birds of a certain feather
September 5, 2008 10:12 AM   Subscribe

BirdFilter: Looking out over Watt's Cove in Tenants Harbor, Maine I keep seeing a flock of small birds flying back and forth. They look to be brownish in color but then! They briefly flash silver at the slightest change in direction. Any ideas?
posted by ryecatcher to Pets & Animals (5 answers total)
Starlings? They fly in flocks, and dart and change direction as a cohesive unit. They also have a slightly metallic sheen to their feathers, which could explain the silver flash when they change direction.
posted by diggerroo at 10:26 AM on September 5, 2008

I can't even begin to guess - are they landbirds? Seabirds? Shorebirds? Do they have long bills? Do they perch in trees, or feed on the rocks on the beach?

But I can tell you that light plays havoc with feathers. Some birds look blue because the feathers are pigmented, and some look blue because of the way the feathers reflect/refract light. I've seen birds that have light undersides that look very dark when the light is right (or wrong). I have seen brown look orange, or grey, or green.

If you want to meet people who can argue all day long about whether Bird A had pink legs or yellow legs (this can be a key ID feature in some species), go hang out with birders. It's surprisingly hard to tell pink from yellow, given distance and lighting conditions.

The silver flash is probably because they have white underwings. Many small shorebirds flock, and when they fly, they're like fish in the ocean, moving as one.

On preview: or they have that metallic sheen, like starlings or Brewer's blackbirds.
posted by rtha at 10:30 AM on September 5, 2008

Response by poster: More info: they fly lover over the water and do not have - as far as I can tell - long bills. So I'm guessing it's a shore bird of some sort?
posted by ryecatcher at 10:38 AM on September 5, 2008

Could be something like sanderlings, or any one of a variety of similar species. We don't have enough info for an ID, though.
posted by rtha at 11:00 AM on September 5, 2008

Would the silver be a reflection of sunlight?
posted by rhizome at 11:58 AM on September 5, 2008

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