Dead Bird Quiz answers: a battle royale!

29 01 2014

Or such as we ever get around here. Oftentimes, I choose birds for the quiz that I feel confident in identifying, but that I think offer a good educational opportunity for us all. Other times, I’m just fairly stumped by a carcass and want to get some ideas. Many times, I am gratified that other people with more experience with a given species concur with my suspicions. It’s especially encouraging when multiple players in our quiz all agree as to an identification. But for Bird B in this current quiz, this is certainly not the case this time around.

Bird A is a mangled up challenge to be sure. Based on a comparison with the ruler alongside the carcass, I’d estimate the wing chord to be around 14-15cm. That’s a fairly small bird. When I follow my own wing key to try to identify this bird, I end up suspecting it’s a Bufflehead. The size is right (Red-breasted Mergansers (RBME)┬áhave a similar pattern of black and white, but they are considerably larger) and the pattern looks good. John Stanton also says Bufflehead, but Wouter mentions another possibility: Hooded Merganser. If you look up this species, it’s size is sometimes described as “bigger than a Bufflehead, smaller than a Red-breasted Merganser.” So the size may be roughly similar to our Bird A. Since the photo of Bird A does not show the wing fully extended, it’s hard to see the details of the individual secondary feathers in that white speculum. The major characteristic that helps sort Bufflehead from RBME is whether the white extends all the way to feather shaft (Bufflehead) or occupies a thinner band along one edge (Hooded Merganser). I can’t tell for sure based on the photo, but it looks like a substantial area on each secondary is white in the case of Bird A, causing me to lean rather further toward Bufflehead.


Further discussion, anyone?

Bird B didn’t hold anyone up, and indeed, was correctly identified as a Wood Duck by finder Linda Rowe. Both Wouter and John (and I) all agree. Now, after that reprieve, back to the harder ones.

Bird C was identified as a scaup by both John (saying Lesser) and Wouter (saying Greater). I shudder to even offer my own poor thoughts on this one, since we don’t see a lot of any of these birds in SEANET reports, so I don’t have a vast knowledge base to draw on, but here you are:
The light and color balance in these photos is very profoundly altered giving everything a gray-blue cast. Given that the colors are not reading true, I have to guess a bit, but the head actually looks distinctly red-brown to me. The other features I think I can pick out are a bluish bill, some black and gray striation or vermiculation over the back (though not, perhaps, as striking as I might expect from a scaup?), and a distinct dark breast contrasting with a white belly. If you will suspend your disbelief with me a moment, and entertain my notion that this bird has a reddish-brown head, then perhaps you will not mock and deride me for suggesting this might be a Redhead? I could be missing something fundamental and obvious, so I ask quite earnestly for guidance from our crack team in what else I might look at here.

Greater Scaup (back) next to a male Redhead. Imagine them in black and white--similar, no?

Greater Scaup (back) next to a male Redhead. Imagine them in black and white–similar, no?