posted October 7th, 2013; last edited October 14th, 2013 –– David Sibley

Hummingbird Art Auction to benefit Paton’s Birder Haven

Auction closed with a winning bid of $1660! Thanks to everyone for your support. And you can still make a donation at the ABC website here.

Like so many other birders, I’ve had the great pleasure of sitting and birding in the Paton’s backyard sanctuary in Patagonia, Arizona, where Violet-crowned Hummingbird is one of the specialties. I did this gouache painting of a Violet-crowned Hummingbird remembering my visits there, and 100% of the proceeds from the sale of this painting will be donated to help permanently preserve the property as a bird sanctuary and education center.

I’m donating a painting because I support this cause, and you can make a donation even if you’re not buying the painting. Please be generous. You can read more about the project, and make donations, at this link


About the artwork

This is an original painting created with gouache on bristol board. These are archival materials and with proper care the painting should remain essentially unchanged for a hundred years or more.

The original is 8.5″ wide by 10″ tall.

Info about auctions in general

This auction uses “proxy” bidding or automatic bidding, the same method used on eBay. The system allows you, as a bidder, to specify a hypothetical maximum price that you would be willing to pay, and it will automatically respond to other bids for you up to your maximum. If a previous bidder has entered a maximum bid, then YOUR bid will trigger the system to place an automatic bid in THEIR name that is slightly higher than yours.

If you want to know more you can read the explanation on eBay here. And if you have any questions or concerns please contact me.


The winner of the auction will receive an email notification, with a link to a Paypal page to make payment. A Paypal account is not required to use the service, and all major credit cards are accepted. The winning bidder can pay for the auction by clicking on the Paypal link in that email. I will transfer the full payment in your name to the Paton’s Birder Haven fundraising campaign.

If you would like to make other arrangements for payment, or have other questions, you can contact me.


The cost of shipping to the continental US via USPS ground is included in the sale price. Overnight delivery or shipping to other countries is available at additional cost. The winning bidder can contact me for details and pay separately for these services if needed.

Satisfaction Guarantee

As with all of my artwork, if you feel the piece you receive is unsatisfactory for any reason, just contact me and return it in its original condition for a full refund.

posted August 20th, 2013; last edited August 20th, 2013 –– David Sibley

Peter Pyle on Sage Sparrows

The most significant change for North American birders in the 2013 AOU Checklist supplement is the split of Sage Sparrow into two species: Sagebrush Sparrow and Bell’s Sparrow. In this arrangement Bell’s Sparrow includes the distinctively dark coastal California subspecies belli, as well as the much less distinctive interior California subspecies canescens. Sagebrush Sparrow is monotypic (no named subspecies) and breeds throughout the Great Basin region.

The new challenge is to distinguish Sagebrush Sparrow from the interior subspecies of Bell’s Sparrow, and Peter Pyle has put together a preliminary guide to these species. The simplest summary is that Sagebrush Sparrow has stronger streaks on the back and a weaker lateral throat stripe, but the differences are small and affected by wear. You can download the pdf here:

pdf – On separating Sagebrush and Bells Sparrow

Feel free to leave comments here, including links to other resources that might help sort out this ID problem.

A blog post by Lauren Harter from Feb 2013 briefly discusses the status in the Lower Colorado River Valley, where both species winter, with a photo of an apparent canescens Bell’s Sparrow.

(A summary of all the new AOU changes is at the ABA blog)

posted May 22nd, 2013; last edited May 22nd, 2013 –– David Sibley

Another odd Snowy Egret, or a hybrid?

Recently on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Mary Keleher noticed an egret with two long head plumes, and took a couple of photos. This bird matches well with the ones I discussed in 2011 in a previous blog post

Little Egrets have been showing up in the northeast regularly enough for the last couple of decades that one or more could have paired with a Snowy Egret and raised young, thus hybrids are plausible. In my earlier blog post I mention similar “long-plumed” Snowy Egrets from Texas and Baja California, where Little Egrets or hybrids are unlikely, and maybe the concentration of such birds in New England is simply a matter of birders paying close attention to plumes there.

But I still have to ask the question: Can we be sure this is not a hybrid, and how would we know? Hopefully this one will stick around for more detailed study and some of the questions can be resolved.

Unusual egret at Cockle Cove in Chatham, MA, 16 May 2013. Photo copyright Mary Keleher, used by permission. Clicking the photo links to the original on Flickr.

Unusual egret at Cockle Cove in Chatham, MA, 16 May 2013. Photo copyright Mary Keleher, used by permission. Clicking the photo links to the original on Flickr.

Unusual egret at Cockle Cove in Chatham, MA, 16 May 2013. Photo copyright Mary Keleher, used by permission. Clicking the photo links to the original on Flickr.

Unusual egret at Cockle Cove in Chatham, MA, 16 May 2013. Photo copyright Mary Keleher, used by permission. Clicking the photo links to the original on Flickr.

Thanks to Mary Keleher for noticing the bird and allowing the use of her photos here.

posted April 12th, 2013; last edited April 12th, 2013 –– David Sibley

Flycatcher identification by the calendar

Here are some eBird maps showing all records for the month of April for several species of small flycatchers in eastern North America. A glance at these maps will show which species are possible in your area in the next few weeks, and this greatly simplifies flycatcher identification. For most of the east, through most of April, small flycatcher identification can be summed up in one short phrase – ”It’s a phoebe” (see Eastern Phoebe map at the end of this post below).

