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Structure, structure, structure. While it's difficult to make out subtle details with a bird facing directly at you, we can still see that this bird's bill is relatively short (much shorter than, say, a yellowlegs) and relatively thin and narrow (more so at least than, say, a Song Sparrow or a bunting). And our bird is perched in a tree or shrub—not on the ground or on the beach.
This, combined with brownish streaking across the breast and a broad pale supercilum, should bring us to a small handful of birds. Pipits are plausible, but the common pipits in North America are infrequently seen in trees, so let's consider them only if we don't come up with another option. Thrushes don't fit because they have spotting on the breast, not streaking as on our bird. While sparrows are streaked, the bill seems too small and the overall coloration doesn't quite fit any species.
Brown and white plumage isn't something typically associated with warblers, but the two waterthrushes fit our bird quite well. Ovenbird is similar, but has a bold white eye ring and paler lores.
Separating the two waterthrushes is often quite challenging...and a single photo can prove particularly misleading. The supercilium of Louisiana is broader and bolder than on Northern, and this bird seems to have a broad supercilum from what little we can see. But at this angle, it's a bit of a stretch to see this well. Our bird may also be raising its' crown feathers, which could lead us to misinterpret this oft quoted field mark.
Fortunately, we can see two things very clearly. First, the throat appears completely unmarked—a feature typical of Lousiana Waterthrush (Northern are usually streaked on the throat). Second, and perhaps most importantly, the streaking across the breast is quite sparse and appears washed out. The lower breast has very short streaks and the belly is white. On Northern Waterthrush the streaking across the breast is bolder, darker, and far more extensive. This difference is quite clear cut on this particular bird—no Northern Waterthrush would have such limited streaking on the underparts.
This Louisiana Waterthrush was photographed near San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico in March 2007.
The following people (listed by submission date beginning with the earliest) submitted correct answers for the April Bird Photo Quiz—Louisiana Waterthrush:
The following list shows the number of submissions for each species guessed.
The photo and answer for this quiz were supplied by Chris Wood.