A Ludicrously Deep Dive Into the Birds of Spelling Bee, Wordle, Scrabble, and Extra

When my alarm goes off every morning, I hit snooze, and I hit snooze once more. Then I seize my cellphone and ease into the day with a sport of Spelling Bee. 

Spelling Bee is an addictive phrase problem sport that grew to become in style in the course of the pandemic, solely to be later eclipsed in fame by Wordle, one other phrase sport that lately took the web by storm. Each are actually run by the New York Instances. In Spelling Bee, a participant makes use of seven letters to kind as many as phrases as potential, aiming to realize “genius” standing. Every phrase have to be at the very least 4 letters and include that day’s required letter. 

There’s yet another catch: Not each potential phrase is accepted—and subsequently, not each phrase is value factors. In line with the puzzle’s guidelines: “Our glossary doesn’t embody phrases which are offensive, obscure, hyphenated or correct nouns.”

For a lot of sport followers, the important phrase is “obscure.” Jargon is a common assemble. Dive into any job or interest or turn out to be accustomed to any tradition, or subculture, and you’ll inevitably develop a specialised lexicon that confuses outsiders. Foodies know a wider ranger of dishes and components than the common particular person on the avenue, for instance, whereas gardeners know flowers and carpenters know uncommon instruments. 

Chook folks even have their very own distinctive dictionary—the obvious entries being the names of birds themselves. Realizing about birds can confer a bonus at all types of phrase puzzles, whether or not in Spelling Bee or a traditional sport of Scrabble. But it surely additionally might be irritating when a chicken that you know isn’t legitimate.

Hold studying for a detailed have a look at some avian technique for a number of in style phrase video games. For puzzle followers who don’t know a lot about birds, it’s possible you’ll acquire an additional edge and hopefully a larger appreciation for the vast spectrum of avian range. And for chicken followers who like puzzles, put together to have opinions. 

Spelling Bee 

Since its digital debut in 2018, Spelling Bee has printed greater than 1,400 day by day puzzles. The unenviable job of arbitrating which phrases are and aren’t obscure is led by New York Instances digital puzzles editor Sam Ezersky, who by way of a spokesperson declined what (I assumed) was an irresistible alternative to be interviewed about avian curation technique.

With out his enter, I turned to surveying colleagues and Twitter. I additionally relied closely on the superb Spelling Bee Solver, a website with day by day puzzle hints and a searchable archive created by puzzle aficionado William Shunn; all statistics beneath come from my searches of his website. (Be aware: Taking part in Spelling Bee past the early ranges requires a New York Instances Video games subscription, although you can even discover comparable free- and ad-supported variations of this sport. These puzzles, nonetheless, could use totally different phrase lists). 

Accepted Birds So Far, By Variety of Puzzle Appearances* 

  • >50 appearances: Dodo (73), Nene (71); Loon (70); Coot (57)  
  • 20-50: Pipit (34); Tomtit (27); Booby (25); Gull (23); Myna (21)
  • 10-20: Eagle (12); Lark (12); Cockatoo (11)
  • 6-10Peahen, Raptor (8); Parrot (8); Mallard (7); Mynah (6)
  • 2-5: Cuckoo, Pewee (5); Crow, Titmice, Condor, Martin (4); Whippoorwill, Bobolink, Towhee  (3); Finch, Robin, Toucan, Hen, Dove (2)  
  • 1: Peafowl; Hawk; Wigeon; Duck; Junco; Puffin; Bunting; Hawk; Owlet; Penguin

*It is a comparatively complete checklist however most likely not an entire one. 

In line with Spelling Bee Solver, Dodo and Nene are among the many Prime 20 most incessantly showing phrases in the entire sport, intently adopted by Loons. It is a bit of unhappy that of the three, Dodos are extinct, and Nēnēs had been nearly extinct with solely 30 birds left within the wild. (At present their populations are recovering and are seen as an inspiring instance of profitable intervention to save lots of a species).

That Nēnēs are accepted in any respect is shocking. Developed from Canada Geese and native solely to the Hawaiian islands, they need to be obscure birds to most individuals who don’t stay or go to there. William Shunn theorizes, nonetheless, that these birds could also be particularly acquainted to phrase puzzle followers. Properly earlier than Spelling Bee ever existed, Nēnēs have been in style inclusions in crossword puzzles (extra on the explanations for that beneath). It’s also value noting that Spelling Bee’s “Nene” could also be thought-about misspelled by some. As a Native Hawaiian phrase, it ought to be Nēnē, with the diacritical marks to elongate and add stress to the “e” pronunciation. 

Every Spelling Bee puzzle accommodates at the very least one pangram—a phrase that accommodates all seven letters and is value further factors. Whereas writing this text, I discovered that I utterly missed the March 2022 pangram “whippoorwill”—the one chicken pangram to seem to this point within the sport. I felt aghast at my oversight. And but, its inclusion thrice within the puzzle has turned out to be controversial amongst these conserving rating. In line with the dictionary, in addition to Audubon’s Area Information, “whip-poor-will” ought to include hyphens, which might actually exclude it from the sport. 

