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Blog Birding #297

Monday, November 21, 2016 7:22
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A recent journal article published in Science Advances suggests that the number of critically endangered bird species in the world may be far higher than we are aware of. John Platt at Extinction Countdown has more.

According to the paper, hundreds of bird species in six of the world’s most biodiverse regions have much smaller levels of suitable habitat available to them than previously recognized. Of the nearly 600 species the researchers studied for the paper, they estimated that 189 species not currently assessed as being at risk may actually be threatened, some critically so.

The cheery Dickcissel, conspicuous denizen of fields and pastures across much of North America becomes a completely different bird in the colder months, as Brett Ewald explains at View From the Cape.

In New Jersey, Dickcissels are most likely to be encountered in the fall, when they are considered a scarce migrant. As with many species, however, Cape May exceeds the norm. With an average count of about 50/fall, you would think your chances of getting a good look at one, with an acceptable amount of effort, would be high. You would most likely be wrong. Most of these records are flyovers, detected because of their distinctive ‘raspberry’ call, with a fleeting glance the only visual reward.

The Ring-necked Duck is clearly on the short list of most mis-named species in North America, and Peter Cashwell, writing at Audubon, thinks it’s time to do something about that.

Like most birders, I have on occasion felt frustrated with a bird’s nomenclature. Why oh why did the American Ornithologists’ Union pick that name? I will moan silently, desperately trying to remember whether I’m looking at a Nashville or Tennessee Warbler, or whether my life list contains the Black-throated or the Black-chinned Sparrow. (Black-throated. I looked it up.) And for that reason, I make the following plea to the AOU:

Can we please get rid of the Ring-necked Duck?

And speaking of weird names, Carrie Laben of 10,000 Birds has something to say about the desert-loving Crissal Thrasher, or, as it was once called, the Red-vented Thrasher.

Sometimes the blame is on ornithologists having no imagination at all. According to Bent, the Crissal Thrasher was once known as the red-vented thrasher, a name from the Yellow-rumped Warbler school of nomenclature and perhaps even more embarrassing. Crissal, derived from the Latin crissum for the feathers of the area around the cloacal opening, is simply a veil of classical learning thrown over the fact that this is a bird named after the patch of bright(ish) color on its lower behind. A hypothetical Mr. Crissal would never have become an ornithologist in the 1800s, as he would have been teased mercilessly from his first day in Bird School.

As the weather turns cold in the northern hemisphere, birders’ eyes turn to finches, and David Sibley at Birdwatching Daily shares some tips on differentiating your resident House Finches from the Purple Finches that will soon be arriving.

A more reliable way to distinguish the species, regardless of color or sex, is by shape and proportion. The best details to focus on are at opposite ends of the bird: head shape and tail shape. Look for a slight peak or triangular crest on the head of Purple Finch and a smoothly rounded head on House Finch. Purple Finch also has a shorter tail with a distinct notch at the tip, while House Finch has a longer tail whose feathers are all about the same length.

Join the American Birding Association at www.aba.org!

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