Birds of the Desert Biome

As promised previously, it is time to start rolling out the birds from the Indianapolis Zoo trip back in 2011.  Now that most of the mammals and the lizards have been sufficiently covered, it is time to feature our feathered friends.  The downside of this is once again I’ve become extremely frustrated with the resources available for bird identification.  It is becoming almost comical how little information I am able to obtain from the web for what seems like the simplest tasks.  For example, there are aviary identification sites out there that allow you to do identification based on attributes.  It will seem promising at first since it lets you pick some easy body geometry but then you become less than enthused when the all knowing database comes back and says it could be … and then shows at best one or two options.  Does it have long longs?  well then you have a Heron.. what about Stilts.. no, you have a Heron.  Does it sit parallel to the tree? then it is a Woodpecker…. what about Flickers … I said it’s a Woodpecker now leave me alone.  This even holds for what appears to be easily identifiable birds which I’ll get to in a bit.  Now, there is blame to go around here.  Clearly this would have been an easier task had I found a resource at the zoo to ask or found a placard on the habitat that gave the name of the contents.  Lesson learned for future zoo trips that might have a collection of birds more rare to the continental Americas.  The counter to that argument, it doesn’t seem like a stretch to ask the Zoo to list the names of their animals on their web page – Indy has a few listed, but again, one of them has gone unidentified.  Sorry for the continual gripe about identification, but it is frustrating to page through thousands of pages or image query results and come up empty on a bird I’ve captured. (feel like my brother and his frustration with Costco!)

The good news is only one of this set is nameless.  One that was identified is the Gambel’s Quail.  Or, as the Indy Zoo website calls it – Gamble’s Quail (link here) – pretty bad when you can’t rely on the zoo to get the names right.  These birds are actually pretty odd looking with their head protruding plumage.  This bird, along with all of them actually, came from the Desert Biome exhibit.  This is the same location all the lizard shots came from in the previous posts.  Apparently birds and lizards tolerate each other pretty well.  There were a few other shots taken of this bird, but it was spending much of its time hanging out in the back-lit windows – not a good setting for getting real detail in a bird.  Eventually I worked myself around to get a decent headshot.

A very distinctly featured bird don’t you think?  This is a male specimen easily identifiable by its blacker beak and eye coloring.  They are a sport bird but Wikipedia does list them as Least Concern on their conservation status.  This may be due to the fact they lay a lot of eggs at once – 10 to 15 eggs at a time giving them a higher survival rate.  Common to the Quail family, the Gambel’s prefer the ground over flight but they can utilize those wings if they choose – short distances.  They do indeed prefer the desert even though that surprised me when I saw this in the biome exhibit.  In case you are curious, they are named after naturalist William Gambel (my apologies for the zoo in screwing up your name).  He died of typhoid back in 1849, but not before discovering this bird, the Mountain Chickadee and the Nuttall’s Woodpecker.

The next bird was also easily identified.  The zoo site referenced them by their third name – the Owl Finch, but they are also referred to as the Double-Barred Finch and the Bicheno’s Finch. So loved they gave it three names.  Guessing they have the Owl name thanks to the coloring around their eye mimicking their larger brothers.  It is almost as if an artist took a standard finch and decided to dress it up a bit – kind of like what they do with those cow and pig statues you see littered about larger cities.

That shot gives a really good perspective of the Beast’s depth of field.  The finch (a small bird) is perfectly centered in the band of focus – as any bird photographer will agree, the focus  target is always the eyes so compositions like these tend to extend the focus past the bird.  I had to laugh at the next shot – clearly a day of shooting the mammals had influenced my composition choices on the birds.  Always the sucker for head across the body shots.

You are probably wanting a shot from the front to see what this bird looks like.  That is an easy request because there were a few of these birds in the exhibit.  The one below was a little more active than the one simply hanging out in the rocks.

Hit the jump to read more about the Owl Finch and two more of its colorful brothers.

Now you can see the cute powder blue beak coloring.  They are also known to be fashionistas preferring never to be seen in public without taking on some accessorizing.  Our specimen today chose a an eclectic orange bracelet to enhance the blue in the nose and compliment the  white embellishments on the wings.  The next shot is probably my favorite from this bird.  The image provides an excellent look at the outline that leads to the Owl association and gives access to the body coloring complete with lower dark stripe, whitish body and the small white dots on the wing tips.  Pretty cool bird and glad I was able to add it to my list.

Oh, according to Wikipedia, they are a dry, savannah leaning birds preferring to stay low like the Quail but in contrast only four eggs at a time.  They are also known to greet visitors with a hardy G’Day Mate.

Up next is probably the most distinctly colored bird of all my sightings (well, with exception to the last one).  Bright orange beak, blue-gray head, large black patch on the neck, maybe a tannish solid underbody, orange feet, and what appears to be a dragonfly tail.

