Ugh. Birds flying away fairly high in the sky.

Yes, those features often make bird ID difficult. However, in many such situations with many species, there still are enough clues to get to the correct ID. This is one such situation.

As all birds in the photo are referable to the same species, and given the differing aspects of the various individuals that we can discern, we can use the composite information too, fairly quickly, arrive at the solution.

The first thing to do, is to discern what it is we can see on these birds. In my mind, the important features include:

  1. The large white distal corners to the tail;
  2. The dark wing linings contrasting with the paler flight feathers, particularly with the whitish primary coverts;
  3. The wide, white tips to the secondaries; and
  4. The pale underparts.

What species is this?

Photos and answers are supplied by Tony Leukering, a field ornithologist based in southeast Colorado, with strong interests in bird migration, distribution, and identification. He has worked for five different bird observatories from coast to coast and considers himself particularly adept at taking quiz photos (that is, bad pictures!). Leukering is a member of the Colorado Bird Records Committee and had been a reviewer for eBird since its inception. He is also interested in most everything else that flies, particularly moths and odonates.