The rapid growth of ChatGPT – an artificial intelligence chatbot – has been remarkable. (Here are primers on how it works.) But does ChatGPT have even a rudimentary understanding of a niche topic like birding?

I asked it a few questions about birding locations and the (unedited) results are below, along with some brief analysis. My high-level impression is that ChatGPT can synthesize lots of information and produce results that initially seem impressive, but that it still makes obvious mistakes and some of its algorithms can lead it astray, particularly for a subject like birding where there is likely a paucity of credible source material on the internet.

I also asked ChatGPT for some birding jokes, and they are at the end.

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Query: Provide a list of the 20 best birding locations in the United States.

Certainly! Here is a list of 20 popular birding locations in the United States, known for their rich diversity of bird species and habitats:

    1. Magee Marsh Wildlife Area – Ohio
    2. Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge – New Mexico
    3. Point Reyes National Seashore – California
    4. Cape May – New Jersey
    5. Everglades National Park – Florida
    6. High Island – Texas
    7. Great Smoky Mountains National Park – Tennessee/North Carolina
    8. Big Bend National Park – Texas
    9. Acadia National Park – Maine
    10. Cape Ann – Massachusetts
    11. Sanibel Island – Florida
    12. Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge – Virginia
    13. Yellowstone National Park – Wyoming/Montana
    14. Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge – Virginia
    15. Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge – Texas
    16. Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge Complex – Oregon/California
    17. Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum – Arizona
    18. Hawk Mountain Sanctuary – Pennsylvania
    19. Pt. Pelee National Park – Ohio
    20. Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge – Texas

These locations offer a variety of habitats including marshes, wetlands, forests, coastal areas, and deserts, attracting numerous bird species throughout the year. Please note that the availability of specific bird species may vary depending on the season.

Analysis: This list includes many of the most obvious birding hotspots, but also some mistakes and a few puzzling entries. Initially, Point Pelee National Park appears to be in Ontario, Canada (not Ohio), which makes it wrong, as well as excluded by the query itself. I am a westerner, so perhaps it is a glorious hotspot, but I’ve never heard Cape Ann, Massachusetts referred to as a world-class birding location. Of all the hotspots in Arizona, I would have thought that numerous places other than the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum would have been more likely. Putting aside the one obvious error, overall this seems like a B+ list.

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Query: What are the 25 best national wildlife refuges for birding?

As of my knowledge cutoff in September 2021, the following list includes 25 well-regarded national wildlife refuges in the United States for birding. Please note that rankings and opinions may vary depending on personal preferences and birding conditions. Here they are, listed in no particular order:

    1. Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge (New Mexico)
    2. Magee Marsh Wildlife Area/Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge (Ohio)
    3. Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge (Texas)
    4. Everglades National Park (Florida)
    5. Point Reyes National Seashore (California)
    6. Cape May National Wildlife Refuge (New Jersey)
    7. Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge (Texas)
    8. Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge (Delaware)
    9. Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge (Utah)
    10. Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge (Virginia)
    11. J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge (Florida)
    12. Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge (Alaska)
    13. Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge (Washington)
    14. Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge Complex (Oregon/California)
    15. Aransas National Wildlife Refuge (Texas)
    16. Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge (Florida)
    17. Grand Teton National Park (Wyoming)
    18. Seney National Wildlife Refuge (Michigan)
    19. Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge (New Jersey)
    20. Malheur National Wildlife Refuge (Oregon)
    21. Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge (Texas)
    22. Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge (Georgia)
    23. San Juan Islands National Wildlife Refuge (Washington)
    24. White River National Wildlife Refuge (Arkansas)
    25. Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge (Virginia/North Carolina)

Please keep in mind that bird populations and conditions at these refuges can change over time, so it’s always a good idea to check the latest information before planning a trip.

Analysis: I have posted about the Top 25 NWRs for Birding, and this list is similar (12 of 25 of the ChatGPT list are also on my list), but also includes some puzzlers and some mistakes. Initially, Everglades National Park, Point Reyes National Seashore, and Grand Teton National Park are not national wildlife refuges at all (they are part of the National Park System), so they are wrong. I would have thought differentiating between national wildlife refuges and national parks (even though both include the word “national” in their name) would have been relatively simple for a sophisticated AI system, but evidently it is not.

