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The Most Evil Photo Quiz Ever

You’ve heard of The Most Interesting Man in the World, yes? Well, Amar Ayyash is on anybody’s shortlist for The Most Interesting Birder in America. Not just interesting, but generous, intelligent, and, in his way, as All-American as they get. To see what we mean, read the interview with Amar [ABA member account required for full access] in the June 2016 Birding.

During the final stages of production for the June issue, we had to bump an article. Disaster! What to do? Well, I got on the phone with The Most Interesting Birder in America, and begged him for an article. As in: Amar, can you deliver the whole thing by tomorrow evening?

What can I say?–He came through, big time.

The premise of Amar’s article [ABA member account required for full access] is disarmingly simple: Go to your local ball field or fishing pier, and look at gulls. Do it in the summer. Right now. What could be simpler? And, yet, if you know gulls, you know that gulls in summer–bleached, battered, and blasted by sun and surf–are perhaps the greatest ID challenge for American birders. You’ve heard of birders who “don’t do” gulls? Well, even some gull enthusiasts–they’re called “larophiles”–don’t do gulls in summer.

Isn’t that ironic? What could be more simplistically, essentially American than seagulls by the beach in summer? We all notice them. But how often do we try to put names to them? Here’s your chance. Amar took this photo along the coast of Massachusetts in July of 2015. You can almost smell the surf and feel the sea breeze. You can hear the idle banter–can’t you?–of beach goers, and the life guard’s whistle. And seagulls squealing. It’s so…simple.

Well, what are they?

Gulls at Race Point Beach, Massachusetts, July 20, 2015. Photo by © Amar Ayyash.

Gulls at Race Point Beach, Massachusetts, July 20, 2015. Photo by © Amar Ayyash.


In discussing the gulls in this photo quiz, please refer to the numbering scheme in this image.

In discussing the gulls in this photo quiz, please refer to the numbering scheme in this image.


Before we get going, how about a hint? See if you can ID the gulls in this image, taken at the same place and on the same date. If you get these three, you’re well positioned for the flock of 56.

Gulls at Race Point Beach, Massachusetts; July 20, 2015. Photo by © Amar Ayyash.

Gulls at Race Point Beach, Massachusetts, July 20, 2015. Photo by © Amar Ayyash.

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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)

  • Rick Wright

    I have three things that make me the ideal person to start the discussion:

    1. no pride
    2. no shame
    3. a busy day full of important tasks.

    The birds:

    1. lesser black-backed gull
    2. great black-backed gull
    3. herring gull (presumptively an American herring gull)
    4. herring gull
    5. herring gull
    6. lesser black-backed gull
    7. herring gull
    8. lesser black-backed gull
    9. lesser black-backed gull
    10. herring gull
    11. great black-backed gull
    12. great black-backed gull
    13. great black-backed gull
    14. lesser black-backed gull
    15. herring gull
    16. herring gull
    17. great black-backed gull
    18. herring gull
    19. great black-backed gull
    20. herring gull
    21. herring gull
    22. herring gull
    23. herring gull
    24. herring gull
    25. lesser black-backed gull
    26. herring gull
    27. great black-backed gull
    28. herring gull
    29. lesser black-backed gull
    30. herring gull
    31. great black-backed gull
    32. herring gull
    33. lesser black-backed gull
    34. herring gull
    35. great black-backed gull
    36. herring gull
    37. herring gull
    38. herring gull
    39. herring gull
    40. herring gull
    41. herring gull
    42. lesser black-backed gull
    43. herring gull
    44. herring gull
    45. herring gull
    46. herring gull
    47. herring gull
    48. lesser black-backed gull
    49. herring gull
    50. lesser black-backed gull
    51. herring gull
    52. herring gull
    53. great black-backed gull
    54. great black-backed gull
    55. herring gull
    56. great black-backed gull
    57. herring gull
    58. herring gull


    • Amar Ayyash

      57/58. Rocked it! What about that #9, EH?

