Mystery Finch? Bunting?

tinyang and vanilla teamed up to snap five photos this morning of a bird that I’m scratching my head over. Check them out:

The shots are by tinyang, vanilla, vanilla, tinyang, and vanilla, respectively. According to txbird in chat, some users have suggested Varied Bunting, but I’m having a hard time reconciling those images with that bird, at least based on the field guide, which is the only place I’ve ever seen one. If I had to put money on something, I’d call it a drab male House Finch, but I’m not positive about it.

Varied Bunting doesn’t appear at all in the Welder checklist, and House Finch only as “rare”, and only in winter, so I’m really not sure what to think. Anyone else have any ideas?

Update: As discussed in the comments, I’m feeling more inclined to call this one a male House Finch. It’s a little unusual-looking, at least compared to the House Finches I’m used to seeing, but I’m pretty comfortable at this point saying that that’s what it is.

Later update: rafa alerted me to the fact that one of these images (the second from the bottom, by tinyang) has now been officially classified as a House Finch. Congratulations, tinyang!

5 Responses to “Mystery Finch? Bunting?”

  1. birderbf says:

    Varied Bunting?! I can see where they pull that out of, with the strange and and “blue” patches and the curved culmen, but Varied Bunting has no plumage like that. Also, no plumage of VABU ever has a red rump.

    This is the game’s first House Finch. Let’s hope it sticks around (for me!!).

  2. robin54 says:

    After much discussion in chat ( love that feature!) we’ve narrowed the bird down to – female Indigo Bunting or F Blue Grosbeak. Nearly positive it’s not a HF . I lean more towards Indigo, but ultimately we need a better picture for a positive ID.

    Thanks , birderbf for making me look up culmen !

  3. birderbf says:

    Ok here we go:

    Blue Grosbeak is just about out of the question. All plumages have NO streaking at all, and they are a much lighter brown color (often with a blue rump or tail). These guys (gals rather) are much bigger than the other candidates, with a *much* larger beak that is nearly the entire head length.

    Indigo Bunting females are better candidates but are overall a light, sandy brown (NOT a dark brown). Sometimes they have *fine* streaking underneath ( sometimes they completely lack streaks.

    Female or young male INBUs sometimes show a blue patch, like the one that is visible in the first photo. However, the bird changes its angle for the other photos, and the “blue” patch suddenly seems gray. Also, about the culmen again, INBU has a much straighter beak than House Finch.

    Besides the beak and thick, dark, blurry streaking everywhere, the apparent red areas are pretty important. Lazuli Bunting is out of range and disqualified for the same reasons as INBU. Varied Bunting has a red nape in breeding males, but this bird shows no red on the nape, and no other plumages of VABU has any more red, if anything, less red. Here we can find red patches, in order from most to least obvious, on the breast, rump, crown, and possibly even on the wing.

    I personally can’t see it as anything other than a House Finch. I’m surprised we haven’t had one before.


  4. elanus says:

    I confess that the more I look at it, the more I think it’s a House Finch.

  5. elanus says:

    bugchik forwarded the following comments from a friend of hers, an experienced birder who goes into more detail about why this is probably a male House Finch:

    I looked at the two sites but I haven’t signed up and “run the robotic camera” yet for the Cone Welder site. As to the: “Mystery Finch? Bunting?”, my opinion is that it is a male House Finch which either hasn’t come into color yet nor has something hindering FULL adult male color plumage from developing. I printed the pictures out (if your system works the same as mine, the pictures will start at the bottom of page 2 and end at the top of page 4) so I could examine each of them much more closely. Starting from top to bottom (which I will designate as 1 through 5), all the images which show the breast-to-belly of this bird (that is including the sides and flanks): 1, 2, 4, & 5, seem to indicate that the breast is solid colored and the belly & flanks are streaked. This combination would basically eliminate all (that’s A-L-L) of the North American Passerina buntings: Lazuli, Indigo, Varied, and Painted – in either sex or any age/color phase. In photos 1, 2, 4, & 5, you can see the reddish color on the breast (though not domineering as it would/should be in a typical adult male House Finch), wherein in photos 4 & 5 you can see the streaking on sides starting at the bottom of the breast, exactly as it would be in a House Finch. With photos 4 & 5, though they are in the shade, you can make out the two light, indistinct wing-bars of the greater outer secondary wing coverts and median coverts, another diagnostic characteristic of male house finches. Painted and Varied Buntings have in essence, no wing-bars; Lazuli Bunting males have very distinctive white wing-bars.

    Now Barbara, there are multiple races of House Finches, and of these there are a few that are in North America north of Mexico. Let me quote from the book:


    Edited by Jonathan Alderfer Copyright © 2006 National Geographic Society, Washington, D.C.

    “Of the at least 13 described subspecies, 4 occur in North America north of Mexico. Clinal variation where populations come together, as well as individual variation and effects of diet on plumage coloration complicate the separation of different subspecies.” So who knows why this bird was not in full color: status of development, diet, subspecies, whatever? As to the statement about House Finches being “… only as “rare”, and “only in the winter …”, at least they’ve been recorded there. My first Blue Grosbeak was an adult male which showed up in my backyard in Huntington back in the early-mid 1970’s (mid-September), and at first I was debating whether to keep quiet about it or not (I had only been with Huntington Audubon since October 1970 and didn’t want to find myself crucified by many of the pain in the ~!@#$ people in that chapter back then who challenged everything – I’m pretty sure I told you the story of the Northern Goshawk at Target Rock National Wildlife Refuge). But I learned there was new going around that an adult Blue Grosbeak was being seen in our area, so I figured I wasn’t totally Looney Tunes and told them. And this was a species which was more “rare” than “rare”, maybe its 5th or so record on Long Island at the time.

    About ten years later, another Blue Grosbeak showed up on Long Island, an immature male, at the Jamaica Bay National Wildlife Refuge, and you should have seen the hordes of birders who went to see it. Of course, 20+ years later, now it breeds up here!

    So after all this, my opinion is that it is a male House Finch whose colors are very faint.


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