Dead Bird Quiz answers

24 03 2011

Thank you to Mary Wright for yet another correct answer, though Mary also was stumped by the red kite-like object that was “Bird” C.
As for our first two specimens, however, Mary nailed the id: Bird A is a Black Guillemot, and Bird B a Brown Pelican.

The Black Guillemot tends to reside in nearshore waters, especially in comparison with other alcids, which are much more common on the open ocean. The breeding grounds of the Black Guillemot are not substantially different from its wintering grounds, and the birds typically don’t stray far from their breeding sites unless sea ice forces them to in winter. The birds can often be seen foraging at the edges of said sea ice.

Field marks of note include those evident in the photo in the previous post: adult birds have bright red feet, and in breeding plumage, large white patches on black wings are distinctive. Also worth noting: the underwing of the Black Guillemot is almost entirely white. This is in comparison with our other alcids, which show much more black on the underwing.

The underwing of this murre shows a lot more black than our Black Guillemot.

Perhaps you can appreciate on this photo that the black on the underwing of the guillemot is limited to the margins.

As for our Bird B, I chose this specimen since Pelicans with heads are so obvious and this headless one offered more subtlety. How to i.d. a pelican without that preposterous pouchy bill? Here are some pointers: Brown Pelicans are big. The wing chord of Brown Pelicans ranges from 48-56cm or so. The only other species that large commonly encountered by Seanetters is the Northern Gannet, and indeed the Gannet is in the same, pouchbill family with pelicans and cormorants. Without the head, the best indication that one is looking at a pouchbill are the feet. All four toes are webbed in pouchbills.

So, a big bird with four web toes is a pouchbill. But how to tell if it’s a gannet or a pelican? Adults of both species are rather distinctive, so let us focus on the youngsters. Subadult gannets start out quite dark, with a lighter belly. However, the bird has the look of a starry sky, with white spangles all over its handsome self. Brown pelican subadults, on the other hand, have a rather plain belly with a paler brown back and wings. So, no head? Don’t despair! We can overcome such minor handicaps.

And if any of you ever figure out what that red contraption is, let me know.

The star-spangled subadult Northern Gannet. Compare to the rather more plain subadult pelican.

The rather more plain subadult Brown Pelican.

Pouchbill feet: even the backward facing toe (the hallux) is incorporated in the web.

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