What bird is that? (and some readers’ wildlife)

by Greg Mayer

In the following photos, we have no problem spotting the bird– it sticks out like a sore thumb. Rather, the problem is the bird is not a nightjar– it’s pretty much the opposite in terms of background matching! We’ve recently paid some attention to color variation in squirrels, and reader Jason sent some especially marvelous photos of a multicolored gray squirrel from Toronto. We have here another case of distinctive color variation in a vertebrate. So distinctive, in fact, I’m not sure what kind of bird it is– can readers help me out here?

albinistic bird 1

albinistic bird 2

albinistic bird 3

albinistic bird 4

The pictures were sent by my Wind Point, Wisconsin, correspondent,  who is an accomplished photographer, but the above pictures are much enlarged from originals shot through a glass window, hence the resolution is not as crisp as might be hoped for. The bird was in his yard in Wind Point, not far from Lake Michigan, and the pictures were taken on May 11.

I have an idea as to what it is, but I won’t say so as to not influence readers’ identifications. Please weigh in with your identifications below.

*******

JAC: I’m adding on to Greg’s post two pictures that will count, along with the leucistic bird above, as readers’ wildlife photos. They are by Stephen Barnard of Idaho, and show a great horned owl (Bubo virginianus) and a great blue heron (Ardea herodias):

RT9A6068

RT9A6110

101 Comments

  1. Lynn David
    Posted May 30, 2015 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    Albino cow bird?

    • Lynn David
      Posted May 30, 2015 at 9:08 am | Permalink

      The head retaining its brown color but the black body turning white.

    • kansaskitty
      Posted May 30, 2015 at 9:16 am | Permalink

      That was my first thought, too. A male brown-headed cowbird with white body instead of black. We have a lot of cowbirds in Kansas.

  2. Posted May 30, 2015 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    I think the tail and beak are both too long for cowbird. How about common grackle?

    • kansaskitty
      Posted May 30, 2015 at 9:18 am | Permalink

      The beak is not long and sharp enough to be a grackle. Looks more like a cowbird beak to me.

      • Posted May 30, 2015 at 9:49 am | Permalink

        No, definitely too long for a cowbird. I vote grackle.

        • Posted May 30, 2015 at 9:53 am | Permalink

          I think the first photo is misleading about the length and proportions of the beak, because of the angle. Look at the other two photos and the beak looks much longer.

        • quiscalus
          Posted May 30, 2015 at 11:05 am | Permalink

          One would think I’d know my own kind…I’m leaning Grackle. Cowbirds have a smaller, more robust beak. I was trying to zoom in on the way the color around the head goes around the shoulders and down the sides and belly, but I’m not too sure if that made up my mind any. At least that’s my non-professional opinion.

          Recently in Dallas for the Memorial Day weekend I was charmed to ecstasy by the Quiscalus mexicanus that seemingly rule downtown Dallas. I loved the echo of their chatter and calls bouncing off the buildings. We don’t seem to get them here in KCMO, and it was sad to see that I was clearly the only one who was enthralled by these great cackling grackle beauties. Didn’t have a good camera, so no pics to share though.

          • Posted May 30, 2015 at 11:44 am | Permalink

            I’ve just come back from Panama where a grackle species was the crown jewel of the bird chorus along the city beach. Remarkable long melodious songs. I never thought of grackles as good singers but these were amazing.

            • quiscalus
              Posted May 30, 2015 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

              You’re living the life! I’m always envious of people like you who followed the path that I was meant to. As for grackle songs, the great tailed are certainly better singers than the common. I don’t mind though. Watching them in great autumnal flocks, descending in the hundreds along with other species like brewer’s blackbirds, picking over the lawn amongst the oak mast is one of the few great animal masses we get to experience here in Missouri, and thus captured my heart (and why I use the quiscalus nom de plume: a misappropriated, hackney abuse of a certain poem , phrase “Quercus et Quiscalus est”. It serves as a reminder to me that the common and the unremarkable can be sweet and honorable, too, if one takes the time to pay attention.

              • Posted May 30, 2015 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

                Nicely put, thanks for the explanation of your nom de plum.

