November 2021 Natural Mystery Answered

Last month's Natural Mystery was an early indicator of the changing seasons. Three of you correctly identified the original owner of these small feathers, and accurately described where they grew on the bird's body. Congratulations to Jonathan Shapiro, Emily Goldberg, and Mike Holtz.

As Jonathan notes succinctly, "these are the tail feathers of a Dark-eyed Junco."

Emily offers us a little more detail, and some insight into her process:

"Those are junco retrices (tail feathers). I might have thought they were primaries or secondaries, but the person holding them has considerately positioned them so that you can imagine the shape of the spread tail. Juncos are the main local birds that have such strong "flash" feathers at the outside of the tail, which appear suddenly when the bird takes flight (possibly as a way to startle predators long enough to escape)."

Mike offers some additional notes, including a reminder that these birds are migratory:

"These feathers are from a relatively small bird, and have a fairly straight shaft, with maybe just a bit of curve. Juncos have white on the outside of their tails, seen more when they fly off. They are not here year around, but are definitely a possibility in late October."

According to eBird, juncos began arriving in Anoka County in mid-September this year, and were quite common by the beginning of October.

Congratulations again to Emily, Jonathan & Mike for correctly identifying these feathers. And thanks again to Kirsten for sharing this natural mystery with us.

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