Bird ID (Rattlesnake related)

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Brendan
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Bird ID (Rattlesnake related)

Post by Brendan » May 5th, 2011, 10:41 am

I've asked a few birders opinions on this bird I could not ID and the consensus seems to be a flycatcher. The main reason I care is that I am trying to record just how many species of birds my local population of speckled rattlesnakes uses for food. So far I have witnessed them take white-crowned sparrows, green tailed towhee's and curved billed thrashers. This would make the 4th.
I will post a follow up to this once I get a few more opinions and give some background on the story.
Image

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reptilist
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Re: Bird ID (Rattlesnake related)

Post by reptilist » May 5th, 2011, 10:52 am

Definitely a Kiwi ... A flightless bird with hairy feathers.

(range extension!)

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Re: Bird ID (Rattlesnake related)

Post by monklet » May 5th, 2011, 10:56 am

Well, not sure just how big that is but my first impression was Towhee, either Canyon or Abert's. If it's really small it may be a Bushtit. Nothing says flycatcher to me, either Myiarchus, Empidonax or Contopus. ...not that it isn't, that's just not what I get. Fun problem but tough with that little information. A shot of the head would help. It certainly does appear to have been killed and/or partially eaten by something other than a snake though but I assume you'll clarify that in your follow-up.

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Brendan
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Re: Bird ID (Rattlesnake related)

Post by Brendan » May 5th, 2011, 11:09 am

I'll go with Terry's answer. Kiwi it is!!

Brad I figured you might have some insight and towhee was one possible thing I thought of since they are fairly common in the area. This is what killed the bird BUT not what ate the bird. Does this view change your opinion any?
Image

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Re: Bird ID (Rattlesnake related)

Post by Natalie McNear » May 5th, 2011, 11:42 am

This is undoubtedly some kind of flycatcher, but given how difficult they are to identify to the species level when they're alive, I don't think you're going to be able to narrow it down much further than that. Towhees, being sparrows, have thick, conical-shaped bills as opposed to the narrow pointed bill of the bird in this photo.

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Brendan
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Re: Bird ID (Rattlesnake related)

Post by Brendan » May 5th, 2011, 11:54 am

Thanks Nat. One of my contacts on flickr suggested it may be an ash throated flycatcher but I guess it's not that important for me to know exactly what type it is. Any other input before I tell the rest of the story?

Nat I just noticed your post count is at 666 right now. Sorry but I can no longer accept your opinion!! ;)

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Re: Bird ID (Rattlesnake related)

Post by Owen » May 5th, 2011, 11:56 am

Looks a little like an Ash-throated Flycatcher. Any belly shots?

Image

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Re: Bird ID (Rattlesnake related)

Post by jeffro » May 5th, 2011, 12:07 pm

The willow flycatcher is the closest match I could find.

-Jeff

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Re: Bird ID (Rattlesnake related)

Post by Brendan » May 5th, 2011, 12:59 pm

Thanks Owen and Jeff! For now I'll just go with Flycathcer and go on with the story.

So this snake which I call "Sally" is a female I have been watching for four years now. I have seen her courted by males in the past but never had the right timing to see her eat. This morning I got lucky and upon approach of her usual digs this time of year this is what I saw.

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She had obviously just caught the bird (I have not seen it but I assume with birds it must be grab and hold till dead) and was almost wrapped around it like a constrictor.
I had my 400mm lens with me so I could stay back and observe without disturbing her. I also took some video at the same time but it's really tough to operate a video camera in one had and shoot a 400mm lens in the other.

Anyway she eventually began the process of securing the head for cunsumption.
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After a few minutes of watching her she all of a sudden decided she was done with the bird and just spit it back out and crawled about 5ft away in a nice shady spot and set up a new ambush. I sat and wathced for a while and even went away to see if she would come back and try again but it never happened. It may have been that even from a distance, my presence was enough to cause her too much concern to eat. This is always a dilemma for me when observing these snakes. I try to be as non-existant as possible to them but some are very aware of me even from a long way away.

At this point when I relaized she was not going to come back and eat the bird I felt bad and so I went and scooped it into a plastic cup that was laying around and I took it to a girl I knew was in the market for food.

