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This month’s quiz bird seems to be a swimming waterbird, but of what species? Unlike the previous month’s quiz bird, we can see a lot of this one’s head. Unfortunately, that head is facing away from us, reducing the number of features that we would normally use to identify the beastie, such as bill shape, eye color, and face pattern. However, despite that lack, there are still enough features visible to arrive at the correct ID.
The very first feature that we might grab onto with this picture is the bird’s apparent lack of a tail. Even on the shortest-tailed ducks, unless we caught it during its flight-feather molt, it would exhibit an obvious tail. Just below the apparently lack of a tail is another critical feature: the white rear end that contrasts strongly with the brown sides and flanks. This combo of features rules out all native duck species, except for Long-tailed Duck. The blackish upperparts and wings of our quiz bird would also be a good match for Long-tailed Duck, but our quiz bird’s head would not. There is no obvious white on the head or neck, but, more importantly, Long-tailed Ducks also have obvious tails.
Various parameters of plumage color and pattern and of shape allow us to rule out geese, coots and gallinules, gulls, loons, tubenoses, boobies, cormorants, and pelicans. We can also rule out alcids nearly to a species, as alcid plumage runs to blacks, grays, and whites, with the only truly brown alcids being those in the genus Brachyramphus when in alternate plumage. Of the three such species, just one sports a white rear end, Kittlitz’s Murrelet, but that species has patterning on the various wing and side/flank feathers. That leaves just the grebes for a solution to the quiz, and once there, the quiz bird’s overall coloration leaves us only a single option, as presented in another picture of the same individual presented below.
I took this picture of a Pied-billed Grebe at Largo Nature Reserve, Pinellas County, Florida, on 17 January 2017. While grebes do have tails, they are insignificant and generally not visible amongst the fluffy rear-end plumage.
The following people (listed by submission date beginning with the earliest) submitted correct answers for the February 2017 Bird Photo Quiz —Pied-billed Grebe:
The following list shows the number of submissions for each species guessed.
The photo and answer for this quiz were supplied by Tony Leukering.