Archive for the 'Quiz' Category

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

Oct 04 2012

The Largest Acorn

Published by under Quiz,Schenley Park,Trees

Crack open your field guides!

Today's quiz is:  Identify this enormous acorn.

Here are some of its characteristics:

  • The acorns are huge.  The cups measure 1.25" across.
  • The outside has a rough diamond pattern with a fringe at the edge.
  • The inside of the cup is smooth.
  • The acorn itself is dark brown (see last photo).
  • I found them in Schenley Park.

Here's a close-up of the cups...

...and an acorn inside the cup.

Do you know what species this is?

Leave a comment with your answer.

(p.s.  The answer is now in the comments section.)

(photos by Kate St. John)

14 responses so far

Sep 17 2012

Does This Word Sound Like A Bird?

Published by under Quiz

Can you recognize the name of a bird in a language you've never heard?

Last weekend I found a 2009 New York Times science quiz where you can test this skill.

The quiz is a sample from a study conducted by anthropologist Brent Berlin at the University of Georgia.  In it he showed that human names for the natural world usually incorporate qualities of the organisms, so we can tell the difference between a bird name and a fish name even if we've never heard the language.

The questions in the study, and the quiz, present pairs of bird and fish names in a very foreign language: the Huambisa language of Peru. Brent Berlin pronounces the words in audio clips.

The original study participants correctly guessed the bird name 58% of the time.  My hunch is that birders will score higher than that.

I did amazingly well, correctly choosing 9 out of 10 bird names.  This photo shows the bird whose name I missed.

Can you tell if a word names a bird?  Click here to take the quiz.

(photo of a male purple-throated euphonia by Dario Sanches from Wikimedia Commons.  Click on the image to see the original)

8 responses so far

Feb 03 2012

Friday Quiz: Bottoms Up

Published by under Quiz

Charlie Hickey found these ducks in Delaware last month.

Can you identify them with their bottoms up?

Leave a comment with your answer.

(photo by Charlie Hickey)

8 responses so far

Jan 27 2012

Learn a Bird, Teach a Computer

Published by under Quiz

When you play today's "quiz" you'll be teaching a computer how to think.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is building a new interactive bird identification tool and they need your help.  In yesterday's eNewsletter they wrote:

To help you identify birds online, the Cornell Lab’s web team is building a new tool called “Merlin.” Merlin will use artificial intelligence to ask questions and provide suggestions to help you identify what you saw. First, though, Merlin needs to know how people observe and describe birds. Help populate Merlin’s “brain” by trying Mark My Bird, an online activity that asks 18 questions about a species. Play as often as you like to help us build Merlin faster!

Mark My Bird looks like a quiz but it's actually gathering data for Merlin's brain.  It will show you a photo of a mystery bird but don't worry, it's going to identify that bird for you.  All you have to do is choose the bird's group (or say Not Sure), then click on the bird's body parts and checkmark the colors and patterns you see.

I tried it myself and it's pretty cool. You can use it to quiz your own bird skills or identify the mystery bird.

Click here or on the screenshot to play Mark My Bird.  Teach the computer how to think!

(screenshot from Cornell Lab of Ornithology Mark My Bird interactive tool)

7 responses so far

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