Monday, 31 March 2008

Spot the birdie

Over the weekend I’ve had a bit of a challenge trying to ID a visiting bird to my garden. Wow… the pale yellow colouring of this bird was really noticed in the flock of birds descending on the feeders on Saturday afternoon. It was raining quite hard at the time and raindrops were all over my back window but I still took some photos. I had never seen a bird like this one.

Quickly browsing through my book I checked for birds that I hadn’t seen like a yellowhammer (I am still new to bird ID’s) where of course I was well off the mark. I browsed and browsed. Nope, no ID. I was very curious now.

Perhaps this wasn’t a new garden bird – maybe it was an escaped caged bird. A canary… could it be a canary? I checked images on Google. I then felt quite silly that I had been browsing my RSPB Complete Book of Birds. So for a little while I considered it could be someone’s pet and made a (brief) request to my family that they might want to ask neighbours if they had an escaped bird, as I kept an eye on it. Nope… this suggestion wasn’t taken on - fortunately for me!


I watched the behaviour of this bird. It really didn’t look like it was new to this group of siskins it came to the feeders with. It ate at the small tray of sunflower hearts with them and a greenfinch and even the larger house sparrow. Mm… I started looking at my less than clear photos again.

I could see a very light brown cap as you will see on the photo below. I was starting to convince myself that I could see the markings of a siskin male. Could this be some sort of ‘almost’ albino male siskin? I was convincing myself now that it was. Nope… I was now thinking it cannot be a canary. Phew… that was lucky we didn’t ask neighbours!!


I then considered who might know from one of the contacts I have made through my blog. I sent off an email. However, it was late Saturday afternoon and this person may even be away for the weekend. Later on that evening I then considered a bird forum. I am a member of one already but I decided to join a worldwide one, the Birdforum, as I spotted an image from their gallery of a larger pale yellow bird. I couldn’t browse further until I became a member. It was getting late.

Next morning this pale yellow bird was back at the feeders again. So now it was time to find my way around this new forum, post a message and upload a few photos. Briefly browsing, the word ‘leucisitic’ came up with another pale yellow bird. If you are familiar with forums you may know that responses back vary based on other more popular topics there at the time. However it just needs a couple of answers to confirm an ID.


Sunday mornings are maybe a good time for forums as within minutes of posting my question asking for an ID I had an answer. I was well chuffed that I had finally worked out what this pale yellow bird was. However I didn’t know what leucistic was. I asked this member the question. I then had two replies – fantastic! I also had a reply to my email now too.

I now knew exactly what was visiting my garden. This bird is a leucistic siskin. It has no dark pigments at all so that is why I can see markings unlike albino where there are no pigments at all. My sincere thanks go to the members of the BirdForum and to Border who confirmed my final suspicions.

Finally, I do have a very great concern for the survival of this bird. We do have Sparrowhawks visiting the garden and this bird and as you would imagine is very easy to spot!

Oh yes, I should perhaps say that yesterday I also spotted some other ‘bird’ activity from my window seat…

The top three photos above were taken in my garden on March 29th 2008. The last photo shown above was taken in my garden on March 30th 2008.

14 comments:

Lisa at Greenbow said...

Nothing like a mystery solved. It is a pretty little bird even if it doesn't have the correct plummage.

Jane said...

Hey well done Shirl. I'd never have got that. What a strange looking little siskin. He must feel quite out of place...

Do I take it from your last sentance that you "may" have a visitor to your birdbox??? Jane

Border Reiver said...

Sparrowhawk apart, your little chap should survive, as it's not Albino. Nice posting, created a bit of a discussion. Life is never easy :-)

Nancy J. Bond said...

I'm glad you were able to solve the mystery -- I would never have guessed a siskin, even though they are a familiar bird in these parts. :)

Mike @ Fenphotography said...

