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Glossary of ornithology

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Common Loon
Common Loon
Large waterbird.
Long pointed bill.
Long body slopes to rear.
Sits low on water.

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Common Loon
A large, heavy-bodied loon with a thick, pointed, usually black or dark gray bill held horizontally. In breeding plumage, head and neck black with white bands on neck; back black with white spots. In winter, crown, hindneck, and upperparts dark grayish;
Common Loon

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Red-necked Grebe
Medium-sized waterbird; large grebe.
Bill is large, straight, and sharp.
Breeding adult has a rufous neck, pale gray or white cheeks, and a black cap.
Nonbreeding adult has gray neck and cheeks
In flight, distinguished from loons b
Red-necked grebe

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Horned Grebe

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Horned Grebe
Small, slender-necked, with short, sharply pointed bill. In breeding plumage, body dark, with rufous neck and flanks; head blackish, with conspicuous buff ear tufts. In winter, upperparts dark; chin and foreneck white.
Horned Grebe

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Eared Grebe

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Eared Grebe
A small, slender-necked, slender-billed grebe. In breeding plumage, black head and back; golden ear tufts; black crest. In winter plumage, dark gray above, white below; neck dusky. Similar in winter to Horned Grebe, but chunkier, and bill appears slightl
Eared Grebe

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Pied-billed Grebe, breeding

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Pied-billed grebe, nonbreeding
Pigeon-sized. A stocky, uniformly brownish water bird, with stout whitish bill that has black ring around it during breeding season.
Pied-billed grebe

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Western Grebe, breeding

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Western Grebe, nonbreeding
A large slender grebe with a long neck. Blackish above with black of cap extending below eyes; white below and on front of neck. Bill long, slender, and greenish yellow. Long white wing stripe shows in flight. See Clark's Grebe.
Western Grebe

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Clark's Grebe, breeding

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Clark's Grebe, nonbreeding
A large slender grebe with a long neck. Very similar to Western Grebe, but black of cap does not reach eyes, so face is largely white; bill bright yellow or orange-yellow.
Clark's Grebe

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Tundra Swan
Large, all white; bill black, usually with small yellow spot in front of eye. Rare Trumpeter Swan is larger and lacks yellow on bill. Holds neck straight up, unlike Mute Swan, which bends its neck in a graceful curve.
Tundra Swan

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Trumpeter Swan
Adult similar to Tundra Swan but larger, with all-black bill. Young birds dusky gray-brown; bill pink with black base and tip.
Trumpeter Swan

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Greater White-fronted Goose
A dusky-brown goose with conspicuous white belly and undertail coverts; white patch on front of face; underparts barred and flecked with black. Bill usually pink; legs orange. Birds from Greenland have orange bills. Young birds lack white face and black
Greater White-fronted Goose

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greater white-fronted goose

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Canada Goose

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Canada Goose
Brownish body with black head, long black neck, conspicuous white cheek patch. white chinstrapLight tan to cream breast feathers.
Brownish back.
White undertail.
Canada Goose

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Snow Goose, light and dark phases

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Snow Goose
Smaller than the domestic goose. Pure white with black wing tips; bill pink with black "lips"; legs pink. Young birds have dark bill and are mottled with brownish gray above. A dark phase, once considered a separate species called the "Blu
Snow Goose

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wood duck, male

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wood duck, female
A beautiful, crested, multicolored duck. Male patterned in iridescent greens, purples, and blues with distinctive white chin patch and face stripes; bill mainly red; tail long. Female grayish with broad white eye ring.
wood duck

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mallard, male

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mallard, female
Male has a green head, white neck ring, chestnut breast, and grayish body; inner feathers of wing (speculum) are metallic purplish blue, bordered in front and back with white. Female mottled brown with white tail and purplish-blue speculum; mottled orang
mallard

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gadwall, female

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gadwall, male
Male is a medium-sized grayish duck with white patch on hind edge of wing, black rump, and sandy brown head. Female mottled brown, with white patch on hind edge of wing
gadwall

