Spring has been a little slow to warm up in our area, but the bird life has already started to bloom in the past few weeks. The volume of the dawn chorus is turning up, and this week let’s have a look at some of the colors that are behind the songs, as the colors are turning up some too. Many of us working from home are finding things we rarely stopped to notice before, so have a look around – there have been a few unusual sightings reported.
American Robins have been dominating the airwaves early, as they usually do. But a few of our sharp-eyed Academy followers have spotted some unusually adorned birds in our area. Mark Garvin, and the Academy’s lifelong Curator of Art & Artifacts and Senior Fellow Robert M. Peck, both spotted leucistic birds, in Cheltenham and Chestnut Hill.
Leucistic birds are sometimes referred to as partial albinos, but this practice is a little misleading. Albino birds are unable to produce any melanin, which is the pigment that gives feathers color, resulting in a completely white bird with pink skin and eyes. Leucistic birds do produce melanin, however due to a genetic anomaly, some parts of their feathers lack pigment.
The repeated, rapid-fire songs of the Carolina Wren are perhaps more impressive when you consider their diminutive size. As one of our year round residents, you can also hear the males singing occasionally during the winter when most other birds stick mainly to contact calls and alarms.
In our now somewhat subdued urban areas like Center City, there is no shortage of colorful crooners. West coast transplants, the House Finch, are taking advantage of our quieted spaces to deliver their amazingly athletic song. Most males sport a bright fire engine red breast and head, but depending on diet, occasional birds wear orange or even yellow.
Shades of red are the primary color behind the music this week and there is no better example than the fan favorite Northern Cardinal. Their clear whistled tunes are distinctly different from most of the others songs you can hear right now, and often go on later into the morning and throughout the day.
The other whistling bird you may hear throughout the day this time of year is the Tufted Titmouse. While its song lacks complexity (a plaintive “Peter, Peter, Peter”) and its plumage lacks some color (gray over white, with a touch of rust on the fenders), it no doubt deserves an honorable mention for its persistence. By some counts, they can repeat their song over 30 times per minute! All. Day. Long.
The next few weeks will see some more vibrant colors moving into and through our area, though the birds will be harder to see. The warblers are coming and so are the leaves. Tiny, constantly moving and brilliant, new world warblers are the biodiversity motherlode most birders are waiting for. A few are already here, so dust off the binoculars, stretch your neck and get ready for full blown migration mode!
VIREO (Visual Resources for Ornithology) is the foremost global collection of bird photographs taxonomically curated at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University. As both a contributor to and user of, VIREO recommends Audubon Guide Apps, the Stokes Guide to Birds of North America and the Fieldstone Guide to Birds of North America, all of which feature thousands of photos from the VIREO Collection.
by Dan Thomas
VIREO Collection & Intellectual Property Manager