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Photo Quiz: February 2015 Birding

Oh, for crying out loud. What kind of a sick mind would do something like this? You’ll never see “real” birds like these ones.

And that’s the point. This image forces us to look at parts of the bird we might otherwise ignore. As you can see, these two birds are quite different. And their differences become more apparent, I think, when we’re made to look at them, as here, with their distracting heads lopped off. (Also, we’ve cut off the birds’ feet.) And here’s a similarity I’d never noticed: They both have black-tipped alulas. Cool!

15-1-13-01z [sans head and feet]



In a certain sense, I consider this photo to be more realistic than a photo of the undecapitated birds. In this image, the birds aren’t reduced to their field marks–those ingenious human constructs that allow us to bypass reality for the sake of putting a name on a bird. A Killdeer is a double breast band; a Barn Swallow is a forked tail; a Mountain Chickadee is a white eyebrow. That’s efficient, but it so often blinds us to the reality–and the wonder–of the whole bird.

These birds–with their heads and feet restored–appear in Tom Johnson’s “Featured Photo” in the February 2015 Birding, which will be mailing soon to ABA members. In the meantime, I have a question: Did you really know the difference in rectrix and remex patterns between these two birds? I can’t honestly say that I did. Thanks to Tom for this enlightening photo.

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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)

  • Dennis Shepler

    White Pelican (left) Wood Stork (right)

    • Ted Floyd

      Thanks, Dennis, but can you explain how you got to those IDs? Also, which species of white pelican, and why isn’t the other bird a King Vulture?

      • Ron

        My first thought was Palm Vulture (left) and White Pelican (right). Why, that’s just the first ID through my brain. But I’m a generalist, at this point I often need to consult a guide for confirmation. Unless, of course, I can see their heads!

      • Rick Wright

        Flip the wing and tail patterns and you get a reasonable approximation of an Egyptian vulture.

    • Kirk

      I think you need to check the tail feather colors (and size, if we’re assuming these are to scale)

      • Ted Floyd

        They are to scale. And this image shows how they really appeared together. This isn’t The Crossley Guide… 🙂

  • Ellison Orcutt

    Wood Stork, left (more black on underwing and tail), White Pelican, right (No black on tail, less on underwing).

  • Greg Neise

    “Did you really know the difference in rectrix and remex patterns between these two birds? I can’t honestly say that I did.”

    I have to say that I do. But that’s because of the amazing incursion of White Pelicans into Illinois in the past 15 years or so. It used to be, and big white bird with black primaries was something to get excited about. Now there are thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of White Pelicans cluttering up the skies over the Land of Lincoln. makes picking out the vagrant Wood Stork or Whooping Crane a bit of a challenge.

    • Ted Floyd

      Which brings up a biological question. Ever wondered why such unrelated birds as Snow Goose, Whooping Crane, Wood Stork, American White Pelican, White Ibis, and King Vulture all converged on the same plumage pattern of all-white with black primaries?

      • Ted Floyd

        The Bali Myna, meanwhile, probably got that way, evolutionarily, for another reason.

        And then there’s the great photographic-negative exception-to-the-rule, the Black Vulture.

        • Michael Retter

          You think? I’m not so sure. Hot humid environments are hard on feathers. See Golger’s Rule.

          • Ted Floyd

            In the case of the stunningly attired myna, I was thinking sexual selection, i.e., independent of natural selection.

            Paul Hess has had cool coverage in Birding of the confounding factor of feather mites, “autocorrelated” with both climate and melanin.

          • cestma

            Sexual selection is more correctly viewed as one method of natural selection, not independent of it.

          • Ryan Terrill

            Sexual Selection is natural selection

          • Ted Floyd

            Right on. Thanks for this correction.

        • Ryan Terrill

          Except BLVU still has dark outer primaris

          • Ryan Terrill

            White-winged Guan would be a good example but they don’t spend much time flying

      • Bryan

        Aren’t darker feathers less susceptible to wear?

      • Mike Slater

        There is some significant evidence that the melanin in the feathers makes them more resistant to wear and tear. A usefulfeature for feathers that make strike the ground or rub against each other. The makes the observation about the black alulas interesting!

        • cestma

          Such a cool comment about the alulas!

      • Ryan Terrill

        Because black feather are structurally stronger so outer primaries and other feathers that are closely linked to flight and exposed wear less when black. Its not just white birds, almost all the outer primaries of all birds that spend a considerable amount of time flying are dark

  • “These ones,” Ted? What does “ones” add to the sentence? Also, hopefully, anyone spending any significant time with me on the Smith Point, TX, tower knows well the difference between black innermost secondaries and white innermost secondaries. They also know the radically different “flock” behaviors of the two species.