                Thanks for your comment about my “living the life”, but in fact my trip to Panama was not anature trip but a humanitarian one. (I’ll understand, Jerry, if you decide to cut this comment for being so far off-topic, but I have to get this off my chest.) I was in Panama to see a Cuban I had come to know in Ecuador, one of the few countries in the world that lets Cubans enter without a visa. She is heading for the US, where the laws permit her to ask for refuge if she can get to the border alive. But in order to do so, she has to risk her life running the gauntlet of Central American countries in order to partake of this legal right. My friend first had to sneak across the Ecuador/Colombia border, then had to cross Colombia where she was shaken down repeatedly for money at corrupt Colombian police roadblocks. She then had to wade out to a fast leaky speedboat at night in northern Colombia and spend four hours in the ocean trying to outrun the Colombian navy (they caught three of the boats but not hers). When she made landfall in the Darien gap of Panama she and her friends were stripped and robbed (maybe gangraped, though she didn’t say so and I didn’t ask) by armed Colombian narcotraficantes or paramilitary or FARC. Then she had to cross a forest ridge called La Miel amidst bones of dead Cubans, where her group was threatened with death by another Colombian thief unless each person paid $50. Since they’d just been robbed they had nothing, and the Colombian began to get very threatening until one enterprising woman revealed that she had sewn a $100 bill into her backpack strap. That satisfied the Colombian, but the group still had no food or shelter. They made it to the jungle outpost of Puerto Obaldia and surrendered to Panamanian authorities, but without money they could still neither eat, nor sleep under a roof, nor leave. My friend slept on the pier. She was able to get an internet message to me begging for help (internet is amazing), and I was able to send money so she could eat again and fly out to Panama City.

                So that’s why I was there, to see how she was. Thinner and hungrier, and shaken up, but alright. But this was only the first leg of her desperate journey. And she is just one of thousands of Cubans every year who go through this. The coyoteros tell the women to take birth control, since they almost certainly will be raped, probably multiple times. Almost certainly robbed multiple times too. Then there are the Mexican and Honduran gangs that kidnap them and hold them for ransom. And everywhere there are corrupt officials taking their cuts. It is a human tragedy on a huge scale, mostly under the radar.

              • quiscalus
                Posted May 30, 2015 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

                wow. change that from “living the life” to “saving one”. I cannot even imagine what kind of hell she must have experienced that would have pushed her to endure such a horrifying escape. It’s true, we only hear little bits about this sort of thing. It sounds almost unbelievable, so unbearable, to be real. That people could and do commit such atrocities…I don’t know what else to say. Perhaps Prof. Coyne would let you do a full posting on this, to bring a bit more attention and detail to something that the media mostly ignores.

              • Diane G.
                Posted May 31, 2015 at 5:55 am | Permalink

                Bookmarked for reading when I have a chance.

              • Diane G.
                Posted May 31, 2015 at 2:05 am | Permalink

                @ Lou

                That is unconscionable! One hears that even children attempt such journeys from Central America & Mexico…How powerful the need for refuge must be (or in some cases, the need to make a living) to undertake such journeys while fully aware of the dangers.

                Now you will have to keep us updated on her progress. How fortunate she is to have a friend like you!

              • Posted May 31, 2015 at 8:22 am | Permalink

                Diane G, there was a ten-year-old girl in my friend’s group. Everyone in the group fell in love with her. She thought of it as an adventure. When the others were scared and struggling to climb the La Miel hill, she was enjoying the hike and always inspired the others to keep going.

              • Posted May 31, 2015 at 8:30 am | Permalink

                She’s now in Costa Rica, where the government will issue a safe conduct pass. This will be her safest and most civilized crossing. Some other countries will also issue safe-conduct passes, though in some countries these don’t really guarantee safe passage.

                Honduras, with one of the highest murder rates in Latin America, refuses to issue safe-conduct passes according to a March government declaration, so that may be another dangerous crossing.

              • quiscalus
                Posted May 31, 2015 at 8:33 am | Permalink

                I guess the obvious answer arises. Is there anything WE can do?

              • Posted May 31, 2015 at 9:23 am | Permalink

                Thanks for asking that, but I don’t think there is anything we can do. However, in some countries, like Mexico, she will be detained and jailed for an indefinite time while they process her request for a safe conduct pass. This detention can last for weeks, though lately the detentions have been shorter. If her group should be stuck in detention for a while, it is possible that letters to the Mexican immigration and justice ministries, or perhaps better, to human rights watchdog groups in Mexico, might shake them loose. Human rights groups have managed to accelerate the process in the past, by going to inspect the facilities. I’ll let you know here how things go.

