ABA Photo Quiz

ABA Online Bird Photo Quiz 30


Bird Photo

Ducks are an interesting group of birds. For many birders, they're among the first birds that we learn. They're often reasonably tame. They often allow you to see them well. And males in breeding plumage are distinctively plumaged. All this helps to make them a great group of birds for the beginning birder. But ducks can also present some real identification challenges, particularly in late summer when even the males lose their distinctive plumages.

So where to begin? Behavior and overall shape are great ways to identify ducks. Is the bird diving? Does it rock back and forth in flight (like Bufflehead and Long-tailed Duck) or remain relatively stable (like both goldeneye)? Does it dive or dabble? Our bird seems to be dabbling, but it's hard to tell for sure from a single image. The overall patterned brown to the bird is also much more like a dabbling duck than divers, which tend to have more uniform pattern. Indeed, looking more closely at the pattern of the flanks we see that they are dark centered with poorly-defined warm-buff edges—a pattern that is characteristic of teal (Blue-winged, Green-winged & Cinnamon Teal and Northern Shoveler). Gadwall can be similar but that species has a rather thin dark bill with prominent orange sides.

Looking at the tail now, we can see that our bird only has a slight suggestion of buff on the sides of the tail. Green-winged Teal are most easily separated from other North American teal by the bold buff patch they have just below their tail. Northern Shoveler has whitish outer tail feathers, which would show up prominently here. And while our bird's bill is big, it isn't as big a Northern Shoveler. We could consider Garganey, but that species has a much more boldly patterned face and white edges to the tertials.

This leaves us with the difficult duo of Blue-winged Teal and Cinnamon Teal. The most reliable way to separate the two teal is by bill shape. This bird has a relatively large and long bill, reminiscent of a shoveler. Flanks pattern and head pattern are reasonable ways of separating these species, with Blue-winged tending to have a more boldly patterned head, grayish flanks with more sharply-defined edges to the bill. If this were February, this alone would convince us that this was a Cinnamon Teal. But in summer, with juvenile teal these characteristics become far less reliable. Still, the combination of a large bill, overall warm coloration and less patterned plumage are enough to identify this as a Cinnamon Teal. Of course, in the field, one would (hopefully) also have the luxury of direct comparisons with other Cinnamon or Blue-winged Teal, that would make assessing these "relative" field marks less subjective.

This Cinnamon Teal was photographed in early August in Jackson Co., Colorado.


The following people (listed by submission date beginning with the earliest) submitted correct answers for the September Bird Photo Quiz—Cinnamon Teal:

  1. Ali Rodgers, Corrales, NM
  2. Graham Etherington, Norwich, UK
  3. Don Burt, Anaheim, CA
  4. Philip Kline, Tucson, AZ
  5. Matt Pike, Lacey, WA
  6. Richard Garrigues, San Antonio de Belen, Heredia, Costa Rica
  7. Brandon Percival, Pueblo West, CO
  8. Alex Lin-Moore, Houston, TX
  9. Brian E. Small, Los Angeles, CA
  10. Michael S. Levy, Centereach, NY
  11. George Cresswell, Colorado Springs, CO
  12. Lee Barnes, Seattle, WA
  13. Kevin M. Kincaid, Indianapolis, IN
  14. Larry Kline, Woodbridge, VA
  15. Enrique Zamora, Ensenada, Baja California
  16. rob young, alexandria, VA
  17. Reba Browning, Pottsboro TX
  18. Wayne Meyer, Denison, TX
  19. Kevin Kerr, Guelph, Ont
  20. Chris Benson, Rochester, MN
  21. Steve Hampton, Davis, CA
  22. Bryan Patrick, Woodland Park, CO
  23. Aaron Boone, Columbus, OH
  24. Cynthia Taylor, Tucson, AZ
  25. Tim Hochstetler, Millersburg, OH
  26. Kathi McIvor, Tucson, AZ
  27. José Luis Copete, Barcelona, Spain
  28. Melissa Hein, North Branch, MN
  29. Petro Pynnönen, Helsinki, Finland
  30. Blue Rubinstein, New York, NY
  31. Karen Rubinstein, New York, NY
  32. Lori Fujimoto, Colorado Springs, CO
  33. Andy Bankert, Melbourne Beach, FL
  34. Nathan Swick, Chapel Hill, NC
  35. Alex Vinokur, Casselberry, FL
  36. John Anderson, Reno, NV
  37. Erik I. Johnson, Youngsville, LA
  38. Oscar Johnson, Ventura, CA
  39. Bert Frenz, Livingston, TX
  40. Robert Manning, Austin, TX
  41. Michael Woodruff, Spokane, WA
  42. Edward Rozenburg, Georgetown, TX
  43. Nick Anich, Ashland, WI
  44. Arun Bose, Richmond, VA
  45. Daniel Mitev, Woburn, MA
  46. Christopher Colby, York, PA
  47. Wayne R. McBride, Ukiah, CA
  48. Tim White, Hilton Head Island, SC
  49. Jim Kopitzke, Mesa, AZ
  50. glenn werner, Beaufort, SC
  51. Jason Beason, Paonia, CO
  52. Robert Lengacher, Tallahassee, FL
  53. James P. Smith, Amherst, MA
  54. Bonnie Hare, Raleigh, NC
  55. Ed Harper, Sacramento, CA
  56. Chishun Kwong, Concord, MA
  57. Sandra Lautrup, Effingham, IL

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.

Cinnamon Teal
Blue-winged Teal
American Black Duck
Northern Pintail
Mottled Duck
Northern Shoveler
Green-winged Teal
Common Eider
Masked Duck
Mexican Duck


The photo and answer for this quiz were supplied by Chris Wood.