Bird Watcher's General Store

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Blue Rock Thrush ID in Japan

Dear Bird Folks,

I’m writing from Okinawa, Japan, where I’m a nurse in the U.S. Navy. My apartment is on the 14th floor and today, at 19:48, I heard a noise on my balcony. When I investigated I saw this cool bird. I snapped a photo and am attaching it in the hope you might know what kind of bird it is. No one around here seems to know.

– Lt. Kat, Okinawa, Japan


Wow, Kat,

I’ve never been to Okinawa, but I’m tempted to go after seeing the photo you sent. That sure is a cool bird and your camera did a nice job of capturing its image. But what I really like is your watch. Where did you get a watch that says “19:48”? Is it a watch from the future or is it stuck back in the Truman Administration? I don’t really know what time 19:48 is, but it sounds like the time we open our store. I need to get a watch like that; it would save me a lot of explaining. How much do you want for it?

The bird in your photo is a male Blue Rock Thrush. With a bright blue head, back and chest, and a wide chestnut band across his belly, he is a striking bird. The female, on the other hand, has none of these exciting colors. She’s dull, brownish and is dressed like the maintenance worker at the local middle school. Rock thrushes are fairly common birds in Okinawa and can be found throughout much of the island. As the name suggests, the rock thrush’s habitat of choice is rocky areas. But in recent years some of them have swapped rocks for cement. Now thrushes can be seen hanging out on high-rise buildings, especially on the 14th floor, at exactly 19:48. Rock thrushes are omnivorous birds and have a varied diet. They tend to eat more fruit and nuts in the winter and switch to insects and lizards in the summer, but will eat sushi anytime of year.

Due to isolation, size and restrictive habitat, many tropical Pacific islands have far fewer birds than we might expect, but that’s not the case with Okinawa. Nearly 200 different bird species have been reported on the island or in the surrounding waters. Visiting bird watchers like seeing the colorful thrushes, but this is not the reason why birders travel to the island. Okinawa is the home of several rare birds and a few species that can’t be found anywhere else on earth. One of these rare birds is the Okinawa Rail. This small, chicken-like bird is almost totally flightless, which makes it vulnerable to native and introduced predators. Feral dogs, cats and development have taken a toll on this shy bird. New roads that cut through the rail’s breeding area have resulted in fatal encounters with Toyotas and Mitsubishis. Another problem is the mongoose. Some bonehead introduced these fury carnivores to the island in order to control the poisonous snakes. Wanna guess how that worked out? The mongooses (or are they mongeese?) quickly did the math and decided that catching and eating flightless, chicken-like birds was way better than fighting nasty poisonous snakes. Thanks to this brilliant idea the island still has plenty of snakes, lots of mongooses and far fewer rails. Boneheads!

Another scarce island specialty is the Okinawa Woodpecker. This medium-sized woodpecker is mostly brown with red-tipped feathers. It spends its life living in older trees. And even though this bird is more mobile than its rare neighbor, the ground-dwelling rail, it is dependant upon large trees for its survival. Unfortunately, many of these trees are being logged or cleared for commercial and military purposes. (I think it’s the Marines who are doing all the clearing and not the Navy, Kat, so you are safe from facing the birds’ wrath the next time you go for a walk in the woods.) There is one other woodpecker you should try to see while you are on Okinawa. It’s the Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker. This bird is not endangered and is actually fairly common, but it sounds totally adorable, so go look for it. If you find one, snap a photo for me and I’ll send you one of our store pencils. I know it’s not much of a reward, but it’s better than getting a basket of mongooses.


On a different topic:

I few weeks ago I warned readers to expect fewer birds at their feeders in June. This is due to the fact that most adult birds are busy feeding their babies worms and insects and thus are not interested in birdseed right now. I made that announcement in the hope of preventing folks from calling and complaining that I sold them some “bad birdseed.” Of course, it didn’t work and those calls are still coming in. But I did receive a call from a lady who said that the goldfinches must not read my column because she has “tons” of finches on her feeder. Why so many goldfinches? Goldfinches are dominating our feeders right now because they are moral, smart, sophisticated birds. They don’t eat nasty worms or any meat, just seeds. In other words, goldfinches are vegetarians…a truly higher life form.



The big news on Cape Cod has been the recent sightings of a black bear. (See, chipmunks and squirrels aren’t so bad after all.) At first I thought my cousin visiting from Worcester had been seen walking around without his shirt again, but it’s a real bear. These sightings don’t surprise me, but what does surprise me is that the officials aren’t sure how the bear was able to find its way onto the Cape. They can’t decide if it swam or crossed one of the bridges. What is wrong with these people? The bear undoubtedly walked here…on the day the Canal was drained. Duh!