Dead Bird Quiz answers

7 01 2014
Ruddy Turnstone. Bird B would have looked much like this  in life. (photo by Elaine Wilson)

Ruddy Turnstone. Bird B would have looked much like this in life. (photo by Elaine Wilson)

The three birds featured on this quiz represented an escalation in difficulty level, and sure enough the responses reflected that. Wouter got all of them, naturally (and I was very relieved that his answer on Bird C was the same as my own). Several other DBQ players identified Bird A correctly, but Bird B threw many for a loop. Bird A was mostly intact, which makes things vastly easier. That bird was an American Oystercatcher–quite a cool find! We get very few of those reported on SEANET surveys. Bird B was more disheveled and thus a bit more difficult. The straight, sharp beak almost suggested a songbird, except for that rather long neck. More likely a shorebird. The tail pattern jumps out, with that black band juxtaposed with a white rump. The wings have a fairly strong scalloped pattern in a rusty brown color. Were it this bird’s breeding season, things would be clearer, as the species then takes on what is known as a “calico pattern” with sharply demarcated patches of reddish-brown, black, and white. The species we have here is a Ruddy Turnstone, though Bird B is not one of those striking, breeding adults. Other things that may help you make the i.d. if you should meet a similar carcass: these birds have orange legs at all ages and life stages, and the belly, breast and underwing are all a bright, unmarked white. As with many shorebirds, the feet are unwebbed, but the toes somewhat fleshy, at least, more so than they would be in a songbird.

Bird C was in terrible shape. The carcass was extremely weathered, which typically fades the feathers, so this bird was not likely quite so brown in life, but was probably more blackish. The things that leapt out at me were that long, wedge-like tail, and the shape of the sternum. Sternum identification is rather a boutique field of study, and I am a novice, but the sternum shape of the pouch bills (pelicans, cormorants and the like) has certain characteristics that are consistent with Bird C’s. Bird C’s sternum has a forward angled keel, which is common to many of the more gifted diving birds (shallow “divers” like gulls tend to have a very upright keel bone since they don’t need the same streamlined shape to slice through the water like the true divers). In this case, using a foot key would lead one astray since the toes appear unwebbed. In fact, they were, at one time, webbed, and all four toes would have been incorporated in that webbing. But, from what does remain in Bird C, we can see that the 4th, hind, toe is quite long, again, consistent with a pouch bill that has all four toes webbed.  The length and shape of the tail argue for cormorant, but beyond that, we can’t say which kind. We certainly get far more Double-crested Cormorants reported by Seanetters, but we can’t rule out Great Cormorant either.

Double-crested Cormorant. Note that long tail and overall dark brown to black color.

Double-crested Cormorant. Note that long tail and overall dark brown to black color.




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