ABA Photo Quiz

ABA Online Bird Photo Quiz 150


Whacking big wing bars, distinct black streaking on otherwise white flanks, and a face pattern involving, at least, white and black?  Hmm, the New World warbler family seems a good place to start.

Once among the Parulidae, the wide and bright white wing bars rule out a host of options, while the black streaking on white sides/flanks rules out another host.  In fact, these two obvious features whittle the 56 species of what are currently considered to be ABA-area parulids down to just seven species:  Cerulean, Blackpoll, Grace’s, Yellow-throated, Black-throated Gray, Golden-cheeked, and Black-throated Green warblers.  Not a bad reduction rate for a couple seconds of work.  The next obvious feature is the smooth, unmarked gray back.  Well, that feature just about does it for us, right?  Black-throated GRAY Warbler?

Certainly, the lack of back streaking eliminates outright most of the seven choices, including males of Sycamore Warbler – an old name for the interior race of Yellow-throated Warbler -- and Black-throated Gray Warbler.  The gray back eliminates most all of the remaining choices, leaving us with some Yellow-throated Warbler options and female Black-throated Gray Warbler.

Since the habitat preferences of the two are so different – dense oak or piñon-juniper habitats for the latter, trunks of large trees for the former – there may well be some wing-shape differences that we can assess by ogling the bird’s primary projection.  This is so because, all else being equal, wing shape in birds is driven by a few very strong and a few minor influences.  Two of the most important seem to be structure of the habitat(s) in which the species resides and migration length. 

Habitat:  Bird species that occupy dense habitat generally sport relatively shorter wings, while those in open habitats have relatively longer wings.

Migration length:  Long-distance migration is more efficient with longer wings (for a variety of reasons).

While these two aspects are often the primary drivers of wing length, they can both be over-ridden by some other aspect, with Franklin’s Gull being an excellent case in point.  Despite living in open habitats and having a very long migration route, the species has fairly short wings, particularly in such a typically long-winged group as gulls.  This is because Franklin’s Gull conducts a lot of aerial foraging for small prey items, a behavior that requires turning on a dime, which typically requires shorter, rounder wings.

Relative wing length can usually be assayed in small birds by the length of the wingtip (created by the primaries) extending or projecting beyond the tip of the longest tertial:  hence primary projection.  Birds occupying dense habitats and/or with short or non-existent migration length tend to have short primary projection, while those living in open habitats and/or with long migration length tend to have long primary projection.  Primary projection is most readily assessed by comparing it to the (visible) length of the tertials, those large feathers just anterior to the wingtip on the folded wing (see Fig. 1).

Figure 1. The features of determining relative wing length with the wing folded, with 1 being the base of the tertials, 2 the tip of the longest tertial, 3 the tip of the longest primary, A the length of the longest tertial, and B the length of the projection of the primaries beyond the tertials (primary projection).

So, getting back to the question at hand, our bird’s primary projection is nearly the length of the tertials, making for relatively long primary projection.  Black-throated Gray’s typically dense habitat is one of the factors behind that species’s relatively short primary projection – perhaps less than half the length of the tertials, while Yellow-throated Warbler’s relatively open habitat does not discourage long primary projection.

Of course, that bit of yellow on our quiz bird’s chest may make our identification by primary projection more palatable to some.

I took this picture of a Yellow-throated Warbler at Safety Harbor, Pinellas Co., FL, on 28 January 2015.  The lack of streaking on the back and yellow on the flanks should let us identify this as a male of the coastal race (“Southeast” in Sibley), nominate dominica.


The following people (listed by submission date beginning with the earliest) submitted correct answers for the August 2015 Bird Photo Quiz —Yellow-throated Warbler:

