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Photo Quiz: December 2015 Birding

Hmm… Well, it’s a decent photo, and the bird is well presented. This can’t be all that hard, can it?

It’s hard. It’s very hard.

Where to start? The location is northeastern Alberta, and the date is July 14. The location rules out, oh, Seaside Sparrow and Bronzed Cowbird. And the date is important: Think about what sorts of birds are out and about in central Canada around Bastille Day.

In this installment of the “Featured Photo,” the taxonomic approach is especially advisable. What family is this bird in? If you can get that, what genus is it in?

An analysis of this photo appears in the print and online versions of the December 2015 Birding, hitting members’ mailboxes later this week. In the meantime, let’s see what we can do with this photo.

Any takers?



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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)

  • Sharon Johnston

    Juvenile Meadowlark??

  • Terry Bronson

    Similar to what happened earlier this year, hovering the cursor over the photo shows the underlying link that gives away the bird’s identity.

    • Fixed. Thanks.

  • Will Brooks

    Wow that is one funky looking bird! I’m thinking juvenile warbler because of the bill structure and it appears to have white corners to the tail feathers. Juvenile Palm Warbler? The white on the tail, yellowish rump and black feet make sense for that.

  • Thrill Anselmo

    You can get a good sense of size here, and the bill tells a lot.

  • Scott Weidensaul

    I’ll confess my very first thought was a juvie pipit, mostly because of the extensive white on the tail, but the bill, color and pattern are all wrong, and the greenish tones point to a warbler. It’s a juvenile western palm, but the white seems remarkably extensive for an HY bird — although the pale outer web peeking out on R5 (which is present, I think, in all age/sex classes) may make the extent of the white appear greater than it is. The indistinct, brownish wing bars are a good mark.

  • Scott Pendleton

    WHite outer tail feathers- differentials would include spotted towhee, various longspurs, pipit, and some warblers. Beak rules out all but warblers and that is a honking beak for a warbler. Only ones that would have a green back and white on tail are Black-throated green, Cape May and Palm. I’m going to rule out BTGW because of lack of any discernible pattern. The coin flip comes down to Palm Warbler because of the extent of the green and I would think even a recently fledged Cape May would have a little more pattern on wings and head.

  • Herb Holubar

    y r nobodies guessing thrushe ? 😉

  • Logan Lalonde

    Is this a Swainson’s Thrush?

  • Sarah Mayhew

    When you click on the bird photo from the email, the title at the top says what bird it is. :-0

    • That can’t be fixed from the email, but it’s no longer the case in the post here.

  • Adam Roesch

    I see:
    1. Overall brownish and kindof mottled.
    2. Yellow-green trimmed flight feathers (primaries, secondaries… and inner tail feathers, too?).
    3. White corners to the tail.. outer two feathers on the inner web.
    4. A long, sortof cylindrical bill with a bit of a hook at the tip, makes me think vireo or waterthrush.

    My first thought based on shape was Yellow Warbler, or an even fatter-billed warbler. I’m definitely thinking fledgling (which would make it hard) as many field marks are different.

    Vireos and waterthrushes are both wrong due to those white tail feathers. So would be thrushes and tanagers.

    Among birds that make it that far into Canada, we’re left with Pipits and Setophaga warblers (Black and White Warblers’ bills are too thin and downcurved).

    I’m pretty ignorant on Pipits, so I check the distribution maps for Pipits and rule them out for mid-July. (American Pipits are only passage migrants through NE Alberta.)

    Pine Warblers have bills like that, but maps rule them out as well.

    Yellow-green edging is found in Palm, Cape May, and Yellow Warblers. But Yellow Warblers don’t have white tail spots. I can’t say for sure that their fledglings don’t have white, but that would really surprise me.

    Palm and Cape May both have sharper bills than that, though. I checked some online photos and I see some Western subspecies Palm individuals have thicker bills like this one, and the tail-white extending to the tip and the indisctinct wing-bars match what I’d expect there. I think that’s what it is, but I also would have expected a darker eye-line.

    • Tony Leukering

      Virtually all juvenile warblers (and the white spots on the INNER webs of the outer rectrices prove the warbler ID), like nearly all passerines, have the wing and tail feathers when they leave the nest that they’ll have in migration, winter, spring, and into the summer. (Get a copy of either Pyle or Howell and learn the aspects of molt so important in bird ID.). Thus, the bird’s tail pattern and lack of distinct wing bars prove that Will and the two Scotts are right.

      • Tony Leukering

        Oops, please replace the ‘and’ between ‘Howell’ and ‘learn’ with ‘to.’

  • Ted Floyd

    For folks who are saying Western Palm Warbler, why are you specifying Western? Yes, I know it’s the Palm Warbler subspecies that occurs in northeastern Alberta–but can this bird be told from an Eastern/Yellow Palm Warbler? Not a rhetorical question: I’d love to know.

    Oh, and to those of you who may accidentally have seen the “answer” (i.e., in the filename–sorry ’bout that), I hope that’s not part of the analysis. We’re getting credible “chatter,” back-channel, that the bird in the Featured Photo cannot be identified as a Palm Warbler–or isn’t even a Palm Warbler at all!

    Is this fun, or what?

    • Ted Floyd

      One more “fun” remark. Some pretty good birders are wondering, back-channel, whether this might be a Blackpoll.

      I’m just saying.

      And I’m just the messenger.

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

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