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There’s not all that much distinctive about this month’s quiz bird: dirty-brown head, vaguely brown-streaked off-white underparts, dark tail and wingtips. However, the bill appears to be hooked, which would leave us few options. The bill is too long to be that of a raptor – diurnal or nocturnal – and the wings are too wide and too short to be those of a true seabird such as those in the Procellariiformes (albatrosses, petrels, shearwaters, storm-petrels) or of the semi-seabirds, such as cormorants and frigatebirds. The only remaining hooked-bill options are gulls and related species, so let’s ponder those options.
If this were a gull, it would have to be a juvenile or first-winter bird and it would have to be a member of one of the larger species, as the small species are very neatly patterned at younger stages. However, again, our bird’s wings are too wide and short for those of a gull, of whatever size. Looking at the wings, we might note the large white patch, so let’s consider skuas and jaegers. Unfortunately for those options, the white patch is in the secondaries, not the primaries, so those options are ruled out, leaving us a hooked-bill solution set of exactly zero species.
We must have gone wrong somewhere, so we should back-track our ID process. The last item considered was the hooked bill. What if that feature is anomalous for this species? Where would be start? The tail gives us an excellent clue, as the rectrices are long and quite pointed, and the tail appears somewhat forked. Woodpeckers sport such rectrices for propping themselves against tree trunks, and once we’re among the Picidae, the identification is quite straightforward. Our quiz bird has secondaries that are mostly white, with all having a wide black subterminal band and with the outer two having a black spot each on the inner web. This pattern is diagnostic for the age and species. I took this picture of a juvenile Red-headed Woodpecker at Higbees Beach SWA, Cape May Co., NJ, on 18 September 2005. I don’t know how the bird fared with that oddly hooked beak, but ….
The following people (listed by submission date beginning with the earliest) submitted correct answers for the October Bird Photo Quiz—Red-headed Woodpecker:
The following list shows the number of submissions for each species guessed.
The photo and answer for this quiz were supplied by Tony Leukering.