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An Empid Challenge

posted by Tim Avery at
on Monday, June 11, 2012 

Based on a couple recent flycatcher identification challenges on UBIRD I decided to throw together a little quiz involving 6 head shots of empids side by side for comparison. I tried to size match as best I could so that the bills were somewhat accurate based on averages described from field guides.

These pictures were taken at various times in various places around the United States.  All 6 birds pictured (maybe 6 different species, maybe not) do occur in Utah annually.  This is just for fun so feel free to take a stab and maybe talk about why you assigned an ID to a certain bird.  Empidonax Flycatchers are a tough group of birds and we could all use a little  discussion to improve our ID skills!

Click on the image for a slightly larger version.

The hardest part about a visual headshot quiz is that there is no habitat, no song, and no primary projection to help in the ID--all we have is apparent head shape, bill, size, and color, eye-ring, etc.

I will post a full recap on the birds, where they were photographed, etc in a couple days.  If you can't wait, all the photos are posted on my website--but please don't post answers if you go there and look first!

Good Luck!

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7 Comments:
Blogger Tim Avery said...

Oh, and if you're nto sure of one or two that's alright just to put empid sp., this isn't supposed to be too easy :)

June 11, 2012 at 10:03 AM  
Blogger Shyloh Monster said...

I'll take a stab at it. These are all from my gut.

1. 'hellifino' Gray???
2. Dusky
3. Cordilleran
4. Hammond's
5. 'hellifino'
6. Willow?

2/4 look interchangeable. Yup, empids are tough. That's all I got. Thanks for the quiz and ID help. I'm starting to wonder if I got my Hammond's and Dusky's bassackwards. When it comes to flycatchers, I'll defer to the experts.

June 11, 2012 at 10:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hate getting things wrong so I am doing this anonymously.

1. Gray
2. Dusky
3. Cordilleran
4. Least?
5. Hammond's?
6. Willow?

June 12, 2012 at 11:09 PM  
Blogger Shyloh Monster said...

Hey Anyonymous, there's no shame it getting it wrong... especially head shots of flycatchers. I've abstained from looking these up, so I can't wait to find out what they are.

June 13, 2012 at 11:25 AM  
Anonymous John said...

Alright I'll take a stab at this one:

1. Gray
2. Dusky
3. Cordilleran
4. Least
5. Least
6. Willow

June 13, 2012 at 1:17 PM  
Blogger Tim Avery said...

Nice Job Everyone! I don't think it's any surprise that everyone nailed the top 3 which are the 3 most common and widespread Empidonax Flycatcher's Found in Utah. Eveyone also got the 6th one which is the 4th most common Utah Empid--being a Willow. As for 4 and 5 everyone was ballpark and/or correct. #4 is a Hammond's Flycatcher with that itty-bitty, teeny-tiny little bill. #5 is a Least Flycatcher with a short--but STOUT bill--along with the drab olive-brown coloration.

Given good views the majority of empids can be identified in Utah by a combination of habitat, and the field marks visible in these pictures. Obviously, other characteristics, like the tail flick of a Gray Flycatcher, and the primary length on the various species can all be used and helpful too.

Now, I chose these pictures because I felt they were pretty average looking individuals--like something you would see in a field guide. There are always going to be extremes and variations within any species that can make ID'ing said species harder. Take into account migrant traps where all 6 species can be found together, and moulting bird, or birds not singing and it can make it all the more difficult.

In Advanced Birding Kenn Kaufmann made a comment to the effect of he felt comfortable ID'ing something like 80% (don't quote me on this) of empids just off field marks alone. I would guess that number is higher, and at least in the summer in Utah you could probably get closer to 99 or 100% based off a combination of habitat and field marks--as long as you get good looks at the birds.

Thanks for everyone playing along!

June 13, 2012 at 2:07 PM  
Blogger shyloh monster said...

Wow, I shoulda guessed Least. I just saw a bunch of them in Colorado recently. They were a bit late, but fun birds to see.

Nice quiz. 5/6 - I did much better than my inner confidence said I would. Thanks for the challenge. There's no shame in getting it right either!

June 13, 2012 at 2:35 PM  

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