Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Molt in North American Birds

This new book by Steve N.G. Howell is one of the Peterson Reference Guides, http://www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com/catalog/titledetail.cfm?titleNumber=1051920. My first reaction was that molting was a niche topic that an informal birder like myself would not find interesting. I discovered that it's invaluable!
Unlike elephant seals, birds are always be in one stage of molt or another. In our area, where gulls are so prevalent, their plumage is very confusing. This book has really helped me sharpen my observation, educated me as to how to use plumage to identify birds.

I'm using those skills on a new site for recording bird observations, eBird, http://ebird.org/content/ebird. It's easy to use and I'm enjoying it.

Inevitably, I'm watching birds as I watch elephant seals at Piedras Blancas. This flock of Heerman's Gulls, up from Mexico for the summer, and Western Gulls was on the beach last week. It's such a great place to birdwatch.
Mr. Howell points out that Heerman's Gulls typically molt only some head and body feathers, sometimes some upper wing coverts. Very southern locations are different, so we wouldn't observe those on the Central Coast. Juveniles have an all-black stage. I'll be on the lookout for that. I rely on obvious markings, such as the Heerman's red beak, to identify them. Mr. Howell's book is giving me more clues to use. The more we know, the better our observations are.
Thanks for helping me with this book, Mr. Howell.

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