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What is this Mystery Warbler?

What kind of warbler? Photo by Sandy Junkin

I have always loved a good mystery—especially one that involves ornithology—and an excellent example came up several months ago. A New York bird-bander by the name of David Junkin caught a small songbird in his mist net and was completely stumped. It didn’t look like any bird he had ever seen.

What’s more, he and his wife, Sandy, could not find anything that matched the bird in their field guides and reference books. They finally had to release the bird—after, of course, photographing it from every possible angle and recording its weight, measurements, and other details.

From there, the plot thickened. Pictures of the mystery bird were posted on a number of birding web sites, creating a flurry of interest—and numerous wild speculations about the bird’s identity, but still no definitive answer.

But then the Junkins recaptured the bird and plucked two tail feathers before releasing it again. Our DNA lab did the rest, determining the species of both of the bird’s parents.

End of the mystery, right? Well, yes—but Irby Lovette, director of the Lab’s Fuller Evolutionary Biology program, thought it would be fun to give birders a chance to figure out the bird’s identity themselves. He and Project FeederWatch leader David Bonter wrote an in-depth article about the bird (read the entire article, “Name that Warbler”).

The correct answer can be found on this web site by clicking on "Learn the answer" below. It will also be published in the Summer 2007 issue of Living Bird. But first we invite you to click on "See more pictures" below and guess the bird's parentage. I hope you enjoy attempting to solve this mystery.

See more pictures

Learn the answer

Tim Gallagher
Living Bird