ABA Photo Quiz

ABA Online Bird Photo Quiz 133


If you could not tell, I am greatly enamored of being able to identify birds without having to see their faces. While faces certainly provide an abundance of excellent identification cues, my experience has shown that an annoying percentage of birds don’t show you their faces, and I prefer not to let so many birds go unidentified.

The April quiz bird seems to have some reddish on the crown, some gray on the nape, streaked back, pale wing bars, and strong rufous fringes to black-centered tertials. This combination of features should leave us with just the few Emberizid sparrows sporting rufous in the crown. Though Rufous-crowned Sparrow does have rufous in the crown, it lacks such obvious and contrastingly pale wing bars, as do Swamp and Song sparrows. Though the quiz bird does not have overly long primary projection, what it does have is too long for Rufous-winged Sparrow, thus restricting our options to not the genus Spizella.

If we look between the wing tips, we can see gray rump/uppertail coverts. Well, that was easy, it’s a Chipping Sparrow.
The gray rump is one of the reasons that I used this picture. Most birders know that Chipping Sparrows have gray rumps and that Clay-colored and Brewer’s sparrows do not. However, they actually have it the wrong way ‘round, because four of the six ABA-area members of Spizella have gray rumps. Yes, when trying to decide if a mystery Spizella is a Chipping, Clay-colored, or Brewer’s, that gray rump on Chipping is handy, but it is the default character state of the genus! While our bird is obviously not a Black-chinned Sparrow, we still have three options to decide among: American Tree, Field, and Chipping.
Neither Field nor Chipping are typically illustrated as showing pale stripes on the back, but even a casual search through internet pictures of Chipping Sparrow will review many instances of such a feature, though these are all worn, mid-summer birds. While the dangling fruits suggest that the quiz picture was not taken in mid-summer, I’d like a more bird-centric rationale for this ID. Well, the bird certainly does not look worn, with the best example being those crisp white wing bars, which the species generally shows only in very fresh plumage (in fall).

The back pattern actually strongly suggests that the quiz bird is an American Tree Sparrow, and the noticeable white fringes to the rectrices are another point suggestive of that ID. That’s three suggestive-but-not-quite-definitive characters in support of American Tree Sparrow (wing bars, back pattern, rectrix edging), which in most instances would be more than sufficient for identification. However, this is a quiz, we want definitiveness! Well, look, then, at the center of focus, those lovely and crisp tertials. They are very black, with wide rufous fringes that fade and brighten at the very tip of the feathers to a crisp white. That fringe coloration and pattern is yet another suggestive character; most Field and Chipping sparrows do not exhibit such a crisp pattern and such bright white tips to the tertials, though some do.

Concentrate on the black tertial centers; I believe them to be definitive. All three of our candidate species sport rufous-fringed, pale-tipped tertials (at least when fresh), but the shape of the fringe, thus the shape of the black center, is different on American Tree Sparrow. The lower edge of black in the tertial centers on Field and Chipping sparrows is shaped more like that of a river-gouged valley, while on American Tree Sparrow, the lower edge is shaped more like that of a glacier-gouged valley, that is, V-shaped vs. U-shaped. More importantly, the sides of the black centers on American Tree Sparrow are parallel, created by the rufous fringe becoming ever wider as it extends from feather tip to feather base. On the other two species, the inside edge of the fringe is parallel to the outside edge, that is, the fringe retains the same width the length of the feather. The upshot of all of this is that American Tree Sparrows sport a large, obvious block of black at the base of the wing that is different from the less-obvious pattern – which appears as just a wide streak – on Field and, particularly, Chipping sparrows.

I took this picture of an American Tree Sparrow at Harbor Beach, Huron Co., MI, on 17 March 2013.


The following people (listed by submission date beginning with the earliest) submitted correct answers for the December Bird Photo Quiz—American Tree Sparrow:

