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Another Photo Quiz!

You’ve read Diana Doyle’s “Tools of the Trade” article, appearing on pp. 54–59 in your September 2012 Birding. No doubt, you’ve been tantalized by the photo and caption on p. 56. What are those birds?

Indeed, What are those birds? You tell us! Here is the full-size image:


Doyle WebExtra - image
This photo is from Pueblo County, Colorado, in July 2012. The photographer is former Winging It Editor Bill Maynard, but he’s not talking.  Please share your ideas in the “Comments” field below.


Note: The answers have now been posted to the ABA website. Click here for the answers—and for other Birding Online content.

—Ted Floyd, Oct. 13th



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Ted Floyd

Ted Floyd

Editor, Birding magazine at American Birding Association
Ted Floyd is the Editor of Birding magazine, and he is broadly involved in other programs and initiatives of the ABA. He is the author of more than 100 magazine and journal articles, and has written four recent books, including an ABA title, the ABA Guide to Birds of Colorado. Floyd is a frequent speaker at birding festivals and state ornithological society meetings, and he has served on the boards of several nonprofit organizations. Mainly, he listens to birds at night.
Ted Floyd

Latest posts by Ted Floyd (see all)

  • I see short-billed dowitchers, dunlin and some kind of plover, perhaps a snowy plover.

  • And, I think I see a sandpiper? Maybe Baird’s sandpiper?

  • Darlene: THANK YOU for your analysis. And you’ve pointed out a deficiency in my presentation: We need a system in place here. Let’s number the birds 1-7, left to right. Thus:

    Leftmost bird, wings high: #1.

    Immediately in front of #1, smaller bird: #2.

    Below and to our right of #2: #3.

    Above and to our right of #3, with its wings swept back: #4.

    Below and to our right of #4, wings held close to the plane of the body: #5.

    (Thus, #2-5 are the four smallish birds in the image.)

    Lowest bird in the image: #6.

    Leading, rightmost bird in the image: #7.

    Apologies, then, but can we start over? Let’s refer to the birds as #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, and #7, and we’ll go from there.

    This is fun!

  • Mary

    Okay, I need the practice, so I’ll give it a try.

    #1 Stilt Sandpiper
    #2 Can’t really make this one out, seems to be most like #3
    #3 Pectoral Sandpiper
    #4 Baird’s Sandpiper
    #5 Baird’s Sandpiper
    #6 Short-Billed Dowitcher
    #7 Lesser Yellow Legs

    I’ll be happy if I got any of these right!


  • OK. I think Mary got them pretty much right. I was mostly make generalized guesses. I take back my dunlin possibility, I think it’s a Baird sandpiper. So, here goes my analysis of each bird:

    #1 Lesser yellowlegs
    #2 and #3 might be Baird’s sandpipers
    #4 is a plover, perhaps a snowy or semipalmated plover.
    #5 might be another Baird’s sandpiper
    #6 is a short-billed dowitcher
    #7 is a lesser yellowlegs

    #3 is the one that looked “Dunlin-ish” to me, but it’s bill isn’t droopy enough.

  • Ted Floyd

    Darlene and Mary, I have the same question for you that I have for the jaeger guys: Why? Why do you think these birds are what you think they are?


  • For #1 and 7, the yellow legs and grayish body say yellowlegs, but the body size, length, head shape, bill length and markings say lesser yellowlegs and not greater yellowlegs. For the ones I suspect to be Baird’s sandpipers, I think they are because of their more moderate, “sandpiper sized” bills that are straight and not very droopy, which rule out western sandpipers and dunlin. They seem to be the wrong color brown for sanderling, which should be transitioning to winter plumage and wouldn’t have any chest markings, or that much. Plus, those birds in this photo have a very faint eye stripe that I don’t think sanderlings would have this time of year. I think the one with the shorter bill, #4 is a plover. It has the head and bill shape of a plover and not a sandpiper.. It is more likely a semipalmated plover because I don’t think snowies pass through there this time of year.

    I think I want to change #6 to long-billed dowitcher because short-billed dowitchers would be out if range in that area and tend to stay near salt water and the coast.

    I am a “low intermediate” birder, so the probability of my answers being right is lower than average.

  • It wouldn’t let me type anymore, but I also wanted to say that the two yellowlegs have shorter and straighter bills that a greater yellowlegs.

  • And sanderlings wouldn’t be in Colorado, but Baird’s sandpipers are.