                Here is part of a diary of a Cuban who made the crossing and was detained in Mexico. A human rights group inspection of the facilities set him free. http://uncubanoporelmundo.com/2014/10/10/capitulo-29-dias-de-sombra/
                If you can read Spanish, all the chapters are worth reading.

              • Posted May 31, 2015 at 9:54 am | Permalink

                I should add that according to her friends who have made the passage recently, things are considerably safer this year than in the past, because more countries have begun to offer safe-conduct passes which can eliminate the most dangerous parts of the crossings. So some of the worst horror stories on the web are things of the past—we hope.

              • Posted May 31, 2015 at 10:55 am | Permalink

                She just wrote me that when she gets to Nicaragua (Tues or Wednesday) she’ll be jailed without food, but only for a day or so until they issue a safe conduct pass…that’s not so bad.

              • quiscalus
                Posted May 31, 2015 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

                What the hell is the matter with the world when being jailed for two days without food is a GOOD thing in comparison to everything else?!

              • Diane G.
                Posted June 1, 2015 at 12:26 am | Permalink

                Lou…so poignant about that 10-year -old. It’s really unimaginable the straits some people find themselves in. Would that the Americas attracted as much US attention as the rest of the world does.

              • Posted June 1, 2015 at 10:48 am | Permalink

                Diane, there was another poignant bit in the story she told me….when she arrived at the Panamanian outpost on Puerto Obaldia, there was a young Argentinian there, begging pennies for food. The recent Cuban arrivals thought he was crazy. But he had a guitar and sang songs to and with the Cubans every evening, and told stories, and made them smile for a moment. Turned out he was the son of a wealthy Argentinian businessman, but he had rejected his father’s lifestyle and values. He was an expert on Cuban history, and he wanted to experience first-hand what the Cubans had to go through during their exodus. So he is voluntarily staying for a while in Puerto Obaldia, and he arrivied there from Colombia the same way the Cubans did. And he brings little smiles to the Cubans’ faces for a moment as they pass through…

              • Diane G.
                Posted June 1, 2015 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

                Just when you’re thinking the worst of humans–one who personifies the best qualities of our species shows up.

                (Your friend should write a screen-play when all this is over. What a saga! And how many eyes it could open.)

              • Posted June 1, 2015 at 11:36 am | Permalink

                Quiscalus and Diane, I’m going to stop updating this story for a while, since it will not be wise to post her movements on the internet in real time once she clears Costa Rica. I doubt Central American gang members and police are among Jerry’s readers, but one never knows.

              • Diane G.
                Posted June 1, 2015 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

                Understood.

              • Posted June 3, 2015 at 10:24 pm | Permalink

                Update: Without going into details, my friend is safe so far. She had to spend 30 hours in the Nicaraguan jail without food, under conditions she called “infrahumanas”, but she is in high spirits and says she is fine (though hungry). She is speeding through Central America as fast as she can, day and night, because she doesn’t have enough money if the trip takes too long. (I offered her some extra money in Panama for this part of her trip, but she proudly said she couldn’t accept it).

              • Diane G.
                Posted June 4, 2015 at 9:29 am | Permalink

                Glad to get an update, Lou; esp. a relatively positive one.

              • Posted June 4, 2015 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

                OK, now I need help!!! Any readers in Honduras???? My friend and her group are terrified, they’ve been robbed time after time by Honduran police after being promised a safe-conduct pass at the Honduras-Nicaragua border, until finally one group of police in a small town confiscated their passports and ordered them into some hotel. They say the area seems really dangerous and anything could happen. I still don’t know the name of the town,am waiting for that info. But they are at the mercy of these corrupt police. If they had Hondurenos with them, perhaps the police would not be so bold. Please write me at loujost@gmail.com. Thanks in advance. I’ll gladly reimburse any costs for transport and time and food and lodging…

              • Posted June 4, 2015 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

                OK, new update, she says they are now in a pair of safe hotels, there are 35 detained Cubans and they feel safe now in such a large group, and the police are now behaving decently.

              • Diane G.
                Posted June 5, 2015 at 3:51 am | Permalink

                And if she successfully traverses Honduras, there’s still all of Guatemala & Mexico before her. These journeys are nearly impossible to imagine.

                So glad to hear she’s found a seemingly safe stopover facility for the while!