This snake is "Bluegirl" she is another animal I have been watching for the last 4 years and have seen her eat twice in the past and both were white-crowned sparrows.
Some of you probably remember this shot I posted in the past.
Image
I'm not sure how to link videos yet so I'll spare myself the trouble for now.

Anyway I had already seen that Bluegirl was sitting in an ambush site that has been used by another female in the past to secure birds. The other female is a snake I have not seen since last April when I watched her down a huge curved-billed thrasher. I posted photos of that in the past. I fear she has either died of old age (doubtful) been collected by some chump or maybe killed by a hiker or local jerkoff. Either way I think she is gone. So back to the story.
Here is bluegirl sitting in ambush this fine morning waiting for lady luck to smile.
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I figured she looked like she was in need of a meal since by this time of year she is usually much more filled out but I think the drought has played a large part in that. Basically I tossed the flycatcher as close to her as I could get without hitting her. It landed right to her right about 6 inches and she never flinched. I figured she would have a strike response but no such luck. I backed away and watched for a few minutes and nada. I decided to sneak behind the log she was resting against and use a stick to move the bird a little. That was all it took. She started to tongue flick and within a minute she was going to town.
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Unfortunately I did not have time to watch her finish the bird completely but I did come back that evening and check on her and she was about 5ft away curled up near a boulder in the shade with a big lump in her belly.
Here she is about 6 days after the meal.
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And is case your wondering this is why I call her bluegirl. The first speck I saw this year back in March.
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So that's the story and for those who inspired by this thread to go out and look for these snakes, do yourself and the snakes a favor and leave em where you find em and take home just some photos!!

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Re: Bird ID (Rattlesnake related)

Post by Mike Pingleton » May 5th, 2011, 1:08 pm

Fascinating. thanks for posting this!

-Mike

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Re: Bird ID (Rattlesnake related)

Post by monklet » May 5th, 2011, 1:36 pm

I seriously doubt if that is a flycatcher unless possiby a Contopus, which as any Empidonax would show some wingbars. On this one I see a very weak indication of pale edging on the greater wing coverts. Also, there is clearly no rufous in the rectrices (quilled tail feathers - not those upper tail coverts) which any Myiarchus would have and show clearly, although the throat is "ashy" and there appears to be some constrast between crown and nape. I see no clear indication of bill structure in any of those images. The legs and feet appear those of a ground forager.

Anyone who is not an expert in bird identification should remain non-committal on this one.

It may be Pewee (Contopus) but certainly appears to large for an Empid. I don't like the throat color for Towhee now that I see the second pic but to me that size appears more of that class (although this is all relative).


Anyone who is not a serious expert in bird identification should remain non-committal on this one.

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Re: Bird ID (Rattlesnake related)

Post by reptilist » May 5th, 2011, 1:51 pm

Great series Brendan! I've never seen a rattlesnake eat a kiwi before!

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Re: Bird ID (Rattlesnake related)

Post by jeffro » May 5th, 2011, 2:00 pm

Awesome shots and snakes!

I don't know why im still caring about what the bird is, but I don't think its a flycatcher anymore either (quite certain it isnt), just from its size. I don't think they get that big.

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Brendan
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Re: Bird ID (Rattlesnake related)

Post by Brendan » May 5th, 2011, 2:21 pm

Well crap if it's not a flycatcher I guess I'll have to call it a Kiwi for now. I guess bird identification is a bit more complicated than snake ID's. Usually a couple scales is all it takes for most crotes.

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Re: Bird ID (Rattlesnake related)

Post by Owen » May 5th, 2011, 2:48 pm

Another possibility is Bendire's Thrasher. Color seems close and from what I can see of the bill, similar color and shape.

http://www.briansmallphoto.com/bendires_thrasher.html

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Re: Bird ID (Rattlesnake related)

Post by monklet » May 5th, 2011, 2:54 pm

Well, just need a better pic. :D Tyrant Flycatchers vary markedly in size from the warbler size empids to the larger Myiarchus, Contopus and Tyrannus which can approach robin size.

