Quizzing in the days of eBird

Nothing like a good quiz to get a bunch of bird-geeks up and about. That was the experience of helping with putting together a quiz on birds. In the days of eBird of course, it becomes easier to come up with bird trivia from a given location (first photographic record on eBird of the Jerdon’s Courser, for example, or the Bugun Liocichla). 

Bird trivia

From the high-flying Barheaded Geese, some populations of which fly over 8000 m above sea level to disperse across large wetlands across the country, to the Arctic-New Zealand non-stop flights of the Bar-tailed Godwit, we combined interesting Indian and global birds trivia along with photographs (largely from eBird Macaulay library). One of the questions about the species name balasiensis of the Asian Palm Swift, a fairly common bird in many parts of India led us to the colonial port city of Balasore on the eastern coast of India, which could have been the origins for the species name. The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names sort-of “guesses” that John Edward Gray (in line with the zoologists of the time, also possibly a doctor!), who named the bird in 1829, as the Balasian Swift, probably drew the name from Balasore.

Asian Palm-swift is known to occur in large parts of South and south-east Asia. It could have gotten its species name from the east Indian port of Balasore (Distribution map from eBird India)

Name that bird!

Trying to put together a quiz round where participants guess the bird based on three visual clues to some aspect of the bird was as interesting to put together, as it was to conduct. The first one the Malabar Whistling Thrush, to be guessed by three visual clues related to its habitat (flowing stream), a young school-boy whistling, and an extreme close-up of a shiny blue area on its feathers. Five questions from this round are below. Scroll down further for the answers.

Q1: The first question combined the photographs of a Pheasant-tailed Jacana, a photo of Allan Octavian Hume and a photo showing the distribution of the bird in question. The answer is the state bird of Manipur and Mizoram, the Mrs. Hume’s pheasant, named after Mary Ann Grindall Hume, wife of Allan Octavian Hume, known either for his politics or his natural-history, depending on where one has come across his name. Here’s a short read about him from the UK Natural History Museum to whom he gave nearly 60,000 bird skins and 20,000 eggs from India, and a (very!) long but intricate read on Hume by Shyamal.

Q2: The second question consisted of a sketch of the bird from a 1982 checklist in Guindy National Park by Raghupathy Kannan, photo of Edgar Leopold Layard, who first described the bird and whose Tamil cook Muttu’s name is carried in the bird’s Latin species name, and the distribution map of the bird. The bird was Brown-breasted Flycatcher. The bird appears to be much more widespread in its distribution than the usual Western Ghats range shown in many guides.

The bird is not restricted only to the Western Ghats, but is known from many other forested and relatively moister pockets in peninsular India (Distribution map from eBird India)

Q3: This one was an easy one especially for birders who’ve read that famous story of Salim Ali and the Yellow-throated Sparrow, and which birder hasn’t (Rohan Chakravarthy’s “How A Toy Gun Gave Rise To India’s Favourite Bird Man” on Nat-Geo is not to be missed)

Q4: This was a tough one. The photo is of the Estonian naturalist, Karl Ernst Von Baer…clearly the photo is from his older days, well beyond the time when his friend Gustav Radde, a German explorer described the bird that “baers” his name, the Baer’s Pochard. The other clue, again a sketch of the bird again by Raghupathy Kannan from Bharatpur in March 1984, and the third clue a United States WWII minesweeper, the USS Pochard. Many US naval ships are named after birds.

Q5: This is possibly an easy one with a cartoon of a dog “wagging its tail”. The distribution map clearly shows a non-resident wagtail and Chota Bhim being the clincher for a race of the Western Yellow Wagtail, also called Sykes Wagtail Motacilla flava beema. So named by the politician-indologist-statistician-naturalist, William Henry Sykes who did quite some bird work in the Deccan plateau.

Audio round and bird-charades

An audio round included bird calls along with those allegedly onomatopoeic representations of bird calls in guides. Some of these are just too funny and without a context (habitat, time of day etc.), it is often impossible to say which bird it could be!

For a round of bird-charades, we chose birds that could be easily mimed/charaded (like in dumb-charades) by one of the team members based on a distinctive behaviour. Birds like Great Hornbill (known for the female’s self-incarceration during nesting into a large tree hollow, or fruit-tossing habit before gobbling them), Green Bee-eater and Black Drongo (its enthusiastic sallying for bees/insects from a perch), Pied Kingfisher (known for hovering over water and diving vertically downwards for fish) and Ashy Prinia (characteristically seen with a sidewards perch among tall reeds and grass) were chosen.

eBird round

A final round included questions mainly targeting eBirders with trivia related to first photographic record of the Jerdon’s Courser on eBird or leading women-birders from the country and the like.

Overall, quiz was a fun way of learning and for having fun over birds. An ideal activity for school and environmental education programmes, and of course for late even bird-geek parties too!


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