So, we were wondering, over beer, how many birds you need to know the names of, by sight, live birds, to get a passing grade in Very Very Basic Birding 101.
First question was, do chickens count? Yes, we decided, if feathered and moving under their own power. Ditto turkeys, but not white ones.
Pigeons count. A dove would be a pigeon if seen walking on grass in a park.
Ducks count. Many duck species look alike (females, fall plumage). So, a duck is a duck for our purposes.
Eagles for sure. Any eagle is an eagle.
And hawks count. The smaller eagles.
Crows, yes, but the bird has to be large. Imitating the voice — caw caw — would count. Confusing ravens as crows is perfectly natural, and acceptable.
Robins, of course. C’mon!
Seagulls count. Except, seagulls are actually gulls with proper names, but a gull counts, and it’s almost always a “seagull.”
Sparrows. Sparrows are small and brown. Sometimes just small. We will give credit for calling any small bird a sparrow except the small yellow ones, which we all know are wild canaries.
Geese count. Species doesn’t matter. The dominant goose, the one that soils running paths, that’s the one we know. Goose poop. We know that bird.
The other goose species? Are they messy? No, so who cares. We know the important one, The Darned Geese.
Herons count, and any bird with long legs standing in water is a heron, even the white ones called egrets.
Chickadees? Maybe. They might be sparrows. Technical issue here. Wrong color. Benefit of the doubt — we should know chickadees.
Owls? Yes, if in plain sight and not flying. Hoo hoo, the call, that counts. We might want to distinguish between big owls and little ones. Two kinds of owls.
Woodpeckers? Only under woodpecker-specific conditions (tap tap tap).
How about the smaller black birds? Sure, they’re blackbirds, including grackles, the loud, purplish blackbirds.
Bluebirds? Well, yes and no. Gotta be careful of blue jays. They are blue birds, but not really.
Cardinals, easy in the winter. Identifying a cardinal in the summer is worth extra credit.
Our state bird, the loon? Sorry, but I don’t think enough loons can be separated from other birds on the water way out there in the middle of the lake. A loon can be an idealized view of reality.
So, we’ve identified 19 species of birds, and one more worth extra credit. Not bad, not bad at all.
Be sure to sign up for Birding 102, where details begin to matter.
Read Jim Williams’ birding blog at startribune.com/wingnut.