ABA Photo Quiz

ABA Online Bird Photo Quiz 39


Bird Photo

Some birds are notoriously tricky to identify – many Empidonax flycatchers, some large gulls, some shorebirds. If there is one group that poses an underappreciated identification challenge it's the Catharus thrushes. In the U.S. and Canada we only have five species that regularly occur – Swainson's Thrush, Hermit Thrush, Veery, Gray-cheeked Thrush and Bicknell's Thrush. But these five species can present some very real identification challenges.

The shape and spotted underparts of this bird can leave us with little doubt that we are dealing with one of the dreaded Catharus. One of the most important characteristics to look for on any Catharus thrush is the face pattern, and this bird shows why. Our bird has a distinctive spectacle on the face created by the strong pale eye ring and superloral – a face pattern that is really only shown by Swainson's Thrush. These contrast strongly against the darker face. No Veery, Gray-cheeked or Bicknell's Thrush would show this strong of a facial pattern with contrasting eye ring and a buffy supraloral area. Some Hermit Thrushes may come close to this individual, but Hermit Thrushes show a dark area that separates the pale eye-ring from the pale supralores. So if you answered Swainson's Thrush – well done, you're still in the running for the binocular!

But there is more to identifying Swainson's Thrushes than simply getting it to Swainson's Thrush. Which Swainson's Thrush? The plumage differences between these Olive-backed and Russet-backed Swainson's Thrushes are at least as great as those between Bicknell's and Gray-cheeked Thrushes.

The warm brown upperparts on this bird may call to mind Russet-backed Swainson's Thrush. But the eye-ring is on the heavy side for Russet-backed Swainson's Thrush – more what we would expect with Olive-backed Swainson's Thrush. More importantly, the flanks on this bird appear olive without the rufous expected on Russet-backed Swainson's Thrush. Look particularly at the flanks near the primary coverts where there is no hint of rufous at all. From what we can see, the breast spotting appears quite extensive, another feature of Olive-backed Swainson's Thrush.

For more on Catharus Thrush ID, see Dan Lane and Alvaro Jaramillo's excellent three part series in Volume 32 (issues 2-4) of Birding. Use some caution when looking at these photographs, many of them were taken using a flash. While flash photography makes for some pretty pictures, it can also make birds appear considerably different than they would in the field.

Bird Photo

With the addition of this image of the same bird we can be more confident that this is an Olive-backed Swainson's Thrush given the olive flanks and distinct spotting on the breast. That these images were taken in Colorado is another strong clue that this is an Olive-backed Swainson's Thrush. Of course judging colors on photographs is challenging, even more so when they are viewed on a variety of computer monitors. For that reason, perhaps it's safest to leave this bird as a Swainson's Thrush.

This Swainson's Thrush was photographed by Bill Maynard at Chico Basin Ranch, El Paso County, Colorado in May of 2006.


The following people (listed by submission date beginning with the earliest) submitted correct answers for the June Bird Photo Quiz—Swainson's Thrush:

