Identify these bird parts?
February 3, 2016 6:47 AM   Subscribe

My wife found a bird wing and breastbone in the woods near our house. Can you figure out what they are and what might have happened to them? (photo warnings: BIRD GORE!)

We live near a lake in New England, Boston suburbs. These were found yesterday. Common predators in the area are hawks, a very occasional bald eagle (seriously!), and coyotes. Probably other stuff.

The first photo shows my wife's hand for scale.

"The grey/black color is pretty uniform either side of the wing."
"The breast bone is a little smaller than my hand."

She doesn't think it's a goose as "the feathers were wrong" and the geese aren't usually around this time of year, though it's been a mostly mild winter.

It's too big to be a mourning dove.

Common big birds in our area are hawks, geese, herons, owls, turkey vultures, and ducks.

It would be super swell if, instead of just guessing, you could provide some reasoning for your answers.
posted by bondcliff to Science & Nature (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
By the uniform black color and size, I'd say it is/was probably a crow.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:14 AM on February 3, 2016

Response by poster: Perhaps it doesn't show on the photo, but the wing is primarily dark grey. Not really crow colored.
posted by bondcliff at 7:29 AM on February 3, 2016

If you still have the wing you might be able to identify the bird with the Feather Atlas.
posted by squeak at 7:48 AM on February 3, 2016

Thinking about a big grey-winged bird my first thought was Great Blue Heron (wing is too small), some sort of hawk (not patterned enough), crow or raven (faded? doesn't seem likely) and gull (prob lots around even though you didn't mention, big but not too big, very grey winged). As so species, you might be able to narrow it down based on size between a Ring-billed and Herring (e.g. if you're in the NE US or Canada) or based on where you are.
posted by hydrobatidae at 7:50 AM on February 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

what might have happened to them?

My first guess is a feral cat.. anything much bigger would have eaten the breast bone instead of around it. Cats that have owners aren't as likely to eat all the bits of a bird. Most of them hunt for the pure joy of CATCHING THE FLYING THING.
posted by INFJ at 8:14 AM on February 3, 2016

That is a really big wing so I think it's some sort of hawk, maybe a red-shouldered hawk. Based on the size alone, there's no way a feral cat took that down. Maybe a bobcat or lynx, maybe a coyote.
posted by fiercekitten at 8:22 AM on February 3, 2016

I agree that that's a pretty big wing (look at the upper bone there!), as when one thinks of their big wingspan it's when their feathers are all spread out. And my first thought given the coloration was a Great Blue Heron (they're definitely gray-black, especially this time of year). They get pretty tame around here and can be so intent on their own hunting that they are slow and clumsy to take flight. They're big enough (and have such vicious beaks) that I'd guess the only predator around here that could really take one is a coyote.
posted by ldthomps at 8:45 AM on February 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

Can you take a photo of the wing outstretched, and show the ends of the outermost feathers? And are there are any non-uniformly grey feathers? Based on the color and size (only the outer third of the wing, or "primaries" remain, so it was a mid to large-sized bird in life), and your proximity to a lake, my best guess is a Great Blue Heron.

And whatever killed the bird was hungry enough to really gnaw on that breastbone. It would have left the primaries because there's essentially no meat in the tip of a wing. Definitely a non-domestic predator.
posted by scrubjay at 9:02 AM on February 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

I was going to suggest heron as well. Great horned owls will attack herons, and leave plenty of leftovers on the ground for some lucky gnawer. So no need to assume the tooth marks are from the same creature who killed it.
posted by Lou Stuells at 9:37 AM on February 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

I would have said Canada Goose from the size and coloration. I know you said there weren't geese around, but I'm not that far from you (on the CT shore, near the Rhode Island border) and I saw a group of Canada Geese on the wing just yesterday.
posted by Johnny Assay at 9:43 AM on February 3, 2016

I also lean toward Great Blue Heron, as the wing shape seems more likely, plus the coloring.
posted by annieb at 11:52 AM on February 3, 2016

I think it's a seagull.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:52 AM on February 5, 2016

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