Monday, August 24, 2009

Quiz #314 (2009-3-09) Answer

Click the picture for a larger view.

Answer by Margie Joy and Tony Leukering

This week's blackish bird in the grass caused a bit of consternation among the regulars, though a large majority scored a 'C' (for 'correct') in the results spreadsheet. Margie Joy, a relative newcomer to the quiz, provided a pretty decent answer, so we'll start there.

"I looked at several kinds of glossy black birds --

Corvids -- crows and ravens are likely too big, given the way the bird is tucked into the grass, and their tails are proportionally too long [I would suggest that the size comparison with the grass also rules this group out--Mr Bill];

Blackbirds, including grackles -- some of these could be the right size but again their tails are too long;

Phainopepla also has a long tail; and

Purple Martins (pushing it with this one) are small enough (but too slender) and have shortish tails, but their wingtips extend to their tail tips, and they are blue-black, which the quiz bird is not, except maybe on some of the highlights.

So, that leaves European Starling, which is about the right size, glossy black, and has a short, squared-off tail. And spots. It took a lot of looking to decide that the light "marks" in the photo might, indeed, be lighter-colored tips and edges of feathers, very worn and pretty subtle, but I'm pretty well convinced."

As Margie noted, some of our bird's scapulars have thin, buffy fringes to the tips and some have quite distinct long, pale, pointed tips that are distinctive of European Starling. Finally, the tertials have iridescent leading edges, but the bulk of each of those feathers is a flat grayish-brownish-black, another feature that makes a strong case for European Starling and helps to rule out the other black options. Thanks, Margie, and kudos to you for also, roughly, determining the seasonality of the photograph; the worn state of the plumage and the molt suggest a late-summer or early-fall photography date.

I photographed this worn adult European Starling that has initiated its pre-basic molt (the only molt that the species conducts in a given year) at the terminal for the Cape May - Lewes ferry, Cape May Co., NJ, on 18 August 2009. Another picture in that series is presented below for confirmation.

Al Guarente emerged from this quiz in sole possession of first place for this quarter's competition, though with four others breathing down his neck.

Incorrect species provided as answers:
Northwestern Crow - 1
Brewer's Blackbird - 1
American Crow - 2
Shiny Cowbird - 1
Common Grackle - 1

The 12 of 18 providing the correct answer:
David Clark
John Bissell
Marcel Such
Joel Such
Kevin Kerr
Mark Dettling
Al Guarente
Margie Joy
Robert McNab
Peter Wilkinson
Aaron Brees
Nick Komar

Answer: European Starling