A quick look at this month’s quiz bird’s feet, more specifically how the toes are attached to the foot, should get us into the correct bird order, as the passerine foot is distinctive. Another important, but widely overlooked bird-ID feature is our quiz bird’s foot COLOR. The feet (and the rest of the unfeathered parts of the legs) are pink, which is a surprisingly rare foot/leg color in birds. I once looked into the color of feet and legs in passerine birds of the ABA Area to determine how rare pink legs are. While it is the dominant leg color in one New World family of birds, pink legs are still something of a rarity among passerines. Interestingly, but for no reason I could discover from the ornithological community, the vast majority of ABA-Area passerine species with pink legs are species living much of their lives on or near the ground.
Below, I provide a quick-and-dirty synopsis of leg color in ABA-Area bird families, but include only those families and species that are of regular occurrence in the ABA Area (that is, species of ABA codes of 1-3), and I do that partly to make it easy on myself, but also to make the point that our quiz species is not an ABA-Area rarity.
Tityridae (includes becards) -- black
Tyrannidae (flycatchers) – blackish (some dark gray)
Vireonidae (vireos) – blue-gray
Monarchidae (monarch flycatchers) – black
Laniidae (shrikes) – black
Corvidae (jays, crows, etc.) – black
Remizidae (Verdin) – black
Paridae (chickadees, titmouses) – black
Alaudidae (larks) – black (1 sp.), pink (1 sp.)
Hirundinidae (swallows) – black, blackish
Aegithalidae (Bushtits) – black
Cettiidae (Japanese Bush-Warbler) – pinkish or orange-pink
Pycnonotidae (bulbuls) – black
Sylviidae (Wrentit) – black
Zosteropidae (white-eyes) – blackish
Leiothrichidae (various) – pink
Regulidae (kinglets) – blackish with yellowish toes
Bombycillidae (waxwings) – black
Ptiliogonatidae (Phainopepla) – black
Sittidae (nuthatches) – black, grayish
Certhiidae (creepers) – black
Poliloptilidae (gnatcatchers) – black
Troglodytidae (wrens) – black, gray, pink
Mimidae (mockers, thrashers, etc.) – black, gray, 1 pink (Brown Thrasher)
Sturnidae (starlings, mynas) – pink (1 sp), yellow (1 sp)
Cinclidae (dippers) – dark pink, sickly yellow-gray
Turdidae (thrushes) – black, pink (mostly brown thrushes)
Muscicapidae (various) – black, pink
Peucedramidae (Olive Warbler) – blackish
Estrildidae (munias, etc.) – blackish, pink
Passeridae (Old World sparrows) – pinkish
Motacillidae (wagtails, pipits) – black, pink
Fringillidae (finches) – black, pink (Evening Grosbeak), yellow (some American Goldfinch)
Calcariidae (longspurs, etc.) – black
Passerellidae (New World sparrows) – pink, black
Spindalidae (spindalises) --- blackish
Icteriidae (Yellow-breasted Chat) – black
Icteridae (New World blackbirds) – black, pink (meadowlarks), blue-gray (orioles)
Parulidae (New World warblers) – black (some with paler, colored toes), pink (14 or so scattered species)
Cardinalidae (cardinals, Passerina, “tanagers,” others) – blackish, variably grayish-pink
Thraupidae (tanager things, though none called “tanager”) – black, pink, variably grayish-pink
While disparate ABA-Area passerine families host one or a few pink-legged members, most passerine families are boringly similar in sporting black or blackish legs (though please take note of the bluish-legged vireos and orioles; those are virtually distinctive in the ABA-Area bird-dom). However, pink is the dominant leg color in only one ABA-Area passerine family (Passerellidae).
While it would not be wholly unreasonable, after noting that an unidentified bird has pink legs, to start down the New World sparrow road. However, that sparrow family accounts for only about half of the pink-legged ABA-Area passerine species. Grabbing onto at least one additional broad-scale feature would be a better tack to take than blindly looking through sparrows first.
Another of the poorly used ID criteria to distinguish among broad groups is feathers being strongly patterned or not (as in waterfowl, where the feature is criminally under-used). As example, the various pink-legged thrush species have, in general, body feathers with little or no internal markings, and differ greatly from the generally brown and pink-legged New World sparrows, whose body feathers are often exceedingly intricately patterned. Oddly – and, perhaps, importantly, most of the few black-legged New World sparrow species have body feathering that is relatively plain. The same is true of virtually all the pink-legged New World warbler species. That feature – patterned vs. unpatterned body feathers – has ruled out probably half or more of the ABA-Area pink-legged passerine species that are not sparrows.
I will let you take things from here, although I’ll provide a teaser. If one recognizes the green-leaved plant in the photo, one might be well-placed to get a general size estimate of the quiz bird. If one does not recognize the plant, beware of initial assumptions.