Place: Southeastern Pennsylvania, USA
Time: This past weekend
I was outside on my dad’s porch the other day, this being the house I grew up in. My dad and I have a passing interest in birds, pay attention to birds, and are quite familiar with the kinds of birds that he attracts in his yard (mainly crows, robins, cardinals, blackbirds, red-winged blackbirds, bluejays, mockingbirds, and sparrows), although we don’t birdwatch per se.
Well, the other day, we saw two birds sitting on his fence of a kind we had never seen before. They were maybe 25 yards away, so we didn’t get a great look at them, but they basically looked like robins but with a dark gray back and head and a lighter gray breast. They may have been larger than normal robins, but they were not as large as the crows around here.
I looked at some bird identification sites, and the closest bird I could find that matched our mystery bird’s description was the Eurasian Jackdaw (going by the description and photo, not illustration). However, this wiki article seems to imply that these birds are very rare in North America.
So my question is, is it likely that we saw a pair of jackdaws? If not, what other birds could match the description above? We didn’t hear them call, and they just sat on the fence for a few moments and flew away.
It’s a little hard to say what they might have been, since your description of the bird differs from that of a Jackdaw, and you don’t state very clearly what the differences might be. (Jackdaws are mostly black both above and below, with only a patch of gray on the neck, and are much larger than American Robins.) As the article states, Jackdaws are vagrants in North America and seeing one (much less two in the same place) would be so extremely rare that I think we can rule it out.
Other approximately robin-sized gray birds that might occur in your area are:
That gray catbird could very well have been it, based on the coloring and shape. I only saw the bird for a moment, but my impression was that it was larger and more robust than the mockingbird and the starling, and the mockingbirds we have in our parts don’t look like the mystery bird. The gray plumage of the mystery bird was a dark gray like the catbird’s, too.
I could have sworn I saw a distinct light gray breast coloration, but that could have been just a trick of the light.
Catbirds are a bit smaller and less robust than mockingbirds, and they also tend to skulk in the shrubbery rather than perch on fences. But can be hard to get an accurate impression of a bird with a fleeting look.
If I think of any other candidates I’ll post them.
It’s not very distinct in the linked picture but yes, catbirds do have a lighter colored breast than back.
Since this is your home territory, quite likely you’ll see them again; look for the small rusty brown patch under the tail. Their behavior is pretty entertaining – they can make quite a racket as they scrounge around under bushes and shrubs, picking up twigs and dead leaves and throwing them aside.