Spring Class 2010 #2

4-28-2010 Spring Class #2.

Featuring AV with Ryan Weise

Change PBJ to PF on the top of Ken’s molt and song handout for shorebirds.

Change PAJ to PA1 .

Breeding Am Golden Plover the white on the shoulder stops ath the breast, and is wider at the lower end, almost a white shoulder patch.  The wing projection is longer and more primary projection, to accommodate the longer migration.

Pacific Golden Plovers that nest in AK tend to have longer  wings than the Siberian birds, and so some of these have a wing projection nearly as long as the Am. GPs we see here.

Molt sequence in Am. GPs.  Arrive in WA by late april- early May.  Adults that come thru are in July- Early Sept.  Primaries are very worn, because they are not molted.  Do not molt primaries until in S. America.  Juveniles also do not have wing molt until in S America also.  They do molt their primaries in S. America.  So when they come back all Americans migrate north, juveniles included.   All have new fresh primaries  If a bird happens to be a non-breeding plumage you can tell it likely is a juvenile.

Pacific GPs juveniles can straggle down the coast.  Juveniles in wintering grounds do not molt their primaries.  You can tell any GP in spring that has worn primaries is a migrating Pacific GP young bird.  Most young Pac. GPs do not migrate.   Pacific GPs start their molt during incubation, and start their primary molt in AK with from 1-5 inner primaries, P1 àP5, then they suspend their molt, and finish the molt of the outer primaries on the wintering ground.  So look at the primaries to see if they are fresh or old.

The mantle of a Pac. GPs each feather has “paired golden spots”  and the American GP has only a single golden spot  is on each feather.  This gives the Pacific GP a brighter and more golden color to the mantle.

Snowy Plover: Dark legs and dark bills.  In sub adults the ends of the primaries are off color.

Semi-palmated Plover: common, easy, no discussion this class

Killdeer:  common, easy, no discussion this class

Black Oystercatcher:   easy, no discussion this class

Am. Avocet:  easy, no discussion this class

Long-necked Stilt:   easy, no discussion this class

Willet: western birds are darker and larger.

Greater Yellowlegs: Upright sandpiper with yellow legs and a long bill.  Usually greater yellowlegs are more brightly marked, have a longer primary projection. More active movement with feeding.

Solitary Sandpiper:  longer bill, striped tail, (dark stripe down the middle)  with barring on the tail, no wing stripe. Rare to uncommon in spring, uncommon (i.e. more common) in the fall in WA.   Best time is Early August to early Sept.  Usually on fresh water ponds or marshy areas.  Relaxed hold their bill out almost parallel.  Fly straight up and then come down or fly away.  3 noted call paseet-weet-weet.

Wandering Tattler:  loud call, dee-dee-dee-dee  usually seen alone, tend to be isolated.  Usually take off singly, and call when they take off.

Spotted sandpiper:  call faster, more like a trill.   Ponds, rivers.  Even seen at high elevation to 6000 feet.  Fly close to the water, fluttery wings, usually in pairs.

Whimbrel: shorter decurved bill, stripes on the head, shorter primary projection,  Usually barring on the flanks. coastal migrant in WA.

Long-biller curlew:  very long bill, no steaks on the crown, coastal migrant in the rest of the year,  as with other shorebirds, the female has the longer bill.

Marbled Godwits: Very rare in E WA, almost always coastal, in WA almost only in Gray’s Harbor and Willipa Harbor.  A lot of our Tokeland Godwits stay the summer, so apparently many are young birds that oversummer.

Bar-tailed Godwit: wider eyestripe behind the eye, grayer, usually in the fall, If seen in the spring adult male will be red underneath,

Ruddy Turnstone:  450K worldwide, many more on the east coast. In WA uncommon to fairly common in springtime, uncommon in fall.  Ruddys will feed in a wide variety of habitat, more so than black turnstones.

Black Turnstone:  80-95K in North America, 80% plus nest in a single river delta in AK.

Surfbird:  white band on tail, thick ploverlike bill.

Rock Sandpiper:  Shaped like a dunlin, breeding rufous over the head. Two-tone bill.

Red Knot:  In breeding plumage brick red breast, whitish edged feathers on back, light crown.  White belly.  Only 20K breed in AK.   Ours fly from S. Am. And have very specific staging areas.  Fly from S. America, stop and stage and fatten up for 2-3 weeks, and then go off to breeding grounds. Rare in the fall in WA.

Sanderling: whitest winter shorebird in WA.

Dunlin: bigger than western sandpiper.  Whole back, scapulars and coverts are red in spring, in fall don’t return in numbers until Oct. Prebasic molt on the breeding grounds, and return in basic or formative plumage, rarely see juveniles.

Semipalmated sandpiper:  rare in springtime.  Most likely in E WA in inland locations, less coastally.  More plentiful in fall in WA, mostly  juveniles.  Look for blunt short bill, and brownish plumage.  Hunt more visually, less probing, more looking up, see something, run off like a plover.

Western sandpiper: In juvenile red restricted to the scapulars.

Least Sandpiper:  short bill, slightly droopy,  winter plumage almost all darker and brownish black.   Yellowish legs.

White-rumped Sandpiper;  East coast bird, migrate thru the middle of  the country,

Baird’s sandpiper: a fall migrant

Pectoral Sandpiper:  again mostly fall,

Upland Sandpiper: nest again in E WA near Spokane.  Short wings, long tail projection past wings.’

Ruffs: a few spring adult records, most juveniles in fall.  Variable legs, yellow to orange.   Short bill.  Male much larger, male

Short-billed Dowicher:  Rufous underside, white belly. Usually LB has pinkish belly in spring.  Usually short billed has thicker base of the bill, and the top of the bill slopes gradually.  Tend to have flat backs when feeding.  Big flocks on salt water in spring are invariably short billed.  Small flocks on fresh water could be either.  Individual LBs can be mixed in a large SB flock.   3S’s of short billed, salt water, spotted on breast, short bill.  Covert molt in SB is irregular.

Our species is the Carinis subspecies.

Long-billed Dowicher:  Coverts dark centered with broad white tips in alt. plumage, so LB look brighter above in spring.  Coverts usually uniformly molted.   Wings shorter.  Shorter primary projection.

Stilt sandpiper:  long legs, droopy bill,

Wilson’s Snipe: next week

Spring Class Notes 2010 – Class 1

I thought as the peak of spring migration is just around the corner it is timely to put up notes from a previous spring class.  The most recent relatively complete notes I have is the 2010 spring class, as in 2011 I just listened and used old notes.

4-20-10 Class #1 Spring

Field Trips:

This class will be more of an impressionistic class

Bring the shorebirds molt and voice worksheet to class each time.

Strategies for molt.

Simple basic- start in juvenile, go a year in juvenile, then have one molt annually into a basic plumage.  (like hawks)

Complex basic:  juvenile à formative plumage, the annual molt into basic plumage. (like towhee)

Simple alternate:  juvenile à pre alternate moltà pre basic à …  (like loons?)

Complex Alternate: Juvenileà formativeà pre-alternateà pre basic à pre alternateà …  (like most songbirds)

Pre-basic molt is complete, all feathers.

Pre-alternate molt is incomplete, usually not flight feathers, other feathers vary by species.

Short distance migrants molt on breeding grounds or in staging areas.  Long distance migrants may start molt on breeding grounds, then suspend the molt, and finish on the wintering ground as they cannot both migrate and molt simultaneously.

Birds have a complete molt in the fall

Birds have an incomplete in spring into alternate head, body, all scapulars, and maybe some wing feathers.

Terms used to describe the extent of a molt, usually the pre-alternate molt:

Partial:  head,  in spring into alternate head  body, few covets and some scapulars

Limited:  in spring into alternate head and a few body feathers

These are the common Western WA shorebirds you should know for our upcoming trip.  BBPL, both yellowlegs, dowichers, dunlin, Least SP, Western SP à plan to know these by voice  before the coast trip.

A Shorebird year starting Jan 1:

As early as Jan and as late as June, shorebirds are entering pre-alternate molt.  By the time shorebirds get to WA the adults are usually in full alternate plumage.  Most juveniles stay on wintering grounds, but some young birds may migrate in their basic plumage and others of the same species may have a PA molt into an adult or near adult alternate plumage.

The migration thru WA is in a rush, usually in late April- early May.

Adults usually nest as soon as they get to breeding grounds, usually in mid may to early June.

Failed breeders and some young birds almost immediately head back.

Young birds are in downy plumage for about a month and then go into juvenile plumage.

First after failed breeders back are females in worn plumage, followed by males in worn plumage a week or so later.  Then a week or two later, or sometimes much later, are bright fresh juveniles.  Going on their own,  at 1-2 months of age.

PB molt in some adults can start as a limited molt even on the nest, or on the breeding ground.

Suspend molt of remiges (flight feathers in spring into alternate head) and rectrices (tail feathers) until on or near the breeding ground.

On wintering grounds birds finish their wing and tail molt.  Those who winter in NA may finish their molt at stopovers.

Juveniles start their PB 1 molt somewhere between Sept and Oct and end by Dec.  This is a formative type plumage, incomplete in most species vs. adults having a complete molt into basic plumage.

Impression:  Next week come prepared to concisely discuss whatever bird we are identifying.

As a homework assignment do a walk or go into back yard and bird by ear and without binoculars.  Use GISS not binos.

We will also work on expected location, time of year, habitat, behavior, relative size, etc.

We will look a lot at structure, legs, bill, neck, wing and primary projection, head structure.  Look at feeding behavior, voice.

Last we will look at plumage impression.  White belly dowicher is short billed, long billed don’t have white bellies.

Dunlin grayish with a dark breast, Western SP brownish above with white breast.

Get a copy of the Howell Shorebird guide. Much of Ken’s comments are there and so you can avoid the need to take so many notes.


Remiges and Rectrices:

Primaries numbered 1-10 and molt begins on the innermost primary (1) and moves outward.  Secondaries are numbered outward to inward, and so P1 is beside S1.  Secondary molt begins after primary molt is about half way done.  It moves from outside in.  This results in gaps in the wing feathers.  If you see these gaps it usually means the bird will molt in NA.  Some birds molt at staging grounds (like LBDO)  vs. SBDO does not molt primaries until on the wintering ground.

IN spring you see nice fresh feathers on the head, scapulars and the bodies.  Fresh feathers have nice well defined patterns, and old feathers have the fringes and patterns on the edges worn off, sometimes serrated or saw tooth edges.  Dark pigments wear tougher, lighter feathers wear faster.

