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Old Monday 22nd September 2008, 23:53   #1
banzie
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Help, please! - Black Bird with Large White Half Moons on Wings. Chicago, MI, USA

Hello!

I just joined the forum after seeing a very intriguing bird and being unable to get any hint of what it was. I've included all the information I can think of. Any other questions let me know. All suggestions appreciated!



Color:All black, except for big distinctive white half moons on center lower half of wings (facing away from head).

Size, shape: approx. 7-12 inches, both beak to tail and wingspan, shape was reminiscent of woodpecker, kingfisher, crow, grackle ........?

Call: a few "whooooop whoooop" at a time, starting lower and rising quickly to a very high last note

Flight: flew straight up, stopped, dropped into a free fall, caught itself making a big swoop as it flew up again or back over to a new tree perch. Was perching between bush and high tree level around a brushy meadow, but not on ground.

Location: It was in an area very well-known as a migratory spot along the shore of Lake Michigan, a couple miles north of Chicago. Because of this, it has been harder to know what guides to look at because I've seen other birds here that are not "supposed" to be in the area.
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Old Monday 22nd September 2008, 23:58   #2
Dave B Smith
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Maybe a Lark Bunting? Or possibly a Bobolink?

I'm sure someone will have a better idea based on the call you mentioned.

And welcome to the Birdforum!
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Old Tuesday 23rd September 2008, 00:16   #3
banzie
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Thanks for the quick reply!

Of the two suggestions, the bird looked more like the (male) Lark Bunting, but with a longer beak and with the white on the trailing, rather than leading, edge of the wings. Also, I should note that full half-moon shape was visible only in flight.

Also, worth noting that the plummage description could be a bit off of course, as many birds here are changing to winter plummage right now and some look a bit funky because of it.
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Old Tuesday 23rd September 2008, 02:30   #4
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Some mynah species would have such a dark wing with white half moon, and generally be about the same size (or a little larger) than a Starling. A mynah would of course be an escapee in Chicago, (or Michigan; is there a Chicago in MI?).

An aberrant dark Mockingbird is another bird where you would expect to have white on wings.

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Old Tuesday 23rd September 2008, 02:31   #5
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Bobolink and Lark Bunting would both be in winter plumage by now. Mockingbirds and shrikes have white wing patches, unless by 'half moons' you're referring to wing bars (although you said that they were only fully visible in flight). Were the patches in the centre of the wing, or right along the trailing edge?

I can't think of anything that would be all black and have white wing patches -- how good was the light? How close were you to the bird?

The flight pattern you describe -- was this flycatching behaviour, as in a steep climb before dropping down again after chasing an insect, or a rolling flight path as the bird flew from tree to tree?
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Old Tuesday 23rd September 2008, 02:55   #6
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Just one example of what I was thinking about http://www.birdforum.net/opus/Crested_Mynah with flight image http://www.birdforum.net/gallery/sho...p?photo=107113

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Old Tuesday 23rd September 2008, 03:00   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by njlarsen View Post
Just one example of what I was thinking about http://www.birdforum.net/opus/Crested_Mynah with flight image http://www.birdforum.net/gallery/sho...p?photo=107113

Niels
Those look good for the description anyway. I can't think of anything else, not to say I thought of your idea (which I didn't) just nothing else comes to mind
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Old Wednesday 24th September 2008, 00:13   #8
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I think I got it!!!!

http://tbn0.google.com/images?q=tbn:...s/image011.jpg

Seriously though, I think you need to draw a diagram of what you saw and scan it. The flight description did remind me of nighthawk, but nothing else fits.
http://www.schmoker.org/BirdPics/Pho...ers/CONI07.jpg

or maybe a rose-breasted grosbeak
http://identify.whatbird.com/img/4/4566/image.aspx

By the way, did this bird perch like a robin on a twig or like a woodpecker on a branch/trunk?

Scott
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Old Thursday 25th September 2008, 02:30   #9
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Ok, I know it is a long shot but Sibley's shows that the bird I am about to mention can be a rare vagrant but it is possible. It also fits the description of all black with large white "half-moons" on the wings. I don't know its behavior but I stumbled upon it on page 360 of "Sibley's guide to birds of Western North America"

I'm thinking Phainopepla, it is rare but it is possible, here is a link:

Perched:
http://www.birdforum.net/opus/Phainopepla

Flying:
http://images.google.com/imgres?imgu...%3Den%26sa%3DG

Just my best guess,
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Old Thursday 25th September 2008, 13:00   #10
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I did not think of Phainopepla, in part because my gut reaction if a strange bird is seen near a big city is that it is an escape, not a natural vagrant I also did not think about it because I couldn't remember that it had white wing spots, and it is a species I have seen a few times. Here are a couple of links to Phainopepla with wings spread, and the original observer would have to look at the links to see if that is what he has seen.

