Bird Photo Quiz Quiz

From Birding Central, Kenn writes: Back when "publishing" always involved ink and paper, a Photo Quiz was popular in various bird magazines. A challenging photo (or two or three) would be presented in one issue of the magazine, with the answer(s) to be revealed in the next issue. Birders would study the photos and their field guides, discuss the quiz with their pals, then wait a month or two or three for the next issue to see if they’d gotten the answer right.
Today, in the age of online publishing, photo quizzes are legion. There are literally dozens of "mystery bird" photos posted every week on websites and blogs. Followers of these quizzes wait only days for the answers, not weeks or months. Other things have changed as well: birders researching a tricky photo today are more likely to look for pictures on the internet, and a fair percentage of those online photos will be misidentified or mislabelled. And when the online quiz posts its answer, there’s a chance that the answer will be wrong. So there’s a new kind of edgy challenge to the game.

Quizzes in print have a longer history. In the 1970s (when I was a rabid kid birder) we got our photo-quiz fix by looking at British Birds, a fine monthly that was then publishing more on identification than all the North American periodicals put together. A few of us crazed American and Canadian birders pored over every issue of British Birds, tried to work out the photo quiz, and then eagerly read the detailed answer to the previous month’s quiz. It was such an educational feature that we wondered why North American bird journals didn’t follow suit. But not until 1980 did Birding, the magazine of the American Birding Association, begin to run a regular photo quiz feature (a feature that continues today, by the way). I have warm feelings about the Birding photo quiz because I was in charge of it, writing the answers for almost every issue, for ten years, starting in the mid-1980s. But that wasn’t my first experience with writing photo quiz answers.

We’re not going to add one more online mystery photo to this week’s crop. Instead, we have a different kind of challenge, one that will test your knowledge of photography, publications, and the history of the birding community.

Here’s the question: What was the first publication in North America to run a regular bird photo identification quiz?

If you think you know the answer, or if you want to guess, send us a comment. If no one gets it, we’ll post the answer in a week. (Of course, a week from now is the 24th, and the guys will all be out doing their last-minute Christmas shopping, but ... ) The answer is sort of surprising. To entice you to enter, we’ll offer a prize (perhaps an autographed copy of a rare historical birding publication!).


  1. I often see this drab fall bill has me thinking Black-throated Blue, but it's TOO drab...gotta be some product of cross breed...FINALLY my question will be answered(I hope).

  2. Thanks for the comment! Actually the question was about historical photo quizzes and not the specific identity of the bird pictured above; but if there's interest, we'll discuss the latter question on the 24th as well (after I do my Xmas shopping).

  3. How about Audubon? Weren't they more about birds back then?

  4. What an odd bit of trivia.

    I suspect Lisa is on the right track, but I'll bet it's one of those local Audubon clubs that has a long history and an excellent birding pedigree. Somewhere in the northeast or in California.

    I look forward to the answer, even if I can't be precise enough to make a play for the autographed historical birding publication.

  5. How about "Western Birds"?

    Su Snyder

  6. YES...PLEASE tell me the bird pictured on the would be a great Xmas present.

  7. My guess to the real question would be RANGER RICK.

  8. We appreciate all the good comments! No one has quite hit the correct answer yet (so the prize is still out there), but these are some thoughtful and interesting guesses. You're right, N8, it's definitely an odd trivia question, but it goes back to my interest in birding history.

  9. I can't answer the real question, but the bird is a Ruby-crowned Kinglet. (Isn't it?)


  10. Isn't the bill too dark and too thick for a RCK???

  11. Well, I'm a little later with the answer than I'd originally planned -- last-minute holiday stuff took us right through the day and night on the 24th. But as to the original question: Janet Creamer nailed the correct answer. The first bird photo quiz to occur regularly in a North American publication was in Bird-Lore, originally edited and published by Frank Chapman. The magazine was launched in 1899, and started running a photo quiz in 1901! Of course, at that time there were not many photo of wild birds available; Chapman used photos of stuffed and mounted bird specimens from the American Museum of Natural History.

  12. Incidentally, great suggestions also from N8, Su Snyder, and Lisa. "Western Birds" was one of the first publications to start running a lot of detailed info on field identification, before such articles started to show up in "Birding" or "American Birds."
    And guessing early Audubon was on the right track, too, since Bird-Lore eventually turned into Audubon Magazine after Frank Chapman sold the mag to the National Association of Audubon Societies. I was interested to see that no one guessed "Continental Birdlife," which started running a photo quiz in 1979, just a year before "Birding" did.

  13. And as for the other question -- the identity of the bird in the photo that accompanied the quiz: KatDoc is right, but so is "Anonymous" who pointed out that the bill was too thick for that species. The "photo" is of a non-existent bird! I started with one of my photos of a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, but then I worked on it in Photoshop -- making the bill thicker, taking away the wingbars, changing the shape of the eye-ring. There's no bird in the world that looks exactly like this picture. Trick question!

  14. How tricksy! I was thinking Hutton's Vireo but I thought the lack of wingbars was really screwy.

    But a photoshop bird?

    Mind. Blown.


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