European Starling looking for breadcrumbs from tourists near the Eiffel Tower in Paris


I'm an avid, but relatively inexperienced, birder, so when I had a chance to travel to Europe recently, I was constantly on the lookout for some new and exotic species I'd never seen before. In Paris, there was so much traffic, hustle, and bustle, I hardly saw any wildlife at all, so I was thrilled to spot some unusual birds pecking at crumbs on the ground while we stood in line for the Eiffel Tower. I didn't have any field guides with me, so I snapped a photo and couldn't wait to get home to see what kind of rare bird I'd be able to add to my life list. I was sure I'd never seen anything like it before.


No sooner had we gotten back to the United States—even before I could download my picture and look it up in my bird books—I saw the same bird in a parking lot not 20 miles from my house in Virginia. I raced home to learn that my mystery bird was a European Starling, quite common in both the United States and Europe. Don't expect exotic when common is most likely.

This is apparently a mistake novice birders often make. The Kirtland's Warbler, for instance, is quite rare and a coveted sighting for any birder. But if I spot a warbler-like bird with a yellow throat, chest, and belly, with black stripes down its sides, it's much more likely to be the more common Magnolia Warbler than a Kirtland's Warbler.

Birding isn't the only field in which this can happen. My husband remembers when he started seeing patients in his medical training. The young doctors were warned not to jump to the conclusion the patient's diagnosis was one of the rare diseases they had been studying. A much more common diagnosis was far more likely.

Magicians, of course, accomplish their illusions because they've made their audience expect magic when they're actually seeing something more mundane.

I had to laugh at myself for making such a naive mistake. But I still want you to call me if you see a a warbler-like bird with a yellow throat, chest, and belly, with black stripes down its sides.

I'll be right over.

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