              • Posted June 4, 2015 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

                The name of the place is Choluteca or something like that. She is not sure.

              • Posted June 5, 2015 at 7:56 am | Permalink

                She’s been suspiciously silent for a while. Silence is the worst: imagination goes wild…

              • Posted June 5, 2015 at 10:46 am | Permalink

                All is well again. She’s out of there.

              • Posted June 6, 2015 at 7:48 am | Permalink

                Her group of Cubans has grown to 110 people!

              • Posted June 8, 2015 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

                Bad news, Mexico just changed its policy of detaining Cubans for a week or so and then giving safe conduct passes for those without criminal records. Now Mexico is deporting all Cubans they can catch.

                So my friend has to pay a “coyote” to help her sneak across all of Mexico, through dicey areas without law enforcement. It will be hell.

                Kidnapping these immigrants seems to be big business along the Mexican border. Gangs kidnap them and force them to call their relatives to ask for ransom so they won’t be killed.

                On April 27 police rescued 92 immigrants, many of them Cubans, from a house near the Texas border where they were being held hostage: http://noticieros.televisa.com/mexico-estados/1504/policia-federal-rescata-92-migrantes-secuestrados-reynosa/

                On April 4 they rescued 16:
                http://www.excelsior.com.mx/nacional/2015/04/09/1017942

                On May 28 they rescues 24:
                http://www.excelsior.com.mx/nacional/2015/05/28/1026496

                That’s just some random examples from April and May. These numbers are shocking. There are enormous human tragedies going on here that few know about. And my poor fragile friend has to run that gauntlet.

              • Posted June 9, 2015 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

                Though the police captured 71 other Cubans trying to cross the Honduras/Guatemala border today, my friend made it through with the help of a “coyote”.

              • Posted June 9, 2015 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

                Here’s the 71 Cubans who didn’t make it:
                http://www.elheraldo.hn/inicio/847874-331/detienen-a-71-cubanos-en-occidente-de-honduras

              • Posted June 17, 2015 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

                For the one or two people who are still following this saga, I will resume the story now, with a time delay so as not to endanger her. I still do not know how this story ends, but I will very soon. The last week and a half has been hell for her, and vicariously for me, with more than a thousand short emails exchanged, many of them dealing with time-sensitive life-or-death issues.

                My previous comments left her in Guatemala near the Honduras border. In Guatemala there are no safe-conduct passes, so her group had to go with a “coyote” through backroads, rivers, swamps, and who-knows-what-else. She was traveling with about 20 other Cubans now, including her life-long best friend from Cuba. Because of what happens later, my friend needs a name: “Maria”. I’ll call her childhood friend and traveling companion “Joana”. It took several days for the group to sneak through southern Guatemala to reach the capital, all of it incomunicado. I still don’t know what happened in this segment, but when “Maria” got to the capital she wrote that I would not believe all the things that happened to them….but there were urgent things to figure out, and she said she would have to tell me the story of that part some time later when she was calmer. (I still don’t know what happened in that segment–the rest of her trip didn’t get any calmer.)

              • Posted June 17, 2015 at 8:10 pm | Permalink

                Her “coyote” was great. He would walk right up to the police roadblocks and directly bribe his way through them, using his own money. He also treated his group to food, and paid for their housing when possible. He showed them lovely pictures of the route, of Cubans bathing with naked Mayan children in remote crystalline rivers. We learned later that not all coyotes are like that.

              • Posted June 17, 2015 at 8:27 pm | Permalink

                From Guatemala City to the Mexican border was one of the hardest and most difficult segments of the whole trip. She and the others had to lay in the back of a truck with boxes of merchandise piled on top of them. Imagine them bouncing through rough mountain roads laying on a metal truckbed, packed like sardines, with boxes piled on top of them. They got close to the Mexican border this way, but the coyote’s spies noted too many police roadblocks ahead, and they decided to hide for a day and start again the next night as it got dark. There was no wifi but Joana’s smartphone could connect to the internet, so we could briefly communicate. Maria had recently seen blue Morpho butterflies on the internet, and was excited when I told her she might see a real one there in the Guatemalan jungle.