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northern pintail, male

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northern pintail, female
Long-necked slender duck. Male has brown head, white underparts and neck with white line extending onto side of head, grayish back and sides, and long, black, pointed central tail feathers. Speculum metallic brown and green with white rear border that sh
northern pintail

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american wigeon, male breeding

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american wigeon, female

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american wigeon, male eclipse plumage
Male is brownish with white crown, green ear patch, and bold white shoulder patches easily visible in flight. Female is mottled brown with grayish head and whitish shoulder patches. Bill pale blue in both sexes
american wigeon

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northern shoveler, male

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northern shoveler, female
Large shovel-shaped bill. Male has green head, white body, and chestnut flanks. Female streaked brown with pale blue shoulder patches; similar to female Blue-winged Teal, but bill much larger
northern shoveler

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cinnamon teal, male

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cinnamon teal, female

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cinnamon teal, female
Male bright rufous with pale blue shoulder patches. Female mottled sandy brown, dusky, with pale blue shoulder patches; face plainer than female Blue-wing's, but the two are often not distinguishable in the field
cinnamon teal

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blue-winged teal, male

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blue-winged teal, female
A small brown duck with pale blue shoulder patches. Male has gray head and white crescent in front of eye. Female mottled brown, similar to female Cinnamon Teal but with obscure patterning on face and to female Green-winged, but grayer and larger billed,
blue-winged teal

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green-winged teal, male

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green-winged teal, female
A small dark duck. Male has chestnut head, green ear patch, flashing green speculum, pale gray sides, and pinkish breast with a vertical white stripe down the side. Female is dark brown without distinctive markings.
green-winged teal

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canvasback, male

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canvasback, female
Male has a whitish body, black chest, and reddish head with low forehead. Long bill gives head a distinctive sloping profile. Female grayish, with sandy-brown head. At a distance male can be distinguished from similar Redheads by their white bodies, the
canvasback

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redhead, male

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redhead, female
Male gray, with brick-red head and black breast. Female duller and browner, with light area around base of bill; has larger and rounder head than female Ring-necked Duck. Both sexes have pale gray wing stripe and pale blue-gray bill. Similar Canvasback h
redhead

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ring-necked duck, male

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ring-necked duck, female
Male has black back and breast; purple-glossed, black-appearing angular head; pale gray flanks; vertical white mark on side of breast. Female brownish, paler around base of bill, with narrow white eye ring. Bill pale gray with white ring. The high angula
ring-necked duck

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greater scaup, male

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greater scaup, female
Male has very light gray body, blackish chest, and black-appearing, green-glossed head. Female is a uniform dark brown with white patch at base of bill. Both sexes have long whitish wing stripe.
greater scaup

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lesser scaup, male breeding

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lesser scaup, female

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lesser scaup, nonbreeding male
Male has very light gray body, blackish chest, and black-appearing head. Similar to the Greater Scaup, but crown is higher and forehead steeper, giving the head a more angular appearance. Head of male glossed with purple, not green. Female dark brown wit
lesser scaup

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harlequin duck, male left and female right
A small dark duck. Male is blue-gray (appearing black at a distance), with chestnut flanks and distinctive white patches on head and body. Female is dusky brown with 2 or 3 whitish patches on sides of face. In flight, this species lacks large white patch
harlequin duck

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common goldeney, male

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common goldeneye, female
Male has white body; black back; black-appearing (actually glossy greenish) head; and large, round white spot in front of eye. Eye bright yellow. Female grayish, with warm brown head, white neck ring, and dark bill. Both sexes have a distinctive puffy he
common goldeneye

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barrow's goldeneyes, male left; female right
Male has white body, black back, and black-appearing (actually glossed with purple) head. Similar to male Common Goldeneye, but has more black on sides, stubbier bill, and crescent-shaped, rather than round, white spot in front of eye. Female gray with b
barrow's goldeneye

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bufflehead, male

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bufflehead, female
A small, chubby duck. Male largely white, with black back, black head with greenish and purplish gloss, and large white patch from behind eye to top and back of head. Female all dark, with single whitish patch on cheek. A fast flier, with a rapid wingbea
bufflehead