Juveniles have usually white edges on scapulars and coverts.

Old feathers tend to look frayed on the edges and can droop more, not as stiff.   As they droop more they eventually fall out.  Old feathers tend to be more pointed as they wear, more rounded when they are fresh, and as they wear off the white or buff rounded edges they become more pointed.

Good example of feather wear is the Least Sandpiper.   In spring highly patterned with light tipped feathers,  very patterned.  When they come back in the fall they are darker with less patterning on the top.  In August you will see fresh juveniles, and worn adults. Later the juveniles will look more worn, and the adults are going thru PB molt and will look much sharper and fresh.


Species accounts:

Black bellied Plovers:  all year have black axillars, wing stripe, the biggest plover, blocky, on mud flats, on open beaches, roost on upper beach, golf courses.  Upland species also. More west, but also E of Cascades.  3 syllable loud  plaintive   Plee-uu-ee lower in pitch than golden plovers.  Up until PB2 molt you can age juveniles by their worn primaries.  Especially in spring.  Listen for calls in flight.   GISS, chunky, thick necked, heavier bill than golden plovers, note 240 gm vs. 130-140 grams for goldens. Seen spring and fall.

Pacific Golden Plover: lower pitched, emphasis on second syllable, variable pitch  mostly seen in the fall. Buffy, In spring white on flanks, appear to be front heavy, look like they could tip over forward, larger head, rounder body, stand taller, shorter wing projection and longer primary projection of 4 feathers.   Have a molt that does not include the primaries.  So in the springtime look at the primaries, and in first year pacifics have worn primaries all the way until June or July, so very worn.   So if you see a golden plover in spring with worn primaries it is Pacific.   Pacific adults molt the inner primaries on the breeding grounds (Americans do not)   So inner 5 primaries will be fresh in adults in migration in fall.

American Golden-plover:  In spring stripe ends before the flank, more slim, more attenuated, not as plump, longer primary and wing projection.   No wing stripe. Dark tailed.    One tone note, two syllables.   Have a complete fall molt, between Oct- Dec. includes the primaries.   First year Americans have fresh primaries.  In migration American GPs do not molt their primaries until on the breeding grounds.

Mountain Plover:  pale all over, big headed, thick necked, short grass or plowed fields, loose flocks.

Killdeer:   slim, long tailed, small bill.

Snowy Plover:  drrrp toor-eeet  call.  Light plovers with dark legs and dark bills, longer and slimmer than semi-palmated, tend to be front heavy.

Piping Plover:    two tone bill, orange legs.  More attenuated, not front heavy, tiny bill. 

Wilson’s Plover:  light legs, dark above, larger and front heavy, large head and bill, thick bill.  Usually on upper beach.

Semi-palmated Plover:  two syllable note, chu-eep.   Come through very early in the fall, often in July.

Black Oystercatcher:  Bulky, short thick neck, long thick bill

American Oystercatcher:  southern coasts, sandy beaches, two toned, also mud flats.

American Avocet:  Alkali ponds, E WA, rare in migration on W side, larger than black necked stilts. Chunky.  Loud PLEET CALL.  Gather in large groups to molt in migration in fall.

Black-necked Stilt:   slim body, long legs, needle-like bill, alkali ponds, very rare in migration on W side.  Yip-Yip-Yip loud call

Greater Yellowlegs:  higher more strident 3 noted call    Two times the weight of lesser, long upturned bill, look like they have an Adams apple, bulge on front of the neck.  Pick and chase.  Scurry around the pond.  Seen all year round, numerous spring and fall.  Pattern above and stripes on upper neck.

Lesser Yellowlegs:  slim-chested, smooth body contour, straight bill, more methodical scything movements as it walks, usually does not run.  Walks steadily.   Unusual  in spring, either E or W side.  Usually fresh water ponds.  Seen as early as July 1 in fall thru. Sept.  rare after September.

2011 Spring Class #2- Molt

Spring Class #2    5-3-2011

First what shorebirds can be found in spring and fall

Black-bellied Plover Common Common
Am. Golden Plover Rare Fairly Common
Pacific Golden Plover Uncommon Fairly Common
Snowy Plover Local Available Local Available
Greater Yellowlegs Common Common
Lesser Yellowlegs Rare Common
Solitary Sandpiper Rare Uncommon
Willet Very Uncommon local Local, available
Wandering Tattler Uncommon Uncommon Early migrant
Spotted Sandpiper Common Common
Whimbrel Common Common
Long-billed Curlew Very uncommon Uncommon
Hudsonian Godwit Very rare Rare
Marbled Godwit Common Common
Bar-tailed Godwit Very Rare Rare
Ruddy Turnstone Common Uncommon
Black Turnstone Common Common
Surfbird Common Common
Rock Sandpiper Very Uncommon Uncommon
Red Knot Common Uncommon
Sanderling Common Common
Semi-palmated sandpiper Rare Uncommon
Western Sandpiper Common Common
Least Sandpiper Common Common
Baird’s Sandpiper Rare Uncommon
Pectoral Sandpiper Rare Uncommon
Sharp-tailed sandpiper Very rare Very uncommon
Dunlin Common Common
Stilt Sandpiper Very rare Uncommon
Buff-breasted sandpiper N/A Rare
Ruff  Very rare Uncommon
Short-billed sandpiper Common Common
Long-billed Dowicher Fairly common Common
Wilson’s Phalarope Rare Uncommon
Red-necked phalarope Uncommon Fairly common
Red Phalarope Rare Uncommon after storms

In spring in WA there are about 23 common shorebirds, few rare

In Fall in WA there are about 25-26 common to uncommon with about 10 more rare

Tails and Wings  from P 28 in D. Paulson’s first book.

Look that many birds which are Probers tend to copy in appearance Sentinals that they associate with.

Sanderling and Dunlin will fly together, both stripe tailed, bold wing patterns and similar size

Red knot and BBPL both conspicuous wing patterns and white rump, Black-bellied is a sentinel and Red knot a prober.

Note the 5 rock sandpipers can be IDed primarily on their tail patterns, Surfbird and Turnstones band tailed, Tattler plain tailed,  Rock Sandpiper stripe tailed.

Sentinels vs. probers.  See ABA article in 2007 by D. Paulson.

Flocking is social, depends on flight patterns and similar sizes.

Birds in tight coordination flocks need to be very similar in size.

A birds pattern says come fly with me, a social message

Surfbirds, Turnstones, Rock Sandpipers

Dunlin and Sanderlings

Curlews and Godwits

BBPL and Red Knot

Sentinels see the predator first, usually have their head up, give a loud call.  Plovers, Trigines Palaropes, Upland Sandpipers, Curlew

Probers keep their head down, more at risk depend on

Dunlin, Stilts, Dowivhers, Snipes, Peeps.

These are mutually beneficial  Sentinals keep an eye out and have loud calls, probers have large flocks, have softer calls, space less, have heads down.

Convergent evolution:  Curlew & sentinals, Yellowlegs, Phalaropes and Dunlin

In theory probers should increase awareness when alone, and have a higher predation when no sentinels around.


Molt is mostly about the flight feathers, the wing and tail feathers.

Primaries are attached to the hand.

Secondaries attached to the ulna.

In theory to be a true tertial needs to be attached to the Humerus.

Primaries usually #10, numbered from inner to outer.  Usually shed from the inside out.

Secondaries vary in number, numbered from mid-wing inward.  14-38 depending on how  long the wing is in the species.  Usually shed from the outside in and from the inside tertial outward both at the same time.

Tail: Most birds have 12 tail feathers, inside R1 out to R6 on each side.  Usually shed from the inside out with some exceptions (like woodpeckers)

Greater coverts cover the secondaries, primary coverts cover the secondaries.  Median coverts cover the primary coverts.

Scapulars are important in that they are very noticible in standing birds.

Primary coverts usually shed with the primaries they cover.


Modified Humphrey-Parkes Classification System

2003 by Howell.

All You Ever Wanted to Know About Molt

But Were Afraid to Ask

Part II: Finding Order Amid the Chaos

by Steve N. G. Howell

Now all molts are names for the molt that is coming in, i.e. pre molts.  This is from an ABA article Oct

Molting is the regrowth of feathers.  That is all we are concerned about, the growth of a new feather generation, not at all about color, just the growth of the feather.

There are 4 basic strategies:

Simple Basic Strategy SBS  same plumage all year – not many, Albatrosses, some petrals, barn owl.

Wear their juvenile plumage ofor a whole year.  Ne complete molt per year in the fall.

Complex Basic Strategy  CBS   Towhee, Only difference is a formative plumage in the first year.

Simple Alternate Strategy  SAS  One different plumage in the spring, the alternate plumage.  Two molts per year, have a complete fall molt, and a usually incomplete alternate molt in the spring.

Complex Alternate Strategy CAS  Have an additional molt out of juvenile into formative molt, i.e. preformative molt, in the first year, then two a year (3 in the first year)

Birds have one complete molt every year as a general rule, large birds maybe every 2 years.

Other molts are either limited, partial or imcomplete.

What triggers molt?  Length of day, temperature, and suppression of hormonal function activation triggers a molt.

New feathers are in sheeths, and made out of keratin, i.e. pin feathers.

Plumage:  to describe the color of the birds we can use the term aspect.  So in Humphrey Parke we use phrases like adult plumage aspect APA,

Most birds hatched either naked (altrical) or downy (precocial)  The first true feathers are the juvenile feathers, i.e. the B1 feathers.  Most birds in the F1 plumage have an APA.  They retain a few juvenile feathers, so you can sometimes tell they are in formative plumage.

After the birds are adult you say that they have a definitive pre basic and definitive pre alternate molt.  DPB and DPA molt each year.

A few birds have two downy plumages, e.g. flamingos, penguins.  Some have a supplemental molt, i.e. one that is extra and does not fit in.  Possibly Marbled Godwit has an extra very limited molt where the red in the breast becomes brighter as they move north.  Usually after the alternate molt to improve their breeding success.

Some birds have more feathers in the winter than the summer, for warmth.  Big birds have more feathers than small birds.

Birds have to molt.  They cannot survive without molt, so it’s more important than breeding.  More important than migration.  Molt is a high energy cost process.  Most birds do not molt their flight feathers during migration.  Some like dowichers suspend molt during migration and resume at staging areas enroute.

