Archive for the 'Quiz' Category

Jan 14 2014

Inca Birds

Published by under Quiz

Inca tern at the National Aviary (photo by Shawn Collins)

My blog about the pyramid of Inca doves got me thinking of birds named for the Incan people.   How many of these names exist?

A search found 13 birds with “Inca” in their English names…


Black Inca Coeligena prunellei
Bronzy Inca Coeligena coeligena
Brown Inca Coeligena wilsoni
Collared Inca Coeligena torquata


Buff-bridled Inca-finch Incaspiza laeta
Great Inca-finch Incaspiza pulchra
Grey-winged Inca-finch Incaspiza ortizi
Little Inca-finch Incaspiza watkinsi
Rufous-backed Inca-finch Incaspiza personata

Other species:

Inca Dove Columbina inca
Inca Flycatcher Leptopogon taczanowskii
Inca Tern Larosterna inca
Inca Wren Thryothorus eisenmanni

…and prompted two quiz questions:

  1. All but one of these species is native to South America.  Which bird doesn’t live in the land of the Incas?
  2. Can you think of birds named for other native American tribes or empires?  I can think of only one.


(photo of an Inca tern at the National Aviary by Shawn Collins)

3 responses so far

Dec 18 2013

Tracks Count

Published by under Quiz

Bird footprints in the snow (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

‘Tis the season for Christmas Bird Counts and snow.

During the Christmas Bird Count volunteers tally the number of birds by species in each 15-mile diameter circle.

Did you know that you can count a bird if you find its fresh footprints?  The tracks tell you the bird was here recently. But what bird?

Here’s a quiz to test your skill.  Identify the species that made these tracks:

(#1) In the photo above the tracks are about 2″ to 3″ long and 4″ apart and were made in a city.  What bird made them?

(#2) In the photo below the footprints are 6″ to 7″ long in a rural backyard in Saxonburg, PA

Bird tracks in snow, Saxonburg, PA


and (#3) below, from the Ode Street Tribune blog, are footprints about 5″ long in a city park near a river.

Bird footprints in the snow, Arlington VA (photo from Ode Treet Tribune blog)


Test your skill.  Leave a comment with your answer.


(photos: top and middle footprint photos are from Wikimedia Commons. Last photo is from the Ode Street Tribune blog. Click on each image to see the original … and it will give you the answer to the bird’s identity.)

p.s.  Click here for Christmas Bird Count information from

9 responses so far

Sep 19 2013

Fancy Feet

Published by under Bird Anatomy,Quiz

Snowy egret feet (photo by Chuck Tague)

Monday’s blog about identifying white wading birds got me thinking about snowy egrets’ black legs and fancy yellow feet.  Wow!

Are there other birds in North America whose legs and feet are different colors?

The immature blackpoll warbler has them.  Adult blackpolls have bright orange-yellow legs and feet but the youngsters have black legs.  Their contrasting feet are a good identification tip during fall migration.  This one is wearing orange slippers.
Immature Blackpoll warbler (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)


Beyond the blackpoll I was stumped.  I searched my field guide page by page and discovered that golden-crowned kinglets have dark legs and pale yellow feet.  Who knew?  I never looked at their feet before.
Golden-crowned kinglet (photo by Shawn Collins)


Do any other North American birds have fancy feet?  I don’t think so, but maybe you know of one.

In the meantime I’ll leave you with this thought …

Have you ever seen a Eurasian Coot?
Eurasian coot (photo from Wikimedia Commons)


(photo credits:  Snowy egret feet by Chuck Tague, immature blackpoll warbler by Marcy Cunkelman, golden-crowned kinglet by Shawn Collins, Eurasian coot from Wikimedia Commons)

2 responses so far

Sep 09 2013

Which Cone Is Wetter?

Published by under Plants,Quiz

Wet and dry pine cones, head on (photo by Kate St. John)

While writing about dripping pine cones I learned that mature cones open and close many times and can do so for many years.

