Sporting a dapper black cap, a sky-blue bill accentuating a chestnut-brown body, a gleaming white cheek patch, and black perky tail feathers, a male Ruddy Duck in breeding season assumes an entirely different bearing from his nondescript winter alter ego. All in all, with its small size, broad flattened bill, disproportionately large head, and distinct,…

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Yellow-billed Cuckoos (Coccyzus americanus) are fairly common in the eastern U.S. But in the last half-century, they have become rare in the West. Over the past 10 years in San Diego County, eBird shows unique sightings only 15 times—almost always a single bird in June or July, at Lake Henshaw, Lake Hodges, the Anza Borrego…

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A member of the silky-flycatcher family, the Phainopepla inhabits the Southwest and Mexico. The male has a thin frame; shiny black plumage; piercing crimson eyes; and a sparse, cow-lick crest. In contrast to the male’s shimmering plumage, the similarly shaped female sports sooty gray feathers with the same crimson eyes and wispy crest. In flight,…

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Late one winter when we lived in Colorado, a female American Kestrel had roosted for several weeks on a ledge above our neighbors’ garage.  Thinking perhaps she might consider breeding there, my husband built a nestbox for the neighbors to install.  Alas, she moved on.  But a month or so later, a pair of Northern…

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“Hey—grab the scope! What’s that bird?” I pointed to a small, dark bird with a distinctly dipping tail, sitting upright on a distant branch overhanging the river. For the Colorado Breeding Bird Atlas, we were surveying our block of pinyon/juniper, high-altitude conifers, and a short stretch of the Arkansas River in central Colorado, to document…

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When I started working at the wildlife rehabilitation center 15 years ago, I knew nothing about wildlife rehab.  But as a birder, I knew birds and their habitats. The staff knew a lot about healing birds but they weren’t birders. So when they asked me to check on a Spotted Towhee they were worried about…

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A “tall, thin tramp in a swallow-tailed coat.” A “long striped snake on two legs.” A lanky, blue and purple cartoon character with a flopping crest, constantly foiling Wile E. Coyote. What do these descriptions have in common?  They all belong to the Greater Roadrunner. A large, loping, ground-loving member of the cuckoo family, this…

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I had done my homework before releasing a Western Grebe from the wildlife rehabilitation center. “Western Grebes are incapable of walking on land,” due to how far back their legs are set on their bodies. Even the ultimate resource, the Sibley Guide to Birds, agreed. I’d need to wade a few feet into the reservoir…

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Naming a species a “least” this-or-that or a “lesser” such-and-such smacks a bit of disparagement.  The bird exists only in relationship to a larger/greater/“better” bird.  The Lesser Goldfinch’s comparator is its Spinus congener, the American Goldfinch.  In this context, the Lesser Goldfinch comes up short in several ways.  It measures ½” (10%) shorter and weighs…

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