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Dimorphic pair in NorCal: male looked like "tropical" thrasher, female grey-white speckles, never seen before


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This is driving me crazy -- and sorry, I don't have a picture. Just saw today in my little sunny garden in South San Francisco a pair of birds I've never seen before. VERY dimorphic coloring between sexes: male (I assume) was brownish-grey with light green on head/neck (memory fading fast: enough green to be noticeable) and pink (or light red/pink-orange) on breast -- almost lovebird-like, but definitely not lovebird proportion and no white. Female was medium-light grey with white speckles throughout, almost-uniform speckles all over, possibly a bit smaller than male.

They were bigger than a common sparrow, approximately the length of a small robin, but "slim" and sleek, not "fat" or round. Closest body proportions like a brown thrasher; sharp-medium-not curved beak if memory serves. They were alert, slightly shy, very lively -- chopping around on tree branches (not ground) and then a quick sip at my bird bath -- and graceful flight together when they took off over my roof.

I have gone through 100s of photos of warblers, thrashers, other mimids and three different "find my bird" algorithms. I'm stumped. They don't seem to be a common type of CA bird or even U.S./North America ...maybe tropical visitors?

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Western Tanager female is a good guess, except the bird in the pair with the green color also definitely had a pink (red-pink) breast (high breast, not full belly). And I am pretty darn sure they were a pair, with the other bird being far more muted (no green or pink; speckles), suggesting (typically) the green bird was the male. The assumed-female bird was grey with very uniform speckles, like all over, not just wing bars (so not a juvenile Western Tanager). Thanks, though, for the suggestion!

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Is there any chance that some of the colors were reflections of surrounding objects (leaves, etc.)?  Also, what do you mean by speckling?  Is it similar to the juvenile bluebird's?  I have to ask because I know people describe different patterns, such as spots, mottling, or streaks, as speckling.

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Ah, now I understand why you suggested a bluebird.

I am pretty confident the colors and markings of the green-tinged (male) bird were distinct from a bluebird's. I was ~10 ft away in full sunlight with a decent view, and I'm an artistic, so I feel I'm reasonably good at picking up colors. The green I saw was a light green, like a lovebird's, perhaps slightly more olive -- hard to confuse with a blue, even with reflections. Also, the pattern of the rosy breast was more like a Victorian ascot worn low (if that makes any sense), than the broader, vest-like markings of a bluebird, and my memory says pinker.

Good question re: speckling. The speckling pattern on the grey (female) bird was somewhat like a very-juvenile bluebird's belly, but it was on the wings and back, like vertical rectangular white confetti against a medium-light grey background (a little bit less dense speckling than a juvenile Western Bluebird's belly). I was stuck with how the female bird didn't have notable wing bands or bold markings; whereas the pictures I can find of juvenile Western bluebirds seem to have more banding/less vertical-confetti pattern on the wings.

Finally, these birds had a "sleekness" that's hard to explain but not what I associate with Western bluebirds (which I haven't seen in person).

Thanks for explaining why you suggested the bluebird, lol! Maybe...maybe... super-young pair of fledgling bluebirds with reflections... honestly, I'm not convinced, and I got the impression of adult mating pair of not-bluebirds. 🙂

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You're amazing, that's a cute sketch!

The pink "ascot" was much smaller, tighter -- like a large pink jewel on the breast. Memory says no white underbelly -- light grey-brown or grey-green on underside, pink directly bordering green on breast. I wish I'd made sketches right away but I was finishing lunch and had a meeting!

Also, maybe a little "taller" -- longer body, longer tail -- yes to head/beak, approximately (though I'm least confident for that).

Cheers!

Edited by Birdwatcher007
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Well, all I can think of for the spotted one is juvenile Townsend's Solitaire, but I don't think there should be any juveniles this time of year.  I'm sorry.  I guess you're going to have to wait to see if they come back and make sure you have a camera ready.

Edited by The Bird Nuts
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5 hours ago, dimitrig said:

I'm not really getting a feel for the bird from your description.

Green Kingfisher?

https://identify.whatbird.com/obj/936/_/green_kingfisher.aspx

Eared Quetzal?

https://identify.whatbird.com/obj/1086/_/eared_quetzal.aspx

 

Thank you for suggestions! The green kingfisher has too much white, and my birds didn't have the pointy "kingfisher" morphology.

The Eared Quetzal has pink near the tail instead of breast, and the Quetzal seems quite a bit larger and "plumper" than my birds. They were more "sleek robin" sized, but with a slightly longer tail.

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Not a starling, cute as they are. Not dark birds -- the green was fairly light-colored, like a lovebird-green, blended into lightish-brown toward the back/bottom of the bird. I thought the pink "jewel" on the chest had a bit of iridescence, but not as strong as a starling's.

Did not notice strong speckling or banding on the green male bird. The speckling was on the grey female bird.

Sorry, it's a bit confusing because the almost-certainly-mated pair had distinctly different coloring (dimorphism).

Thanks for your suggestion!

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12 minutes ago, Birdwatcher007 said:

I mean, it would have been awesome to see an Eared Quetzal in my backyard! But yes, would have been surprising given that I'm a solid 8-hour drive from the Mexican border.

Actually... I don't know anything about the likelihood of a typically-Mexican bird being 500+ miles (800+ km) outside of its normal territory. Is this a thing that happens?

Could a pair be blown from Hawaii to California and survive together?

I've ruled out the 800 most common birds in California and a similar additional list for the U.S., and I'm slowly working my way through rarer species. Do I need to look to Mexico and/or Hawaii, too?

And yes, if they come back, I will try to take a picture!

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16 minutes ago, Birdwatcher007 said:

Actually... I don't know anything about the likelihood of a typically-Mexican bird being 500+ miles (800+ km) outside of its normal territory. Is this a thing that happens?

Could a pair be blown from Hawaii to California and survive together?

I've ruled out the 800 most common birds in California and a similar additional list for the U.S., and I'm slowly working my way through rarer species. Do I need to look to Mexico and/or Hawaii, too?

And yes, if they come back, I will try to take a picture!

Photos would be helpful. Birds can come from that distance or further from time to time. We get a few Asian birds each year here in California. There is a sizable population of Red-masked Parakeet in SF, which are green and red, but I don’t think I’ve seen them other then flying over or perched way up in a eucalyptus tree. 

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4 minutes ago, Connor Cochrane said:

Photos would be helpful. Birds can come from that distance or further from time to time. We get a few Asian birds each year here in California. There is a sizable population of Red-masked Parakeet in SF, which are green and red, but I don’t think I’ve seen them other then flying over or perched way up in a eucalyptus tree. 

Ah, ok, thanks! I wasn't sure if I was asking a silly question. I will expand my searches. ...Wow, hadn't thought to look to Asian species.

..."My" birds were not red-masked parakeets, but your note is a good reminder that non-native species can survive and thrive in the climate here.

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