  • Steve Hampton

    Since I think I’m the person Amar says does not do Gull ID in summer, I’m obligated to take a shot:

    1. LBB
    2. GBB
    3. H
    4. H
    5. H
    6. LBB
    7. H
    8. LBB
    9. LBB
    10. H
    11. GBB
    12. LBB
    13. GBB
    14. LBB
    15. H
    16. H
    17. GBB
    18. H
    19. GBB
    20. H
    21. H
    22. H
    23. H
    24. H
    25. LBB
    26. H
    27. GBB
    28. H
    29. LBB
    30. H
    31. GBB
    32. H
    33. LBB
    34. H
    35. GBB
    36. H
    37. H
    38. H
    39. H
    40. H
    41. H
    42. LBB
    43. H
    44. H
    45. H
    46. H
    47. LBB
    48. LBB
    49. H
    50. LBB
    51. H
    52. H
    53. GBB
    54. GBB
    55. H
    56. GBB
    57. H
    58. H

    • Amar Ayyash

      For someone who doesn’t see these species in the summer, you rank in the solid A tier. But what about #9, 12, 47? Tricksters, huh.

      • Steve Hampton

        ah, must be typos!
        9. H
        12. GBB
        47. H
        Does that get me to 100%?

        • Amar Ayyash


  • Lord Fancypants

    #50 HERGxLBBG?

  • Lord Fancypants

    Or even 3cy Vega?

  • Amar Ayyash

    Courageous souls. I have Herring for #9. It’s incredible when you see some of these 1st summer HERGs with solid, dark, 2nd generation upperparts. They never look that way in the winter which means these feathers either fade and bleach quickly. I’ve also wondered if the feathers are coated with a pigment that soon breaks off. In any case, these are really dark Herrings that can easily be suspected of being black-backs. #45 is another dark Herring too.

  • Lord Fancypants

    Fascinating…so in regard to #50, the mantle color of graellsi fades/pales this much during the summer? I have never seen an adult outside of fall/winter. If this bird were standing among the ones I’m used to seeing, it would stick out like a sore thumb (on account of mantle color).

    • Amar Ayyash

      Yep, pale graellsii for #50. That’s about as pale as I expect for that taxon.

      • Willie D’Anna

        Great quiz! It looks to me like the number 50 was placed on the head of a Herring Gull (yellowish bill with sharply demarcated black tip), though there is a Lesser Black-backed lying down with only its rear end showing, behind and to the right of number 50, that is not numbered in the silhouettes.

  • Tim Birder

    #58 strikes me as a 1cy Ring-billed Gull.

    • Amar Ayyash

      The bill is a bit heavy and the head too big for Ring-billed, isn’t it? Plus the upperparts have a brown/gray checkered effect – something we don’t find in Ring-billers.

      • Tim Birder

        I guess back pattern/color didn’t occur to me. I think the angle and head and belly color gave me the impression of Ring-billed. Looking at proportions again, the head is too blocky for a Ring-billed, and it’s almost the size of the Herring next to it. Is it normal for a Herring to get that bleached (or is it a more advanced plumage than I thought it was)?

        • Amar Ayyash

          The Herring plumage is that of a pale 1st summer bird. Could be slightly bleached, but they do look like this in otherwise fresh plumage at times. Admittedly, the birds cut off on the sides are going to be the toughest to be sure about.

  • Cathy Sheeter

    I gave up on the numbering thing…LOL Red = HERG; Green = LBBG; Purple = GBBG; a few I wasn’t 100% on.

    • Amar Ayyash

      Cool. All of these look spot on, but what about that #14? I know it’s back is facing us, but…

  • Pingback: Birding Online: June 2016 « ABA Publications()

  • NFC Observer

    Great answers!

  • NFC Observer

    All the gulls in this photo are either Herring, Great Black-backed, and Lesser Black-backed in varying ages (mostly 1st-cycle and adults). Fantastic quiz, BTW! It’s especially difficult because there are 2 or 3 Herrings in there that look quite similar to 1st-cycle Californias.

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