Northern (Yellow Shafted) Flicker
January 31, 2007
Flickers are large-ish woodpeckers and like most other woodpeckers they have zygodactyl feet: two toes toward the front and two in the rear, giving the foot an "X" appearance. They also have fairly strong rectrices (tail feathers) that assist in supporting the bird while clinging to the sides of trees. Northern Flickers have a number of different morphs. The Eastern, which is what I prepared and what you would see around Chicagoland, is often referred to as Yellow Shafted. One can see why by looking at the tail feathers and the inner parts of the wings. Out West, it's the Red Shafted and there is a cross over area where there is evidence of interbreeding between the two. I was a little in awe of the spotted pattern on the breast.
Cockatiels and budgerigars are the most popular pet birds, and both are native to Australia. Both are bred in captivity as it is illegal to sell or own anything wild caught. Cockatiels are related to other Psittacids (parrots), but share a good amount of genetic information with the genus Calyptorynchus (Cacatuidae family) or the dark cockatoos. Their latin name Nymphicus hollandicus (New Holland) reflects their nymph-like beauty according to their dutch observers. The one I prepared was someone's donated, well loved pet. I got the sense from Dr. Willard that there aren't a lot of domestic birds in the Field's collection, but that it was an occassional addition that had some value.
January 24, 2007
Fox Sparrows are one of our largest sparrows, and in my humble opinion, one of our most beautiful. There are four separate populations of Fox Sparrow: Thick-billed(California), Slate-colored (Interior West), Sooty (Pacific), and Red (Taiga). These are sometimes considered separated species. The one I prepared was found by myself in downtown Evanston, IL. It was, of course, a Red(depicted) with beautiful sienna brown streaking on the breast.
The combination of the ink black, bright white, and almost rasberry red stain on the chest, make the male of this species visual poetry in my eyes. Grosbeaks are in the same family as cardinals and buntings (Cardinalidae). As you can see, grosbeaks and other members of this family have large, stout beaks perfectly adapted for crunching seeds. As with tanagers (see previous post) there is quite a bit of sexual dimorphism, in which the males are brightly colored and females are more inconspicuous. I had prepared a male that had knocked into McCormick place while migrating, no doubt.
Tanagers are in the family Thraupida, and all North American Tanagers belong to the genus Piranga.There is some debate, I believe, as to whether some of these species truly belong in Piranga. There is recent genetic evidence that supports that three within Piranga, actually belong in the cardinal family. Mmm, anyway, tanagers are forest dwelling, dramatically sexually dimorphic birds; the male Scarlet, as shown above, is an intense (almost neon) red during the breeding season and the females are sort of a drab, olive yellow. Male contour feathers during the non-breeding months (Aug -Mar) lose the red and resemble the color of the females. The Scarlet Tanager specimen I prepared was a breeding male and was spectacular. Unfortunately, my skin didn't turn out so well. The skin was incredibly delicate, which is a bad combination with inexperienced hands such as mine.
January 21, 2007
Parakeets in Chicago? Yep -try Hyde Park. Unlike other Psittacids, Monk Parakeets nest in large stick masses with separate entrances for several pairs. All other parrots nest in tree cavities. Monks are a sub-tropical species native to Argentina. Feral populations are established in Oregon,Conneticut, Florida, New York and Illinois.
One of the Cooper's I prepared was a juvenile (depicted). It's plumage is quite different from that of an adult, which looks very close to the plumage of an adult Sharp-shinned Hawk (see following post). Cooper's used to be quite rare in the Chicago area, but are quickly becoming one of the more common hawks that you may see.
Downy woodpeckers are fairly common in wooded areas in Chicagoland. The males and females look similar except for a bright red patch of feathers on the back of the male's head. I used to hear one drumming away on a regular basis on some of the older trees in my north Chicago neighborhood.
FYI -When I created this painting, I didn't realize that it is incorrectly depicting some woodpecker behavior. Woodpeckers do not climb down trees head first. Nuthatches have the ability to do this, but not woodpeckers. So shame on me for this false image!
Where there is human habitation, there seems to be the House Sparrow. An Old World sparrow, they were first introduced to the States in New York in 1850, and by 1910 had spread to California. Tough, adaptable fellers, aren't they? Because they are so ubiquitous, I didn't fully appreciate the beauty of the color in the male until I prepared one.
This was the first bird that I prepared. Robins are thrushes (family Turdidae). All Turdids have slender bills adapted for eating insects, berries, worms, etc. Robins may be seen roving in large groups in their wintering areas, foraging for food. Once, in the heart of a Chicago winter, I saw a large flock descend upon a tree loaded with red berries. It was bright rust brown breasts and red berries against a backdrop of snow.