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News Story
Updated: 02/17/2017 08:30:04AM

Gender differences in birds

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DOROTHY HARRIS/CORRESPONDENT

The males of the American robin sport the brick-red chest, black head and tail distinct to this well-known and loved species.

DOROTHY HARRIS/CORRESPONDENT

The female Eastern bluebird is similarly marked, but with grayer or more subtle blue coloring that is also shared by the juveniles of this species.

DOROTHY HARRIS/CORRESPONDENT

The female American robin sports a grayish head and tail, allowing viewers to discern between the sexes on a single glance.

DOROTHY HARRIS/CORRESPONDENT

The male Eastern bluebird will display stunning brilliant blue plumage accented by rusty orange and sparkling white.

By DOROTHY HARRIS

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Valentine’s Day has just passed and couples everywhere have been or will be acting like love birds. With all the focus on couples, did you know many species of birds have unique plumage helping you to discern which is male or female of the pair?

Typically males are plumed much brighter and bolder than drabber females and juveniles will resemble the female’s coloration and feather patterns. Birds are most brilliantly colored during the breeding season, usually during the spring and summer months. Seasonal variations however can differ for many species, leaving one scratching their head when trying to identify birds.

A comprehensive field guide, such as The Sibley Field Guide to Birds or the National Audubon Society Field Guide to Birds, can be most helpful for those wanting to know more. Be sure to purchase a guide specific to our eastern region as they will point out features of each sex or species and show variations of the young or first year before molt, helping provide more positive identification.

The Eastern bluebird is one attractive couple you can easily see in areas where open fields or pastures provide ample opportunity for hunting insects. Bright, sky-blue feathers alternating with rusty orange and sparkling white make this particular species a delight to behold. Males are brilliantly-colored and unmistakable, while females appear similarly-marked, but drabber or grayer in appearance, though still a beautiful blue. Quite small, just about seven inches total- their soft whistle is easily identifiable and will quickly help you notice them in areas they frequent.

These beauties will happily take up residence in tree cavities or bluebird boxes where appropriate habitat is nearby. Couples will raise multiple generations of young, creating family groups where the juveniles help raise successive broods. Don’t plan to see them at your bird feeder though unless you stock it with mealworms or dried fruits as these are insect eaters. Special mixes specific to bluebirds are available at feed stores, big box outlets or online retailers and will readily draw them close for observation.

Another member of the thrush family is the ubiquitous American robin. Well known to just about anyone, have you noticed them in the mornings as they search for insects across lawns and open spaces? A true snowbird to our area, in northern states they are considered a sign of spring arriving.

Large flocks of these can easily be seen this time of year here in Florida though, spread out across lawns and open grassy areas, hunting for insects. Much larger than the bluebird, this member of the thrush family will average between nine and 11 inches tall. Standing erect, they hop across open areas, cocking their heads for better vision as they zero-in on a meal. Insect eaters like the bluebird, in the winter months they dine mostly on berries so leave some of those grapevines and catbrier wild. Males have the bright, brick-red breast and a black head and tail, while females are similarly marked, but grayer or more washed out in appearance making it rather easy to discern between the sexes.

With a bright yellow bill and broken ring of white around their eye, both are quite handsome in appearance and enjoyable to watch. Listen for their familiar whistling notes around sunrise as they descend in flocks throughout the neighborhoods.


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