Hey bird identification is notoriously difficult with many, many complexes. Some empid id is challenging even for the most experienced without vocal clues and perfect pics. Gulls, fall warblers, peeps ... on and on. Some touts are so controversial that friendships are tested ;-) There are bird record committees which try cases and often piss people off bigtime ...all part of the fun.

btw, In my bird lust I forgot to add what a great series and story that is ...as usual :thumb:

Added: Good thought Owen ...haven't studied that angle but seems possible. Too bad the bill is so poorly represented.

I'll send the pics to someone who will probably offer a solid id.

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Re: Bird ID (Rattlesnake related)

Post by r.edwards » May 5th, 2011, 3:15 pm

wow...thanks for the images.....

r.edwards

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Brendan
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Re: Bird ID (Rattlesnake related)

Post by Brendan » May 5th, 2011, 6:38 pm

Thanks for the ID help everyone! I'm sure some day a bird nut will look at it and enlighten me.

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Norman D
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Re: Bird ID (Rattlesnake related)

Post by Norman D » May 5th, 2011, 7:19 pm

Very cool Brendan! Great series of photos.

I emailed my friend who has the record for most bird species recorded in Maricopa county in a year. I will let you know what I find out.

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Re: Bird ID (Rattlesnake related)

Post by withalligators » May 5th, 2011, 8:18 pm

Boy are they pretty. That macro detail is gorgeous.

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Re: Bird ID (Rattlesnake related)

Post by Norman D » May 5th, 2011, 8:47 pm

Brendan

This is what my friend (who has observed the most bird species in Maricopa County in a year) said:
"The bird is a mess lol, but my guess would be an Abert's Towhee, which is one of the most common birds of the desert. It's dark tail feathers point me in that direction."

He really knows his birds, bird calls, flight patterns, etc
www.birderfrommaricopa.com

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Re: Bird ID (Rattlesnake related)

Post by William Hayes » May 5th, 2011, 9:00 pm

After 5 minutes, my first send hasn't shown up, so I'll try to post again.

The only flycatcher brown enough to be this bird would be a Say's Phoebe, but the lower abdomen and undertail coverts are too dark. One feature that could mislead is the appearance of the peaked crown in the one image with part of the head in the snake's mouth, but the feathers are more likely just ruflled.

I'd put good money on Curve-billed Thrasher or Bendire's Thrasher. I'm guessing Curve-billed is much more common where you found the snake; you could probably ask a local birder. The general shape (e.g., longish tail), overall coloration, beak, facial pattern (probably closer to that of Curve-billed), paler breast and belly, and presence of spots on the breast all support this identification.

In the future, Brendan, bear in mind that the beak is going to be one of the biggest clues that bird people will need to identify your bird. It would also help to have a ruler handy, especially next to the beak. I know it's not easy to get such a picture without unduly disturbing the bird. Beautiful images.

EDIT: um...I meant "without unduly disturbing the snake."

William Hayes
Loma Linda University

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Re: Bird ID (Rattlesnake related)

Post by J-Miz » May 6th, 2011, 6:47 am

Just saw this post and I immediately said "Thrasher." I don't want to venture as to which species, however, as my experience with western thrashers is limited to Curve-billed.

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Re: Bird ID (Rattlesnake related)

Post by ksuglennj » May 6th, 2011, 6:57 am

I linked this to a western bird friend of mine (who worked with willow flycatchers and many other western species) and this is what he said:

"Possibly Curve-billed Thrasher, LeConte's Thrasher, Crissal Thrasher, or Bendire's Thrasher. Need to see if it has spots on the breast and need to see the bill better. Structure (what I can see) and color all seem to point to one of the thrashers. Exactly where this was taken could eliminate some."

Looks like thrasher is becoming very popular.

Glenn

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Re: Bird ID (Rattlesnake related)

Post by Brendan » May 6th, 2011, 7:21 am

Thanks for all the added input guys!! Curved billed thrasher would be possible but I think I would have recognized that species. I know for sure they are very common in this area and I have photos of one being eaten by one of the other females. Ill post those when I get to work.
The bird seemed pretty small to me for cbt but I guess it could be a juvie. Abert's towhee are another common bird along with green tailed towhee's. I will keep an eye out for birds in the area today and see if I can narrow it down.
On my way now!

