Hotline Photos

Possible Tricolored Blackbird


(Emails from Matt Mills,  20 Mar 2009)

Those are definitely some great pics. I'm not too familiar with this species but I was wondering about the color of the feather edges on the back, and if the song sounded distinctly different. I'm guessing from your report that it did.


Matt Mills

(Emails from Mark Stackhouse,  20 Mar 2009)

Thanks for posting the photos - and an excellent job at making and documenting this report, Pomera.

That being said, it looks to me like this is a aberrant Red-wing, with unusually white median coverts. In addition to Tim's excellent comments on vagrancy (btw, Tim, I also have LeConte's in Utah - twice), there are clues visible in the photo that point to Red-wing. I sent a message to ID Frontiers to get some response from California birders who have more experience with this species. The unanimous response is that this is a Red-wing. I've copied the responses I received below, so that we all can learn. In spite of the fact that this species is not known to wander very far, reports in recent years have extended the known "zone of vagrancy" for this species, so perhaps it's not entirely out of the question for Utah, so there's value in all of us knowing what to look for.

My own reasons for thinking this to be a Red-wing were as follows:

- the bill seems too stout - Tricolored has a longer, thinner, more oriole-like bill

- the primary extension seems too short and rounded (longer and more pointed in Tricolored)

- the presence of some bright yellow feathers along the lower edge of the epaulet would seem to rule out Tricolored

- the red color of the epaulet seems too orangey-red, and not the deep, bright red of Tricolored

I missed the rusty feather edgings that Matt Mills noted, which is also a no-no for Tricolored, especially at this time of year (worn plumage).

Great work, Pomera, at making the report, and providing excellent evidence, so that we can be more certain as to the i.d. of this interesting bird.

Good birding!


Here's some of the responses I got:

"Although Trikes are now up even in WA and so becoming a possibility for UT, I don’t think is one. As you point out, the bright yellow in the white is definite concern (Trikes often are buffy before fading to white, but never bright yellow). Also the red shoulder is a typical RWBL red. Trikes tend to be a deeper red. I also suspect the amount of red v. white in the shoulder patch may be wrong but can’t be sure. Unfortunately where I live now, Trikes don’t occur often, so I can’t go out and check anything."

"Not a Tricolored. The red color is typical of Red-winged. A Tricolored has darker, blood red color in the epaulet feathers, not orange-red. And the white fringe is usually reduced, not extensive like this bird. I see Tricoloreds every day near where I live in Northern California."

"I believe this is a Red-winged Blackbird. In sitting birds, there is normally no red showing on Tricolored, just a narrow white stripe. The red is normally only visible in a flying bird. The red on a Tricolored is darker than the bright red on a Red-wing. This bird is too bright red for a Tricolored. There is never any yellow in the epaulet of Tricolored. You are correct about the bill, it is too stout for Tricolored. Tricolored have a more oriole-like bill, though not as thin as an oriole’s bill. To me there is nothing about this bird, other than the median covert color that says Tricolored."

"I’d concur with your analysis and add a couple of other problems for male Tricolored:
(1) No blue gloss evident in the body plumage (looks more coal black, like a Red-winged)
(2) Red of the lesser coverts is too orange/scarlet – it is a much deeper red in a normal adult male Tricolroed
(3) The white of the median coverts on this bird smacks of leucism to me – too extensive and too bright white; so the fact that there is a broad white bar there probably reflects a plumage anomaly and only superficial similarity to Tricolored.
Vocally, Tricoloreds are very different from Red-wingeds. This bird looks like it might be teed up and singing, so I assume it was heard."

" I am with you, there are concerns. But first of all, reading between the lines it seems like the bird was vocalizing…isn’t that what the “Based on what we heard tonight, the bird will likely oblige” comment refers to? If so, that is the single best feature for knowing you have an out of range Tricolored, the song and calls are quite different from a Red-winged Blackbird. So a description of voice would be useful. Having said that the issues that concern me are: 1) the remaining edging on the upperpart feathers looks cinnamon or dull chestnut, too bright and warm for a Tricolored Blackbird. 2) The bill on the good side view shot where the bird is pointing left looks too thick and short for Tricolored 3) The epaulet is orange-red rather than the darker blood red of Tricolored 4) I see some yellow on the edge of the red epaulet. Early in the season Tricolored has a buffy border to the red epaulet, as this wears and fades it becomes white, but the patchy yellow colors I see there are weird.

I am leaning to a Red-winged Blackbird with oddly white epaulet fringe."

(Emails from Pomera Fronce,  20 Mar 2009)

Hello -

Several people have asked me what I heard when the possible Tricolored Blackbird vocalized. The marsh symphony was a bit overwhelming last evening and I was not able to single out the call of one bird.

Today (Friday) at 2:45, Jack Binch and I saw the suspect bird in the same location as previously reported. We also heard him sing solo and the song was definitely that of a Red-winged Blackbird.

No tricolored this time around...



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