Two birds

Near the dog bathing beach at the Upper Pool in Prospect Park, I found a couple of noteworthy birds the other day:The most common bird species in the park is surely the American robin, Turdus migratorius, which you can find on the meadows and in the woods and everywhere in between. This particular one stands out because it has a good amount of leucism, which is reduced and/or absence of pigmentation in the feathers. (This is technically different from albinism, which is an absence of melanin, and usually also includes the melanin in the eyes.) This bird, or one very like it, has been around the park for a couple of years now. (It’s an American robin because it’s not a European robin; they don’t look much alike, but English settlers wanted to believe they were similar.)

UPDATE 5/5/11: this bird was feeding at least three nestlings today. The feathers do not seem to prevent pair bonding and breeding.

Apropos white feathers: I once saw a completely white European starling, at a bird rehab center in New Jersey. It was positively freaky-deaky. My man Herman Melville would have included it in his “Whiteness of the Whale” chapter.
Looking somewhat like an overgrown, heavily streaked sparrow, this bird isn’t exactly rare, but you don’t run into one every day. It’s a female red-winged blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus. The species, whose common name obviously comes from the male, is found all around all the park’s water bodies. The males are all black except for their colorful red and orange shoulder patches, quite a different looking animal; this is an extreme case of sexual dimorphism. The males are also loud and territorial, announcing themselves from the top of reeds, while the females are usually tucked away in the reeds on nests. It’s a nice illustration of how evolutionary pressures can work: the females need to be cryptically marked, so that they can’t be easily seen on their nests, where they are particularly vulnerable; while the males need to be boldly patterned so that they are seen, by both potential mates and other males.

(One sure fire way of not getting this confused with any sparrow is that long, sharp, very unsparrow, beak.)

7 Responses to “Two birds”

  1. 1 Out Walking the Dog April 24, 2011 at 10:13 am

    Love that robin. We have a lot of red-wingeds around the little pond in Morningside Park. I rarely see them in Riverside. Robins everywhere, of course, now that spring is – finally – here.

    But wait just one minute. I thought Herman M. was MY man. Well, he might be big enough to share. And you are a Nantucketer, so, okay, I guess.

    • 2 mthew April 24, 2011 at 7:26 pm

      Herman was as big as the great outdoors. Grumpy, too, from what I hear. Pounded the NYC docks for years after the fools failed to realize he’d written the great American novel.

  2. 3 meemsnyc April 24, 2011 at 10:19 pm

    I’ve never seen a robin that looked like that before.

  3. 4 Larry Zirlin April 26, 2011 at 8:55 pm

    I don’t know if it’s the same bird, but it seems likely since last year I saw a robin with similar markings on the grass in front of the wildflower meadow (same area as dog beach).

  4. 6 mthew January 30, 2013 at 6:39 pm

    Perhaps it doesn’t go anywhere. Rob Jett has some pictures of this bird from December 2012, still going strong.

  5. 7 Omer May 20, 2013 at 7:16 pm

    I saw that robin a few weeks ago in the same exact place!! They are pretty rare in prospect park so I saw only two of them.

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