June 2018

Vol. 46, No. 3

At a Glance: April 2018 Revealed

Wayne R. Petersen

Wayne Petersen

This month's mystery bird should be a straightforward identification for anyone familiar with the species, even though the bird is not common in Massachusetts. Arguably the most prominent features of the mystery bird are its conspicuous white eye ring, tiny bill (for the size of the bird), relatively long tail, and uniform gray color. A careful look, especially at the online version in color, further gives a hint at some buffy markings on the folded wings.

Superficially, this bird resembles a Northern Mockingbird; however a mockingbird lacks the conspicuous eye ring, possesses conspicuous white wing bars, and has a longer and more down curved bill. Even the posture of the mystery bird is wrong for a mockingbird—a species that usually holds its tail elevated rather than pointing downward. The mystery species' bold eye ring, long tail, and even-colored back also vaguely suggest a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, but that species diminutive size, black-and-white tail, and super-fine bill at once remove it as a candidate.

Once Northern Mockingbird and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher are eliminated as identification possibilities, there really is no North American bird species other than Townsend's Solitaire (Myadestes townsendi) that the mystery bird could be. If the wings were shown spread or in a side view, there would also be a buff-colored wing stripe running along the mid-wing, and the outer tail feathers would be white if the tail was not folded.

The Townsend's Solitaire is a casual and nearly annual late fall visitor to Massachusetts from the west that often lingers into winter, particularly in thickets where there are plenty of red cedar and other berries for them to eat. Most occurrences in the Commonwealth are from coastal areas. The author photographed this Townsend's Solitaire in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming on January 19, 2007.

Wayne R. Petersen

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