ABA Photo Quiz

ABA Online Bird Photo Quiz 135


Ah, not much of the bird to go on this month: a couple of rectrices, a few primary tips, some tertials, and some sub-scapulars. This is obviously another in my long line of parts-is-much-more-than-just-parts line of ID quizzes.

In most bird-ID scenarios in the field, perhaps the very first character used to winnow the options is relative size. Unfortunately in some cases, the use of this tool is nearly or truly subconscious. In this case, it will have to be conscious, comparing what parts we can to see other items in the field of view. Perhaps the best indicator of the bird’s size is the relative lengths of the tail compared to those of the various bits of vegetation, which includes at least one flower, some grass blades, and a small variety of dicotyledonous leaves. Unless that white-petaled flower is truly tiny, those roundish leaves in the right foreground are probably nearly an inch long, which means that that tail is substantial!

The few plumage-appearance features include buff-white tips to, at least, the central rectrices and strongly contrasting white shaft streaks on tertials and sub-scapulars. Those central rectrices also have apparent gray-and-black barring, which could prove useful in some fashion. The aforementioned size of the quiz bird and plumage features visible should rule out all passerines. The sheer length of tail rules out most or all members of those groups of typically short-tailed non-passerine groups that house species of large size, such as waterfowl, chickens, loons, tubenoses, pelicans, cormorants, herons, ibises, storks, flamingos, raptors, gulls, and owls. Few other groups host species large enough to account for this month’s quiz bird – the tail, alone, is longer than most individual species in those other groups.

Some obviously-long-tailed species that are ruled out by the appearance of the quiz-bird’s tail include Northern Pintail and Long-tailed Duck, Ring-necked Pheasant and the sage-grouse, frigatebirds, and tropicbirds. With all of the above deletions from the possible solution set, there is just one possibility remaining.

I took this picture of the back end of an Anhinga at Taylor Park, Pinellas Co., FL, on 24 February 2014.

Now, what is the age and sex of the quiz bird? The important characters to note are those white shaft streaks and that “apparent gray-and-black barring” on the tail. The latter character is actually not pigment, but the effects of light hitting corrugations in the feather. Yes, corrugations like those of a corrugated tin roof – wavy undulations. The feather, except for the buff-white tip, is actually entirely black. The gray is created by the light hitting the far side (from the light source; here, the sun shining through high overcast) of a trough in the corrugation and the black being a shadow created by the crest. The importance of these corrugations, and of the whiteness and length of the shaft streaks and the extent of the buff tip to the central rectrices, are explained by Figure 243 in Pyle (2008; pg. 333). The amount and distribution of corrugations increase in the first couple years of life in Anhingas, as do the whiteness and length of the pale shaft streak on the various tertials and scapulars and the width and breadth of the buff tail tip. The large number of corrugations, the wide buff tip to the tail, and the shaft streaks being white and extending to the very tip of each tertial and subscapular visible in the picture indicate that this is an adult male.

Literature Cited
Pyle, P. 2008. Identification Guide to North American Birds, part II. Slate Creek Press, Bolinas, CA.


