This time we have a lovely, pristine, perfectly lit, perfectly posed bird that shows all the field marks we need to identify it correctly to species.

Did you believe any of that?

This month’s quiz bird of a bird photographed in August might confound a number of quiz takers as to which family it belongs, although at least the order should be straightforward. Of course, by getting to the correct order -- Passeriformes, we remove roughly only half the options.

The bird’s posture does not show the bill shape well. The fact that it is in molt could make other features difficult to ascertain, as most birds molt at a season when their feathers are getting worn and faded/bleached, with some characters that we use to ID them becoming less than obvious. As example, the obvious and oft-heavy streaking below of Sage Thrasher (as here), can become much less obvious (as here) such that birds seen at distance may seem not to show that streaking.

That our quiz bird is in molt can be discerned by subtle clues – note the new, darker central back feathers compared to the old, paler lateral back feathers – or by obvious ones – such as the new, partly grown tail feathers. Looking closely at the base of the tail, we can the remaining sheaths (not “sheathes,” as that is a verb) of the two central rectrices, so they’re not quite fully grown. Those last bits provide a great segue to note that those growing tail feathers are critical to this bird’s ID. The order in which those feathers are replaced is not a clue to its ID, but knowing that order enables potential bird identifiers to correctly assess important information, such as the bird’s age. That orange in the inner webs of some of those feathers of a seemingly long-ish tail provide a clue to the bird to genus that then provides using the date and molt-status cues to arrive at the correct conclusion to the ID of the bird.