Mission: To promote the appreciation of wildlife and increase harmony between humanity and nature.

On Instagram: @unionbaywatch

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Flit, Flicker & Flash

Spring is in the air! 

The flowers and the leaves on this Indian Plum are springing to life. All around us buds are growing and leaves are beginning to pop in existence. These are the last prime-time moments before the leaves hide most of the flit, flickering flash of the LBBs.

Little brown bird (LBB) is the term my friend uses to describe any small little bird that flickers and flits at the edge of perception before disappearing into the leaves. They don't even have to be brown to qualify for the term.

Here is a partial shot of one such bird.
Can you tell what type of bird it is?

These small, little birds may not be the fastest birds on earth but they are amazingly quick and very hard to track with your eye or camera. It seems like they can change direction not just in mid-air but in mid-thought as well.  

Sometimes they will even look you square in the eye, for the briefest of moments.

Here is a bit more of a hint.

This little bird is a Ruby-crowned Kinglet

It is easily distinguished from its relative the Golden-crowned KingletNote: By clicking on the bird names you can go to All About Birds where you can listen to their distinctive calls. 

Other LBBs have the annoying (and wonderful) habit of singing loudly from just a few feet away while often remaining completely invisible. Here are three types of wrens all photographed in the last month or so. One was found in the Arboretum, one was found in Interlaken Park and one in the Union Bay Natural Area. They are the Marsh Wren, the Pacific Wren and the Bewick's Wren. Can you tell which is which?

The wrens all have slightly downturned beaks and twitching tails that they usually hold upright. The Marsh Wren and the Bewick's Wren both have white eye stripes but the Bewick's has a longer tail and the Marsh Wren has black and white coloring on its back. The Pacific Wren has a darker chest and tummy than the other two. This makes the first bird the Bewick's Wren, the second the Marsh Wren and the last the Pacific Wren. Note: The Pacific Wren was formerly called the Winter Wren.

This LBB has a downturned beak like the wrens but its tail and its behavior are very different.   If you look closely you can see that the tail feathers are showing a lot of wear, similar to the tail feathers of a woodpecker. This bird flies from tree to tree. It usually lands on the trunk, instead of a branch, and creeps up the tree searching for food. The tail is used like a third leg to stablize its vertical position. Not surprisingly it is called a Brown Creeper.

Here are two more LBBs. They are both chickadees with black and white heads but they are not the same type of bird.

How are they different? The first is a Chestnut-backed Chickadee while the second is the more commonly seen Black-capped Chickadee. The CBC is more likely to be seen higher in the trees while the BCC can often be found a bit closer to eye level.

Last but not least in our display of flickering fast little birds is the Red-breasted Nuthatch.
If the sun breaks through this is a great time to go searching for the flit, flickering and flash of these little "brown" birds.

Have a great day on Union Bay...where nature lives in the city!


Here is one more parting shot. Which LBB is it?


  1. Beautiful pictures!

  2. Great job catching those diabolically fast, little birds with the camera. They can be insanely hard to photograph, while singing (as you noted) just a few feet away in total invisibility. There is so much diversity in nature. The gift your blog gives us is a closer look at what's right in front of us that we might otherwise miss. Thank you for noticing the details and pointing them out.

    1. Thank you for the kind words. I must say I enjoyed your new post about Playing with Bears. http://pedersenwrites.blogspot.com/2014/03/80-playing-with-bears.html Great Stuff!

  3. Is the bird in the last picture a winter wren?

    1. Yes. Although if I understand correctly what was previously called a Winter Wren has been divided into three different types of birds and the one on the west coast is now called the Pacific Wren. You can learn more by following the link on Pacific Wren in the story above.