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 recreation of Spelling Bee. 

Spelling Bee is an addictive phrase problem recreation that grew to become fashionable throughout the pandemic, solely to be later eclipsed in fame by Wordle, one other phrase recreation that not too long ago took the web by storm. Each at the moment are run by the New York Instances. In Spelling Bee, a participant makes use of seven letters to kind as many as phrases as doable, aiming to attain “genius” standing. Every phrase should be no less than 4 letters and comprise that day’s required letter. 

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

For a lot of recreation followers, the essential phrase is “obscure.” Jargon is a common assemble. Dive into any job or passion or change into conversant in 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 typical individual on the avenue, for instance, whereas gardeners know flowers and carpenters know uncommon instruments. 

Chicken 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 every kind of phrase puzzles, whether or not in Spelling Bee or a traditional recreation of Scrabble. Nevertheless it additionally may be irritating when a chook that you know isn’t legitimate.

Maintain studying for an in depth take a look at some avian technique for a number of fashionable phrase video games. For puzzle followers who don’t know a lot about birds, it’s possible you’ll achieve an additional edge and hopefully a better appreciation for the broad spectrum of avian range. And for chook 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 each day puzzles. The unenviable process 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 believed) 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 web site with each day puzzle hints and a searchable archive created by puzzle aficionado William Shunn; all statistics beneath come from my searches of his web site. (Notice: Enjoying Spelling Bee past the early ranges requires a New York Instances Video games subscription, although you can too discover comparable free- and ad-supported variations of this recreation. 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, Rooster, Dove (2)  
  • 1: Peafowl; Hawk; Wigeon; Duck; Junco; Puffin; Bunting; Hawk; Owlet; Penguin

*It is a comparatively complete record however in all probability not an entire one. 

In keeping with Spelling Bee Solver, Dodo and Nene are among the many Prime 20 most ceaselessly showing phrases in the entire recreation, carefully adopted by Loons. It is slightly unhappy that of the three, Dodos are extinct, and Nēnēs had been virtually extinct with solely 30 birds left within the wild. (At the moment 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 stunning. Developed from Canada Geese and native solely to the Hawaiian islands, they need to be obscure birds to most individuals who don’t reside or go to there. William Shunn theorizes, nonetheless, that these birds could also be particularly acquainted to phrase puzzle followers. Effectively earlier than Spelling Bee ever existed, Nēnēs have been fashionable inclusions in crossword puzzles (extra on the explanations for that beneath). It is usually value noting that Spelling Bee’s “Nene” could also be thought-about misspelled by some. As a Native Hawaiian phrase, it must be Nēnē, with the diacritical marks to elongate and add stress to the “e” pronunciation. 

Every Spelling Bee puzzle incorporates no less than one pangram—a phrase that incorporates all seven letters and is value additional factors. Whereas writing this text, I realized that I fully missed the March 2022 pangram “whippoorwill”—the one chook pangram to look thus far within the recreation. I felt aghast at my oversight. And but, its inclusion 3 times within the puzzle has turned out to be controversial amongst these conserving rating. In keeping with the dictionary, in addition to Audubon’s Subject Information, “whip-poor-will” ought to comprise hyphens, which might actually exclude it from the sport. 

In the long run, I’m glad when extra birds are accepted slightly than fewer, equivalent to Tomtits (adorably big-headed birds in New Zealand), wigeons (a gaggle of dabbling geese with an alternate spelling of “widgeons”), pewees (a gaggle of flycatchers) and two spellings of Myna/Mynah. They’re nice birds. However earlier than I started studying quite a bit about birds a couple of years in the past, I’d not have recognized a few of these. I can definitely 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 quite a lot 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 freshmen—it’s true that the majority birders would have merely gone with the phrase “gull” as a substitute. 

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 quite a bit about birds again then and subsequently did not notice how many individuals could 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 Chicken Slang Exclusions: floof (30); birb (19)

If we’re attempting to keep away from birds {that a} normal 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 complete e-book about caracaras—among the many most clever of all birds of prey —definitely begs to vary, nonetheless. And I’m initially stunned that Brant (a winter chook that may be seen in New York Metropolis, the place I reside) isn’t allowed, till I search for the chook’s geographic vary and bear in mind not everybody lives on the East or West shoreline. 