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

  1. Jack Holloway - Mesa, AZ

  2. Marge Tittyung - Oak Park
  3. Adam Sell - Grayslake, IL
  4. John Dillon - Athens, LA
  5. Christian Schwarz - Santa Cruz, CA
  6. Nick Block - Easton, MA
  7. Clifford Hawley - Sacramento, CA
  8. Erin Metcalf - King George, VA
  9. Brian Johnson - Jeffersonville, IN
  10. Michael David - Altoona, PA
  11. Tom Lally - Chicago, IL
  12. Elliot Schunke - Tallahassee, FL
  13. Alison Beringer - Bloomfield, NJ
  14. Samuel Ewing - Gainesville, Florida
  15. Kent Fiala - Hillsborough, NC
  16. Nick Newberry - Oakton, Va
  17. David Bell - Sault Ste. Marie, ON
  18. Tom Ford-Hutchinson - Irvine, CA
  19. Hiram Herrera - Chula Vista, CA
  20. Michael Lester - Tucson, AZ
  21. Bob Proctor - Elgin, Scotland
  22. Mary Margaret - Ferraro Ann Arbor, MI
  23. Celestyn Brozek - Albuquerque, NM
  24. Darrel Wilder - Johnson City, TN
  25. Blake Mathys - West Mansfield, OH
  26. David Kelley - Gahanna, Ohio
  27. William Rockey - Esparto, CA
  28. Josh Southern - Raleigh, NC
  29. Kalen Malueg - Del Norte, CO
  30. Terri Everett - Big Rapids, MI
  31. Laure Neish - Penticton, BC
  32. David Rankin - Riverside, CA
  33. Karl E Mayer - Tawas City, Michigan
  34. Christian Nunes - Boulder, CO
  35. Liam Waters - Sharon, MA
  36. Nina Sitra - Sugar Land, TX
  37. Cathy Sheeter - Ft.Lupton, CO
  38. Claude Auchu - La Pocatiere, Quebec
  39. Carl Haynie - Sammamish, WA
  40. Hannah Tripp - King George, VA
  41. Pam Myers - Santa Cruz, CA
  42. Cal Walters - Piedmont, Ca
  43. Greg Schrott - Avon Park, FL
  44. Austin Hill - Richardson, TX
  45. Aiden Moser - Henniker, NH
  46. Evan Dalton - Belchertown, MA
  47. Kevin Hill - SHORELINE, WA
  48. Corey Plank - Portland, OR
  49. Jack Rogers - Mt Pleasant, South Carolina
  50. MIles Brengle - Ipswich, Massachusetts
  51. Don Lima - Ellsworth, Maine
  52. Patrice Domeischel - Setauket, NY
  53. Robert McNab - Laguna Niguel, CA
  54. Joseph Miller - Nickerson, KS
  55. James Warren - Schwenksville, PA
  56. Jack Esworthy - Richmond, VA
  57. Michael Kline - Fredericksburg, Va.
  58. Austin Young - Filer, ID
  59. Martin Sharp - AB
  60. Larry Kline - Fredericksburg, VA
  61. Scott B. Meyer - Richfield, MN
  62. Patty McKelvey - Sheffield Village, Ohio
  63. Vince Cavalieri - DeWitt, MI
  64. Chris Blazo - Chambersburg, Pa
  65. Jonathan Frodge - Cincinnati, OH
  66. David Aronson - Marion, Indiana
  67. Linda Fink - Grand Ronde, OR
  68. Boo Curry - Oakland, CA
  69. Dean Nicholson - Cranbrook, B.C.
  70. Wayne Meyer - Denison, TX
  71. Sean M Williams - East Lansing, MI
  72. Katherine Noblet - Johnson City, TN
  73. Don Pendleton - East Palo Alto, CA
  74. Nick Minor - Libertyville, IL
  75. Vasanthi Balson - Columbus, Ohio
  76. Jan Leonard - Craig co
  77. Alan Bowman - Madisonville, LA
  78. Liz Goulet - San Diego
  79. Stephen Joly - Kamloops, BC
  80. Kim Silver - Spring, MD
  81. Claire Stuyck - Clemson, SC
  82. Jim Mountjoy - Galesburg, IL
  83. Aidan Place - Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  84. Jerry Jacka - Boerne, TX
  85. Kara Minter - Petal, Mississippi
  86. Greg Zupansic - Eugene, Oregon
  87. Daroczi J. Szilard - Tg.-Mures, Romania
  88. Michael Gill - Arlington, VA
  89. Greg Prelich - Manchester, NJ

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.

Greater Roadrunner
Black-billed Magpie
Blue Jay
Eastern Kingbird
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
Hooded Merganser
Great Blue Heron
Yellow-billed Magpie
White Wagtail
Lark Bunting
Black-and-white Warbler
Aztec Thrush


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