Dark feathers wear the slowest, light feathers the fastest
Small birds generally separate molt from breeding.  Larger birds can molt during breeding, but not while laying eggs. Female hawks may start molt prior to laying eggs, suspend this to lay eggs, and then finish after eggs are hatched.  Males are smaller so wait to start until after the birds are off the nest and still finish on time because they are smaller.

Timing of molt may depend on the length of migration, others go to a staging location enroute on migration.  May depend on food supplies, other factors.

IN 1983 no body knew where black swifts winters, but they had never been seen molting in NA, and so we knew they had to winter in South America.  So by looking there they were found in S. America. Opposite with Cave Swallows, known to be in molt in NA, and finally found wintering in Mexico.

Molt sequence:  Flight feathers first P1à P6, then secondary molt starts both ways from the middle on out.

Color of feathers can change based on when the bird is born and when they molt.  Male House finches, CBS, if they molt Augà Oct in first year can be red, if molt in Julyà Nov can be partially red or yellow. If they molt after Nov they can be female aspect.  (pre Howell in Molt book)

Types of molt:

Complete all feathers

Incomplete:  all except but some flight featehrs

Partial:  Most body but no flight feathers

Limited: Some of the body but not all.

Molt Contrast:  Some of the coverts, some scapulars may be adult like and others juvenile like.  This contrast between new and old feathers is called molt contrast.  Can help with aging some species.

4 types of wing molt:

Standard sequential  P1àP10, Secondaries start about when P6 is molting, starting from the outside in and inside out.  Meet in the middle.   Eccentric sequential is a variant of this.

Synchronous wing molt:  simultaneous dropping of the wing feathers.  Typical of larger birds.  No flight.  Loons, greges, murres, waterfowl, puffins.  Dippers shed P1-6 synchrounously, then P7-10 seqentially.

Stepwise:  Old term is Stauffelmauser.  Long winged birds that weigh over 1 Kg.  Starts where the last molt left off and at P1.    Think of Golden Eagles.  Molt about from P1 à P6 or P7.  Second molt goes P1 and P7 or 8.  In third year may start at P1 P4 and P8.  Osprey has an accelerated stepwise molt.  Some are obligate.  Because of their size they have to do this.  Others are opportunistic stepwise molters, especially female large buteos.

Factors affecting molt.  Birds locked in by their genetic ancestry.  Food can affect molt.  Body size affects molt.  Migration strategy affects molt.  Most resident and short distance birds tend to be CBS.  Most long distance migrants tend to have an alternate strategy.  Habitat is important.  Birds deep in the forest tend to be CBS.  Woodpeckers, thrushes etc.  Edge birds tend to be CAS, in the sun more.

Birds that have the least amount of time not migrating molts the least, longer migrating molt the most.


3 types: 

Pigmented Carotinoids and melanins. Melanins black, brown and rusty.  Synthesized by the bird directly. Provide strength.  Carotinoids provide bright colors, from the diet, needs to eat something in the diet and synthesize it, reds pinks, oranges, yellows.

Structural Blue and white, produced by interference with light rays.  Fine structures in the feather bend the light to produce the color.  Blue absorbs everything but the blue and reflects the blue.  Like Stellar’s jays, indigo buntings.  Keratin scatters light.  No pigment scatters light.  Irridescence varies with viewpoint and is due to fine structures in the feathers.  Fine structures on the gorget in Hummingbirds reflect the light.  This changes with the angle of view.  Cosmetic is the staining of feathers by the bird.  Like Sandhill Crane puts mud on the feathers.  Reddish blush on the gulls is dietary.  Staining on swans and geese is feeding in rust deposited water.  It is incidental.  Not intentionally applied, so not cosmetic.



2011 Spring Class Notes: Class #1

4-26-11  Spring Class #1  Advanced Birding

Consider getting The Shorebird Guide by Obrien, Crosley, and Karlson.

Next week we will cover molt, the foundation of the class.

51st supplement to the AOU list – 4 new orders were added:

Tropic Birds only, moved to their own order.  Can look this all up on David Sibley’s website

Suliformes:  4 families, Frigates, boobies and gannets and anhingas and cormorants into suliformes and out of pelicaniformes.

Accipitorformes:  Vultures, Osprey, and All of the hawks are the 3 families.

Falconoformes:  remain in their own family.  3 sub families, forrest falcons, caracaras, and falcons.

Herons, bitterns, ibis, spoonbills moved into pellicanoformes with pelicans.

So there are 11 new families in 4 new orders.

Warbers:  6 warblers moved from vermovora to oriophillipses.  A brand new sub-family of warblers.  New genus. Leaves only 3 vermivores.

Pirangas moved into Cardinaline, so the tanagers of N America moved to this new order.  So tanagers more closely related to BH grosbeak

Winter wren split into Winter wren and Pacific Wren

Whip-poor will split into eastern and western.

Black scoter remains Black Scoter and is now split form the one in Europe which is now Common Scoter

Greater Shearwater changed to Great Shearwater.

GISS:   General Impression Size and Shape

Why look at this GISS approach to bird ID rather than just fieldmarks?  Simpler and more enjoyable.

Starting the class with shorebirds in order to be ready for the first fieldtrip to the coast primarily to study and see the spring shorebird migration.

Shorebirds:   87 species worldwide, 42 species annually in WA, 20 accidentals.

Shorebird year:  Start in the first of the calendar year.  Refer to the boxes of strategies of molt in the Howell book.  See the box like table.

In early calander year molt into alternate plumage.  Migrate in about March-April, some in alt plumage prior to leaving non-breeding grounds, and most of the birds we see in migration in incomplete alternate plumage are first or maybe second year birds.  Go to breeding grounds.  Our spring migration ends June 10th in WA.  June 10-20 you cannot tell of birds are moving N or S.  After June 20 most birds are moving south.  Usually females show up here first on the southward migration along with unsuccessful breeders, usually in worn plumage.  Then the males show up, with most of the adults through WA by mid to late August.  Juveniles start showing in late July-early August and are in Juvenile plumage.  Juvenile plumage is fresh and pristine.  Brand new 6 week old feathers.  Can still see juveniles until early November.  Spring migration is urgent, move through quickly.  Fall migration is more protracted.

Juveniles start in about Late Oct-Nov their B1 plumage.

GISS cont:

  1. Relative size is the most important aspect of GISS.  Small like a peep, medium like a dowicher, large like a Whimbrel.  The good thing about shorebirds is you can compare sizes to a known bird.

In a new flock of birds, first look for different sizes of birds.  Then lock onto one bird to identify for a size comparison.  If no other birds, try to compare the bird to an artifact for general size.

  1. Structure is the second most important thing in GISS, like the length of the legs, width and size of the head and bill, is the bird slim, fat, dumpy, attenuated, long neck or short neck, bill is very important, is it long like a curlew or short like a plover, where in between.  Bill color and leg color and bill shape are the most key field marks.
  2. Next is behavior.  How does it feed, visual hunter like a plover or probe like a sandpiper.  Does it pick, probe, or stitch.  Wild movement like a greater YL, or more slow and methodical like a lesser YL.  Flocking behavior helps.  Tight flock or spread out.  Size of the flock can help.  Loud or soft call.  Is it a sentinel or a prober.
  3. Flight behavior, fluttery near the water is Spotted SP, towering flight is Solitary sandpiper.

Least SP takes off at a more acute angle than a Western SP.

  1. General impression of Color patterns – dun colored, brown or black on the least, the gray or brown above and white belly allows them to blend in from above and minimize the shadow effect.  Called counter shading
  2. Finally is voice:  it can help clinch the ID.
  3. Details of the plumage is the last thing, and we’ll cover this in the third class.  It is often needed to confirm the ID.

Probability is very important.  Look for what is available.

Look at the silhouettes in the Howell book.

Black-bellied plover:  30 mm bill length, 200K in NA 240gm, fat and plump, primaries slightly past the tail, mud flats, beaches and plowed fields.

Am. Golden Plover: most come thru the central states in spring, so very rare in spring, more in fall.  150K in NA.  145gm.  Long wing projection, > ½ inch.  Long wings =Long migration.  Plowed fields, sparse vegetation, golf courses, salt marshes, almost always coastal in WA in spring.  23 mm bill

Pacific Golden Plover: 16K in AK, world wide 125K.  In WA we can see the birds from AK in the fall, mostly juveniles.  130gm.  Legs longer, wings shorter, so shorter wing projection, look bigger chested and “dumpier”   23 mm bill

Snowy Plover:  14 mm bill, all dark bill, dark legs, 16K – 21 K in NA.  In WA very few, maybe 65 individuals in WA last year.  Small, chunky, very light colored, live on the upper dry sand,

Semipalmated Plover: In WA almost every small plover is Semi-palmated. 150K, upland, beaches, fields, mudflats. Loose flocks.

Piping and Wilson’s  plovers, not here.

Killdeer:  common, easy.

Mountain Plover:  one seen in WA this year.  9K in the world

Greater Yellowlegs: 56 mm bill (avg) 100K but in WA we see far more greater YL, seen both fall and spring.  160 gm. Big belly, Adam’s apple, upturned bill, active feeder, can sythe but also run and grab food.  Flooded fields, marshes, tidal creeks, slightly shorter tail.

Lesser Yellowlegs: 36 mm bill.  500K, rare in W WA in spring, in fall in small groups.  80 gm.  More methodical, move through kicking at the surface, marshes, more protected areas, mud flats.  Slightly longer wing projection, goes past the tail a little more.

Solitary sandpiper: 30 mm bill, 25 K in US, 50 gm, compact, short wings, short legs and neck, move slowly on the edge of the water, ponds, creeks, fresh water marshes, spotted above, bob their head (not their tail).  Fly straight up, called towering.  Tend to hold their bill horizontally.

Willet:  62 mm bill, we have western willet, only in Tokeland and WIllipa bay, as with other larger sandpipers it often takes longer to mature, and some oversummer in their first year.  210 gm

Wandering Tattler:  33 mm slightly drooping pointed bill, attenuated, 110 gm, same wt as a dowicher.  Found on rocks, only seen in migration.  Plain wing, plain tail. 10K in world.  Horozontal stance, teeters head only, walks quickly, loose flocks.  Picks and probes.  The largest rock sandpiper.   Pointed bill.  Usually don’t flock with other rock birds.  When disturbed fly by themselves.  Tend not to fly by in a flock.  Very loud call.