Pretty cool if you ask me.  Add in those evil looking black bands through the eyes and you are looking at one interesting bird.  So, with all these easily identifiable features I can, with great confidence, tell you this bird is called .. damned if I know.  This is the bird I was NOT able to locate no matter how hard I looked.  How hard can it be to find it – it isn’t like it’s a sparrow or off season finch.  Searches for “Orange Beak Bird”, Blue Headed Bird”, Black Patch Bird”, “Split Tail Bird” all produced thousands of images on Google but no luck in identifying the name of the bird. Sure, there were a few hits out there (mainly on Flicker) but they must have had an equally hard time of finding this bird because those were nameless as well.  Christine had two shots of this bird (link here and here).  There was even card stock from FineArtAmerica with this bird on it (link here).  Even Zastavki got into the game (link here).  But none of them had an identifying name associated with it.

Wait folks, we have an UPDATE folks and I need to give Zastavki the credit.  Turns out that site had a button that said image details.  Curious I clicked it and it shot me to the Google similar image service.  There it was in all its splendor.  Google’s best guess was a Finch (not really helpful), but it gave a list of visually similar images with more than one indicating it was a Long-Tail Finch.  Hallelujah.  I think I just found my new identification tool – although it still requires me to find an image on the web… something in the back of my mind says I can upload an image there as another option … further investigation required on that.  For now I have this bird identified and as a result info from Wikipedia.  The Long-Tailed Finch has the same habitat preferences as the Owl Finch and another Aussie.  It has the distinction of being discovered by the surgeon aboard the HMS Beagle.  That ship had another very famous person aboard.  This is an adult for sure (juv’s have a black beak), but unable to tell you the sex.

I am so relieved to have that bird identified. Could have saved myself a lot of frustrating unproductive research if  I’d found that button sooner.  Okay, time for our last bird and one of the few that actually outshine the Finch above.  These shots ended up suffering a bit due to inability to get a clean shot at them.  They were busy moving around in one of the leafy trees in the habitat but refused to come out.  This forced me to improvise and try to find a spot with least interference.  The problem is the Beast blasts through close brush leaves and such in the foreground which can go unnoticed until post processing.  Kicking myself for not fighting longer on this bird based on how remarkably beautiful it is.  I’ll be on the hunt to get a better shot in the future – especially if we head back to that zoo sometime.

Quite stunning.  Not a good marking to have if your enemies can see color being essentially a rainbow in a tree.  This was an easy one to identify utilizing the named birds on the zoo page.   What we have here is a Gouldian Finch.  My shots do not do it justice.  Also calling Australia home, this bird enjoys tropical savannah woodlands.  The specimen we have here is a male based on its purple breast.  In my research I kept seeing some reference to Australia banning the export of birds at one point.  According to Wikipedia, this was done back in 1959.  Quite saddening is this bird has some conservation concerns and listed as Near Threatened.  We cannot lose this bird.   Here’s a bit of trivia – have you seen this bird in say an electronics store?

Let me give another hint .. for some of you, it may be closer than you think right now.  They are actually ViewSonic’s corporate logo.    On second look, the shot above actually looks like a rainbow snow cone with a beak (hehehe).

Well, that puts a rap on this set of birds.  Not ones you happen on very often… unless you get your Shrimp on the Barbie.  There’s more birds on their way so stay tuned.

2 thoughts on “Birds of the Desert Biome”

  1. Great post, one of your best!! Beautiful pictures and good information. I’ve never seen nor heard of any of these birds. I can certainly see the barred owl in that finch. I was hoping to scoop you on identifying the unknown bird, but you had it done by the time you got there. And the last bird looks like it was dipped in colors, a little deeper each time.

    So I wonder what keeps these Australian birds from prospering around here if they were released? I bet they fly north in the winter and south in the summer…



  2. Eeesh, “one of your best” starting to put pressure on me. I’ve been beating myself for over a year now trying to get these pictures out mainly because I thought some of them were pretty good – glad someone else appreciates them. I’m sure I could find one to win the picture of the day on a certain camera store but I’m content at the moment to simply make them available to my wonderful subscribers. Not sure I understand you question on the birds surviving – guessing it is just not warm enough for these birds around here even in the summer – they were having a good time that day and I was very hot both outside the Desert Biome and inside. According to the info on the web these Australian birds are very popular pets (which is why Australia put the export ban on). They must be breeding them outside of Australia now to keep the pet supply going. Besides, too many people with cats around here for birds who prefer to stay low to the ground – would be a total slaughter with those killers prowling around – killers I tell you .. killers. Stay tuned on the rainbow bird – really need to improve those shots – not living up to my standards.


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