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Rare "Mystery Birds" and "Pet Mulberry Trees"

Tom Lounsbury

Mon, 14 Aug 2017 06:38:48 EDT


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                              Rare "Mystery Birds" and "Pet Mulberry Trees"
By Tom Lounsbury

The red mulberry tree is a beautiful and useful tree in my opinion. Its native range is found in eastern states from southern Florida to southern Michigan with our Thumb area being typically at its northern limits. Its ripe fruit resembles blackberries and is very sweet and flavorful and is used in a variety of recipes as well as it makes wonderful wine. The red mulberry is also a favorite of songbirds, squirrels and even raccoons due to its sweet and flavorful nourishment. For this reason it can be a messy tree of sorts when it is close to homes, but it is an extraordinary shade tree due to its relatively large and densely clustered leaves (there are cultivars available today which don't make fruit and are great shade trees).
The red mulberry actually has beautifully grained wood that is also excellent for smoking meat by adding a distinct sweet flavor.
For all these reasons, a red mulberry was one of the first trees I planted near our pond (and away from our house). Even though a young tree, it started making fruit in a short time span, but we rarely got to enjoy it because it was a favorite of birds in our yard, even before the berries became fully ripe. To this day we have eaten very few of the berries from this tree due to birds going into a feeding frenzy until all are gone.
The white mulberry is another tree which occurs frequently. Originally a native tree to northern China, it has been cultivated for over four thousand years because the leaves from white mulberry are the preferred food for silkworms. For this reason the white mulberry has been planted in various parts of the world, including the United States (the first arriving here in the 1700's). Because birds love the berries, this tree tends to get planted by them (per bird droppings) on a wide spreading basis. The berries, while very sweet, are a bit bland in flavor when compared to the red mulberry, typically smaller in size and are usually white when ripe, sometimes have a pink blush, and can even be red. It too has been used in a variety of recipes and has long been used in Chinese medicine for a variety of cures.
A problem with the white mulberry is that it can readily hybridize with our native red mulberry and in some areas the red mulberry is becoming endangered as a separate species due to this fact.
Some years ago (I lose track of time) a bird "planted" a mulberry tree off the end of my hitching rail in front of our bay window. Because this window faces the southeast, the morning summer sun was forcing us to add shades, and I believed the mulberry was in the perfect spot, despite the berry issue, and I allowed the tree to grow, which it did in a rapid manner. However some visiting folks said I was foolish for doing so because our house would eventually get annually covered in purple bird poop. Personally, I could care less about unsolicited "visitor opinions/advice", especially since a certain tree near my home was none of their business.
My wife Ginny however thought those folks might have a point, and while I was gone one day (which prevented any debate on the topic) she had my son Josh cut the tree down (he loved the opportunity to use a chainsaw). Needless to say I was a bit dismayed to see the tree cut down upon my return, but I was elated when its' well-established root structure immediately sent up six separate shoots, which I allowed to grow. I also made it very clear to my family, nobody was to ever touch that tree, and as a result it has ever since been referred to as being my "pet mulberry".
Cutting that single trunk down seemed to invigorate the growing progress of the six individual trunks going up in a dramatic fashion and this has proven to be very effective shade for our bay window. I had always assumed the parent tree was my red mulberry at the pond, but when my "pet mulberry" began to produce berries, I realized it was a white mulberry and a literal gift brought in from elsewhere by visiting songbirds (I can't tell a white or red mulberry trees apart by leaf structure alone because they are so similar - I need to see the fruit).
Typically white mulberry trees feature a male tree and a female tree in regards to proper pollination (the white mulberry casts out pollen at over 350 mph which is the fastest known in the plant world) but some trees can do their own pollinating process. The fact that my "pet mulberry" has six completely separate trunks means that proper pollination is not an issue whatsoever and as a result there is always extraordinary berry production which the songbirds appreciate. The birds start eating the still green mulberries in mid-June and continue eating the ripe ones right through to mid-August. Such provides us with spectacular bird watching opportunities out our bay window and a wide variety of songbirds are attracted to this tree, some of which we have never seen before.
