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Quiz Blog Answers

October 4, 2012

By Ted Keyel

To view the quiz please click this link: FKH Sept. 27 Quiz

First of all, we would like to thank everyone who participated in our first quiz blog of the season!  Hopefully, it was fun, challenging, and, at some point, educational.  Congratulations to Jeff Bouton for getting all six answers correct and for the useful information he provided in coming to those conclusions.  Here is a little more detail explaining what is what.

01. This first picture is of a young Cooper’s Hawk., which everyone got correct.  Notice the broad, rounded wings and very long tail.  These traits help bring us down to Accipiters.  Of the three Accipiters that occur in the US, only Sharp-shinned Hawk and Cooper’s Hawk (colloquially, Sharpies and Coops) are regularly occurring in Florida (the third species, Northern Goshawk, is a much more northern and western species).  Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks can be very difficult to differentiate, but due to some great advances in hawkwatching over the last 30 years or so, there is a suite of characteristics that can be used.  Coops are larger than Sharpies, and that can be reflected in the morphology.  The head on Coops tend to project further beyond the wings than on Sharpies.  Notice in this picture, even with the wings pushed forward in a glide, the head still projects pretty far out.  Another widely used field mark is the shape of the tail.  As evidenced here, Cooper’s Hawks have rounded tails and Sharpies have squared-off/flat tails.  Be careful that each species can show the “typical” tail of the other, especially during molt.  Sharpies wings tend to appear very compact, while Coops’ wings are quite a bit longer.  Posture can make this a little tricky, but extending the wings out, they would be pretty long.

02. As pretty much everyone said, this was a Great White Heron.   Very long legs, very long neck, some feathery plumes, and a large, thick and pointed bill, brings us to Herons and Egrets.  Even in the picture, it is still pretty apparent that this is a very large, white bird.  Really, that only brings us down to Great Egret and Great White Heron.  The pinkish/blackish legs, extremely thick bill, and dark upper mandible help clinch this for Great White Heron.

03. Getting a touch trickier now, this bird is a Merlin.  An overall small bird, but with very pointed, thick wings, a thick, blocky head, and a fairly thick (notice a prevailing theme here?), tail.  American Kestrels would be very lacking in the aforementioned thickness.  Rock Pigeons would be quite a bit chunkier still, with a much thinner head.  White-crowned Pigeons are a little more slender than Rock, but still not that same shape as Merlins, and, similar to Rock Pigeons, would have a much smaller head.

04. This was definitely the hardest shot of the series.  The above picture was taken right before the quiz shot.  We do and do not really have a lot to go on here.  We have a cable in the foreground, which helps give us some semblance of size, as maybe a Robin-sized bird or thereabouts.  We also have a fair amount of color.  The bird has pale-yellow underwings, with translucent brown-gray remiges, a brown tail, and a light/whitish underside.  Put all these together, and that pretty much only leaves flycatchers.  A few different species were suggested, so why, from the picture, is this a Gray Kingbird?  Eastern Phoebe was brought up, but structurally, this bird does not really match.  Phoebes tend to have long tails, but rather short wings.  Here, we can see the bird has a moderately long tail, and very long wings.  Let us jump next to Western Kingbird.  As was mentioned in the comments, Western Kingbird has white outer retrices, with the rest black.  This bird has a dark tail, but certainly not black, and the little bit of lighter edges is not the pronounced white that a Western would have.  Also, the yellow tends to be much more pervasive and much brighter in Western Kingbird.

05. Another tricky shot, of a female American Kestrel.  This shot was intentionally zoomed out, to give a more-realistic view of what might be seen overhead.  A lot of shapes can be seen, but only some slight color.  Since color can often be unreliable at great distances and different light conditions, let us first focus on shapes.  Key features here, are the thin base to the tail and the long, thin, tapering wings.  As was discussed in Shot 3, Merlins are much thicker than Kestrels, and that would show out here, especially at the tail and wings.  Peregrine Falcon and Kestrel identification can get much harder at great distances.   Both have long, pointed wings, and fairly long tails.  Behavior can be extremely useful, as Peregrines are much, much stronger, not pushed around by the wind, and rarely flap when they glide in circles.  Unfortunately, we only have one still image here, and do not have access to that kind of behavioral information. For all that, Peregrines also have tapering wings and they are much thicker throughout.  Their wings are also a little more angular in a glide.  Between the head and the wrist tends to be a fairly straight line, and then from the wrist to the tips of the primaries also tends to be a straight line. As mentioned earlier, this bird has a very narrow base to the wings and tail, both of which also eliminate Mississippi Kite.

06. This shot was intentionally used to be confusing and is an example of how much behavior can influence changes in shape and structure in a picture.  Looking at the picture, we see what looks to be a medium-sized raptor, with long wings, held up, and a long, narrow tail.  If this bird was gliding, those three descriptors would scream out Northern Harrier.  From one picture alone, this can be hard to determine, and as it was; the bird was flapping.  The chest in this image looks very thick as well, and while Mississippi Kites are a little stouter than Northern Harrier, neither show quite this thick of a chest in a glide.  Another very useful tip for identifying Mississippi Kites is the short P10 feather (as pointed out in the above picture).  This helps to give them an extremely tapered-wing look.

Once again, thank you all so very much for checking out this quiz blog, and even more to the few brave souls who posted answers.  There will be more quiz blogs to come, and please come down to see some of these birds in person!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Jeff Bouton permalink
    October 6, 2012 2:25 pm

    Well done Ted, thorough reply!

    On the MIKI above the mentioned short outer primary (#10) is actually listed as a distinctive feature in of itself in some ID guides. Also wanted to add to your comment on short tail. I’ve often noticed they carry their tails slightly splayed (as above) and almost “curved” out at the tip like this. It’s a bit different from a straight-edged, spread tail and I believe it to be very distinctive when shown as well. Just another something folks can add to their bag of tricks to aid in ID!

    • Ted Keyel permalink
      October 6, 2012 10:35 pm

      Thanks for the kind words and even more so for the additional information! Those are very good points, and they really help emphasize the importance of having a suite of characteristics to make an identification.

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