Spotted Sandpiper:  40 gm, 150K, short legs an bill, shallow fluttery flight, bob their tail, horizontal stance with bobbing, in the south they are polyandrous, can lay up to four broods, in the south the female with lay the eggs, abandon them and leave them to the male.

Whimbrel:  Long bill, decurved, 87 mm bill, 390 gm, striped head, walk slowly, mud flats, grassy areas.

Long-billed Curlew:  480 gm, 160 mm bill, walk steadily picking and probing.

Hudsonian Godwits:  300 gm most in middle of the country, rare in fall, not in spring, 82 mm bill, 50K,

Marbled Godwits: increasing in WA, 1500-2000 in outer coast of WA, most in WA may be immature birds and many oversummer, 102 mm bill, molt very quickly and early, 140-200K, 370gm.  Abreviated eye stripe.

Bar-tailed godwit:  120K breed in AK.  340 gm, medium sized, supercillim increases behind the eye.  Fly non-stop from AK to Oceana, 6000 miles non-stop.

Ruddy Turnstone:  23 mm bill 235-267K, more common in WA in spring, less in fall.  110 gm. More of a generalist, will be seen on cobble beaches and other substrates

Black Turnstone:  60K, 120 gm, more exclusively on rocks.

Surfbird:  190 gm, (vs 110 gm for tattler)  plump, short plover like 24 mm bill, 10” long, second largest by length, 70-100K in world.

Rock Sandpiper:  small, 70gm.  Slightly decurved and to a point. Seenin migration and in early winter.  Very few in spring.  Later arriver in fall.  100-200K,  but one of the three species is not migratory, we have the tuscurim subspecies here.  Many stay to the N of us.

Discussion of bill length:  small bill < length of the head, medium bill = length fo the head, Long bill > length of the head.

Black Oystercatcher:  11K  need rocky substrate.

Black Necked Stilt:  E WA breeder.

Americal Avocet:  450K females have a longer and more curved bill.  Sentinals.

Upland Sandpipers:  possibly extirpated.

Red Knot:  36 mm bill, 400K in NA, but most in the eastern NA, 135 gm, plump, short legs, horizontal stance, sandy beaches and mud flats, very gregarious, rare in fall, more in spring, come through in numbers quickly, medium bill,

Sanderling: 26 mm bill, run in and out of the surf, 300K,

Semipalmated sandpiper: more in the fall, tubular stubby bill, 3.5M, 25 grams, 6 ¼ inches, slightly plumper looking, not as front heavy, walk steadily picking, aggressive toward other birds, 18 mm bill

Western Sandpiper:  long droopy bill, 25mm bill, 26 grams, droopy bill, roosting birds more upright, large flocks, likes mudflats  3.5-4M

Least sandpiper:  19 mm bill, 600K, 21 grams, smallest sandpiper in the world, crouches when feeding, picks more, walks steadily picking, higher on the sand or mud flats, small flocks, more loose flocks, more erratic flight on takeoff, steeper angle, short bill and crouching, so feed near their feet.

Baird’s sandpiper:  300K, mid Americas, seen juveniles in the fall,  38 grams, steep forehead, 23 mm fine tipped bill, very long wings often crossed, often seen in dry areas,

White-rumped sandpiper: on E coast, rare here.

Pectoral Sandpiper:  rare in spring, 30 mm bill, 73 grams, 8 ¾ inches, slightly decurved medium bill, small head, longer neck and head.  Primaries to the tail tip, salicornia, assoc. with buff breasted, upland areas.

Buff Breasted SP: fall bird,

Upland Sandpiper:  tail longer than the wings,

Sharp-tailed sandpiper:  again fall, 26 mm droopy bill, 8 ½ “, two tone bill, red cap, buffy chest

Dunlin:  38 mm bill, longer than the head, 1 ¼ M , 60 grams, sanderling sized, dun colored in winter, rapidly picks and probes, winters in good numbers, all large flocks in winter are dunlin primarily.

Stilt Sandpiper:  40 mm bill, droopy thick bill, 50-200K, rare in spring, more in fall, smaller than dowichers, walks steadily with bill down probing in the water, often belly deep, submerges head.  These birds walk as they probe steadily.

Buff-breasted sandpiper: 20 mm, 64 gm, less than annual in the fall.  Squarish small head, upright stance, pigeon like gate.

Ruff:  Ruffs and Reeves, Ruff size of GR YL, reeve size of LEYL.  Ruff 150 gm, short droopy bill, hunches when feeding, wanders continuously, rare in spring.

Short-billed dowichers:  60 mm, (vs 67mm in LB)  females longer bills, 320K, 110 gm, flatter backed in relaxed feeding pose, thicker at the base, subtle kink at the base, spotted at the side of the neck, large groups on salt water are mostly SB,  S=Short billed, salt water, spotted)

Long-billed dowicher:  Small groups on fresh water,

Wilson’s phalarope:  1.5M  60 gm, 9 ¼ inches, long needle like bill, mostly inland, rare on coast,

Red-necked phalarope:  35 grams, 7 ¾ “, compact, slim neck, inland, coastal and pelagic, striped back is key,

Red Phalarope: 1M in NA, 5M worldwide.  55 gm, 8 ½ inches, pelagic, on land after strong storm, heavy plover like bill.


Fall Class Hawk Notes

These are the notes taken by Ed Pullen from Ken Brown’s TAS 2010-11-16 Fall Bird Class


Turkey Vulture:  SBS, though not extensively studied.  Several years ago vultures were reclassified to be closer to storks, but Howell now thinks they will be moved again, though not clear to where.  6-8 years to get to full adult aspect. Fledge in 2-6 months, breed at about 6 years.  This means that they are growing juvenile feathers for a long time and they are strong so they can last a whole year.  IN fall a bird with all nicely grown flight feathers it is a juvenile, because all the other will be molting.  Accelerated step-wise molt. In PB 2 they molt all their flight feathers, and in the spring the molt 1-4 feathers.  So in the second year of life they molt 12-14 flight feathers. After that they molt all the feathers in the fall, i.e. the rest out to P10 and the P1-4 again.   Note the silvery flight feathers.

Osprey:  summer breeders, most leave by Oct.    CBS.  Stepwise molt.  Stepwise molt occurs in large birds that cannot molt all their flight feathers in one year.   Referred to as cycle and wave of flight feathers.  First stepwise molt at 5 months of age is P1-10.  Second wave starts at 15 months.  Third wave starts at 23-32  months P1-7  Then at  36 – 42 months is P8-P1.

White-tailed Kite:  first seen in WA 1975.  CBS.  Off and on since then. Prefer river valleys in SW WA.   Whitish looking, hover hunt, gull-like appearance.  Small bill.  Open pastures, small canyons, small valleys. Perch in trees.  Juveniles are orangish colored.

 Hawks- Eagles- Kites all in the same family, all CBS.  Falcons also CBS.

This means they all have a preformative molt but that this PF molt is usually limited, and at times absent.  In the more northern birds preformative molt is near the nesting grounds.  Some may protract and have this in the spring.  Southerly birds tend to have a more extensive preformative molt.  Examples are Goshawk, very limited and early.  WT Kite more extensive and extended.

The formative molt can be variable.  This means that there can be a big variation in the appearance of the young birds, because some have more preformative molt than others.

Hawks are morphologically, biochemically, and physically quite different from falcons.

Golden Eagle:  stepwise molt  Golden hackles, young birds have white patch on bases of primaries underwing an white at base of the tail underside.  Bulging secondaries, smaller headed less than half the tail length.  Golden hackles on back of the neck at all ages.

Bald Eagle:  stepwise molt.  Start to breed at 4-7 years, can take up to 7 years to have full adult aspect,  Fledge in 1-3 months.  As with most hawks females are larger.  Females often shed their flight feathers earlier, often before nesting, then suspend the molt until off the nest, then resume after off the eggs.  Male who is smaller can wait longer, and start molt after the eggs hatch and the female can start to help with hunting.  In young bald eagles the head size is over half the tail length.  Bald eagles have variable amount of white in the body, Young bald eagles have whitish coverts.  (golden eagle can have some white spots in the covert during molt, but usually not lines like young bald)   Bald Eagles usually hold their wings out straight, but can use a dihedral.  Back of the wing is a fairly straight line, less bulge in the secondaries than the golden eagles.  3-4000 in winter in W WA.  7-800 in summertime.  In E WA on lakes and rivers lots  of bald eagles.  Golden eagles more often in dryer forested areas.  More golden eagles in summer.

Northern Harrier:  Males pale gray, black emarginated feathers.  Females and young much outnumber males.  Course low over ground in marshes, but can soar high too.  Young birds have dark eyes, adults have yellow eyes.  Adult females have streaks below.  Young birds tend to be buffy on the neck and chest, as well as a band on the carpal.

Accipitors:  3 sizes:  SSHA- flicker size, COHA size of a crow, GOHA the size of a RTHA.

Sharp-shinned hawk:  note smaller head so the eye looks more centered,Young has yellow eye, adults have a red eye.  Somewhat squarish tail, sometimes notched.  Outer feathers of the tail nearly as long as the inner tail feathers. Note just a tiny white band on the tip of the tail.  (wider in Cooper’s)  SSHA looks more dirty bellied than COHA.  More coarse streaks, and lesser white, especially near the vent.  Remember the GISS.  3-4 quick choppy strokes and a glide.  VIewed from overhead the wing is pushed forward.

Cooper’s Hawk:  Eye more forward, broader white tipped tail, Adult with nice defined cap, sometimes a peak at the back of a flat head.  Soaring the forward wing is straight off the bird, in flight not as choppy, powerful and in flight looks like the whole wing flaps  If in doubt, and you cannot tell, especially in flight, it’s likely a sharp shinned hawk.  Tend to be more rural.  More Coopers nest here, in winter a lot more SSHA.

Northern Goshawk:  1-3 years to full adult aspect.  Young birds in plumage resemble sharp shinned hawks, more dingy on breast and belly.  Wing pattern is checkerboard look under side.  Wide tubular tail, almost as wide as the body.  Juvenile undertail has wavy underside.  Adults have nice eyeline, yellowish cere, barred below, mostly a bird of the edge habitit, more in E WA.  Pine forest at some elevation.  W WA more deep forest, sometimes at Skagit.

Red-shouldered Hawk:  first seen 1979 at Nisqually. More SW WA.  Pale crescent in the wings.  Smaller bird, small bill, red shoulder, banded tail.  Perch hunters.  Tend to hunt low like an accipitor.  Look in the understory.  Often seen on borders.

