Readers’ wildlife photos

March 26, 2023 • 8:15 am

It’s Sunday, so we have a themed batch of birds from John Avise. John’s narrative and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them:

Alternative Plumages

Most birds molt their feathers at least once or twice per year, thereby changing their plumages with the seasons.  For many species, this can mean that their ”basic” (or winter or non-breeding) plumage can be very different in appearance from their “alternate” (or summer or breeding) plumage.  In many cases, this is especially true of males, who may be under intense sexual selection for brightness during the breeding season but benefit from being drabber and more cryptic at other times of the year.  This week’s post shows several examples of what I am talking about: species that look very different at different times of the year.  Experienced birders become familiar with these alternative appearances as the seasons change.

American Avocet (Recurvirostra americana) in basic plumage:

American Avocet in alternate plamage:

Common Loon (Gavia immer) in basic plumage:

Common Loon in alternate plumage:

Yellow-rumped Warbler (Dendroica coronata) in basic plumage:

Yellow-rumped Warbler in alternate plumage:

Eared Grebe (Podiceps nigricollis) in basic plumage:

Eared Grebe in alternate plumage:

Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis) in basic plumage:

Ruddy Duck in alternate plumage:

Red-breasted Merganser (Mergus serrator) in basic plumage:

Red-breasted Merganser in alternate plumage:

Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres) in basic plumage:

Ruddy Turnstone in alternate plumage:

Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius) in basic plumage:

Spotted Sandpiper in alternate plumage:

Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) in basic plumage:

Mallard in alternate plumage:

16 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photos

  1. It’s amazing how many interesting themes are possible in this apparently simple series – this one I particularly like – a nice clear picture of the variation – dispelling the essentialist notion of birds as always looking the same, while in Nature things never stay the same – it’s always in motion.

    1. Yes, there is a typo: The Eared Grebe in Alternate plumage mistakenly got left out by Jerry, and this thereby also resulted in the Ruddy Duck being mislabeled.

  2. Lovely photos. As a neophyte birder, this kind of variance sometimes gets me completely confused on the IDs. I’m working on it, but it’s a steep learning curve. Gull IDs especially drive me nuts; their plummage varies a great deal with age (or so I gather). I’m working on it. I look for older, wiser birders to help me; they’re WAY easier to ID and usually very friendly.

  3. Great shots, John. Like Mark, I always thought the brown morph of the mallard was always a female (or maybe a juvenile of either sex) and the adult males always had the green head.

    What type of gear are you using, if you don’t mind me asking.

    1. I use a Canon EOS 40D camera with a 70-300 mm adjustable lens. I typically leave it on a “sports” setting, which has a rapid shutter speed. I spend most of my time “stalking my prey”, looking for nice photo opportunities in good light against suitable backdrops.

      1. Well, you’re doing a great job. The best strategy is always to work your way in as close as possible. 300mm on an APS-C camera is plenty of reach for birds if you are able to camouflage yourself a bit.

  4. It seems that the red-eyed species (common loon, eared grebe, red-breasted merganser) have much redder eyes when they’re wearing their alternate plumage. Is this just due to greater contrast with the plumage?

  5. This is a wonderful post. The differences are incredible. It’s hard to believe some are the same species they change so much.

  6. Thank you for these great photos, John! The blue beak of the Ruddy Duck and the golden facial plumes of the Eared Grebe are just gorgeous (as are the rest).

    1. Had no idea that a Ruddy Duck could change bill to blue. That’s a duck who really wants to be noticed, and goes all out!

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