  • William Hutcheson

    1. Stilt Sandpipe
    2. Western Sandpiper
    3. Western Sandpiper
    4. Semipalmated Sandpiper
    5. Western Sandpiper
    6. Long-billed Dowitcher
    7. Lesser Yellowlegs

    Willy Hutcheson
    Concord, MA

  • Ted Floyd

    Alright, William, you’ve just added three new species to the mix: Stilt Sandpiper (1), Western Sandpiper (2, 3, 5), and Semipalmated Sandpiper (4). Now the inevitable next question: Why?


  • I like Lesser Yellowlegs for #1 and #7: long legs, barred sides, shorter bill. Bill seems short but #1 is actually behind #2 and the bill tip is hidden.

    For the smaller birds:
    #4: Least Sandpiper: short profile; underwing pattern with forked black leading edge.
    #2, 3 and 5: Western Sandpiper would have rufous on head. Spotted belly of #3 suggests Semipalmated Sandpiper as next best choice.

    Steve Moore

  • Willy Hutcheson

    Stilt Sandpiper shows strongly barred flanks, rufous cap with distinct eye line, greenish (not yellow) legs, and fairly heavy streaking on the sides of the breast.

    Western Sandpiper is my call for three of the peeps because they show either long, drooping bills, rufous in the scapulars, or both. The streaking on the sides to me indicates Western rather than Semipalmated.

    The smaller-billed peep is the one I’m most hesitant about, with the choice being Least vs. Semipalmated. Based on primary projection and size comparison with the putative Westerns, I decided to go with Semipalmated, even though the bird has some warmer tones, is quite rotund and the underwing is fairly dark.

  • Justin Bosler

    #1: Stilt Sandpiper – longish, yellow-olive legs, strongly barred underparts, rufous cheek, bold supercilium
    #2: Western Sandpiper – small peep with relatively long, tapered bill and marked flanks
    #3: Western Sandpiper – ditto
    #4: Semipalmated Sandpiper – small peep with short, blunt-tipped bill and pale face and strong supercilium/ dark cheek
    #5: Western Sandpiper – ditto as #2 & #3
    #6: Short-billed Dowitcher – spotted breast sides, orange underparts (not rufous as in LBDO), whitish vent/ undertail coverts and, of course, date.
    #7: Lesser Yellowlegs – clearly a yellowlegs with a slim appearance, small in comparison to dowitcher, and short bill.

  • Mary

    Well, was out on a birding trip here in NJ, and we got luck when a SB Dowitcher flew in with a stilt sandpiper, and they were sort of hanging out with each other the whole time, and with the Lesser Yellowlegs who were also present that day. So, that was my starting point. I knew the one bird was a SBDow because of the color of its breast and the overall shape, and bill shape as well. Then I worked back from there on each of the birds to see if they were these three again. The LYLegs has this striping on the coverts and the yellow legs, not a greater because the bill is straight. The first bird, the stilt SP, this one I was not sure of because it would have to be out of breeding plumage – that may be possible in July, though. I based this on the size relative to the SBDow, and the coloring of the wings, darker striping underneath, and the headcap. Plus overall shape. Then, well, the small birds, sigh, you’re making me work here! Bird #2, like I said looks most closely to #3, which I think is pectoral because of the dark markings on the neck and relative size. I called the others as Bairds because of the clean white underneath, with just that one notch of brown under the wing, and the slight neck coloring. The bird whose wings are down appears to be somewhat brownish. Does any of this make sense?

  • Mary

    Ah, but Stilt Sandpiper is not new to the mix. I mentioned it above!

    = )

  • I’m really curious about the what they really are. I hope you post the answer. 🙂

  • 1. Stilt Sandpiper (leg to tail ratio, russet auriculars)
    2. Western Sandpiper
    3. Western Sandpiper (chevrons on sides of breast)
    4. Semipalmated Sandpiper (tiny, blunt bill, much white on face)
    5. Least Sandpiper (small pointed bill, heavy streaking on chest)
    6. Long-billed Dowitcher (note the black-to-white ratio of barring on tail)
    7. Lesser Yellowlegs (dainty black bill, equal to length of head)

  • Ted Floyd

    Looks like we’ve settled on a dowitcher for bird #6. As to Short-billed vs. Long-billed, though, it would appear to be a “statistical dead heat,” or “too close to call,” or “within the margin of error,” or whichever other election-season[*] metaphor you wish to employ.

    Anyone else wish to comment on bird #6?

    Note that the answers to this quiz soon will be posted on the ABA website.

    But let’s keep the conversation going just a little longer. It’s a great learning experience!


    [*]That is to say, U.S.A. election season. Hi, Alan Wormington.

  • Ted Floyd

    Darlene & all:

    The answers have been posted to the ABA website. Here ya go:

  • Unfortunately, I can’t afford an ABA membership, so I will never know the answers. :(. Too bad, because I really wanted to know what they were.

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