by saying, “Now that Hawks at a Distance is available to today’s ‘students of birds,’ the world beyond the horizon is about the only place that a raptor that aspires to remain anonymous can hope to hide.” How Poignant!

Jerry himself will tell you that you can not identify every bird you see. It is just about impossible. I agree with that. At the same time this book is providing a tool to help identify a number of distant birds that you otherwise may not have been able to identify. This leaves only the birds “beyond the horizon” from your ability to ID. But thus far these are just praises about words and the cover. What about the meat and potatoes? What about the content—the plates and the copy?

In the introduction Jerry gives some helpful hints, talks about terminology, optics, photography, and a number of other hawk watching related topics. He wraps up with a table showing the timetable of raptor migration by species in the spring and fall. It’s a helpful start for even seasoned birders—a nice refresher and a perspective specifically related to hawks. One of the key points that Jerry mentions is that in this book is that the plates are presented in a way that shows the hawks at a distance (like the title wasn’t enough). This is important because when you open to p.18 and see the first set of Sharp-shinned Hawk images you are going to see specks.

Most plates show the birds at about ¼” height or smaller. Each plate has 6 images from various angles and lighting. Each is accompanied by a paragraph explaining how these images will be helpful in identifying these birds in the field. It’s simple, it’s to the point, and it’s just about perfect. The images are like what you would see peering through your binoculars from Bountiful Peak on a crisp fall morning.

Despite the small size of this guide (just under 200 pages), it is packed with more than 500 color photos in the plates. The sheer volume of these images is impressive and gives such varying images that it covers most possibilities for what you might see hawk watching (in terms of species, angles, and variants).

Every set of plates is accompanied by an intro to the species with a full color image and up to a couple pages of species specific information. Read these! This book has a wealth of knowledge and these pages contain some great information.

After the plates there are 19 pages of “shapes”. Almost 900 black-and-white silhouettes were used to create what is perhaps one of the coolest features of the book. I can’t even describe how cool it is—only a sneak peak will do:

Now times that by 19 and you get the idea.

Some critics will complain that the book doesn’t cover every species of raptor in the United States. Those critics failed to read the introduction, and understand what this book is for. Others will complain about the size of the images—again the point will have been missed.

For what this book was created for I do not have anything bad to say about it. I don’t have critiques, I don’t have complaints, and I don’t see a way to improve the topic at hand. It truly is a revolutionary guide and will certainly be a tool for teaching many a hawk watcher in the coming years. I would tell even the most seasoned of birders to add this to their collection. I can’t count the times I have seen a hawk far out that I have been unsure of the ID because I didn’t understand some of the specifics of that species shape. This book is the answer.

Thank you Jerry for putting out another fantastic book, and a guide that will surely be one of, if not the most influential hawk watching guide ever. I look forward to putting it to use, and hope others follow suit!

If you didn't pre-order your copy, you can pick one up on Amazon today, and have it as soon as Monday: Hawks at a Distance

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Accipiter Behavior

posted by Jerry Liguori at
on Thursday, March 24, 2011 

One of the tips for identifying Cooper’s Hawk from Sharp-shinned Hawk is that Sharp-shinned Hawk may cock its tails up in certain conditions, whereas Cooper’s does not exhibit this behavior. Yes, it is true that almost every accipiter you see with its tail in this posture will be a Sharp-shined Hawk, but I have mentioned several times in the past “no field mark or behavior is 100% reliable”, and “a combination of traits makes an I.D.” Note in the photo above, both the juvenile Sharp-shinned (left) and juvenile Cooper’s (right) have the tail cocked upward. This is rare on Cooper’s, but it does happen.

There are several other traits normally associated with telling Cooper’s from Sharp-shinned that are not even close to 100% reliable. Some are not worth mentioning since they are often difficult or impossible to see in the field. However, the extent of the streaking on underbody, and the shape of the tail tip are worth mentioning. It is often said that the streaking to the underbody of juvenile Sharp-shinned is more prominent than that of Cooper’s, but this is not always true. There are many Cooper’s Hawks that are more heavily marked below than typical Sharp-shinneds. Also, the tail tip on Cooper’s is usually rounded compared to the square-tipped tail on Sharp-shinned. But, many Sharp-shinned Hawks (especially juvenile females) show rounded tail tips. Both of these features are shown in Hawks From Every Angle and Hawks at a Distance so I won’t clog the blog with multiple photos.

