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Location plays a key role in identifying birds. Of course, with these photo quizzes we don't have any idea other than that we are dealing with some species that has shown up in North America and appear on the official ABA checklist. Despite that, photographs can give us some indication of where we find a bird—perhaps not the exact place, but at least a general sense of habitat. In this case, the bird is in a conifer. Perhaps some would say it a spruce, and an even smaller group may suggest what kind of spruce, but we'll leave that up to the botany photo quizzes. Well, maybe location isn't all that is helpful here.
Let's look at our bird. It's a plain passerine. It has a very small bill. It has dark lores, a whitish supercilium and grayish crown. The underparts are mostly white or very pale gray, and the throat contrasts slightly whiter. It's hard to see the wings and upperparts, but we can see enough to say the bird lacks any obvious wingbars and the scapulars seem to be olive or brownish or greenish color.
The best starting point is the very small bill. This is clearly not a sparrow or finch, but we can also eliminate most other passerines that either have longer or thicker bills. Even the duller vireos (Warbling & Philadelphia) that appear similar in plumage would never have a bill this short or with this fine tip. Tyrant Flycatchers also would appear much larger-billed, and most sit upright.
Fine bills are characteristic of warblers so it makes sense to consider these. Among the New World Warblers, however, few species match our bird. The lack of wingbars and the very small bill should suggest Vermivora warblers, but most that come closest (perhaps Virginia's, Colima and Lucy's) have bold eyerings and undertail coverts that are more brightly marked. The one exception is Tennessee Warbler. But isn't Tennessee a dull yellow thing that is often confused with Orange-crowned Warbler. Yes. But spring males, well, they usually look like this…and, oh yes, they love spruces!
I can hear it now. What about all those Eurasian things!? You know, the things Paul Lehman finds each fall out on Gambell?! Isn't it one of those?! You didn't even consider them! That's right; I didn't. When you're in the US or Canada, and you hear hoofbeats think horses, not zebras—perhaps these days horses would be pretty darn strange, too. But, I think we get the point. Always start with the most likely and go from there. In this case, there is no reason to consider those, because there isn't anything about this bird that looks wrong for a Tennessee Warbler.
But, just to appease those Arctic Warbler folks and for the sake of completeness, Arctic Warbler would have a longer bill, a more extensive dark eyeline, a single wing bar on the greater coverts (perhaps difficult to see at this angle), the crown would be more olive in color and not contrast as much in color with the scapulars (again, perhaps a bit tricky to make out in this light).
This male Tennessee Warbler was photographed in Kidder County, North Dakota in May 2007.
The following people (listed by submission date beginning with the earliest) submitted correct answers for the June Bird Photo Quiz—Tennessee Warbler:
The following list shows the number of submissions for each species guessed.
The photo and answer for this quiz were supplied by Chris Wood.