It’s been almost a year and I still can’t let this thing go. This post may not be for everyone, but it’s something I started obsessing about again, and decided to reopen the case, so to speak.
Some of you may remember the bird in the second round of our Mystery Bird Challenge as being a particularly tough one to ID. It had most of the ranging team discussing it until we consulted a couple of birding gurus in different corners of the country.
The answer we eventually settled on, and the answer which we presented in that week’s TWIP, was that of a Juvenile Longtailed Paradise Whydah, the adult of which is shown in the photo below:
We did try and cover ourselves by saying that we weren’t 100% sure of the answer (which I know was fairly non-commital), but we were confident that we had laid the subject to rest.
Being the competitive bunch that we are however, eventually those few percentage points of uncertainty started getting to us, and we relaunched a campaign to get the bird properly identified.
We were disappointed.
A number of experts in the field had different answers (all with very rational reasoning behind them), and just as we thought we knew what the bird was, another opinion would come to us from a different expert. What everyone did agree upon was that the bird in question was a juvenile, but it seems that there wan’t a consensus as to which species.
Apart from the Paradise Whydah, two other options were presented, the Village Indigobird and the Pintailed Whydah:
Both of these species are fairly common at Londolozi, and interestingly, they and the Long-tailed Paradise Whydah are all brood parasites, meaning they lay their eggs in the nest of another bird species, and get that species to raise the chicks. The LTPW’s host is the Green-Winged Pytila, the PTW’s host is most often the Common Waxbill in this area, and the Village Indigobird’s host is the Redbilled Firefinch.
That’s all an aside, as since the bird in the photo wasn’t viewed in company with a host parent, it doesn’t help with its identification.
Anyway, reading through the information in the Robert’s Bird App, a couple of key lines struck me as fairly important under the description of the Village Indigobird, and they stated that the leg colour in the juveniles was pinkish grey, whereas in the two Whydah species they were brownish grey to darkish grey. Upon closer inspection, it certainly looks to me like the bird in the photo has pinkish grey legs, which suggests strongly that it is in fact an Indigobird, although there can be slight colour anomalies in photographs based on shade, post-processing etc.
Assuming that the bird is an Indigobird doesn’t solve the mystery once and for all though, as we find three different species at Londolozi; the Village, Dusky and Purple.
The critical part of the photo then, I believe lies at the base of the beak in the Tubercules (that little section at the base of the bill), which are visible below as white. These are especially prominent in the Indigobird and Whydah species, which still doesn’t help much by itself, unless we’re combining it with the leg colour, and settling on an Indigobird here.
The final few lines in the Robert’s app under the Juvenile Purple Indigobird I believe may be decisive. They state:
Gape flange pinkish separated from 2 small white tubercules by a narrow blue band.
Now, the resolution isn’t high enough to really see a narrow blue band – I would have probably needed a much bigger lens for that unfortunately – but it certainly looks to me like those are two distinct white tubercules.
It’s still not a 100% confirmation, but I’m changing our initial answer of juvenile Long-Tailed Paradise Whydah, going out on a limb here and throwing in the curve-ball of juvenile Purple Indigobird.
More than happy to reopen the debate…
I just went back in the archives to the original blog to see what I thought the bird was. I was of course completely wrong but I see Kim said it was a village indigo bird. She was at least closer.
One of the reasons I love birding! Very unpredictable & can bowl one out! Maybe a good option is to have more than one bird book for comparison purposes.
It sounds like it is very difficult to identify certain species! ? I’m impressed! I think you have done a very good job! My plan is to buy a much bigger and better birdbook because I love your bird challenge then maybe one could have a chance to get it right! ? Even if one don’t get it right it is a beautiful way of learning more about birds!
Don’t worry, I love reading posts like this!