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There are several ways to try to identify an unknown bird. We could pick out something that jumps out at us, in this case perhaps the pinkish bill. While this can work, it's not my preferred method as it often leads us astray. Let's pretend that a friend is describing this bird to us using this technique…
Friend: "Help me with this bird that I just can't figure out. It had a pinkish bill, was mostly dark above, but there was some orange color on the back of the head. Oh yeah, it was perched in a green tree."
So, not seeing the photo, you can start thinking about birds with pinkish bills that perch in a tree that is apparently capable of photosynthesis. "Hmm, what about a Rose-breasted Grosbeak?"
"Well, I didn't really think it looked like that," your friend replies.
You, the expert, begin explaining that all Rose-breasted Grosbeaks don't look the same, "Well, female and immature Rose-breasted Grosbeaks don't have a red breast. In fact, first-year males look rather similar to what you described with a pinkish bill, darker upperparts and orange coloration on the breast that wraps around onto the nape. Of course, separating them from Black-headed Grosbeaks can be tricky."
Your friend, "I'll look in my field guide again. I guess that could have been what I saw since I've never seen one before. You really know more about this than I do."
So there we are, this Rose-breasted Grosbeak was photographed by…Oh wait, this is NOT a Rose-breasted Grosbeak!
The other way to begin to identify a tricky bird is by structure. In this case we have a bird that is perched fairly upright with a relatively long stout bill, and thick legs with well-developed toes. Only a few groups of birds match all of these characteristics: herons, egrets, bitterns, and perhaps some rails.
None of the rails are as stocky as this bird (think "thin as a rail."). Even among the remaining herons and egrets, only Least Bittern, the Night-Herons, and Green Heron closely match the general structure of our bird. Perhaps at this time we should also note that this bird still has traces of down and the bill is not yet fully developed, both of which are characteristics of a recently fledged bird. Even recently fledged Night-Herons don't have as strong of a tawny coloration that our bird has, particularly on the nape.
The tawny coloration on the nape and tawny edging to the wing coverts is rather suggestive of a Least Bittern (perhaps not quite as pale as usual, but this could be a function of lighting). The dark crown and mantle are also like a Least Bittern. Yet all Least Bitterns show conspicuous cream-colored lines on each side of the mantle. The dark feathers also come down and surround the eye, unlike on a Least Bittern, where the eye would be completely surrounded by buff.
This leaves us with Green Heron. While many field guides show juvenile Green Herons with white edging to the wings coverts, birds in fresh plumage typically show tawny-buff edging to the coverts. The bill will also become darker (and hopefully assume a more normal shape!) within a few weeks.
This recently fledged Green Heron was photographed by the author at Everglades National Park, Florida in early May.
The following people (listed by submission date beginning with the earliest) submitted correct answers for the June Bird Photo Quiz—Green Heron:
The following list shows the number of submissions for each species guessed.
The photo and answer for this quiz were supplied by Chris Wood.