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Frequent participants in the online photo quiz know that we tend to focus on structural clues in identifying birds. Many of these are found on the shape and size of a bird's bill. Of course, there are times in the field when you can't see a bird's head (and even more times when the bill is hidden in a photo quiz!).
In this case, there are three things that could/should stand out. First, this bird has a bright red rump, along with some reddish tones to the head and mantle. Second, this bird has relatively long wings with several primaries extending far beyond the tip of the tertials. Third, the bird is perched on what appears to be a fairly substantial amount of the white stuff—snow.
One group of birds should come to mind—finches. True, there are other birds that share these characteristics, but finches are frequently seen in the snow, have long wings and often have red in their plumage. If we can't find our bird there, we can always return to other groups.
Since the wings were helpful in bringing us to plumage, let's look at them more carefully. I know what you may be thinking—there isn't much else to look at—no wing bars, no broad edges to the tertials, in fact there appear to be no markings at all to the tertials. What can we look at! In this case, the absence of these markings are exactly what is useful. The great majority of finches have obviously patterned tertials. In fact, only one North American finch has dark brownish wings with no markings on tertials and greater coverts—Red Crossbill.
The red rump fits Red Crossbill, as does the more diluted red cast to the upperparts and head. If we need anything else, look closely at the pattern of the undertail coverts—bright white with some kind of dark pattern. That, too, fits Red Crossbill, which has white undertail coverts with dark centers to each feather.
This Red Crossbill was photographed in Hamilton County in Upstate New York, February 2007.
The following people (listed by submission date beginning with the earliest) submitted correct answers for the March Bird Photo Quiz—Red Crossbill:
The following list shows the number of submissions for each species guessed.
The photo and answer for this quiz were supplied by Chris Wood.