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hooded merganser, breeding male

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hooded merganser, female

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hooded merganser, male nonbreeding
A small duck with a slender pointed bill. Male has white, fan-shaped, black-bordered crest, blackish body with dull rusty flanks, and white breast with 2 black stripes down side. Female is dull gray-brown, with warmer brown head and crest. Both sexes sho
hooded merganser

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common merganser, male

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common merganser, female
Male has flashing white sides, green head, white breast, and long, thin red bill. Female has gray body and sides; reddish-brown crested head sharply set off from white throat. Red-breasted Merganser is similar, but male has gray sides, white neck ring, a
common merganser

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red-breasted merganser, male

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red-breasted merganser, female
Male has green head with wispy crest, gray sides, white neck ring, and rusty breast. Female grayish, with reddish-brown head shading gradually into gray of neck. Both sexes are crested and have red bills.
red-breasted merganser

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ruddy duck, male breeding

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ruddy duck, female

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ruddy duck, male nonbreeding

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american white pelican

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american white pelican, flight
A huge white bird with a long flat bill and black wing tips. In breeding season, has short yellowish crest on back of head and horny plate on upper mandible. Young birds duskier than adults.
american white pelican

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double-crested cormorant

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double-crested cormorant, immature
A solidly built black cormorant with orange throat pouch and long neck. Long hooked bill tilted upward when bird swims. Adults have short tuft of feathers over each eye during breeding season. Young birds are browner, whitish or buffy on breast, upper be
double-crested cormorant

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turkey vulture
Eagle-sized blackish bird, usually seen soaring over the countryside. In flight, the long wings are held upward in a wide, shallow V; flight feathers silvery below. Tail long; head small, bare, and reddish; gray in immatures. Similar to Black Vulture, bu
turkey vulture

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american bittern

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american bittern
A secretive, medium-sized, streaked brown heron. Outer wing appears blackish brown in flight, contrasting with lighter brown of inner wing and body. At close range adults show long black stripe down side of throat. Young night-herons are similar but stoc
american bittern

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great blue heron

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great blue heron, white morph
A common large, mainly grayish heron with a pale or yellowish bill. Often mistaken for a Sandhill Crane, but flies with its neck folded, not extended like that of a crane. In southern Florida an all-white form, "Great White Heron," differs from
great blue heron

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great egret
A large, all-white heron with a yellow bill and black legs. In breeding plumage, has long lacy plumes on back. Much smaller Snowy Egret has black bill and legs and yellow feet.
great egret

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black-crowned night-heron

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black-crowned night-heron, immature
A medium-sized, stocky, rather short-necked heron with black crown and back, gray wings, and white underparts. Bill short and black, legs pinkish or yellowish. In breeding season it has 2 or more long white plumes on back of head. Young birds are dull gr
black-crowned night-heron

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northern harrier, female

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northern harrier, juvenile
A long-winged, long-tailed hawk with a white rump, usually seen gliding unsteadily over marshes with its wings held in a shallow V. Male has pale gray back, head, and breast; wing tips black. Female and young are brown above, streaked below, young birds
northern harrier

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sharp-shinned hawk
A jay-sized, fast-flying hawk with a long, narrow, square-tipped tail and short rounded wings. Adult slate-gray above, pale below, with fine rust-colored barring. Immature birds brown above with whitish spots, creamy white below with streaks on breast, b
sharp-shinned hawk

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cooper's hawk

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cooper's hawk, immature
A crow-sized hawk, with long tail and short rounded wings. Adult slate-gray above, with dark cap, and finely rust-barred below. Immature brown above, whitish below with fine streaks. Tail tip rounded, not squared-off. See Sharp-shinned Hawk.
cooper's hawk

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northern goshawk
A robust hawk with a long narrow tail, short rounded wings, and bold white eyebrow. Adults blue-gray above with a black crown; pale underparts finely barred with gray. Young bird similar in size and shape, but brown above, streaked below.
northern goshawk

