Quiz kindly prepared by Adrian V.
This photo was taken in August in coastal Santa Cruz County. Here we have a bird facing away from us with its head down, but important field marks are still visible! Can you guess the species?
Answer will be displayed on November 1.
This bird seems to be medium sized when you compare its size to the surrounding ice plants. Due to the color of the bird, it’s quite difficult to determine the precise shape. But there is one very important feature that gets our identification headed toward the right direction: the feet, or at least one of them. Notice how the visible foot is webbed! This points us toward swimming birds.
Looking back at the shape and size of the bird, we can rule out ducks as it is not quite plump enough to be one. Now let’s look at the tail. It looks very short and rather square, with the wingtips nearly extending past it. Going down the list of birds with webbed feet, and keeping in mind that this photo was taken along the coast, we can narrow this bird down to… alcids? What’s this one doing under a pipe next to ice plants?
Keep in mind how alcids roost in places like on rocky islands and islets, and along sea cliffs. Due to the quite dark color and the time of year, we can guess as it is a breeding adult. But what sort of alcid is it? Look at the feet again! They’re a bright reddish color, but also notice the wings! The bird has a dark covert bar on a white upper wing patch, which could only mean that, due to the time of year and location, that this bird is a Pigeon Guillemot!
Although some people may have narrowed this bird down immediately, it is an excellent example to keep your options open during identification. You never know what birds you may encounter!
This Pigeon Guillemot was photographed at Natural Bridges State Park on August 19, 2023. It remained in this intriguing spot for only a few minutes. I first noticed it as it flew towards me and onto the ledge below me. I saw the white wing patches and the bright red legs and feet and was stunned to see this Pigeon Guillemot so close! This was the best angle from which I was able to view the bird. When it flew back out towards the ocean, it didn’t land on the water until after I had lost sight of it through my binoculars. To sum up, it was a very fun find!
Congratulations to Thomas, Henry M., and someone calling themselves “O Ravens” for getting Pigeon Guillemot!