Monday, August 19, 2013

Identification Tips #1 General Tips

Least Flycatcher
I'll be using photos from a bird banding station because that way you can get an idea of size as well as a better view of an field marks
Identifying birds can be a daunting task when your flipping through you field guide trying to find a small maybe yellow-olive bird that you saw while hiking up Guannella pass. If you break down what your seeing on the bird as well as the habitat around you and the noises your hearing it can make the id process much smoother.

The book
One thing I remember doing was flipping through my favorite field guide just looking at the pictures of the birds and noticing how they are organized. This is something I recommend doing whether your a beginner or advanced. Looking through your book can give you a good idea of what your looking at in the field. but don't forget to look at the real bird while its there gather information on its plumage details and behavior, back up what you saw later looking at the book. You wouldn't want to miss views of an incredible bird looking for it in the book.

This large bird is common in urban areas and loves suet!
 Its long beak and tapered tail feathers point to woodpecker her
 red underwings/ tail spotted breast and bib point to Northern Flicker.
Her lack of a red malar (or mustache) says she's a girl
Rule out what its not/ Plumage
You can rule out what a bird isn't by many different things, plumage colors and pattern, size, shape, bill shape and size, habitat, range, behavior and time of year, once you narrow down what it isn't you can focus on the fewer option you have left.
When your looking at a bird notice its color. Is it a bright color? or a more earthy color. Notice its size. Is it larger or smaller than the typical American Robin? Does it have any noticeable features? Streaks or spots on the breast? an eye ring? light eyes, dark eyes?
If your looking at a blackbird in a parking lot with yellow eyes you have now narrowed it down to two choices! Brewer's Blackbird and Common Grackle. (unless your out east then Great-tailed Grackle is another possibility)

Different birds live and specialize in different habitats. Familiarize yourself with the various habitats in your area and the plants and bird species of those habitats.
Here are a few along the front range

Lowland Riparian
areas of tall cotton woods and thick underbrush of chokecherry, wild plumb, and willow all along a lake, river or stream.
common birds of these areas are
Yellow Warbler
Bullock's Oriole
House Wren
Broad-tailed Hummingbird
This bird is much smaller than the flicker has a shorter bill and a striking head pattern.
 This size and "earthy" colors on this bird point to sparrow. You can see in this
 photo but he has a clear breast. (no streaks)
 the white head stripes points to White-crowned Sparrow

Scrub Oak
foothill areas covered in Gambel's Oak, juniper, Three-leaf Sumac (skunkbush) and Mountain Mahogany
often housing
Spotted Towhees
Western Scrub-Jays
Blue-grey Gnatcatcher
Virginia's Warbler

Emergent Wetland
marshy areas composed of mostly cattails or rushes
Marsh Wrens
Herons (many types)
Red-winged Blackbirds
Common Yellowthroat

Watching a birds behavior can also be an indicator of what species or even what family it belongs to.
If your watching a bird sitting upright on a branch and it suddenly flies out in a little circle and comes back repeatedly it is probably a flycatcher.
If your watching a small brown bird skulk around in the bushes while wildly scolding you, you may have a wren.

Time of year
Birds migrate. Warblers leave, orioles leave, most thrushes, many herons and blackbirds leave (Colorado that is) for more abundant resources down south. On the other hand many birds arrive in the winter as well. Raptors are much more abundant in the winter and ducks! Many different kinds of ducks winter in Colorado and they are all unique and very vibrant! Make sure when your considering a bird that it has a pretty good chance of being in your area at the present time of year.
In the late summer and fall juvenile birds outnumber adults. This makes for very difficult identification on some species such as sparrows. Be trying to find an ID consider the juveniles as they often look much different than the adults.

These are just a few things to consider when looking at a bird. Think about one at a time focusing on the bird while its in sight. You can later consider other things but its very important to look at the bird itself.

This bird is a little different. Its smaller than the flicker and smaller than the WC Sparrow as well. It has a long tail, thin bill, yellow throat, wing bars (messy wing bars) and a beautiful patter on the tail. The small size bill shape you lead you to warbler. It has a much thinner longer bill than the sparrow. From there you'd look for birds with mostly grey body and yellow throat. Hopefully you'd arrive at Yellow-rumped Warbler even though you can't see the yellow rump in this photo.


Thanks for reading! -Megan

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