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Birding Photo Quiz: August 2018

Wait. What? The August Photo Quiz? But haven’t we already done October? Correct, we’ve already done October. Long story short: We simply forgot to post the August Photo Quiz. Sorry about that! And without further ado . . .

This bird is rather obviously an adult male Northern Harrier. That white rump, a field mark birders are born knowing, is so whoppingly obvious. So what’s the point? Well, check this out: That white rump, the mark we know so well, isn’t the rump! Instead, that white patch is created by the upper-tail coverts, a different feather tract. Back to the drawing board . . .

With birding, as with everything else worth doing in this life, there’s always something new to learn. Birding magazine thanks Tony Leukering for patiently setting the record straight (see Tony’s full comments on pp. 54–57 of the print edition of August, or pp. 56–59 of the online edition), and, even more important, for inviting us to cogitate more broadly about all the things we don’t know—yet!

Here’s a thought. Although the Northern Harrier is one of the easiest species-level ID of any widespread North American raptor, it may also be the raptor species that has been most extensively written about in Birding in the past decade. A sampler:

  • “Dark raptors,” July 2009, pp. 74–76, Jerry Liguori
  • “Adult male Northern Harriers: More than meets the eye,” March/April 2013, pp. 30–35, Jerry Liguori and Brian Sullivan
  • “Harrier molts and plumages,” July/August 2013, pp. 10–12, Peter Pyle
  • “Response to Pyle,” July/August 2013, pp. 12–13, Jerry Liguori and Brian Sullivan
  • “Plumages of second-basic and older Northern Harriers: A circular Circus?” January/February 2014, pp. 46–53, Peter Pyle
  • “The ghost bird: The first documented occurrence of a leucistic Northern Harrier,” August 2017, pp. 42–46, Sam Wilson

Which brings us back to the wisdom of Tony Leukering. Sometimes—oftentimes, really—the most familiar birds are the ones with the greatest capacity to surprise us.

Can you think of examples in your own birding experience?


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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.