|Oregon Junco female|
Shitty birder Murr reporting in again, with birdy enthusiasm and Magic Slate brain. Birds are erased from my memory as fast as they slide in. It’s a problem, if you want to have a Life List of birds that means anything.
I don’t. Instead, I will get all excited about spotting a Life Bird and one of my friends will say, “No, you saw that one back in 2012, perched at three o’clock in a western cedar, just to the right of a varied thrush.” And I will respond, “Who are you, again?”
So I was excited to find an honest-to-goodness new bird when I visited my sister in Colorado. I do know some birds pretty well, and this one acted a lot like a junco. For instance, it hopped around on the ground, both to and (as noted on the Audubon site) fro. And it had those white junco tail feathers. But this one was sort of bluish and had a red sweater, not at all like our Oregon Junco, which is brown and white with an executioner’s hood. I looked it up later and was pretty chuffed to discover it was indeed in the junco family. I had not only bagged a Life Bird but I’d gotten it down to a near relative.
|Oregon Junco male|
Only, no. Hold on there, little missy! As it happens, there are at least five distinct juncos out there and all of them are now called Dark-Eyed Juncos. You see one, you’ve officially bagged them all. It’s totally not fair. If I’d seen them in 1972, I could have counted them as five different species, but since then, ornithologists, who are people unduly interested in bird sex, have decided they’re all the same thing.
This because in those areas where the different types overlap, they interbreed freely, as opposed to reluctantly.
(And the areas where they overlap would be your cloacal areas.)
Now, otters have been known to mate freely with cocker spaniels, but they are not considered the same species, because they do not get a live Cock-Otter out of it, and in fact the cocker spaniel usually doesn’t make it either. Otters are real cute, but they’re assholes.
But an Oregon Junco can mate with a Gray-headed Junco and get real operational nestlings out of the situation. I don’t know what they look like.
Juncos have been much studied because they’re easy to catch and relatively tolerant of manhandling, which is to say they don’t spazz out or drop dead. This is probably an unfortunate trait for the junco. Being studied by ornithologist rarely works out for the bird. Some early ornithologists messed with a bunch of juncos by exposing them to cold winter conditions while simultaneously adjusting their light exposure artificially to make it seem like spring, all to see if they went ahead and mated or just pooped in their water dish. I don’t know what they found out, but I’m sure it was grad students who had to clean it up.
The reason all the forms are now considered the same damn bird is they have only begun to diverge recently, since the retreat of the glaciers around 13,000 years ago. That gave them plenty of opportunity to branch out sartorially while maintaining a healthy ecumenical horniness.
I’m interested in this because I happen to have a Slate-Colored Junco in my yard. Yes I do: he’s supposed to be east of the Great Plains, but he isn’t, he’s right here. Not only that, but he’s been coming here for at least two years. Yes, I’m going out on a limb and saying it’s the same individual, which means they spend a season up in Canada somewhere and then come right back to the very same city lot every time. Mine. And if my Slatey mates with an Oregon Junco and produces something new, say, something in a dapper plaid, I’m calling it Murr’s Junco. Junco murrus nanner-nanneri. Boo-yah.