Birdz n the Hood

We are now officially deep into the holiday season. Christmas will be here before we know it and the New Year stands ready to pile on disappointment for any unfulfilled ’22 goals. For a change, I happen to be in fairly good shape on the resolution front. As mentioned in a previous post, my 1200 mile goal has been met (currently at 1221.6 to be exact), and technically, my Average Year goals has been blown out of the water. Ron always reminds me that I thought it would be impossible to crest 200 birds in a single year. Stunned the count currently sits at 294 to the point I’m optimistic there’s an outside chance to crest 300. Two possible birds were on the hunt list for the end of this week (Prairie Falcon/Snowy Owl). Unfortunately, Mr. Freeze has decided to snow on my parade. The Four Snowmen of the Blizzpocalypse (link here) arrive tomorrow followed by the next “Ice Age” (-1F degrees base with 55mph gusts belching windchills to -30 and below). In those conditions, both Scrat and I would both lose our n….oses (link here). Fingers crossed we can get 6 checks the week after Christmas while we head south. In recognition of the “Hoodie” layer weather forecast – as in t-shirt, sweater, hoodie, coat, scarf, mittens and snoot-boot… how about we “check” out today’s featured feathered friend.

Hooded Oriole found at University of Texas Rio Grande Valley in Brownsville, TX January 2022

Hit the jump to read more about our orange flavored specimen.

Ironically, it looks like I took this picture in the middle of a snowstorm thanks to the overly light background. Just one of those sensor nuances when taking overhead pictures on a very overcast day. In an effort to try and draw out some details in the pitch black and brilliant orange feathering, the grey clouds were amped. Normally I would simply isolate the bird from the background and manage the areas independently (which the new Lightroom subject masking makes significantly easier). After looking at it for a while, decided I kinda liked how the lighter background complimented the coloring in the bird so kept it.

Hooded Oriole found at University of Texas Rio Grande Valley in Brownsville, TX January 2022

In case you missed the not so subtle hint, this burst of sunshine is a Hooded Oriole. Not just any old Hood, rather my first ever Hooded Oriole. This happens to be another one of those birds I’ve been hunting for years. They are not a resident of the Midwest (not even in a migration zone) so our best opportunity is during our January trips to the southern Texas. Even then, it is a longshot as they really only push up from Central America and the California Baja during the breeding season, preferring the balmier climates of the Central American coastlines. Every once in a while, one would get reported along the Rio Grande Valley – likely a holdover from the breeding season or misplaced its pocket compass during the migration phase. Estero Llano Grande SP and Bensen-Rio Grande Valley SP both had sightings this year and like the year before that and the year before that and the… you get the picture, that bird never made into my tin those previous years.

Hooded Oriole found at University of Texas Rio Grande Valley in Brownsville, TX January 2022

One of the things that make this even more difficult is their similarity to another rather abundant bird in that region, the Altamira Oriole (link here, here and here). Both sport the dominant orange and black coloring you would expect from the Oriole males. They also both have black feathering on their neck extending through their bill and up to the eyebrows. Some of the blame for my hardship in locating can be attributed to the bird naming organization(s). When I heard the name Hooded I imagined hipsters in their black work hoodies (likely carrying around licorice pizzas trying to bullshit those of us who lived through that era, they are sonically better than digital – yeah, wrong). Expectations were set that the black would cover the entire head causing me to likely dismiss several opportunities. With that corrected, honed my field ID to look for one very distinctive feature and one slightly more nuanced. The Altamiras have a yellow/orange top wingbar where the Hood’s are white. Notice that and you are likely good to go. Otherwise, you can determine the species by the outline of the black neck patch as it drops down from the back of the eye. You will notice from the provided reference links the black pushes inward toward the bill where the Hooded drops pretty much straight down giving it a much fuller black throat. You might be able to use the fact the Hooded have more of a curved bill than the other Orioles, but good luck with “relative size” characteristics in the field.

Hooded Oriole found at University of Texas Rio Grande Valley in Brownsville, TX January 2022

It is the vertical black edge that gave away this specimen found at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley in Brownsville, TX. If you recall, that is the same place we found the Social Flycatcher (link here). Ron missed both the Social and the Hooded this year – fingers crossed he’ll get another chance when we meet up again on our upcoming trip.

Cornell is a bit limited on their interesting facts for this particular species. One thing to pass along is the fact their coloring can vary depending on their region. As you can tell from the images here, the Texas visitors wear a “flame orange” feathering where those that breed in the far southwestern US disguise themselves with a “bright yellow”. That website also attributes the growing popularity of ornamental palm trees further into the interior of the US for Hooded sightings deeper into the States. I asked for a palm tree for my fast approaching birthday – wish me luck hehehe.

Take care everyone, be safe in your holiday travels and hopefully avoid any of the flu/Covid/RSV strains that might be lurking about. This is the season to be with family, significant others, friends and those with wings, not laying in the bedroom clutching a tissue box.

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