Mystery Bird: Juvenile Red-winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus

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[Mystery bird] Juvenile Red-winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus, photographed at Galveston East Beach, Texas. [even the photographer doesn't know the identify of this bird, maybe you can help and come to a consensus ID?]

Image: Joseph Kennedy, 11 August 2009 [larger view].

Nikon D200, Kowa 883 telescope with TSN-PZ camera eyepiece 1/1000s f/8.0 at 1000.0mm iso400.

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

Review all mystery birds to date.

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Scruffy plumage indicates this to be a homeless bird.
A shower and a decent meal are in order for this unfortunate individual.
We have several in my neighborhood here in California.

By 1hen2ducks (not verified) on 20 Aug 2009 #permalink

The shape reads icterid to me. The streaking on the breast and yellow wash leads me to juvenile red-winged blackbird. The bird is missing some feathers around the beak, not sure if it got picked on the nest or if that's some feather mite issues.

The bill seems too bulky and not pointy enough for an icterid. My immediate thought was a weaver, possibly Streaked Weaver (Ploceus manyar)or similar. Do you have these as cagebirds in the US? The feather wear is typical and the feet look to be deformed suggesting captivity.The yellow around the dark ear coverts is also "weaverish".

Thanks for the photos. I would also go along with an immature blackbird. However that said, I think the scruffy appearance and the the yellow on the proximal (and lateral) part of the beak does support the thought that it is a juvenile.

By Lynn Barlow (not verified) on 20 Aug 2009 #permalink

Juvenile bird based on feather structure. Beak is not correct for any icterid. This is either a grosbeak or a cowbird, based on bill structure. The yellow wash on the face and upper breast rules out brown-headed cowbird. Juvenile Bronzed Cowbird is a bit out of range, but has the streaking and the yellow wash. See…

By Albatrossity (not verified) on 20 Aug 2009 #permalink

It's a juvenile Red-winged Blackbird. The bill is far from grown (as are the feathers), so it looks "funny". It has the streaking pattern of female or young redwings. The dark feathers on the wing with reddish and buffy edges and tips are found on redwings. It looks like a Streaked Weaver would have a stronger contrast between light and dark markings on the side of the head, and a thicker bill. By the way, Albastrossity--cowbirds are icterids.

Albatrossity's post is contradictory. She states "beak is not correct for any icterid." Then she makes a case for a juvenile cowbird (possibly Bronzed). Please note that cowbirds are icterids!

I think the bill looks a bit too petite for a Bronzed Cowbird, but the mystery bird obviously is a very recently fledged one and so I guess I can't rule it out. I do, however, think I agree with the majority opinion of juvenile Red-winged Blackbird. The blackish streaking on a yellowish background is consistent with this ID, and the bill looks OK for a juvenile Red-wing.

By LarkBunting88 (not verified) on 20 Aug 2009 #permalink

This discussion seems to be demonstrating an important point about bill shape in birds. Not only do young birds have odd bill shapes, but they are frequently missing the feathering near the bill, as on this bird. (It's there, you can see the feather shafts, but it's got a few days to go). Missing feathers, or even feathers being raised or lowered, can have a dramatic impact on how much of the bill base is visible, and therefore the apparent shape.

Having said that, I agree that Red-winged Blackbird is the best call. Bronzed Cowbird shouldn't show the distinct streaking, and wouldn't show the reddish edging in the wings.

When I first saw the unidentified bird, I immediately thought "juvenile Red-winged Blackbird" and thought it was so easy that I didn't go back to read the discussion (assuming that there wouldn't be much controversy) until today. That's not to discount the opinions and ventures of the posters; it's because I grew up on a farm in New England where these birds were common nesters and where I spent many happy hours (literally) in the fields watching these and other native birds. The feet don't seem to be deformed; rather, I think the bird is standing on some pebbles and bits of mud, and perhaps some wet sand is clinging to the claws. This bird looks to be just out of the nest; the beak still has that wide-gaped baby-bird look that nestlings have. And the still-downy feathers on the belly also point to a very young age. Top my eye, this bird recalls very strongly the coloraion of an adult female RW blackbird, though with a definite "baby bird" look.