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This month’s quiz bird is disappearing behind a pine, and we have just a moment to get any impression of field marks. What we note is a strongly bicolored upper surface to the wings and long legs. While it might help us to identify the pine, we humans have moved various pine species around the planet such that even that might not give us much of a clue. However, I don’t know that Pitch Pine is all that favored of a tree, so perhaps the picture was taken within that species’ range. Regardless, the tree species is but a minor clue, at best.
The bird’s long legs rule out nearly all ABA-area bird species, and we’re left with some herons, storks, and cranes because I think that we can rule out flamingoes. Our bird’s remiges (primaries, secondaries, tertials; singular remex) are all dark and contrast strongly with paler coverts, allowing us to eliminate the white herons, ibises (even juvenile White Ibis does not show this degree of contrast), Roseate Spoonbill, and Whooping Crane (which has white secondaries and tertials). The wing contrast brings to mind that of American Bittern of juvenile Yellow-crowned Night-Heron and those legs do project well beyond the tail tip. But the legs are just too long for even the latter species, much less the former.
While the wing contrast is strong, the pale area is not white, so we can rule out Wood Stork, leaving s with just Sandhill Crane and Great Blue and Grey herons. Leaving aside the Code 5 bird for now, how can we differentiate between Great Blue Heron and Sandhill Crane given this view? The answer is “primary coverts.” Sandhill Crane’s primary coverts are the same color as the rest of the coverts, while those of Great Blue Heron are the same color as the remiges.
So, now, how do we differentiate Great Blue and Grey herons, considering that they share wing pattern? The answer is “carefully, and not particularly definitively.” Grey Heron (and I use the British spelling because it is a bird from their sphere, not ours, so I don’t see the need to change the spelling; I certainly would not appreciate the Brits mis-spelling our various ‘Gray’ species) is a shorter and, particularly, shorter-legged beast than is Great Blue, and our bird’s leg length argues against Grey Heron. Additionally, Grey Heron typically has obvious white fringes to the greater coverts that make for a tricolored wing, rather than just bicolored. Yes, the odd Grey Heron has longer-than-typical legs and a different set of odd Grey Herons do not sport much at all of that white on the wing’s upper surface. It would take the oddest of odd Grey Herons to sport both anomalous features.
I took this picture of a Great Blue Heron at the Cox Hall Creek W. M. A. (formerly Villas W. M. A.), Cape May Co., NJ, on 11 April 2011.
The following people (listed by submission date beginning with the earliest) submitted correct answers for the August Bird Photo Quiz—Great Blue Heron:
The following list shows the number of submissions for each species guessed.
The photo and answer for this quiz were supplied by Tony Leukering.