Though I am immersed in the finer points of dead bird i.d. for the upcoming Field Guide, these two specimens humbled me right back down to the rather poor birder I actually am. As both birds are non-ocean-going waterfowl, I would have had basically no idea what they were (beyond waterfowl) if they had not come pre-identified by their finders, and unanimously agreed upon by you, the readership. Bird A, Jerry Golub suggested when he emailed the picture, had probably once been a Gadwall, like this:
A very handsome duck, and one which is apparently very common, but which I have never seen. Though in fairness to myself, the Gadwall range map shows the species only migrating through my beloved homeland here in northern New England, so maybe that’s why. There is also one of these chilling notes on the Gadwall page in my Sibley guide:
“Most species of ducks hybridize with others. Some of the combinations seen occasionally are Mallard x Northern Pintail, Gadwall x American Wigeon, Northern Shoveler x Blue-winged Teal. Many other combinations have been reported rarely, as have aberrant plumages not caused by hybridization.”
Horrifying. I’ll stick with dead seabirds and nothing more complicated than the molts of eiders, thank you very much.
Now for Bird B, also pre-identified by the finder, Wendy Stanton, as a Snow Goose. I have never seen a Snow Goose either, but fortunately, everyone agreed on this one as well, and John Stanton even narrowed it down to Greater Snow Goose, which I then had to go look up. The Snow Goose page in Sibley also caused me to shudder in confusion. There is apparently a dark morph, which was once thought to be a separate species (the “Blue Goose”) and a white morph, which looks similar to the Ross’s Goose, only with a bigger bill and faint reddish tinge to the head. In ghastly waterfowl fashion, there are also Snow Goose x Ross’s Goose hybrids, but apparently it’s mostly the Lesser Snow Goose that engages in such cross-species dalliances. So what about this Greater Snow Goose John mentioned? Apparently, it is defined by a longer, stockier bill and head than the Lesser, which is, in turn, more wedge-headed than the adorably round-headed and small billed Ross’s Goose.
This is ridiculous.
I do have a great fondness for range maps, and I was intrigued to see that the Greater Snow Goose is quite restricted in its range, wintering in only a small portion of the mid-Atlantic coast encompassing parts of Chesapeake Bay and North Carolina. They then migrate to similarly limited sections of the Arctic tundra to breed. A research project on Greater Snow Goose demographics at the Université Laval has been placing field-readable collars on the birds to track their movements. So if you see a white goose sporting accessories like this:
it’s the cheater’s way to know it’s a Greater Snow Goose, and also, you should report it to the research team.