Guest Blogging Day 2: Lynnanne Fager

And we're back for Day Two of the Swarovski Guest Blogging Contest. This entry, from Lynnanne Fager, is about a very unusual visitor to her backyard.

Results of a Backyard Bird Bordello

Spring is in the air and that only means one thing in my backyard: sex. At least for the birds, that is.

We hang cute little boxes, put out their favorite foods, all in an effort to coax the feathered sex fiends into the yard. We make sure the nest boxes have the right size holes for the bird we’re trying to attract. We put ventilation in, so the poor things don’t overheat. Sometimes, we even go so far as to put guttering on to catch the rain. We do all this just to invite sex into the back yard.

These birds don’t need any instruction, any sex manuals, doctor’s visits, or prenatal exams. Or do they?

It would seem our chickadees are out of control. They have no sense of dignity. At least one of our chickadees has been caught foolin’ around with the titmice. It seems we’ve created a backyard bird bordello.

This is what I found at my feeders one day in October, 2006.

Hybrid Chickadee x Tufted titmouse, north central Indiana (photo by Lynnanne Fager, 2006)

As far as I was concerned, there was only one thing it could be: a chick-a-mouse. (There are several word combos that one could put on this bird, but we won’t go there now!)

I put an email out to Cornell, minus the photo, explaining the bird I had and requesting any documentation on chickadee x tufted titmouse hybrids. I received a response that basically told me I didn’t know what I was talking about – and that if I had a photo, this gal would try to explain to me what it was I was seeing.

I sent the photo to her and moved on.

I put out a call and sent the above photo to master bander Dr. Ron Weiss who made swift plans to get this bird banded.

He did some research on the hybridization of these two birds and posted it on his website.

Ron arrived one Sunday, set up his nets and opened his banding station. This bird did nothing but tease us the entire morning flying into the feeding area, up and around the nets, that is until Indiana Wesleyan University Professor Steve Conrad showed up (Steve is working on a sub-banding permit, on the hybridization of the black-capped and Carolina chickadee. We joked and said the bird was waiting just for him).

After dancing a few jigs on top of the mist nets, our bird finally flew into the net.
Ron flew out the door, contained the bird and brought it into the house and closed the door behind him. He wasn’t taking any chances.

All the proper measurements were taken and recorded; the bracelet was secured around its leg. Ron checked the skull, and patterns on the tail feathers, noting it was a hatch year bird.
He collected DNA and plucked a few feathers, while I took quite a few photos. He then went outside, took GPS coordinates and released the bird.

Team Chick-a-mouse from left: Ron Weiss (holding the bird), Steve Conrad,
Lynnanne Fager, Tom Barker and Nancy Barker (photo by Jenna Fager, 2006)

The gal at Cornell wrote back a few weeks later with a sweet apology and included an ID from one of their top ornithologists stating that he thought it looked like a hybrid titmouse x chickadee. He suggested I contact Ohio State, but it was too late. Ron already had the bird. To date, the DNA cells are still in process (If there’s another lab out there who is interested in crunching this bird’s cells, contact me – I have rights to half of the DNA collected.)
The bird hung around our yard for a few months, until the sub-zero February winds blew through, carrying our strange little bird away with it.

Since then, I am constantly looking for a touch of unique in my yard birds. I find myself paying close attention, especially to those chickadees and titmice, and am always on the lookout for another strange creation from my backyard.