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National Park Quiz 73: Birds

What is this bird, and what national park would be a good place to look for it? USGS National Biological Survey photo by Alan Williams.

1. True or false? About 1,300 different species of birds can be seen in National Park System units within the 48-state U.S.

2. True or false? More than 200 bird species found in National Park System units are federally listed as threatened or endangered.

3. True or false? The ruby-throated hummingbird is the only species of hummingbird you are likely to see in a national park east of the Mississippi River.

4. True or false? Acadia National Park has the largest seabird colony in the United States.

5. True or false? Some trumpeter swans remain in Yellowstone National Park year round.

6. True or false? The lineage of every California condor that people spot in America’s national parks today can be traced to birds that lived in southern California.

7. Which of the following bird species are faring worst in the National Park System?
a. Hawaiian birds
b. wetland birds
c. grassland birds
d. aridland birds

8. If you want to see large colonies of sooty terns, plan to visit ______ during the nesting season.
a. Dry Tortugas National Park
b. Gateway National Recreation Area
c. Biscayne National Park
d. Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

9. Whooping cranes are among the rarest birds in North America, but you stand a decent chance of seeing some if you spend enough time in ______ during the spring and fall.
a. Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore
b. Niobrara National Scenic River
c. Canaveral National Seashore
d. Whiskeytown-Shasta-Trinity National Recreation Area

10. If you visit ______ at the right time, you should be able to see some very interesting birds strutting on leks.
a. Assateague island National Seashore
b. Everglades National Park
c. Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve
d. Joshua Tree National Park

Extra Credit Question:

11. If you want to see a bird like the one in the accompanying photo, ______ would be a good place to look.
a. Saguaro National Park
b. Rocky Mountain National Park
c. Acadia National Park
d. Congaree National Park

Super Bonus Question

12. Name the only national park in the United States where visitors can expect to see a Colima warbler.


(1) False According to the State of the Birds report (co-sponsored by The Nature Conservancy, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and the National Audubon Society) there are approximately 800 bird species in the United States.

(2) False. Currently, only 67 or so bird species in the United States are federally listed as threatened or endangered. About 184 additional bird species have been designated as “of conservation concern.”

(3) True. The ruby-throated hummingbird breeds throughout the eastern U.S. and adjacent parts of southern Canada. Other hummingbird species are seldom seen in the eastern U.S.

(4) False. The largest seabird colony in the U.S. is the one at Farallon National Wildlife Refuge. Twelve species of seabirds and shorebirds nest on the Farallon Islands, which lie off the Pacific Coast of California less than 30 miles from San Francisco and Point Reyes National Seashore.

(5) True. Yellowstone National Park has what amounts to two separate flocks of trumpeter swans. A small resident population (fewer than 100 birds) remains in the park year round. The other trumpeter swans migrate seasonally.

(6) True. In 1987, the remaining 22 wild California condors were captured and placed in captive breeding facilities at the San Diego Wild Animal Park and the Los Angeles Zoo. All of the more than 300 California condors alive today, including about 170 living in the wild, are descendants of those 22 birds.

(7) a – Grassland birds are not doing well (55% are declining significantly), and arid land birds aren’t either (75% of aridland nesting species are in decline). However, native Hawaiian birds are doing so badly (31 federally-listed species) that they can be considered in a class by themselves. This is especially tragic because so many Hawaiian species are found nowhere else.

(8) a – During March-September each year, about 100,000 sooty terns (a tropical oceans seabird) nest on islands in Dry Tortugas National Park. They are joined by brown noddies, roseate terns, double-crested cormorants and brown pelicans.

(9) b – Some whooping crane flocks migrate through the valley that the Niobrara National Scenic River occupies in north-central Nebraska. Hundreds of thousands of sandhill cranes also migrate through and make rest stops in the vicinity of this NPS unit.

(10) c – Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve is one of the places where, at dawn and early evening during the spring mating season, male prairie chickens gather in selected open areas (called leks) to strut, cackle, snap their tails, and forcefully expel pressurized air from their beaks.

(11) d – The colorful bird shown in the accompanying photo is a prothonotary warbler. The bottomland hardwood forest of Congaree National Park in central South Carolina provides nearly ideal habitat for this cavity-nesting neotropical species, which is named for the yellow hooded robes once worn by certain Roman Catholic clerics called prothonotaries.

(12) In the United States, the only place you can find the Colima warbler is in the Chisos Mountains of Big Bend National Park. Look for it from April to September.

Grading: 9 or 10 correct, rest on your laurels; 7 or 8 correct, pretty darn good; 6 correct, passable fair; 5 or fewer correct, nothing to brag about.


I know all the birds in Grand Canyon. It is either a condor, or it's not.

Missed one. But I got lucky with #9. I know where Whooping Cranes breed and winter, but didn't know any good spots for them on migration.

The Dry Tortugas and Big Bend were high on my must-visit list even before I became super interested in visiting all the parks. I would guess that those two, perhaps along with the Channel Islands NP, are probably the most popular among serious birders because of the birds you can see there that you can't anywhere else in the US.

There are lots of places you can watch for migrating whooping cranes, Grant, but if it were me doing the watching I sure wouldn't confine my choices to NPS units or take my chances with a hit-or-miss travel itinerary. All of the migrating flocks of these rare birds are carefully tracked and their whereabouts is known on a virtually daily basis.

We have a population of whooping cranes in Wisconsin currently known as the Eastern migratory population. Unfortunately, despite success with migration, they are struggling to breed and are heavily dependent upon human assistance to add to their numbers. This population is aided by a group called Operation Migration, which trains young whooping cranes to migrate to Florida using small ultralight planes. You can track their progress right now as they migrate with the birds - you can also watch a fly over or sponsor a mile.

There is also a more successful (but also struggling) western population and a non-migratory Florida population, which is having trouble as well.

It is believed that flies and some food shortages are inhibiting the birds' breeding. They will start nests and then abandon them. Personally I wonder if at some point the Wisconsin population will be declared a failure - how do you get rid of flies? - but I will hope for the best.

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