The Bird Meme: Day 15

Day 15: Your favorite male bird

Northern Shoveler

To avoid going back to "favorite bird"on this one, I guess I have to work with the male/female distinction, which means we'll be talking about one of the many bird species with pronounced sexual dimorphism. That cuts out a lot of them--in North America, gulls, rails, sandpipers, cranes, pigeons, owls, flycatchers, vireos, corvids, most thrushes, most raptors, and most sparrows, for example, usually cannot be sexed in the field. Still, that leaves me plenty of options: orioles, finches, tanagers, warblers, woodpeckers, hummingbirds, game birds, and loads and loads of waterfowl.

Since dimorphic males tend to be brighter and bolder than the females, it's not hard to find one appealing, and sure enough, my favorite male is one whose colors and patterns stand out a little more than on his distaff. Given the number of waterfowl whose hens favor a cryptic brown or grey, I doubt I'm shocking anyone by noting that it's a drake, but the actual species might be a bit of a surprise.

The Wood Duck male is, no question, a strikingly beautiful bird, from its brilliantly colored bill to its epic sweep of crest feathers to its gleaming chestnut breast, and I know more than one birder who loves it fiercely, but my own tastes run to the less flamboyant members of the dabbling ducks. The Gadwall drake is probably the least flamboyant of them, but its subtly vermicular grey plumage is handsome indeed--like a fine tweed or herringbone. The male Pintail is far more striking in pattern, if not much more colorful, mixing stripes and fields of white and brown that a pinto might envy, and its long, elegant tail plumes also serve it well. And let's not sell the Mallard drake short: as common as it is, it's still a gorgeous bird whose glossy green head can make even a veteran birder draw in his breath when the light is right.

Indeed, my particular favorite is kind of a Mallard done sideways. The Northern Shoveler is uncommon, though it can turn up in great numbers if you're in the right place, and its take on the basic Mallard plumage is likewise off the beaten track. The head isn't a rich medium green contrasting with a yellow bill--almost exactly the colors worn by the Green Bay Packers, if that's a useful field mark for you--but a forest green, shot with purple, which sets up a striking contrast with the bird's other features: the vivid yellow eye, the enormous blue-black bill, and the bright white feathers of its chest. Combine that with the bright rufous sides--the Mallard's less rusty brown is on its chest--and you've got as appealing a set of colors and patterns and shapes as you're going to find in an American duck. 

My only regret is that William H. Macy didn't use the drake as his symbol when he played the Shoveler in Mystery Men

Another opportunity wasted.

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on September 29, 2017 5:09 PM.

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