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And the winner is...

posted by Tim Avery at
on Tuesday, March 22, 2011 

Congratulations to Paul Barrus who was one of 17 people who correctly identified the hawk from yesterdays quiz. Paul will receive a copy of Jerry Liguori's new book, Hawks at a Distance. Thanks to everyone that participated, we will try to do another giveaway soon.

Now, as for the identification--Jerry Liguori has provided the answer below:

Our quiz bird is a juvenile dark-morph Broad-winged Hawk photographed at the Goshute Mountains, NV in late September 2011. I'd like to stress that shape is the first thing to look at in the field on dark-morph buteos, since the plumage of dark buteos is so similar to each other. Sometimes there are differences that can be obvious, but be careful. Note the overall stocky wing shape that lacks any bulges and the pointed wing tips. A tricky one to age since the tail is adult-like (but not quite), and the dark trailing edge to the wings is apparent, which many juvenile dark birds exhibit (but not as broad or defined as on adults, a bit more "smudgy"). Remember that before you jump the gun on ageing dark Broad-winged Hawks in the field, any hawk watcher could be fooled by this one...but not anymore.


Thanks Jerry for the great answer and book; and good Hawk Watching to all!

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The Great Return (Part 1 of Many)

posted by Jeff Bilsky at

Every Spring as birds begin to come back from their winter adventures I can't help but get excited. It's ridiculous. I can't possibly contain it in words, but when I saw my first flock of Swallows at Quail Creek Reservoir this weekend, I might as well have just gotten a direct shot of endorphins to the brain (I'm sure I did). It's pure magic that these birds were far away, out of sight for months and are now back. To me, the thrill of birding encompasses the story that surrounds them. I don't know where they've been, I don't know where they'll end up, but in that moment I'm a witness to something amazing. This is what keeps me coming back for more. It's crazy how one day you'll look at a tree and it's empty save a House Finch or two and the next it will be alive with more migrants than you can count.

May 7, 1852: The first summer yellowbirds on the willow causeway. The birds I have lately mentioned come not singly, as the earliest, but all at once, i.e. many yellowbirds all over town. Now I remember that the yellowbird comes when the willows begin to leave out. So yellow. They bring summer with them and the sun... - Henry David Thoreau

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Hawks at a Distance Giveaway is Over

posted by Tim Avery at

Thanks to everyone that submitted answers for a chance to win Jerry Liguori's new book, Hawks at a Distance. We are going to review the answers and draw a winner tonight and will announce the winner along with the answer to the quiz bird tomorrow morning!

Thanks for participating, hopefully we will be able to do this again soon!

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Win a copy of "Hawks at a Distance"

posted by Utah Birders at
on Monday, March 21, 2011 

Can you identify the bird in the picture below?

The Utah Birders have a copy of Jerry Liguori's new book Hawks at a Distance that we are going to give away. It's your chance to get your hands on a copy of the book before it goes on sale to the public.

Entering to win is easy!

Simply look at the picture above and if you think you know the identity click on the link below to enter the contest by providing your name, your email, the answer to the quiz bird above, and if you would like, a brief explanation of why. If you submit the correct answer you will be entered into a drawing for the book.

The only kicker is that this contest is only going to last 24 hours! Your answer must be received no later than 9:00pm Mountain Time on Tuesday, March 22, 2010. We will announce the winner and an explanation of the quiz bird the following morning and the winner will have their copy as fast as we can get it to them!

Comments have been disabled for this post.


Thanks to everyone who participated.
This giveaway is over!

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Swainson's Hawks

posted by Jerry Liguori at
on Friday, March 18, 2011 

I was outside the other day and saw my first kettle of hawks for the spring...it prompted me to get back to blogging about raptors. Swainson's Hawks will start showing up in Utah soon, and I thought I would share a little tip on one aspect of ageing them in flight. Of course there are other ways to age Swainson's Hawks, but this is just a note to share. Check out the contrast between the dark flight feathers and the pale body on the adult (left) versus the juvenile (right). Adults have a much higher contrast to the underside than juveniles and this is a good mark to look for on distant birds. Also note the dark tail tip and full "bib" of this adult.

