Bright Red Crest -- the results are in, sorta

Mike Hall

Thank you all so much for the suggestions! Nobody contributed anecdotes of parallel experiences, so before I share my “conclusion,” I’ll tell you about this one time a few years back. I’m in the succulents section of S.F. Botanical Garden (Golden Gate Park) when a gold-headed hummingbird flies by and perches, too close for binocs. Crown, nape, face all bright goldenrod, gorget red, body green. While my heart rate doubles and my mind pages fruitlessly through field guides, the bird plunges into a nearby cactus blossom and emerges even brighter. Thus it dawns on me – Anna’s as pollinator! True story.
The most popular ID nomination for my red-crested mystery was Ruby-crowned Kinglet, but I didn’t bother to include RCKI in the why-nots, because, although it does sometimes sip and can really flare its crown, its wingbars cannot escape notice and its flight is not straight and level. And when was the last time you saw one sit really still? at the tip-top of a tree? I’m grateful to Michaela for the Kingbird suggestion – I’d actually forgotten about the hidden crown stripe (which some field guides fail to mention). The Macaulay gallery, as far as I got, shows only one example of the stripe flared – visible head-on, possibly a courtship signal, not rising above the crown. WEKI’s direct flight style is right, but shape and size are wrong. Kay thought of Pyrrhuloxia – nice red crest, but also many obvious touches of red here and there, and just as big as the Kingbird. And undulating flight. Wen’s Chipping Sparrow has the right size and, if it’s turned somewhat away, potentially the right shape and crown brightness; but, you know, striping on the back, wingbars, and – undulating flight. Finally, Judi contributed Red-crested Cardinal (Sibley: “Escapes regularly occur in Florida and California”). Mainly a ground feeder, with hard-to-mistake white and gray body; no info on flight style. I haven’t been able to find any local current or historical sightings records. I’m holding off for now. That bold red triangle, highly unlikely in any case, could as well have resulted from a Titmouse thrusting his head into a blossom to grab a spider or bug.
Hence, my Inconclusion: leave the eBird comment as is for now, under “Passerine sp.”

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