Back to Nature (Published on - March 9, 2005)
Readers to identify mystery bird
Name this bird.
Let’s have some fun.

For this week’s column we’d like to try something a little different. We’d like to give our reader’s an opportunity to decide who is in our photo, the “Mystery Bird.”

Here are a couple of hints.

“In the southern half of North America this species is the counterpart of the Northern version of the boreal regions of Alaska and Canada. In behavior and choice of habitat the two species are essentially similar, although this one feeds mainly on large insects such as locusts. In cold weather, when insects are hard to find, it will hunt small birds or mice. Our mystery bird impales its prey – usually a small bird, mouse, or insect – on a thorn or barbed-wire fence which facilitates tearing it apart then or at a later time; hence its vernacular name “Butcher Bird.” (

“The Northern version is very similar to our mysterious feathered friend, but is larger with a black mask that does not extend across the top of the bill, pale base to the lower mandible, a paler gray overall color and faintly barred underparts.

Northern birds are similarly-sized and colored but have slimmer bills and lack a black mask.” (U.S. Geological Survey)

Write us with your answers and we’ll let you know if you’ve guessed correctly.

The live oaks are brimming with the promise of new life, spring rains and birds nesting. As Spanish moss drapes from their thick, graceful limbs, hurricanes and drought seem far from memories. Crinolines of rhododendrons show in pinks, whites and scarlet under the shelter of the oaks, as white ibis troupes meander about the lawns poking their long, slender, red bills into the winter soil in search of insects and grubs.

In only a couple of weeks we can officially put away winter and call the season spring. It still may be 20 degrees with snow flurries up in Michigan, but this afternoon it’s sunny with temperatures in the 70s on the west coast of Florida. And that’s the way it is here. We go from cold to hot, hot to cold. One day we’re wearing jackets and the very next day we’re searching the bottom drawers for shorts and T-shirts.

Northern tourists and wildlife both have well established “flyways” to flock and take advantage of our moderate climate, so let’s get out and join them.

Although many of the parks can supply you with a Birding Check List to keep track of your sightings, you will definitely need a good, comprehensive birding guide book. There are various guide books to choose from including many styles of books; photography or illustration, focusing on comparison between close-like species or books that pay in-depth attention to habitat and behavior as determinations and guidance for identification of species.

Some guide books are designed just for beginners. These are great for casual birders and also for children such as: Golden Books – A Guide to Field Identification, Birds of North America. My partner and I generally carry three or four guides with us in our vehicle and one each in our backpacks. These are our favorites: Peterson Field Guides – Eastern Birds, Roger Tory Peterson; National Audubon Society – The Sibley Guide to Birds, David Allen Sibley; American Bird Conservancy’s Field Guide – All the Birds of North America; and The Audubon Society Field Guides.

No one book is perfect. And for each sighting, you must consider the lighting, refracted colors, time of day, songs, sounds, age of bird, habitat and region. Also, take into account previous stats on sightings of the species in the area. Listen to the mockingbirds. They’ll give you some clues of who’s in town as they mimic the songs of visitors. You’ll be surprised at the variety of birds flying through Tampa Bay at this time of year.

With appropriate guide book under arm, grab the binoculars; get out the camera, insect repellent, sun glasses and cap. It’s time to check out who’s coming for dinner in Florida. Perhaps you’ll catch a glimpse of our “Mystery Bird” while trekking the wilds of Florida. We just never know who’ll be visiting our feeders or sitting upon our fence. Enjoy occasions spent in natural surroundings away from the bricks and mortar of everyday life. Give awareness to our Earth. Simply take pleasure in being back to nature.

Karen can be reached at

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