Broad-winged Hawk: many more recently.  Very small buteo.  Polymorphic, though light morph much more common.   Fine barring on the tail in young bird.  Whole wing can be bordered in black in the adult.  Perch hunters.  In WA most seen in the first week of Sept.

Swainson’s Hawk:  Summer birds  Note dark primaries light wing linings  Narrow pointed wings. Long distance migrants.  To Argentina.

Red-tailed Hawk:  Dark head, light chest, belly band.  Many morphs, 5-6 subspecies.  Also polymorphic.  So each subspecies has different morphs.  In WA we have 3 morphs in RTHA.  Black morph, Light Morph. Intermediate morph (rufous morph)  Look for the patagium.  This is pretty specific for RTHA.  Wings a bit shorter, often soars, usually takes 3-4 slow flaps and soars again, Tends to sit on the side of a tree, often 2/3 – 3/4 of the way up.  (vs. RLHA often on top of small tree)

Harlan’s Hawk:  (A race of Red-tailed) Dark morph more common.  Dark morph has near white tail,  Juvenile has silvery flight feathers, look for light tail, can be suffused with gray or rust.  Some have very dark body some white streaking on the breast.  (Dark form RT has red tail)  Juvenile difference is a problem.  Juvenile RT has darkish tail with fine banding.  Usually in Harlan’s juvenile the tail has a lighter base.  Underwing coverts in Harlan’s Juvenile tend to be checkered.    Harlan’s white morph look for very white tail.

Ferruginous Hawk:  rare in winter.  Lanky bird, long wings.  Dark morph is unusual.  Has light tail.  Longer wings.  Bright cere, rufous leggings, Note white base of primaries from above, very light from below, rufous “V” of the legs.   Short distance migrants.  Return early.  Mostly found in great plains.

Rough-legged Hawk:  primarily 2 morphs.  Dark and Light.  Young birds very whitish on back.  Usually a wide dark belly band.  Very small bill with bright yellow cere.  Long lanky wing compared to RTHA.  Hover hunt.  Look for black wrist mark.  Females more light headed.  5:1 ratio of light to dark morphs.  Most young and females in WA in winter.  Dark morph female has more white base of the undertail.  Male more banding on the base of the undertail.  Bright yellow legs, feet and bill.  Look for tail to near the tip of the primaries, in RTHA shorter wings.


Merlin:  3 subspecies, Suckleithat we commonly get (black) often lacks the eyebrow.  Taiga- usually an eyebrow, some banding on the tail.   Overall small, near kestrel size, but wings pump like pistons, strong and fast.

American Kestrel:  sexes look different.  Hover hunt, weaker fliers.

Gyrfalcon:  Large, RTHA size, two main morphs, gray and white with variation down to black.  Almost all of ours are gray in WA.  Adults have yellow ceres and dark eyes.  Juveniles tend to be brownish, with a bluish cere.  Slight moustache.  Short wings when sitting, fall well short of the tip of the tail.  Prairie falls 1 “ above the tip of the tail, Peregrine falls about to the tip of the tail.  Powerful flight, hunt by brute force.  Often fly close to the ground and fly down prey.  Comfortable sitting on the ground, sit on a high clump of dirt or mound.

Peregrine Falcon:  3 subspecies, ours are all mixed up now.  Stoop hunt.  Wings fall near the tip of the tail.  Wing tips seem to whip when they fly, making it look like the action is in the tip of the wing.

Prairie Falcon:  brownish bird. Wings fall well short of the tip of the tail.  Black axillars.  Tend to fly looking more mechanical with the whole wing moving.  Surprise hunters, surprise prey.  Not as much stooping.






Falcons have a different molt pattern.  Molt starts at about P4, moves in and out at the same time, so that P1 and P10 fall at about the same time.  Also starts at S5 and goes both ways.  At the same time S5 is shed the innermost tertial is shed, and moves outward.




Gyrfalcon:  mostly brown immature, and gray adults, White only recorded twice in WA, Adults have yellowish cyr, immature has bluish cyr, only some birds have an eye stripe, Open areas, very fast flyers, tend to fly low to the ground, fast shallow steady wing beat, seems to be centered in the primaries.  Use brute force and surprise to overpower prey, tend to hunt  grouse and partridge in E. WA.


Peregrine Falcon:  3 types, Pacific type, prairie type, and tundra type.   In tundra type look for white on forehead and larger white in cheek patch.  Flight is steady and fluid, looks like the whole wing is moving.  Recovered from DDT caused endangerment.  Often moderate height to very high.   Wings go to the tip of the tail


More Gull Class Notes

Here are some additional notes from the 2010-2011 Fall/Winter class on Gulls:

First here is a link to four tables.  One will help you group gulls by bill shape and behavior, i.e. Tern-like gulls, and Typical Gulls.  The next groups North American gulls by their first cycle molt strategy. The next  compares the mantle and wing gray-scale on the Kodak scale, for comparison.   Finally a memorization table Ryan put together to facilitate learning the plumage details of the possible WA gulls.  Students will do themeselves well by downloading and printing these for study.

The rest are some notes from the class.

Herrmann’s gulls will chase other gulls like a Jaeger, and young birds can even have a white flash in wing.

Parasitic Jaegers come thru the Puget Sound in the fall.  Point-no-point is a good place in the fall.

Gonydeal angle is the jutting part of the bottom of the bill.

The orbital ring is around the eye, is dried skin, and is affected by hormones.  Brighter in breeding plumage.

Glaucous-winged x Western gull:  aka Olympic or Puget Sound gull.  This is what makes gull watching in WA interesting.  Maybe up to 75% hybrids in some colonies.  Most birds from along the coast and in Strait of Juan de Fuca tend to Western.     In birds that tend to Western Look for smudgy head in basic plumage,  for too light a back for mixed orbital ring color, for dark but not black wing tips.    If it tends to GW, look for too bright a bill, or too dark a wing tip, or too dark a back.     IN juvenile tend to be murky colored overall, not a crisply contrasty as in Western.

Molt of a Western Gull:  timing:  born May or June in Juvenile plumage, strongly variegated, with noticible barring on upper tail coverts, black bill, blackish tail.  Starts PA1 molt in August and cont thru October, changing out the head and some of the scapula.  Suspends in midwinter and starts againin Feb, finishes in May.  So thru first winter brown, dark bill, highly variegated, and does not change much until March.  PB 2 molt starts in April thru September.  So thru the first year only not in molt about 3-4 months.   PB 2 plumage has pink base on black bill, but otherwise looks like a juvenile, brownish.   PA2  from mid Aug, to Oct, suspended thru winter, then Feb – May.  molt into pale base on the bill, so by second spring will have dark backs, clear heads, but coverts look juvenile.  PB3 molt from April – Oct.  Basic 3 is adult-like.  Very small differences, maybe black on tail, maybe black primary tips, maybe black on distal bill, PA3 is from August 20- duration hard to ascertain.  PB4 molt from Mid may to June thru Nov.  Adult-like after  PB 4.

Black-tailed Gull:   a primitive white=headed gull.  Asiatic,  3 WA records.  All adults.  4 cycle gull.  Kodak 8-9.5.  Long primary projection.  Lack mirrors in the wingtip.   (ie no white area with black both proximal and distal)    Black band on tail sub-terminally in adult.  Long bill, eye arcs,   Very slight gonydeal angle.   California gull similar color, not quite as dark.  Dusky hood, almost comes around the neck.

Ivory Gull:  Medium sized.  No PA molt.   White all year round, mew gull sized, young bird black faced.  One WA record.  Simple basic, one molt a year.

Gulls bills, lower bill has two plates, fused together at the gonydeal angle.  This allows them to widen and swallow big things.

Little gull:  complex alternate.  Like a little Boneparte’s Gull.  100 WA records thru 2000.  Almost all from the Puget sound area.  Almost always on fresh water, with Bonepartes.  Large lakes.  Sept and Oct are the best months.  A few spring records, mid March thru mid june.  Few winter records.  Average 2/ year.   B y sept have gone into first winter plumage.  11” smallest gull in the world.  Adult has blackish underwings. Dark bill, dark auricular patch.    Juveniles may not have dark underwings.   In Juveniles much darker upperwing markings.    Kodak 4.5-5.5

Boneparte’s is a masked gull, not a hooded gull, cap only comes to the mid-nape.   Stay thru mid-winter.   Go farther south.   First winter has carpal marks, black terminal tail.  Big field mark is the white leading upper wing edge triangle.  Kodak  5-6.  Rare to uncommon in E WA.   Cyclic, some years more, some less.

Black-headed gull:  >15 records, most in fall.   Kodak   4-5.   Lighter backed than Boneparte’s, pinkish legs, bill is pinkish to red, slightly larger than Boneparte’s, twin lines on top of head, dark under-wing primaries.

Franklin’s Gull:  a hooded (not masked) gull, hood in breeding plumage comes way down on the neck.   Seen 5-20 times annually in W WA, most in the fall, June-Nov.   Often up ot a 350 kilometer from the breeding sight.  Only a few spring records in W WA.  Since 2000 44 E WA reports, most May- Early- June.   Maybe expanding breeding range.  Breed at Mal Huer.   Possible to see a Sept bird with some juvenile plumage, but most of our birds are first winter.  Smaller bill, more complete hood, and outer two retrices of the tail lack black of the tail band (vs. Laughing has full black tail band in first winter bird.)  Rounded head.  Mirror in P10, and white between the gray of the wings and the black of the wing tip.

Laughing Gull:  3 WA sightings, probably moved north with Heermann’s gulls in the fall, one spring sighting.  Kodak 8-9.  Larger bill, longer bill, slight droop in the bill.  Hood smaller than Franklin’s.  Duskier breast and flanks than Franklin’s in most plumages.   Head shape is a longer forehead, not as rounded as Franklins,  one of the few gulls with two complete molts, because it is such a long distance migrants.  The PA molt can be incomplete.    Birds always molt, they can skip breeding, but always molt.   Juvenile plumage is a basic plumage.

