Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

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[Mystery bird] Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auritus, photographed at Hermann Park, Houston, Texas. [I will identify this bird for you in 48 hours]

Image: Joseph Kennedy, 23 December 2009 [larger view].

Nikon D200, Kowa 883 telescope with TSN-PZ camera eyepiece 1/500s f/8.0 at 1000.0mm iso400.

Please name at least one field mark that supports your identification.

Review all mystery birds to date.


  1. #1 David Hilmy
    December 31, 2009

    John and Adrian,

    It would seem that our friend, the “bald raven”, is twice oxymoronic, so if you can somehow explain the thinking of René Lesson, I’m “all ears”!

  2. #2 Serrin
    December 31, 2009

    Based on the black webbed feet, some kind of cormorant.

  3. #3 John Callender
    December 31, 2009

    Agreed as to those looking like cormorant feet. The brownish tone in the belly makes me think it’s a juvenile, and the location makes me think it’s either Double-crested or Neotropic. I can’t see a lot to help me distinguish between the two; Sibley talks about the greater contrast that can be seen between the throat, breast, and belly of the immature Double-crested, and the longer tail of the Neotropic, but I don’t think this photo helps much with either of those.

    I’m going to go ahead and call it a Double-crested, just because they’re more common and widespread, though I realize that’s a suspect hook on which to hang an ID. I plan to go peek at the answer on Joseph Kennedy’s site, but I’m curious if there are other clues that the more-expert types can cite to help with this one.

    Neat challenge!

  4. #4 David Hilmy
    December 31, 2009

    Hey John,

    I’ll explain my obtuse comment #1 a little later (!) but I based my choice upon the fact that immature Double-cresteds are significantly paler than adults and therefore ostensibly a mottled brown, whereas immature Neotropics are slghtly paler than comparable adults which are already more brownish that the Double-crested and so would appear much lighter than above…

    Texas Parks and Wildlife: Distinguishing Double-cresteds from lookalike relatives

  5. #5 Tabor
    December 31, 2009

    This has nothing to do with birds…odd. Happy New Year to someone for whom it really will be a new year!

  6. #6 David Hilmy
    January 1, 2010

    OK John,

    Having studied this a little further I am faced with that typical scenario where one can convince oneself that the first impression or first choice was wrong, change one’s mind to another choice, and then find out they should have gone with… the first choice!

    I have found numerous winter Neotropic Cormorants displaying almost identical coloring to the one above and indeed, they are numerous in downtown Houston and at Hermann Park as above, but I have also found a few immature (2nd winter) and numerous “winter brown” adult Double-cresteds looking virtually identical…!

  7. #8 David Hilmy
    January 2, 2010

    Re. #1

    It would seem that our friend, the “bald raven”, is twice oxymoronic, so if you can somehow explain the thinking of René Lesson, I’m “all ears”!

    Phalacrocorax from the Greek words φαλακρος (bald) and κοραξ (crow, raven) and auritus is the Latin for “eared”… René Primevère Lesson was a naval surgeon but also the naturalist who described the Double-crested Cormorant in his 1831 Traité d’ornithologie, ou Tableau méthodique des ordres, sous-ordres, familles, tribus, genres, sous-genres et races d’oiseaux.

  8. #9 Maggie Moo
    January 4, 2010

    twice oxymoronic

    good one again David, double crests on a bald raven!

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