A great new photo of a Shelley’s crimsonwing

30 Oct
The world's third known photograph of a Shelley's crimsonwing.Photo Chicago Field Museum. Co-workers David Willard and Tom Gnoske

The world’s third known photograph of a Shelley’s crimsonwing.Photo Chicago Field Museum. Co-workers David Willard and Tom Gnoske

A new photo of a male Shelley’s crimsonwing

A so far unknown photo of a male Shelley’s crimsonwing was recently found. It was taken in 1990 by coworkers of Chicago’s Field Museum, an institution with a long-standing interest in African birds. Although the photo is 25 years old, it adds to our sparse knowledge of the most elusive of the four Cryptospiza species, but it also reminds us of what we do not know.

The (probably mist-netted) bird was hand-held and the photo was taken from an angle giving a dorso-lateral view of the male.

Shelley's crimsonwing. Photo courtesy www.gorilla.org

Shelley’s crimsonwing. Photo courtesy http://www.gorilla.org

This is a different perspective compared to the other two known photos, providing a lateral or ventral-frontal view. Why is this exciting? Because we get an impression of the back plumage. Interestingly, there is a slight yet significant difference compared to the back plumage that I know from museum skins of male Shelley’s crimsonwings.

The extent of the red colour seems lesser than on the skins that I know and possibly also lesser than on the other two photographed males.Apart from that, the red of the nape and hindneck is patchy, interspersed with patches of olive green feathers. It is tempting to speculate that the photo shows a relatively young bird in its first year, and that the red plumage parts of the males become more extent and intense as the birds get older.

The world's second known photograph of a Shelley's crimsonwing cockbird. Photo Colin Jackson

The world’s second known photograph of a Shelley’s crimsonwing cockbird. Photo Colin Jackson

Another aspect that caught my attention is the relatively broad white base of the beak. Its extent seems significantly broader than in the other two photos, and it may also be a feature associated with the age of the bird.

Another thing that is starting to puzzle me is the fact that the photo again shows a male bird. While this may still be pure chance, it may also be the result of differences in behaviour or spatial occurrence of the sexes that may make males more likely to being caught in a mist-net than females. And why were always single birds netted? The other crimsonwing species mostly appear to travel in pairs or small flocks. Does Shelley’s behave differently? Or were the females incubating eggs at the time when the three known males were caught? An alternative explanation may also be that the female population is in fact smaller than the male population.

It would be great to make contact with people at The Field Museum (Chicago) and find out more about their observations during expeditions to the Rwenzori mountains in the 1990s. Published expedition reports indicate that a larger number of birds (up to 20) were netted during an expedition in 1990/1991, and it would be a very valuable source of information to learn more about the circumstances under which this occurred. Where did the birds occur in such large numbers? This would be extremely valuable information for the RFCG in our quest for one of Africa’s rarest and most mysterious birds that has been ongoing for 10 years now.

Prof. Sven Cichon, PhD

Basel, Switzerland

Professor Sven Cichon

 Founded in 2005 The Rare Finch Conservation Group is registered in South Africa as a non-profit organisation and is totally dependent on donors and sponsors to carry out its conservation work on finches in the wild. All donations will be publicly acknowledged , unless otherwise requested, on the RFCG website. Donations can be made to the following account. Rare Finch Conservation Group, Nedbank. Account number 1933 198885 Branch : Sandown 193 305 South Africa ( For international donors please add ) SWIFT NEDSZAJJ.
For more info visit http://www.rarefinch.org or write to the secretary at editor@avitalk.co.za


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