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Uncertain Identity

June 25, 2021

Embers From the Fire

A weekly blog by Deacon Dan Wagnitz for the Quad-Parish Community


Uncertain Identity
I am blessed to have a nice yard with our home being on a five-acre lot outside the city limits and lights and traffic. Add to that the fact that we have an 80-acre nature conservancy adjoining the back lot line. There are ponds and wetlands, fields and woodlots all close by. It is a haven for many types of birds. So naturally, a favorite pastime during these pleasant summer days is sitting out on the patio watching and listening for the many kinds of birds that hang around my backyard, or pass overhead and trying to identify them. My Peterson’s Field Guide to the Birds of North America is always close at hand.

Sometimes I recognize their distinct calls. A couple of my favorites are cardinals and orioles. The cardinals are dependable, consistent and simple with just a couple of notes. The oriole’s song is complex and only heard occasionally, and so it is always a special treat. Sometimes their unique plumage gives them away. A couple of my favorites are goldfinches and indigo buntings. Their colors are bright and bold even though both birds are just a few ounces in weight. And sometimes it is the way they fly that gives them away. A couple of my favorites are hummingbirds, especially as they chase each other around the yard, and the many raptors that ride the thermals, effortlessly turning circles overhead.

Still, there are situations like the other day when Michelle looked out the kitchen window, pointed toward one of the linden trees and asked, “What kind of bird is that?” He was predominately yellow–striking but a little more subtle than the goldfinch. There was also a patch of white and some rusty brown. He was bigger than a finch but smaller than a redwing, or at least scaled more slightly. The bird’s bill and overall outline suggested some sort of warbler to me, but warblers are not my area of expertise, so to Mr. Peterson I went.

The problem with birds is that they seldom sit still long enough to gather all the telltale facts. Was that spot of white on the belly or on the wing? Was that bit of rust color on the wing, or along the side? The problem with the field guide is that it is limited when it comes to a family group as large and varied as warblers. It offers a handful of suggestions but then just row after row of mugshot-like drawings of heads only and the associated names. Without the full body there isn’t enough information to make a firm identification. So, it turned out to be another time when we laid dubious claim to having “discovered” a new bird. It’s kind of a humorous way to admit that neither of us has any real idea as to what that bird really was.

I must admit that although we chuckle about how many birds we have “discovered” through the years, it’s always a little unsatisfying. It somehow seems important to know the bird’s true identity. It obviously doesn’t matter to the bird, or he’d have sat there long enough for me to be certain of his coloring. But it matters to me. I wonder why?


His Peace,

Deacon Dan


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