              • Posted June 17, 2015 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

                They were out of contact for several days after entering Mexico. They had been told the whole trip from Guatemala to the US would take three days. This was agonizingly suspenseful for me, but far worse for them. “You can’t imagine how difficult this part was. The worst days I’ve lived in my entire life. Terrible crowded conditions, bad weather, a little of everything. But anyway we are alive…” When she had a chance to use a phone, she told me she thought she was not going to get through it alive. Unfortunately I don’t know more details, since communication was so difficult and always rushed.

              • Posted June 17, 2015 at 8:44 pm | Permalink

                They had changed coyotes in Mexico. This new one was a different breed, he stayed hidden and the whole group thought he was trying to defraud them. But what could they do? As illegal immigrants in a remote part of strange country, even though they felt this guy was evil, they couldn’t find someone else. They had to keep going.

              • Posted June 17, 2015 at 9:07 pm | Permalink

                They followed this untrustworthy coyote’s instructions and after lots of scary moments they reached a hotel in a city in southern Mexico. They were all really scared, and suspicious of the coyote. But they all helped each other stay animated and no one wanted to give up. They were supposed to catch a plane that evening,and had paid the coyote a large amount of money for that. But as evening arrived, the coyote called them (he rarely showed his face) and said the flight would be in three days. Everyone was angry and scared.

                She was writing me from the hotel, then suddenly stopped.

                When she wrote again, she said everyone had to flee that hotel, the migration police had been tipped off and raided it, but luckily everyone escaped.

              • Posted June 17, 2015 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

                It was far too dangerous for the Cubans to be carrying all the money needed for this whole trip, since they were regularly robbed en route. So their money was in the hands of friends and family, who sent wire transfers at each stage of the trip. But this town was so dangerous that it was risky to leave the hotel. Mexican migration police were actively hunting Cubans.

                But I had to send Maria and Joana their money for the next stage of the journey. Maria looks very Cuban, but Joana was less distinctly Cuban, and she risked going for their money. She never came back

              • Posted June 17, 2015 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

                I got a rare cell phone call from Maria (the minutes are limited, with no safe way to add more). I couldn’t understand much, just sobs and cries and “Joana”. It was a spine-tingling, gut-wrenching call…She had herself just gotten a similar sobbing screaming call from her best friend Joana–she had been caught by the migration police and was being held in jail.

              • Posted June 17, 2015 at 9:23 pm | Permalink

                Maria was losing it on the phone with me, I had never heard such terror…She was begging me to tell her what to do, but what did I know about this?? I was utterly helpless just when she most needed help.

              • Posted June 17, 2015 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

                Poor Maria kept blaming herself. If only SHE had went to get the money, her friend wouldn’t be in jail.

                The group, out of desperation, called the coyote, even though they didn’t trust him. He suggested that two lawyers would spring her (and another Cuban who had gone with her) out of jail the next morning, for a sizable fee. We all contributed in the hope that it would work, even though the whole thing sounded suspicious. The group was supposed to fly out in two days, there was no time for doubts. What would happen to Joana if she was left behind there?

                Maria then decided that, even though she was two days away from the end of her six-month journey to the US, she would not go without Joana. She told me she would turn herself in to the authorities and give up her dream so she could be with Joana in jail.

              • Posted June 17, 2015 at 9:38 pm | Permalink

                The payment to the lawyers was made the next day, but they did not spring Joana free. There was no communication with Joana herself–it was not clear where she was being held. The lawyers and coyote said they were working on it, and needed another day. Maria was incensed and more determined than ever to turn herself in to the authorities if Joana did not get released.

              • Diane G.
                Posted June 18, 2015 at 6:14 am | Permalink

                I’m still following, Lou. My gawd, what a cliffhanger!

                If she ever reaches the US, what are the chances of the US doing something like throwing her in detention?

              • Posted June 18, 2015 at 7:28 am | Permalink

                Diane, if she gets to the US, she is home free. The law permits Cubans to enter and ask for refuge. So the US can say to the world that they welcome Cubans. But the hypocrisy is apparent, the US really doesn’t want many Cubans to come in, so they virtually never give visas, thus forcing the Cubans to go through these life-threatening horrors as a filter to keep too many from coming.

                I will know in a few hours how the story ends….

              • Diane G.
                Posted June 18, 2015 at 7:49 am | Permalink

                Glad to hear that! We have such a screwed up system of dealing with Latin American migrants in general, I was worried. Maybe if we’d just stop the g-d war on drugs we could actually accomplish something for the poor folks down south.