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swainson's hawk
A large hawk, uniform brown above, white below with warm-brown breast; tail dark brown and indistinctly banded. Longer, more pointed wings than Red-tailed Hawk. Young bird similar to immature Red-tail, but tends to have darker markings on the breast, whe
swainson's hawk

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red-tailed hawk
A large stocky hawk. Typical light-phase birds have whitish breast and rust-colored tail. Young birds duller, more streaked, lacking rust-colored tail of adult; they are distinguished from Red-shouldered and Swainson's hawks by their stocky build, broade
red-tailed hawk

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ferruginous hawk
A large hawk. Light-phase adult rufous above, mainly whitish below, with rufous "wrist" patch and leg feathers, and black primary tips. In rare dark phase, deep rufous above and below, tail whitish. Legs and feet feathered down to talons. Immat
ferruginous hawk

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rough-legged hawk
A large, long-winged hawk that often hovers. Tail white at base with a dark terminal band. Light-phase adult has sandy-brown head and neck, blackish belly, and dark "wrist" marks on underside of wing. All-dark forms can usually be identified by
rough-legged hawk

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golden eagle, juvenile

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golden eagle, adult
A large, all-dark eagle with a pale golden nape. Bill smaller and darker than that of Bald Eagle. In young birds, tail white at base, black at tip; white patches on undersides of wings.
golden eagle

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bald eagles, immature left; adult right
A large blackish eagle with white head and tail and heavy yellow bill. Young birds lack the white head and tail, and resemble adult Golden Eagles, but are variably marked with white and have a black, more massive bill.
bald eagle

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osprey
A large, long-winged "fish hawk." Brown above and white below; head white with dark line through eye and on side of face. Wing shows distinctive bend at "wrist." At a distance, can resemble a gull.
osprey

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merlin, male

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merlin, female
A jay-sized falcon, stockier than American Kestrel. Slate colored (males) or brownish (females) above; light and streaked below. Long tail boldly banded. Lacks facial stripes of most other falcons.
merlin

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american kestrel, male

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american kestrel, female
A jay-sized falcon, often seen hovering. Recognizable in all plumages by rusty tail and back. Adult male has slate-blue wings. Female has rusty wings and back, narrow bands on tail. Both sexes have 2 black stripes on face.
american kestrel

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prairie falcon
A large falcon, sandy brown above, whitish or pale buff below with fine spots and streaks, narrow brown "mustache" stripe, and dark wing linings.
prairie falcon

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peregrine falcon
A large robust falcon with a black hood and wide black "mustaches." Adults slate-gray above and pale below, with fine black bars and spots. Young birds brown or brownish slate above, heavily streaked below.
peregrine falcon

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chukar
Similar in size and shape to Gray Partridge. Light brown back and wings; creamy-white belly; gray-tinged cap, breast, and rump. White cheek and throat framed by broad black band. Bold chestnut and black diagonal striping on flanks; bright rufous outer ta
chukar

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gray partridge
A small, stocky, chicken-like bird, largely gray, with black U-shaped mark on underparts and bright rust-colored tail, most evident when it flies.
gray partridge

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ring-necked pheasant, male

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ring-necked pheasant, female
Larger than a chicken, with a long pointed tail. Male has red eye patch, brilliant green head, and (usually) white neck ring; body patterned in soft brown and iridescent russet. Female mottled sandy brown, with shorter tail.
ring-necked pheasant

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spruce grouse, male

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spruce grouse, female
dark, chicken-like bird with a fan-shaped tail. Male dusky gray-brown, with red comb over eye, black throat and upper breast, white-spotted sides, chestnut-tipped tail. Birds in northern Rockies and Cascades (known as "Franklin's Grouse") have
spruce grouse

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blue grouse, male

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blue grouse, female
A large grouse. Male dusky gray or bluish gray, with orange-yellow or red comb over eye, patch of yellow skin on neck surrounded by rosette of white feathers, some mottling on wings, and blackish tail with pale gray terminal band. Birds in Rockies lack t
blue grouse

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white-tailed ptarmigan, breeding

