Hi Doug,

Thanks for starting this interesting discussion.  I looked into Painted Bunting 
molts earlier this winter when I started looking at the spate of e-bird reports 
of vagrants from around Maryland and north.  I found at least 15 or so records 
for this fall and early winter, many of them included photos or at least a 
description.  All that I checked were green birds- right up until a recent 
Connecticut adult male within the past couple of weeks broke the mold.  
I didn’t realize, and I suspect most casual birders also don’t realize, that 
even male Painted Buntings are green until their second basic plumage in their 
second fall- this is true even though they are capable of breeding in their 
first summer.  Per CW Thompson in The Condor:
“This is the only passerine known in which sexually mature sub adult males grow 
female- like rather than adult male-like plumage during prealternate molt.” 

This is probably a simplified description of the situation, but once I started 
digging into it, I found quite a lot of interesting discussion online, 
including mentions of different molt timing between east coast and western 


Mike Cooper
Ridge, NY

Sent from my iPhone

> On Feb 12, 2020, at 9:52 PM, Herb Smith <herbsmith.i...@gmail.com> wrote:
> Thanks for posting this Doug, it is very interesting to hear what Peter had 
> to say about it. I do see what you're talking about though with the slight 
> blueish tinge in the nape area. 
> Good point regarding bid info as well
> Herb
>> On Wed, Feb 12, 2020 at 8:16 PM Doug Gochfeld <fresha2...@gmail.com> wrote:
>> While the specifics below directly pertain to one individual vagrant, the 
>> overall take home message should be valuable to anybody who tries to 
>> classify natural organisms.
>> This winter’s incursion of Painted Buntings into the region has brought 
>> delight to many New York birders. All three of the lingering Long Island 
>> individuals are green. The bunting that was found at Brooklyn Bridge Park by 
>> Heather Wolf in late December has been seen by hundreds of people at this 
>> point, and eBirded perhaps a couple of hundred times.
>> Of those reports, many have comments regarding the age or sex of the bird, 
>> and of these, a not-insignificant portion refer to the bird with certainty 
>> as a female and a an immature male, virtually none of which have any 
>> discussion as to why it is being classified as such.
>> In January, I E-Mailed Peter Pyle some photos, to see if he could make sense 
>> of it. He sent me a detailed analysis, which I have pasted as the bottom of 
>> this E-Mail, but the concise version is this: The bird IS an immature 
>> (hatched in 2019). It CANNOT, in its current plumage, be visually identified 
>> to sex, and it seems most likely that it is a young male (as so many 
>> vagrants are) if he had to guess.
>> On that note, and given that eBird reports become a part of the permanent 
>> record, it would be great if the comments, when people look back years from 
>> now, were not just consistent, but accurate. Rather than having the very 
>> careful and earnest eBird moderators (a wholly volunteer and typically 
>> thankless job), in this case Sean and Shane, whom many of you know, reach 
>> out to every single person who writes “female” or "_ male" in the comments, 
>> it would be great if those reporting the bird going forward make comments 
>> that reflect only the highest level of certainty, rather than assumptions or 
>> guesswork. Also, if you have gone to see the bunting, please also check your 
>> prior observations to see if your comments can use some amending.
>> In the meantime, the young Painted Bunting does indeed continue at Brooklyn 
>> Bridge Park, seemingly becoming more acclimated to passers by as time goes 
>> on. Here are some photos and video of it from a couple of days ago, where it 
>> seems, though it may be my imagination, that there are some brighter green 
>> feathers and a bluish tinge starting to appear around the nape:
>> https://ebird.org/checklist/S64302675
>> Full text from Peter Pyle:
>> "So you are correct, this is a first-winter bird (SY now). The rectrices 
>> have been replaced during the preformative molt, so shape and condition of 
>> these are no longer useful for ageing. However, you can see molt limits in 
>> the remiges indicating an "eccentric" preformative molt, which confirms SY. 
>> It looks like p5-p9 and s5-s9 or s6-s9 have been replaced leaving p1-p4 and 
>> s1-s4 or s1-s5 as juvenile. I can't quite decide on s5 in the photos you 
>> sent but the limit is easiest to see on image 3563 between the green 
>> tertials/s6 and  the browner s1-s4. The limit in the primaries is also 
>> subtle here but seems to be between p4 and p5.
>> So, reliable sexing in formative plumage is not really possible, but its 
>> brightness and the relatively big bill suggests male to me. If it winters, 
>> keep an eye out for some blue and/or red featherd to come in within the next 
>> 4 months. These would probably be accidentally lost and replaced feathers 
>> rather than molt. If it gets away without replacing any feathers like this, 
>> best to leave it as sex unknown.
>> Hope this helps and feel free to re-post these comments."
>> Good Birding,
>> -Doug Gochfeld. Brooklyn, NY.
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