In the long run, I’m glad when extra birds are accepted fairly than fewer, equivalent to Tomtits (adorably big-headed birds in New Zealand), wigeons (a bunch of dabbling geese with an alternate spelling of “widgeons”), pewees (a bunch of flycatchers) and two spellings of Myna/Mynah. They’re nice birds. However earlier than I started studying rather a lot about birds just a few years in the past, I might not have identified a few of these. I can actually perceive why comparatively specialised birds frustrate some gamers. 

Two Controversial Birds That Have Flipped

  • Nuthatch: Disallowed as soon as in August 2018; allowed twice in 2020 and 2021. 
  • Linnet: Disallowed 5 instances from 2019-2020; allowed 5 instances in 2021.

I’ve a principle that Sam Ezersky has been studying a variety of new birds as he has labored on the Spelling Bee puzzle. Feeling like a prison profiler, I unearth a circumstantial clue: In 2018, simply earlier than Spelling Bee launched, he used the time period “sea gull” in an unrelated article he wrote. Whereas I’m the final one who would ever right somebody who says “sea gull”—it’s fairly unwelcoming to birdsplain such inconsequential distinctions to novices—it’s true that almost all birders would have merely gone with the phrase “gull” as an alternative. 

This flimsy piece of proof could assist clarify why “nuthatch” was at first disallowed in 2018, shortly after the puzzle launched on-line. Maybe Ezersky didn’t know rather a lot about birds again then and subsequently did not notice how many individuals can be followers of those widespread, charismatic feeder guests and year-round residents. By 2020, he had modified his tune.

Some Banned Birds, By Variety of Instances Disallowed 

  • >50: Motmot (53); Caracara (52)  
  • 20-50: Potoo (39); Aracari (31); Bulbul (21)
  • 10-20: Pitta, Chachalaca (19); Graylag (10)
  • 5-10: Galah (9); Drongo (6); Willet, Trogon (5)
  • 2-5: Noddy, Dunlin, Hoopoe (4); Poorwill, Brant, Turaco (3); Anhinga, Woodlark, Munia (2)
  • 1: Parula; Gannet  
  • Bonus Chook Slang Exclusions: floof (30); birb (19)

If we’re attempting to keep away from birds {that a} common viewers wouldn’t know, I agree with most of those selections (although I can’t abide the shunning of “floof“). The indie rock musician who simply wrote a whole guide about caracaras—among the many most clever of all birds of prey —actually begs to vary, nonetheless. And I’m initially stunned that Brant (a winter chicken that may be seen in New York Metropolis, the place I stay) isn’t allowed, till I lookup the chicken’s geographic vary and keep in mind not everybody lives on the East or West shoreline. 

Different chicken exclusions could reveal an East coast geographic bias on the a part of the puzzle creators on the New York Instances. Some gamers have questioned why “whippoorwill”—a chicken of the Jap United States—counts, whereas “poorwill,” a typical chicken of the Western United States, is a no-go.

Studying the tea leaves is hard, even for consultants. “It is troublesome to determine why some birds make the minimize however others do not,” Shunn, of Spelling Bee Solver, writes me in an e-mail. “Generally I feel it may need to do with geography, since New York has the “towhee” (accepted twice) however not the “anhinga” (rejected twice). However then why does ‘nene’ make the minimize 69 instances and counting, whereas it takes an outcry from bird-lovers to get ‘linnet’ moved from the endangered column to protected standing? All I can conclude is that it comes down to at least one particular person’s judgment on whether or not or not a chicken is sufficiently well-known to make the minimize.”

Even when excessive alone morsel of energy as an editor for Audubon.org, my phrase decisions aren’t practically as scrutinized as Ezersky’s. I can think about it’s a variety of strain. Shunn agrees: “Daily on Twitter I see folks criticizing Sam—some in a light-hearted manner, however others in a much less form tone—for his supposed prejudices, blindspots, and ignorance.” Maybe that is why the New York Instances declined my interview request: Spelling Bee is too sizzling of a subject.

So I’ll finish this part with an necessary reminder: It’s only a sport. Perhaps we will all keep in mind that and relax a bit of when our phrase is not accepted.

Facet Be aware: Birds That Have Not But—and Could By no means—Seem in Spelling Bee 

Apparently, there’s a far longer checklist of birds that would, in principle, be included inside Spelling Bee options however haven’t but appeared as potentialities in any printed puzzle. In consequence, they’ve but to be dominated upon by the powers that be. In line with Spelling Bee Solver’s search instrument, this contains birds equivalent to: Goose; Grebe; Sparrow; Pigeon; Crane; Warbler; Catbird; Grouse; Vireo; Wren; Oriole; Heron; Killdeer; Siskin; Plover; Ibis; Spoonbill; Falcon; Raven; Avocet; Thrush; Pelican; Cardinal; Godwit; Phoebe; Magpie, Chickadee; Turkey; and Quail. 

