Saturday, October 24, 2009

Fatal Light migrating bird casualty

I don't usually walk around with a dead bird in my pocket. If it had been a House Sparrow (pest!), starling (pest! pest!), or other common bird I could identify, I would have kicked it to the curb.

My former co-worker LH notified me one evening of the location of two "sparrows" that had hit the office building. I picked them up after work and identified them as a pair of Brown Creepers that had hit the tower on their way somewhere. I did a little research and phoned a couple of people, and a few days later LH and I were on our way at lunch time to the Biodiversity Centre at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM). A very nice bird man confirmed my ID and took the bodies away. Then LH and I rode up the elevator and had a luscious lunch at the then-existing JK at the ROM (JK = Jamie Kennedy, renowned Toronto chef and former restaurateur). (Ten percent discount for members! Real cloth napkins! Fine dining! We felt both pampered and virtuous.)

Brown Creeper Photo © Michael J.Hopiak / CLO

A good bird site, especially if you think you might know the species, is the Cornell Lab of Ornithology All About Birds website. They even provide links to bird songs.

But this one's unknown to me. The closest I got was a Henslow's Sparrow, but the males, females, and even juveniles have obvious stripes on the head and this one has a dark grey cap with no stripes at all. The colours are very close too---olive green around the neck, bright rufous speckles on creamy breast, bright rufous feathers on back, wings, and tail, pinkish underside to beak, buff eye-ring. But it's got that grey headcap. I'll have to get my Sibley and Petersen and National Geographic guides out and see if there are variations. It could also be a Fox Sparrow, Song Sparrow, or a Lincoln's Sparrow. And it could be a juvenile Dark-Eyed Junco, but it should have its adult markings by now (late October).

Anyways, I picked it up just outside my office building on Friday. 
It hadn't been dead for long; rigour had set in, but its black eyes were still clear. I put it in my coat pocket, then transferred it to a small paper bag (I have many---I eat too many muffins on the way to and at work), and to a freezer bag and into the freezer when I got home. The Fatal Light Awareness Program (FLAP) is staffed by volunteers (I think) and works with office managers to turn out lights at night to keep migrating birds from crashing into high-rise windows. People trek to high-rise buildings before dawn and pick up and record fatalities and injured birds, and work to get the live ones rehabbed and back to their routes. And there's a collision reporting page in case you do find a dead or injured bird:

UPDATE: It's a Fox Sparrow. I got a clue from my Petersen's guide and googled for a live image.

UPDATE October 29: I'm being a good honest blogger and removing the photo of the Fox Sparrow. The photographer has copyrighted all his images and I didn't ask permission to use that one.

You can see Doug Backlund's beautiful photos here:

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