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

New Research on Gulls Changes Everything

posted by Kenny Frisch at
on Sunday, March 31, 2013 

For a long time scientists and birders alike have had trouble not only telling one gull species from another, but even knowing whether a certain gull species should even be a species. In recent years the debate has come down on the Herring Gull complex- whether there are 3 different Herring Gulls, or if Thayer's, Herring, and Iceland Gulls should be all lumped as one species or something in the middle.  All of that has changed though.

 Great Black-backed Gulls have strong genes

Stunning new research has shown that almost all gull species to be hybrids of Great Black-backed Gulls and unbelievably, Little Gulls.  Mitochondrial DNA or mtDNA taken from a host of former gull "species" show genes in all gull species that be traced back to both of these parent species.  Backcrosses and breeding among the hybrids have resulted in the wide range of gulls we see today.  Gulls with more Little Gull genes are more of the smaller gulls (like Ring-billed and Franklin's) whereas gulls with more Great Black-backed genes tend to be larger (like Glaucous and Western).

Opposites attract when it comes to Little Gulls

I'm sure of all of you have many questions, just as I did upon my first reading of this research.  What about mantle color?  It turns out that Little Gulls and Great Black-backed Gulls share a common ancestor, one that most likely had a paler back.  In both the species, the ancestral genes are turned off, however when they hybridize, these ancestral genes can be expressed, leading to the wide variety of mantle colors we see today.  What about their breeding ranges?  It's true that both species breeding ranges don't overlap now, but it turns out that right after the last Ice Age, Little and Great Black-backed Gulls shared a common breeding ground where the hybridizing started. It also seems like there may in fact be no "pure" Great Black-backed Gulls or Little Gulls given the amount of cross breeding.

It makes sense that Sabine's Gulls are just goofy hybrids

There are still many questions to be answered, mainly if all these new hybrid gulls are stable hybrids and one day may be considered new species.  Given the amount of hybrids we see each winter in Utah, I think we are a long way away from having anything more than a handful of true gull species.

Personally, I am not looking forward to losing 18 species off my life list, but science is always moving ahead and we birders just need to catch up.

A link to the article detailing all the research can be found here: http://tinyurl.com/bsomrcr

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Krider's Red-tail in Utah?

posted by Jerry Liguori at
on Sunday, March 24, 2013 

A friend (Tim Avery) called me the other day about a Krider’s Red-tailed Hawk in Utah. I am always intrigued how birds can show up almost anywhere, and Krider’s in Utah doesn’t sound like a “big deal” at all. Harlan’s and Western Red-tails show up in places you would think unlikely in winter. However, I am unaware of any documented (photographed) Krider’s west of the Rocky Mountains, and the one’s I was made aware of have all turned out to be pale versions of Harlan’s. It is certainly likely one or many will show up, and I would love to be the one to document it. But if anyone has photos of a Krider’s west of the Rocky Mountains, please share them, and maybe I can post the images here to make public the record. I would actually love to know one has occurred.

So, during Tim’s phone call, he made it clear to me that he was possibly watching a very pale Harlan’s since they are common in these parts, but questioned how to tell the paler versions of Harlan’s from Krider’s. Take a look at Tim’s photos, note the broad, dark brown belly streaks, dark brown streaky head (Krider’s are golden when not whitish, and adults are not streaked), dark brown patagials (Krider’s are rufous or pale brown), pale mottling on upperside is limited to the scapulars, and lack of clean banding to remiges (remiges are somewhat mottled and bands are broken). The tail is very Krider's-like on this bird (as some Harlan’s are), but note the grayish wash. Anyway, just wanted to note how similar the two races can be.


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Who are the Utah Birders?

posted by Tim Avery at
on Friday, March 22, 2013 

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St. George Photo Quiz - Answers Revealed

posted by Jeff Bilsky at
on Tuesday, March 19, 2013 

A couple of weeks ago I posted a quiz based on photo's from my trip to St. George. Below are the answers. I used some different photos and/or cropping where available. Congrats to Kendall Watkins for guessing every single bird correctly. Thanks to everyone for making good use of my bad photos!