Kodiak NWR is highly inaccessible (“The 1.9 million acre Refuge can only be reached by boat or floatplane”) and it has fewer than 100 checklists and just 126 species on eBird, so its inclusion makes little sense. Ditto for San Juan Islands NWR, which also has fewer than 100 checklists (and fewer than 125 species) on eBird. Moreover, most of it is closed to the public. I am curious how either of these places could end up on this list.

Given these category errors and baffling inclusions, I think this is a C+ result.

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Query: Where is the best place in the United States to see a Kirtland’s Warbler?

The best place to see a Kirtland’s Warbler in the United States is in the state of Michigan. The Kirtland’s Warbler is an endangered bird species that breeds primarily in the jack pine forests of northern Michigan. Specifically, the warbler’s primary breeding range is concentrated in a few counties in the northern Lower Peninsula and the eastern Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

To increase the chances of spotting a Kirtland’s Warbler, it’s recommended to visit the Jack Pine Wildlife Viewing Area in the Huron-Manistee National Forests near Grayling, Michigan. This designated area provides suitable habitat for the species and offers opportunities for birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts to observe the warblers during their breeding season from late May to early August.

It’s important to note that Kirtland’s Warblers are migratory birds and spend their winters in the Bahamas. They return to Michigan for nesting during the summer months. Conservation efforts have been instrumental in maintaining and increasing their population, making Michigan an excellent place for birdwatchers interested in observing this rare and beautiful species.

Analysis: I have never seen a Kirtland’s Warbler, but this is consistent with the research I have done to fix that problem. The ChatGPT summary is brief, includes relevant information about when to visit and which habitat to focus on, and it appears accurate. However, Kirtland’s Warbler is no longer listed on the Endangered Species Act, as it was delisted in 2019. That seems like a fact ChatGPT should get correct. Grade: A-.

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Query: I have a four hour layover in Denver and want to do some birding close to the airport. Where should I go?

If you have a four-hour layover in Denver and want to do some birding close to the airport, one of the best options is to visit the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge. It is located just northeast of the Denver International Airport and offers excellent birding opportunities.

The Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge is a 15,000-acre wildlife sanctuary that provides habitat for more than 330 species of birds. It has a variety of habitats, including prairies, wetlands, lakes, and woodlands, which attract a diverse range of bird species throughout the year.

To visit the refuge from the airport, you can take a taxi or rideshare service, which would typically take around 20-30 minutes depending on traffic. Once you arrive, you can explore the refuge on foot or by car, as there are several driving routes and walking trails available.

Some popular birding spots within the refuge include Lake Mary, where you can find waterfowl and shorebirds, and the Wildlife Drive, which offers opportunities to spot raptors, songbirds, and waterbirds. The visitor center at the refuge provides information about recent bird sightings and can offer guidance on the best areas to explore during your limited time.

Please note that it’s important to consider the time required for transportation and security procedures when planning your layover birding excursion. Ensure that you have sufficient time to return to the airport well before your next flight.

Analysis: I haven’t actually done this and cannot confirm some of the details, but my research suggests that this would be the best plan. I don’t think this was a hard question, but it got the correct and easy answer. Grade: A.

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Query: What are 5 good birding jokes?

Sure! Here are five birding jokes for you:

    1. Why don’t birds make good comedians? Because their jokes always “fly” over our heads!
    2. What do you call a bird that can fix anything? A “repairrot”!
    3. Why did the duck become a detective? It always quacked the case!
    4. What do you call a bird that’s afraid to fly? Chicken!
    5. Why don’t seagulls fly over the bay? Because then they would be bagels!

I hope these jokes bring a smile to your face!

Analysis: Jokes are hard and these are bird jokes rather than birding jokes, but I did smile.

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ChatGPT logo from Vectezzy.

Written by Jason Crotty
Jason Crotty is a birder, lawyer, and occasional writer currently living in Portland, Oregon with his wife and daughter. A Bay Area native, he started birding while working at a large law firm in San Francisco, but birds less frequently now that there's a kid around, so he writes instead. Jason started at 10,000 Birds with a few guest posts and signed on as a beat writer in March 2017. He is particularly interested in the intersection of law and birding (especially the Endangered Species Act), other bird-related federal litigation, and federal public lands. Jason's writing has also appeared in BirdWatching, Birding, and Birder's Guide, both online and in print.