No surprise. This month’s quiz bird is flying. I think most would agree that it is a bird of prey of some sort. I chose the photo this month to provide an opportunity to make a couple points about taxonomy that some or many birders apparently do not know.
For the second consecutive month, the subject of the quiz photo is easily and quickly identifiable to family and, by most, to genus. However, despite field guides, the ABA-Area members of that genus do not make for quick and straightforward IDs...
Most of us should be able to quickly narrow the number of options to a number requiring only a single digit. The plumage is mostly white, they have black wing tips, and neither the neck nor the legs are particularly long.
Have at it!
This bird is pretty nondescript. It’s brown with a bit of vague streaking below. The bill is thick-based and short and neither the wings nor tail are particularly noteworthy. Not too long, not too short. Not too wide, not too thin. Good, all-purpose wings and tail. Unremarkable.
Where’s the bird? Ah, there it is. This is something of a different quiz photo. Yes, it is, to make a certain point: One does not necessarily need to see a bird all that well to be able to identify it. However, to do so, one does need to understand plumages and their progression in various species, as well as how those various plumages differ from those of similar species.
It’s that time of year. The time when raptorphiles head to the mountains, the shores of large lakes, the coastal promontories, the riverine bluffs to watch for southbound raptors. However, with a bit of luck and a lot of scanning the sky, one can encounter raptors in active migration virtually anywhere on land.
This month we’ve got an apparently small bird flying overhead. Perhaps-important ID clues include the mix of buff and white below, the small bill, and the long primary projection. The final of those characters suggests that our bird is an individual of a species that is either a long-distance migrant or a highly aerial one… or both.
This month’s quiz bird is obviously some sort of pigeon/dove thing. Certainly, those reddish-pink legs are typical of the group. While that leg color is typical of ABA-Area doves and pigeons, it does rule out...
While some of the poor aspect to this photo is the photographer’s inability to get the subject 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.
Raise your hands. Who considers this an ugly photo quiz? I am not talking, er, writing about the quality of the photo, which, admittedly, leaves a lot to be desired. I am writing about what is shown of the bird.
A distant bird on a treetop can be difficult to identify. Distance takes away most, if not all, of the features that we generally use to ID individual birds, leaving us with only gross patterns of dark and light, particularly on this quiz bird.
In bird ID, it is not finding a single character in the field guide that matches what you saw that enables correct ID, it is ruling out ALL OTHER species that share that character, even a semblance of that character.
A bird flying by… Better get the binocular on it before it’s out of sight! The bird might immediately strike one as a passerine or, at least, not any of the non-passerines – you know, all those birds at the front half of the taxonomy/field guide, many of which are waterbirds of various sorts.
I find that many birders don’t really learn most of the plumage features of really distinctive species, such as American Avocet, Belted Kingfisher, and Northern Cardinal. Each of these species has quite a few features that can enable identification...
Relative to the small branches, this quiz bird seems small and that feature, in combo with the fact that it’s perched in a tree, probably puts us in the large bird order, Passeriformes, which houses about half the world’s bird species.
A bird clinging to the side of a tree, right side up. Yes, there are bird species that regularly or habitually cling to the trunks of trees that aren’t woodpeckers, but the Picidae is a good place to start when one encounters such.
This month’s quiz bird has the hooked beak and talons typical of raptorial birds and the lack of a facial disk and the various plumage features visible rule out the owls (order Strigiformes) and New World vultures (order Cathartiformes), so we are left with...
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.
So, we go from a bird flying away (in last month’s quiz) to a neck-breaking view of a different bird. Given the comparison in size with that of the various branches and leaves, we should surmise that April’s quiz bird is fairly wee.
As in many of my quiz photos, our subject bird is flying, and flying away at that. In reality, we would have little time to come up with an identification unless the bird changed course. Since we have a static image, we have some considerable amount of time to solve the ID problem.
While bird heads hold a frequently large suite of characters that can assist with the ID process – bill color and shape, eye color, crown color and pattern, supercilium, eyeline, loral area, malar area, throat color and pattern to mention most – these features are only rarely required for the ID process.
Yet another dark, flying bird to test our birding mettle. This bird’s longer bill should steer us away from the various raptorial orders, however. In fact, the combination of our quiz bird’s mostly black body plumage, an apparent white patch on the relatively short wing, the long tail, and extensive white on the head dramatically reduces the ABA-Area identification options.
Hopefully, we all agree that this month’s quiz bird is a raptor; certainly, the strongly hooked beak provides a datum supporting that initial ID. Raptors cause birders all kinds of fits as far as identification, for a wide variety of reasons. Their relative rarity means that most birders see relatively few individuals of most species in any given year, stretching the learning curve out over time.
Here’s an angle on a species that many of us seen frequently, but possibly not often like this. The features that grab my eye, include the white belly, the orange throat, and the white wing stripe.
“What? White wing stripe? What is that?”
While many of us would get lost in the rufous aspect to the primaries of this month’s quiz bird, perhaps also the white in the secondaries, the initial critical aspect of this bird’s identification lies in noting its feet.
Ah, back to a flying bird; much better than those pesky facing-away sparrows. The short, wide, and fairly flat bill and longish, narrow wings do a pretty good at ruling virtually all ABA-Area bird families out, except for the Anatidae. I am certain that many of us do not particularly care for the viewing angle on this beastie.
Brown upperparts, longish tail, and pink legs on a bird standing on the ground: we can probably start the ID ball rolling with New World sparrows (Passerellidae; until recently, they were housed in Emberizidae). Yes, we can rule out the Old World Passer species [family Passeridae (e.g., House Sparrow), which are not particularly closely related to New World sparrows].
One aspect of identifying birds with which I see many struggle, is birds not in those ideal, field-guide postures. These non-profile views usually do not present most of the characters used most often to identify the species. However, this aspect of identifying birds may well be the single feature that best differentiates the highly experienced, highly skilled birders from the rest.
Ugh! While those of us that excel at identifying birds by shape probably consider this quiz straightforward, even easy, the rest of us may struggle. However, I look at photo quizzes as learning opportunities, and this is one doozy of an opportunity. So, let’s buckle down and look at our quiz bird carefully.
Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of birders get exasperated, even give up, on a bird that plays hide-and-seek in vegetation. They seem to want to always get that “field-guide view.” As we all know, birds often provide only partial views of themselves – it is a survival trait. Rather than get upset and turn away, keep watching it. While one may never get a full, clear view of the bird, it may well show enough of the critical pieces to be able to confidently slap an ID on the bird.
Another flying bird in the quiz photo. Surely Leukering can take better photos than that! I mean, it’s under-exposed due to the subject being backlit. That’s one that should have been deleted from the camera!
We don’t have lot of plumage pattern to hang an ID on in this drab bird. All that we can see of the body plumage is unrelieved grayish-brown, or brownish-gray. The lack of wing pattern also provides little in the way of clues: no wing bars, no ulnar bar, no distinct patch of pale coverts.
Ah, everybody’s favorite, a brown duck. Fortunately, despite many birders’ seeming thoughts that there aren’t, there are numerous useful ID characters presented in this photo that enable a quick solution to the quiz.