American Birding Podcast



Photo Quiz Hints


I’ve now heard from a variety of folks who have opinions about the identities of the birds depicted in the New Photo Quiz on p. 80 of the May 2011 issue of Birding.

Let’s take a look!

First things first. The images below are high-resolution jpegs of the three quiz photos. As I understand it, jpegs look better, all else being equal, on computer monitors than on paper. The images below may differ in subtle but important ways from what you see in your print copy of the May 2011 Birding. And there’s one big difference: You can click on the images below and view them at much higher resolution than is possible on the printed page—until such time as we start publishing Birding on 24"-by-36" paper. I wouldn’t hold your breath on that one.


Here’s Quiz Bird A, a black bird with its bill open. As with all three of the quiz images reproduced here, you can click on this image to make it a lot bigger. Comment: For Quiz Bird A, enlarging the image probably doesn’t add much to the identification process. Question: If you’re positive about this bird’s identity, then what’s the deal with its tail? Hint: If you’re struggling with this bird’s identity, check out its bill, its eye, and, well, its tail.

11-4-12-F01 [Mystery Bird A]Quiz Bird A—May 2011 Birding Photo Quiz. Click on image to enlarge…keeping in mind that jpegs can look different on the computer monitor vs. on the printed page.


And here’s Quiz Bird B, a black bird on a rock. Two hints on this one. First, enlarging this image might actually be construed as a detriment to the identification process. In one sense, I’m being facetious: When it comes to identifying birds correctly, you can never have too much information. In another sense, I’m being serious: There’s a well-known psychological/perceptual effect of seeing an image larger than life. In an ornithological context, I’ve seen this effect demonstrated with hummingbird photos; in a nutshell, we identify (or misidentify) hummingbirds, in part, on the actual, literal size of the image we’re looking at. And here’s the second hint: Check out the apparent relative lengths of the bird’s tail and wings. I think that second hint is going to help some folks a lot, but I think it’s also going to mess up other people. It’s all about psychology and perception!

11-4-12-F02 [Mystery Bird B]Quiz Bird B—May 2011 Birding Photo Quiz. Click on image to enlarge…but be aware of the psychological and perceptual effects of doing so!


Finally, here’s Quiz Bird C, a blackish bird in flight. Answers to this one have been all over the place, and that’s often how it is with Birding photo quizzes. And here’s something else: Folks’ approaches—in distinction from their actual answers—have likewise been all over the place. Some readers got this one right away, but others agonized over it. Some folks ID’d it—or misID’d it—by “jizz”; others went for good ole fashion “field marks.” Some of you keyed in on feathers and feather tracts; others of you were drawn to the bird’s bare parts and body shape. And y’know what? All of the preceding is good. The best—or, well, the most successful—approach to bird identification is holistic. Good ID skills rely on instinct and knowledge, on details and impression. Oh, and as to a hint, here’s a biggie: Enlarge the photo, and check out the bird’s bill.

11-4-12-F03 [Mystery Bird C]Quiz Bird C—May 2011 Birding Photo Quiz. Click on image to enlarge…and see whether fine details of the bird’s bill confirm your initial instincts about the bird’s identity.


So, how did you approach these three quiz photos? Please let us know. That’s why there’s a “Comments” field for each and every post to The ABA Blog. And that’s the whole point of The ABA Blog—to keep the conversation going, among all of us who marvel at and care about wild birds.