They do this in response to wetness — even after they release their seeds, even after they’ve fallen from the tree.  In fact the open/closed status of fallen cones is a simple indication of wildfire risk because it shows the dryness of the forest floor.

So what does a wet cone look like?  Can you tell which one is wet and which is dry, above?

Here’s a view of the tail end.

Tail end of wet and dry white pine cones (photo by Kate St. John)

And here’s an overhead view.

Wet and dry white pine cones side by side (photo by Kate St. John)


By now you’ve probably guessed the answer so you’re ready to play Cone In A Bottle.

Put the closed cone in a bottle and wait for it to open.  If you want to get the cone out, do you add water or remove it?

The answer is in the comments below.

(photos by Kate St. John)

5 responses so far

Aug 19 2013

Western Hummer Season

Published by under Migration,Quiz

Mystery Hummingbird #1 (photo by Steve Valasek)

Last week Scott Weidensaul reminded Pennsylvania birders that with hummingbird migration underway we might — just might — see a rarity at our feeders.

He wrote, “PABIRDers will recall that last fall and winter we documented an astounding 94 western hummingbirds of four species in Pennsylvania, and that was probably the tip of the iceberg.”

In honor of Western Hummer Season I’ve made a quiz with a twist. These recent hummingbird photos were all taken outside of Pennsylvania by former Pittsburghers.  Some of these birds can be found in Pennsylvania, one cannot, and one of Pennsylvania’s rarities isn’t pictured here at all.

Can you identify these hummingbirds?  (starting with Mystery #1 above)

Experts will know what they are.  The rest of us can appreciate the beautiful photos.  Don’t feel bad if you can’t identify them — I couldn’t without looking them up.   Answers are in the first Comment.

Mystery Hummingbird #2:
Mystery Hummingbird #2 (photo by Steve Valasek)


Mystery Hummingbird #3:
Mystery Hummingbird #3 (photo by Steve Vlasek)


Mystery Hummingbird #4:
Mystery Hummingbird #4 (photo by Steve Valasek)


Mystery Hummingbird #5:
Mystery Hummingbird #5 (photo by Chuck Tague)


Keep your hummingbird feeders full and watch for unusual birds this fall.  The hint may be just a slight color difference.

After October 15, any hummer you see in Pennsylvania is a western rarity to report on PABIRDS or to Bob Mulvihill at the National Aviary (412.323.7235).


(all photos by Steve Valasek, except for the photo with a flower which is by Chuck Tague)

p.s.  See Rob Protz’ comment for the western hummer species I forgot to mention…

8 responses so far

Jul 14 2013

Guess What

Published by under Plants,Quiz

Intricate flower on a common weed (photo by Kate St. John)

This summer I’m having fun taking a close-up look at nature.

Here’s a small, incredibly common flower that a lot of people can’t stand.  Can you guess what it is?

Here are some interesting facts about it:

  • It’s native to Eurasia, introduced to North America and Australia.
  • The flower spike blooms bottom to top.
  • The plant is wind-pollinated, which probably explains why the stamens stick out so far.
  • It grows very easily in sunny disturbed soil.  I’ve found it growing in cracks in the pavement.
  • In archaeology its pollen has been used as an indicator of agriculture.
  • It is very hardy and will come back again and again after mowing.
  • Tea made from its leaves is an herbal remedy for coughs.
  • In some states it’s not listed as invasive because it only grows in disturbed soil and waste places.
  • Chemical lawn treatments target these broad-leaved plants but force those lawns to be monocultures of grass.

Can you guess what it is?  


(photo by Kate St. John)

8 responses so far

Apr 04 2013

This Is A Test

Published by under Quiz,Vocalizations

This is a test.  For the next two minutes this video will test your ability to identify birds by sound.  This is only a test.

Well, actually it’s a video of mockingbirds singing. Whose songs and calls are they imitating?

