The challenging combination of dense vegetation and active birds can make bird identification tricky. In this case it’s hard to make out a lot on this bird. Usually we use structure and size, with a lot of focus on the head and bill, but that’s not so straightforward in this photo. When identifying birds, sometimes it’s necessary to use different strategies. In this case, perhaps looking for a prominent field mark or two will help us.
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Two things stand out: a wash of yellow to the sides of the breast and the yellow near the base of the tail. There really aren’t many birds that have this combination of traits. Magnolia Warbler is similar, but the dark tail tip should be offset with white and most should show more obvious narrow white wing bars. The underparts should also be more strongly marked in yellow. The other species is American Redstart. While most individuals are more brightly colored, many first year birds can be comparatively dull. The grayish head that contrasts with the olive wings is also a classic trait of female and immature male American Redstarts.
This first-fall female American Redstart was photographed in late September in Champaign Co., Illinois.