Monday, March 2, 2009

Quiz #289 (2009-1-10) Answer

Click the picture for a larger view.

Answer by Mark Gabriel and Tony Leukering

Mark Gabriel, again, provided cogent reasoning to support his correct answer for this week's quiz, so I'll start with his answer.

"It's interesting to see a photo of birds that seem immediately identifiable, but hard to say why. It reminds me of taking a neophyte out birding and mystifying them by being able to identify distant birds on clues that you, yourself, are unable to put into words, because you have never thought about it. These birds look like starlings, European Starlings, but why?

"All nine birds look the same. We see overall dark birds, brownish or blackish. Their shape is more useful than "traditional" field marks of color or pattern. They seem to be flocking -- loosely. These are rather stocky, clean-cut, compact birds. They have longish, straight, pointed bills and short, square-cut tails. This gives them a pointed "bullet" or "torpedo" shape that is accentuated by wings that are triangular and set in the middle of the body. There is roughly as much bird in front of the wing as behind. There is a variety of flapping going on, including some open-winged glides.

"This combination of shape and the open-winged glides, along with the dark color, long, pointed bill, and the overall dark color all point to European Starlings. Brown-headed Cowbird is longer-tailed and shorter-billed. The triangular-shaped wings and short, stubby tails of these quiz birds rule out the other blackbirds. Meadowlarks would show more color and fatter bodies.

"In life, there is little that looks like flying starlings. I am sometimes struck by waxwings in flight -- that they are reminiscent of starlings. But these birds are long-billed and lack yellow terminal tail bands. Parrots and parakeets also have a flight style that reminds one of starlings, but nothing else here fits for that. These starlings look like they might be in pretty fresh fall/winter plumage, with brownish-golden tones to the upper sides and extensive whitish/gray underneath from the abundant white chevrons on a black ground color."

Thanks, Mark! I really don't have much to add. However, one of the birds, the top bird of the bottom-right three, shows much more rounded wingtips, but that is certainly due to the bird not gliding and with its wings being caught in mid-flap and changing shape preparatory to being pulled in and closed. Finally, I want to note that the easiest species to mistake for European Starlings in the ABA area, at least in my experience, are the two species of waxwings -- they have quite similar shapes. I took the picture of European Starlings on 13 October 2004 in Colorado.

Two respondents provided answers in the plural, thus being precluded from being correct for the competition (see the rules and last week's answer!).

Tallies of incorrect species provided in answers:
Bohemian Waxwing - 3
Cedar Waxwing - 2
Sprague's Pipit - 1
Northern Flicker - 1

The 22 of 29 providing the correct answer:
Brandon Percival
Joel Such
Marcel Such
Szilard Daroczi
Nick Komar
Jessica Brauch
Chris Warren
Tyler Bell
John Bissell
George Cresswell
Andy Dettling
Aaron Brees
Tom Parchman
Peter Wilkinson
Mark Gabriel
Robert McNab
Su Snyder
David Hill
Thomas Hall
Bryan Guarente
Chishun Kwong
Linda Powers

Answer: European Starling