Sometimes It Works Out

August 8, 2017

One of the frustrations when birding while working a full-time job is the timing of rare or unusual birds. I don’t normally flake-out on important appointments or max out credit cards to chase down birds around the state or country, but I will make a long day trip on occasion, providing it doesn’t unduly risk my employment. Getting the Bahama Woodstar and to some degree, stumbling upon the Kirtland’s Warbler on workdays this spring worked out because of their relative nearness to the office. But when rare birds are found a little more afield, it can get frustrating to not be able to “chase” them until the next day off.

Luckily it worked out today that when a rare bird (the presumed 2nd county record) was seen a little farther away from work, my afternoon had stalled out (both my boss and project lead were out). Jim Eager sent out a text that a Bahama Mockingbird was seen at Playalinda Beach, and Camille and I were in the unusual position to be able to chase it down on a workday afternoon!

The first bird we saw (apart from the ubiquitous Boat-tailed Grackles) was a mockingbird, but it seemed oddly plumaged. While not showing all the field marks of a Northern Mockingbird, it retained enough of that “look” to make us uncertain of the Bahama Mockingbird identification.

mockingbird1
This bird was seriously heat-stressed. I noted how much browner the wings of this bird looked compared to other immature Northern Mockingbirds I’ve seen. Read on to find out what this might mean.

We weren’t sure about what a juvenile Bahama Mockingbird should look like, but we tentatively considered our find a “success”. But then, another birder played a recording, to get familiar with what we might hear should the bird sing, another mockingbird flew into a nearby shrub, and this one was clearly not a Northern Mockingbird and even sang back to us, confirming the ID as a Bahama Mockingbird!

bahama-mockingbird1
While this bird did in fact sing for us, that’s not what you’re seeing here. This bird is panting hard to stay cool. The heat-index was miserably high.

As the bird moved about, we could see some feather separation on the breast. This is often an indication of a brood pouch when a parent bird is on the nest with eggs or young.

bahama-mockingbird3
In addition to the possible brood pouch, the side streaking and (barely visible) malar stripe (moustache) that mark this bird as a Bahama Mockingbird can be seen.

Meanwhile, the first bird we had seen was intermittently flying in and out of an area in the scrub that was visible to us. As we (and some other birders) advanced in toward the brush, the second bird flew down in front of us and then fluttered out its wings and slowly tilted down onto its side, as if it had fainted or was injured. It actually first tilted one way and then the other, in quite a melodramatic performance.

bahama-mockingbird-faux1
An adult Bahama Mockingbird doing its best to act injured to lure predators away.
bahama-mockingbird-faux2
After several seconds of this display, seeing as we continued to look in on the other bird, this one hopped up and promptly began eating bugs in the sand.

Birds will do this to lure predators away from a nest, eggs, or young. If you take into consideration the brood pouch, the injury display, and the slightly-odd looking fledgling/immature bird, it seems probable that this Bahama Mockingbird has mated with a Northern Mockingbird and produced at least one hybrid offspring. This is not unheard of, as a general rule, but it may be the first recorded instance of this happening in Brevard County. Ultimately, that may be up to the Fish and Wildlife biologist and the Florida Ornithological Society Records Committee.

 

mockingbird2
Another view of the immature mockingbird. The broad white wing-patch all but rules out a pure Bahama Mockingbird, but the other circumstantial evidence and plumage aberrations make for a compelling case for hybridization. 

Whatever the final determination is, it was nice to be able to have an opportunity to “get” this life bird and document possible breeding activity of this species.

[Edited to add: not all people who saw the immature bird or its photographs feel it is a hybrid, but just a normal Northern Mockingbird. I leave it up to the readers to investigate and decide, if they want.]

 

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