Photo of the Week – November 4, 2011

This is an old photo of a young bird, taken with a cheap point-and-shoot digital camera in the middle of a bright sunny day.  Apologies for the photo quality.  However, you have to admit the photo has some appeal.  I particularly love those eyebrows…

Young bird along Central Platte River, Nebraska

One of the reasons for posting this photo is to get input from the birders out there.  Since I took this photo in 2005, I’ve wondered what species of bird it is.  I have a guess, which I’ll withhold until I see if there’s a consensus that forms among the replies.  Not knowing for sure has been bugging me for a long time.

The photo was taken in south-central Nebraska, about 9 miles southwest of Grand Island, along the Central Platte River.  It was in a brushy prairie with a fair number of mid-sized trees (mostly eastern red cedar and white mulberry) nearby.



About Chris Helzer

Chris Helzer is the Director of Science for The Nature Conservancy in Nebraska. His main role is to evaluate and capture lessons from the Conservancy’s land management and restoration work and then share those lessons with other landowners – both private and public. In addition, Chris works to raise awareness about the importance of prairies and their conservation through his writing, photography, and presentations to various groups. Chris is also the author of "The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States", published by the University of Iowa Press. He lives in Aurora, Nebraska with his wife Kim and their children.
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26 Responses to Photo of the Week – November 4, 2011

  1. Terry C. Maxwell says:

    I’m pretty sure that it’s a Black-headed Grosbeak.


  2. Teresa says:

    I’m sure I don’t know – but looking forward to seeing guesses – any hints on size? Very cute. He looks perfectly contented doesn’t he?

  3. Jarren says:

    Looks a little like a Jim Henson creation

  4. Michael Scullin says:


  5. Chris M says:

    I also say Towhee

  6. Andy R. says:

    nice thick canocal bill…leads me to tanager, grosbeak, bunting or dickcissel; but plummage on breast and white on secondary borders infers B.H. grosbeak .

  7. I think Terry and Andy have got this one.

  8. Karen Hamburger says:

    Ive seen baby BH Grossbeaks in the nest and that would be my best guess. Baby towhees have more slender beaks and western ones have the red eyes like their parents.

  9. Cyndi Trail says:

    I deliberately did not look at your other responses to keep from being biased. I think the bird is a Rose-Breasted Grosbeak based on the body and beak type, body size, speckled back, and incipient wing bars.

  10. I concur with BH Grosbeak…

  11. Candace says:

    I concur with the belief that this bird is a BH Grosbeak.

  12. I have no clue, but I love this photo, no matter what you took it with. :) This bird is adorable and looking right at the viewer, and that fuzzy hair. Wonderful. Great catch! :)

  13. John Solodar says:

    Interesting. Looking at photos of fledging and juvenile BH Grosbeaks I can see why chest color, scapular markings, and beak suggested that bird. However, I’m bothered by the tail length and color, especially the reddish-brown on the top of the tail. Also, the feet in the pictured bird are pink and on-line photos of BH Grosbeak juvenile/fledging show grey feet. The tail suggests a cuckoo, but almost everything else is wrong for one of those. It would help to have the photographer’s estimate of the size of the bird.

  14. John Solodar says:

    Maybe I need to retract my comment about the tail. That may be a stick that I’m looking at. However, the feet color is still bothersome.

  15. Chris Helzer says:

    Wow – great response! I really appreciate everyone’s input. The consensus seems to confirm my own guess – black-headed grosbeak. That was my supposition at the time of the photo, but while they’re around, they’re not a very common bird here. The beak narrowed it down, however. John S points out the color of the feet, but I would guess that is a function of my attempts to color correct for the blinding white color of the midday sun. I was still learning PhotoShop techniques in ’05 and probably overdid the color a bit. I had some other guesses and comments come through other venues too – my favorite of which was “The Andy Rooney Bird”!!

    It’s great to know that there are so many of you willing to help me figure these things out. Now I’ll have to start coming up with some other things I need identified!! Thanks again. – Chris

    P.S. Feel free to continue chiming in – especially if you disagree with the crowd and want to defend your choice!! I didn’t catch the bird, so we’ll always be able to debate…

  16. Karen Hamburger says:


    • Chris Helzer says:

      Karen – yeah, that would have been the best way to confirm, of course. My only excuse is that I was in the middle of seed harvesting at the time and felt like I should probably keep working! Now we’ll never know for sure.

  17. James McGee says:

    Chris, this is a bird from one of my son’s favorite video games. – Angry Birds If you got closer I bet it would have flown just like it was released from a sling shot. The true identifying feature of an angry bird is it always exists with it’s co-dependant, the evil green pigs. Did you happen to see any while taking the photo? Have I confused any of the older folks yet? :)

  18. Martha says:

    One of my birding friends said, “It’s not a robin or thrush family or it would have a speckled breast. Could be one of the King Birds.”
    Another world-traveled birding friend said, “Well, it’s really a very young bird, just out of the nest. Juvenile for sure. It kind of looks like a Black-headed Grosbeak. I think it’s a grosbeak for sure, and I’m going with Black-headed. “

  19. Mark Godfrey says:

    Chris, From the coloration we suspect it is a Spotted Towhee, though uncommon in your area it’s range does border. Best, Mark G.

  20. Martha says:

    Guesses from 2 more birding friends
    Ronn says Bobolink?
    Tom says Maybe a just hatched American Robin

  21. Dan Staehr says:

    No birding expert here, but what about a meadowlark chick?

  22. Gary Giessow says:

    The first thing I noticed was the big bill. Would the shape change to the shape of a grosbeak as it matured? I guess the leg color could change with time also. The overall color and shape of the bird say grosbeak.

  23. Karine says:

    I used to band birds near here and it looks like an Orchard Oriole?


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