Friday, April 15, 2011

Bullock's Oriole

A gorgeous male Bullock's Oriole tees up in a very special backyard near Woodsfield, Ohio. This rural Monroe County locale has been buzzing with excitement, courtesy of this brilliant orange fellow. The indisputably confirmed records of this western counterpart of the Baltimore Oriole is somewhat in question, but at best there have been only three prior occurrences. A rarity by any standard, and until this bird, a species that very few active birders have seen in Ohio.

Kudos to the homeowners and finders of the Bullock's Oriole, Bob and Martie Heins. They knew that this specimen was not your everyday, run of the mill Baltimore Oriole, and delved into the books and determined its identity. As fate would have it, Martie's brother is Bill Murphy, an extremely experienced and competent birder, and when the Heins sent along a photo, Bill's jaw must have hit the floor. Bill promptly got word out to the Ohio birding community and the race was on. I saw the bird bright and early yesterday morning, and I'm sure that many dozens of others have been there since. Bob and Martie have been exceptionally gracious in sharing their rare visitor with everyone, and I and I'm sure everyone else greatly appreciates their hospitality.

Photo: Dr. Bernard Master

This beautiful photo comes courtesy of Bernie Master, and I'm not too proud to acknowledge that it leaves mine (top photo) in the dust. A striking feature of the Bullock's Oriole is its huge white wing patch, visible at great distances. It also has a largely orange head, as opposed to the black hood of a Baltimore Oriole. The two species do hybridize where they come into contact in the Great Plains. In a drab period for oriole diversity and nomenclature, the Bullock's and Baltimore orioles were lumped together under the colorless name of Northern Oriole, from 1983-1995.

Photo: Dane Adams

Another stunning photo, this one courtesy of Dane Adams. A very pleasing bird indeed, and I'm sure William Bullock was elated to have such a fine beast named in his honor. Bullock was a wealthy Englishman who eventually acquired a substantial collection of strange artifacts and animal specimens, which he housed in his "Museum of Natural Curiosities".

Bullock later traveled to the U.S., and among other activities attempted to establish a community near Cincinnati in which residents were to live under Bullock's version of Utopia. The project collapsed before it got off the ground.

Despite his failure to create an Eden of his own design, Bullock still was productive in his wanderings through the Americas. On a journey into Mexico, he and his son William shot a Bullock's Oriole, and delivered the specimen to legendary naturalist William Swainson (Swainson's Hawk, warbler, thrush, and more). After writing of the new oriole "This, the most beautiful of the group yet discovered in Mexico, will record the name of those ornithologists who have thrown so much light on the birds of that country".

Quite a complement to William Bullock, and his oriole is every bit as bright and beautiful as ever. Thanks again to Bob and Martie Heins for letting us invade their lives and sharing so freely of their special visitor, and to Bernie and Dane for the use of their fabulous photos.


Birding is Fun! said...

Its not fair that you are getting them in Ohio and we still aren't seeing them where they are supposed to be!

- Glad for you in Utah!

Sharon said...

Nice Bird. Enjoy it.