Friday, November 07, 2014

Bright Red-Orange Bird in Los Angeles

Wednesday, mid-day, I glanced out the window to see a brilliant orange and black bird in the backyard. I dashed for a camera because this was no typical bird. Hooded orioles typically nest in our neighborhood, and males are striking orange-yellow and black, but this bird was nearly “caution-orange.” It had a black cap, black vest and wings.

I had heard stories of a breeding colony of an African bird in the Sepulveda Basin, but I had never seen one myself. When I saw that coloration I knew an orange bishop had come to see me.

The orange bishop (Euplectes franciscanus), also known as the northern red bishop, is so extravagantly colored that at first glance it looks fake. My first thought was that one of my yard house finches had gotten brightly-colored trash stuck on it.

In a dark tropical forest this brightly colored bird might not stand out, but here in a very dry southern California, I feared he might be easily picked off by our local Cooper’s hawk. The female orange bishop is more moderately plumed. With a yellowish head and back, and a white tummy, she might blend in with goldfinches and sparrows.

The lone male orange bishop stayed just long enough for me to hastily snap a few photos. He must have just been passing through because I haven’t seen him again. Was he a descendent of the breeding colony nearly 10 miles away or is he an escaped caged bird? Admired for their fantastic coloring, the orange bishop is sometimes kept as a pet. However, this bird did not seem comfortable with a human approaching.

As a potentially invasive species, there is some concern about the orange bishop as there is with the nutmeg mannikin (Lonchura punctulata). As seed feeders they could become crop pests or negatively impact native bird species. Orange bishop numbers seem to be increasing in North America. Sibley reports that there are breeding populations not only in southern California, but also Phoenix, Arizona, and Texas. So if you see a bright red-orange sparrow-like bird in your yard, maybe the orange bishop has come to visit you as well.