Mystery Oriole 8/16

Livening up a dull afternoon on August 16, a yellow bird appeared briefly on a wire in view of our Welder camera. What species? Tanager or oriole?

Three people saw the bird, and two were fast enough with the camera button to give us a total of three pictures, all taken within eight seconds of each other. And then the bird was gone, and has not been seen since.

Examination of the photos allowed us to eliminate tanager and focus on oriole – but which species? For the record here, the Welder Checklist lists both Orchard and Baltimore Oriole as Uncommon in summer, Orchard as Uncommon in fall, and Hooded, Audubon’s, and Bullocks as Accidental.

The pictures were taken at a distance, and the camera resolution is not high. The pictures show the back and side of the bird, but do not show the size and shape of the beak, or the colors of the breast and belly.

And despite it being the same bird, the colors on the back seem greenish yellow in one picture (37736 – kryptonkay), but orangish yellow in another (37740 – txbird). How big is the bird, what is the relative length of the tail, is the dark color of the tail significant, can the wing bar pattern tell us anything, why is the light area over the eye visible in one picture not visible in the others, how does this bird compare with other orioles seen at Welder, how does it compare with pictures we can find in field guides or on the web? Various of us consulted Sibley, National Geographic, the new Peterson, Birds of Texas, the Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds, and online All About Birds, and Birds of North America. We all rued the lack of photographs showing immature birds.

Initial impressions suggested Orchard Oriole; but within a couple of hours Baltimore Oriole was added to the possibilities. Late in the evening, Bullock’s Oriole was suggested. As it became clear that none of us could provide a definitive identification, rafa posted the pictures on two listserves: “birdforum” and “texbirds,” requesting comments. Several apparently authoritative responses were received – supporting either Orchard or Baltimore. One of the more intriguing came from someone who said Orchard, and added “The plant in front looks like croton, and I’m comparing the bird’s size to the leaves.” Loughman cropped the pictures, and enhanced both the resolution and size (below) to make it easier to examine the birds. It’s easier, but not enough for confident identification.

The mystery oriole remains a mystery.

Thanks to Ken Burton and Rita Colwell for their kind help with this identification.

Lamont Brown, Katherine Miller and Keith Arnold from Texbirds list were so great to help us too with the Id. Thanks a lot!!

jbm33206 and steveo from BirdForum  also contributed comments. We are most appreciative.


For anyone interested in further reading about identification of Texas Orioles, check the following links:


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