Can You Not See It?By
A couple of weeks ago I read an interesting essay by David Sibley describing the different postures assumed by male and female Dark-eyed Juncos. Since then, as I watch the birds feeding on the ground beneath my window, I’ve been trying to notice the thinner neck, the slight crest, and the more erect posture that distinguish females. Sometimes it works for me, sometimes not.
This is a male Slate-colored Junco.
It’s nice to have something else to look for in an abundant and relatively familiar bird; but what has really caught my attention is this line in David’s essay:
Watching and sketching for the next hour or so revealed consistent and fairly obvious differences. I could watch a bird with my naked eye, guess the sex, and then check plumage through the binoculars, and it worked!
I’m sure the Sibleys have a much bigger backyard than we do — that would be just one of the differences between Bloomfield and genteel old Concord — but even so, I have found it absolutely impossible to replicate that experiment. If my naked eyes can see a junco well enough to gauge the stretch of its neck, I can see it well enough to (presumptively) sex it by plumage; I can’t “blind out” that variable.
Somehow, David can. He can apparently look at the bird and intentionally see only what he needs to see — and intentionally not see what he does not want to see. Suddenly, another little piece of the genius of the Sibley Guide falls into place for me.