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Re: Bird ID (Rattlesnake related)

Post by William Hayes » May 6th, 2011, 8:06 am

FYI, the bird is too dark brown to be a LeConte's Thrasher, and I believe the substantial spotting on the breast and insufficient rufous in the undertail coverts should definitely rule out Crissal Thrasher, which I would not expect to see in Speckled Rattlesnake habitat. Bendire's Thrasher is generally quite difficult to find in Arizona, and I'm inclined to think it, too, will not occur in your snake's habitat.

An option that might match the general coloration and shape would be a Bushtit, which is very tiny. However, your snake is obviously an adult (the rattle makes this clear), so the bird is clearly way too large for this possibility. The bill simply does not match that of an embirizid, so you should be safe excluding sparrows (also too small) and Canyon Towhee from consideration (Abert's Towhee is easily ruled out by lack of black around the bill). Another group of brownish birds would be the Catharus thrushes, but the relative lack of features in the face and the long tail of the bird in your photos should rule out the only likely candidate: Swainson's Thrush (a Hermit Thrush has a bright rufous tail, and the Gray-cheeked Thrush and Veery are exceptionally rare in Arizona); moreover, thrushes are not at all likely in Speckled Rattlesnake habitat.

Everything matches very well with a Curve-billed Thrasher. Consider the bird's size relative to the snake's head. How large is the snake's head? A thrasher would be in the range of 10-12 inches long. I think that's what you've got.

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Re: Bird ID (Rattlesnake related)

Post by Brendan » May 6th, 2011, 8:14 am

Short visit and no time to ID birds aside from the gila woodpeckers and cactus wrens which seem to stay on the tops of the saguaros. Maybe later.

Anyway this was a curved-billed thrasher that was eaten by white girl last year. Incidentally the last time I saw her. I was really worried that the beak of that bird was going to puncture something internally.

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You can see the beak in this shot poking out her side.
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This bird seemed to me a huge meal for this snake which is about the same size as the snake who ate the bird above. Again it just may be that it was a young bird but again it really didn't look like a thrasher to me.

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Brendan
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Re: Bird ID (Rattlesnake related)

Post by Brendan » May 6th, 2011, 8:18 am

And for comparison this is a different female eating a green-tailed towhee.

Image

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Brendan
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Re: Bird ID (Rattlesnake related)

Post by Brendan » May 6th, 2011, 11:10 am

This was a species that I just thought might be in the running and one that I photographed in the area the snake feeds. Brown crested flycatcher. I took this shot a few years ago.

Image
Image

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Re: Bird ID (Rattlesnake related)

Post by Owen » May 6th, 2011, 3:46 pm

The beak is just too curved to be a flycatcher. I'm goning to still side with Bendire's Thrasher since it's smaller and has a shorter beak than a Curve Billed (unless a really young one).

What county was it found in?

Oh, by the way... very nice series(s) of snake chow. I think I'm making chicken tonight.

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Re: Bird ID (Rattlesnake related)

Post by Brendan » May 7th, 2011, 8:27 am

Thanks!

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Re: Bird ID (Rattlesnake related)

Post by Don Cascabel » May 7th, 2011, 8:57 am

LOL!!! I had no idea bird IDs were that much harder than snake IDs.... I can tell my snakes apart even after a truck runs over them and they cook a few days on the pavement. I thought there was a whole huge hobby more so than herpers into looking and IDing birds all over the US... you'd think they'd have it down to a science.

Anyhow, I have become quite the birder myself down here in Mexico. I have become very sharp at finding and IDing birds. Last year, I life listed a raptor, a parrot type thing, a Toucan, one of those humming-bird thingies and a swallow (must have been, cuz it was being eaten). From my experience, I can tell you that that there my friend is most definitely a Kiwi. Reptilist had it right from the beginning... now stop [email protected] around and get back to flipping rocks boys!!!

Cheers,

Chris

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Brendan
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Re: Bird ID (Rattlesnake related)

Post by Brendan » May 7th, 2011, 9:59 am

In case you didn't get the memo from AZ, snakes don't live under rocks anymore unless you care about fugly slugs with three lines.