Anything is possible, of course, and spring migration is getting earlier each year, but if you think you have found, for example, an Alder Flycatcher in Pennsylvania in April, you’ll need some photo or audio documentation to verify it.


Alder Flycatcher records in the month of April – very few!

….Continue reading Flycatcher identification by the calendar →

posted April 9th, 2013; last edited April 9th, 2013 –– David Sibley

The white eyelid of American Dipper



American Dipper showing off its white eyelid. Photographed near Cody, WY, March 2013, by David Sibley.

It’s one of the first things people notice when they get a good look at a Dipper – the eyelid flashes white when it blinks! This is so different from any other bird that it begs for an explanation. Understandably, many people assume that the flashing white eyelid must have something to do with the dipper’s unusual underwater habits, related to helping them see underwater, which leads to the common misconception that the white flash is a nictitating membrane.

All birds have a nictitating membrane, a translucent whitish/bluish “third eyelid” that flicks across the surface of the eye from front to back to protect it while still allowing some vision (more info on Wikipedia).

But the dipper’s flash is bright white, and travels from top to bottom and back up (and if you can examine it very closely you’ll see that it’s covered with tiny white feathers). It is the eyelid.

Because the eyelid is white, we notice every time a dipper blinks. They don’t blink a lot more than other birds, it’s just that most other birds have dark grayish eyelids without feathers, and blink more quickly, so their blinking is barely noticeable.

The next question is… Why? Why do dippers have white eyelids and then make a big show of blinking slowly? Nobody knows.

One idea that’s been proposed is that it’s a useful way of communicating with other dippers in the very noisy streamside environment, but that’s just a general idea about visual communication and doesn’t get any closer to explaining what dippers are trying to say with their eyelids. Even the authoritative BNA account by Willson and Kingery offers no explanation.

Maybe the dippers we see – blinking as they pop in and out of the water – are just blinking, and the white eyelid has some other specialized function at another time in their life. It’s a basic question about a relatively common and easy-to-see bird, and it could be answered by just observing and getting to know some dippers. And that seems like it would be a pretty nice way to spend a few months.


Willson, Mary F. and Hugh E. Kingery. 2011. American Dipper (Cinclus mexicanus), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online: [subscription required]

posted March 4th, 2013; last edited March 4th, 2013 –– David Sibley

Pairs as an aid to hawk identification

Two Red-tailed Hawks in a single tree. Modified photo by David Sibley.

By the end of February, even in cold and snowy Massachusetts, Red-tailed Hawks are courting and forming pairs in preparation for nesting. It’s common to see the male and female of a pair sitting close to each other in a tree, and this provides a very powerful clue to identification.

Hawks are generally solitary and territorial, and will not tolerate another hawk nearby. The only exception is mated pairs. You won’t see two Rough-legged Hawks, or a Red-tailed and a Red-shouldered Hawk, sharing a tree like this on the wintering grounds. Therefore, whenever you see two hawks sitting this close to each other, it’s safe to assume that they are the same species and that they are nesting nearby, which greatly reduces the number of candidate species.

Habitat also helps, and since Red-tailed Hawk is the only large open-country raptor nesting in Massachusetts it’s easy to identify these two birds as Red-tails based on nothing more than their size and their choice of perches.

posted February 14th, 2013; last edited February 14th, 2013 –– David Sibley

Sibley eGuide for Kindle Fire HD coming within days

Some of you had noticed that the Sibley eGuide was not in the Kindle store any more. Apparently the new Kindle Fire HD tablet required changes in the app, but those are now completed, the app has been resubmitted to the Kindle store for approval, and it should be available within days.

Thank you for your patience and support.

posted February 14th, 2013; last edited February 14th, 2013 –– David Sibley

A video bird quiz

The answer is at the end of the video, and in the text below.

It has been a relatively mild winter in Massachusetts, but the blizzard of Feb 2013 put over two feet of snow on the ground, effectively eliminating most of the grassy and weedy habitat sparrows need. In such conditions the plowed edges of roads become an oasis of open ground and exposed seeds, and sparrows gravitate to those edges. Thus a Le Conte’s Sparrow, a very rare visitor to Massachusetts, was found in Concord on 12 Feb. I suspect it had been at this location, somewhere in the acres of weedy and marshy habitat, since at least December, and was only found because of the snow that forced it into the open.

Given its behavior, it’s no surprise that it wasn’t found sooner. Le Conte’s Sparrow is known for being secretive, just like Grasshopper Sparrow and other species in the genus Ammodramus. They rely on camouflage for protection and usually crouch when alarmed rather than flying. The behavior shown in this video – burrowing under matted grass – is something most sparrows simply never do.

posted February 5th, 2013; last edited February 5th, 2013 –– David Sibley

Dark heron/egret

Can you identify the two birds in this photo?

Photographed by William Horden in Big Cypress Preserve, FL, Dec 2012. Used by permission. You can see William's more artistic work at his website:

….Continue reading Dark heron/egret →

posted February 4th, 2013; last edited February 4th, 2013 –– David Sibley

Updated app for iPhone

The Sibley eGuide to Birds app for iPhone has been updated.

This update adds thumbnail images of every species in the scrolling list and in search results, the option to display common names in French, Spanish, or Latin instead of English, the latest AOU taxonomy including splits of Scripps’s and Guadalupe Murrelet, new audio for Bendire’s Thrasher and Cackling Goose, and some minor corrections.

Similar features for Android and other platforms coming soon.

more info here