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30 April 2006
Most Beautiful Bird Meme

Nuthatch at Bootstrap Analysis tagged me with this Most Beautiful Bird Meme started by John at DC Birding Blog. I'm mandated to post a list of the 10 birds I consider to be the most beautiful, whether I've actually seen them or not. I have the option to limit the list to the ABA area (continental United States and Canada) or use a geographic area of my choosing - I chose continental US and Canada. Birds I've actually seen are marked with an asterisk; the others I'm judging from guidebook pictures, hearsay, my imagination etc. I've tagged 3 more bloggers to perpetuate the memedom.

Citified Galliforms, April 2006Here's my list:

  1. Wild Turkey*
  2. Eastern Bluebird*
  3. Mountain Bluebird*
  4. Scarlet Tanager*
  5. Snowy Owl
  6. Tree Swallow*
  7. Elegant Trogon
  8. Barn Owl*
  9. Anna's Hummingbird
  10. Northern Pintail*

First, let me say this is a difficult task. And, if you asked me tomorrow, I'd probably list a slightly different roster of 10 birds. I also feel a bit sheepish judging the relative 'beauty' of birds or any other creatures. A lot of birds, fish and animals strike me as beautiful, even the common and ordinary. I see Clare has similar thoughts. How can I not list the Baltimore Oriole? Golden Eagle? Rose-breasted Grosbeak? Common Tern? Ruby-throated Hummingbird? American Kestrel? I've seen all of them with my own eyes and they knock my socks off. Assembling this list caused me to consider what 'beautiful' actually means in this context. Beautiful plumage, elegant flight, powerful aerial maneuvers contribute for sure. But also context I suppose - landscape where a bird lives, the situation when I first sighted a bird, childhood connotiations. All these things determine the smile/wow factor for me. That said, I feel like my list needs some explanation. It's not all that 'exotic' a list of birds and I've listed very few that I haven't already seen.

I'm a big fan of the Wild Turkey. I think there are few birds more beautiful than this large beast. They're easily underappreciated if only viewed from a long distance - from a car speeding along the highway for example. From this vantage, they look like dark, featureless lumps in a field. A closer look will reveal the multitude of plumage colors and patterns that, from a more distant view, look drab. The picture of two urban turkeys above was taken by my sister in downtown Hartford, CT earlier this month. Click for a larger view. See what I mean about their colors? I've expounded on this theme before...

The brilliant plumages of the Eastern and Mountain bluebirds and the Scarlet Tanagers require me to list them. Their colors capture your attention no matter how peripheral the glance. I removed the Western Tanager from this list of 10, but it'd probably make another list tomorrow, as would a killdeer. I once held a little juvenile killdeer in my hands and I've never seen anything more incredible. Those fuzzy, high-contrast necklaces were gorgeous.

I've never seen a Snowy Owl though they're infrequent regulars around these parts. I hope to view one eventually, they're stunningly photogenic. I've listed the Tree Swallow; they're another rather ordinary bird. Their surprising tolerance of humans affords good close-up views in my yard so perhaps I'm biased. I like their handsome, high-contrast, iridescent tuxedo suits and their bright vibrant voices.

I've never seen an Elegant Trogon on my travels to the southwestern US, though I imagine their large size and striking colors must be beautiful to stumble upon while birding. The Barn Owl and Northern Pintail are also striking birds - very handsome plumage. In fact, their plumages are so handsome that it's hard to comprehend it as the result of natural adaptations. It's more like something Gucci or a Las Vegas costume designer would invent. I actually got my best, closest view of a Barn Owl on a snowy day in the UK.

I imagine Anna's hummingbird must be gorgeous to see up close. I've seen a few western hummers and our eastern Ruby-Throated, but the glorious purple head feathers of a male Anna's must be remarkable.

I tag Bev at Burning Silo, Pamela at Thomasburg Walks, and Cindy at Woodsong.

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