Dead Bird Quiz Answers

27 01 2011

Thank you to my most reliable pair of DBQ devotees: Mary Wright and John Stanton, who both proffered answers to this week’s quiz. Both Mary and John id’d one bird as a Greater Scaup, and I concur that our Bird B is indeed a scaup. Whether it’s a Greater or Lesser is actually rather tough to tell from this photo alone. At least for me. Take a look at these photos and decide. I would argue that from the angle we have on our Bird B, it would be a tall order to tell.

Bird B: Lesser scaup?

or a Greater Scaup?

As for Bird A, I side with Mary on this one. I think this is a Long-tailed Duck (non politically correct name: “Oldsquaw”). And based on the pink area on the middle of the bill, I think it’s a male. Long-tailed Ducks are interesting for many reasons, not least is the remarkable difference in appearance between the breeding and non-breeding plumages (see photos). Further complicating matters, Long-tailed Duck males do not proceed in an orderly fashion from one plumage to the other, but undergo a series of changes in variable fits and starts that make the months from April to October one endless wardrobe change for this species.


John, if you feel strongly about a Ring-necked Duck being one of these specimens, then let us have a duel. I will meet you at daybreak on the cliffs of Weehawken. (Sorry, Alexander Hamilton humor, which I suspect is not universally appreciated.)

Male Long-tailed Duck in breeding plumage.

Male Long-Tailed Duck in winter plumage. Our Bird A was one of these.



2 responses

28 01 2011
Mary Wright

Here’s my reasoning on identifying Bird B as a Greater Scaup; comments welcome! First, bill length of Lesser Scaup is 36-42 mm; bill length of Greater Scaup is 40-47 mm; Bird B’s bill appears to fit the Greater Scaup measurements better. Second, Steve Madge and Hilary Burn, in their book, “Waterfowl: An identification guide to the ducks, geese and swans of the world,” say that the Greater Scaup “has . . . a smoothly-rounded forehead and nape and fairly flat crown centre; the highest point often seems to be the forecrown, with flat crown sloping towards the nape.” By contrast, the Lesser Scaup’s head “shows a distinct bump or short crest towards rear of crown.” I don’t see a bump at the rear of Bird B’s head. (BTW, Madge and Burn say the LESC culmen is slightly concave, while the GRSC culmen is “virtually straight.” I don’t think GRSC’s is straight.)

31 01 2011
John Stanton

Bird A: Upon closer-inspection: I do indeed see the pinkish saddle in the bill- ah a long-tailed duck!

Good work, John

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