Junco Processing

I just got a call from my buddy Clay asking if I would be interested in being on the Swarovski Digiscoping Team at The World Series of Birding. Insert giant coffee spray through my nose here. Whoot! I am so excited, I've wanted to be on a World Series of Birding team since I was a kid. This means I'll see some kickin' birds, eat at Al's Pancake House, hang with WildBird on the Fly, and fulfill a childhood dream. May is going to be SO much fun! And after the heartbreak of dealing with taxes this week, I really need this.

Today was another day of banding chock full 'o juncos and not white-throated sparrows. I tell ya' right now, I'm feeling some confidence with a handful of junco, but in a few short weeks, all that comfort of aging and sexing will change to overwhelming and panic. Instead of a mono species day, it will be warblers, finches, flycatchers, chickadees, nuthatches, catbirds, and sparrows--just to name a few. Pile on top of that a whole new confusing criteria for aging and sexing. Yikes. But, while we have juncos, I thought I'd point out some of the things we look for when they are in hand. Above, we have a garden variety junco perched on top of a snag. It looks well put together, clean feathers in place.

But check out the tail of a junco I banded today. This is what Pyle might call "relatively abraded" when asked about the feathers on the tail. Think about watching juncos feed--they're on the ground, kicking stuff about looking for food--the tail is bound to experience some wear and tear. Depending on whether or not a junco has some fresh outer tail feathers or unmolted ones, we can get an idea of age (combined with other plumage differences).

We also use eye color as a means of aging. Younger dark-eyed juncos have gray eyes that get browner and eventually more red. This dude was fairly brown.

Now, here's something you don't want to hear from the person next to you when you have a bird in your hand, "Hey, is that avian pox on that bird's toe?" This bird had white dots on a toe on each foot. We weren't sure if it was avian pox or just some discoloration to this individual bird (any readers out there have any idea). We're not a rehab facility and the bird looked otherwise healthy so we released it after it was banded. Even though I can't really get avian pox and we weren't sure if it was pox, I didn't want to risk infecting other birds or bringing it home to my cockatiel, so I scrubbed my hands after I let it go.