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This (American) football-shaped bird with narrow wings and almost no tail that is flying over water can really be nothing other than an alcid (family Alcidae). With its seemingly entirely dark upperparts, the extensive white underparts that includes, at least, nearly all of the throat, is a useful options-reduction feature. The two ABA-area guillemot species can be eliminated by the head pattern (Pigeon Guillemot by the underwing color, too), as, even in transition between plumages, they never show such a strongly-contrasting black-and-white pattern. Other than Least and Parakeet, the auklets are ruled out due to the presence of darker coloration on the underparts during all parts of the year. Ancient Murrelet would show at least a bit of blackish on the chin and throat, even in basic plumage. Tufted Puffin is right out and the other two puffin species sport black collars (and bigger bills).
Of the 12 remaining species, our bird’s black-and-white pattern rules out alternate-plumaged individuals of the two murre species; Razorbill; Dovekie; the two remaining auklets; and Long-billed, Marbled, and Kittlitz’s murrelets. Dovekie and the three large alcids among the remaining options (basic-plumaged individuals of the two murre species, Razorbill) are ruled out on multiple features, but particularly on bill size: Too big for Dovekie, too small for the others. Underwing color and pattern are also quite helpful in this solution-set reduction effort, helping to eliminate some of the above species, particularly Dovekie, and also Least and Parakeet auklets, and Craveri’s Murrelet. That leaves us with just Xantus’s Murrelet remaining in our solution set. Next..
Wait just a cotton-picking minute! You might recall that last summer, the American Ornithologists’ Union split Xantus’s Murrelet into two species, eliminating that the only regularly occurring ABA-area ‘X’ bird. Because both of the resultant species, the northern Scripps’s Murrelet and the southern Guadelupe Murrelet, have white wing linings, we have to go back to the guides. Those guides suggest that the face is where we need to look. Our quiz bird’s slight indentation of white in front of the eye is good for Scripps’s and nowhere-near-extensive enough for Guadalupe.
I took this picture of an adult Scripps’s Murrelet off San Diego, San Diego Co., CA, on 12 May 2013.
The following people (listed by submission date beginning with the earliest) submitted correct answers for the April Bird Photo Quiz—Scripps’s Murrelet:
The following list shows the number of submissions for each species guessed.
The photo and answer for this quiz were supplied by Tony Leukering.