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Purple Finch in Utah?

posted by Tim Avery at
on Wednesday, March 16, 2011 

On Tuesday morning as I stumbled into the living room still half asleep I took a quick glance out the windows and noticed that there were a group of Cassin's Finches feeding below the feeders. I grabbed my camera and returned and as soon as I had the 4 birds on the ground in my view finder I noticed one didn't look quite right. For starters it was covered in a yellow-green wash; it lacked any eye-ring or partial eye-ring; the bill appeared to have a curved culmen, and was shorter than would be expected (in comparison) on Cassin's Finches; and it had blurry streaks over most of its body.

One of the first shots, with the presumed Purple Finch on the left
and the Cassin's Finch on the right.

Needless to say it wasn't a typical Cassin's Finch. I have always looked for Purple Finch in Utah and began to think this individual might be a western/Pacific form of the Purple Finch. I moved to my office and set up my camera to get "better" pictures. The birds flew off but returned shortly after with the "odd-ball" continuing to feed on the ground alongside Cassin's and House Finches. The light wasn't great but I got a couple of okay shots with the flash.

Presumed Purple Finch in front of a House Finch.

I sent the pictures to ID Frontiers to get some opinions, and got mixed responses (as often with ID Frontiers)--some for and some against Purple Finch. I think the one thing that I always find amusing when I receive comments like, "I wouldn't have looked at this bird twice.." or "this is without a doubt..." or "there is no reason this isn't...". I find it amusing because why would I bother asking for opinions if there wasn't something odd about the bird. In the case of this individual it had a mixed bag of odd fieldmarks separate from the common counterpart found in Utah (Cassin's Finch). It's only when the field guides and available resources come up short that I find it valuable to get the opinions of what are an incredibly talented (mostly)group of birders.

Presumed Purple Finch behind a House Finch.

Anyways, I am throwing these pictures and this information up here in case anyone wants to comment. I will add some comments from others below tomorrow to go along with my post.

Click here to see more photos of this bird.

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Judging the size of a Bird: Part 2 of 2

posted by Tim Avery at
on Friday, March 11, 2011 

In my previous post I gave a few real life examples of how judging bird size in the field can prove difficult. In this post let’s talk about ways to help judge the actual size of a bird in the field.

The first and most obvious way to judge the size of a bird is by direct comparison to a nearby species that is more common or you recognize. Pretend it’s September and you are driving along the Antelope Island Causeway when you spot a couple of medium shorebirds on the side of the road. Upon closer inspection you recognize the pale, speckled and short-billed one as a Black-bellied Plover. Now you may be saying how did I know they were medium sized? Good question. I think of peeps as being small, and curlews as being large. Basically anything that isn’t as big as a curlew, or as small as a peep falls in the medium range for me, and can help narrow down an ID. Anyways, the other bird is slightly smaller and more streamlined, and has a slight brown-gold wash over its entire body. It looks very similar too the Black-bellied Plover but isn’t quite the same. A quick flip through your field guide to the large plovers and you will find the American Golden-Plover—seeing that it is slightly smaller than its more common cousin. You have just used the size of a bird you recognized to ID a nearby bird.

American Golden-Plover in front of a Black-bellied Plover

Using the Black-bellied Plover again let’s try a different scenario. This time it’s the last week of April and you pull up to a huge flock of smaller shorebirds, with one larger bird in the middle. After looking through your binoculars you see the larger bird is a Black-bellied Plover (note the white undertail coverts). That was easy—now what about the hundred or so smaller shorebirds? Using my peeps-to-curlew scale I can safely assume these tiny specks, 1/3 the size of the medium-sized plover are peeps. Given the size, the sheer number, and the long bills my first guess would be that these are Western Sandpipers. Taking a moment to look closely and consulting the book the ID would be confirmed. Having a familiar bird near ones you aren’t sure of can be very helpful. You may not be able to gauge the exact or actual size, but in relation to one another you can definitely help yourself.

