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Featured Photo, a.k.a. New Photo Quiz, January-February 2014 Birding

First things first. The quiz. Here goes:

14-1-17-01 [geese] LO-REZ

If you just want to play the quiz, that’s great. Skip the part below, and scroll straight down to the comments.



And now the rest of the story…

…as explained on p. 66 of the January/February 2014 issue of Birding:


The king is dead! Long live the king!

One of the most enduring and endearing offerings in Birding magazine has been the photo quiz. Why? What’s the allure? On the one hand, the photo quiz is, well, a quiz. Trivia. A challenge. Birders love facts and challenges. On the other hand, the photo quiz is educational. In analyzing the quiz images ourselves and then reading the quizmaster’s official answers, we learn about bird identification. Birders love learning about bird ID.

In the past, the photo quiz was, for most ABA members, a game of solitaire. A reader would work out the identification (or not), then wait two months for the definitive answer to appear in Birding. The internet’s changed that. Now we put the quiz birds online, and readers work out the ID together. The process is fun, challenging, and educational. The online photo quizzes are consistently among the most frequently viewed and most frequently commented on features at our website. But there’s a sense in which we’ve been a victim of our success: For many readers, the quiz has been “solved” long before the next issue goes to press.

So we’re going to tweak the venerable photo quiz just a bit. Here’s the deal: We’ll still post the images at our website, we’ll still work the answers out together online, we’ll still give you the opportunity to quiz yourself in the magazine, but (there’s always a “but”…) you won’t have to wait two months for the answer in print. Instead, Tom Johnson’s analysis of the image will appear in the same issue in which the quiz appears—but on a different page.

One other change. We’re going to focus on one photo in particular, which we’re going to call the “Featured Photo.” Which brings us to the January/February 2014 Featured Photo. Two geese would seem to be involved. What are they? As usual, you can go online for discussion and speculation: For this installment only, you’ll have to wait until next issue for Johnson’s analysis and official answer. Then, starting with the March/April 2014 Featured Photo, the process will be just as we have outlined it above.

In the meantime, let’s have some fun with these geese—especially that somewhat odd-looking one at left…

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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

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  • Rick Wright

    Dying to jump in on this one: would somebody please start the discussion?
    (smiling symbol)

    • Zach

      The second bird is obviously a barnacle goose. #1 is either a very small canada or a cackling. The bill looks stubby enough for cackling, but the head seems too round, not square enough. I’m also intrigued by the white on the forehead. Sibley has the lesser canada as still significantly larger than a barnacle. I wonder if this could be a barnacle x canada hybrid?

      • Zach again

        (Or BARGxCACG, but I don’t know if they hybridize or not.)

        • Mary

          They definitely do!

  • Chris W

    I guess I’ll start by saying that the goose on the left looks a little weird.

  • Michael David

    I’d bet on either Barnacle x Canada or Barnacle x Cackling on the left… no time to do the research on distinguishing those two right now!

  • Kevin

    The bird on the left definitely has some Barnacle Goose in it because of the dark chest and white spot on the forehead. My guess is Barnacle x Cackling hybrid because of size (I assume a Barnacle x Canada would be slightly larger?).

    • Mary

      I’m leaning towards this answer, too. I’m kind of picky with my Cackling geese though, so I’m not 100% the bill is stubby enough. It seems intermediate. I guess we’ll have to wait and see. Could also be a Barnacle X Lesser Canada, too!

  • I think the bird on the left is a Cackling Goose even though it has some white on the forehead. Sibley’s Guide to birds on page 75 states “occasional variants of all populations have dark cheeks or white forehead”. Maybe this is one of those variants?

  • Terry Bronson

    Going waaaay out on a limb, I’d suggest the Canada-type bird is a Richardson’s Cackling Goose X Pale-bellied Brant hybrid juvenile. Both species are about the same size. The head looks slightly blocky to me and the bill is slightly stubby–points favoring a Cackling parent. Juvenile Brants do not have necklaces and the breast would be very dark, according to Sibley. The supposed whitish forehead spot is so small as to have little ID value to me. As for the Barnacle Goose type, I thought of a hybrid because of the semi-dark back, but I see nothing else that would indicate it isn’t a pure Barnacle.

