Yesterday I was happy to see a flock of these birds on the exposed, dry mud at Shenango River Lake. I know their identity but they're tricky, so here's a quiz.
One quick glance tells you this bird is not a sparrow because his beak is too thin.
Is he a thrush? He has a striped breast, short neck, thrush-like stance, almost-thrush-sized bill, and he walks a lot.
A longer look reveals many Not Thrush things about him.
- He's a little smaller than a Swainson's thrush. This is hard to determine because he is rarely near anything that gives him scale.
- He is only found in open tundra-like landscape, never in the forest.
- He has wing bars. Our eastern thrushes don't.
- His outer tail edges are white. (You can see this when he flies.)
- When he walks he darts and jabs, unlike the walk-and-pause of thrushes.
- He pumps his tail and almost wags. This is not the slow raise-and-lower pumping of the hermit thrush.
- In flight he's bouncier than a goldfinch.
- And like a goldfinch he always calls when he flies. His call is a dead giveaway. He says his name.
Final hint: This bird is a treat to see because he neither breeds nor winters in Pennsylvania.
What do you think? Leave a comment with your answer.
(photo by Steve Gosser)