Wow Shirl, really glad I popped in, when I was reading down and looking at the photos I was thinking it was some sort of Greenfinch, but it didn't have the angry look greenfinches do, then when you see it side by side with the other Siskin you can see they are a similar shape, what a great post. thanks Mike.

Kim said...

I hope your little bird makes it - is it entering a nesting box in that photo?

Cheryl said...

What a lovely post and so very interesting.
We have a sparrowhawk in the area at the moment. I think she is feeding young as she has taken several doves from the garden.

shirl said...

Hi there Lisa, Jane, Border, Nancy, Mike, Kim and Cheryl :-)

Lisa – Yes, I agree however I eventually understood that this bird was quite special :-D

Jane – Thanks, although I did have a little help! I agree although quite special this bird does look quite strange on the tree branches and at the feeders. Funnily enough that is exactly what made me think it was not a caged bird – it was very comfortable in the company of the other birds. It was so strange to see it beside a male housesparrow. Oh… my last sentence! I thought someone would pick up on that one. However I suspect I have yet another visitor in the garden... :-D

Border – That is good to hear! Thank-you for your help with this and thanks also for spreading this round your colleagues too. Yes, survival depends on a number of factors :-D

Nancy – Thank-you, yes I thought I was convincing myself I could see markings of a siskin. It is a very strange bird to see. I wonder if it can pass on any genes – I never thought to ask anyone about that :-D

Mike – Thank-you, yes, I suppose for others there are only a few photos to look at on my posting and as usual I was setting up the story. I took lots of, out of focus, photos through the raindrops. But even the photos I took outside in the garden were hard to get in focus. It must be the pale colouring of this bird – my excuse! I do have quite a challenge to get a good photo but I will keep trying. I checked out your photos and other bird photography sites too when I was looking for an ID :-D

Kim – By all accounts it looks like it could be okay! It was at a feeder in my photo. It is a tube type with openings where the birds can peek in to get to the food :-D

Cheryl – Thank-you. Oh… I never thought of Sparrowhawks feeding young at this time of year! It gave me shivers thinking about them taking doves from your garden :-(

A wildlife gardener said...

I've never heard of that one, Shirl. At first glance I thought it looked like an immature female greenfinch. glad you got the identification problem solved :)

I enjoyed your little video, as always. I'm having problems uploading my video of the frogs this year. It must be something to do with my new camera, though I'm not sure, as I have no problem uploading the photos I take with it.

Layanee said...

A pretty little bird. How exciting to have a new one added to your flock.

PMella said...

Aha! My first thought was leucistic greenfinch, but of course I should have realised it was the same size as the siskin in your first picture, and also the fact it's a siskin explains the darker crown.

Really does demonstrate that for all their worth, the field guides don't have all the answers!

mightymatt1313 said...

Wonderful bird photos!

shirl said...

Hi again, Wildlife Gardener & Layanee and hello Pete & Matt :-)

Wildlife Gardener – Neither had I. This bird really does look so out of place with the other birds (to me) however luckily for it the other birds are okay with it in the group but I believe this is not always the case. Thanks, as you know I love doing the videos. Sorry to hear you are having trouble with your videos – the early frog chorus was just great to hear last year. Hope you get it sorted in time :-D

Layanee – Yes, I suppose it is as pretty as strange to see at the feeders. I really would like to get better photos of it :-D

Pete – Yes, I suppose I had the advantage of watching it a while and looking at more photos than I posted. It was such a shame it was raining that day. The window was full of raindrops. Yes, you are right you would think adding an extra section in the books (with photos) would help in identifying the birds with colour pigmentation differences :-D

Matt – Thank-you very much! I would love to get clearer ones and I am trying :-D

Massimiliano said...

the female of siskin in question is a brown simple diluition female.she shouldn't be raise in captivity because has not the ring on the leg.sometimes in nature mutation compare but it's a very common mutation on european breeders of siskin.
kind regards
Massimiliano Esposto
massyesposto@yahoo.it