Thursday, April 29, 2010


As "Narrow Escape" made the long, cold journey north to Long Beach from San Diego after placing ninth in its ten-boat class in The Border Run race (another blog coming about that), these three birds joined us at separate times.

The first bird seemed exhausted, barely able to hang on to the dodger. It moved around several times during about 10 minutes and flew away. The second bird, all shades of black, gray and white except for the yellow spot above the beak, was more energetic and more curious. It flew in and out of the cabin several times and left the boat and returned several times before it, too, disappeared.

The third bird, with its brilliant yellow patches, seemed to enjoy the boat a great deal. It hopped around everywhere, including disappearing for awhile inside the cockpit coaming compartments. Eventually it ventured into the cabin, hopping down the companionway ladder step by step and then returning to the cockpit by hopping up the steps. Later it flew in and out of the cabin repeatedly, including two times when somone was going up or down the ladder. We crumbled a SunChip for it, which it enjoyed trying to crunch in its sharply-pointed beak. Finally the bird grew comfortable enough with its new surroundings to hop onto our feet, legs and arms as it moved about. But it resisted our efforts to feed it crumbs from our hands.

The third bird, too, flew away from the boat briefly many times but always quickly returned. Then it disappeared. About a half hour later I found it asleep on the cabin sole obscured by a trash bag stashed in a corner of the galley. Later it was gone, not to be seen again, leaving behind three small belly feathers.

To find out what these birds were and why they might be on our boat, I turned to my daughter, a bird biologist who is chair of the biology department at the University of Portland (OR). Below are excerpts of our correspondence.

Lazuli Bunting

Black-throated Gray Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

... What puzzled me is what happens to little birds like this when they leave the boat. Do they know how to fly home? Where is home? Are they social birds or lone rangers? Have they lost their families forever because they spent time on a passing boat?

Those are wonderful pictures Dad!!! The one with the little yellow spot between its eye and bill (called the lores) is a female black-throated gray warbler. Winters in Baja and central America and breeds in the Western US up to BC and over to Denver actually. Cutie pie! The last one with all the yellow on it is a full breeding plumage male yellow-rumped warbler. This is the western race, Audubon’s warbler. Same sort of wintering and breeding range so these guys are just migrating up to their breeding grounds. You probably weren’t that far off the coast so it looks like they were taking a break and perhaps ran out of a little gas themselves without any prevailing winds. The first bird has me stumped still. I’m going to send your pic to some friends and see what they come up with.

Wow – good thing I asked some friends. Ron LeValley, treasurer of Pacific Seabird Group and an avid birder, ID’d our mystery bird as a Lazuli Bunting, female. I don’t think I would’ve figured that one out, but sure enough, staring at the field guide now, I can see that it must be. I couldn’t see this well in the picture, but the rump is blue – kind of a gunmetal blue, but you can see a few of those feathers in your picture. Another species that winters in Mexico and breeds in the western US so it’s just migrating north. You were the easiest way to migrate for these 3 species! Pretty interesting stuff. I’ll look forward to seeing these pics and IDs in your blog Dad!

Great information Katie. And now I understand why no birds hopped aboard when we traversed the same waters headed south during the race. We probably were 8-10 miles offshore when these hitchhikers came aboard. What do they eat?

hey Dad,
They’re normally insect eaters – glean them off trees. The two warblers are forest birds and the buntings will eat seeds – more open country. I usually see them on the other side of the Cascades – Bend and beyond area. Definitely very cool to have them on board and so charismatic! Such great close up shots too. Love, Katie

No comments: