My birding skills pop quiz

On Friday, I went to talk to Chris Witt, UNM Biology professor and bird curator of the Museum of Southwestern Biology. Several of his students had encouraged me to ask him about volunteering with some research and also to talk to him about working (for pay) on a crane survey south of Socorro, NM.

I mentioned the crane survey to Chris and he immediately asked me “Do you know the flight call of a Lark Bunting?”

I was a little taken aback. “No…,” I said.

“I just learned that one yesterday.” He went on with more questions, “How about the flight call of a Chipping Sparrow?”

“I’ve heard them call as they fly away, so sure.”

“Can you tell the call of a Clay-colored Sparrow from a Brewer’s Sparrow?”

“I doubt it,” I answered. “Neither can I,” he said.

“Indigo Buntings and Lazuli Buntings sound almost identical, but can you tell the call note of a bunting from a Blue Grosbeak?”

“Pretty sure I can do that.”

Then came a tough question: “What percentage of the white geese in New Mexico are Ross’ Geese?”

Yikes. I thought for a bit while saying, “Well, I didn’t see either when I was here in March and I know Ross’ Geese are more common in the west than the east, but they still aren’t too common….25%??”

I was pretty close apparently. He said 15 to 25%.

This impromptu interview convinced Chris I’d be good for the crane survey where I’d be assigned a location and recording all birds that passed by me in a 4 hour period. Most of them would be flying overhead, hence the need to recognize call notes. (They are counting all birds, not just cranes.) Anyways, I will be earning some money now and then between now and December.

Chris also told me about some opportunities to help with research and with preparing bird specimens in the museum. I’m also going to check with other bird researchers here for other projects I might be able to help with.

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2 Responses to My birding skills pop quiz

  1. Joe Verica says:

    Sounds like a pretty sweet deal! BTW, there is a pretty good CD-ROM you can get that has flight calls and sonograms of migratory birds. I bought it last year, and it is pretty good. It is for eastern birds, but I am sure there is some overlap with the west. I am not sure, but they may also have a western birds CD as well. The site is

    Take care

    • abqbirding says:

      Thanks, Joe! Have you been able to learn all the calls for this year’s fall migration? The company only has the eastern CD, but it wouldn’t hurt to have out here. I also have the Stokes’ bird sounds cds on a jump drive (the prize for the Shaver’s Creek birding contest this year!) and I think it is both eastern and western.

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