                I’m so glad things seem to be beginning to change with Cuba, if glacially.

              • Posted June 18, 2015 at 9:35 am | Permalink

                She’s within a few minutes of the border!!! Only had time for one line. Not sure which side she is on. Suspect the Mexican side.

                Her friend Joana called from jail, and told Maria she was fine, being well cared for, and would soon be released with some kind of pass. Maybe even in time for the flight. She begged Maria to take the flight.

                Maria started to come back to life after that. She packed her things, and then started packing Joana’s things and started crying again on the phone with me.

                At nightfall they got on the flight, an internal flight so there were no migration police.

                The flight was fine, and then they stayed the night in a big city about 200 km from the frontier. At dawn they hired a taxi to make a break for the border.

                Three hours later, she just now sent me the message that she is fine, but she didn’t say which side of the border she was on!

                A cliff-hanger indeed…I am trembling

              • Posted June 18, 2015 at 9:38 am | Permalink

                I am sure she would have said she was in the US if she had crossed the border. So it’s not over yet.

              • Diane G.
                Posted June 18, 2015 at 10:42 am | Permalink

                Whew, I’ll probably have to leave before you find out for sure. Will certainly be checking back when possible!

              • Posted June 18, 2015 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

                She wrote at 9am, now it is near 2pm and still no news….

                Here is a two-week-old case where a flight similar to the one she took got caught in Mexico with 50 immigrants aboard. My friend was lucky:

                http://noticaribe.com.mx/2015/05/27/avion-de-indocumentados-capturan-a-50-ilegales-en-un-vuelo-de-vivaaerobus-que-partiria-de-cancun-a-reynosa/

              • Posted June 18, 2015 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

                Help!! I just got a call which must have come from her, but was dropped. The number recorded by my cell phone is 0992-413-*** which has the format of an Ecuadorian cell phone number but when i redial it, i find it is not a valid number. If it came from Mexico, the country code has been dropped. When I add it (52), the number seems valid but is always busy.

                Anybody know how one would dial this number if it were a Nuevo Laredo cell or fixed phone? Is there any chance it is a valid US number?

                Thanks,
                Lou

              • Posted June 18, 2015 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

                Can’t figure out what that number came from. Maybe I am grasping at straws in desperation, and it can’t really have come from Mexico without the “52”. But my cell phone does drop some digits from the middle of some international calls from Deisy (this caused several days of problems) so I know it is a possibility. It just seems such an odd coincidence to get a call from an invalid number (apart from this, never happened in my life) right when I was expecting an international call.

              • Posted June 18, 2015 at 11:51 pm | Permalink

                Mo, that was my paranoia and desperation, the dropped call was just a fluke. She just wrote me to say SHE MADE IT!!!!! What a relief.

              • Diane G.
                Posted June 19, 2015 at 1:30 am | Permalink

                Oh, what wonderful, wonderful news!

                She made it with a lot of help from great friends like you, sounds like!

          • Posted June 19, 2015 at 8:47 am | Permalink

            Thanks for still following the story, Diane! By the way, “Mo” meant “No” in my last comment. I was so ecstatic that I didn’t notice.

            • Posted July 1, 2015 at 10:05 pm | Permalink

              There’s still one loose thread in this story…Joana is still in a Mexican jail. The Cuban government has until this Friday to officially recognize Joana as a Cuban citizen. If they do, she will be deported. If they don’t, Mexican law says she has to be released. In that case she’ll be given a safe conduct pass and a few days to leave Mexico. That will get her to the border and she’ll be reunited with her best friend.

              So if all goes well, I’ll get a call from Joana Friday night or Saturday. On the other hand, if she gets deported, it will destroy Maria.

      • Posted May 30, 2015 at 9:49 am | Permalink

        You may well be right about the grackle, but I’m still very uncomfortable with cowbird. Look at the 3rd image — the beak is too long and heavy for a cowbird, IMO. Almost looks jay-like. Jay was my first thought, but the jays in Wisconsin should have crests, except Gray Jay and this isn’t one of those. And look at the long tail — cowbird tails are shorter and often held cocked up, not trailed along behind. Also, the bird is very chunky — the body is heavy.

        Can we eliminate Am. Robin? I’m starting to think in that direction — habitat is right anyway. 🙂 The heavy body fits. Hmmm.

