Readers’ wildlife photos

Today we’re finishing up the bird photos of young Jamie Blilie (he’s 12), a series sent in June. The notes are from his dad, reader Jim Blilie:

American Goldfinches (Spinus tristis), male and female:

Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea):

Jamie birding:


Here are two birds from a new contributor, Adam Mitchell:

Adam from Bend OR here, with two species at my feeder:
1. California Scrub Jay (Aphelocoma californica).  Interestingly, we have a bird with an unusually colored deformed left leg that seems to be doing well; I have no idea if the condition is congenital or from some sort of injury.
2. Steller’s Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri).
When I put out a new slab of peanut/suet mix the California Scrub Jays are usually the first to notice, often within a few minutes. Despite their smaller size they tend to dominate the feeder over the Steller’s Jay, usually due to having a greater weight of numbers. We also have a pair of Northern Flickers (Colaptes auratus) that use the feeder, and all other birds immediately make way when the flickers are around. Unfortunately, the Flickers are very shy and I haven’t been able to get a worthwhile photo.
Apologies for the lack of crispness…low light, 300mm zoom lens and fast moving birds made things a little tricky.

A bird and a moose from Stephen Barnard in Idaho; the first picture was taken November 18, the second November 28:

Here’s a photo of a Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) I took a few minutes ago.

Moose (Alces alces):

This guy strolled past across the creek a few minutes ago. Got the dogs going.




  1. Jacques Hausser
    Posted December 2, 2017 at 8:02 am | Permalink

    Nice pictures and two questrions:
    1) it seems that in America you have far more blue birds than in Europa – and as a whole far more vividly colored ones. Do you think that the orientation of geographical barrierd (North – South in America, and East – West in Europs (Alps, Pyrenees, Caucasus and the Mediterranean Sea) played a part in this difference ?
    2) This impressive Moose seems to have a problem with its eye – cataract ?

    • Jacques Hausser
      Posted December 2, 2017 at 8:03 am | Permalink

      Oups, sorry for the typing – my keyboard is a bronco…

    • rickflick
      Posted December 2, 2017 at 8:59 am | Permalink

      I noticed the difference this past September visiting southern France – Parc naturel régional de Camargue. We saw mostly wading birds and a few Passeri one of which was quite brightly colored. The pictures shown in guide signs however showed that nearly all of birds are quietly colored compared to the North American version. I wondered, myself, why this is the case. There must be some selection pressure favoring camouflage over flamboyance.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted December 2, 2017 at 9:39 am | Permalink

      Jaques. Here are some figures from THIS RESEARCH PAPER


      North America = 39%
      South American tropics = 39%
      Europe = 32%
      South American non-tropics = 26%


      South American tropics = 32%
      South American non-tropics = 27%
      North America = 23%
      Europe = 10%

      The authors were stumped as to possible reasons for the difference! They tried correlating various properties of each bird [such as habitat] to no avail. See the paper for more details – a paper which is refreshingly free of jargon – mostly!

      • GBJames
        Posted December 2, 2017 at 10:01 am | Permalink

        Remarkable differences.

        I note that Africa is not represented. I wonder if there are differences in the amount of migration between North & South America vs. Europe & sub-Saharan Africa.

      • rickflick
        Posted December 2, 2017 at 11:25 am | Permalink

        Interesting paper. I would have guessed that the color differences would be well understood. It seems there are still good research project ideas for grad students.

      • Jacques Hausser
        Posted December 2, 2017 at 11:49 am | Permalink

        Thank you – this paper confirms my feeling, but doesn’t suggest an answer to the question. Interesting nevertheless.

      • nicky
        Posted December 2, 2017 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

        The paper, interesting as it is, is nearly half a century old. Are there no new insights by now? I guess that sexual dichromatism is somewhat understood: sexual selection. In lekking, polygynic species, you will find sexual dichromatism, in monogamic species the difference is much smaller (can anybody tell a male from a female gull?). What causes monogamy or polygyny is of course a different question. I think when the rearing of offspring is difficult, there is a tendency towards monogamy, and hence little or no sexual dichromatism.
        What struck me is the difference in ‘colourfulness’ between North American birds and European ones, one would expect them to be comparable.
        I wonder what this paper would have looked like if New Guinean birds had been included.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted December 2, 2017 at 10:17 am | Permalink

      Here is a WORLD MAP OF VEGETATION PATTERNS during the last glacial maximum of 22,000 years ago

      Europe is entirely ice [GREY] or steppe [PINK], whereas there’s a much greater variety of vegetation in North America south of the ice sheet. I propose that this difference in habitats, [between Europe & everywhere else surveyed] is the main cause of the preponderance of dull European birds today. There hasn’t been time for European birds to up their colour game as the vegetation became more variegated in Europe post-ice age.

