2016 Faves—Passerines, part 7: O–P….

This post highlights another woodpecker—NOT technically a passerine (see note when you get to it!), but included here because it doesn’t fit in other unscientific categories, either—our largest and most exciting for many birders, the Pileated Woodpecker, and one of our smallest passerines the Pygmy Nuthatch.

And let’s not overlook the Pine Siskin, a friendly and frequent visitor to our back yards.

Orange-crowned Warbler – Version 2a
Orange Crowned Warbler  (inc).          Click to enlarge.

But what about Orange-crowned Warblers and Ovenbirds and other birds whose names begin with O? Well, truth be told (and shouldn’t it almost always?) I just didn’t come up with many this year. I saw OCWAs both in spring and autumn, but the results just weren’t good enough. In one case in the spring, when I was having success with Orioles of the Bullock’s variety and a Black-headed Grosbeak, I did find an OCWA. When I got home, the background was so distracting that I tried to turning it into art, and am not sure how well that worked out…. Here’s the incomplete result for what it’s worth. This year (2017) will be better!

Most people know the Pileated Woodpecker by its printed name and its appearance, but not all agree on how to pronounce the name. I’ve heard Piley-ated, which is pretty close to what my Mac’s Dictionary recommends, if you can read the pronunciation guide (ˈpīlēˌātid), but I’ve been taught to say “Pilly-ated.”So which way is correct? Well, as with so many words in Canada and the US, it really doesn’t matter, it seems. Again, from Cornell, ““PILEATED (Woodpecker) – PIE-lee-ay-tid, PILL-ee-ay-tid (having a pileus or cap). This and the next two are commonly pronounced as the two alternate versions listed from the dictionary. If it bothers you when people say it differently than you do, lighten up. They’re just birds, for goodness sakes, and THEY don’t care what you call them.” http://www.birds.cornell.edu/crows/birdname.htm

If you do take the time to look this up, you’ll find a somewhat clever, entertaining in the style of humorist Dave Barry, take on bird names and pronunciation:

Dr. Language Person’s Guide to Bird Name Pronunciations

by Kevin McGowan (with apologies to Dave Barry)

You say PLUH-ver and I say PLO-ver,

You say pro-THON-a-tery and I say pro-theh-NO-tery,…

If you spend time birding with other people (and you should), you will find that not everyone agrees on how to pronounce certain bird names. The differences can be as obvious as a southern drawl adding a few more syllables than seems necessary, or they can be as arbitrary (and entrenched) as the to-MAY-to, to-MAH-to debate of the old song. (My old doctoral advisor tells the story of how in his first year in Florida from the north he was mystified by the report from another birder of seeing a puh-ray-uh-ree. He spent the next hour looking for this exotic sounding bird, but could only find the common Prairie Warblers.) But even if you get past the disparate accents and regional dialect problems, still you hear many different versions of common birds. Is it “pa-RU-la” or “PAR-u-la”? Is it “PIE-le-at-ed” or PILL-e-at-ed”?

If you’re a beginning birder, you might be afraid of embarrassing yourself in front of other, more experienced birders by choosing the wrong pronunciation. Well you should be; we birders are a pretty snotty lot, never afraid to snigger at a novice’s mistakes. No, that’s not true. Actually, we’re very nice and helpful. But, never fear, Dr. Language Person is here to set you straight about these nagging doubts. I will give you the definitive pronunciations of the most commonly mispronounced birds, as well as some others that you never thought about mispronouncing, just to make you self-conscious so that you’ll make more mistakes, HAH-HAH! No, wait. In keeping with the scholarly tone of this fine publication, I will give you the information as I see it, and then you can make your own decisions.

First, English is slippery language. In fact, all language is slippery. No accepted absolute standards exist, in contrast to official measurement standards, like meters. So you have to rely on either (is that I-ther or EE -ther?) some authority or on common use. Without a widely accepted authority, all language drifts and people begin to subtly change the way they pronounce things. Languages, like populations of organisms, change and evolve over time…. (The article continues this way at length! And because of its Eastern bias, there’s no discussion of Lazuli Bunting, but I covered that in Part 5 of this series….)

NOTE: ALTHOUGH WOODPECKERS ARE NOT CONSIDERED PASSERINES, I have included one here because it doesn’t fit into the other broad categories that I’m using. This is NOT intended to be a scientific blog; it’s a highly personal one. Please don’t get too bent out of shape by this issue.

But you’re here for photos, I hope, so let’s get started: This bird was the star performer for the two weeks of April 2016 in a lovely place for a hike just west of Mahoney Lake in the White Lake Grasslands Park. The framed photo was to be the only one presented here, but when I looked at the shot from a week later where Mr. P was practising his best Usain Bolt impersonation, I couldn’t resist including it as well…. Any day we come across an accommodating  PIWO is a great day!

In case you’re wondering if he’s really a male, you can be sure because a female doesn’t have the red whisker (malar) stripe on her face. PIWOs are well distributed throughout Canada except in southeastern Alberta, southern Saskatchewan, and southwestern Manitoba.

Pine Siskin - 3
Hiding his wings!!

The Pine Siskin is found south of the tundra throughout North America. PISIs “often visit feeders in winter (particularly for thistle or nyjer seed) or cling to branch tips of pines and other conifers, sometimes hanging upside down to pick at seeds below them. They are gregarious, foraging in tight flocks and twittering incessantly to each other, even during their undulating flight.” (Cornell)

I see them often, but find that photographing the male displaying colour in his wings is a challenge that I frequently fail at. Perhaps in 2017!

Finally, an Interior Bird that, at various times of the year, and especially in spring, is abundant in the Okanagan, yet notoriously difficult to photograph well because of its size and its hyperactivity, the Pygmy Nuthatch. Smaller even than the Red-breasted and White-breasted species, this wee one is a delight to watch throughout the year. Our best chances to photograph them, in my opinion, occur once mating occurs and they’re settled into creating a nest, often in a burnt out pine tree, Ponderosa, preferably….

Click to enlarge the photos. Once enlarged, scroll down and click again to view full size.

Pygmy Nuthatch
How tiny he is!



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