Brown-capped chickadee (Poecile sp.), Canoga, Seneca Co., NY, 19 July 2004.
All pictures are © Jay McGowan. They were taken with an Olympus D-40 digital camera through a Swarovski At-60 spotting scope.
Catherine Sandell noticed an odd chickadee coming to her feeder outside of Seneca Falls, Seneca Co., NY on Sunday, 18 July 2004. The brown cap made her first identify it as a Boreal Chickadee (Poecile hudsonica). However, she noted that it had a pretty white, not gray, nape, which did not fit for Boreal. Also, it had extensive white in the wings and on the tail, none of which fit Boreal. The call was mostly all the same note and rather raspy, not quite the same as the black-capped that was also calling.
Jay McGowan and Bard Prentiss were in the area on Monday and found the bird at Catherine's feeders. Jay managed to get a few photos, which are posted here.
The crown is clearly a warm brown, not grayish. It contrasts with a thin black mask through the eye, as well as with the gray nape. The bib is black, although it looks a bit brownish in one photo. The cheek is quite white, not at all the grayish to be expected on a Boreal Chickadee. The wing coverts, as well as the secondaries are broadly edged in white. The tail is rather long, and also looks edged in white. The flanks lack much of any buff or brown, and certainly nothing like the rich brownish of a Boreal.
The cap seems too warm brown to fit for Gray-headed Chickadee (or Siberian Tit, P. cincta), although the white cheeks and wings do fit that species. The bib seems rather extensive, with frayed outer edges. All in all, it looks most like a Black-capped Chickadee (P. atricapillus) with a brown cap.
Similar brown-capped Black-capped Chickadees have only rarely been reported. Photographs of one at a Rednersville, Ontario feeder from January 2004 can be see at http://www.naturestuff.net/gallery/index.php?Qwd=./Birds&Qif=Boreal%20Chickadee1.jpg&Qiv=thumbs&Qis=M and http://www.naturestuff.net/gallery/index.php?Qwd=./Birds&Qif=Boreal%20Chickadee3.jpg&Qiv=thumbs&Qis=M. That bird is quite a bit paler, and shows obvious signs of being a leucistic individual. The back, wings, and tail are all pale brown too.
A bird rather similar to the New York one was seen in Edmonton, Alberta in 1979, and originally thought to be a Gray-headed Chickadee (Thormin and Tull. 1980. The Ex-Gray-headed Chickadee. Birding 12(2): 62-64). The differences they cited in identifying it as a leucistic Black-capped Chickadee were: 1) the bird was overall paler than a Gray-headed, 2) it had an obvious contrast between the dark cap and the paler back (same color in Gray-headed), 3) the bird had three outer tail feathers edged with white instead of only light edging restricted to the outer two rectrices, and 4) the flanks were paler than those of Gray-headed. (Note that these decisions were made based on comparisons with a sample of only three Gray-headed specimens.)
Here are a couple more photos taken on 25 July 2004. We heard the bird call a couple of times that day, and it sounded just like a Black-capped Chickadee.
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