Black-bellied Plover with Western Sandpipers

Let’s tackle something a little more difficult. Let’s talk about a nondescript bird perched on a post. When you first see it you assume it is small because to the naked eye it is small. After looking through your binoculars you aren’t sure what it is, possibly some type of sparrow. The bird flies off after you look at it for a little bit. What you know is that the bird was slightly smaller than the width of the post it was on. You take a minute to go look at the post which you guess is about 6” wide. That’s not scientific, but it helps a little. If you are really into it you can take a ruler or tape measure with you—but that is a little much. After you figure the size of the post you take into consideration where you are—on Antelope Island in May surrounded by Sage Brush. The small bird was streaked and looked like a sparrow so you flip to that area of your guide and start looking for sparrows in the 5-5 ½” range that lives in or around Sage Brush. Narrowing it down you find the rather drab, rather small, and rather common Sage Brush inhabitant—the Brewer’s Sparrow. It seems to fit. Then you get a little help a couple minutes later when a Sage Thrasher comes in and lands on a similar post. You recognize the thrasher because of its sleek shape, the sharp long bill, streaked plumages and yellow eye. The thrasher is a much larger songbird, about 8 ½” in length helping you be more sure of your measurement of the post—solidifying your thoughts.

Sage Thrasher and Brewer's Sparrow

After I wrote the first post I received an email from someone who had an owl crash into their window. The Owl then stunned sat on their deck. The person who saw the bird used a very simple and easy method to help them figure out the size of the owl based on the size of the slats on their deck. The slats were 5.5” wide, and the owl was a tiny bit longer than the slats. Based on the small size, along with the fieldmarks they were able to ID the bird as a Northern Pygmy-Owl. Having the size of the slats in the wood as a gauge made it very easy to come up with an estimated size for the owl.

A stunned but okay Northern Pygmy-Owl

The basics are easy: 1) use other birds to judge the size of species in question, 2) use man made or natural objects to help gauge size.

Don’t assume the size of a bird you don’t know because you think it is similar in size to another species that isn’t present for comparison. This will ultimately cause more issues than using the fieldmarks and what is available to measure the bird up. I hope this helps a few people; put it to the test and let me know how it works!


Judging the size of a Bird: Part 1 of 2

posted by Tim Avery at

This morning as I sat in my home office watching the feeders as I do most mornings before I leave for work, I got to thinking about an ID issue from a few years back. A birder reported what they believed was a thrasher of some sort in St. George. They had a picture and a description and posed the question on one of the local listservs about the ID of the bird. They had taken the time to share the pictures with local “experts” before posting to the list, and the “consensus” was that the bird was a thrasher. When I opened the email I expected to see a thrasher and was flummoxed to see a Rock Wren. What blew me away at the time was how many people were positive that it was not a Rock Wren and that it was a thrasher.

Rock Wren and Sage Thrasher. That wren sure looks big in that photo.

Despite every detail of the bird, and the photos as proof, the observer claimed the bird in the field had been slightly smaller than a flicker. There were no other birds around, only the bird in the grass. Now as I said when I opened the picture I had no doubt as to what the bird was, and despite the obvious ID there were quite a few birders who just disagreed. In the end I gave up and said the bird is a definitely a Rock Wren, no ifs ands or buts—and laid it to rest. It wasn’t worth arguing over such a pedantic subject, and if others weren’t inclined to look at the evidence then I couldn’t change their mind.

Gambel's Qual and Greater Sage-Grouse. Which one is really bigger?

To the point of this post, the observer claimed the bird was slightly smaller than a flicker. Aside from the obvious field marks that made this bird a Rock Wren, the observers word on the size was the only thing that pointed to something different. This is highly problematic with bird identification and has caused more than a few fumbles on bird IDs. Size can be very difficult to judge in the field. Especially on a single bird sitting on a mud flat, or in the grass. When a bird is by itself and you are looking at it through a spotting scope, binoculars, or a camera, it often fills a large portion of the viewing area. It can give the impression that a Quail is the same size as a Grouse; or a warbler the same as an oriole.

Yellow Warbler and Bullock's Oriole. Same size right?

