Due to this birding column, I get asked a lot of questions. Not different questions, mind you. I mostly get asked the same questions over and over. That’s normal, because naturally there are certain questions that are on every reader’s mind. The top question recently: Where are all the birds?
For the second year in a row, there has been a lot of natural food in the treetops. Bird feeders across Maine have hung lifeless since the end of September, including mine. Yet when I go for a walk, I’m seeing and hearing just as many birds as usual. In short, the chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, woodpeckers and goldfinches are still around. They’re just feasting on the natural abundance. They’ll be back to the feeders as soon as snow covers some of their forest food.
Next frequently asked question: Is it possible I saw an albino bird? Theoretically, yes. But they’re rare, and true albinos face constant survival challenges. More likely, you saw a leucistic bird. An albino bird would be completely white with pink eyes, because it is genetically incapable of making any kind of pigment. A leucistic bird is one that has trouble making melanin, the dark pigment that produces black color in feathers and tan color in skin. It’s often patchy, so that the bird is not completely white. I saw a mostly white red-tailed hawk near the Sidney exit off I-95 last winter, and darned if he isn’t back again this year.
A third question: Can you identify a bird for me? Yes. I can usually identify a photo by email, or even a bird song recorded by cellphone.
Well, now I have opened myself up to a world of trouble. I can usually identify a bird from a good photo. But some photos I receive are distant, blurry and dark. Worse, it’s hard to judge size from a photo, and the telltale field marks are often obscured. Worst case, the bird is dead.
I see a lot of birds in various poses, but dead is not a pose I see often. I was a little timid when I received a photo of a deceased bird found on a doorstep in Hampden. The alert readers were able to take a good close-up because, let’s face it, the dead bird wasn’t about to fly away.