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This month’s quiz bird has thin legs that are just visible in the water. This is an important ID feature, as most swimming waterbirds, such as ducks and alcids, have thick legs. Other pertinent features to make our initial slicing-away of potential ID contenders include the color and pattern (what there is of the latter, that is) of the upperparts, the bright white distal underparts, and the reddish coloration on the neck. The combination of these features really leave us only phalaropes as contenders. Once there, though, the ID might be tricky (else I probably would not have used this photo).
The world’s three phalarope species share a number of plumage features, particularly in basic plumage. Unfortunately, considering the “common” name of one of the species, one of those shared features is reddish feathering on the neck in alternate plumage. Since the quiz bird sports feathering colored with something other than gray, black, and white, and since much of the upperparts plumage looks worn, and since the photograph was taken on 15 June, we can safely assume that it is, at least partly, in alternate plumage. We can make one additional reasonable assumption from the bird’s plumage: the dullness of the plumage should allow sexing as a male (recall that female is the bright sex in phalaropes).
While I might spend considerable time and verbiage discussing the multitude of plumage characters that allow identification of the quiz bird to species, I used this photo to point out a single very useful ID character: the vertical white stripe down the back of the neck. Though this character is useful in differentiating phalarope species it should be used only once one is sure that the subject bird is a phalarope!
Differentiating Red Phalarope in alternate plumage – even males – is fairly straightforward (they have thick, yellow bills and extensively reddish body plumage); differentiating males of Wilson’s and Red-necked phalaropes can be quite tricky at times, particularly if one really wants to see a Red-necked Phalarope. However, Red-necked Phalaropes never sport a vertical white stripe down the back of the neck.
I took this picture of a male Wilson’s Phalarope on 15 June 2015 at Cut Bank, Glacier Co., Montana (see eBird checklist).
The following people (listed by submission date beginning with the earliest) submitted correct answers for the December 2016 Bird Photo Quiz —Wilson’s Phalarope:
The following list shows the number of submissions for each species guessed.
The photo and answer for this quiz were supplied by Tony Leukering.