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The Catbird Seat

A Birder Placement Test

article spread
By Pete Dunne
Illustrations by Jeff Sipple

The world is divided into two groups: birders and nonbirders. Although everyone aspires to be a birder (everyone I know, anyway), not all individuals enjoy this status.

For those who are in doubt, I have developed a Birder Placement Test designed to determine your avocational standing. Just answer these 10 questions and total your score. Each correct answer scores 10 points. Answers, and a rating scale, are found at the bottom of the page.

1. Which of the following sequences is out of pattern?
A. Peterson, Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Cape May
B. Sibley, Dovekie, Cape May
C. Kaufman, Spotted Redshank, Cape May

2. When someone says “eagles” your first thought is of . . .
A. Haliaeetus leucocephalus
B. Aquila chrysaetos
C. Podispherus philadelphei

3. In birding, a “lifer” is . . .
A. A committed birder
B. A convicted felon
C. A new bird species

4. Match the President to the bird (you must link all of them).
Richard Nixon Eagle
Dwight Eisenhower American Killdeer
George W. Bush Prothonotary Warbler

5. When a birder says “I dipped,” he or she usually means . . .
A. Went swimming
B. Missed a bird
C. Robbed the bird club till

6. The second most commonly heard human utterance on a Big Day is . . .
A. Got it!
B. Uh, guys I left my binoculars on the kitchen table.
C. It only called once.

7. Which bird’s vocalizations does not include a phonetic rendering of its common name?
A. Eastern Phoebe
B. Pyrrhuloxia
C. Carolina Chickadee
D. Common Poorwill

8. Which of these ornithologists was not formally involved in children’s education?
A. Alexander Wilson
B. John James Audubon
C. Roger Tory Peterson

9. Which of these species was not introduced to the New World?
A. European Starling
B. House Sparrow
C. House Finch
D. Rock Pigeon

10. What color do the experts suggest birders avoid in the field?
A. Blaze orange
B. Forest green
C. Snow white
D. Fire-engine red

Answers:
1. C. Both Roger Peterson and David Sibley respectively saw their life Fork-tailed Flycatcher and Dovekie in Cape May. The Spotted Redshank noted by Kenn Kaufman in The Kingbird Highway turned out to be an oiled yellowlegs and was in Atlantic County.
2. Both A.and B.are correct. C.makes you an ardent football fan.
3. C. A “lifer” is a new species for your life list.
4. Prosecutor Richard Nixon trapped Alger Hiss in a lie with a Prothonotary Warbler; like all ardent golfers Eisenhower aspired to shoot an eagle; sportsman Bush did, in fact, shoot a killdeer, mistaking it for a dove.
5. B. “Dipped” means missed the bird.
6. C. “It only called once.” Any birder who expresses B is only invited on a Big Day once.
7. B. Pyrrhuloxia. The name derives from the bird’s scientific name, not it’s vocalization.
8. B. John James Audubon was a shopkeeper. Alexander Wilson was a schoolteacher; Roger Peterson was a counselor at Camp Chiwonki and later taught at River’s Prep.
9. House Finch. The species, imported and sold in the eastern United States under the trade name “Hollywood Finch,” is a western native.
10. C. Snow white. White is the universal signal for “danger” in the natural world.

If you scored 90–100 you are a card-carrying birder. If you scored 70–80 you score in the black. If you scored 50–60 you can redeem yourself by calling foul (some of the questions are pretty esoteric). If you scored below 50, enjoy the game this Sunday, and it doesn’t matter what color jacket you wear.

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