Photo Quiz: Answers to July Juveniles

In all, seven brave souls took a shot at identifying the five species of juvenile passerines represented by the six images in this photo quiz. Six posted public comments to this journal post and another sent me a private response.


Juvenile White-crowned Sparrow (subspecies "pugetensis"). Note the unmarked pale lores.

The bird in the first two photos was identified correctly as a juvenile White-crowned Sparrow by all respondents. One person did not understand that images #1 and #2 were of the same species, thus identified the second photo as a Chipping Sparrow.  The second photo is a bit ambiguous due to shadows across the face, which make it look like it might have a dark line through the lores. Note the pattern on the lores in photo #1, there is no dark line, which would be evident on a juvenile Chipping Sparrow,  but is not seen on a juvenile "Puget Sound" White-crowned Sparrow (subspecies pugetensis); this is the only subspecies that breeds in the lowlands of western Oregon.

Aside from one respondent, everyone deduced that the second bird (photo #3) is a juvenile Lazuli Bunting. The person who had "no idea" is a comparative new birder who lives on the central Oregon coast, where Lazuli Bunting is a rare migrant and does not breed. I half expected someone to call this bird a juvenile Brown-headed Cowbird, to which it bears some resemblance. However, if you look closely at the tail you can see that there is pale blue in the base of the rectrices. Even if you missed the blue in the tail, the pattern of streaking below eliminates juvenile Brown-headed Cowbird. This bird is sparsely streaked below, with narrow, crisp streaks that are widely spaced and essentially limited to the breast. There is some very weak, diffuse streaking on the lower breast and flanks. Juvenile cowbirds are more densely streaked, with obvious streaking extending all the way down the breast and belly. Additionally, this bird has unstreaked white under tail coverts, whereas a juvenile cowbird with have tan under tail coverts with darker brown streaking.


Here's a close-up crop of the tail on the bird in photo #3. The light azure blue in the base of the tail feathers is the clincher in identifying this bird. A juvenile Indigo Bunting, which would be highly unexpected at the site where this bird was photographed, would be more warm cinnamon brown overall and the wingbars would be less conspicuous.

The bird in photo #4 provided the first real stumbling block. One respondent offered up Brewer's Blackbird, while a second thought it was a Brown-headed Cowbird. The other five respondents, all of whom live with 100 miles of where this bird was photographed, readily recognized that it was a juvenile Spotted Towhee. I have to admit, when I first saw this bird I was quite taken by how dark it was. I see juvenile Spotted Towhees annually, as they are very common breeders in w. Oregon. I've never seen one that was this dark, but I usually see juvenile towhees a little later in the season when they are moving about more independently. This bird is much too dark to be a juvenile Brown-headed Cowbird. On the surface, identifying this bird as a juvenile Brewer's Blackbird or perhaps a young Red-winged Blackbird seems reasonable, but if you take a close look at tip of the tail, this becomes a slam-dunk ID. The outermost right hand retrix has a big white spot on the inner web. 


Note the white in the outer tail feather, which clues us in that this is a Spotted Towhee.


Here's poor quality frontal view of the Sandy River Delta Park juvenile Spotted Towhee that I photographed on 23 July 2012. Notice how much darker and sooty looking this bird is compared to what I would consider a more normal looking juvenile Spotted Towhee that I photographed near Veneta, Lane County, Oregon on 24 July 2009 (below). The used the same camera and lens in taking both photos.


Most of respondents did not struggle with next photo (#5), correctly identifying the bird as a juvenile Common Yellowthroat. One respondent thought it was a Yellow Warbler, which is certainly a reasonable guess. At this age, Common Yellowthroats and Yellow Warblers are remarkable similar in appearance. Generally, Yellow Warblers have a more conspicuous complete white eyering, which I don't notice on this bird. For me the combination of posture and tail length are the most helpful clues. Yellow Warblers are comparatively short-tailed with long under tail coverts and they almost always hold their tails horizontal in line with the body. Conversely, Common Yellowthroats have fairly long tails, shorter under tail coverts and they typically have their tails cocked up slightly, creating a wren-like appearance. I also think the color of the tail on this bird is helpful. It seems to be darker green than any tail I've seen on a Yellow Warbler. Finally, it's hard to see in this photo, but Common Yellowthroats have darker auriculars, which usually contrast noticeably with the much paler throat, while Yellow Warblers have a very unpatterned face with paler auriculars that don't contrast much with the color as the throat.  


Here's a close-up of the Common Yellowthroat from another angle. Note how dark and brownish-olive the crown and auriculars are on this bird and how it doesn't show an obvious eyering.

I had the final bird, photo #6, pegged as a complete stumper. I was genuinely surprised that anyone got this one right and in fact half of the respondents somehow figured out (devined?) that it was a partially-grown juvenile Willow Flycatcher. Rick Wright deserves special recognition for being the only out-of-towner to nail this bird. The other two correct responses came from Adrian Hinkle and Tom McNamara (who sent me his guesses privately).  They are both Portland area birders who've birded the site where this photo was taken many times. They would know that Willow Flycatchers are absolutely thick in the Armenian blackberry mounds that cover much of the unforested landscape at Sandy River Delta Park. They either figured this one out by process of elimination, or perhaps they have seen Willow Flycatchers of this age at the site. Had I not observed this bird being attended to by an adult Willow Flycatcher, I may have concluded that it was a young Warbling Vireo. To my eye it looks gray above rather than olive or brown and there is no suggestion of the wingbars that I would expect to see even on a recently-fledged Empidonax flycatcher. The bill does look pretty broad across the base, which perhaps points to the bird being a flycatcher.


Here's an adult Willow Flycatcher (above) that was photographed on the same day (23 July 2012) as the juvenile quiz bird below. Aside from perhaps the bill shape and the way the wings are held–with a broad area of exposed back and rump between the wings–there's really not much here that might suggest that bird below is a younger version of the bird in the upper photo. 


I want to thank the handful of folks who responded to this quiz and point out that all of those who took a stab at these birds are known to me. All but one are very experienced and widely-traveled birders, which is demonstrated by the abundance of correct answers in their responses. There is no shame in misidentifying these birds. Since juvenile passerines only wear their first set of feathers and present their juvenile aspect for month or two before the onset of their first prebasic or preformative (Pyle) molt, illustrations of these plumages can't be found in most field guides. They can only be learned via first hand experience. The species represented in this quiz all tend to inhabit low dense brush and their dependent youngsters are inclined to remain buried even deeper in the tangles as they await being fed by adults. To see these species in their juvenile aspect takes persistence  and spending lots of time watching common birds during the breeding season.

Becoming a better birder involves challenging yourself to ID birds that you find confounding. I am of the opinion that you learn far more from your mistakes than you do by getting identifications right without a struggle or having them spoon-fed to you by an expert. When you do misidentify a bird (and we all do), there is much enlightenment to be gained by retracing the steps through your thought process and analyzing where a preconceived notion or faulty perception led you down the wrong path. Only two of the respondents got all five birds right, and they both enjoy a decided advantage in terms of local knowledge. 


Keep it cmoing, writers, this is good stuff.


Estoy totalmente de acuerdo contigo, creo que te estas dando con una muro, no insistas e invierte donde creas, este foro no es de consulta, se mueve por intereses de unos pocos que hablan del interés personal de lo que debe de hacer un valía y no un estudio de cada valor.
farmacia en línea Hola.


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