      Humans. Agriculture & hunting may have been bad news for birds of colour. 🙂

      • GBJames
        Posted December 2, 2017 at 10:55 am | Permalink

        Since there have been humans in both the old and new worlds since the last glacial maximum, I think we should dispose of YOUR THEORY II.

        The map you provided in support of YOUR THEORY I is better support, I think, for my Saharan Barrier theory.

        Assuming that extravagant coloration is more likely to evolve in tropical environments, barriers to migration would account for the difference between Europe and North America.

        I’d like to see the numbers for dichromatism and colorfulness for Africa and parts of Asia!

      • rickflick
        Posted December 2, 2017 at 11:34 am | Permalink

        Theory I sounds reasonable. The Mediterranean Sea should serve as a migration barrier for many small species.

        Theory II not so much. Presumably, hunting for colorful birds would be motivated by use of the feathers in bodily decoration, much as the the natives of Papua use them today. But, the human population would have been pretty low during the ice age. It’s hard to see how they could impact bird populations.

        • Jacques Hausser
          Posted December 2, 2017 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

          I agree with theory 1, but suggest it worked mostly the opposite way: colorful subtropical african birds were prevented to recolonise Europe after the glaciation by the Mediterranean Sea and the Sahara. An exception to confirme the rule: the European bee-eater.

      • nicky
        Posted December 2, 2017 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

        Your hypothesis II appears more plausible, if you do not burden yourself with the last glacial maximum, or glaciations in general (and note that birds are eminently able to migrate).
        Modern humans arrived in Europe at least 40.000 years ago, and Neanderthals a few 100.000’s of years before that. In the America’s humans arrived much later, about 20.000 years ago at best. That difference is 50% if you discount the Neanderthals, and much more if you don’t. And since they were primarily hunters, there is no reason at all to discount them.
        On the other hand, I do not see a real difference in variety of vegetation on your map, different, but not really more variated. Hence I think your hypothesis I is weak, to put it mildly.

        I think II is spot on. Especially since cryptic colouring is kind of ‘non-colourful’ while different vegetations are less of a clearcut selective pressure.

    • Stephen Barnard
      Posted December 2, 2017 at 10:38 am | Permalink

      I think the reflection in the moose’s eye is a trick of lighting. The photo was taken in very dim pre-dawn light using a high ISO. Wide-angle diffuse light from the sky, not narrow-angle direct light from the sun, is reflected in the eye.

      • Jacques Hausser
        Posted December 2, 2017 at 11:51 am | Permalink

        I hope for the moose’s sake you are right!

  2. Debbie Coplan
    Posted December 2, 2017 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    Really wonderful photos. It’s wonderful to wake up to such scenery and to see critters I don’t get to see in my city.
    Love that American Goldfinch and that huge moose—-

  3. rickflick
    Posted December 2, 2017 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    Thanks for posting these. It’s a delight to open Reader’s wildlife photos each morning.

    I’ve recently discovered a very fine FB page, ‘Birds of the World’, which has a large supply of great bird photos. Worth subscribing to.

  4. Simon Hayward
    Posted December 2, 2017 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    I think the two jays are transposed, looks like Stellars on the top and Scrub underneath

  5. Posted December 2, 2017 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    Excellent pictures, Jamie! Very well done. I think you need an 800mm zoom lens for Xmas.

  6. Paul Matthews
    Posted December 2, 2017 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

    Very nice photos!

    I’m a very keen birder. I have a twelve-year-old son. He has shown no interest in birds at all.

    What am I doing wrong?

    • Posted December 4, 2017 at 6:34 am | Permalink

      I don’t know (of course). Our strategy has been just to get Jamie outdoors as much as we can. I am a keen observer of the natural world; and I can ID most plants and animals we see. (I probably spent 80% of my weekend nights in a tent – or under the stars – when I was in my 20s.)

      Jamie developed his own interest in the birds. It may be because we have so many where we live (amongst ponds, meadows, woodlots, low population density just locally, in the middle of the Mississippi Flyway) and we feed the birds (obviously).

      When I was a kid, growing up in the same town, I hardly saw any birds other than the basic chickadees and an occasional blue jay. I never saw a cardinal until I was a junior at university. Never saw a bluebird my entire youth (and I wanted to!). Goldfinches were a rare treat. Now these are all very common.

