May 2023 Photo Quiz

Tony Leukering
Dodge City, KS

While driving through open country on a lovely May day, this brown bird pops up onto a fence and poses for a time. One might consider passing it by as it is obviously one of those brown sparrowy things. However, it is being so very cooperative that you lift your binocular to study it and try to dredge your memory for the sorts of features you need to check to ID the beastie.

“Stripe-breasted” versus “clear-breasted,” you recall. You can see some markings on the flanks, but the rest of what you can see on the underparts looks mostly or entirely unstreaked.

“Hmm,” you think. “Does that put the bird in the streaked or unstreaked categories?”

You get a bit frustrated not knowing the answer to the first question, so you grab your camera, carefully line the bird up, and take a photo.

You tell yourself, “I’ll figure it out at home.”

Did you note the first birder-photography mistake our hypothetical “you” made? Yes. Take more photos, as, in this situation, one might not know the parts one needs to study, particularly for difficult groups like Empidonax flycatchers… heck, flycatchers, in general; shorebirds, gulls, terns, hawks, brown thrushes, sparrows….

Personally, I’d prefer you study the bird carefully while it’s in view; it might flush as you raise the camera. If it stays for quite a while, study it through your binocular, take photos, study through your binocular, take photos, etc. I know not how many single photos – single relatively poor photos – of Empidonax flycatchers I’ve seen in iNaturalist. Empies are difficult enough to ID with certainty with multiple good photos.

Back to our quiz subject. The overall brownness of the plumage; the pink legs; the thick-based, conical beak; the short primary projection; and the strong patterning of the back and scapulars point strongly to the Passerellidae – the New World sparrows.

So, in which group does this species reside? Streaked or unstreaked?

What species is represented here?

Photos and answers are supplied by Tony Leukering, a field ornithologist based in southeast Dodge City, KS, 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.