#1 - Ruddy Duck

#2 - Snow Geese

#3 - Western Bluebird

#4 - Chipping Sparrow

#5 - Anna's Hummingbird

#6 - Ferruginous Hawk

#7 - Black Phoebe

#8 - Green-winged Teal

#9, #10, #11 - Greater white-fronted Goose, Canada Goose, Northern Shoveler

#12 - Peregrine Falcon

#13 - Mountain Bluebirds

#14 - Harris' Sparrow

#15 - White-throated Sparrow

#16 - White-crowned Sparrow

#17 - Merlin

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Winter Wonderland

posted by Unknown at
on Friday, March 15, 2013 

This past winter was by many standards a cold miserable one here in Utah. The air was bad, people were sick, and it was bitter out there. Though this is all true, there were a few individuals crazy enough to brave it on a regular basis. These crazy people did it with the end game of enjoying one of the finest winter birding experiences nature will ever provide in Utah. I have come to this consensus by hearing this same conclusion from the mouth of other nutty birders like myself. If those reading do not mind indulging me, I would like to share the highlight of what was for me, a great winter.

It all started with the realization that the often visited south and west sides of Farmington Bay would be amazing places to bird if people were allowed to drive out there. A large expansive wetland area exists that the common birder has no access to. The idea of walking out there was planted in my head and grew until I finally decided to act on this inclination. I was rewarded well beyond my expectations. I parked my car at the four way stop and ventured out on what would be a three and a half mile walk into nature.
Here is a map showing the area birded.

I was engulfed by God’s creations. It was a spiritual experience to say the least. To be out there with not a single discernible human sound. Replaced by a chorus of Tundra Swans and waterfowl. Winter bird life flying all around you. Nature being aware of your presence and allowing you, as an intruder, to enjoy its majesty.


Tundra Swans in flight illustrate the beauty savored that day and capturing a runing swan, fighting to achieves lift is a treat.

There were at least 1500 swans on the ice, on the water, and in the air. They were aware of this lone human intruder.  I thanked them for doing nothing more than cautiously walking away from me as I approached.

I almost tripped over this Black-crowned Night-Heron as it yelped at me and flew off. My attempt at being one with nature in this instance was a major failure.


I saw my first of the year American White Pelicans in big numbers (44) out in the middle of all the swans.


It was a treat to see my first Sandhill Cranes of the year flying right over my head as they made there distinct calls. If they hadn’t been announcing their presence I easily could have missed them. The challenge here was deciding what to focus on when you are overwhelmed with bird life.

After walking for about three miles and being a little worn out from tracking through the mud and snow for hours, I found a great spot next to the road where the ice was more open. The highlight of the bounteous duck life and this singular day of birding was this rare Eurasian Wigeon, which put a smile on my face for days.

Though not in their beautiful breading plumage, these Ruddy Ducks are still a handsome bird and it was fun to see about 300 of them. This male Buffelhead and this female Lesser Scaup did not seem to mind that I was there.

I expected to see Bald Eagles but Fifty two! Wow!

I may not be a professional photographer but I love to capture and freeze in time a moment enjoyed looking at a bird or group of birds. A singular moment can be shared and reflected upon.

Below is a list and counts for species seen on my winter birding adventure.

Canada Goose 50
Trumpeter Swan 1
Tundra Swan 1500
Eurasian Wigeon 1
Gadwall 2
American Wigeon 40
Mallard 300
Cinnamon Teal 35
Northern Shoveler 200
Northern Pintail 500
Green-winged Teal 20
Canvasback 45
Redhead 240
Ring-necked Duck 50
Lesser Scaup 200
Bufflehead 25
Common Goldeneye 30
Common Merganser 100
Ruddy Duck 300
Ring-necked Pheasant 1
American White Pelican 44
Great Blue Heron 2
Black-crowned Night-Heron 1
Northern Harrier 2
Bald Eagle 52
Rough-legged Hawk 2
American Coot 25
Sandhill Crane 3
Ring-billed Gull 1
California Gull 800
Herring Gull 50
Loggerhead Shrike 1
Common Raven 5
Song Sparrow 1
Red-winged Blackbird 20
Western Meadowlark 1

36 species and 4,500+ individuals.

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St. George Photo Quiz

posted by Jeff Bilsky at
on Friday, March 8, 2013 

Tim Avery and I went down to St. George a couple of weeks ago. He posted a great recap. Kenny Frisch also posted his own adventures from the week before. So now it's my turn. I'm going to do it a little differently. I've been going through my photos and realized how many terrible angle, "uncooperative" bird shots I was able to compile. So as my recap, here is a photo quiz. This should be a fun one I hope. Please post your answers in the comments. Good luck and good birding!


#2 - a flock flying over the desert


#4: If you can find it





#9, #10, #11: there are 3 species in this photo



#14 and #15



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