Wednesday, May 15, 2013

A Study in Orange

The word inspires many different thoughts and emotions. From spliced fruit trees to alternative fuel cars, the concept of 'hybridization' is neither foreign nor shunned in mainstream society. In the natural world, hybridization does not occur for better fuel economy, cleaner emissions, or a more intriguing fruit. Natural hybridizations occur for the mightiest reason of all. Two animals of different species decide to shun the normal standards and expectations, the pressures of their microcosmic societies to pursue love. Or maybe it's just one wild night, one moment of passion. Maybe they're just color-blind and/or deaf. Maybe (probably) it's totally stochastic. 

Some birds are more famous for their hybridizations than others. Mallards and other ducks, along with western gulls, are some of the most infamous perpetraitors. Certain species of Hummingbirds and Warblers also indulge in that funky dance.
Of course, the curious, somewhat frustrating thing about hybrids is that, despite being necessarily rarer than either of the individual species making up the mix, the hybrid is not countable on any official bird-keeping lists. With some of the ducks and gulls this is less of an issue, as both of the component species are usually fairly common, but I felt the sting of the hybrid curse a few weeks ago down in Miller Canyon with this Flame-colored x Western Tanager, where a pure Flame-colored Tanager is quite the prize.

To be fair, Flame-colored hybrids are about as common in the southeast corner of the state as pure Flame-colored Tanagers, no doubt because of the greater numbers of Western Tanagers in that area. 
I found this bird while actually exploring off the trail for a suitable restroom. It was foraging and calling from a mighty sycamore tree, each of us attending to our various needs.

The vibrance of the bird's orange seemed promising at first and in that light, but upon later examining photos I was disappointed, though unsurprised, to see that this bird was a hybrid.
While the orange is strong, it's not the near blood-ornage color of a pure bird. This specimen's upper wing bar/coverts also has a yellow tint, indicative of Western Tanager genes, and the back was too solid a dark.

In this regard, mainstream society is far advanced beyond official birding culture. When will our nerd society finally progress far enough that we might count hybrids among equals in the bird world? Our retrograde rules and institutions...don't they deserve the same rights, recognition, and list-ability as all the other birds? Flame on, Mr. Tanager.
On the other hand, how would one count a hybrid? As two species, as its own separate species? Some people just keep a separate list for hybrids they've seen. Separate but way.