When Chuck Tague sent me this picture of a scarlet tanager I was struck by something I had never noticed before. The underside of this black and scarlet bird's wings is neither black nor red, it's white!
This got me thinking of other birds whose underwings are an unexpected color.
My favorite are those of the rose-breasted grosbeak. The rose color from the male's breast is repeated under his wing. It's a real trick to see this because he just won't hold his wings open. I discovered the color one day when I was sitting below a male grosbeak and he glided over my head to a nearby branch. His color took my breath away.
Not colorful, but equally surprising are the black "armpits" of the black-bellied plover. This bird is named for his breeding plumage but you won't see a black belly on him in the winter when he visits the Atlantic coast from New Jersey to South America.
I remember the first time I tried to identify a non-breeding black-bellied plover. It was February in Virginia Beach. Slowly and carefully I examined a flock of three drab birds and tried very hard not to scare them so I could carefully note all their features. I was a "newbie" to shorebirds and I could not figure them out. For 15 minutes I watched those birds, had no idea what they were and was careful, careful not to startle them. Then someone walked by with a dog, the birds flew, and I saw their black armpits. Black-bellied plovers! I certainly felt like a fool.
Do you have a bird whose underwing color surprised you? Leave a comment and tell us about it.
(photo by Chuck Tague)