Image: Richard Ditch, 2006 [larger view].
Date Time Original: 2006:10:01 07:47:53
Exposure Time: 1/249
Please name at least one field mark that supports your identification.
Rick Wright, Managing Director of WINGS Birding Tours Worldwide, writes:
Look carefully at this bird’s right foot, and you’ll see that the web actually includes all four toes. A trivial observation, perhaps, but one that lets us rule out immediately almost all web-footed birds, leaving us with just a single order: Pelecaniformes, the “totipalmate swimmers.”
Any child who has attended to her picture books knows that this is not a pelican or a frigatebird or a booby or a tropicbird; it can only be a cormorant, an impression confirmed by the bird’s generous tail, overall dark plumage, and nasty hooked bill. So which one?
Let’s return to that generously proportioned tail. It works better on birds in flight, but even perched cormorants can show a distinctive tail-to-neck ratio. In this view, though the neck is slightly folded, we can still say that the tail is close to the same length; so we’re looking at a small cormorant, the larger species much bulkier in front than in back. Both Red-faced and Pelagic Cormorants are snake-necked and slender, while our quiz bird is quite “normally” proportioned apart from the tail. The head is not noticeably blocky, and the bill is neither especially heavy nor especially fine.
Everything points to Neotropic Cormorant, with confirmation provided by the plumage and soft parts of the head. There are a few wispy white filoplumes over the ear coverts, and a thin band of white feathers borders the throat pouch and comes to a point behind the emerald eye. The throat pouch itself is small, pointed at its rear edge, and dull orange; the colorful skin does not extend to the area between the eye and the base of the upper mandible. If we could turn this image, we’d see that the feathers of the back are relatively small and round-tipped, unlike the lavish pointed feathers on the mantle of a Double-crested Cormorant.
Once strictly deserving of its current common name, Neotropic Cormorant is well on its way to conquering North America. There is nowhere in the lower 48 or in southern Canada where this species would be a tremendous surprise, and learning its characteristics, especially its long-tailed profile, may well prepare you to discover the first one for your area.
Review all mystery birds to date.