Strange-looking bird banded at preserve

Strange-looking bird banded at preserve

On Sept. 24, at Powdermill Nature Preserve, Rector, Pennsylvania, banders found a rare bird in their mist nets. It was a rose-breasted grosbeak that appeared to be a male on one side and a female on the other side. This phenomenon is called bilateral gynandromorph.

This unusual grosbeak has been reported on numerous websites. As one researcher said, “this is a quite famous bird.” Photos of the bird show bright yellow under the left wing, typical of a female, and scarlet/red on the right side, as expected for a male. Measurements of the wings also showed that the wing on the male side was slightly longer than the female side. Viewed from above, each wing showed typical male or female plumage.

Powdermill Nature Preserve has been banding birds for 60 years and has captured more than 800,000 birds during that time. There have been only five likely bilateral gynandromorphs, and only one in the last 15 years. That bird was also a rose-breasted grosbeak. At the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, they have only four such specimens among the 27,000 birds in the collection.

During 2009 and 2010, a male/female plumaged cardinal was observed in Illinois. The bird was carefully observed, and survived to adulthood, but never appeared to sing or vocalize, and was not seen with a mate.

The rose-breasted grosbeak banded recently at Powdermill was soon released and probably is now in Central or South America. It would be nice to know what happens to this unique bird. Will it try to mate with another grosbeak? When the bird molts, will the new plumage be the same?

Updates about several rare birds in the United States were recently published in BirdWatchers Magazine. Very encouraging is the status of the red-cockaded woodpecker. This southern woodpecker had been in decline for decades, reaching a low of around 1,470 family groups in the 1970s. Many thought it might become extinct, as happened to the ivory-billed woodpecker. However, this endangered woodpecker benefited from the many efforts to protect it and increase suitable habitat. Today there are around 7,800 family groups in 11 states. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is proposing taking it off the endangered list but continuing to list it as threatened.

The news isn’t good for the eastern black rail or the Gunnison sage-grouse. Both species are in serious decline and could completely disappear for a variety of reasons, but most importantly a lack of adequate protection of appropriate habitat. The same is true for the isolated population of the greater sage-grouse that exists along the California-Nevada border.

There continue to be fall migrant reports coming in, as well as northern arrivals. I was glad to see that a birder in Lawrence County, Ohio reported up to 100 pine siskins at a feeder across the Ohio River in West Virginia. That reminded me of the hundreds of siskins we see in southeastern Arizona during the winter. We look forward to seeing more siskins and other northern finches in Ohio and Indiana this winter.

Good birding!

Bruce Glick can be reached at

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