December 15, 2022
Virginia's Warbler male
Virginia's Warbler male
We had so much fun with the Bald Eagle quiz back in the spring, I decided to give everyone a Christmas present in the form of another birding quiz involving birds that rock the primary holiday color, red.  This is not a true/false quiz like the previous one.  This one will require more knowledge and better guessing if you’re stumped.  Enjoy.


1—Do you know the common name for an iconic Arizona bird known in some parts as “The Little Firehead?”

2—How many Arizona raptors’ common names reference shades of “red” in them?

3—Non-birders just call the Northern Cardinal “redbird” for obvious reasons, but from whence did the name “cardinal” originate?

4—Which of North America’s woodpeckers was historically referred to as “redhammer?”  Here’s a clue.  It wasn’t one with red on its head.

5—If you count Olive Warbler, which isn’t really a warbler, Arizona has eight warblers generally considered “mountain” warblers.  How many show red in their plumage?  Be careful here.  This may be a trick question, but there’s a clue elsewhere in this column.

6—Years ago I was on a winter birdwalk in Seattle with a British lady on her first trip to the states.  Suddenly she screeched, “OMG, what is that smashing bird right over there on the lawn?  All red underneath!  I’ve never seen a bird that beautiful!”  Leaders and intermediates alike were scratching their heads.  What bird was she seeing?

7—BotW (Birds of the World) describes this bird as “functionally among the world’s smallest seabirds.”  It also belongs to a family anomalous for two unique aspects of its natural history.  What bird is this?

8—True red is a color that garners many adjectives—brilliant, stunning, astonishing, spectacular, amazing—but “elegant” is a word not usually associated with red’s brightness.  Indeed, Arizona has an elegant bird typically first found by virtue of its habitat and voice, not its true red plumage.  Name that bird.

9—There’s something about red, right?  The males of four North American duck species show a red eye, spectacular because that striking iris is set against dark head plumage which really makes it pop.  Can you name the four ducks.  Here’s another clue.  In one species the red eye makes a cool mnemonic to help remember how to distinguish between this species’ male and its look alike male congener with only a black iris.

10—Speaking of red eyes, in most species the male wears the brightest plumage, but can you name a truly stunning Arizona species in which male AND female BOTH have red irises?

11—Birders know our two waxwing species are named for the waxy red tips on their secondary feathers, but some don’t display this eye-catching spot of color.  Do you know why, where the color comes from, and its purpose?

12--Even some of our sparrows have shades of red, typically on the head, face, or wings, and acknowledged as “rufous,” but there’s one sparrow on which its touch of red is not an identification key because the wind has to be blowing for it to be seen.  Which sparrow is that?

13—Which species appears the most on a list of state birds?

14—Greater Roadrunner might be the “all-American” bird due to the colors red, white, and blue on its postorbital apterium, but you often don’t see the red.  Is that because only the males have red, because both genders have red but only during mating season, or because both genders have red but it is obscured except when the bird is agitated?

15—The sports mascot of my alma mater, the University of Kansas, is the Jayhawk, a mythical bird combining KU’s two principle colors, a red head on a blue body.  Like many mythical birds, the fanciful Jayhawk arose from warfare.  Which war was it?

16—Their gorgets are top of mind when thinking of what make hummingbirds so special, but bright red on some of their bills should not be overlooked, both for the wonderful contrast with dull or dark foreheads and the diagnostic help in separating species of these tiny, fast flitting jewels.  How many hummers recorded here in Arizona have red or partially red bills?

17—There is a state park in the United States which welcomes school children for field trips so they can learn about and immerse in nature.  In a questionnaire at the end of the trip they are asked their favorite bird of the trip.  The majority of the children write down “the rainbow bird.”  Red is the eye candy on this bird, but almost every OTHER color in the rainbow is also represented on this amazing living palette.  What’s that bird?

18—No quiz with Arizona’s red birds would be complete without mentioning the one that might be our state’s most uncommon one, and since rarity adds value to any bird sighting, this might be Arizona’s most beautiful red bird.  Name this medium sized bird of the high country pines which I’ve only seen twice in the state in forty years?

19—We’ve already danced around several hues and shades of red, but the “Holy Grail” for out-of-state birders coming to Arizona has more real red than any species here except for our tanagers.  Name it.

20—Remember my rant about the lack of proofreading in a November column?  Somewhere in the answers below lurks a spelling error, egregious but not uncommon, which I perpetrated years ago in a national birding magazine.  An editor caught it, but I was so embarrassed I’ve never repeated it since.  Can you catch it?



2—FOUR.  Did you just get pranked once or was it twice?  There’s Red-shouldered Hawk and Red-tailed Hawk of course, but there’s also Ferruginous Hawk, and you probably forgot owls are raptors.  Can you say “flammulated?”

3—CARDINALS are prelates in the Catholic Church, “important” because they select the Pope.  And their hats and robes are red.  The bird was named for the prelate.


5—THREE.  Well, Painted Redstart and Red-faced for sure, but did you notice the rusty crown patch on the male Virginia’s?  Most of our warblers evoke yellow.

6—AMERICAN ROBIN.  “Robin Redbreast.”  Some books call robins “brick red.”  The British robin, European Robin, is a much smaller bird with much less red overall.

7—RED-NECKED PHALAROPE.  The female is larger, more colorful than her mate, and of course female phalaropes leave all the raising of young to the males.


9—WOOD DUCK, CINNAMON TEAL, CANVASBACK, and RED-BREASTED MEGANSER.  Male Red-breasted Mergies have red eyes, male Common Mergies do not.  Get it?


11—It’s not wax.  It’s a silky APPENDAGE that forms at the tip of the secondaries, colored by a carotenoid pigment ingested in the fruit they eat.  Older birds develop more of these extensions, thought to be a signal of sexual maturity and social status.

12--VESPER SPARROW, rufous ONLY on the seldom seen lesser wing coverts.

13--NORTHERN CARDINAL—seven states.

14—Male & female Greater Roadrunners both have red on the postorbital apterium, but it is obscured by the head feathers except when the bird is agitated.

15—The Seventh Kansas Cavalry under Charles Jennison during the CIVIL WAR came to be known as the “Jayhawkers.”

16—FOUR:  Berylline, Violet-crowned, Broad-billed, and White-eared.




20—Sure, VERMILION Flycatcher has just one “l,” but in my defense either spelling seems to be accepted now, and the Spanish version, “bermillon,” does have two “ls.”


Congratulations.  If you scored above 10 on this quiz, you’re a serious, well read, and informed birder.  If you scored over 15 you should get a job as a bird tour leader, a copy editor, or my personal biographer.