    • Ted Floyd

      “Two species,” Tony? Diction, man, diction. Also, “hopefully,” we’re still friends?

      • “These” is a plural pronoun, the referent noun of which in this example is “birds.” We done already knowed that there be two of dem.

        • Ted Floyd

          “Madness in great ones must not unwatched go.”
          –William Shakespeare, Hamlet

          (In the present case, by the way, “these” is an adjective, not a pronoun. Perfectly analogous to “two,” in your “two species.”)

          • First, your Shakespeare “example” is inappropriate, as “ones” is necessary for understanding the sentence, as there is, otherwise, no object of the preposition “in” — it is the only (pro)noun there. Thus, it is radically different than your use of the word. Go ahead, try it without “ones.”

            Now, do the same for your sentence.

            Yes, I mis-spoke, er, mis-wrote. In your version, “these” is acting as an adjective. What I meant — and to get back to the main point — is that in the correct version, “these” is a pronoun.

            So, tell me how, specifically,

            “You’ll never see “real” birds like these ones.”

            differs in any material way (other than, of course, reading as if an illiterate high-school dropout wrote it) — which in writing/speaking is correctly imparting information such that the receiver of such understands your meaning, from

            “You’ll never see “real” birds like these.”

            There are two birds (well, most of two birds) in the picture and you
            nicely introduce that concept by using the word “these,” which, by
            definition, is plural. “Ones” adds nothing. If you wish not to be concise, then why not go whole hog:

            “You’ll never see “real” birds like these ones in the picture below of two birds with their heads, necks, and legs Photoshopically removed.”

            Your version is simply redundant. And reads like it was written by, well… see above.

            Of course, if you really want to seem illiterate, you need to use “be” or “been” anytime you find the need to use some form of the helping verb “is.”

            Finally, of course we’re still friends. I’m simply taking a page from the Floyd school of inter-personal discussion.

          • Ted Floyd

            I had in mind the bit about madness… 🙂

            Alright, so you’re willing to go to the mat with the Bard. But how ’bout the Dark Lord of the Sith?– “The Force is strong with this one.”

            Hopefully yours, –TF

            P.s. On the matter of birds, I’m still trying to figure out if we have a King Vulture in one of these images. I mean, Tom’s been spending a lot of time of late in King Vulture country.

            P.p.s. And, Tony, if you really want to know why “these ones” is okay here, and not necessarily the same as (“simply redundant” with) “these,” try this:


  • Mike Patterson

    Why do so many birds (especially large birds) have black primary tips? Melanin…

    Melanin (particularly eumelanin) provides structural re-enforcement. Eumelanins add to the structural integrity of flight feather which is
    most probably why large, flight dependent birds routinely have black
    wingtips. Melanins may also promote drying of feathers by absorbing
    radiant heat and there is also some evidence that melanin may inhibit
    bacterial degradation of feathers.

  • Dennis Shepler

    Well, Ted, your comment woke me up. I begin to perceive the error of my way. I now concede that the bird on the left is not an American White Pelican. Bird on right American White Pelican. Other pelican species? Not Australian, Dalmatian, or Spot-billed. Great White… hmm…unsure.
    The wings of the bird on the left don’t seem “correct” for King Vulture (the bird on the left doesn’t seem right). They do not appear broad enough and the first six primaries don’t have the right angle of attack. It been a while since I’ve seen King Vulture. Soo, I’ll now go with bird on left is Wood Stork. Await your reply to continue this endeavor.

  • Robert Proniewych

    Wood Stork on the left.American White Pelican on the right.

  • Alvaro Jaramillo

    Maybe I am wrong, but I would hazzard to guess that the pelican, the bird on the right is one that most people found easier? Well, it was for me so maybe I am projecting. But there is a very specific reason for this, and it is the radically different and relatively rare wing structure. Like many long winged seabirds, the humerus is very long on pelicans. This is the bone that heads out of the body and angles back towards the tail, before the radius-ulna take over and angle forward to the “bend” of the wing. The relative lenght of the “hand” = section with primaries, is much smaller in a pelican or albatross than many other large birds like storks or eagles. Here I see it about 1/3 the length of the wing. This may seem subtle, but it is a huge structural difference in the wing. On birds like this is where you see the very rare feather tract, the humerals!

    • Ted Floyd

      Thanks for this cool insight, Alvaro. And, hey, if you want to see a long-winged seabird, try this one on for size! In the second image, the little gray insets are: California Condor (bottom left) and Royal Albatross (bottom right).

  • Michael Retter

    I believe the bare skin along the radius/ulna and the white undertail coverts extending past the tail tip are big clues to the ID of left bird.

  • Peter

    American White Pelican on the right and Wood Stork on the left.

  • Pingback: Birding Online: February 2015 « ABA Publications()

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