How Much Do You Know About Birds?

Torrance Grey

Image: Shutterstock

About This Quiz

If the original Jurassic Park movie taught us anything, it's that birds, as the descendants of dinosaurs, are pretty darn awesome. But birds are also marvelous in their own right. These feathered friends of ours aren't just beautiful to look at, they are vital to all sorts of food chains and ecosystems. They contain thousands upon thousands of species, each with its own habits and quirks. They make all sorts of sounds, from the beautiful song of the nightingale to the whimsical "brrrrrr" sound of the corncrake, to the speech capabilities of the parrot. Some birds dance to attract a mate while others fight it out. Some live on the ground and others in trees. Some of them migrate seasonally to get the best out of two different homelands, while others can spend more than a year in the air without ever touching the ground! Some birds eat insects, while others catch fish from the sea or running water.

You probably don't pay much attention to birds during your daily life, but you'd certainly miss the sight and sound of them if they ever were to disappear, so it's important to keep an eye on them and make sure we know what they're all about. Let's see how well you know our flying friends!

What is the study of birds called?

Ornithology takes its name from the Greek word "ornos," meaning "bird." Not a big surprise, eh?

What is the Latin word for "bird?"

If you guessed "ala," you were almost right! "Ala" means "wing" in Latin; the plural is "alae."

Which of these birds is popularly thought of as a sign of spring?

The return of the red-breasted robin is a sign of spring's arrival. Seen all over the United States, the robin is the state bird of Michigan, Wisconsin and Connecticut.

What kind of bird flaps its wings so rapidly the sound can easily be heard by humans?

The rapid wing-flapping makes the "hum" for which hummingbirds get their name. Some hummingbirds can also fly sideways and backwards, unlike other birds.

Are birds warm-blooded?

All birds are warm-blooded. The scientific term for this is "endothermic."

Are birds the only animals which can fly?

Insects can fly too, remember? And don't forget the bat, the only flying mammal!

Are any birds carnivorous?

Quite a few, actually. Smaller birds eat worms and insects, and then there are the larger birds of prey, like falcons and hawks. Of particular note is the shrike, a small bird that impales insects on thorns to kill them. Yikes!

Do any birds give live birth?

All birds lay eggs and hatch them outside their bodies. It's snakes which are sometimes ovoviviparous, meaning the eggs mature inside the mother's body but are born live.

What is the exterior of a bird's mouth called?

The most famous beak is the pelican's, a big reticular structure in which it holds its catch of fish. This inspired a children's rhyme, the one that begins, "Oh what a strange bird is the pelican/His beak can hold more than his belly can."

Which of these birds is known for its bright plumage?

All of these birds are known for their beautiful coloration. Parrots and macaws are often kept as pets; peacocks rarely so, though resort hotels and similar like to have them on their grounds for decorative purposes.

In addition to wings, what helps a bird to fly?

Hollow bones make birds light comparative to their size. Their high heart rates and powerful muscles give them the energy and the strength to fly. Fun fact: Birds actually eat quite a lot, so the expression "birdlike appetite" is really a misconception.

What is the tallest of birds called?

Ostriches can grow more than eight feet high. They also run in a funny, wide-legged way, making their tracks quite distinctive.

Which of these birds is now extinct?

You can still see models of the dodo bird in natural history museums. Unfortunately, many other birds are on the endangered species list, many because of human activity.

Which of these birds does not have feathers?

Yes, all birds have feathers. Penguins too, though they might look sleek and shiny.

More than half of bird species are passerines, meaning they ____.

Passerines are recognized by the shape of their feet. They have three toes facing forward and one facing back, to facilitate perching.

Cygnus is the Latin word, and the genus, for which type of bird?

Swans are known for several things, especially in mating for life, with rare exceptions. Swans have a less than 10 percent "divorce rate," beating the heck out of us humans!

Why are male birds often more brightly-colored than females?