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white-tailed ptarmigan, nonbreeding

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white-tailed ptarmigan, winter nonbreeding
The smallest of the ptarmigans, the only one with an all-white tail, and the only one found in alpine tundra of the western United States. In winter, pure white except for black bill and eyes. In summer, mottled and barred with brown on head, breast, and
white-tailed ptarmigan

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ruffed grouse

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ruffed grouse, female
A brown or gray-brown, chicken-like bird with slight crest, fan-shaped, black-banded tail, barred flanks, and black "ruffs" on sides of neck.
ruffed grouse

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sharp-tailed grouse
Resembles, but slightly smaller than, female pheasant. Mottled with buff, slightly paler below. Tail short and pointed, with white outer tail feathers. Male has purple neck patch and yellow comb over eye; tail longer than that of female. Similar prairie-
sharp-tailed grouse

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greater sage-grouse, male

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greater sage-grouse, female
Both sexes mottled gray-brown above with black belly. Male has long pointed tail, black throat, white breast, with elongated neck plumes flanking breast. Female's head, back, and breast uniformly barred. Displaying male fans tail and tilts it forward; in
greater sage-grouse

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wild turkey, male

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wild turkey, female
Unmistakable. Dusky brown, barred with black, with iridescent bronze sheen; head and neck naked, with bluish and reddish wattles; tail fan-shaped, with chestnut, buff, or white tail tips. Male has spurs and long "beard" on breast. Female smalle
wild turkey

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northern bobwhite, male

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northern bobwhite, female
A small, chunky, brown bird; underparts pale and streaked; face patterned in black and white in males, buff and white in females. Usually seen in groups called coveys.
northern bobwhite

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california quail, male

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california quail, female
A stocky, mainly gray quail with a curved black head plume. Similar to Gambel's Quail, but crown brown, not chestnut; forehead buff, not black; and belly scaled, lacking black patch in center. Female less boldly marked than male.
california quail

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mountain quail
A large quail with a long straight head plume. Brown above, with gray head, neck, and breast; chestnut throat; chestnut flanks with bold white bars. Female similar, but duller.
mountain quail

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american coot
A gray, duck-like bird with white bill and frontal shield, white undertail coverts, and lobed toes. Frontal shield has red swelling at upper edge, visible at close range. Immatures similar but paler, with duller bill.
american coot

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virginia rail
A small rail with a long reddish bill, rusty underparts, barred flanks, and gray cheeks. Much larger King Rail has dark bill and buff or rusty cheeks. Late-summer young birds are similar to adults, but have blackish breasts and dark bills.
virginia rail

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sora
A quail-sized rail with short yellow bill, gray breast, and black face. Upperparts mottled brown; lower abdomen banded with black and white. Young birds in fall lack black face and have buff breast.
sora

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sandhill crane
Very tall, with long neck and legs. Largely gray, with red forehead; immature browner, no red on head. Plumage often appears rusty because of iron stains from water of tundra ponds.
sandhill crane

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semipalmated plover
A brown-backed plover with white underparts and 1 black breast band. Bill stubby, yellow-orange, with dark tip. Immature has all-black bill and brownish breast band. Piping Plover similar but much paler above. Larger Killdeer has 2 black breast bands.
semipalmated plover

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killdeer
Our largest "ringed" plover. Brown above and white below, with 2 black bands across breast, long legs, and relatively long tail. In flight, shows rusty uppertail coverts and rump.
killdeer

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american avocet, breeding

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american avocet, nonbreeding
A large, long-legged shorebird with a slender, upturned bill. Upperparts and wings patterned in black and white; underparts white. Head and neck rust-colored in summer, white in winter.
american avocet

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black-necked stilt
A slender, long-legged shorebird. Black above, white below; head patterned in black and white; neck long; bill long and thin; legs very long, red, and slender.
black-necked stilt

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greater yellowlegs
A slender, gray-streaked wader with conspicuous white rump and long yellow legs. Lesser Yellowlegs is similar but smaller, with a shorter, straighter, and more slender bill and a different call.
greater yellowlegs

