Mystery Bird: Dickcissel, Spiza americana

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[Mystery bird] Dickcissel, Spiza americana, photographed at Eisenhower Park, Houston, Texas. [I will identify this bird for you tomorrow]

Image: Joseph Kennedy, 17 July 2007 [larger view].

Nikon D200, Kowa 883 telescope TSN-PZ camera eyepiece 1/1000s f/8.0 at 500.0mm iso400.

Please name at least one field mark that supports your identification.

Rick Wright, Managing Director of WINGS Birding Tours Worldwide, writes:

A well-proportioned and colorful bird, proclaiming his territory from a bare twig. I can almost hear him, can't you: "chip, chip, chip-chruzzel-chruzzel!" Or, if you insist, "Dick-dick-dickcissel-issel!"

The male Dickcissel is one of the very few North American birds that can honestly be styled unmistakable: a rusty wing, a yellowish breast with a black band, and a handsomely striped head with a large, almost cardinal-like silvery bill. Female-plumaged birds are less distinctively plumed, though, and so it's worth getting a sense of this male's shape and structure, impressing on your mind an image that will apply not just to brightly feathered birds but to the brown streaky ones as well. The tail is somewhat long, proportionately longer than on a House Sparrow, and narrower, too, I think; and the bill is heavy, sharp, with an exaggerated commissural angle. If you can see those features on a bright male, you'll see them on winter- and female-plumaged birds, too, increasing your chances at picking one out among the House Sparrows and emberizids this unique species hangs out with in the winter.

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More like this

My first thought was sparrow, but I've settled on Dickcissel. The yellow over the eye and beside the bill, with the big black bib and the dusting of yellow underneath that, the plain breast and russet on the shoulder.

Adult male Dickcissal in breeding plumage. Black bib is well developed, defined, white under chin, yellow on chest.

By Red Dragon (not verified) on 05 Jan 2009 #permalink

Breeding adult male Dickcissel - black bib on chest; russet on shoulder; yellow supercilium; white at the throat; large, conical bill (heavier and longer than a sparrow); photographed in known range.