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Re: Bird ID (Rattlesnake related)

Post by Norman D » May 7th, 2011, 10:29 am

Haha Chris & Brendan!

I live in Arizona and I have never found a snake by flipping rocks....and I don't care to either.

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Re: Bird ID (Rattlesnake related)

Post by cbernz » May 7th, 2011, 8:09 pm

Definitely Thrasher, probably Curve-Billed or Bendire's. I liked Myiarchus for a while, too, but I'm pretty sure all of them have two-toned tail feathers (a characteristic useful for separating the species) and this bird's tail feathers are solid brown. That, and the beak is too curved.

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Re: Bird ID (Rattlesnake related)

Post by Don Cascabel » May 8th, 2011, 12:49 pm

Norman D wrote:Haha Chris & Brendan!

I live in Arizona and I have never found a snake by flipping rocks....and I don't care to either.

LOL.... This will change... rather quickly I hope... because you are going to have to move some rock if you plan on finding any numbers in Guanajuato.

Cheers,

Chris

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Re: Bird ID (Rattlesnake related)

Post by Norman D » May 8th, 2011, 2:33 pm

Don Cascabel wrote:
LOL.... This will change... rather quickly I hope... because you are going to have to move some rock if you plan on finding any numbers in Guanajuato.

Cheers,

Chris
LOL Chris.... maybe I better start practicing here! At least I should get A LOT better results in Guanajuato! I hope! At least I know I will be eating some great food and drinking some Tequila Corralejo Reposado! Viboras de Cascabel will just make the trip that much better!

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Re: Bird ID (Rattlesnake related)

Post by Crotalus » May 8th, 2011, 4:49 pm

wtf? how to people make it to herping adulthood without having flipped a snake under a rock? we're counting on you to confirm ugly aquilus and polystictus in that sierra. Hurry up and get some practice in!

-JJ

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Re: Bird ID (Rattlesnake related)

Post by Norman D » May 8th, 2011, 5:38 pm

Crotalus wrote:wtf? how to people make it to herping adulthood without having flipped a snake under a rock? we're counting on you to confirm ugly aquilus and polystictus in that sierra. Hurry up and get some practice in!

-JJ

HAHAHAAHAHA!

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Re: Bird ID (Rattlesnake related)

Post by Russ_Jones » May 9th, 2011, 6:24 am

I think it is a flycatcher, maybe a pewee. The beak is wrong for a towhee and I would be surprised if that snake could eat a bird as large as a thrasher.

Russ

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Re: Bird ID (Rattlesnake related)

Post by cbernz » May 9th, 2011, 7:21 am

In the first photo, you can see that at least a third of the beak is hidden. The beak on a flycatcher would be no longer than the portion of the beak that is visible on this bird. Also, as far as I know, we don't have any flycatchers with a curved culmen (upper profile of beak).

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Brendan
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Re: Bird ID (Rattlesnake related)

Post by Brendan » May 9th, 2011, 9:31 am

I guess this bird ID is going to remain "open for debate". I am almost certain that it was not a curved billed thrasher unless it was a juvenile bird. I see them all the time and they almost always have orange/yellow eyes and this bird did not. They are also much larger than this bird which was only about the size of a sparrow. It fit inside a small plastic dixie cup.

JJ I was just messing around when I said that rock flipping in not productive. Of course it's not at all as good as it is down your way but for some species it's great. I prefer to find situations where I don't even need to touch the rock but just spot the snakes in among the rocks basking.

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Re: Bird ID (Rattlesnake related)

Post by reptilist » May 9th, 2011, 9:37 am

The bird is flightless and it's too small to be an emu, an ostrich, a cassowary or a penguin. Key it out, that leaves only the Kiwi.