Size can be extremely helpful in IDing a bird but is only really useful when there is something to gauge the size against. There needs to be something measurable to make an ID judgment based off of size alone. While I was in California recently looking for Island Scrub-Jay it was noted that the jays are about 33% larger than their mainland counterparts. That’s a pretty big size difference—but in the field when looking at a pair through my binoculars, all that was apparent was that they were scrub-jays, and not that they were the size of a small magpie instead of the jays back home.

Island Scrub-Jay and Western Scrub-Jay. Which one is bigger?

The first time I ever led an owling trip specifically to look for Flammulated Owls I didn’t think it necessary to tell the group to look for a bird the size of a robin—so when the first owl appeared more than half the group of 20 or so birders didn’t see the bird. Afterwards I asked what they were looking for and was surprised that most were looking for something the size of a Great Horned Owl and hadn’t noticed the tiny bird sitting just a few feet away. I had assumed that most birders understood the size differences within species and hadn’t thought to explain the difference. Since then I have always started off by explaining that difference to get those participating in the mindset for what they are looking for. In this case it’s not a size judgment, but the actual knowledge of the size that led to issues.

Flammulated Owl and Great Horned Owl. Aren't all owls the same size?

Knowing the size of certain types of birds and the sizes of things or other birds near them, helps in making some tougher ID calls. It can also help rule things out based on size alone. You will never see a Rock Wren that is the same size as a Sage Thrasher, or a Merlin that is the same size as a Broad-winged Hawk. I will follow this post up with a few tips and tricks I have used over the years to help gauge the size of a bird in the next week or so.


Cats and Birds

posted by Jerry Liguori at
on Thursday, March 10, 2011 

I have several pet peeves…no pun intended. One is when people let their cats outdoor. I have 2 cats...they stay inside at all times except when I let them on my front deck, which they can’t escape from, and I watch over them at all times. They love to be outside and letting them on the deck makes them happy…I have a potted smorgasbord of cat grass and catnip for them out there (and indoor), a tree stump for them to shed their claws on, and I keep a pile of leaves for them to roll around in. Its fine to let your cats outside if you watch them and stay with them, but letting them out unattended is irresponsible. What’s the statistic, cats kill how many millions of birds each year? If you are a birder, or someone who cares about birds, please keep your cats inside…please.

Some people think cats can’t be happy unless they are outside, but that is not true. My cats are as happy as cats could be, I couldn’t let them out unattended even if I wanted to, there are rattlesnakes and coyotes in my yard (besides, the cars going by). When people say (about cats going outside or killing birds) "but that's nature...", it pisses me off. Yes, cats have natural instincts, but it’s not “natural” to have DOMESTIC cats killing wild birds. I’m not judging anyone who lets their cats out, I just care about birds.

My neighbors got a cat last year and asked me advice on what type of food to get, what kind of cat litter …etc, etc. One piece of advice I gave them was “keep the cat indoors, she’ll be safer that way, and she won’t kill all the squirrels and birds in the neighborhood”. Needless to say, the cat was stalking my yard every day, killed all the baby squirrels that summer and several birds. I couldn’t get mad at the cat, it wasn’t her fault…and she was adorable and sweet. What’s worse though is that the cat went missing a few months later. I’m guessing a rattlesnake bit her or coyote got her…she often wandered up onto the hillside. Sucks not only for the owner, but for us as well…even though she killed birds, we were pretty attached to her.

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Possible Dark-eyed Junco x Song Sparrow Hybrid

posted by Ryan O'Donnell at
on Tuesday, March 8, 2011 

This afternoon I photographed an interesting DARK-EYED JUNCO in my yard in Logan, Cache County, Utah. The bird had most of the basic traits of a female Oregon subspecies Dark-eyed Junco, except for a few anomalies. Most obvious was a soft-edged buffy malar ("mustache") stripe that matched the flanks in color. I grabbed a few quick photographs through the window, but could not relocate the bird when I went outside to try for better photos. In the photographs, I noticed that the bird also has a hint of a pale supercilium ("eyebrow"), a slightly more striped back than expected (although perhaps not entirely outside the range of variation for a pure DEJU), and the white in the outer tail feathers appears to not reach the tip of the tail, instead fading to black.