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lesser yellowlegs
A slender, gray-streaked wader with conspicuous white rump and long yellow legs. A smaller, more slender edition of the Greater Yellowlegs, with a proportionately shorter, straighter, more slender bill. Looks longer-legged than Greater Yellowlegs.
lesser yellowlegs

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solitary sandpiper
A small dark sandpiper with dark olive legs, speckled upperparts, white tail barred with black, and prominent eye ring. Flight is swallow-like. No white wing stripe, as seen in Spotted Sandpiper.
solitary sandpiper

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spotted sandpiper, breeding

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spotted sandpiper, nonbreeding
A starling-sized shorebird that bobs its tail almost constantly. Breeding adults are brown above, with bold white wing stripe, white below with bold black spots on breast and belly. Fall birds lack black spots below, have brownish smudge at sides of brea
spotted sandpiper

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long billed curlew
A large curlew, warm brown and buff below, with cinnamon wing linings, no head pattern, and very long, sickle-shaped bill.
long billed curlew

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sanderling, breeding

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sanderling, nonbreeding
A starling-sized shorebird with conspicuous white wing stripe. Summer adults have rufous head and breast, white belly. In winter, rufous areas replaced by pale gray, and birds look almost white. Bill and legs black.
sanderling

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semipalmated sandpiper, breeding

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semipalmated sandpiper, nonbreeding
Slightly larger than a Least Sandpiper. In all plumages, grayer above with less-streaked breast than other "peeps." Feet black. Bill black and short, drooping slightly at tip; noticeably stouter than bill of Least Sandpiper.
semipalmated sandpiper

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western sandpiper, breeding

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western sandpiper, nonbreeding
Similar to Semipalmated Sandpiper and not always easy to distinguish, but bill tends to be longer, with more evident droop at tip. In summer, crown and upper back rusty; in winter, crown and upper back dull gray.
western sandpiper

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least sandpiper, breeding

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least sandpiper, nonbreeding
The smallest of American shorebirds. Brownish above, with yellowish or greenish legs, short thin bill, and streaked breast. Grayer in winter plumage. Bill shorter, thinner, and more pointed than in Semipalmated or Western sandpipers.
least sandpiper

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baird's sandpiper, breeding
A slender "peep" with a short straight bill; larger than Least, Semipalmated, and Western sandpipers; about the same size as White-rumped. Wing tips extend beyond end of tail, giving bird a "pointed" look behind. Breeding adults have
baird's sandpiper

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pectoral sandpiper
A chunky, somewhat short-legged wader with heavily streaked breast sharply delineated from unmarked white belly. Legs yellow. In flight, wings dark with no prominent stripe.
pectoral sandpiper

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dunlin, breeding

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dunlin, nonbreeding
A starling-sized shorebird. Bill fairly long, with distinct droop at tip. Breeding adults have reddish back, whitish underparts, with black patch in center of belly. Winter birds are dull gray, paler below.
dunlin

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long-billed dowitcher, nonbreeding

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long-billed dowitcher, breeding
A snipe-like, long-billed shorebird with white lower back and rump, black and white checkered tail, dark bill, green legs. Summer adults have reddish underparts (including belly), with barring on breast, sides, and flanks, and reddish edges on feathers o
long-billed dowitcher

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common snipe
A long-billed, brownish shorebird with striped head and back, white belly, and rust in tail. Usually seen when flushed from edge of a marsh or a pond. Flight fast and erratic.
common snipe

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wilson's phalarope
A strikingly patterned shorebird with a needle-like bill, pearl-gray head and back, white underparts, black stripe through eye and down neck, and chestnut markings on breast and back. In fall plumage, pale gray above, white below; in this plumage, pale c
wilson's phalarope

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red-necked phalarope, breeding female

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red-necked phalarope, nonbreeding
A sparrow-sized swimming shorebird with a conspicuous wing stripe. Breeding adults have dark head and back, white chin and belly separated by chestnut upper breast and sides of neck. Females more boldly patterned than males. In winter, darker above, with
red-necked phalarope

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