      I was Jamie’s age right after the “Silent Spring” period of widely broadcast pesticides that laid waste to the bird populations in the US.

      We are grateful that the birds have recovered.

      Another point as well: When I was Jamie’s age, there were almost no Trumpeter Swans left in the “lower 48” US states. Now, we have 20,000 pairs nesting in Minnesota every year. I had a small flock of them fly right over me – maybe 20 feet off the ground, in my back yard, trumpeting, this summer. What a treat!

      • Stephen Barnard
        Posted December 4, 2017 at 6:58 am | Permalink

        Good post. Lucky boy.

  7. Posted December 2, 2017 at 11:36 pm | Permalink

    12 years old and he’s already taking great photos. What am I doing with my life?

    • Posted December 4, 2017 at 6:36 am | Permalink

      My comment is always: Don’t watch TV. Just turn it off and leave it off. I haven’t watched TV since 1987. And I don’t spend more than 10 minutes on FB in a day.

      • Posted December 4, 2017 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

        I don’t watch TV. There’s nothing good on it over here. I’ve taken to watching lectures on YouTube though.

        • Stephen Barnard
          Posted December 4, 2017 at 7:33 pm | Permalink

          I’ve been watching a tremendous amount of cable news TV, mostly CNN and MSNBC. What’s happening in American politics is riveting drama, much like Watergate, which I remember well. But we didn’t have 24-hour cable news then. I’m watching Carl Bernstein on CNN right now, recounting Watergate and drawing parallels.

          • Posted December 4, 2017 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

            Ah, well, I’m not in the USA, and I don’t have much of an appetite for politics except when it intersects with science.

            • Stephen Barnard
              Posted December 4, 2017 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

              Do you think the current USA Trump administration intersects with science?

              • Posted December 4, 2017 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

                Mostly on global warming. I’m sure there are several more but that’s the major one

              • Stephen Barnard
                Posted December 4, 2017 at 11:20 pm | Permalink

                Just to give another example, among many, Rick Perry is the Secretary of Energy. You may not know who Rick Perry is. You probably don’t. Rick Perry is the famously stupid and ignorant politician who was just photogenic enough to get elected Governor of Texas. During a major Presidential debate he forgot that he wanted to eliminate the Department of Energy. He graduated from Texas A&M with a 2.5 GPA and a bachelor’s degree in animal science in 1972.

                Obama’s Secretary of Energy was Ernest Moniz, head of the Department of Physics at MIT from 1991 to 1995.

              • Posted December 5, 2017 at 10:27 am | Permalink

                I only remember a global warming denier becoming the head of the EPA and the sad irony of the House Science and something something Committee.

              • rickflick
                Posted December 5, 2017 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

                In other news, “The Republican tax bill approved by the Senate contains an obscure provision that could undercut investment in renewables, and the House version has sweeping cuts to clean energy tax credits.” – Inside Climate News.

        • Posted December 5, 2017 at 8:00 am | Permalink

          Wow, how do you spend your time? Must be good stuff, right? 🙂

          • Posted December 5, 2017 at 10:28 am | Permalink

            I’m watching physics lectures by Prof. Leonard Susskind. I’ve recommended to PCC(E) before since he mentioned he wanted to learn quantum mechanics.

  8. Stephen Barnard
    Posted December 4, 2017 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

    Is Jamie standing on the bank of the Mississippi? It looks like a spot I used to take my dogs, just downstream from the bridge.

    • Posted December 5, 2017 at 8:04 am | Permalink

      Hi Stephen, that is the banks for the Minnesota River; but just above the confluence with the Mississippi, right in the heart of Minneapolis/St. Paul.

      This is just upstream from Pike Island. He’s on the left bank of the Minn. R., looking more or less due south.

      The Minnesota Valley NWR is an amazing spot: Quiet and full of wildlife right in the heart of the city, with jets from MSP flying over all the time! But is sounds like you’ve lived here and know about these spots.

      My very first sighting of a cardinal was standing at the lip of Minnehaha Falls, late winter, all icy. This was in 1981 or 82.

      • GBJames
        Posted December 5, 2017 at 8:41 am | Permalink

        My brother lives just 4 miles north of that spot, on the west bank of the Mississippi, near Minnehaha Falls. Lovely area, even with the nearby airport.

One Trackback/Pingback

  1. […] via Readers’ wildlife photos — Why Evolution Is True […]

%d bloggers like this: