ABA Photo Quiz

ABA Online Bird Photo Quiz 146


I consider this bird to be an excellent quiz subject, mostly because I mis-identified it in the field. Fortunately, I took photos.
My first impression of the bird was of a large, pale-bellied Myiarchus with a sizable bill. The bill size, alone, rules out all but Great Crested and Brown-crested Flycatchers among the ABA-area possibilities. While relative bill size can be a bit tricky to assess without direct comparison, the length and, particularly, depth rule out Ash-throated, Nutting’s, Dusky-capped, and La Sagra’s, the last being what I was chasing at the site (to no avail).

Once among the two large Myiarchus, we can rule out the western subspecies of Brown-crested (magister), because that thing has a really honking bill that our quiz bird lacks. While the bird’s contrastingly brown crest might send us in the direction of Brown-crested Flycatcher, that action would be premature, as the species is as poorly named as is Purple Finch. We should check out some “real” ID characters. Useful characters include the darkness of the gray on cheek, throat, and upper breast; the presence or absence of olive creeping over the wing from the back onto the upper sides; the width and whiteness of the pale edge of the innermost tertial; how high on the breast is the meeting between gray and yellow; the intensity of yellow on the belly; the length of the primary projection, particularly compared to the length of the tail; and the amount of pale at the base of the bill.

The answers to the above questions are: dark, present, white and wide (>50% of outer web), quite high, pale, long compared to shortish tail, and extensive. All answers, except for that about belly color, are correct for Great Crested and incorrect for Brown-crested. So, once again, relying on, essentially, a single feature – yellow intensity on belly – led me to an incorrect ID. I know that my initial ID was incorrect, because the absolutely infallible (hopefully), at least on non-juvenal birds, separating character is the color and pattern of the outermost rectrix. In the image of the bird preening, we can see the far outermost rectrix more-than-well enough to note that the feather, particularly the outer web, is nearly entirely orange, with just a dark outer corner, rather than an entirely dark outer web typical of Brown-crested.

HOWEVER, the (mis)identification of this bird is not the actual point behind my use of these pictures in this venue. My point is that an incredibly large number of birders seem to think that Great Crested Flycatcher is a flycatcher with a large crest. Ask any birder whether that is true, and s/he would almost certainly respond in the negative. However, ask any birder to write the species’ name and seemingly more than half would get it wrong. Great Crested Flycatcher is a large flycatcher that happens to have a crest, while if there were such a beast, Great-crested Flycatcher would be a flycatcher of unknown size sporting a pretty spectacular crest. To me, and of the species that I’ve seen, Northern Royal Flycatcher is a “great-crested flycatcher;” Great Crested Flycatcher is not. Interestingly, of the 16 species of “Great” birds (not “Greater” birds) on the ABA-area list, just two sport a hyphen adjacent to the “Great” and neither is either Great Crested Flycatcher or Great Horned Owl. It’s all to do with what word in the species’ name that “Great” is modifying and whether a compound adjective is involved or not. Rather than bore you with expostulation on such, I’ll simply provide a link to an explanation.

I took this picture of a Great Crested Flycatcher (no hyphens!) at Lantana Nature Preserve, Palm Beach Co., FL, on 20 March 2015. Thanks to Louis Bevier for fruitful discussion on ID parameters of the large Myiarchus.


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

  1. Jack Holloway - Mesa, AZ
  2. matt eckerson - North Dighton
  3. Tommy Richey - Chapel Hill, NC
  4. April Mueller - King William VA
  5. Roger Everhart - Apple Valley, Minnesota
  6. Celestyn Brozek - Albuquerque, NM
  7. Wes Serafin - Orland pk,il
  8. Anton Mach - Yardley, PA
  9. Ian Ruppenthal - Davidson, NC
  10. Claude Auchu - La Pocatière
  11. Judy Phoenix - Reno, NV
  12. William Rockey - Esparto, CA
  13. Megan Massa - Fairfax, Virginia
  14. Hiram Herrera - San Diego, CA
  15. Mike Freund - Seattle, WA
  16. Amy Courtney - Juneau, AK
  17. Cal Walters - Piedmont, CA
  18. Gannon Jones - Phoenix, AZ
  19. Ben W - Cleveland, Ohio
  20. Chris Blazo - Chambersburg, PA
  21. Chris Warren - Makawao,HI
  22. Matthew Press - Sarasota, FL
  23. Nathan Webb - Elba, AL
  24. Josh Southern - Raleigh, NC
  25. Dean Nicholson - Cranbrook, B.C.
  26. Luke - Minneapolis
  27. Oliver Griffin - Lothian, Maryland
  28. Kern Freesland - Owings, MD
  29. Scott Miller - Leslie, Mo
  30. Julie Desmeules - Québec, Québec
  31. Jack Rogers - Mt Pleasant
  32. Ryan Andrews - Valley Center, CA
  33. Tracy Mullen - Seattle, WA
  34. Bryan Calk - College Station
  35. Mike Wasilco - Caledonia, NY
  36. Jackie Allison - Nipomo, California
  37. Caleb Ewing - Gainesville, FL
  38. Traci Van Tine - North Branch, MI
  39. Chloe Walker - Murfreesboro, TN
  40. Jerald Reb - Felton, DE
  41. Peter Lane - Québec city, Canada
  42. Matthew Fook - Missouri
  43. Joshua Glant - Seattle, WA
  44. scott erickson - waukesha, wi
  45. Jason Vassallo - Seattle, WA
  46. Wes Hatch - Sandy Springs, GA
  47. Andrew Theus - Berrien Springs, MI
  48. Mark Burns - St. Petersburg, FL
  49. Erica Rutherford - Oakland, CA
  50. Laure Neish - Penticton, BC
  51. Gavin - Ontario
  52. Noah Beattie-Moss - State College, PA
  53. Dan Cowell - Holden, MO
  54. Stephen Joly - Kamloops, BC
  55. Aidan Kiley - Fairfield, CT
  56. Patty McKelvey - Sheffield Village, Ohio
  57. Pam Myers - Marysville, WA
  58. Kristen Martyn - Richmond Hill, ON
  59. Jonathan Eckerson - Dighton
  60. Andy Eckerson - Dighton
  61. Evan Lipton - Milton, MA
  62. Liam Waters - Sharon, MA
  63. Pete Fenner - East Peoria, IL
  64. Patrick Maurice - Atlanta, Georgia
  65. Kyle Lima - Ellsworth
  66. Nina Sitra - Sugar Land, TX
  67. Martin Sharp - Edmonton, Alberta
  68. Ted Bradford - Boston, MA
  69. Julian Hough - CT
  70. Robert Jilek - Belmont, MA
  71. Andy Eckerson - Dighton, Massachusetts
  72. Daniel Carrier - Purcellville
  73. Karl Erich Mayer - Tawas City, Michigan

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.

Brown-crested Flycatcher
Ash-throated Flycatcher
Nutting's Flycatcher
La Sagra's Flycatcher
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Eastern Phoebe
Alder Flycatcher
Greater Pewee
Least Flycatcher
Tropical Kingbird
Willow Flycatcher
Great-crested Flycatcher


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