ABA Photo Quiz

ABA Online Bird Photo Quiz 155


“Well, heck, he’s got another flying passerine,” some might have responded on seeing this month’s quiz bird.  At least, the last two words of that exclamation can be proven correct by a quick glance at the structure of the bird’s legs – three toes forward and one back, longish nails, long feet.  Add to that the overall brownish coloration, white in the tail, and vague side streaking and we can probably reduce our options list to larks, pipits, longspurs, and sparrows.

Bill size and shape are good characters differentiating some of the possible solution-set species, and we can probably eliminate the various pipit options by the stoutness of our quiz bird’s beak.  Sky Lark can be ruled out by the whiteness of the underside of the wings and both lark options by the relative lack and placement of black in the tail.  The Emberizidae options that have extensive white in the tail (juncos; Emberiza buntings; Lark Bunting; and Black-throated, Vesper, and Lark sparrows) can all be ruled out by various of overall coloration and head, wing, and tail patterns.

That leaves us with the longspurs, which are so named for that long claw on the hind toe, though other groups of bird species, both arboreal and terrestrial, share that feature (e. g., woodpeckers, larks, Brown Creeper, pipits).  One of the touted features of Smith’s, perhaps the most-wanted of the longspurs by ABA-area birders, is the white lower lesser coverts on the wing’s upper side.

Since our bird has some white lower lesser coverts (the patch near the leading edge of the wing just inside the wrist), are we looking at a Smith’s Longspur?  Well, neither Lapland nor McCown’s has similar white, but the other species does.  So, how do we differentiate Smith’s from Chestnut-collared on this view?  The picture does not show the head pattern to best advantage.  Additionally, as the bird is molting (note the gray primaries contrasting with the brown of most of the worn secondaries, though with one of the outer secondaries growing), we might not be able to trust any poorly seen head and body plumage features.  However, there is a very solid field character that shows reasonably well in this picture.  The white in the tail of a Smith’s is like that of Lapland, restricted to the outer rectrices on each side of the tail, r6 (the outermost) and r5, but differs from Lapland in having the r5 nearly entirely white (that color is restricted in Lapland to the tip of that rectrix).  Chestnut-collared’s tail, however, is mostly white, with a black tip that increases in extent on each feather from the r6s in to the central two rectrices (the r1s).

I took this picture of an adult female Chestnut-collared Longspur along Rim Road in western Toole County, MT, on 1 August 2015.  The fact that the bird is molting flight feathers makes ageing it as an adult straightforward, as young-of-the-year longspurs do not replace their juvenile flight feathers, not even tertials.  Adult males and females differ in wing pattern, with males having their median coverts extensively white; these are brown in females.


The following people (listed by submission date beginning with the earliest) submitted correct answers for the February 2016 Bird Photo Quiz —Chestnut-collared Longspur :

  1. Dustin Holschuh - Peoria,Illinois
  2. Clifford Hawley - Sacramento, CA
  3. Willy Hutcheson - Concord, MA
  4. Peter Lane - Québec (Canada)
  5. Kyle Lima - Ellsworth
  6. Chris Blazo - Chambersburg, Pa
  7. Martin Sharp - Edmonton, Alberta
  8. Bob Proctor - Elgin, Scotland
  9. Ryan Andrews - Valley Center
  10. Elisa Yang - Mission Viejo, CA
  11. Joshua Glant - Seattle, WA
  12. Johanna Beam - Lyons, CO
  13. Jack Rogers - Mt Pleasant, SC
  14. Kevin Ebert - Chevy Chase
  15. Martina Nordstrand - Indian Trail, NC
  16. William Young - Willow Street PA.
  17. Bob Archer - Portland, OR

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.

American Pipit
Sprague's Pipit
Smith's Longspur
Vesper Sparrow
Sky Lark
Cassin's Finch
Tree Pipit
Snow Bunting
Sage Sparrow
Lapland Longspur
Red-throated Pipit
Savannah Sparrow
Pine Siskin
Townsend's Solitaire


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