The combination of anomalous traits make me think this is not just an aberration, but more likely a hybrid of some kind. Hybrids between DEJU and sparrows of the Zonotrichia and Melospiza genera have been previously reported. It seems to me like the best match for this bird would be a Dark-eyed Junco x Song Sparrow hybrid, a combination which has been reported before. (For example, here is a link to a possible photo of another DEJU x SOSP hybrid, and here is a link to an article describing another.) It is my opinion that the only way to be 100% certain of any hybrid parentage is with genetics, but I think this is the most likely explanation for this bird based on the traits observed, the frequency and range overlap between the species in question, and the fact that hybridization between these two has been documented previously. The Song Sparrow-like traits are pretty weak on this bird, so a backcross (the offspring of a mating between a pure DEJU and a DEJU x SOSP hybrid) also may be likely. Any thoughts or comments on this bird are welcome.

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Species to See (March 6-12): Ross’s Goose

posted by Tim Avery at

So I decided to start a feature to make sure I was writing something new every week, regardless of anything else I blog about. To do so I am introducing the “Species to See” which I will post each week. The idea being to talk about and share information about a particular species of bird worth going to look for this week. Along with a little information about the species, I will add in where I would go if I were to be looking for it. So without further ado let’s kick this off.

Ross's Goose with a Mallard for size comparison

I decided to start with something obvious, and something that is fairly easy to idea, and something that is only reliably found for about a month every year in Utah. The Ross’s Goose is a passage migrant that if you read Carl Ingwell post “White Geese” you would know pass through in the fall but usually aren’t seen because they tend to migrate south with fewer stops—but in the spring have two major staging areas in Utah. His post in particular was about Snow Geese; but with the Snow’s come a good number of Ross’s mixed in. From the middle of February through the middle of March is your best chance to find these birds, at one of two reliable locales. The first is near Delta, Utah which by now is usually “goose-less” (if not now in the next week). The location I am going to talk about is further north near Corinne, Utah just west of Brigham City, where the geese stage for a 2nd time before leaving the northern part of Utah on their northward migration.

Snow above, Ross's Below near Corinne, Utah

Now Ross’s Geese are seen sporadically in the fall, winter and spring either alone or in small flocks at random locations. This is hit or miss on actually seeing them, which is why when they come through en masse it’s a good opportunity to see one (or 500) for the year.

After the Snow Goose Festival the geese abruptly leave and start showing up in the fields just north of the Great Salt Lake and Bear River MBR. They are usually here for a week or two before continuing, but it varies depending on the weather and food conditions. The upcoming weekend has in the past been a great time to head to Corinne to see the spectacle, a little bit closer and easier to get to than Delta. One place that has been good in the past is 6800 West and 1800 North. It may vary from year to year, so a little searching may be needed. And it is pretty much impossible to miss the birds once you find them as there could be anywhere from a few thousand to 10 or 15,000.

Ross's Geese feeding near Delta, Utah

Separating a Ross’s Goose from a Snow Goose may leave some people biting their nails, but it’s an easy ID. With the large flock you are going to see noticeably smaller geese. When you see these look at the bill and see if the base is a mostly straight vertical line or slightly bowed. If it’s mostly straight you have yourself a Ross’s Goose, if it’s bowed you don’t. See below:

Ross's on the left, Snow on the Right (not the base of the bill)

There are definitely some Ross's with more curve at the base, and some Snow that are flatter than others. If all else fails, side by side comparison should be enough to help narrow it down.

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Recorded Bird Song

posted by Jeff Bilsky at
on Friday, March 4, 2011 

Our results show that short playback sessions can have longlasting
and far-reaching effects on individual fitness.

I've been re-examining my thoughts about playing recorded bird song in the field. I used to say "what's another voice in the chorus?" But after reading this article, I'm starting to feel a bit differently. I was surprised at the implications of this study and thought it would be worth sharing.

I welcome comments and thoughts! Thank you.


The Monkey Wrench Gang (the amended version)

posted by Anonymous eBirder at
on Thursday, March 3, 2011 

I'd just like to personally thank Mr. Tim DeCristopher. Mr. DeCristopher put civil disobedience back in the national spotlight, and called much needed attention to the subject of global climate change. Thank you, Tim.

