Dead Bird Quiz: beaks and bits

28 04 2015
Aren't you feeling nostalgic for this? (Diana Gaumond, right, and a friend stand at the edge of frozen Cape Cod Bay.)

Aren’t you feeling nostalgic for this? (Diana Gaumond, right, and a friend stand at the edge of frozen Cape Cod Bay.)

I had a post in mind related to gulls, but I have been spending hours lately uploading pictures of all the dead birds and bits that were revealed on northern beaches when the snow and ice melted. The most recent walks on many of these beaches has been as if through a bird mausoleum. So I hope you will forgive me if I indulge in yet another dead bird quiz, since this one includes an opportunity for me to wax poetic about some interesting anatomic features of seabird legs.

Before I do that, please try your hand at these i.d.s, which I am sure will give you all no trouble at all.

Bird A: Found by Mary Myers on Cape Cod last month.

Bird A: Found by Mary Myers on Cape Cod last month.

Bird B: Another from Mary. This one found in April.

Bird B: Another from Mary. This one found in April.

Bird C: Severed,  skeletal leg found by Dennis Minsky on Cape Cod.

Bird C: Severed, skeletal leg found by Dennis Minsky on Cape Cod.





The DBQ that just won’t die

16 04 2015

After posting the photo of the headless carcass with dusky reddish legs, it appears we now have a consensus on Bird B. The underwing of the headless carcass bears the classic pattern of an American Black Duck–white overall, with several distinct dark brown feathers at the wrist joint. With that in mind, looking back at the foot of Bird B, it looks like it too is very likely an American Black Duck. And in fact, when I posted the original DBQ, I was able only to access that single foot photo. Now that the database is fully up and running again, I found this photo as well:

Additional evidence as to the identity of Bird B. Open and shut case, with that speculum bordered in dark!

Additional evidence as to the identity of Bird B. Open and shut case, with that speculum bordered in dark!

And the case for Bird C was sealed by that additional photo–this bird was a Red-breasted Merganser.

I am in the last, thrashing weeks of the semester, readers, so please bear with me on the paucity of blog posts and the slowness of my email responses! Two weeks left until classes end and I turn my attention elsewhere. SEANET being a province of elsewhere, in case you wondered.





DBQ answers

9 04 2015

All respondents quickly recognized Bird A’s distinctive beak–heavy, straight and dark. This is a Common Loon. I wanted to show this picture mainly since it makes visible the very slight mismatch in length between upper and lower beak that one can rarely appreciate in a live bird at a distance. In fact, the upper bill does project just a small way past the lower (the bill is pictured upside down in our Bird A).

Bird B, found by Sue Bickford in Maine this month.

Bird B, found by Sue Bickford in Maine this month.

As for Bird B, where we have only a foot in this image, I was intrigued by the coloration here. The foot looks like a duck’s, and in fact, there are red or dark orange footed ducks in the world, namely scoters and mergasers. For more on that, see previous post on brightly colored feet. There are also terns and guillemots that may have red feet too, but our Bird B looks to have a duck foot to me. So Bird B here has a reddish looking foot. But something about it was bothering me. I could not quite square the color with the shape and proportion of the toes. I could not square this bird with a scoter, basically. Wouter and Edward had the same conversations in the comment thread as what went on in my mind–is this foot actually red, or has the desiccation process altered the original color? Then, fortuitously, I received a photo of a different bird: a headless carcass found by Louise Nelson, walking Plum Island in Massachusetts. The feet on this bird looked rather similar in proportions and color, and here we had more information on the rest of the bird, though not the head. But we Seanetters know not to ask too much. Here’s that bird’s picture:

Headless bird with vaguely red feet. If you squint? (Photo: L. Nelson)

Headless bird with vaguely red feet. If you squint? (Photo: L. Nelson)

To me, those feet also had a sort of dusky red hue to them, similar to Bird B. At the risk of dragging this out overlong, what do you think of that, readers? Are you convinced? And if yes, then what would that make Bird B? I have my thoughts, naturally.

Finally, Bird C, which generated some healthy debate as well. The two candidates were American Wigeon and Red-breasted Merganser (two votes for the latter, from Wouter and James Taft). Much hinges on how we interpret what we’re looking at in this case–the twisted up wreckage of these wings makes it challenging to sort out what’s upper wing, and what’s under, what’s covert and what’s secondary. Overall, a wigeon underwing is fairly light, with some brownish feathers along the margin of the wing’s leading edge. That is consistent with what we see in Bird C, but is also consistent with a Red-breasted Merganser’s underwing. A key difference, as both Wouter and Edward pointed out, is whether we are seeing a white speculum on the secondaries of the underwing or not. The merganser has one; the wigeon does not. I can see the problem though–might that white patch actually be not the secondaries themselves, but ┬áthe coverts, and the dark secondaries have gotten somewhat bunched up behind them?

Then we have that view of the very disheveled right wing, where all we can really make out is that there is a large white patch. Wigeon and merganser both have that. So, what to do? The answer–go back into the database and discover that Wendy Stanton actually took more than one photo of this specimen. Here’s the other:

SEANET gods' blessings on Wendy for taking this very illuminating photo.

SEANET gods’ blessings on Wendy for taking this very illuminating photo.

That helps rather a lot, no?





Dead Bird Quiz: ultrasuper closeup edition

3 04 2015

I’ve gotten some very nice macro shots of dead birds lately, showing some nice detail of parts of carcasses. I decided to include some among a few of the more standard sorts of DBQ fodder. Here they are, friends!

Bird A, found by Jerry Golub in Florida last month.

Bird A, found by Jerry Golub in Florida last month.

Bird B, found by Sue Bickford in Maine this month.

Bird B, found by Sue Bickford in Maine this month.


Bird C: Found by Wendy Stanton in North Carolina last month.

Bird C: Found by Wnedy Stanton in North Carolina last month.