I’m positively stunned that birds like grebe and goose and ibis haven’t but appeared, provided that they solely comprise just a few widespread letters. However Shunn tells me that the puzzle often avoids the letter “s,” in addition to the mix of “e” and “r” collectively, due to the very lengthy glossary together with these letters would create. That does assist clarify the omission of many (however not all) birds above. I do hope at some point we see cardinal as a pangram. 


Brooklyn-based software program developer Josh Wardle launched Wordle to the general public in October 2021 and it quickly went viral, later to be acquired by the New York Instances (it stays free). The sport launched with a predefined checklist of about 2,500 generally identified five-letter phrases that would remedy the puzzle, chosen by Wardle’s associate. Every phrase would ultimately seem as the answer to a day by day puzzle, unraveling over the course of some years. 

Warning: Under are spoilers for Wordle video games which have already appeared, so please maintain scrolling if you can be upset by this. The dates and numbers of the puzzles should not included. 

To this point, three birds have appeared as solutions to Wordle’s day by day puzzles, in accordance with a number of unofficial lists I unearthed on-line. The primary, booby, has two meanings, so I’m not going to overanalyze that one. The opposite two—heron and robin —are unsurprisingly quite common sorts of birds. A fourth bird-related time period, “moult,” reveals creator Wardle’s British-born roots and appeared as a solution within the weeks earlier than the sport was broadly launched to the general public. In america, we might spell this as “molt.”

Now that the New York Instances owns the sport, it is unlikely we might see options that use British spellings. I think there shall be extra widespread birds that we see as future Wordle solutions, equivalent to goose, geese, and eagle. However I feel we’re even much less prone to see extra obscure birds right here than in Spelling Bee. It could wreck too many streaks. 

Fortunately, for chicken fans, there’s a a lot bigger aviary acceptable as guesses into every Wordle puzzle. In truth, drawing from a listing of five-letter chicken names, I couldn’t discover a single chicken that was rejected as a guess (and birds like Galah and Serin, being not of this hemisphere, had been utterly unfamiliar to me). 

If you’re inclined to start out your Wordle with a strategic chicken phrase—i.e. one which accommodates many widespread letters—some good bets may be: Robin; Snipe; Brant; and Serin. Every of those phrases accommodates 4 out of the 9 mostly used letters within the English language. And for a fair harder avian problem, attempt an different model of the sport: BRDL, by Audubon graphic designer Alex Tomlinson. 


Nice crossword gamers thrive on obscure trivia and intelligent phrase play. Individuals who design crossword puzzles, nonetheless, are inclined to have just a few go-to phrases which are particularly helpful for becoming the puzzle collectively. That results in a time period known as “crosswordese,” which refers to phrases which are discovered way more incessantly in U.S. crosswords than in common dialog. These are usually quick phrases that match into specific constraints; many will begin or finish in vowels or include incessantly used letters. 

So which birds are crosswordese? The New York Instances’s very personal Sam Ezersky answered that query for us in his March 2018 article explaining 12 in style crossword birds. Nene is amongst them, which actually accounts for the Spelling Bee bias. 

One other prime decide is the Emu, a flightless, quick Australian chicken that seems so incessantly that Ezersky suggests going deep on trivia past these apparent information (for instance, emus have massive inexperienced eggs and are hunted by dingos). Ernes or Erns—another names for sea-eagles—had been information to me. Eiders are amongst my favourite birds, they usually apparently seem rather a lot due to their uncommon vowel sample. Different favorites: Auks, Smews, and Terns. You’ll be able to research the Instances piece for extra element. For no matter cause, the checklist appears to be principally geese, seabirds, and flightless birds.  


Wonderful Scrabble gamers are subsequent degree, and I’m not one in every of them. To get good, it pays to know as many distinctive phrases and phrases as you’ll be able to. Based mostly on a spot test of the official Scrabble dictionary, it’s clear that just about any type of chicken shall be good right here—however look ahead to hyphens. Whereas “whippoorwill” will win you excessive factors in Spelling Bee, however in the event you attempt that in Scrabble and are challenged, the dictionary’s “whip-poor-will” will rule you out. 

Maybe the highest worth Scrabble birds of all are quetzals, that are actually gorgeous birds within the trogon household which are native to forests in Central America and Mexico (they’re Guatemala’s nationwide chicken and in addition the title for its foreign money). One chicken, the Eared Quetzal, stunned birders by increasing its vary so far as Arizona within the Nineteen Seventies. 

The 2 letters “Q” and “Z” are value 10 factors every—the best values within the sport—and they’re organized in such a manner that, in principle, it’s potential to land on a double letter rating and two triple phrase scores utilizing the plural model.

A “jay” can be an ideal quick chicken phrase to have in your again pocket, because the letter “J” can each supply excessive factors and be a difficult letter to make use of (there is just one within the sport). Birds with a number of vowels in them—equivalent to hoopoe and oriole—are additionally nice to remember for moments when you have got too many in your hand and must dump some. As any Scrabble participant is aware of, having too many vowels could make for a irritating sport.

While you’re finished, whether or not you could shake off a loss or have fun a win, I’ve the right exercise: Get exterior and see some birds.

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