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While there are quite a few thin-billed passerines, our quiz bird’s thin, pointed bill and heavily-streaked chest should send us straight to the wood warblers without passing ‘Go’ or collecting $200. Once there, the aforementioned features quickly narrow our options.
Thin bills are generally used for probing into tight spaces, a la that of Brown Creeper, which, of course, has a longer bill that is pale below and which lacks streaking on the underparts. And yellow.
The thin bill rules out most of the Dendroica warblers, as that genus tends to wider, blunt bills that are the bills of warbler generalists. However, most of the thin-billed warblers are, or were until recently, members of Vermivora. Though most are now found in Oreothlypis (with the two “winged” warblers—Blue-winged and Golden-winged—being the only extant species remaining in Vermivora), these warblers are, to a species, unstreaked, even in juvenal plumage. Well, Orange-crowned certainly sports streaks, but they’re vague and blurry, not the distinct and blackish streaks of our quiz bird.
Hmm. Perhaps considering foraging styles will help us here. Our probing warblers not among the current or former Vermivoras and in no particular order:
Worm-eating Warbler has a thin bill used to extract tasty morsels from curled dead leaves, but that species, too, is unstreaked, and has a pale mandible;
Yellow-throated Warbler has a long, thin bill, but lacks streaking in the middle of the chest; and
Black-and-white Warbler is a bark prober like Brown Creeper, but sports either blacker and wider streaking or grayer streaking and with the underside of the mandible paler.
Hmm. We could, I guess, use the bird’s plumage. While some might think that the bird’s plumage is not that distinctive, I’m sure that some also went straight to the correct answer via that plumage. That’s because our bird has a streaked throat and of all the ABA-area parulids, only one sports that feature. Also, the bird’s blackish streaking is fairly well-defined and overlaid on what yellow there is on the underparts. ABA-area warblers with both yellow on the underparts and blackish streaking either have the yellow separate from the streaking (a la Yellow-rumped) or the blackish streaking is bolder and laid over brighter and more evenly-yellow bits.
In the winter, Cape May Warbler is primarily a nectarivore, thus it has a thin probing bill. That bill is also fairly useful for picking tiny insects off the bark of introduced elms at Cape May Point, Cape May Co., NJ, particularly on 10 September 2010 when I took this picture.
The following people (listed by submission date beginning with the earliest) submitted correct answers for the January Bird Photo Quiz—Cape May Warbler:
The following list shows the number of submissions for each species guessed.
The photo and answer for this quiz were supplied by Tony Leukering.