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New Photo Quiz: May/June 2013 Birding

It’s early summer in the northern hemisphere. What better time for a photo quiz on–wait for it–redpolls!

Seriously, if you’re on a bird records committee, you’re likely dealing with redpolls right now. Immense numbers of redpolls descended upon the Lower 48 this past winter, and quite a number of them were rare Hoary Redpolls. Records committees are still sorting it all out. And if you saw a rare Hoary and dutifully submitted documentation to your records committee, then you’re likely waiting for a decision on your bird. For a number of us in the sweltering Lower 48, redpolls are still very much on our minds.

Thus, a photo quiz on redpolls. A full analysis will appear in the print version of the July/August 2013 Birding. For now, let’s see if we can work them out among ourselves, right here, right now, at The ABA Blog.

Here goes:

13-3-16-99 [Quiz Bird A]
Quiz Bird A. Upper Peninsula of Michigan, January 2013. 

13-3-16-99 [Quiz Bird B]
Quiz Bird B. Upstate New York, February 2013.



13-3-16-99 [Quiz Bird C]

Quiz Bird C. Upstate New York, February 2013.


If you think these are easy, then crank it up a notch. How old is each quiz bird? Male or female? And what subspecies?

Again, the “official” answers will appear a bit later, but let’s for now try to work this out together, right here.

Have at it!

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  • Rick Poulin

    I will give it a go.

    In my opinion the first two are “exilipes” Hoary Redpolls. The first being an adult male the second an adult female.

    The third bird with obvious undertail streaking is a “flammea” Common Redpoll probably a yound male.

    Rick Poulin

  • Julian Hough

    My guess at these are as follows:
    First bird is an exilipes Hoary Redpoll, an adult (primary coverts edged grey, no molt contrast in greater coverts) female (limited pink).
    Second bird is an exilipes Hoary Redpoll, a HY/first-winter (molt contrast in greater coverts, browner primary coverts) male (pale, limited flank streaking and relatively pallid-looking)
    Third bird is trickier…a HY (narrow, brown primary coverts, no apparent molt contrast in greater coverts) female (heavily streaked and brownish). Based on the pale birds #1 one and #2 two, it is easy to jump to flammea since the predominance of brown tones and streaked under tail would support this. But, the plumage looks “loose”, the bill is small and the flanks are perhaps not heavily marked for flammea. Hoaries, presumably HY females can show streaked under tail coverts, so this does not rule out that species and I think we do not have a full grip on how flame-like some HY females may be. Based on current wisdom, it is probably a flammea, but I’m not confident I can rule out a really dark HY female Hoary??

  • Paul Hertzel

    I believe all three are exilipes Hoary Redpolls. The top is an adult male, the center bird is an adult female, and the bottom bird is a juvenile, probably female.

    Paul Hertzel
    Mason City, IA

  • Ted Floyd

    Thanks to Rick Poulin, Julian Hough, and Paul Hertzel for their analyses. Looks like we have consensus on birds 1 and 2. And it looks like we have anything but consensus on bird #3. We have one guess on that bird for Common, one guess for Hoary, and one guess for Common or Hoary.

    I like birds like #3.

    And I like birders like Rick, Julian, and Paul. Thanks, guys. Anybody else have ideas or insights about bird #3?

  • Ted Floyd

    Here’s a radical idea.

    Redpolls are vocal, even in winter when they descend to the Lower 48. So how about factoring vocalizations into the ID process??

    Nathan Pieplow provides some ideas, insights, and cold, hard facts:

  • Thanks Ted,

    I think #3 has a “feel” of a Hoary, with that nice small bill and cute look, but bill measurements overlap, so it may be a misleading feature on some individual Hoaries that have intermediate sized bills. It does have some contrasting greyish scapulars though, which you do want Hoaries to show, but again, with such a clinal and variable species, there is so much variation between the ages and sexes, that it is hard to assign consistent features to one or more individuals. Pale birds=Hoary is a conventional approach, but I think darker birds, perhaps like #3, do not get the attention and are overlooked or unidentifiable, so they essentially get ruled out of the pool of variability. I am still sure I would not want to argue the case for #3 more than I did initially. 🙂

  • Paul Hertzel

    Since there is hesitation regarding the third bird, let me make the case for exilipes. First, the bird is a juvenile, as indicated by Julian Hough. In both Common and Hoary Redpolls, the heaviest flank streaking occurs in the juveniles. The streaking on this bird is heavier than we would like to see in adult Hoary, but not to worry – it’s a juvenile. And for juvenile Common Redpoll, the streaking is not nearly heavy enough. So either it is an unusually pale juvenile Common Redpoll, or it is a perfectly normal exilipes Hoary Redpoll.

    Furthermore, the ground color of the nape is actually grayish with flecks of brown. Juvenile Common Redpoll should have a darker, buffy-brown ground color to the feathering of the nape. In addition, in juvenile Common Redpoll, the crown colors are so dark, the red poll is often lost in a blur of darkness. But in this bird, the red poll stands out clearly. So either this is an unusually pale juvenile Common Redpoll, or it is a perfectly normal exilipes.

    Regarding the vent, a few modest streaks are okay in exilipes, as long as they are few and thin. This bird has a few thin streaks. I think it is almost certainly a juvenile exilipes Hoary Redpoll, probably a female since there is no early indication of any rose color underneath.

    Paul Hertzel
    Mason City, IA

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