Dead Bird Quiz answers

12 05 2011

Well, I held out as long as I could, hoping someone would offer up some guesses on this quiz. Alas, no takers. So here’s the deal on these two birds.

Bird A, in my humble opinion, is a wild turkey. Compare the remains in the previous post with this image from the Puget Sound database of spread wings.

Nearly extirpated from North America by the 1900s, reintroduction programs beginning in the 1940s were so successful that the birds not only re-established themselves in their previous range, but expanded their presence into entirely new areas. Though much more widespread in the eastern U.S., Alaska is the only one of the 50 states that is wild turkey free. Which is no way to be, in this New Englander’s opinion.

Wild Turkey wing. Note the heavily barred appearance of the primaries and secondaries.

Now, Bird B. A very duckish face on this one. Though I am stretching the truth a bit to say that Bird B even has a face. What we’ve got here is a bill on a skeletal head, then the entire spine, and even the synsacrum, which is the fused pelvis and lower vertebrae in birds. The bill suggests one of our more common ducks–likely a mallard or American black duck. How to narrow it down from there?

Female mallards have a yellow to orange bill with variable dark splotches. Not consistent with our Bird B. In male mallards, the bill is a clean yellow with a black tip in breeding birds, and a yellow to greenish color in males not in breeding plumage.

Male mallard in eclipse (non-breeding) plumage. Bill is greenish yellow.

So non-breeding male mallard is a possibility here. How about that black duck though? There isn’t a whole lot of difference in appearance between the sexes in this species, and in both, the bill ranges from yellowish to greenish gray, but is overall muddier in color than is typical for mallards. Additionally, culmen length in female American black ducks range from 45-53mm, so Bird B’s 50mm culmen falls in that range (the males are bigger, ranging from 52-58mm).

If forced to place money on the identity of Bird B, I would place my bet on female black duck. But I invite your queries and challenges on that.

American black duck: our Bird B?

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