Mew Gull:   3 types of Mew Gulls, the Mew Gull, the European Mew Gull, and the Kamchatkna Gull.  (breeds in Siberia, visits W. AK, no WA records)  3-4 year gulls, small bill, no red spot in bill.  Usually first PA 1 molt produces a gray back.    Complex alternate strategy (small gull)  Smaller than Ringed-bill gull.  Adult has yellowish feet, unmarked bill in adult, Kodak 6-7.5.  1st winter, gray back, bi-colored bill, pink legs.  Slowly in the second year the pinkish legs become yellowish.   As with all gulls, there is wide difference in plumage color, i.e. some darker, some lighter, esp. in juveniles.    Wingtip has two mirrors, 9 & 10 and extensive tongue tips in P6-8.    Second winter is adult-like with some distal dark on the bill and less white in the wingtips.   Therefore less black/white checking in the perched bird wingtips.   Common gull is a little lighter, Kamchatka is intermediate coloration, larger and bulkier.  Mew is darker.

Ring-billed Gull:  Lighter in all plumages than CA gull.  Complex alternate.  First winter carpal mark, dark tail tip.  Second winter has dark bill tip.  Very pale mantle and scapulars.  Kodak 4-5.  Adult mirro in 9-10, no tongue tip.  Narrow wings.   Red orbitral ring, pale eye, red gape in breeding birds.

California Gull:  larger than Ring-billed.   First year plumage mimics second year plumage of a Herring Gull.   Kodak  5-7.5.  C Ommon to abundant in winter off the coast of WA.  At least 100,000 California gulls in the fall in WA.   In E WA uncommon to locally common in winter, do breed in E WA.   Both first and second cycles more  heavily marked than the book suggests.   In subadults the bill can have a bluish cast.   Formative plumage has no gray in the back.  Dark eye.   Adult with red and black spot in the bill.  Bill long and parallel edged, with a slight Gonydeal angle.

Small white headed gulls vs. Large white headed gulls.

Primaries 1-6, i.e inner primaries.  If these feathers are brownish they are 1-2nd year birds.  If they are grayish they are 3-4th year birds.

Herring Gull: Kodak 4-5 i.e very pale.  Uncommon to locally common W WA, fairly common to common in E WA.  Split from Thayers in 1972.  Mostly at coast and off shore and Straits of Juan de Fuca.  ( so around here not many seen)   More often on fresh water.  on the East Coast two mirrors, West Coast usually a  mirror only on P9, in spring some have yellow legs,  and the eye turns yellow in the second cycle.  Some can have flecking in the iris.  Juveniles tgher are basically two plumages, first 2 years look like a juvenile, then the 3rd year plus look like adults.   Note pale inner primaries in first and second winter birds.  Bill is large with a fairly large Gonydeal angle, looks fierce.  Flat head, long forehead, often a bump at the back.   Adult winter,  discrete streaking on the neck,  wing tip black from below vs. Thayers is light from below.     Vega  type Herring gull, no WA records.


Thayer’s Gull:  Inland marine waters, to the Straits, also NW WA, Rare in E WA.   In subadult the whole underwing is pale.  In adults the underside of the wingtip is light.   Neck in winter has indistinct streaking.  Orbital purple red, dark eye.  Upperwing has large windows and several tongue tips, making the wing tip whiter overall.

Thayers- Iceland- and Kumliens are all very closely related.   All small bill, pale eye,

Iceland Gull:  8 records thru 2000.  4 E, 4 W WA.   Always pale wing tips, long primary projection.   Tail falls at P6-7.  (vs Glaucous gull with shorter primary projection)

Kumlien’s Gull, no WA records.  Intermediate between Thayer’s and Iceland.

Glaucous Gull:  big gull, long sloping forehead, fierce looking.   Rare to locally uncommon migrant and winter visitor.  Annually about 8 W WA, and 4 E WA.   Occationally small groups in migration.  Almost all seen are first or second year birds.  Moderate Gonydeal expansion.  Relatively parallel bill.   Pale wing tips, not really grayish.  Bill is bicolored, sharply defined.

Glaucous-winged Gull:   Bill si stout, slightly bulbous at the tip (less bulbous shorter Western Gull bill)  Kodak 5-6.  Wing tips Kodak 6-8.  First year bill dark with some pink at the base, second year more pink at the base, eye usually dark occasionally to pale.   Remember we see mostly juveniles and adults.  Fewer other plumages.  Long sloping forehead.    Second winter they get the gray back.  Pinkish orbital, pinkish gape, dark eye.   Juvenile all brownish.

Slaty-backed Gull:   all birds identified have been adults.  Kodak 9.5-11.5, bill stout medium length, parallel with out much Gonydeal expansion.  Very distinct tongue tips in P 6-8.  P10 always a mirror, P9 sometimes a mirror.  Bubble-gum pink legs.    Look like a darker Western gull, black wing tips,  They have a wide skirt, i.e  the edge of the secondaries edged in white.  Seen with the wings folded.   Streaking on the neck, duskiness on the head, (mascara line)  vs. Western gulls with clear white heads.   Clear eye.

Western Gull:  Kodak 8-11, ours are 8-9.5.  The further you go south the blacker the back.  Variegated plumage in the juveniles.  Flat on top head, sloping forehead.  Strong black tail, strong secondary bar.  Third year has no windows on the wingtips.  There are indistinct tongue tips in the sub terminal primaries (6-8)   Bill is shorter than GW, stouter, wider, more bulbous at the tip.   More coastal and on straits,  GW is more inland and to the north.

Lesser Black-backed Gull: 3 records.  Kodak 9-13.   Streaked flanks on young birds.  Adults have yellow legs.  Light eye, long bill, slight Gonydeal angle.     In the east coast a white headed dark backed bull is Greater, a dirty headed black backed is Lesser.

Greater Black-backed:  1 WA record.  One other record west of the continental divide.  Massive bill, the largest gull.  Pink legs.

Heermann’s Gull:  4 cycle gull.  Comes north in post breeding dispersal.   June- Nov mostly in WA, mostly on the coast, some on straits, occasionally in the sound.  All dark gull.  Nothing else like it in our area.   Most of the birds seen in WA have the darker head by the time we see them, but in June-July should have white head.

Continuation of Gull notes from the next Birding class 11-24-09

Ross’s Gull: Complex alternate, Kodak 3.5-4.5, 2-3 year cycle, very small.  Just b arely larger that Boneparte’s  Gull, twice in WA, Adult 1994 E side, 2008 Feb in Tri Cities area.  19 times in the US, 3x in NW, 16 times in NE USA thru 2000.  Stubby short,  some have pinkish tinge is felt to be dietary.  Dark collar is unique in breeding plumage.

Sabine’s  Gull:  pelagic gull, fork tailed.  Tri-colored upper wing, white triangle on trailing edge, Kodak 7-9, a complete pre-formative molt, and incomplete pre-alternate molt, variable depends on feed supply, very rare in E. WA.   Juveniles migrate south prior to molt, so early in season could see brownish individual.  First winter usually not seen in N. America.  First summer partial hood, with dark bill, only adults have yellow tip on bill.  Fall and spring seen off WA coast.  Small, dainty.

Kittiwakes are 3 cycle gulls, go thru first winter in juvenile plumage.

Black-legged Kittiwake:   Note first summer bird has black tip.  Adult with all yellow bill, and completely black wing tips.  Fairly common off shore as a migrant.  Irregular in winter.  Rare to irregular inland.  Rare in E WA.  Kodak 6.5-8.  Pre-alternate molt is variable.  Deep wingbeat, buoyant, lots of up and down flying.

Red-legged Kittiwake:  8.5-9.5 Kodak, very rare off-shore migrant, declining in numbers, 6 recent records in WA, more sightings recently off shore on pelagic trips.  Darker backed, very short stubby bill, note dark undedrwing.  Narrow wings.

Fall 2010 Class #5 Geese thru Herons

Class #5: Nov. 9, 2010 Fall Class Notes:

I took the end of last weeks notes and put here to make easier study.  Skipped to here at the end of shorebirds.  Now to the earliest taxonomic species in the relatively new AOU checklist

Geese & Swans are CBS.  Possibly some CAS.  Think of young CA goose, yellow juvenile, then molt quickly with formative feathers to resemble adults.

Greater-white fronted goose:  speckled belly, Adult pink bill, orange bill. . Typical gray goose, like European goose, Young birds lack light face around the bill.

Emperor Goose:  uncommon, mostly in spring, occasional in fall, mostly on the coast, small bluish plumage. Small bill.

Snow Goose:  Black grin mark, black pirmaries.  Large bill, larger bill than Ross’s goose.  Most of our Snow geese breed on Rangle Island.

Ross’s goose:  smaller knobby bill, rounder head.

Cackling Goose:  four races of cackling goose, one on E coast, New Mexico to Louisians, Hutchinsoni, aka Richardsons goose.  We have Taverners, Minima, and Leukopoira (Aleutian Goose)  White collar on Aleutian goose.  Minima is dark breasted.  Taverners is mid dark breast.  Richardson’s is light bellied.

Canada Goose:  Moffett’s is our year round goose.  Large.  Dusky (Oxidentalis) medium sized dark bellied.  Fulva is medium sized dark bellied.  Subspecies are difficult at times.  Look for small bill and small size for cackling.

There is a gap here- I was late to class and missed about 10 minutes.

Ring-necked pheasant:  long tail, open areas, light around the eye in female

Ruffed Grouse:  Sea level to 3500’ more lowlands in winter, red and gray types.  Crest, barred below, gray tail tip band, black sub-terminal band.

Greater Sage Grouse:  About 1000 in WA.  Threatened in WA.  Not hunted.  Males much larger.  CAS.  Leks.  In winter in sage brush.

Spruce Grouse:  we have Franklin’s type, white in the coverts.  High elevation, >4000 feet.  Small grouse.  460 grams.  (Blue 1050 grams)  Shorter tail.  Females small, small head, small bill.  More bright white underneath.  N Cascades.  A few in Salmo Mtn. area.  A few in Yakima County in Autanum area, and some near Mt. St. Helens.

White-tailed ptarmigan:  in winter out of reach.  Paradise and Sunrise good spots.  Supplemental molts have been recorded.

Dusky Grouse:  lighter than Sooty, softer call, hear 200’, mostly E WA.  2500-4000’  They do move up to 50 miles sometimes from season to season.  Big birds, bigger bills.  Maybe a hybrid zone near the crest.

Sooty Grouse:  females more brownish, band on tail. W of Cascade Crest.  Evergreens.  Loud voice, heard long distances.  If they flush to a tree, can go high in the tree.

Sharp-tailed grouse:  About 600 in WA.  Grassland indicator species, bunch grass and Idaho fescue.  Pointed tail with white outer tail feathers, chevrons ventrally.  In winter feed on water birch.  (reddish branch, grows near creeks)

Wild Turkey:  really much more common in the last 15 years.  It seems that planting different types in their habitat worked.

