Kentucky Ornithological Society

Parasitic and Long-tailed Jaegers visit Barren River Lake, September 2011

Photos by Brainard Palmer-Ball, Jr. and Mary Yandell
Text by Brainard Palmer-Ball, Jr.


The recent appearance of not one, but TWO, jaegers at Barren River Lake in south-central Kentucky, allowed an unparalleled opportunity to study these rare birds in Kentucky. David Roemer first found the birds on September 10th, and both lingered for several days, often allowing leisurely approach by boat and extended viewing opportunities from as close as 20-30 feet!

Jaeger identification is one of the most challenging field dilemmas in North America. TYPICALLY, jaegers are on the move and out over expansive areas of open water. Also, at least in Kentucky, we’ve never had more than a single bird observed at a time, so comparisons of size and shape have been impossible. The overall similarity in plumages of especially juvenile birds (the ones most likely to occur inland during their fall migration), as well as the spectrum of “color morphs” from light to dark, all make the ID problematic from most distances.

Interestingly, however, close up views as were obtained from very close range by boat with these two birds afford one the opportunity to study a number of characters that are virtually impossible to see at longer distances.

I’m sure there are better photos available of these two birds, but several of mine from 12 September 2011 are included below and touch on many of the field marks that distinguished the two individuals. Some additional characters that seem to be more variable, including the amount of white on the upper tail coverts, and the contrast between underwing coverts and flanks are also relatively consistent with descriptions in guides.

Thanks to David Roemer for sharing through BIRDKY his discovery and monitoring of these birds.


Parasitic Jaeger and Long-tailed Jaeger, juv. lightish morphs, on water:


Parasitic Jaeger and Long-tailed Jaeger, juv. lightish morphs, in flight:


Parasitic Jaeger, juv. lightish morph, profile on water:


Parasitic Jaeger, juv. lightish morph, preening on water:


Parasitic Jaeger, juv. lightish morph, in flight (two shots):


Parasitic Jaeger, juv. lightish morph, taking off:


Long-tailed Jaeger, juv. lightish morph, profile on water:


Long-tailed Jaeger, juv. lightish morph:


Long-tailed Jaeger, juv. lightish morph:

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