January Quiz: Answer

To refresh your memory, here is the photo from January’s Bird Quiz. It was taken in New Mexico during the month of January. Don’t read any further if you want one last chance to identify this bird.


I thought I’d start the year off with a less challenging quiz to build your confidence. I think everyone who sent me their IDs got it right.

I also chose this shot because of a point I want to make. So often we base our bird identification on one field mark to the exclusion of all others. For instance, while out birding recently I met a lady who was having trouble putting a name to a flock of striped warblers. She thought they were Yellow-rumps (they were) but she wasn’t sure because she couldn’t see the yellow on their rumps. In addition to their stripes, the birds had a patch yellow on their sides under the wings and a broken eye ring. Add in the location and time of year, and the fact that there were so many of them (so it wasn’t a lone stray), and Yellow-rumped Warbler was the only option.

I’ve seen a similar issue with Red-tailed Hawks. New birders are stymied if they can’t see the red tail. Yet, immature birds don’t have red tails, and Ferruginous Hawks can have a lot of red on theirs. A confident identification includes more than one field mark.

This photo is fun because it’s a familiar bird from an unfamiliar angle. To identify it, we need to look at the rest of the bird.

For starters, its size eliminates most song birds. This is a large bird! Then, we notice the formidable beak designed for prey, not seeds and berries. Add in the crest, the brown stripes, long runner’s legs, and the exceptionally long tail, and you have a unique combination of features telling us this is a Greater Roadrunner. They frequently stand like this in cold weather to allow the sun to warm their back. When I took this photo (at Bosque del Apache NWR) it was well below freezing.

Roadrunner_BosquedelApacheNWR-NM_LAH_7347Who hasn’t watched a roadrunner cartoon? Given a side view, such as this one of the same bird, a roadrunner is instantly recognizable, especially fleeing from Wily E. Coyote! But put one on a fence and the familiar outline disappears. This is a great example of why we should learn more than one way to ID a bird.

As a side note, there is also a Lesser Roadrunner, found in Mexico and central America. It resembles our friend above, but is smaller with a shorter beak. Maybe Wily could catch that one!

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