Dead Bird Quiz answers

14 04 2014

I’m never quite certain whether I favor the DBQs that result in lively debate as to species, or the ones that end quickly in a clear and general consensus. This particular DBQ falls into that latter category, which means I feel much more confident about the accuracy of the i.d. Both Wouter and Mary Wright replied, writing that Bird A was a Little Gull and Bird B an Atlantic Puffin. Indeed, Gil Grant and Dennis Minsky who found the birds, respectively, had correctly identified them when initially found, and I am glad to get additional confirmation. Bird A, in particular, the Little Gull, is not at all common in our database. In fact, it appears to be the first of its kind reported to SEANET: so rare, in fact, it is not even included in our drop down menu of species.

Mary and Wouter are always quite good about giving us a sense of how they make their identifications, and both pointed out Bird A’s pale gray upperwing with a white border, along with a darker underwing. The overall size is important here too, as the Little Gull is quite aptly named and is dwarfed in size by our more common gulls. For me, what stood out after many, many hours looking at Herring Gull and Ring-billed Gull wings and having their image burned onto my retinas was the lack of black wingtips in this Little Gull. Its upperwing has an overall pale cast in part due to that lack of black and white contrast. The only other real contender given these characteristics might be, as Wouter suggested, Ross’s Gull, which also has a gray underwing, though not quite as dark as Bird A’s. In addition, The Ross’s Gull is a rarer find, and would be quite a sensation if found in the Carolinas.

eBird data from all years and all locations for Ross's Gull.

eBird data from all years and all locations for Ross’s Gull.

Compare with these sightings of Little Gull.

Compare with these sightings of Little Gull.

As for Bird B, the most common dark wings to be found on Cape Cod where Dennis walks are the scoters. This Bird B, however, does not fit that mold. The wings are smaller and narrower, lacking the broad shape of a duck wing. The shape overall looks alcid-like. The wing is all dark, including the underwing, which rules out murres and razorbills which both have white borders to their secondaries and a white underwing. Dovekies have a somewhat dark underwing, but lighter through the secondaries, and the overall size is smaller than Bird B as well. That leads us to the conclusion that this is an Atlantic Puffin. Also rather a rare find, with the exception of the winter of 2012-2013 when they seemed to raining down on beaches throughout the north Atlantic. Whether this Bird B died recently, or is merely a long dead and only recently found specimen, I could not say. We do know that Provincetown serves as a hook to pull in all manner of flotsam and jetsam, living and dead, organic and man-made, so who’s to say how far these stalwart wings traveled before they reached the beach? SEANET is ever good for philosophical ponderings.

An obliging puffin displays its silvery gray underwing. Photo by Boaworm, Wikimedia Commons.

An obliging puffin displays its silvery gray underwing. Photo by Boaworm, Wikimedia Commons.

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