My little friend, the song sparrow without a tail

A week ago last Sunday, I was walking on a paved portion of the Lawrence-Hopewell Trail through the main fields up from the Pole Farm parking lot when I stopped to snap a photo of a song sparrow. But something was odd about it.

When I brought the photo up on screen at home, I was puzzled that the bird showed no tail feathers and no legs or feet. It seemed as if he had been grafted onto the branch on which he was perched.

Song sparrow without tail singing from a vertical branch.
My first photo of Tailless Joe, May 29, 2022.

Two days later in the same area, I spotted a bird that did have legs and feet but was missing tail feathers. It was undoubtedly the same bird I had seen two days earlier, and I snapped a few more pictures, one of which tops this post.

I wasn’t sure if the bird was male or female, but I dubbed it Tailless Joe, a winking reference to Tail Gunner Joe McCarthy, the U.S. senator from Wisconsin for whom a shameful era of American history is named.

But there’s no shame for Tailless Joe, and I fell hard for him. I worry about him. Do the other birds bully him? How did he lose his tail, and how will he survive? Can he fly OK? Will he find a mate?

Song sparrow singing on branches
Tailless Joe singing on June 4, 2022

I’ve seen Joe twice more, yesterday and today in the same area. There’s no doubt he’s surviving and is able to fly. He sings beautifully, lustily even, so I hope there’s a mate awaiting him if he is not already betrothed.

We see so many birds, and it’s a rare occasion to identify one individually. It happens occasionally at our feeders, when a house sparrow with a feather askew or a cardinal with molting problems returns for a day or two.

It’s all the rarer to spot a single, uniquely identifiable bird in the wild over a period of days.

What a privilege.

Tailless song sparrow on a diagonal branch.
Tailless Joe, June 5, 2022.

Published by Dan

University media executive by day, blogger by night, I am a well-traveled resident of New Jersey

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