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A swimming waterbird with dark crown, white cheeks, and a dark throat with a reddish cast: those features don't combine in very many species, so our task this month should be a bit easier than that of many months. Bill shape rules out any thoughts of the couple duck species with our bird's head pattern (Black Scoter and Ruddy Duck) and the low-slung and wide body shape ought to take us straight to the grebes. Once there, our only real options are Horned, Red-necked, and Eared grebes, as head pattern and neck length and pattern rule out all others.
It's difficult to tell bill color, which would automatically rule Red-necked in or out, though many features of our bird appear right for that species. However, though our bird's neck is not fully extended, it still looks a bit short for that of Red-necked Grebe and the bill looks too short, even foreshortened as it is by the picture's angle. That leaves us with a duo of grebes that, despite their distinctness, are often confused by birders.
With this head-on view, comparing width of head to width of neck, Horned Grebe shows a relatively wider head than does Eared Grebe. Though the actual difference in millimeters can be quite small, it results in a wide-headed appearance in Horned Grebe and in Eared Grebe an appearance of the head being barely wider than the typically skinny neck of that species. From this angle, Horned Grebe also shows a flat crown while Eared Grebe exhibits a peak in the center (side to side) of the crown. The dusky-reddish coloration on the neck is not retained or developed alternate plumage, but is simply typical of formative plumage in Horned Grebe. I took this photo of a formative-plumaged Horned Grebe at Westport, WA, on 7 February 2006.
The following people (listed by submission date beginning with the earliest) submitted correct answers for the July Bird Photo Quiz—Horned Grebe:
The following list shows the number of submissions for each species guessed.
The photo and answer for this quiz were supplied by Tony Leukering.