On the eve of Tim's verdict, the state of Utah is locked in a fierce debate about the designation of wild lands. One side is arguing for the development of such lands, which will surely see more natural gas, oil shale, and oil development. One side is arguing for the wilderness that my heart constantly yearns for. It shouldn't be too hard to figure out which I'd prefer.

I grew up in the Uintah Basin, where natural gas development should be a major issue right now (I doubt it is). Scientists have found unsafe levels of ozone in the air; Greater Sage-Grouse habitat is being fragmented, which will ultimately put the species in more danger than it already is; and natural gas companies are pumping carcinogens into the groundwater in a process known as "fracking" (Hydraulic fracturing).

Our own legislature is arguing against the wild lands designation. Governor Gary Herbert says that the designation of wild lands in Utah will be an economic disaster. I disagree. I think that the true economic disaster will be the destruction of the wild lands he doesn't want to protect. The true economic disaster will be extinction of native species, human cancers, erosion, global warming, etc.

I'm truly surprised that more Utahns don't support the wild lands bills, and I wish that the ones that do would be more vocal about it. Tim DeCristopher did something that I wish I had the balls to do.

Please write in support of wild lands designation in the state of Utah. Actually, please write your legislators about anything you feel passionate about. Please rally. Please practice civil disobedience. Please do something to save the planet.

Thanks again, Tim.

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White Geese.

posted by Anonymous eBirder at
on Tuesday, March 1, 2011 

If you've never seen the Snow Geese at Gunnison Bend Reservior, or thousands of them packed in an agricultural field somewhere in northern Utah (I forget the name of that podunk town I was in), you are missing out.

In the spring and fall, Snow Geese migrate through Utah in huge numbers. Check out the eBird data here:


If you look closely at the eBird data, you'll notice that sighting records are extremely high between the 2nd week of February and the 3rd week of March. After that, sightings are pretty much non-existant throughout the year (with a few hundred seen here or there).

Wait... I just said that Snow Geese migrate through in HUGE numbers in Spring AND Fall, and then after that I showed eBird data that shows HUGE numbers of Snow Geese in the Spring and very little numbers in the fall. Am I contradicting myself? Let me explain.

In the fall, Snow Geese make a non-stop migration from their breeding grounds to their wintering grounds (with a few exceptions). In the spring, Snow Geese make stops all along their migratory way. I'd assume that in their Spring migration, Snow Geese are storing up a ton of energy for the very taxing breeding season ahead of them (the last claim is very unscientific and probably very wrong).

Snow Geese are currently here, at their traditional stopover sites, in large numbers. Go check them out if you get a chance. It's one of Utah's really neat birding spectacles.

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Seen any “good birds?”

posted by Jerry Liguori at

One question I hate when I run across birders is “seen any good birds”? In my opinion, they’re all good. I know people usually mean “have you seen any rare birds”, but still, why is the interest only in rare birds so predominant? I admit, I am biased to look at birds that eat other birds. I can watch Red-tailed Hawks all day and be “giddy” doing it, but that’s just my personal interest. So why does it bug me when others are only interested in looking for rarities? I understand if a rare bird is reported and easy to ‘chase’, why people go to see it…especially if it is a ‘lifer.” I get it, and the fact that I don’t chase rarities doesn’t make me cooler than anyone else. Maybe it bugs me when a person’s main goal is to find rarities in the hopes of boosting their reputation or being recognized. Believe me, I know this is not the agenda of most birders, most birders love all aspects of birding. I just hate the “seen any good birds” question. Ya know what…I gotta get over it!

Just one more thing…I hate the term “warbler neck.” Anyone who has ever spent a 12-hour day looking at high-flying hawks knows it is much more of a strain on your neck than looking at warblers for an hour in the woods….”warbler neck”, seriously? But, the absolute worst question to ask someone, albeit very common, is “are you sure?” Why don’t you just say what you really mean…“I don’t believe you.” And if they are viewing the same bird as you and ask “are you sure?”; it just means they’re not sure. Oh, and don’t tell me ’’I need that” after I mention a particular bird I just saw...spare me. Actually, I don’t mean some of what I say, its just fun to rant…so have fun back and tell me your thoughts. Here's 2 species (above) I've seen in Utah.

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