May 2021 Photo Quiz

Tony Leukering
Fairborn, OH

While some of the poor aspect to this photo is the photographer’s inability to get the subject (which is not a member of an ABA-Area rare species; codes 3-5) in sharp focus, much of it is due to the disheveled appearance of the bird. While we all like looking at crisp photos of birds in good nick (as Brits say), particularly of pleasingly attractive birds, not all birds can meet these criteria at all times. They bathe. They molt. Their plumage gets worn. All of these temporary conditions can obscure the bird’s specific identification. These are precisely the situations in which knowing a species well – really well – come to the fore in field ID. Knowing not only the plumage features when fresh but knowing them when worn. Knowing the shapes – overall and of individual parts. Knowing the proportions. Of course, that knowing requires work, as anything of any value does; studying – not just looking and identifying – individuals that provide more than just fleeting glimpses. Studying that baffling brown bird on a barbed-wire fence.

This month’s quiz bird has a short, black bill with a bit of color at the base of the mandible. It sports a thin, pale supercilium; a streaked back; a tail perhaps a skootch long; dark lateral throat stripes; some sort of dark markings below; and longish legs. Those longish legs are important, as long legs is often an indicator of a terrestrial species, one that spends much of its time on the ground. Yes, there are long-legged arboreal birds and at least a few at-least-somewhat terrestrial birds that have shorter legs than is typical of terrestrial species. However, long legs can provide a good clue as to what sorts of species a particular unknown individual may belong.

Given the bird’s situation, the perch site, and the apparent relatively small size in comparison to the fence, one might start one’s search for an identification among the passerines, the “perching birds.”

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.