  1. Michael David - Altoona, PA

  2. Jason Wilder - Flagstaff, AZ
  3. Christian Schwarz - Santa Cruz, CA
  4. Iain Outlaw - UK
  5. Andrew Aldrich - Downers Grove, IL
  6. Nick Block - Lewisburg, PA
  7. Eve Wills - Dillon, MT
  8. Rob Fowler - McKinleyville, CA
  9. Carl Haynie - Sammamish, WA
  10. Terri Everett - Big Rapids, MI
  11. James Petersen - Orono, Maine
  12. Tom Lally - Chicago, IL
  13. Floyd Schrock - McMinnville, Oregon
  14. Matt Williams - Midvale, UT
  15. William Hutcheson - Concord, MA
  16. Andrew Miller - Partridge
  17. Kai Shaikh - Pittsburgh, PA
  18. David Rankin - Riverside
  19. Kent Fiala - Hillsborough, NC
  20. Scott B. Meyer - Richfield, MN
  21. Aidan Place - Pittsburgh, PA
  22. Chuck Slusarczyk Jr. - Cleveland
  23. Bridget - Vancouver, BC
  24. Chris Blazo - Chambersburg, PA
  25. Michael Lester - Tucson, AZ
  26. Marcelo Brongo - Sant Cugat del Valles, Spain
  27. Landon Neumann - Logansport
  28. Blake Mathys - West Mansfield, OH
  29. logan Kahle - San Francisco, CA
  30. Frank Windbagger - Philadelphia, PA
  31. Wayne Meyer - Denison, TX
  32. Karl Erich Mayer - Tawas City, Michigan
  33. Tom Ford-Hutchinson - Irvine, CA
  34. Claude Auchu - La Pocatiere, Quebec
  35. Dean Nicholson - Cranbrook, B.C.
  36. Mike Wasilco - Caledonia, NY
  37. Celestyn Brozek - Albuquerque, NM
  38. James Telford - Calgary, AB
  39. Hiram Herrera - Chula Vista, CA
  40. Bob Proctor - Elgin, Scotland
  41. Joseph Mosley - Raytown, MO
  42. Amy Darling - Denver, CO
  43. Joshua Snodgrass - Trumansburg, NY
  44. Jim Mountjoy - Galesburg, IL
  45. Brennan Obermayer - Barrie, ON
  46. David Aronson - Marion, Indiana
  47. Jon Atwood - Keene, NH
  48. Kyle Lima - Ellsworth, Maine
  49. Donald Lima - Ellsworth, Maine
  50. Mitch Walters - Gainesville, Florida
  51. wes serafin - orland pk il
  52. Erica Rutherford - Oakland, CA
  53. Marcel Such - Lyons, CO
  54. Nathan Webb - Elba, AL
  55. Josh Southern - Raleigh, NC
  56. William Rockey - Esparto, CA
  57. Darrel Wilder - Johnson City, TN
  58. Barb Duncan - Jefferson City, MO
  59. Shawn Layton - Princeton, NJ
  60. John Habig - Carlisle, OH
  61. Laure Neish - Penticton, BC
  62. Chase Ellis - Washington, DC
  63. Patrice Domeischel - Setauket, NY
  64. Becca Ralston - McMurray, PA
  65. Chuck Carlson - Ft. Peck, MT
  66. James K Wood - Saskatoon, SK
  67. Hannah Ewing - Gainesville, FL
  68. Samuel Ewing - Gainesville, Florida
  69. Aidan Bodeo-Lomicky - Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
  70. Simon Kiacz - Flushing, MI
  71. Brian Menker - Dayton, OH
  72. Joe Busse - Palatine,Il
  73. Eamon Corbett - Cambridge, MA
  74. Robert Packard - Riverside, CA
  75. Eli Miller - Millersburg Ohio
  76. Abril Heredia - Mexico City
  77. Nick Newberry - Oakton, Va
  78. Michael S. Levy - Centereach, N.Y.
  79. Chandler Hendrick - Chattanooga, TN
  80. Pam Myers - Santa Cruz, CA
  81. Greg Schrott - Avon Park, FL
  82. Elizabeth Goulet - San Diego
  83. Joseph Miller - Nickerson, Kansas
  84. Michael Kline - Fredericksburg Va.
  85. David Bell - Sault Ste Marie, ON
  86. David Hollie - Ringgold, GA
  87. Barb Robertson - Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
  88. Cathy Sheeter - Ft. Lupton, CO
  89. Ethan Rising - Cincinnati, OH
  90. Alex Bairstow - Oceanside, CA
  91. Ann Gibson - Winfield, BC
  92. James Barry - Newark, DE
  93. Travis Clemens - Fruitland, MD
  94. Curt Hofer - Novi, MI
  95. Larry Kline - Fredericksburg, VA
  96. Aaron Graham - Oakland, Maryland
  97. Cal Walters - Piedmont, CA
  98. Patty McKelvey - Sheffield Village, Ohio
  99. George Cresswell - Colorado Springs, Co
  100. bruce johnson - mount pocono, PA
  101. Linda King - Chattanooga, TN
  102. Mireille Barry - Québec
  103. Chris Leys - West Lorne, Ontario
  104. Isaac Hosch - St. Paul, MN
  105. Isaac - Kamloops, British Columbia
  106. beau schaefer - round lake beach, IL
  107. Lance Verderame - Livingston Manor, New York
  108. Austin Young - Filer, Idaho
  109. Tony Clements - Alexandria, VA
  110. Anton Mach - Yardley, PA
  111. Dustin Holschuh - Rock Falls,Il
  112. Sebastien Rioux - Quebec, Qc, Canada
  113. Mike Fialkovich - Pittsburgh, PA
  114. Greg Zupansic - Eugene, Oregon
  115. James Mckay - Mesa, AZ
  116. Pete Fenner - East Peoria, IL
  117. logan Kahle - San Francisco, CA
  118. Robert McNab - Laguna Niguel, CA
  119. John Hammond - Durham, NC
  120. Jason Vassallo - Seattle, WA
  121. Ed Harper - Carmichael, CA
  122. Bob Archer - Portland
  123. Jordan - Prattville, Alabama
  124. Jeffrey Alampi - Mays Landing, NJ
  125. Caitlin McKinnell - Northampton MA
  126. Eric Heisey - Granger, WA
  127. Scott Miller - Leslie, MO
  128. Aiden Moser - Henniker, NH
  129. Nicole G - Elkridge, MD
  130. Kyle Fitzpatrick - Comox, BC
  131. Alex Wiebe - Takoma Park, MD
  132. Ron Bussian - Saranac Lake
  133. Robert Proniewych - Uniondale, New York
  134. Chad Heins - Mankato, MN
  135. Wes Hatch - Chagrin Falls, OH
  136. Ed Harper - Carmichael, CA

How Did You Compare?

As stated in the quiz rules, answers must consist simply of the Common or English name exactly as it appears in the ABA Checklist.

The following list shows the number of submissions for each species guessed.

White-crowned Sparrow
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow
House Sparrow
House Finch
Harris' Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow


The photo and answer for this quiz were supplied by Tony Leukering.