Monday, January 13, 2014

What's a Three-Letter Word for Bird Watcher?

Let me start by saying I should have written this article last month....December 2013 was the 100th anniversary of the crossword puzzle. I love doing crossword puzzles. For an indoor activity, nothing gives me more pleasure than being able to complete an entire puzzle without resorting to using the crossword dictionary. (My favorite is the New Comprehensive A-Z Crossword Dictionary but it hasn't been updated in 10 years so when my copy fell apart I bought The Million Word Crossword Dictionary. It's as good but the size of a small house.) 
Young Bald Eagle
Royal Tern

So what does this have to do with birding? As I've become more obsessed with adding birds to my life list, I've started noticing birds in crossword puzzle clues. Some are obvious and almost expected. A "coastal flyer" is almost always either erne or tern. I know what a tern is but don't think I've ever seen an erne. Turns out that another clue provides more information about the erne--it's a (4-letter word for) sea-eagle (or as a 3-letter word, ern). The word is not used very frequently and doesn't show up in The Sibley Guide to Birds (Note: the 2nd edition is coming out in March!), which probably explains why most of us have never heard the word used in real life. ( "Did you notice the magnificent erne in the nest out on the highway past Burnet?") Oh, an interesting bit of trivia...a group of Steller's Sea-Eagles are collectively known as a "constellation." Wait, a minute. Sea-eagles are any of the eight large fish-eating eagles so I have seen the Bald Eagle, meaning I have seen an erne.

Some birds can only be found in the puzzles. Big extinct bird (3 letters) is Moa, a flightless bird from New Zealand. Hunted to extinction by early Polynesian people, the bird was, apparently, very slow to mature. The Dodo, or feathered has-been (4 letters), was not really stupid and was considered so mainly because it was friendly, having no enemies on the island of Mauritius until pigs and dogs were brought there in 1851. 

Other birds to look for in crossword puzzles? These are just a few. Feel free to add more in the comments when you spot them in a puzzle.
  • Wading bird (egret, heron)
  • Bright bird (tanager)
  • Flightless bird (emu, dodo)
  • Game bird (grouse, pheasant, quail)
  • Bird of prey (falcon, kite, vulture)
  • Insect-eating bird (vireo, gnatcatcher)
  • Bird of peace (dove)
  • Aquatic bird (coot, grebe, cormorant)
  • Downy duck (eider)
  • Red breasted thrush (robin)
  • Talking bird (mynah and variants myna and minah; parrot)
  • Nocturnal bird (owl)

So, my question is: Does spotting birds in crossword clues count as birding? Maybe I could do a Big Year in crossword puzzles! How many species might I find? Time to pick up my pencil and go birding. Oh, and what is a three-letter word for bird watcher? Try cat.


  1. Loved this topic! Thanks, Jeanette.

  2. Good to hear. I am finding birding in the most interesting places!