Because this is a white mulberry tree, we have never had any "purple bird-poop" issues on our home (the roof overhang prevents this anyway), although it is not wise to park a vehicle under any of the limbs as bird-poop is such whether or not it is purple. We do have to frequently sweep the walkway leading to our front door due to the intense bird-feeding activity overhead which knocks a lot of mulberries loose.
In mid-July this summer Ginny and I were reading in the living room and occasionally looking up to enjoy watching the multitude of feeding songbirds flitting around the mulberry limbs just a few feet from the bay window, which can be more mesmerizing than a good book. Ginny suddenly exclaimed - "look at that bird!"
At first I thought it was an escaped exotic on the order of an oversized yellow canary (I once had an escaped parakeet visit the mulberry tree), but several minutes of keen observation let both of us know this wasn't the case. It was with a large flock of feeding robins and was physically the same body/wing structure and size as the robins and flitted around the limbs and fed on fallen mulberries on the patio below like the robins. I was certain we were looking at a possible albino robin. Ginny and I of course went to work with our cameras.
This unique and very unusual bird featured a snow-white back and wings and brilliant yellow breast, head and tail. Its' beak was snow-white and feet and legs were white with a hint of pink. Upon reviewing my photos transferred to my computer screen, I could see that when in the sunlight, this bird also hinted a reddish-pink tint to its eyes, which is something we couldn't see by just looking at it firsthand. There is no doubt in my mind whatsoever that this bird, no matter what specie, has recessive genes related to albinism, and the bright yellow factor causes it to be very rare indeed. We named it the "Yellow Bird" and feel quite blessed it visited my "pet mulberry" tree.
The Yellow Bird was a constant visitor to the mulberry tree for over a week, allowing Ginny and I to take a lot of photos. I would then email these photos to bird experts for evaluation and determination of the specie. This would then be forwarded to other experts to do the same and it created quite a buzz. Some felt it was possibly a robin while a majority of others believed it had to be a Baltimore oriole due to the yellow factor, and robins supposedly never get a yellow factor, even albino robins.
As I write this we haven't seen "Yellow Bird" for several days now, nor have I gotten a clear consensus as to what specie it is, other than it is a very rare mystery bird and may remain as such. I truly hope it has moved on to other parts for others to enjoy viewing, and it is a breathtaking sight to behold firsthand.
My only concern is that Yellow Bird's bright coloration has put a bulls-eye on it, especially in regards to raptors. Because of all the songbird activity in my pet mulberry tree, the mid-sized Cooper's hawks perform routine patrols near it. We can always tell when the hawks are near because the bird activity in the mulberry tree suddenly subsides.
However the local Cooper's hawks often suddenly swoop in and forcing panicked songbirds to fly into our bay window and then they easily snatch up any stunned birds. This happens frequently enough that I now believe it is a learned and very effective hunting technique per our local Cooper's hawks (in the real world hawks need to eat too).
Fortunately I haven't seen any bright yellow and snow-white feathers lying in the yard which would indicate any ill fortune for Yellow Bird. We do wish it well.
As for me, unless it can be proven otherwise, I'm still certain Ginny and I witnessed a rare bird that is a robin with recessive genes related to albinism. It was the same size and body profile as robins close by it, ate mulberries just like the robins, even on the ground (which orioles usually don't do), and like the robins it totally ignored the full oriole feeder hanging from a limb close by in my pet mulberry tree. I don't believe it is an oriole.
I am certainly not a bird expert by any means, but I am no slouch when it comes to keen field observations. I'm a firm believer in an old saying - "If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is most likely a duck".
For a fact, Yellow Bird's true identity may always remain a mystery. One thing for sure though, it is a very rare bird indeed, and it was a real pleasure meeting it.

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   "Yellow Bird" has a white beak, pinkish-white feet and legs, reddish-pink eyes and snow-white wings and back.

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"Yellow Bird" enjoying ripe white mulberries.

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   This is the very first photo that Tom Lounsbury took of Yellow Bird when
it was first noticed feeding in the white mulberry tree. It is a very rare

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   A back view of feeding "Yellow Bird".

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   When in direct sunlight, Yellow Bird's eyes have a distinct pink color.



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