Dead Bird Quiz: (more questions than) answers

26 06 2015

Sometimes, with these tangled up piles of feathers and bones, we don’t get a nice clear i.d. For Bird A, we do at least have a consensus; John and Jim both wrote in to say Bufflehead, and indeed, we had quite a few more Bufflehead turn up on beaches this spring than is typical; by the rough numbers, for instance, in all of 2014, we had only three BUFF reported across all SEANET beaches. So far this year, we’ve had eight. Most have been pretty well degraded, but here’s a spectrum of what’s been found out there for this species. Note the small size of these birds; wing chord is only 14-18 cm. Other species with a similar white speculum (red-breasted mergansers, goldeneyes, for instance) are quite a bit larger.

Male Bufflehead found by Walt Granda in MA.

Male Bufflehead found by Walt Granda in MA.

Another male found by Lori Benson in MA. Note the pinkish gray feet--a good clue to the species when present.

Another male found by Lori Benson in MA. Note the pinkish gray feet–a good clue to the species when present.

Note the diminutive size of these birds! This wing was found by Dennis Minsky in MA. Also note how limited the speculum is in this specimen.

Note the diminutive size of these birds! This wing was found by Dennis Minsky in MA. Also note how limited the speculum is in this specimen.

The extensive white areas on a breeding male are conspicuous, but keep in mind that the white n the wings will be much more limited in females, juveniles, and even in non-breeding males.

All this is a bit of a distraction though, since I don’t actually think Bird A is a Bufflehead. The underwings are quite bright white, the wings are pointy, and the sternum is very long. Ducks tend to have squarish, broad sternae, and Bird A’s actually reminds me more of an alcid. But what’s bothering me is that this bird does appear to be very small, based on the index card beside it. That size would fit with a Dovekie, but Dovekies have a dusky underwing. Persuade me, dear readers! This one is bothering me!

Bird B also bothers me. We are fortunate that Charlie took that closeup photo of the iridescent feathers on the wing. From that, we can see that this bird had a greenish speculum on the upper wing. That gives us a limited slate of possibilities. What has a shiny, colored speculum? Some ducks. Both Jim and John think American Black Duck (ABDU) for this one, and indeed, that species has a colored speculum. But the speculum in ABDU has no white border, while Mallards, the most similar species to ABDU, do have a white border fore and aft. If you look at the closeup photo of Bird B’s wing, you see feathers with white and black bands at the tip. How can we explain this? Also, the underwing on Bird B seems to lack the characteristic brown flecking at the wrist that ABDUs have. Is this a Mallard? I don’t really think so. What other options do we have? Well, I’ve been a-pondering and some possibilities that came to my mind were green-winged teal and American wigeon. Any bites on those?

Green-winged Teal. Look like a possibility to you folks? Photo: NC Wildlife Resources Commission.

Green-winged Teal. Look like a possibility to you folks? Photo: NC Wildlife Resources Commission.

As for Bird C, oh boy. Your guess is as good as mine there. Probably better. This post was a long way from definitive, I realize. It’s a glimpse into my life as I verify (or attempt to verify) all your reports and photos.

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2 responses

26 06 2015
capteagleeyes

You’re doing a great job.

12 07 2015
scourc01

aw, shucks. Thank you!

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