Red-throated Loon:  Loons have short necks, Red Throated is small, nice demarcation on black/white on neck, grayish on the back, uptilted bill, 15 degrees, SAS, Juvenile duskier head, more pale on back.  First year PA 1 is intermediate between adult and juvenile.  Red-throated loon has a complete molt in the fall.

Large Loons have a PA molt in about Feb- March.  Then have PB molt of wing feathers only in about March-April.  Then finish the PB molt in the fall.  Maybe do this to have good new wing feathers used to protect the nest, and no time after young raised

Loons in flight:  RT Loon holds head lower, narrow short wings, often pointed back.  Quick wing beat, take off directly from the water:


Arctic Loon:  More easterly, more white on the flank on the water rises up near the rump, wide dark on back of neck, straight dagger like bill, blackish on the back.

Pacific Loon:  Dark back of neck and head, chin strap.  Rounded head, steep forehead.   Hunt in lines, can see large groups.  In flight: Broader wing, carry head out straight, wings straight out, migrate in groups.  Often hard to find.

Common Loon:  Dark dagger like bill.  Some paleness gray, but never ivory.  Black on back, paleness around the eye, bump on forehead.  White notch/ necklace noticible in flight.  Large feet can be held sideways.  SAS.

Yellow-billed Loon: upturned bill, more brownish and lighter on back.  Pale ivory bill in basic plumage.  Often a double bump on head.

Grebes:  CAS, East – West migrators.

Pied-billed grebe:  little white rump.  Fresh water breeders.   Year round.  Synchronous wing molt in the fall.

Horned Grebe:  red neck in alt. plumage.  Clean white neck, white cheek patch, angular head, moderate slope to the bill. Nice sharp demarcation from cap to face.

Red-necked grebe:  In winter dirty neck, whitish cheek patch, larger bill is often two toned, mostly salt water, some fresh water.

Eared Grebe:  Size of horned grebe, rides higher in the water, dirty neck, puffy crown, steep forehead, dark on the crown diffuses into the white of the face.  Bill is deeper than it is wide.

Western Grebe:  greenish bill, black below the eye.  Reddish eye.  Long thin neck.

Clark’s Grebe:  Orange bill.  Western and Clark’s do hybridize.  Salton Sea mostly Clark’s grebe.  Thinner black stripe on back of the neck.

Albatrosses:  SAS  Some may not acquire adult plumage until 15-20 years old.  May live 50-60 years.  Don’t typically breed until 12 years old.

Shy Albatross: 2 records.

Laysan Albatross:  Mostly fall, spotty in summer,  Light bellied – dark backed.  Dusky pink bill.

Black-footed albatross:  Out common albatross.  Brownish overall, dark bird, older birds more white at the base of the bill.

Short-tailed albatross:  young bird dark with pink bill.

Northern Fulmar:  bull necked appearance, tube nose, 3 morphs.  Most of ours dark or intermediate.  Fly over the waves like a shearwater, shallow wing beats.  Flash of white in the primaries.  The tube nose can be for salt excretion.  May also expel oils.

Murphy’s Petrel:  few records, a gadfly petrel, seen far off coast, spring, larger petrel, more arching flight.

Mottled Petrel:  few records, (similar to Cooks) dark carpal marking, dark belly.  Plain gray back.  Smaller gadfly.

Shearwaters:  SBS.  Often don’t nest until 5 years old.

Pink-footed Shearwater:  second most numerous shearwater, white belly, pinkish bill, pink legs, same size as flesh footed shearwater.

Flesh-footed shearwater:  all dark, pink bill, fleshy colored legs, may find a very few on  a trip.  Lacks white flash of sooty.

Buller’s Shearwater: fall bird here.  Smaller, slimmer, white below, dark “M” on the upper wing.

Sooty Shearwater:  dark bird, white flash on the underwing coverts. By far the most numerous. Breed in S Pacific.

Short-tailed shearwater:  Small bill, variable but usually darker coverts, smaller than sooty.  More tame, approach the boat more, tends to come into the Puget sound Nov- Jan.  More common in the Puget Sound in that time frame than Sooty.

Manx Shearwater:  about annual.  Can be close in at times. Smaller than sooty  Light bellied.  White  vent.

Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel:  light with white carpal markings.  Direct flyers.  Feed closer to shore than Leeches.

Leech’s Storm-Petrel:  Narrow pointed wings, dark bird.  50K breed in WA, feed far off-shore.  More eratic flight, like a nighthawk.

Red-tailed tropicbird: one record.  CBS

Magnificent Frigatebird:  3 WA records.  SBS.

Stepwise Molt

Some larger birds have stepwise wing molt.  Too many feathers to molt in one year.  The first wing molt wave can start as early as 5 months old in Osprey, for Golden Eagles about 9 months.  Then every 10-11 molts may molt a wave or wing feathers.  Two types of stepwise wing molt.  AKA stoffelmouser.  Typically in the first wave they lose 3-6 feathers.  Maybe P1-3 or P1-6 and a few secondaries.  Then in second wave will start where it left off, and may go say P7-P10 and maybe P1-2.  This is typically in large birds, that weight more than 1Kg.  Some are obligate stepwise molt.  Others are opportunistic stepwise molts, i.e. may halt molt part way through if lack of food.

Cormorants:  do stepwise molt.  Obligate.  SAS. 

Brandt’s Cormorant:  in winter has buff at the base of the bill and chin.  Blue in breeding season.  Bigger head and thicker neck than Pelagic.  Stand more upright than pelagics.  In flight broader wing, steadier wing beat with heavy loading. More marine.  Fly in V, chevron, or line, also stack vertically.  Fly together with Pelagics.

Pelagic Cormorant:  narrower shorter wings, so quicker wingbeat. Hold wings straight out, smaller neck and head.  Flank patch in alt. plumage.  Reddish chin, tend to fly in a line.

Double-crested Cormorant:  bright orange bill, thick neck with kink, young birds brownish back, whitish chest.

Pelicans:  SAS. 

American White Pelican:  summer and migrants in E WA, more rare in W WA.

Brown Pelican:  Adult white neck and head, young with brown neck and head.  Fall birds, post breeding dispersal.

Herons:  CBS, some possibly CAS.

American Bittern:  most leave in winter, greenish legs.

GBH: our common heron

Great Egret:  come up the coast in the fall, greenish legs, orange bill. Large size.

Snowy Egret:  25 records, rare in WA.  Yellow between the bill and the eye, golden slippers

Little Blue Heron:  First year birds are white.  Vagrants.  Same size as a snowy egret.  Immatures of both birds hard to tell apart, both have greenish legs, bill at base is more grayish green with Snowy more yellowish green.

Cattle Egrets:  340 records, cyclic.  Light legs, orange bill, rounded head, often around live stock, Fall mostly Aug – Dec,

Green Heron:  mostly fresh or brackish water, a few linger into Dec-Jan until it’s really cold.  Good CBC bird.

Black-crowned Night-Heron:  Juvenile looks a lot like a bittern, white spotting on coverts and scapulars.  Head shape different.

Yellow-crowned Night Heron:  2-3 records.

White-faced Ibis:  uncommon in WA, more sightings in recent years.  Breeding bird has white around the eye red eye.  SAS.

Fall 2010 Class #4 Notes: Finishing Shorebird ID, More on Molt

Class #4 10-26-2010 

Review of Molt Strategies- Finish shorebirds.

Knowing what plumage a bird is in is a key in shorebird ID.  Know how to differentiate juvenile, formative, basic and alternate plumages.  To be an advanced shorebirder you need to know when the molts into these plumages happen for the various species.

White-rumped Sandpiper:  rare here, larger than Westerns, black legs, shorter bill than western, white eye stripe, long and attenuated, look for long primary projection.

Baird’s Sandpiper:  uncommon in fall, rare in spring.  Montaine migrant.  Up to 6000 feet.  Small flocks, thin black pointed bills.  Attenuated, above black centered feathers fringed with gray and wings so long they can be crossed, S. Hemisphere strategy, very long distance migrants.  i.e. don’t molt wing feathers in the US.  Complete formative molt.  Best to see in August to first week of Sept, look in salicornia, upper beaches, roost on upper beaches. Almost all juveniles.  Slightly larger than westerns.

Pectoral Sandpiper:  Also mostly seen in the fall, some adults in July to early August, but mostly juveniles in August thru Sept, a few in Oct.  Long greenish yellow legs.  Medium length two-toned bill, pale at the base, noticeable supercillium,  Split supercillium, fairly attenuated, slightly smaller than a dowicher, larger than a dunlin.  Look for collar, very defined, clear border. .White belly.  Salicornia, brackish or fresh water ponds.  Tend to be mid continental migrant.  There is a white mantle line.  Variable reddish on scapulars, coverts.  Some can have a reddish cap.

Sharp-tailed sandpiper:  about the size of a Pectoral.  Greenish yellow legs, similar bill.  Juvenile has very buffy breast, lacks streaks on central part, bleeds into the belly area.  Bright red cap.  Regular in the fall in small but variable numbers.   Have a white eye ring.  Eye stripe flares behind the eye.  As with other juveniles, later in the fall, they can be worn, and the white feather edges can be quite worn.  STSP has a white mantle line.  S. American strategy.  Eccentric wing molt in the formative plumage.  So don’t molt primaries in the US in fall migration.

Upland Sandpiper:  very rare in W WA in migration.  Long neck Yellowish legs, long legs.  Long tail, short wings.  Small head and small bill.  Unusual appearance.

Buff-breasted Sandpiper:  irregular in the fall.  Sewer ponds, golf courses.  Attenuated, long primaries. S Am strategy.  Bright yellow legs. Complete preformative molt.  Short pointed bill.  Beedy eye with pale head and pale eye ring.  Fringed back feathers make it a scalloped appearance.  White underwing.

Ruff:  fall migrant, mostly juveniles  Rare in spring.  Ruff is male, Reeve is female.  Ruff size of greater yellowlegs, reeve the size of lesser yellowlegs.  Three types of males.   See birding article in Birding.  Red, White and males that look like females.  Lek birds. Juvenile washed with buff on upper breast, little streaking.  (YL has streaking on breast) Brightly patterned above. Legs greenish yellow, no bright yellow.  Short thick based bill.  Long attenuated face, looks pulled forward face into the bill.  N.Hemisphere strategy eccentric molt.

