Dead Bird Quiz answers

22 05 2012

OK, so both of these birds are ducks. That was clear to everyone who responded to this quiz. But what sort of ducks? Bird A, which was merely a skeletal head, is definitely some kind of sea duck, what with that hooked beak tip and very thick ridges along the bill edges. Guesses on this one were Northern Shoveler and Common Eider. So let’s look at those two. The Northern Shoveler has an absurd looking bill, which makes up more than half of the total head plus bill length. As blog reader Wouter pointed out, it would be helpful to view the bill of Bird A from above to see if it’s wide enough to be a Shoveler’s. Well, Wouter, request granted! Here’s another shot of Bird A’s bill, showing that it’s pretty narrow, and helping us rule out the Northern Shoveler, whose bill would have a prominent, spatula-like appearance at its tip.

Aerial view of Bird A’s head.

Northern Shoveler: comical bill appears longer than the head itself.

What about Alicia’s suggestion of Common Eider then? Certainly, there are some similarities there, but if you look at the shape of the nostril, the Common Eider’s is elongated and placed lower on the side of the bill than our Bird A, whose nostril is very close to the top edge of the bill, and has a more open, almost triangular shape. So where does that leave us? I would posit that Bird A is a White-winged Scoter. The nostril shape and position are right, and while the demarcation between feathered area and bill is mostly obliterated, I can persuade myself that the profile of that line would have been consistent with WWSC. What do you think, Seanetters?

Bears some similarities to Bird A, but note shape and position of nostril.

Is this our bird? I would say yes!

Bird B is an easier case, and Wouter and I both agree, this is a Long-tailed Duck. The pinkish band on the bill marks it as a male, and the white neck followed by a wide black band on the breast, and then a white belly tell us this bird is still in its winter plumage, and had not yet acquired the full breeding plumage seen later in the year. Like many ducks though, the LTDU undergoes some complex interrupted and partial molts, changing its appearance almost continuously from April to October. What a pain for Dead Bird Quiz devotees, huh?

Long-tailed Duck in winter/spring.

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