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First off, a reminder about the rules. The first rule of the ABA online photo quiz includes the phrase:
“An answer, consisting simply of the Common or English name exactly as it appears in the ABA Checklist….”
Thus, responses should be presented with the capitalization, punctuation, and nomenclature noted in the ABA Checklist and without other extraneous details. Personally, I very much appreciate respondents taking stabs at sex, age, subspecies, etc., but they should not be included directly with the species name. If you include such, please use a parenthetical. That is because if the quiz subject was a male Northern Cardinal, how could someone be considered correct if the response submitted was “female Northern Cardinal?”
This month’s quiz picture presents a bird hiding in a fruiting Multiflora Rose (Rosa multiflora), an Asian species introduced to the New World and now an invasive pest. For any such species of bird-food-providing plant, it behooves us in quizzes such as this to know the fruiting times, as that gives us at least an indication of photography date, which can help us in the identification process. As for most roses, the hips on Multiflora Rose are produced in late summer/fall, ripening in mid- to late fall. As there seem to be so many hips – that is, birds haven’t, yet, decimated the larder, it is probably safe to say that the quiz picture was taken sometime in the mid-fall-to-early-winter time period.
Those birders that play – or, at least look at – more than one online photo quiz may have noticed that this picture and the picture in one of therecent Colorado Field Ornithologists’ online photo quizzes [http://cfo-link.blogspot.com/2012/01/current-cfo-photo-quiz-434-2012-1-04.html] are remarkably similar. In fact, these two pictures are of the same individual taken just seconds apart, thus they could be used in concert to identify the bird in question.
Looking at the ABA quiz picture, we have a bird facing us that has a brown head, back, and tail; brownish-orange side; white belly; and pink legs. A minority of bird species have pink legs, but a large proportion of those are members of the Emberizidae, the family housing the New World sparrows. With the foot structure visible – particularly the long nails on the hind toes, we can be fairly certain that this bird is such a one, and the plumage that we can see, confirms that supposition. Once in the Emberizidae, the underparts color and pattern quickly take us to two species, both of which were formerly lumped in an entity known as “Rufous-sided Towhee.” However, once there, things get just a wee bit tricky, what with the dappled light, inexact focus, the bird’s posture, and the variability of plumage inherent in the numerous subspecies of one of the species making up Rufous-sided Towhee.
Separating Eastern and Spotted towhees is often quite straightforward, but there are some major pitfalls. The first of these is hybridization where the two species meet in the Great Plains, with the local form of Spotted Towhee (arcticus) having at least a few Eastern-like traits that are otherwise not found in Spotted Towhee. The other is the form of Spotted Towhee breeding in the Pacific Northwest that nearly lacks the spotting that is the source of the species’ name. Knowing where the bird was could help tremendously, but that information was not provided with the quiz pic, so we’ll have to move on without that datum.
Though there are at least indications of pale spotting on the scapulars and wing coverts, the dappled lighting makes for uncertainty as to the reality. Though the bird’s brown head suggests that it is a female Eastern Towhee, one of those confounding factors noted above is that arcticus females are much browner than are females in all other subspecies of Spotted Towhee, with some individuals being quite difficult to identify on this feature, alone. What we can be certain of is that the bird sports the white “handkerchief” (the patch of white at the base of the primaries) typical of Eastern Towhee, but not found in any pure Spotted Towhee.
I took this picture of an immature female Eastern Towhee at Cox Hall Creek WMA, Cape May Co., NJ, on 12 November 2011.
The following people (listed by submission date beginning with the earliest) submitted correct answers for the October Bird Photo Quiz—Eastern Towhee:
The following list shows the number of submissions for each species guessed.
The photo and answer for this quiz were supplied by Tony Leukering.