  • Sean Walters

    My personal thought is that the bird on the left is a definitely a hybrid. I too had the thought of Brant x Cackling flash through my mind, but all the photos I found of this match depicted birds that lacked any white on the face. I’m leaning towards Barnacle mixed with Lesser Canada or Richardson’s Cackling. The size definitely seems to indicate Cackling ancestry. Something about that bill though. It seems slightly long for what I imagine a bill between a Richy Cackling and Barnacle would look like. The bird on the right is definitely a Barnacle Goose.

  • Rick Wright

    I’m going to learn a lot here. I don’t think there’s any doubt that the bird on the left is of mixed ancestry, but I’m wondering, like the rest, whether there’s any way to tell whether the “other” Branta in the mix is the Canada or the cackling goose. Over the past few winters, as birds like this have appeared on the east coast, I’ve noticed that they are more or less routinely identified as cackling x barnacle geese, but given the relative scarcity of cackling geese at most of the sites where barnacle geese occur in North America, I’d think that hybridization with a Canada goose would be far more likely. But how can we know?

  • Ted Floyd

    It’s interesting to see Brant being considered here. And here’s a “cultural” consideration: If you’re looking online for bernicla x leucopsis hybrids, don’t restrict yourself to Google searches for “Brant” + “Barnacle Goose” + “hybrid.” Tweak your search to “Brent Goose” (the name in Eurasia) + “Barnacle Goose” + “hybrid,” and you will get additional hits.

    • Ted Floyd

      You could even search for “Bernicle” (with an “e”) Goose, but I don’t think that will greatly increase your hittage.

      • Ted Floyd

        Just thought of something. The Brant has something in common with these bird species: Cinnamon Teal, Great Frigatebird, Laughing Gull, Black-headed Gull, and Common Nighthawk.

        All of those birds have scientific names that translate to the standard English name of *another* bird species: cyanoptera (“blue-winged”) for the Cinnamon Teal; minor (“Lesser”) for the Great Frigatebird; atricilla (“black-headed,” sorta) for the Laughing Gull; ridibundus (“laughing,” more or less) for the Black-headed Gull; and minor (“Lesser”) for the Common Nighthawk.

        And now the Brant’s Branta bernicla, whose name means–wait for it–Barnacle Goose.

  • Jeff Witters

    How about F2 offspring: backcross of barnacle X can/cack hybrid mated to can/cack? It mostly looks can/cack except for size (possibly), the bit of white on forehead, and darker breast that is only darker brown rather than black. Otherwise retains bill shape and size, overall brown tones of its predominant can/cack parentage.

    • Rick Wright

      Those lovely wing coverts are barnacle-like, too. Wonder how many generations that trait can persist through.

  • Mr. X

    I think dat won dese ere birdys be e Barnacle Goose (B. ???) and dat de udder be a strangy mongoose??? Perchance a Barnacle x Cackling Goose hybrid … there were three reported in n. NJ this past december with a Barnacle Goose.

  • CarolynVance

    The goose on the left looks like the “dusky” (occidentalis) Canada to me and the Barnacle is on the right.

  • Dave Irons

    I have an acquaintance (in Oregon) who keeps waterfowl, including both Cacklers and Barnacle Geese. He had two free-flying hybrids (Barnacle X Cackling) that looked just like this bird. They disappeared for a few weeks early last spring (2013). By chance I happened to find and photograph them while they were on the lam. One day I was at his place and they had returned, looking exactly like the two birds that I photographed about 30 miles from his home. They looked very much like the bird on the left. You can take Brant out of the equation. First, if both parent species have solid dark breasts, why would their offspring have considerably paler breast? Further, I would be surprised if the offspring of a parent pair that combined a solid dark back of a Brant and the dark frosted back of the Barnacle Goose would have a back pattern that is lighter and more frosted than either of the presumed parent species. The back pattern of this bird is very much like that of a Ridgway’s Cackling Goose (B. h. minima), but the bill seems too large for this to be a Ridgeway’s X Barnacle cross. Knowing where this photo would be helpful in figuring out potential parent pairs. I would put my chips on Barnacle X Cackling (subspecies uncertain).

  • Jaden Miller

    Left is a Crackling Goose and right is a Barnacle Goose I have never seen either of these birds but see a lot about them. 🙂

  • lalit kumar

    There is a online quiz and you win prize..

    see more :

  • Ted Floyd

    The answer has been revealed at last! ABA members have already received an advance copy of the PDF of Tom Johnson’s definitive analysis in the imminent March/April 2014 issue of Birding. (The March/April issue is at the printer right now.)

    If you’re not an ABA member, and would like to receive the PDF, please contact me offline. You can email me at tfloyd “at” aba “dot” org.

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