ABA Photo Quiz

ABA Online Bird Photo Quiz 82


Bird Photo

Identification of birds has two parts, the first being fitting visible field marks (whether of plumage, structure, or behavior) of the bird to a possible identification. This part of the equation nearly all do at least reasonably well. However, the second part of ID is often overlooked or given short shrift: determining field marks present that are not consistent with a proposed identification. In my experience, most ID mistakes made happen here.

A bird, dark above and light below, flying low over water sent many among us into the alcids for a solution. In fact, at least seven species of alcids were provided as answers for the January quiz with all, except for Pigeon Guillemot, being small species. The quiz bird does, indeed, look small and chunky, and many alcid species fit that description. Some species suggested as answers can be ruled out by looking at the feet of the quiz bird. Or, more precisely, noting that the feet are not apparent. This feature fits the small alcids quite well, but the larger alcids, including guillemots, have longer legs that are held in a trailing position in flight (rather than tucked up inside the feather coat) and many of those have brightly-colored (orange or red) legs. Additionally, as alcids have short tails, the feet of most of these larger alcids extend a bit beyond the tail tip. So, we can rule out those species. Regardless of which small alcid one picked for the answer to this quiz, the bird would have to be in basic plumage (though most of the Synthliboramphus murrelets do not have significant seasonal plumage change).

Now we need to use that second part of the ID process. In my opinion, the critical aspects of this bird's field characters lie on the upperparts, as the underparts are nearly unrelieved white. The uppertail coverts (visible at the base of the tail) and the tertials (visible at the base of the wing) all seem to sport white fringes, a feature at odds with any ID as an alcid. Additionally, the back and rump seem to be some odd metallic greenish color, a character also at odds with an alcid ID. These features send us back to the drawing board, or field guide.

Nearly all birds can be seen, at some time or other, flying over water, as evidenced by our respondents' unconcern with proposing species such as Pygmy Nuthatch and Black-throated Blue Warbler; note that our quiz bird's distinctly black mask fits well with both of those species. However, the quiz bird's uppertail coverts and tertials rule out those options, as does the back coloration. In fact, the back coloration should take us straight to the swallows without "passing 'Go' or collecting $200;" there just aren't that many ABA-area bird species that exhibit such color. Once there, we can quickly eliminate the brown swallows from consideration, as well as the red-rumped species and Barn Swallow. At this point, we're left with just one genus to consider: Tachycineta. Once here, we can quickly rule out Violet-green and Mangrove due to the lack of white extending up onto the rump and Bahama is eliminated due to our quiz bird's not-obviously-forked tail. I took this picture of a Tree Swallow at Cape May Point S.P., Cape May Co., NJ, in November 2008.


The following people (listed by submission date beginning with the earliest) submitted correct answers for the January Bird Photo Quiz—Tree Swallow:

