ABA Photo Quiz

ABA Online Bird Photo Quiz 136


Another darned flying passerine! Unlike last month’s quiz bird, the dorsal of the bird provides our only useable characters. The tail seems medium-length, plain, and sports a notch in the otherwise squarish end. The wings seem fairly broad and relatively short and round-tipped (about more, later). The bill looks unremarkable, but certainly not very substantial. The upperparts are olive with a darker head and vague wing bars, and the tertials are dark with broad, paler leading edges.

Greenish-backed passerines in the ABA area are restricted to just a handful of families: Tyrannidae, Vireonidae, Parulidae, Cardinalidae, Icteridae, and Fringillidae. Granted, these families, host a goodly percentage of the area’s passerines, but some, such as the last two (blackbirds and finches) have few such representatives. Evening Grosbeak is easily ruled out on bill size, the lack of any white in the wings rules out the two greenish-backed goldfinches, and the various oriole possibilities have stronger and whiter wing bars. The greenish-backed cardinalids include a few tanagers that lack our bird’s contrastingly dark head and a grosbeak that does have a darker head. However, Crimson-collared Grosbeaks have a distinctly paler collar separating the dark head from the olive back.

Among warblers, green coloration tends to be considerably brighter than expressed by our quiz bird. Additionally, those brighter-green upperparts are often matched with obvious wing bars, which are usually paired with fairly strong pattern in head and/or wings. However, the dull green-backed warblers (such as Mourning and its ilk) also tend to lack wing bars and strong plumage pattern. Of course, such birds also lack even the vague wing bars presented by our quiz bird and none sport the contrastingly dark head. Yes, a few have contrastingly gray heads, but the color tone is not different from the back. Vireos with wing bars tend to strong spectacles, while those lacking spectacles tend to lack wing bars, and only Black-cappeds have contrastingly dark heads, but that species sports strong wing bars.

That leaves us in the family that, probably, most participants started off in, the Tyrannidae; the olive upperparts and wing bars just scream “flycatcher.” And, of course, not any of those “easy” flycatchers, but one of those “____ [insert expletive of choice, here] flycatchers!” Those things are difficult enough to ID when perched in field-guide poses, much less in some odd flight posture!

One way to help reduce the field, so to speak, is migration length. With all else equal, long-distance migrants have longer, narrower, and more-pointed wings relative to overall size than do short-distance migrants. Granted, in biology, rarely is all else equal, but this aphorism is still quite useful in bird identification. For example, the short-distance-migrant Least Flycatcher has noticeably shorter wings relative to size than do the longer-distance migrants, Alder and Willow flycatchers, which are greatly outstripped by the truly long-distance migrants, Olive-sided Flycatcher and Eastern Wood-Pewee. While with no direct comparison to be sure, if our bird’s wings are relatively short and rounded, our quiz bird is probably of a species with relatively shorter migration length.
And, then, there’s that contrastingly dark head. While some Empidonax flycatchers and some individuals of both wood-pewee species can sport a slightly darker crown, our quiz bird’s entire head looks obviously darker, a feature by which, alone, one can usually identify the species. Combining that with the relatively short wings, medium tail length, and vague wing bars, and the identification becomes certain.

I took this picture of an Eastern Phoebe in Tuscola Co., MI, on 28 May 2014.


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

  1. John Dillon - Athens, LA
  2. David Rankin - Riverside
  3. Christian Schwarz - Santa Cruz, CA
  4. Justin Bosler - Oceanside, CA
  5. Nick Block - Easton, MA
  6. Pat Paternostro - Lodi, Ca
  7. Chris Blazo - Chambersburg, Pa
  8. Chris Warren - Makawao, HI
  9. Claude Auchu - La Pocatiere, Quebec
  10. Tom Lally - Chicago, IL
  11. Isaac - Kamloops, BC
  12. Bob Proctor - Elgin, Scotland
  13. David Bell - Sault Ste. Marie, ON
  14. Caleb Ewing - Gainesville, FL
  15. Wes Hatch - Atlanta, GA
  16. Samuel Ewing - Gainesville, Florida
  17. Kyle Lima - Ellsworth, Maine
  18. Hiram Herrera - Chula Vista, Ca
  19. Hayden Bildy - London, ON
  20. Jason Vassallo - Seattle, WA
  21. Joseph Miller - Nickerson, Kansas
  22. Andy Eckerson - Massachusetts
  23. Scott Miller - Leslie, MO
  24. Mike Wasilco - Caledonia, NY
  25. Mark Burns - St. Petersburg, FL
  26. Gautam Apte - Shaker Heights, OH
  27. Larry Kline - Fredericksburg, VA
  28. Wayne Meyer - Denison, TX
  29. Kern Freesland - Owings, Maryland
  30. Mike Fialkovich - Pittsburgh, PA
  31. Greg Schrott - Avon Park, FL
  32. Patty McKelvey - Sheffield Village, Ohio
  33. Simon Kiacz - Copperas Cove, TX
  34. Bridget - Vancouver, BC
  35. Andrew Miller - Partridge ks
  36. Kent Fiala - Hillsborough, NC
  37. Frank Mantlik - Stratford, CT
  38. Claire Wayner - Baltimore, Maryland
  39. George Cresswell - Colorado Springs, CO
  40. Terri Everett - Big Rapids, MI
  41. William Rockey - Esparto, CA
  42. Blake Mathys - West Mansfield, OH
  43. Julie Desmeules - Quebec City, Qc
  44. Nick Newberry - Oakton, Va
  45. David Hollie - Ringgold, GA
  46. Irvin Louque - Lake Charles, LA
  47. Brian Menker - Dayton, OH
  48. Evan Dalton - Belchertown, MA
  49. Alec Hopping - Littleton, CO
  50. Josh Parks - Fairbanks, AK
  51. Josh Southern - Raleigh, NC
  52. Barb Robertson - Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
  53. Hannah Tripp - King George, VA
  54. Nina Sitra - Sugar Land, TX
  55. William von Herff - Ottawa, Ontario

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.

Black Phoebe
Greater Pewee
Hammond's Flycatcher
Western Wood-Pewee
Least Flycatcher
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Pine Siskin
Purple Martin
Say's Phoebe
Dark-eyed Junco
Alder Flycatcher


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