  1. Brian Ahern, Tampa, FL.
  2. Karl Mayer, Saint Clair Shores, Michigan
  3. John Bissell, Grimes, Iowa
  4. Joel, Anacortes, Washington
  5. Kai reed, putney, vermont
  6. Eva Pratt, Inman, SC
  7. Rick Poulin, Ottawa, Ontario
  8. Jim Mountjoy, Galesburg, IL
  9. Malkolm Boothroyd, Whitehorse Yukon
  10. Ian Davies, Medford, MA
  11. Bertram.E.B.BREE, Jersey island,European Channel Isles
  12. Leslie Rountree, Fayetteville, GA
  13. Alex Lin-Moore, Houston, TX
  14. Erica Clark, Bothell, Washington
  15. Kevin Winegardner, Ithaca, NY
  16. Matthew Daw, Raliegh, NC
  17. Jason Giovannone, Columbia, SC
  18. Nathan Swick, Chapel HIll, NC
  19. Lauren B, East Northport, NY
  20. Sam Pratt, Inman, SC
  21. Jenifer Detter, Eureka Springs Arkansas
  22. Aaron Hulsey, Smiths Grove, Ky
  23. Gabriella Howard, Augusta, Maine
  24. Charlie Corpening, Cumming, GA
  25. Aaron Bilyeu, Placerville, CA
  26. Kevin Kerr, Guelph, ON
  27. Peter Osswald, Lindenhurst, N.Y.
  28. Michael Denning, Taylorville,Ilinois
  29. Richard Garrigues, San Antonio de Belen, Heredia, Costa Rica
  30. Ethan Kistler, Newton Falls, Ohio
  31. Brent Bomkamp, Northport, New York
  32. Julia C. Pappas, Salt Flat, TX
  33. Alan J. Knue, Seattle, WA
  34. Tom Auer, Manomet, MA
  35. Hannah Kistler, Newton Falls, OH
  36. Michael Lester, Haworth, NJ
  37. Steve Hampton, Davis, CA
  38. Lori Fujimoto, Colorado Springs, CO
  39. Ben Young, Salem, OR
  40. Brian E. Small, Los Angeles, CA
  41. Jason Waanders, Washington, DC
  42. Karen Rubinstein, New York, NY
  43. Mary Austin, Grand Rapids, Michigan
  44. Nick Anich, Ashland, WI
  45. Gene Stagner, Tacoma, WA 98446
  46. Neal Reilly, Schenectady, NY
  47. Philip Kline, Tucson, AZ
  48. Will Miller, Boise, Idaho
  49. Bill Maynard, Colorado Springs, CO
  50. Dave Worthington, Toronto, Ontario,
  51. Yves Gauthier, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
  52. George Cresswell, Colorado Springs, Colorado
  53. Marcelo Brongo, Barcelona, Spain
  54. Stephen Seiffert, Lansdowne, Ontario Canada
  55. James Lerner, Lloyd Neck, NY
  56. Loren Hansen, Kingsley, IA.
  57. Ry Farley, Pasadena, CA
  58. Tracy McCarthey, Tempe, AZ
  59. Lee Barnes, Seattle, WA
  60. Rob Young, alexandria, va
  61. Jeff Hole, Orlando, Florida
  62. Edith Prince, Seattle, WA
  63. Michael S. Levy, Centereach, N.Y.
  64. Pam Baum, Tucson, AZ
  65. Gary W. Potter, Sanger, CA
  66. Stephanie Smith, Lansing, MI
  67. Catherine Craig, San Diego, CA
  68. Matt Anthony, Bel Air, MD
  69. Andy Bankert, Melbourne Beach, FL
  70. Matt Pike, Lacey WA
  71. Marcel Gauthier, St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, QC, Canada
  72. Richard Hibpshman, Issaquah, WA
  73. Matthew Johnston, Tucson, AZ
  74. Brian Schiefer, Hazlet, NJ
  75. Mike Bedson, Ellington, CT
  76. Mike Weaver, Eugene, OR
  77. Cynthia Taylor, Tucson, AZ
  78. Michael Hartley, Tallahassee, FL
  79. Brad Wilkinson, Tallmadge, Ohio
  80. Theresa Burby, Midland, MI
  81. Ben Coulter, Erie, PA
  82. Greg Gillson, Hillsboro, OR
  83. TJ Hathcock, Cleveland, OK
  84. Jennifer Perry, Deerfield, NH
  85. Jay Keller, Arlington, VA
  86. Oscar Johnson, Santa Barbara, CA
  87. Jackie Allison, Nipomo, California
  88. Ben Archer, Wimberley, Texas
  89. Vicki Sandage, Ashland, KY
  90. Shaun Hicks, Morrisville, PA
  91. Daroczi Szilard, Romania
  92. Rob Fergus, Perkasie, PA
  93. Lindsay Swanson, Portland, OR
  94. Linda Swanson, San Francisco, CA
  95. Will Richardson, Truckee, CA
  96. Gary Bird, Maxeys, GA
  97. Leta Bird, Maxeys, GA
  98. Noah Gaines, Flagstaff, AZ
  99. Benjamin Griffith, Merrimack, NH
  100. Colin Woolley, Lee Vining, CA
  101. Hannah Nadel, Fresno, CA
  102. Louie Toth, Fairview Hgts, IL
  103. Harry Hooper, Tallahassee, Florida
  104. Matthew Schneider, Silverton, OR
  105. Philip Chaon, Cleveland, Ohio
  106. Nels F. Thompson, Owatonna, MN
  107. Greg Zupansic, Eugene, Oregon
  108. Mary Chambers, Davis, CA
  109. Blake Mathys, New Brunswick, NJ
  110. Benoit Dorion, Saint-Laurent, Quebec, Canada
  111. Nicolas Hallé, St-Nicolas,Qc,Canada
  112. Matthew Toomey, tempe, az
  113. Blue Rubinstein, New York
  114. Jill McElderry-Maxwell, Springfield, PA
  115. Arun Bose, Richmond, VA
  116. Jon Mundall, Connell, WA
  117. James McKay, Mesa, AZ
  118. Robert Lengacher, Tallahassee, FL
  119. Tony Leukering, Brighton, CO
  120. Jack Rothman, City Island, New York
  121. Gerald J Brow, Cedar Michigan
  122. Sandra Lautrup, Effingham, ILL.
  123. Francesc Jutglar, Cardedeu, Spain
  124. Emily Rich, Clinton, NY
  125. James P. Smith, Amherst, MA
  126. Melissa Hein, North Branch, MN
  127. Meghan Powell, Enfield, Ct
  128. Ron Pozzi, Granite Bay, CA
  129. Rich Swartzentruber, Salem, Oregon
  130. Carolyn Vance, Los Alamitos, CA
  131. Gerard Koehn, colorado springs colorado
  132. David C. Smith, Owings Mills, MD
  133. David Schas, Powell Butte, Oregon
  134. Tim Hochstetler, millersburg OH
  135. William Haffey, Norwalk, CT
  136. David Zeitlin, Stonington, CT
  137. Tim Avery, Indianapolis, IN
  138. Rachel King, Brooklyn NY
  139. Richard Green, Brooklyn NY
  140. Joel Mundall, Loma Linda, CA
  141. Jim Kopitzke, Mesa AZ
  142. Eddie Mundall, Klamath Falls, OR
  143. Laurina Mundall, Klamath Falls, OR
  144. Bryan Patrick, Woodland Park, CO
  145. Ryan Dudragne, Swift Current, SK
  146. alice jackson, columbus, oh
  147. Dane Rockwell, Indianapolis, IN
  148. Cathleen Frey, Pensacola, FL
  149. Erik Mundall, Yilan, TAIWAN
  150. Pilaiporn Mundall, Yilan, TAIWAN
  151. Jimmy Kirshberger, Liberty, IN
  152. Peter Dedicoat, Stafford, UK
  153. Adrian Azpiroz, St. Louis, MO
  154. Kathryn Holm, Tamuning, GU

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.

Swainson's Thrush
Hermit Thrush
Bicknell's Thrush
Gray-cheeked Thrush
Carolina Wren
House Finch
Lincoln's Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Wood Thrush


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