  1. John Brett, Toronto, ON
  2. Wil Domke, Miami, FL
  3. John Hammond, Durham, North Carolina
  4. Spencer Hardy, Norwich, VT
  5. Matthew Daw, Raleigh, NC
  6. dan vice, barrigada, guam
  7. Evan Houston, Seattle, WA
  8. Graham Etherington, Norwich, England
  9. Lance Verderame, Livingston Manor, New York
  10. Matthew Rymkiewicz, New York, NY
  11. Stephen Joly, Kamloops, BC
  12. Paul Levesque, Vancouver, BC
  13. Adam Betuel, Terre Haute, IN
  14. Steve Arlow, Rochford, Essex, England
  15. Sam Burckhardt, Chicago, IL
  16. Richard Gibbons, Baton Rouge, LA
  17. Karl Erich Mayer, Saint Clair Shores, Michigan
  18. Jeremy Kimm, Victoria, BC
  19. Alan Gage, Estherville, IA
  20. Tony Coomer, Dumfries, VA
  21. Shaun Hicks, Morrisville, Pennsylvania
  22. Jim Mountjoy, Galesburg, IL
  23. Chris Warren, San Marcos, TX
  24. Mike Fialkovich, Pittsburgh, PA
  25. Elias Elias, Arcata
  26. Pam Myers, Santa Cruz, CA
  27. Larry Therrien, Belchertown, MA
  28. Kevin Kerr, Guelph, ON
  29. Ben Coulter, Etna, PA
  30. Claude Auchu, La Pocatière, Québec
  31. Zach Smith, Davis, Ca.
  32. Andre Moncrieff, Berrien Springs, MI
  33. Mike Burrell, Bancroft, ON
  34. Anders Wiig Nielsen, Denmark (Europe)
  35. Steve Hampton, Davis, CA
  36. Miriam Rognlie, Bozeman, MT
  37. Rob Lane, Charleston, SC
  38. Jimmy Warren, Schwenksville
  39. Priscilla Lai, Lindsay, Ontario, Canada
  40. Greg Schrott, Sebring, FL
  41. Michael Thompson, Derry, NH
  42. Josh Southern, Raleigh, NC
  43. David Yeany II, Cumberland, MD
  44. Colin Gjervold, Tampa, Florida
  45. Mike Wasilco, Caledonia, NY
  46. John Branchflower, Beaumont, CA
  47. Don Pendleton, Redwood City, CA
  48. J.B. Churchill, Frostburg, Maryland
  49. Tim McFadden, Southampton, Pa
  50. Lisa Moore, Seattle, WA
  51. Jim Flynn, Seattle, WA
  52. Keith Lott, Huron, Ohio
  53. David Clark, Norfolk, VA
  54. Chuck Sexton, Austin, Texas
  55. Blake Mathys, Williamstown, NJ
  56. Richard Jeffers, Santa Clara, CA
  57. Dave Slager, Columbus, Ohio
  58. Aaron Boone, Plainfield, IL
  59. David Bell, Sault Ste. Marie, ON
  60. Jacob Cooper, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
  61. Robert Packard, Riverside, CA
  62. Jim Hully, Salisbury, MA
  63. Josh Obrecht, Ames, IA
  64. Stephen Chang, New York, NY
  65. Barb Robertson, Ottawa, Ontario Canada
  66. Gary Potter, Sanger, CA
  67. Wayne Meyer, Denison, TX
  68. Jason McGuire, London, ON
  69. Greg Zupansic, Eugene, Oregon
  70. Harmony Coriddi, Marion, New York
  71. Robert Doster, Chico, CA
  72. Liston Rice, Houston, Texas
  73. Shane Blodgett, Brooklyn NY
  74. Liis Veelma, Winnipeg MB
  75. Jess Findlay, Burnaby, British Columbia
  76. Matthew Schneider, Silverton, Oregon
  77. Ruthie Stearns, Lincoln, NE
  78. Bradley Cernohorsky, Baltimore, Maryland
  79. Terri Everett, Big Rapids, MI
  80. David Hollie, Ringgold, GA
  81. Ed Harper, Carmichael, CA
  82. Daroczi J. Szilard, Tg.-Mures, Romania
  83. Ted Busby, Carleton Place, Ontario
  84. Gyekeny Gertrud, Targu Mures, Romania

How Did You Compare?

As stated in the quiz rules, answers must consist simply of the Common or English name exactly as it appears in the ABA Checklist.

The following list shows the number of submissions for each species guessed.

Tree Swallow
Ancient Murrelet
Marbled Murrelet
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Least Auklet
Pygmy Nuthatch
Xantus's Murrelet
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Black Tern
Black-Capped Gnatcatcher
Buller's Shearwater
Cassin's Auklet
Long-billed Murrelet
Northern Shrike
Northern Wheatear
Pigeon Guillemot
Roseate Tern
Snowy Plover
Vaux's Swift
Violet-Green Swallow
White-faced Storm-Petrel


The photo and answer for this quiz were supplied by Tony Leukering.