Meet Bad-hair-day

A favourite winter activity is counting the birds that visit our feeders for a Birds Canada project called FeederWatch. It’s fun to add up how many of each bird species we see—and easy enough if the individuals are present at the same time. But what about when they come one by one….how many are there altogether? Is that the same bird we saw a minute ago?

Take Song Sparrows, for instance. They all wear the same pattern of feathers in shades of brown with streaked markings, and have a central breast spot. Male and females look alike, leaving no reliable way to tell individuals apart. That is…until we spotted Bad-hair-day.

This little bird is a resident around our deck and patio, and has been hanging out here for the past couple of years. He (or she) stands out due to an anomaly with the feathers on his head: instead of lying flat like shingles on a roof, one (or more) feather sticks up at an odd angle, and leaves his head with a slightly off-centre, concave shape. It looks like he gave the hairbrush a pass when he got up, hence his nickname.

At first we thought it was simply a damaged feather, a temporary problem that would correct itself next time he replaced them in a molt. But it hasn’t: he looks exactly the same as last year. Somehow, the feathers in that spot must grow imperfectly. Could he have sustained an injury there, causing malformed feathers to keep appearing in that spot? Gives him a rather rakish look, really, and so he has remained Bad-hair-day, to us.

And at least we know, if we see a Song Sparrow with a smooth head of contour feathers, we can add one more to the species total…thanks to B-h-d.


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