ABA Photo Quiz

ABA Online Bird Photo Quiz 173


How many of us regularly attempt the ID of flying female ducks, particularly those that we see only from below?  Certainly, we can often infer ID from associated male ducks, but that is all it is, an inference, rather than an actual identification.  While the subdued color patterns of most female ducks often make for more-difficult IDs, that does not have to be the case; female ducks have just as many ID-relevant field characters as do males, they are simply just not as obvious.  This month’s quiz bird sports some very ID-useful features, particularly the black bill, face pattern, underwing pattern, the pale belly, and the dull-colored legs.  In fact, these are more features than we need to make the ID.

First off, we know that the bird is a dabbling duck, as it sports patterned side feathers; nearly all female diving ducks have solid-colored side feathers (the exceptions being eiders and Masked Duck).

The feature that jumps out most at me in the photo is the white patch in the underwing of the quiz bird.  From the leading edge of the wing, the lesser secondary coverts and lesser primary coverts (multiple rows of small feathers; see labeled photo, below) are mostly brown and form a wide dark leading edge to the wing.  The single row of median secondary coverts are entirely white, as are the axillars.  The white of the median secondary coverts extends distally (away from the body) onto the bases of the inner greater primary coverts.  Most importantly about this large white area are two facets:  a) this “large area of white” is actually rather limited for dabbling ducks that show extensive white in the underwing and b) the strongest contrast is with the slaty greater secondary coverts, not the lesser secondary coverts.

Mallard, American Black Duck, Mottled Duck, Gadwall, and Falcated Duck all have wing linings (in sum, the lesser, median, and greater secondary coverts and the lesser and greater primary coverts) that are entirely white.  Eurasian Wigeon has nearly entirely gray underwings.  Northern Pintail lacks out bird’s contrastingly dark greater secondary coverts.  American Wigeon has roughly equally dark leading (lesser secondary coverts) and trailing (greater secondary coverts) edges to the wing and the white generally does not extend onto the greater primary coverts, if at all.  Females of the four species of the “blue-winged teal” group (genus Spatula) all have the white area contrasting more strongly with the blackish leading edge of the wing than the gray greater secondary coverts and the greater primary coverts are more extensively white (see photos of Blue-winged Teal here and here).  Guess what.  We have ruled out all but one species of ABA-Area dabbling ducks!

To confirm our ID of the quiz bird from just the white patch on the underwing, we can see that our bird has both a dark eyeline and a more-subdued dark line below that; the bill is short and black; the belly is extensively pale; and the legs, what we can see of them, which is just part of one foot, appear to be dark… gray, perhaps.  See this essay on soft-part coloration in dabbling ducks.

I took this picture of a female Green-winged Teal at Hudson Beach, Pasco County, Florida, on 17 November 2016.


The following people (listed by submission date beginning with the earliest) submitted correct answers for the August 2017 Bird Photo Quiz —Green-winged Teal:

  1. Elliot Schunke - Tallahassee, FL
  2. Cathy Sheeter - Oradell, NJ
  3. Tim Kalbach - Dunedin, Florida
  4. Jeffrey Kyron - Hanson PITTSFIELD
  5. Willy Hutcheson - Concord, MA
  6. Zachary Millen - Akron, PA
  7. Andrew Theus - Savannah
  8. Isaac - Kamloops, BC
  9. Joshua Glant - Seattle, WA
  10. Philip Kline - Portland, OR
  11. Aiden Moser - Henniker, NH
  12. Andy Eckerson - Dighton, MA
  13. Aaron Polichar - San Diego, CA
  14. Bob Proctor - Elgin, Scotland
  15. Isaiah Nugent - Bellingham, WA
  16. Kyle Lima - Ellsworth, ME
  17. Karl Erich Mayer - Tawas City, Michigan
  18. Gavin Aquila - Stewartsville, NJ
  19. Mike Wasilco - Caledonia, NY
  20. Cindy Moyer - Arcata, CA
  21. Rosemarie Widmer - Allendale NJ
  22. Cole Gaerber - Vancouver, BC
  23. Bridget Spencer - Vancouver, BC
  24. Claude Auchu - La Pocatiere, Quebec
  25. Jeff Graham - Okinawa, Japan
  26. Mireille Barry - Quebec, QC
  27. Adrian Burke - New York, NY
  28. Beko Binder - Pleasant Hill, CA
  29. Tim Swain - Concord, Massachusetts
  30. Collin Stempien - Mobile, Alabama
  31. Isaac Denzer - Philomath, OR
  32. Chris Swarth - Mariposa, California
  33. Richard Cissel - Carney, MD
  34. Ben Shamgochian - East Providence, RI
  35. Nina Sitra - Sugar Land, TX
  36. Jeanne R. Tinsman - Las Vegas, NV
  37. George Cresswell - Colorado Springs. CO
  38. Lance Runion - Little Rock, AR
  39. Abril Heredia - Ensenada, Baja California
  40. Kellen Apuna - Pearl City, HI
  41. Pam Myers - Marysville, WA
  42. Kevin Leonard - Lawrence, KS
  43. Eli Hershberger - Stone Creek OH 43840
  44. William Rockey - Esparto, CA
  45. Gavin T. McKinnon - Guelph
  46. Hiram Herrera - Chula Vista, CA
  47. Austin Young - Pocatello, Idaho
  48. David Hollie - Pittsburg, KS
  49. Dustin Holschuh - Peoria, Illinois
  50. Tyler Funk - Charleston, Illinois
  51. Linda Fink - Grand Ronde, OR
  52. Erica Rutherford - Oakland, CA
  53. Ed Harper - Carmichael, CA
  54. Elizabeth Axley - Rockville
  55. Shane Brown - Granville, OH
  56. Jim Hully - Grayslake, Illinois
  57. Dean Shoup - Aurora, CO
  58. Isaiah Nugent - Bellingham, WA
  59. David Rankin - Moreno Valley
  60. Patrick Tilley - Encinitas, CA

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.

Blue-winged Teal
Northern Pintail
American Black Duck
Ruddy Duck




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