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Nature in it's glory

Nature in it's glory

Oct 6, 2011

The trouble with young birds

Juvenile Downy Woodpecker

Bird watching can be challenging at times, but hey, if it wasn't, it wouldn't be any fun, and we wouldn't learn anything besides.  Having said that, I was lucky enough this year to see several different species of juvenile birds.  While most juvenile birds typically look like the female of their species, juvenile birds can make bird watching very confusing on occasion, because many don't look anything like their parents and/or can be easily mistaken for another species altogether.  

American Redstart Male
Take the American Restart for example.  This is a bird that caused me some serious confusion for quite some time, especially after I caught a juvenile on camera.  The male of the species is easily identified with his black and red coloring.  The female can be mistaken for another species because her coloring is so different from the male, yet so similar to that of other species of birds.   However she is also very unlike most other female birds,who are typically drab in color.  When you throw a juvenile into the mix, well, lets just say identification can become even more tricky.   Here are some photos.   Just click to enlarge them and you will see what I mean.

American Redstart Female
American Redstart Juvenile

Some juvenile bird species are not the least bit difficult to identify, like the Downy woodpecker at the top of this post.  Then there are those juveniles that can leave you puzzled, if only for a short time, unless you see them next to the adult. These do have some markings that are similar to the parent to help identify them.  The Cedar Waxwing juvenile below has the parental mask, as well as the beginnings of a crest to help identify him as a species.  However, they also have a darkly streaked chest and sides and their color is not quite the same as their parent's.  This can cause an identification mishap, if by chance you fail to see the mask, hear their voice, or notice the crest.
Cedar waxwings- adult and juvenile
Cedar waxwing juveniles
To make things really interesting, some birds are colored in their parents non-breeding plumage when young, or simply have a different  pattern of  markings and/or color  altogether.  If you have never seen the parent in non-breeding plumage this can be somewhat troublesome.  Also again, if you do not see the young one with the parent, you would not make the proper identification connection. Below are a couple of examples.

Horned Grebe with young
Golden-eyed duck with young
When I first saw the young Horned Grebe, I was puzzled as to it's species until the parent arrived from beneath the surface of the pond a to help me put two and two together as it were.   The same thing happened when I spotted the young Golden-eyed ducklings briefly on their own.  As you can clearly see neither species of young closely resemble the parents, except perhaps in shape.  The young Horned Grebe will grow into it's parent's non-breeding plumage during the first year of it's life.  But since Golden-eyed ducks do not change their plumage during courting season, the young ones will grow into the male or female coloring for their species only completely upon maturity.   More on this topic in another post.



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