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Birding Photo Quiz: October 2018

Call it the “Fundamental Question of Birding”: What’s This Bird? Go on any bird walk or birding tour, and the question inevitably arises. Open up to any issue of Birding magazine, and you’ll see some variant on the question—typically more than once. Go online and you’re sure to discover the ABA’s popular “What’s This Bird?” Facebook group.

But what does that even mean, What’s This Bird? Thayer’s Gull…Mexican Duck…Cordilleran Flycatcher…Type 2 Red Crossbill…Scopoli’s Shearwater…Red-backed Junco…Baypoll Warbler… Are those the answers we’re really looking for?

Tallahassee, Florida; June 23, 2018. Photo by © Tara Tanaka.

In the October 2018 issue of Birding magazine, on its way to ABA members’ mailboxes right now, the Featured Photo is of a bird that is instantly recognizable…and yet…not at all recognizable. Clearly, it’s a Wood Duck, Aix sponsa, one of the most ridiculously easy bird IDs in the ABA Area. But something is decidedly off about this bird. Is it a male? Is it a female? Could it be both male and female, an intersex individual, as discoverer Tara Tanaka initially conjectured?

Peter Pyle, an expert at sexing and aging birds, got his proverbial hands on this bird. And he got to wondering about Tara’s conjecture. No question about it, the bird presents both male and female characters, just as Tara has stated. But is this duck really an intersex individual? Or could it be one sex masquerading as another? Bathroom laws are problematical for birds, too, it would seem.

What’s your assessment of this bird’s sex? Is that even the right word? Might we refer instead to this bird’s gender? And while you’re pondering those questions, how about a more general matter: Can you think of other instances in which that disarmingly simple Fundamental Question of Birding led you somewhere surprising and wonderful?


Note: The October issue of Birding contains two (2) Featured Photos. Remember the notorious blue Cattle Egret in the June 2018 Birding? Well, Tara Tanaka, ever attuned to avian oddities, found a sort-of-blue Cattle Egret that doesn’t exactly resolve the matter of blue Cattle Egrets. And we couldn’t resist… 🙂 Anyhow, Birding thanks Tara for noticing cool birds, Peter for being a skilled explicator, and Birding magazine Intern Frank Izaguirre for his role as—shall we say?—Enabler.

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Ted Floyd

Ted Floyd

Editor, Birding magazine at American Birding Association
Ted Floyd is the longtime Editor of Birding magazine, and he is broadly involved in other programs and initiatives with the ABA. Ted has written 200+ magazine articles and 5 books, including How to Know the Birds (National Geographic, 2019). He is a frequent speaker at birding festivals and has served on several nonprofit boards. Join Ted at The ABA Blog for his semimonthly spot, “How to Know the Birds,” celebrating common birds and the uncommonly interesting things they do.