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We could easily describe this as a typical view of a passerine—and, as such, it should be easy to identify. But field guide artists tend not to illustrate views like this. Perhaps it's the publishers who think a guide that emphasizes undertail coverts may not be as appealing to a broad audience as side views. And perhaps these publishers are right. But, as birders these are the views we often have, so paying attention and looking at birds at these angles will pay off, so to speak.
So, here we have a greenish bird with bright white undertail coverts. This may call to mind something like an American Goldfinch, but the horizontal angle is certainly atypical for a goldfinch. And the lack of broad wing bars eliminates the species completely.
Given the horizontal posture, seemingly small structure and the overall coloration, it makes sense to start with warblers (and 15 species of warblers were suggested for the answer, so it seems many people were thinking that way). As we already discussed, this bird has bright white undertail coverts—an oft mentioned field mark for fall Tennessee Warblers. So this must be a Tennessee, right? Well, let's hold our horses for a moment. There are LOTS of warblers with white undertail covets—including such dissimilar warblers as Canada, Pine, Prothonotary, Townsend's, Swainson's, Lucy's and Golden-winged. So the white undertail coverts are useful, but useful within a context. A helpful first step is to look at the wings. And while we can't see much we can see the greater coverts on the left wing. The tips to these feathers are what would form the lower wing bar, if the bird had one. And while there is a suggestion of olive edging to these feathers, they are not the bold wing parts we would see in Chestnut-sided, Blue-winged, and Pine Warbler [and the lack of bold wing bars also eliminates things like Cassin's and Yellow-throated Vireos].
In fact, that olive edging to the greater coverts that is slightly brighter at the tips is typical of many Tennessee Warblers in fall. And while it's difficult to make out tail length in this photo, the bird certainly appears short-tailed (like Tennessee). Furthermore, the bright brownish-olive color that comes far down on the flanks and almost wraps completely around the undertail coverts is also typical of Tennessee Warblers.
But, wait, we already had a Tennessee Warbler quiz this year! Yeah, we did. And we see many birds multiple times per year and it wouldn't be right not to include a bird just because we already did it once!
This Tennessee Warbler was photographed in Tompkins County, New York in August 2007.
The following people (listed by submission date beginning with the earliest) submitted correct answers for the September 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.