Female birds are often muted in color to hide from predators while raising and feeding the young. But the males have bright plumage to attract females -- which is why a man dressing up to attract women is sometimes called "peacocking."

What kind of bird includes sub-groups called Topazes, Mangoes and Emeralds?

These clades (taxonomic groups) of hummingbirds are named for their jewel-like colors, which can best be seen when the birds are sitting still. The three named above are only three of the nine clades of hummingbird.

Which of these does a bird not have?

Birds once had teeth, earlier in their evolution from dinosaurs. Now they just have a tongue -- which has a bone in it, oddly enough!

How do birds know where to go when they migrate?

How birds know what route to follow when migrating is still not clear to ornithologists. Ancestral memory might have something to do with it, but that just raises a whole new set of questions!

Which of these birds is known to swim?

You probably knew that penguins, the flightless birds of the South Pole, can swim. But bats can too, when they need to. (Imagine being on a camping trip, skinny-dipping in a pond, and seeing a bat swimming toward you. Eek!)

Where do penguins live?

Contrary to what you might have thought, there are no penguins at the North Pole. However, in the Southern Hemisphere, they can be found as close to the equator as the Galapagos Islands.

What is the name for a bird of prey?

Raptor is the name for a bird that hunts, often small warm-blooded animals like rodents. It isn't applied to smaller, gentler birds that eat worms or insects (you gotta *earn* this name!)

What are vultures best known for?

We hate to judge, but there just aren't a lot of aesthetically-pleasing qualities to a vulture. Various species of vultures regurgitate food to their young, vomit when threatened, or urinate straight down their legs. Pull it together, guys!

What color is a crow's plumage?

Usually, crows are black. But some have dark-brown feathers, or black with white patches.

What is a group of crows known as?

This name goes back to about the 15th century. It might come from the way crows descend on battlefields and eat off the bodies, but more poetic explanations suggest it comes from the idea that crows are omens of death. Who knows?

How fast can a some hummingbirds' hearts beat?

In contrast, a human heart tends to beat 80 times per minute. To compensate for such a high metabolism, some hummingbirds go into a state similar to hibernation, called "torpor."

What kind of bird used to be carried into coal mines to detect gas?

Canaries made a good early-warning system because they would succumb to carbon monoxide or methane before humans would. This wasn't just because of their smaller body size, but because all birds consume air at a high rate, supporting their speedy metabolisms.

Do black swans exist in nature?

"A black swan" was a term for a mythical creature or impossible thing in Europe in centuries past, because they didn't exist there. When Europeans came to Australia and New Zealand, though, they learned of the existence of this "mythical" creature.

Which of these is NOT a real bird?

Seriously, who's in charge of the naming protocols? Followup question: Do they secretly hate birds?

What cheerful-looking seabird is found in the Arctic region?

Puffins are sometimes mixed up with penguins. But they can be distinguished by their bright-orange beaks and their territory in the northern regions, which penguins do not share.

What is unusual about how cuckoos lay their eggs?

Some cuckoos go so far as to destroy the eggs the bird has already laid, so it will only raise and feed the cuckoo's young. This malevolent behavior led to Neil Gaiman naming a villain in one of his "Sandman" comics the "Cuckoo."

Pick the correct spelling:

Steller's jay bird was named for a naturalist, Georg Steller. You can see them all over western North America, easily recognized by the black, Mohawk-like crest on their heads.

Which type of bird is indirectly named after dogs?

Canaries were named for the Canary Islands, which in turn were named after dogs -- from the Latin "canis" and the Italian "cane."

Which of these birds shares its name with a disease?

The thrushes are a family of small songbirds. It's also the name of a Candida infection of the mouth.

A Greek "augur" studied the flight of birds to learn what?

"Augury" is, to this day, a term for predicting the future. The Greeks believed the migrations of birds were clues to what the gods wanted, and to whether the gods would smile on a particular human course of action.

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