        • Posted May 30, 2015 at 9:57 am | Permalink

          Don’t give up so easily on the grackle, Arachno! The flatter head is another grackle character. And the yellow eye. If I recall correctly, Wisconsin grackles have yellow eyes. Neither robins nor cowbirds do. Though I suppose we must make allowances for the possibility of aberrant eye pigment..

          • John Hunt
            Posted May 30, 2015 at 10:02 am | Permalink

            I believe grackle is correct. I cheated–I did a google image search for “leucistic grackle,” and the results convinced me.

            • Reginald Selkirk
              Posted May 30, 2015 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

              Maybe it’s a hybrid between a grackle and a gray junko.

  3. kansaskitty
    Posted May 30, 2015 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    Awesome pics of the great horned owl and the heron. The owl is magnificent!

    • Posted May 30, 2015 at 9:36 am | Permalink

      I agree — they’re both splendid images.

      • Posted May 30, 2015 at 11:10 am | Permalink

        We should try to talk Stephen into going to Wisconsin and photographing the white mystery bird. Then we could probably tell what it is!

    • Diane G.
      Posted May 31, 2015 at 2:07 am | Permalink

      + 3!

  4. Posted May 30, 2015 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    I thought of a cow bird too though I’ve never seen a white one.

    And those owls are impressively magestic. We had one land in a fir about twenty feet outside a living room window. Bird and family watched each other for ten minutes before it flapped off. It’s easy to see why they have such a mythic reputation.

  5. Stephen Barnard
    Posted May 30, 2015 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    I’ll go with leucitic Brown-headed Cowbird.

    • Stephen Barnard
      Posted May 30, 2015 at 9:42 am | Permalink

      *leucistic*

    • Posted May 30, 2015 at 10:03 am | Permalink

      But Stephen,look especially at the second picture. That beak is too long to belong to a cowbird, I think.

      • Stephen Barnard
        Posted May 30, 2015 at 10:27 am | Permalink

        I think the second photo is deceptive due to a shadow or something dark the bird is holding. In the other photos the beak looks consistent with a cowbird. I also think the beak looks too robust for a grackle. The head and breast markings are more consistent with a cowbird.

        • Posted May 30, 2015 at 10:49 am | Permalink

          I think the 3rd image shows the beak the best, and I can’t see how that’s a cowbird. Br.-h. cowbird beaks are quite short — almost finch like.

          But, the thing seems awfully robust for a grackle though I still consider that a possibility. I can’t quite convince myself that the eye is light — perhaps just the skin around the eye?

      • Diane G.
        Posted May 31, 2015 at 2:09 am | Permalink

        IME it’s very easy for a moving bird’s bill to look quite different in a photo than it does in real life. It can be longer or shorter, thinner or thicker…

    • kansaskitty
      Posted May 30, 2015 at 11:50 am | Permalink

      I’m with you, Stephen. I’m still hanging in there with the Brown-headed Cowbird! The pattern of the brown head looks exactly like that of a cowbird.
      P.S. Those cowbirds shouldn’t be encouraged around a feeder. The darn things have bad parenting habits. They encroach on songbird nests they find, destroy the songbird eggs, and lay their own eggs in the nest to be raised by the unsuspecting songbirds. Talk about deadbeat parents!

      • Stephen Barnard
        Posted May 30, 2015 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

        Regarding beak length, we may be seeing a speciation event ala Darwin’s finches. 🙂

  6. darrelle
    Posted May 30, 2015 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    Mystery bird might be a grackle.

  7. Bruce Lyon
    Posted May 30, 2015 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    I am willing to bet a bottle of wine that it is not a cowbird. (Any takers?) I have been watching them a lot recently and they have stubby conical beaks that this bird does not. At first I thought robin because of the body pose (robins cock their heads to listen for worms) but I think most of the above folks are right with grackle. Everything fits with that.

  8. Chukar
    Posted May 30, 2015 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    My first impression was a leucistic (partially albino) crestless jay. . But the Gray’s bill is too short. Western Scrub would be far afield for Wisc. and I don’t see how Western Scrub- plumage could ever come to this. American Crow? Seems like a lot of tail extending past the wingtips, more like a Magpie. Brown Jay? Large robust bill, long beveled tail extending well past wingtips. Can’t judge size from the pictures. The leucistic plumage *might* be achievable from the basic Brown Jay plumage. Possibly human tinkering, as often happens with cage birds, was involved.