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Re: Bird ID (Rattlesnake related)

Post by cbernz » May 9th, 2011, 12:34 pm

Brendan wrote:I guess this bird ID is going to remain "open for debate". I am almost certain that it was not a curved billed thrasher unless it was a juvenile bird. I see them all the time and they almost always have orange/yellow eyes and this bird did not. They are also much larger than this bird which was only about the size of a sparrow. It fit inside a small plastic dixie cup.
Looking again at the first few photos, I notice that you can see some yellow in the gape, and the primaries appear very rounded. The bird was probably a fledgling, and not very good at flying yet, which unfortunately cost him his life. The tail would be shorter on a fledgling as well, making it seem smaller. Also, it could still be a Bendire's, which is somewhat smaller than Curve-billed. I'm not sure if anyone can make that ID for sure without a specimen.

As for the eye, I think it is just shriveled up and not visible.

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Re: Bird ID (Rattlesnake related)

Post by chrish » May 9th, 2011, 3:21 pm

I've been birding about half as long as I've been herping, but that's a tough bird ID.

Things it is not -

Myarchus flycatcher (Brown-crested, etc) - not enough rufous on the tail
Towhee - it isn't a sparrow (wrong beak)
Empidonax flycatcher (including Pewee) - no wing bars, wrong morph, bill too long/slender
Kiwi - legs are too thin, bill not long enough. Also, if it was a kiwi, it would be going down the other direction due to the Coreolis affect.

The color is very "mousey" like a dove, but the wings and tail are wrong (young mourning dove??). Bill is too curved.

The only answer that I can NOT come up with an arguement against is Thrasher species (Curve-billed/Bendire's). It is worth noting that the other birds you have seen them eating were all ground dwellers/feeders (towhees, thrashers). Thrashers and Towhees are the sort of bird I would expect a ground dwelling rattlesnake to catch most often anyway.

Chris

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Russ_Jones
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Re: Bird ID (Rattlesnake related)

Post by Russ_Jones » May 9th, 2011, 9:18 pm

How about a female brewers blackbird or cowbird...

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Will Wells
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Re: Bird ID (Rattlesnake related)

Post by Will Wells » May 10th, 2011, 6:23 am

Nice work Brennon! It's always very interesting to see your photo series on those specks. Can't wait for the upcoming season!!!

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Re: Bird ID (Rattlesnake related)

Post by Jackson Shedd » May 10th, 2011, 7:33 am

As a birder, I'll throw in some other character traits to consider here.......

I thought Myiarchus flycatcher at first, but the thrasher possibility seems more likely now that I've taken more time w/ the photos. Here's why:

1) Other than the second photo in the series, there's no wing barring, and even that photo just shows a hint of buffy edging along a few feathers.

2) Look at the large feet. Thrashers spend a great deal of time running around on the ground, which brings me to a third point...

3) Thrashers run around on the ground a lot, under scrub where a rattler would be waiting to ambush. The other birds you mentioned (white-crowned sparrow and green-tailed towhee) also spend a great deal of time under scrub, pecking and kicking through leaf-litter to find what they eat. Flycatchers generally stay off the ground, perch in open areas where they can see flying insects, and typically only go to the ground to grab something (usually in open grassy or bare ground situations).

4) Something else to consider if trying to make something of the plumage and it doesn't key out with the perfectly depicted adult bird in your field guide is it may be a second year bird or something that hasn't acquired "typical" adult plumage yet. Bill size plays into this as well for thrashers.

If date, habitat, and location were provided the thrasher could probably be nailed to species. But yes, as stated, Le Conte's is out, as that species has a much longer, curved bill, reddish undertail coverts, and also doesn't typically occur in speck habitat (found in scrub flats dominated by creosote or saltbush).

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Brendan
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Re: Bird ID (Rattlesnake related)

Post by Brendan » May 10th, 2011, 1:50 pm

Thanks again for all the great input. It seems most experts would tend to lean towards a curved billed thrasher. It's certainly very possible since they are very common in the area the photos were taken. They along with cactus wrens seem to be the most common birds on the ground. Northern Mockingbirds are also very common in the area. Next time I will do a better job of photographing the birds from different angles.

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monklet
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Re: Bird ID (Rattlesnake related)

Post by monklet » May 10th, 2011, 2:02 pm

Russ_Jones wrote:How about a female brewers blackbird or cowbird...
Good for putting that out there. I hadn't even thought about those but nothing about that seems right even though it's worth putting in the mix for excluson. Also rather unlikley, though very possible, in that situation.

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