Colorful or Cryptic?

From California to Mexico, Leica team member Steve Howell has recently been contemplating the beauty and plumage patterns of some ‘colorful’ birds…

Photo by Julie Zickefoose

Photo by Julie Zickefoose

We all know about nightjars and bitterns having cryptic plumage, even green parrots in green trees. But some other species, when seen in a field guide, don’t seem like they’d be cryptic. There’s a reason the Western Sibley Guide has Varied Thrush on the cover – it’s a strikingly marked species that everyone wants to see. How could you overlook such a bird? And how about a male Elegant Trogon? That’s one of the most colorful and sought-after birds in the ABA area. And if you venture south into Mexico you’ll surely want to see the handsomely and boldly patterned Chestnut-sided Shrike-Vireo, perhaps the largest and most colorful vireo… But remember, a bird’s life revolves around eating and not being eaten, and even the seemingly brightest and boldest patterns colors can help a bird blend into its habitat. Here are a few photos to make the point, and a reminder that it always pays to look more closely as you go birding – what might you be overlooking?

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A male Varied Thrush in good light is a stunning bird, although this is not a typical view for this shade-loving forest denizen.


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The ‘striking’ patterns of a male Varied Thrush can make it disappear in the oak leaf litter of its winter home.

In fresh plumage the male Elegant (formerly Coppery-tailed) Trogon is a real stunner, hard to miss?

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A male Elegant Trogon in habitat – those colors work well as camouflage.

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Against the sky, or on a field guide page, the bold patterns of a Chestnut-sided Shrike-Vireo look like the creation of a children’s play group…


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But in oak foliage these colors can make this bird quite difficult to see!

– Steve N. G. Howell