Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The evasive Green-tailed Towhee

A few weeks back, while working at the Idaho Bird Observatory, I had the opportunity to band a Green-tailed Towhee. This was only the 5th GTTO ever caught at the bird observatory in 13 years. It was also the first time I had ever seen one (lifer!).
The events occurring around the capture and banding are worth reliving. I was not the person to extract the bird from the net. At the banding shack, I picked the bag with the bird inside. Based on size I expected a Western Tanager, Black-headed Grosbeak, or Spotted Towhee. When I pulled the bird from the bag, I had no idea what it was. I then remembered there was a rare Green-tailed something, but couldn't quite pick it out. I noted the towhee eyes, but even that didn't ring any bells in my overloaded bird-brain. The group then told me it was a Green-tailed Towhee. Everyone was excited to have caught this rare bird. I banded and processed the bird as we normally would. We identified the bird as a juvenile "hatch year" bird, meaning it was hatched this summer and was on its first migration. I had completed all processing but weighing the bird. At that point our guests and some employees had their cameras all ready to take pictures. It was suggested that I let them take some pictures before weighing as birds are occasionally "flubbed", accidently released, in the weighing process. As I was shifting the bird to the photographers grip - I flubbed it. You could hear the collective moan of the group. I was very bummed myself. But this isn't the end of the story.
The very next day we recaptured the same bird. This time they handed it to the the second most experienced bander at the IBO. As she pulled the bird from the bag, she flubbed it! Unbelievable! I hadn't seen her flub a single bird to this point. The Green-tailed Towhee had once again defeated us.
Today, we once again recaptured the same bird. This time it was left for the the research director to handle. Some of us were secretly hoping he would flub it too, but it was not to be. The bird was processed and photographed. Unfortunately since the last capture, the bird has begun molting many feathers making it look much more ragged than a few weeks back. Anyway, it still has my utmost respect and appreciation. The fact that more than a week has passed between captures indicates that this bird is not likely migrating yet, just foraging locally.

Molting Green-tailed Towhee. Copyright Karyn deKramer.

Molting Green-tailed Towhee. Copyright Karyn deKramer.

Green-tailed Towhee (left); Spotted Towhee (right). Copyright Karyn deKramer.


Heidi said...

hey hey! dont forget that miss 'flubber' here was the one who (fearfully) but successfully extracted the bird from the net the second time and DIDNT flub it! heehee ;)

Dawn Fine said...

Great story! congrats on adding a life bird...
Good thing it stuck around and u were finally able to band it.

Birding is Fun! said...

Great story Rob!

While hummingbird banding in Pearl this last Saturday we caught the same little black-chinned four times.

Heidi said...

I just noticed how well Jay's crazy purple shirt compliments the towhee's coloring ;)