Short-billed Dowichers:  Look on surfbird site for peep identification.  Best way to ID is by voice.  Fast mellow tew-tew-tew  Long billed is a sharp peek.  Early fall migrants, adults can be in TX by the end of July.  Female bills longer.  So female short-billed approach male long-billed.  Toughest plumage is worn breeding and winter plumage.  Adults first, large flocks, along the coast.  Mostly salt water.  Large flocks of hundreds to thousands of birds should be mostly or all SBs.   Short billed spotted breasts.  Slightly longer primary projection, up to 2 feathers.  (LB have none) In every plumage SB is brighter than LB.  This is due to the feathers on the back and coverts have white or rufous edges all the way up the feathers.  Note in the LB it is just the end of these feathers with rufous edging.  Two toned bill. Paler at the base. Kink in the lower bill tends to be at one place. More blunt tipped.

Long-billed Dowichers:  usually small to medium sized groups, favor fresh water ponds, bill longer, more evenly curved, more pointed.  In adult plumage stripes on flanks tend to wear off more so SB in worn plumage more spotted on flanks.  Eye placement is lower on LB, higher on SB.  Less steep forehead than SB.  Flatter posterior back in SB, more indented in the LB.   Central vein of the feathers of the covert and scapulars tend to be darker.   The black of the tail feathers is wider than the white, opposite in SB.  Helpful on some birds.

Two rules of primary molt: SB molt at coastal sites, mostly from N CA south.  LB can molt on breeding grounds and in early migration.

1.  If you see a dowicher in basic plumage away from the coast it is LB.

2.  If you see a dowicher in wing molt in the interior it is a LB, SB molts only at coastal sites, usually south of WA.

Dennis Paulson article on sandpipers in American Birds, about 2005  Flocking behavior.  Two main purposes.  One is social.  A species has similar flight patterns that aid in this.  A species of an off species falls out quickly because they fly slightly differently.  Second purpose is to avoid predators.

Sentinels see the predator first, Plovers, tringines, phalaropes, upland sandpipers and curlews.

Birds that flock together:

(Surfbirds, turnstones, rock sp)

(dunlin & sanderlings)

(Red knots and BBPL)

(Curlew and Godwits)

Sentinel species tend to space in feeding habitat, have loud calls.  Tend to have loose smaller flocks.

Probers are more at risk, have heads down more.  Dunlin, Stilt, dowichers, snipe, godwits, peeps are examples of probers.  Tend to have heads down, call less, form large flocks.  Probers tend to feed with sentinel species, when alone should need to spend more time watching out, have higher predation rates.


Stilt Sandpiper:  most juveniles.  Most in August and Sept.  August best,  E and W WA.  Mostly fresh water or sometimes brackish ponds.  Long billed, slightly larger than a dunlin, bright longish legs, blunt droopy bill, Juvenile buffy on the breast.  Somewhat attenuated, fairly long primary projection.  Fringed white back feathers.  Tend to be pickers, pick like a yellowlegs, will submerge their whole head, hold their bill down when walking feeding.

Wilson’s snipe:  cryptic coloration, both streaks and bars.

Wilson’s phalaropes:  rare migrant in W WA, breed E WA.  Poith wing. Plain wing and white tail.  Molt migrants. Gather in large groups in migration and molt in these sites.  Largest.

Red-necked phalaropes:  Much smaller than Wilson’s.    Smallest phalarope. Medium pointed bill.  Striped tail.  Striped back.  Aug – Oct.  After Oct 15th these are rare in WA.

Red Phalarope:  Plain backed.  Blunter bill. Striped tail.  Two tone shorter blunter bill.  Lighter cap and whitish forehead.   Slightly smaller than the Wilsons, much larger than the Red.

Fall 2010 Class #2 Focus on Molt

Tonight is all about Molt

Look at the Howell ABA article table of molt.

We will use the Humphrey Parke System.  It’s all about feather growth, i.e. molt.  Not about color.

Other systems are the Calandar Year molt system.  The problem with this is this can be more cumbersome re what year the bird is in, etc.  Pyle uses this.  Another system is the Life Year strategy.  This works good for Northern Hemisphere birds, but is awkward when birds cross the equator.

See article by Howell All You Ever Wanted to Know About Molt but were Afraid to Ask Part II Finding Order Amid the Chaos

Here is a link to the Slater Museum Blog with many posts on birding and other topics to browse

Here is a Dennis Paulson post on Molt.


4 strategies.

Simple Basic Strategy (SBS)

Complex Basic Strategy (CBS)

Simple Alternate Strategy (SAS)

Complex Alternate Strategy (CAS)

Complex means birds shed their juvenile plumage into formative plumage in the first year.

Alternate means the birds have an additional molt each year, almost always a partial molt in each year, usually into breeding plumage.

In HP we talk about cycles, not years.

Here are some terms to learn the definitions of:

Simple Basic: Albatrosses, petrels, barn owls, a few others.  In the fall there is a complete molt in all birds.

Limited: body & head

Partial: this plus some coverts, scapulars

Incomplete: above plus some remiges.

Complete: all feathers.

Complex basic strategy:  In the first cycle only, the bird has a preformative molt into the formative plumage in the first fall.  Then has just one pre-basic molt each year.  This pre-formative molt is usually limited, partial, or incomplete.  Example: towhee.  All black juvenile plumage.  Then they disappear; have a pre-formative partial molt losing all but flight feathers to look like an adult, except for worn primaries.

Simple Alternate Strategy:  In first year birds carry juvenile plumage until the first alternate molt.  This can vary in time from fall to winter. Think large white headed gulls.  Carry juvenile plumage until Sept.  Then have molt of some scapulars, etc. into A1 plumage.  Thereafter each year have one complete basic molt, and one partial alternate molt.

Complex Alternate Strategy:  First year birds have two inserted molts after juvenile.  F1 molt is usually partial, then later in the first year is the A1 molt.  Thereafter each year have a partial PA molt, and a complete PB molt.

Difference between formative molt and basic molt is that the PF molt is usually not complete.  Basic is complete.

Examples:  All passerines have a complex molt strategy.  Look at the table for these by family.

Here is a link to the table Ken used in class.   http://www.prbo.org/cms/docs/terre/Howell%20Birding%20molt%202003%20part%202.pdf

The pre-basic, pre-formative, and pre-alternate terms refer to a molt into the basic, formative and alternate plumages.

How do we recognize molt.  Obviously look for gaps in wings and tails.  If these are present, we say the bird is in active molt. If in active molt the bird is in transition from one plumage to another.

Injury to feathers.  Sometimes if you see a bird with assymetric flight feathers missing, especially not in the fall, it may be damaged feathers.  Birds often replace these damaged feathers.  Some birds suspend molt, and leave gaps for periods of time.

Molt Limits + Molt Contrast is the contrast between the new feathers and the old feathers being replaced. Often in the fall will see bright feathers being replaced by gray or plain feathers.  May see molt limits in the scapulars or coverts.  Sometimes you can age first year birds this way

Feather wear:  new feathers are not frayed, usually rounded and fully formed, don’t droop.  Old feathers often brownish, frayed, and often narrow.  Especially primaries, sometimes can be droopy.  As new feathers grow, they passively push out the old feathers.  Sometimes the old feathers become loose, and can droop.  As a rule of thumb, juvenile feathers are weak, and need to be replaced soon.  Hawks often keep their juvenile feathers a year, because as they grow them more slowly they can attain more keratin, and be more durable in the longer time in the nest.

Molt of remiges usually starts at P1 and when it gets out to about P6 the secondaries start, usually at S1 and inward from there.  Most birds molt sequentially.  Then the tertials start, and the tail is last. Tail starts form the inside out, starting with R1 and working outward.  Woodpeckers are an exception, they molt R2-6 first, then molt R1 later, to facilitate feeding techniques.

Feather wear.  Dark parts wear more slowly.  Look at gulls. Early in the year the white tips are big, later by spring the white tips can become smaller.  Another example is least sandpiper.  Scapulars white and gray tips in the spring, but by fall look almost all dark. Starlings wear off the non-black feather tips to go into breeding plumage.

Early in fall migration, shorebirds, adults in worn plumage, juveniles have very fresh plumage.  Later adults look very fresh, and juveniles look more worn.  Western Sandpipers for example seen on our trip.

Easiest way to study molt is at your feeder, or at the park in ducks.  You can study the progression easily this way.

Molt can be suspended, often larger birds suspend their molt in the winter.

How can this help us in our field identification?  Presence of wing molt can be useful.  Absence is less useful.  Sometimes species can be IDed at some times of year by their molt.  Leaches vs. Band-rumped storm petrels off Carolina in summer.

Golden plovers in California.

Hammond’s flycatcher.  In fall Hammonds molt on breeding grounds or near.  So in fall a molted empid in the west is Hammonds.  All others molt later.

In Texas cliff vs. cave swallow.  Cliff molts in S Am.  Cave molts in N. Am.

In So Cal nighthawks in molt in the fall tells us it’s a lesser nighthawk. Common nighthawks don’t molt until wintering grounds.

Only jaeger that molts off CA is Pomerine.

Western Sandpipers molt off west coast, Least don’t molt until in S America.

Now refer to Ken’s cumulative table of shorebird molting.

Look at the two basic strategies for molt, N. Hemisphere and S. Hemisphere. This is where the birds winter.

Northern  Hemisphere Strategy:  partial to imcomplete preformative molts.  Don’t include remiges.  Rapid & early PB molt.  PA molt is well defined, and is on non-breeding grounds.  Think W. Sandpiper.

Southern Hemisphere Strategy: Incomplete to complete preformative, remiges eccentrically or completely molted.  In PF many shorebirds have eccentric wing molts. Usually involved P9 & P10.   Note more molting in the long distance primaries, those which are more exposed at rest.   Protracted PB molts. May start body, and even wing molt on the nest or in early migration, usually on the wintering grounds Jan – April.   PA molt often overlaps with shedding of remiges.  PA molt can overlap with PB, more often PA molt happens at molt sites on the way to breeding grounds.

Over-summering:  relates to body size, migration distance.  Larger birds and longer distance migrants tend to over-summer in the first year.

Snowy plovers molt in N A.

Articles to check out:


Migrants,  Mono Lake,  Monsoons, and Molt


All You Ever Wanted to Know About Molt But Were Afraid to Ask Part II: Finding Order Amid the Chaos


A Tale of Two Strategies: Fall Molt of Adult Dowitchers


Active Flight Feather Molt In MIgrating North American Raptors