    The eye appears amber, but this can occur in leucistic birds.

    A thrush? I’d seen very leucistic robins in Manitoba, but still there’s that robust bill.

    Blackbird? Still that robust bill. Cowbird bill is too thick & short. Other blackbird bills are more slender & pointy. One of the big Grackles? The tail isn’t ‘folded’ in a grackle manner. And the face still looks very jay-like.

    Farther afield: Consider the bulbuls, ~130 species native to Africa – Asia. General shape, bill, tail, eye frequently amber, & ‘brow ridge’ could work. The bulbul face often has that aggressive appearance many jays have. The Common Bulbul (Pycnonotus barbatus), widespread across sub-Saharan Africa, is a common cage bird that naturally occurs in a wide variety of brownish-blackish-whitish plumages, which could lend themselves to cross-breeding by humans to create more extreme plumage variations. So I’ll vote for an escaped Common Bulbul. But Brown Jay is possible.

  9. Posted May 30, 2015 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    My husband, the most avid of birders, says that it is a cowbird.

  10. geckzilla
    Posted May 30, 2015 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    I’ll throw a really unlikely suggestion of magpie in the mix. Other than that I think the grackles probably have it, though I find the answer strangely unsatisfying.

  11. Posted May 30, 2015 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    Based on the first picture I felt certain that it was a brown-headed cowbird: brown hood, stocky build, and the bill and tail both look short enough. But looking at the other pictures and reading some of the arguments for common grackle, I think I’m leaning in that direction now.

  12. geckzilla
    Posted May 30, 2015 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

    Here are some outlines of the first and third picture presented in hot magenta to do away with any color bias. Not sure if it helps but the short beak in the first photo is definitely an illusion caused by the grass texture and jpeg artifacting.

    • Posted May 30, 2015 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

      Looks more like a grackle in outline, so I guess I’m leaning farther that way.

      • geckzilla
        Posted May 30, 2015 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

        Yeah. I think I messed up the beak in the second one. Without that slightly curved point it’s trying to be a dinosaur.

        • Posted May 30, 2015 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

          It is one, either way.

          • geckzilla
            Posted May 30, 2015 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

            Heh, in a way, yeah, they are dinosaurs.

            Another thing comes to mind about my interpretation is the dot on the beak. It isn’t in the right spot for a nostril though it looks like one. I know the photos aren’t high resolution, but the JPEG artifacting makes a big difference too. If you’ve got something at low resolution then it can be a big help to post a non compressed image to look at so at least no fake detail is introduced that way. Alas. The camera probably automatically compressed the image.

  13. Posted May 30, 2015 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

    Here is a leucistic cowbird for comparison.

    http://10000birds.com/tag/leucism#prettyPhoto

    • Diane G.
      Posted May 31, 2015 at 2:21 am | Permalink

      Note that the expression is quite different–the wide, innocent (!) eyes. Grackles always have that slightly demonic expression, perhaps due to a certain plumage feature or some supraorbital ridge that slightly overhangs their eyes.

  14. Posted May 30, 2015 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

    Hi, On the leucistic bird, my guess, from its form and apartment habits would be an American Robin. T.

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    • Posted May 30, 2015 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

      Though I argued for grackles above, I do agree a robin is also a possibility.

      • geckzilla
        Posted May 31, 2015 at 3:32 am | Permalink

        A yellow beak would give away the robin.

        • Posted June 1, 2015 at 11:38 am | Permalink

          I forgot about the yellow beak! Of course it can’t be a robin, then.

  15. Posted May 30, 2015 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

    I looked at various pictures and think it’s a grackle.

  16. Wayne Y. Hoskisson
    Posted May 30, 2015 at 10:53 pm | Permalink

    A leucistic brown headed cowbird seems more likely. The eye is dark which is unusual for a grackle. I looked for leucistic grackles and the leucism appears to be predominantly on the head. The dimension of the slats on the fence would help. The brown headed cowbird is about 8 inches and the common grackle is about 12 inches. My guess is the slats are 1X4s.

  17. chris moffatt
    Posted May 31, 2015 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    Okay – my ten cents worth: a leucistic Brewer’s blackbird.

    • Posted June 1, 2015 at 11:41 am | Permalink

      The leucistic ones on the internet all have white heads and darker bodies, the opposite of this bird. Not sure how much that means.


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