Saturday, November 26, 2011

Improve Your Bird ID Skills

So you're enjoying a cup of coffee at your kitchen table when an unknown bird lands at your brand new feeder, and you ask yourself, "What kind of bird is that?" Or you're an experienced birder, determined to learn the sparrows, out in the field with an unfamiliar bird in focus. Now what? Like any skill, you need to practice to get good. Using the clues below, try to improve your identification skill set!

Clue 1. Describe what you see. This is the best way to really SEE a bird. Take the time to go over the bird, being patient to notice every part of it. What color is it? What does its bill look like? Does it have long legs or short ones? A great way to make yourself notice all the details about a bird is to say them out loud. If there is someone with you, tell them what you see: "Well, it's blue and has a long bill in relation to its head..." Even if there isn't anyone there, quietly tell yourself, "OK, light brown head with a black stripe across the eyes..." Writing down what you have noticed definitely solidifies the clues in your head, so take the time to jot down a few words in your notebook.

Clue 2. What is it doing? Noticing behavior is the untapped gem of bird identifying! Most good ID guides will not only show you what the bird looks like, but tell you what kind of behaviors the bird exhibits. Some birds do things that are dead giveaways, like tail bobbing, and you should learn to notice and remember these clues just as much as noticing the colors of undertail coverts.

Clue 3. What kind of sounds is it making? Learning songs and calls is another great way to help you identify a bird. Being able to walk outside and recognize birds by their sounds is a definite thrill, especially when it's unexpected. Develop an ear for bird sounds by listening to recordings of them.

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