Monday, December 8, 2008

Quiz #276 (2008-4-10) Answer

Answer by Tony Leukering

All respondents provided an answer including a falcon species, with most picking the correct one. The wing-open bird certainly has pointed wings and a raptorial beak. The only good candidates for such a beast with the heavy underparts streaking, regular rows of white spots on the remiges, and such a wide and dark subterminal tail band are American Kestrel and Merlin. However, neither sex of American Kestrel shows both heavy underparts streaking AND that wide subterminal band, so our bird must be a Merlin. In fact, it is an adult male taiga race (columbarius) Merlin that I photographed at the Cape May hawkwatch, Cape May Co., NJ, on 21 October 2008.

Now, onto the second bird.

"What second bird?" you might ask. Why, the bird that the Merlin is carrying. Most respondents (in fact, 22 of them) got the Merlin correct but did not provide an answer for the prey, so their responses were scored as incorrect (see the rules).

Merlins do often have a paler vent region, but it's never so white as what might appear to be that feather tract in the picture. That is because that white area is the underparts of a smaller bird in the grasp of our Merlin. We can see the head at the left end of the white patch, and the crown looks fairly green, metallic green. We can also see the unlucky second-subject-of-the-picture's wingtips (or, at least one of 'em) sticking below the Merlin's tail and the dark feet/legs against the white belly. The wings, then, are quite long if they're reaching near the end of what looks like a very short tail. If we look closely, we can see the area around the eye is blackish and obviously darker than the crown, without any paler area behind the eye. So, there are only two species recorded in the ABA area that have such long wings, a green crown, black mask, and white underparts from chin to undertail coverts, but one of them is an extreme ABA rarity (Mangrove Swallow), so our second bird is a Tree Swallow.

As I forgot to have Rachel (our webmaster) put the caveat on the photo at the outset, I would have accepted Mangrove Swallow as a correct answer, as I don't think that there is any way to rule out that species from this single picture. However, since only three respondents (of the 11 received before the caveat was put on the photo) provided answers including any swallow species, with only one of those incorrect and not of Mangrove Swallow, I feel that no adjustments in answers was necessary.

Tallies of incorrect answers for quiz species:
American Kestrel - 2
Cave Swallow - 1
Snow Bunting - 2

Congratulations to the 6 of 33 respondents answering correctly:
Christian Nunes
Tyler Bell
Andrew Spencer
Peter Wilkinson
Joe Bens
Chishun Kwong

Answer: Merlin, Tree Swallow