Use this quiz to get your ears in shape for birding by ear this spring.  At minimum you’ll remember the mockingbirds’ three-repeat song.

This is only a test.  If there had been an actual blue jay in the video you would have seen him.

(video by grcapro on YouTube)

5 responses so far

Feb 20 2013

Morning Song

Mourning Dove in Urbana, IL (photo by Dori on Wikimedia Commons)

On February mornings, the mourning doves sing songs of love.

The males perch high and puff their throats when they sing.  Though they are slender, they resemble pigeons when they do this.

Coo-OOOO Cooo Cooo Cooo.

Some say they sound like owls but those who think the sound is mournful named this dove.

Click here to hear their mourning morning song.


AND A QUIZ!    Identify the other bird singing in the recording.  His song is not normally heard in southwestern PA in the summer.  The mourning dove lives year-round from Maine to Mexico, from Canada to Cuba.  The other bird will give you a hint on the location of the recording.


(photo by Dori on Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)

6 responses so far

Dec 10 2012

Duck Versus Goose

Published by under Quiz,Water and Shore

Dear Readers,

A question has been puzzling me for a long time and the answers I’ve found on the Internet are unsatisfactory, so I’m asking you.

What is the difference between a duck and a goose?

Is a duck smaller than a goose?  Not always.  The Muscovy duck is much larger than a Ross’s goose.


Does a goose have a longer neck or legs?  Not always.  Consider these black-bellied whistling ducks.

When we see a duck or a goose, intuitively we are able to say, “That’s a duck” or “That’s a goose.”

But how do we know the difference?

Please let me know by posting a comment.


(Credits:  mallard silhouette by Vlado on, goose silhouette from ShutterstockMuscovy duck by B.Walker on Wikimedia Commons, Ross’s goose by Alan Vernon on Wikimedia Commons, Black-bellied whistling ducks by Sultry on Wikimedia Commons)

UPDATE:  Chuck Tague wrote in the comments: “The difference is social structure. Ducks are seasonally monogamous and form a bond that lasts only through courtship and the initiation of incubation. The male takes no role in raising the young. Geese and swans form strong bonds that last for many seasons (or life) and maintain family units through migration. Whistling ducks are closer to geese than ducks.”

See the other comments, too!  Lots of great information.


7 responses so far

Nov 30 2012

Form, Function, and a Quiz

All birds have feathers, wings and two legs but they certainly don’t look alike, not even in silhouette.

Birds in the same family can look very different.  Take sandpipers (Scolopacidae) for instance:

  • Sanderlings are small sandpipers with short legs and a short pointy bill.
  • Whimbrels are more than twice the sanderlings’ size with relatively short legs and a long down-curved bill.
  • The critically endangered spoon-billed sandpiper is smallest of all with short legs and a spoon-tipped bill.

Why are they so different?  Their features have evolved to match their lifestyles.

  • Sanderlings chase waves to catch invertebrates tossed on sandy beaches.  They need to be quick so it’s important to be close to the ground and able to pick up prey quickly.
  • Whimbrels use their long curved bills to probe the mud of salt marshes and tidal flats to find crabs and invertebrates.
  • Spoon-billed sandpipers sweep their bills side to side in shallow water to capture prey.  Like the roseate spoonbill their lifestyle has shaped their bills.

In architecture, form follows function.  In birds their form happened first, then the birds with better features survived.


And now for a Quiz!

Every time I look at the silhouettes, I find myself trying to identify the birds.  There are 26 individuals and 3 flocks in the image.  How many of the silhouettes can you identify?

Tips:  I’ve numbered the individuals and marked the flocks with letters below. Assume each flock is made up of the same species.  Some of the 26 individuals are repeats.  If you can’t identify the exact species, name the bird by group, as in “gull.”

Post your answers in the comments.  Good luck!

(Inspiration for this Tenth Page is from page 10 of Ornithology by Frank B. Gill.  Bird silhouettes from Click on the image to see the original)

2 responses so far

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