http://www.birdforum.net/gallery/sho...hp?photo=46379
http://www.birdforum.net/gallery/sho...hp?photo=51982
The second one probably shows the wings maximally white for this species.

cheers
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Old Thursday 25th September 2008, 13:50   #11
Peter C.
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Bird with white "half-moons" in the wings

Banzie:

I think Myloko's suggestion is a very tempting one, despite the "unlikeliness" factor (though Phainopepla have been vagrant to Canada in the past, so Chicago is certainly not out of the question). All-black birds with white crescents in the wings are pretty few and far between in NA.

On first reading the description, I thought that there must be something that was missed in the initial observation; but if we accept the bird, and especially its head, as being all black, Phainopepla is a good match.

However, I don't know how well the bird was seen (can you tell us about which way the bird was facing when you saw it/direction of flight relative to you/how much of the bird you saw? It matters a lot how much of the bird was definitively seen to be black), so I don't know if I can rule out some sort of woodpecker. The flight style, which is well described, seems woodpecker-like; on the other hand, the voice description doesn't match any that I am familiar wth, and none of our woodpeckers are really entirely black in the body. Pileated would be my most likely suspect, but the habitat and voice are all wrong...

Hope someone can find this again.

Peter C.

Last edited by Peter C. : Thursday 25th September 2008 at 13:53. Reason: syntax error
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Old Thursday 25th September 2008, 14:28   #12
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I don't see why it couldn't be a stray Phainopepla. Most strays are seen in or near big cities (where most birders live) so I don't think it's out of the question. As mentioned before, they've wandered into Canada.
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Old Thursday 25th September 2008, 15:20   #13
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One thing about a Phainopepla: it reminds me of a waxwing, not of a woodpecker/grackle which is what the original description was. The behavior described reminds me of a flycatcher or a bird active in defence of a territory: I cannot remember any flycatcher with white wing spots, and if the second, then the bird is mistaken regarding the seasons.

Could the explanation be a starling with partly white wings? I know color variants occur in Eurasian Blackbird, but I dont know if something similar has been seen in European Starlings? The voice repertoire of starlings can include just about anything.

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Old Thursday 25th September 2008, 16:07   #14
Peter C.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by njlarsen View Post
One thing about a Phainopepla: it reminds me of a waxwing, not of a woodpecker/grackle which is what the original description was.
But if the 'grackle' impression (in the original post) came from dark plumage + long tail, that would fit PHAI.
Quote:
Could the explanation be a starling with partly white wings? I know color variants occur in Eurasian Blackbird, but I dont know if something similar has been seen in European Starlings? The voice repertoire of starlings can include just about anything. Niels
Never seen a Starling make a "big swoop" in my life - they're more of a "buzz and glide" kind of bird. That's why I've still got 'woodpecker' stuck in my head, despite all the incompatabilities.

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Old Thursday 25th September 2008, 19:11   #15
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Yeah, the reason I mentioned my idea was that it was said to also look like a grackle so I thought maybe. like I said also I don't know the behavior of my thought but it is the only one I found to be all black with white crescents on the wings.

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Old Thursday 25th September 2008, 19:14   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by banzie View Post
[b]
Location: It was in an area very well-known as a migratory spot along the shore of Lake Michigan, a couple miles north of Chicago. Because of this, it has been harder to know what guides to look at because I've seen other birds here that are not "supposed" to be in the area.
Reread the description and thought it was funny I missed this before and Phainopepla isn't "supposed" to be there

The only way to know is for the original poster to check our links or for it to show again and a picture is taken.

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Old Monday 27th July 2009, 13:52   #17
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When she says "...shape was reminiscent of woodpecker, kingfisher, crow grackle..." maybe she means, from woodpecker and kingfisher a crest, and crow and grackle a the blackness and behavior. The only all black crested bird I know of is a Phainopepla... so wouldn't that lead to Matt's suggestion? Just a guess. I'd love to see this ID resolved, I saw this thread about a year ago and just found it again today...
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Old Monday 27th July 2009, 18:06   #18
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Wow Daddylion, I saw you bumped this thread but had no idea it was this exact thread (if that makes sense) I started reading the first post and I was like "sounds like a Phainopep...wait a minute (scrolls down) I already went through this" lol
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Old Monday 27th July 2009, 22:00   #19
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Lol Matt.

I'd hate to see this ID go unsolved, but as banzie hasn't been online since the first day of this thread... I don't know if it ever will. Well I guess we'll call it a Phainopepla!
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