Monday, January 31, 2011

Dabbling duck silhouette quiz



 

The identification of hen ducks deserves more consideration than what is given in the field guides. Many birders identify hen ducks only by noting what drakes they are hanging out with.

The "Peterson System," where birds are identified primarily by field marks, is heavily weighted toward color and pattern. Yet the end plates in Peterson's field guides contain, not colorful birds with field marks pointed out, but silhouettes--in other words, shapes.

No one would mistake a wren for a sparrow if they birded by shape. Starlings and blackbirds are shaped nothing alike. A heron or crane? Please; they're nothing alike--just look at the shape!

Yet no field guides tell you how to bird by shape. Not that it can't be done, just that no one has sat down and created the vocabulary that would identify and explain the shapes. Well, actually, that's not entirely true. An ornithology manual would describe and define such bill shapes as spatulate, acute, pointed, recurved, etc. And then it would explain the terms long and short as it relates to bill length. Nevertheless, shape is used as an identification tool far too infrequently in field guides.

Dabbling, or puddle, ducks are those that tip up to feed and rarely dive. The males are colorful, but the females are camouflage patterned with various shades of brown. Nearly all ducks can be identified by shape alone, there are very few exceptions in the dabbling ducks or in the diving ducks--especially in the Pacific Northwest.

Here I present some hen dabbling duck silhouettes. They are created from photos I have taken, adjusted so they are all about the same size, and then turned to black.

So "forget" the patterns of buffs and browns, the color of the speculum, or the markings on the bill. Concentrate only on shape. Primarily look at the overall length--whether compact or long, the neck length and thickness, head shape, and bill shape.

Make your guesses in the comments section below. I'll give you the answers next week, with the silhouettes replaced with color photos. Sound fun?

Too hard? Then to help you get started here are your choices for the 7 dabbling ducks: American Wigeon, Cinnamon Teal, Gadwall, Green-winged Teal, Mallard, Northern Pintail, and Northern Shovleler.

Answers

8 comments:

  1. A Shoveler (duh)
    B Pintail
    C Cinnamon Teal
    D Green-winged teal
    E Gadwall
    F Mallard
    G Wigeon

    More confident on some than others

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  2. Great quiz! Here are my guesses: A. Northern Shoveler (massive bill) B. Northern Pintail (long tail, long neck, unique slope of bill/forehead) C. Cinnamon Teal (bill almost as massive as a shoveler) D. Green-winged Teal (tiny bill, tiny head) E. Gadwall (blocky, square head) F. Mallard (to be honest, just doesn't look like anything else, a generic duck) G. Wigeon sp. (steep forehead, small bill, longish tail)

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  3. This is great. Here are my guesses:
    A - Northern shoveler
    B - Northern pintail
    C - Cinnamon teal
    D - Green-winged teal
    E - Mallard
    F - Gadwall
    G - American wigeon
    I've just looked at the other answers posted so far, and I'm impressed by how similar they all are - I guess we pay more attention to shape than we realize!

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  4. My answers are the same as John's. The challenging ones (especially) were D, E & G. I mostly guessed on those, but came up w/ the same as John
    a. N. Shoveler
    b. N. Pintail
    c. Cinnamon Teal
    d. Green wing'd Teal
    e. Gadwall
    F. Mallard
    g. American (?) Wigeon

    It's funny how gestalt works.... when I have correct answers, in many cases, I'm not sure exactly what field mark triggers my correct answer, I just "know". Thanks - I love these quizzes!

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  5. Thanks for the quiz - in the field I really struggle with the girls, and this is a great reminder to go back to the basics to ID them!

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  6. one minor quibble: not *all* guides neglect shape. shape is an integral element of the id system advanced in "The Shorebird Guide", o'brien, crossley, and karlson.

    regards,

    t

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  7. Good creativity...thank you for the challenge. My answers: a) northern shoveler b)northern pintail c) mallard d) green-winged teal e) gadwall f) cinnamon teal g)american wigeon

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  8. I'm not yet good enough with these birds to venture any guesses (although the Northern Shoveler is pretty easy... A). This is really awesome, though. Great idea!

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