Berkeley Bird Sightings: Sidewalk Edition


About a week ago, Kate happened upon this bird (and took this picture) while out walking The Dog. The poor thing had come to a bad end, but the real mystery for us was what kind of bird it was. After looking through a couple of our bird books and considering different possibilities–the bill and feet are pretty distinctive–we started looking at shorebirds even though our neighborhood is about a mile from the bay and, except for the occasional gull, we don’t see them alight here. The closest match we found: the Virginia Rail, possibly an immature one (despite its name, the species seems to be more widely distributed in California than its eponymous state, if indeed it’s named after the state).

Kate’s friend Debbie took our guess and sent it to an editor at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Here’s what she heard back:

What a sad thing to come upon! You’re right–this is indeed a Virginia Rail. Rails sometimes misidentify fields and even wet pavement for marshes and make too hard a landing and break a leg or even both of them. I used to be a licensed rehabber, and sometimes I had to care for these poor crippled birds. Sometimes they did heal well–I suspect in this case a dog found it before it could take off again. One time a Sora [another rail species] ended up on the sidelines of Soldier’s Field in Chicago during a Chicago Bears football game being broadcast nationally. I guess the announcers had no clue what it was, and kept the camera on the bird more than they did on the game until an ornithologist identified it for them. (I personally would much rather be watching a Sora than a football game, myself!)

I’m really impressed that Debbie got such a nice answer. It’s enough to get me to pay for access to the lab’s Birds of North America site.

4 Replies to “Berkeley Bird Sightings: Sidewalk Edition”

  1. Poor bird!
    I wonder if that game was the one when John Madden wondered “What kind of bird is that anyway?”. I do recall that we got the answer during the broadcast.
    What is a Virginia Rail doing out here, or is the name indicative of more than just geography?

  2. Marie, now I’m going to have to find that game on YouTube to see which one it was.
    As far as that name goes, I guess it’s something like the Canada goose. Or the Turkey vulture. No, I’m just kidding about the vulture.

  3. Seeing dead wildlife has become even more meaningful to me in the last few months as you know Dad. Sakura and I counted the number of dead deer we saw after the one in Nebraska and by New York we’d passed 25. Death is natural but there’s something especially tragic in deaths resulting from the interaction between two separate but merged worlds.

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