I was hoping one of our many ornithologists, professional and amateur alike, could help me identify this bird. I call him Chip.
I’ve had no luck with online resources, as I am so profoundly ignorant about birds that I don’t even know where to start. And Chip’s most obvious feature is only visible in flight, and the photos on the indexes are usually of the birds just standing around. You were all so helpful with Alfonso the Snake, so I again turn to you for help.
Here is some (hopefully) pertinent information:
I live in north/central New Jersey in an urban/suburban environment.
Chip is slate-gray.
When he is not flying, he looks solid-colored.
When he is flying and his wings and tail fan out, you can see attractive white stripes, one on each wing, and one on each side of his tail.
He is bigger than a male cardinal, but not notably gigantic or anything.
He makes a noise like “chip” or “chip chip,” which is obviously why I call him Chip.
He is usually by himself, but sometimes he is with a buddy.
He’s not especially timid.
He usually comes around when I am digging in the garden. I assume it’s because I have lots of worms, but I’ve never seen him eating a worm.
I like Chip. He’s my pal. So of course I’m curious about what type of bird he is.
Also, I’d like to hang a bird feeder in my back yard. If Chip is a welcome kind of bird, I’ll get one that he’ll like. If he’s an especially unwelcome type of bird, I’ll get one that hopefully won’t encourage him, but that the other local birdies might enjoy.
The juncos all seem to have too much color variation. Chip looks pretty much solid colored.
The mockingbirds look pretty close, but not quite. Chip is more of a solid color than the northern mockingbird. At first glance, the Tennessee mockingbird that freckafree linked to looked pretty good, but there are some differences. Chip has only a single stripe down each side of his tail, and IIRC, the stripes aren’t quite at the outer edge. His tail is shorter and broader. Also, if I’m not mistaken, the stripes on the wings go the other way. In other words, they are more parallel to the outer edges of the wings.
And to address Xema’s point–I’ve never heard him make any noise other than the “chip.”
I think I need to get another look at Chip now that I have a better idea of some characteristics to look for.
If your description is even approximately correct, it pretty much has to be a Northern Mockingbird. (There is only one species in the US - the Tennessee state bird is a Northern Mockingbird.) Juncos are too small, and lack white stripes in the wing. Other birds with white on the side of the tail are either not gray, too small, or lack white in the wing.
They can look fairly evenly colored, depending on the light. Here are some more photos.
The only other gray bird to expected in your area of approximately the right size and with white in wings and tail is the Loggerhead Shrike, but it is more strongly marked with black than the Mockingbird and also would probably not be spending much time on the ground.
He’s definitely not a junco. The body shape is wrong. But thanks for the input. I’d never even heard of a junco before!
Seeing more pictures of the northern mockingbird has helped, as I am getting a better idea of the variations within the species. None of the pics has looked exactly like Chip, but they’re in the ballpark. Also, sound clip (with the picture that Colibri linked to) sounds right–at least the first part. I haven’t heard anything from him that sounds like the other stuff, but maybe he does his “mocking” when I’m not around.
So, are mockingbirds good to have in the yard?
And speaking of Colibri–I see hummingbird feeders in all the stores, but I’ve never seen a hummingbird around here. Are they common here?
Chip’s buddy doesn’t have a name. He shall be Tequila.
A couple of long shots, now that I’m at home with my Sibley Guide: A female pine grosbeak is pretty drab, although the head and rump should be yellowish. And a female blue-gray gnatcatcher has the right coloration, but is nowhere near as large as a cardinal.
Seriously, I think they are nice to have around. They can sometimes be agressive towards other birds, but not as bad as jays and others. And I really like the Mockingbird’s song - as well as hearing them imitate other birds (which is where the “mocking” comes from).
Ruby-throats are not all that common in NJ. However, I have seen them at feeders in Yonkers. It depends a bit on how built up your area is. If you have a lot of trees or greenery around, you might try it.
I actually caught a ruby-throated hummingbird that somehow got into my screened-in porch. I held him in my hands, where at first he played dead, but I could feel his little heart beating against my palm. I took him outside, where he stood up and stuck his tongue in and out a few times, and then flew away like a little helicopter.
He was the most beautiful creature I have ever seen with his metallic shiny feathers. It was a mitzvah to be able to touch him and see him so close up. I need to get a hummingbird feeder…