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There seems to be a lot of water in this month's picture and the water looks amazingly calm, considering that our quiz bird looks like one of those true seabirds, the procellariids. A quick glance at the bill is all we need to confirm that quick assessment, as our bird sports the typical "tube nose" of the order Procellariiformes. The specifics of that tube quickly eliminate the albatrosses, as those have separate tubes on the sides of the maxilla ("upper mandible") rather than both tubes lying on top of the bill. The combination of long wings and bill color rule out the storm-petrels (the Hydrobatidae), leaving us just the Procellariidae (the shearwaters and petrels) to consider.
Our bird's molting wings would certainly affect the bird's flight, making it atypical for the species, and this would be an important consideration, as expert seabirders use the specifics of flight style to identify (or, at least, to reduce the possibilities being considered to a smaller number) most seabirds at relatively long distance. However, since our static picture (no Harry Potter-esque moving pictures here!) prevents us from using that valuable information, it's a moot point. We will have to rely on field marks.
Our bird's pale bill rapidly reduces the number of options from a bewildering 28 to just six: Northern Fulmar and Flesh-footed, Pink-footed, Streaked, Cory's, and (recently-split) Cape Verde shearwaters. The whitish underparts removes from consideration the first of the shearwater options and the long and thin shape to the bill eliminates the thick-billed Northern Fulmar, as does our bird's apparent lack of pale inner primaries (which all white-bellied morphs of Northern Fulmar show). The quiz bird's dark head removes the accidental Streaked Shearwater from consideration.
Until the split of Cory's Shearwater (sensu lato) into Cory's (sensu stricto) and Cape Verde Shearwaters, we didn't usually have to use field marks to separate Cory's and Pink-footed Shearwaters, as the land masses of the Americas did that job for us – they occupy different oceans. As Cory's and Cape Verde are more like each other than either is to Pink-footed, let's deal with separating the two Atlantic Ocean species from the Pacific Ocean species (though, perhaps the flat water might suggest the "Pacific" – that's a joke).
The angle of the wings in the picture and the fact of the molting primaries reduces our confidence in determining the precise coloration and, particularly, pattern of the upperparts, which could certainly be of use. However, we can see the close (right) underwing quite well and should note the dirty, dusky underwings that are quite different from the typically bright white underwings of both Cory's and Cape Verde. Finally, our bird sports a pink bill, and the two Atlantic Ocean candidates do not—Cory's with a yellow bill and Cape Verde with a gray bill.
This Pink-footed Shearwater was photographed by Chris Wood.
The following people (listed by submission date beginning with the earliest) submitted correct answers for the February Bird Photo Quiz—Pink-footed Shearwater:
The following list shows the number of submissions for each species guessed.
This answer was written by Tony Leukering. The photo was supplied by Chris Wood.