OK, bird fans. It's time to test how much you know about these fascinating creatures that share our back yards, parks and preserves. Don't take this too seriously, just take some wild guesses and you'll find the answers at the end of our avian quiz.

1. Why do Canada geese honk as they fly in a flock?

(a) Honking helps family groups within the flock stay in touch.

(b) The geese honk to encourage the hardworking goose at the front.

(c) The honking geese see a place below where they want to stop.

(d) They're honking to alert low-flying aircraft to avoid the flock.

2. Why do songbirds harass and jabber at owls they find in the daytime?

(a) The birds are upset because they feel it's unnatural for owls to be visible in the daytime.

(b) Small birds are naturally jealous of larger birds, especially owls.

(c) The small birds recognize that an owl is dangerous and want to drive it out of the area.

(d) Once one or two birds start shrieking, others join in because it's fun.

3. Why do some birds migrate as far as South America when closer places like Texas and Florida offer warmth in winter?

(a) Migratory birds like to hang out with the more colorful and interesting tropical birds.

(b) These migrants' true homes are in Central and South America but they travel Up North in the spring for the abundant food and the elbowroom.

(c) They need the twice-yearly exercise to stay in top shape.

(d) Birds have a well-known wanderlust and like to see other parts of the hemisphere.

4. How many different kinds of birds live in North America?

(a) About 5,000 birds call North America home for at least part of the year.

(b) About 800 different species live at least part of the year north of Mexico.

(c) No one knows how many species live here; there are just too many to keep track of.

(d) There are 300 bird species in North America, most of them in the eastern half.

5. Which bird species has the highest population in North America?

(a) It has to be the pigeon, as there are so many of them.

(b) Definitely red-winged blackbirds, as they form such huge flocks in the fall.

(c) There are more robins than any other kind of bird.

(d) No one's ever been able to count all the birds, so we don't know.

6. Do birds ever eat so much that they get too heavy to fly?

(a) No, birds watch their weight so they don't lose their appeal to the opposite sex.

(b) Some birds may eat so much before migration that they become noticeably fatter.

(c) Birds balance caloric needs with maintaining their ability to fly.

(d) The kinds of foods they eat keep birds at a constant weight.

7. Which bird has the strongest family ties?

(a) Mallards

(b) Robins

(c) Yellow-bellied sapsuckers

(d) Crows

8. Birds' colors are really an optical illusion.

(a) True b) False

9. Which species travels the farthest on migration?

(a) Green darner dragonfly

(b) Caribou

(c) Arctic tern

(d) Monarch butterfly

10. Birds' favorite food is:

(a) Berries

(b) Caterpillars

(c) Seeds

(d) Other birds

11. Birds are fascinating and amazing because:

(a) Only birds have feathers, a unique, beautiful and versatile body covering.

(b) Many birds live in close proximity to humans and allow us to observe their lives.

(c) Birds' songs and calls add so much to our enjoyment of the natural world.

(d) Birds perform many services, some eating harmful insects, others acting as pollinators and a few even cleaning up roadkill


1. Although we can't be certain of the reasons geese honk in flight, many researchers feel that (a) is part of the answer.

2. The answer is (c): Owls are raptors and many of them kill and eat smaller birds. Songbirds want to drive owls out of their area before night, a time when they're asleep and especially vulnerable.

3. The correct answer is (b) — tropical songbirds began pushing northward after the last Ice Age and have built traditional migratory patterns to take advantage of abundant food and room for nesting in northern areas in summer.

4. The answer is (b), according to the Audubon Society: more than 800 species can be found at one time or another in North America and 654 species are considered native to our continent.

5. According to Partners in Flight's population estimate database, there are around 300 million robins in North America, making them our most populous bird, so it's (c). This estimate is based on a variety of bird surveys.

6. (b) and (c) are both correct. Birds need to stuff themselves before starting migration to fuel the early part of their journey. Some migrants add 50 percent or more to their usual weight, but they never lose the ability to fly. In fact, hummingbirds often get so tubby that they look like flying golf balls.

7. The answer is (d). Most birds raise their young, teach them to feed themselves and then they're done. Crows, however, have very strong and lengthy family ties. In fact, they're known for the "helper at the nest" phenomenon, in which a young crow from a previous year's nest helps its parents raise their brood in subsequent years.

8. Mostly false. Red birds like cardinals truly are red; their feathers colored by the foods they eat, and the same rule applies to birds like goldfinches and orioles. The big exceptions are birds that are blue and those with iridescence. The brilliant blue we see on bluebirds and blue jays is really a trick of the way light strikes their feathers and hummingbirds' iridescence is due to feather structure, not pigments.

9. (c ) These all travel amazing distances but the champ is the Arctic tern, a bird that may cover up to 44,000 miles in a year's time, flying between Greenland and Antarctica. Caribou move up to 800 miles, green darners may travel several hundred miles and monarchs may migrate 2,500 miles to reach Mexico's highlands.

10. All are correct. This is kind of a trick question: Birds are the ultimate "localvores" and many change their diet over a year's time. Nearly all songbirds eat insects and feed them to their young in spring and summer, then change to a fruit and/or seed diet in the fall. Some birds don't eat seeds, such as the warbler family and the thrushes. Few birds consume other birds as a dietary staple, but some do, like the Cooper's hawk and peregrine falcon.

11. All are true — the presence of birds adds so much to our lives.

St. Paul resident Val Cunningham, who volunteers with the St. Paul Audubon Society and writes about nature for local, regional and national newspapers and magazines, can be reached at val​writes@comcast.net.