  1. Clifford Hawley - Sacramento, CA
  2. Sunil Gopalan - Madison, WI
  3. Eric Heisey - Granger, WA
  4. Hiram Herrera - Chula Vista, CA
  5. Jeffrey K. Hanson - Pittsfield, MA
  6. Jerald Reb - Dover, DE
  7. Brian E. Small - Sherman Oaks, CA
  8. Tom Lally - Chicago, Il
  9. Todd Alfes - Grand Forks, ND
  10. Chris Blazo - Chambersburg, Pa
  11. Jon Atwood - Keene, NH
  12. Ryan Zucker - New York, NY
  13. Alex Wiebe - Takoma Park, MD
  14. Robert Packard - Riverside, CA
  15. Jason Wilder - Flagstaff, AZ
  16. Josh Parks - Fairbanks, Alaska
  17. Bob Proctor - Elgin, Scotland
  18. David Goodyear - Bracebridge, Ontario
  19. Regan Goodyear - Bracebridge, Ontario
  20. Andy Eckerson - Dighton, Massachusetts
  21. Kyle Lima - Ellsworth
  22. Don Lima - Ellsworth, ME
  23. Aiden Moser - Henniker, NH
  24. Simon Kiacz - Harlingen, TX
  25. Martin Sharp - Edmonton, Alberta
  26. Scott Meyer - Richfield, MN
  27. Jared Zaporski - Roseville, Michigan
  28. Steve McInnis - Columbia, South Carolina
  29. Michael David - Pittsburgh
  30. Eric Clum - Arlington, TX
  31. Jack Holloway - Mesa, AZ
  32. Amy Darling - Denver, CO
  33. Sean Williams - Boston, MA
  34. Claude Auchu - La Pocatiere, Quebec
  35. Matthew Press - Sarasota, Florida
  36. Joshua Glant - Seattle, WA
  37. Caroline Martin - Calgary, AB
  38. Isaac - Kamloops, BC
  39. Pam Myers - Marysville, WA
  40. Nina Sitra - Sugar Land, TX
  41. Gautam Apte - Shaker Heights, OH
  42. Wes Hatch - Chagrin Falls, OH
  43. A. Algazzali - Hercules, CA
  44. Don Jones - Middlebury, VT
  45. Greg Zupansic - Eugene, Oregon
  46. Peter Lane - Québec, Canada
  47. Blake Mathys - West Mansfield, OH
  48. Eli Miller - Millersburg Ohio
  49. Julie Desmeules - Québec, QC
  50. Mike Fialkovich - Pittsburgh, PA
  51. Martina Nordstrand - Indian Trail, NC
  52. Kolby Olson - Rancho Cucamonga, CA
  53. Casey Ryan - Fort Wayne, IN
  54. Donald Marron - Bethesda, Maryland
  55. Jackie Allison - Nipomo, California
  56. Patty McKelvey - Sheffield Village, OH
  57. Claire Miller - Fair Oaks, CA
  58. Jack Rogers - Mt Pleasant
  59. Bridget - Vancouver, BC
  60. Georgia Conti - Patzcuaro, Michoacan, Mexico
  61. George Folsom - Fresno Ca
  62. Eric - Oaxaca, Mexico
  63. Logan Kahle - San Francisco, CA
  64. Josh Southern - Holly Springs, NC
  65. Dean Nicholson - Cranbrook, B.C.
  66. Joel Nugent - Bellingham, Wa
  67. Alan Bowman - Madisonville, LA
  68. Peter Lamboy - Scotia, NY
  69. Erica Rutherford - Oakland, CA
  70. Mitch Walters - Gainesville, Florida
  71. Nathan Webb - Elba, AL
  72. Kristen Martyn - Richmond Hill, ON
  73. Joshua Snodgrass - Interlaken, NY
  74. Dan Cowell - Holden, MO
  75. Varick Cowell - Holden, MO
  76. Angus Pritchard - Decatur, GA
  77. Daroczi J. Szilard - Tg.-Mures, Romania
  78. Gyékény Gertrúd - Arad, Romania
  79. Ben Anderson - Duluth, MN
  80. Madeline Alfieri - Hammondsport, NY
  81. Wayne Meyer - Denison, TX
  82. Ian Ruppenthal - Davidson, NC
  83. Jeremy Collison - Albany, New York
  84. Melissa Sherwood - Gig Harbor, Wa.
  85. Amy Courtney - Juneau, AK
  86. Anders Peltomaa - New York, New York
  87. Robert Colucci - New York
  88. Marc Katz - Stony Brook, NY
  89. Lars Skalnes - Eugene, OR
  90. Jonathan Frodge - Cincinnati, Ohio
  91. George Forsyth - Port Williams, NS, Canada
  92. George Cresswell - Colorado Springs, CO
  93. Austin Young - Filer, ID
  94. Steve Bell - Bloomington
  95. Jeff Bogan - Bethel Park, PA
  96. Alison Beringer - Bloomfield, NJ
  97. Aaron R Polichar - San Diego
  98. Heather Meier - Prince George, British Columbia
  99. Jack Stenger - Cincinnati, OH
  100. Joseph Miller - Nickerson KS
  101. Danny Tipton - Albuquerque, NM
  102. Robert Proniewych - Uniondale, New York
  103. Mark Burns - St. Petersburg, FL
  104. Steven Joyner - East Jordan, MI
  105. Bruce Dralle - Lookout Mountain Tennessee
  106. Michael Cannon - Mount Prospect, IL
  107. Pete Fenner - East Peoria, IL
  108. Ed Harper - Carmichael, CA
  109. Cathy Sheeter - Oradell, NJ
  110. Terri Everett - Big Rapids, MI
  111. Paul Hutto - Woodstock, GA
  112. Liston Rice - Houston,TX
  113. Karl Gross - Cincinnati
  114. Duane Troyer - Leesburg, Ohio
  115. Stephen Joly - Kamloops, BC
  116. William Rockey - Esparto, CA
  117. Jeanne Tinsman - Las Vegas, NV
  118. Steve Juhasz - Mission, BC
  119. Amelia Dungan - Washington, DC
  120. Lucy Megan - Massachusetts
  121. Nick Newberry - Williamsburg, VA
  122. Geoffrey URWIN - Warman, Saskatchewan
  123. Ben Wieland - Ashland, OR
  124. Tom Ford-Hutchinson - Irvine, CA
  125. Kai Shaikh - Pittsburgh, PA
  126. Jason Fidorra - richland

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-throated Gray Warbler
Cerulean Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler


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