Different chook 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 chook of the Jap United States—counts, whereas “poorwill,” a typical chook of the Western United States, is a no-go.

Studying the tea leaves is hard, even for consultants. “It is tough to determine why some birds make the reduce however others do not,” Shunn, of Spelling Bee Solver, writes me in an e mail. “Typically I believe it might 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 reduce 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 chook is sufficiently well-known to make the reduce.”

Even when excessive alone morsel of energy as an editor for Audubon.org, my phrase selections aren’t almost as scrutinized as Ezersky’s. I can think about it’s quite a lot of stress. Shunn agrees: “Every single day on Twitter I see folks criticizing Sam—some in a light-hearted approach, however others in a much less sort tone—for his supposed prejudices, blindspots, and ignorance.” Maybe that is why the New York Instances declined my interview request: Spelling Bee is too scorching of a subject.

So I’ll finish this part with an vital reminder: It’s only a recreation. Perhaps we are able to all do not forget that and relax slightly when our phrase is not accepted.

Aspect Notice: Birds That Have Not But—and Might By no means—Seem in Spelling Bee 

Curiously, there’s a far longer record of birds that might, in principle, be included inside Spelling Bee options however haven’t but appeared as prospects in any printed puzzle. In consequence, they’ve but to be dominated upon by the powers that be. In keeping with Spelling Bee Solver’s search instrument, this consists of 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 undoubtedly stunned that birds like grebe and goose and ibis haven’t but appeared, on condition that they solely comprise a couple of 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 sooner or later 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 record of about 2,500 generally recognized five-letter phrases that might remedy the puzzle, chosen by Wardle’s associate. Every phrase would finally seem as the answer to a each day puzzle, unraveling over the course of some years. 

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

To date, three birds have appeared as solutions to Wordle’s each day puzzles, based on 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’d spell this as “molt.”

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

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

In case you are inclined to start out your Wordle with a strategic chook phrase—i.e. one which incorporates many widespread letters—some good bets may be: Robin; Snipe; Brant; and Serin. Every of those phrases incorporates 4 out of the 9 mostly used letters within the English language. And for a good harder avian problem, strive an various 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 likely to have a couple of go-to phrases which can be particularly helpful for becoming the puzzle collectively. That results in a time period known as “crosswordese,” which refers to phrases which can be discovered much more ceaselessly in U.S. crosswords than in common dialog. These are usually brief phrases that match into explicit constraints; many will begin or finish in vowels or comprise ceaselessly 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 fashionable crossword birds. Nene is amongst them, which definitely accounts for the Spelling Bee bias. 

One other prime choose is the Emu, a flightless, quick Australian chook that seems so ceaselessly that Ezersky suggests going deep on trivia past these apparent details (for instance, emus have giant inexperienced eggs and are hunted by dingos). Ernes or Erns—an alternate names for sea-eagles—had been information to me. Eiders are amongst my favourite birds, they usually apparently seem quite a bit due to their uncommon vowel sample. Different favorites: Auks, Smews, and Terns. You possibly can examine the Instances piece for extra element. For no matter motive, the record appears to be principally geese, seabirds, and flightless birds.  


Wonderful Scrabble gamers are subsequent stage, and I’m not one in all 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 form of chook will likely be good right here—however look ahead to hyphens. Whereas “whippoorwill” will win you excessive factors in Spelling Bee, however should you strive 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 really gorgeous birds within the trogon household which can be native to forests in Central America and Mexico (they’re Guatemala’s nationwide chook and likewise the title for its forex). One chook, 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 very best values within the recreation—and they’re organized in such a approach that, in principle, it’s doable to land on a double letter rating and two triple phrase scores utilizing the plural model.

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

If you’re completed, whether or not it is advisable shake off a loss or rejoice a win, I’ve the right exercise: Get outdoors and see some birds.

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