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Sunday, January 17, 2010

What's Wrong With this Photo?

I'll give you a hint - it was taken this week in Brooklyn.

I love seeing goldfinches in the Spring, when their drab gray, brown and pale yellow basic plumage has been replaced by brilliant yellow and black feathers. Peter Dorosh maintains several bird feeders in Prospect Park which are frequented by flocks of finches and other passerines. On slow winter birding days, I like to spend time watching the feeders from a distance. As March turns to April , one will begin to see gradual changes in the plumage of the overwintering American Goldfinches. However, while visiting the feeders one day last December I spotted this bright, yellow bird and was completely stunned. I've seen him fairly regularly since then and it doesn't appear that there have been any changes in his alternate plumage state. In the second photo you can see him side by side with an individual in the seasonally appropriate dress.

While looking at the bird at close range, I expected to see a lot of damage to the feather's edges. My thought was that he'd been wearing the same feathers since he molted into them last Spring. Oddly, they all looked sharp and crisp, as if he had just molted. There is a phenomenon called suspended or interrupted molt, which refers to when a bird holds onto its feathers and molts contrary to the normal, expected cycle. Could this fellow have molted from breeding plumage into a second set of breeding plumes? Whatever the cause, he'll certainly have an advantage over his rivals come the Spring breeding season.

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