Friday, January 14, 2011

Better Birding in 2011

I wish I was a better birder, don't you? Here are 4 videos made by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology explaining 4 key things to notice when you are trying to identify a bird.

1- Size and shape
Compare it to something you know well like a crow or a ring-billed gull or a sparrow. When it comes to shape, trust your instincts. Does it look like a bird of prey or a duck? Birds, like cars, have shapes that suit their life style. Each bird family has recognizable characteristics. If my husband can tell the difference between a Ford and a Toyota, I can tell whether I'm looking at a song bird, a raptor or a woodpecker. 

If you have time for a better look, try and notice the shape of the head, beak and tail.

2- Color Pattern
Color is one of the most frustrating characteristics to look for since it varies depending on the season, sex, age, health and even sunlight. The key is to identify the patterns of color on different parts of the birds body.  I felt learning the Topography of a bird as described in most bird guides really helped.

Here's a link to the video (because it's being difficult)

3- Behavior
Behavior is a constant just like size and shape which makes it, in some cases, more useful than color patterns. Focus mainly on posture, foraging and flight style. Mating rituals are only present during certain times of the years and its differs between females and males.
I strongly recommend the video and also taking a walk with an experiences birder but here are some of my favorites and you can read more in your field guide.
 - Nuthatches walk down trees.
- Woodpeckers perch on large vertical branches or the trunk. Their flight reminds me of the Butterfly stroke - an undulating flight pattern punctuated by rapid wing beats and bounds.
- Vultures soar with wings in a V-shape and it looks like it has fingers 

4- Habitat
This clue is frequently overlooked but it can be very useful. Birds and most things live in habitats they are adapted to. The video divides habitat into four broad categories :forested or woodland (coniferous or deciduous), aquatic habitats, scrub shrub habitat, and open habitat (field and tundra). Identifying the habitat should be the first thing you do when you arrive at a birding site because it will give you a good idea of what birds you might see.
Warning! Bird migrate so depending on the time of year you might find birds in odd places.

 Here's a link the the video

With these notions in mind, head outside and start observing. You will gain more knowledge by experimenting than by trying to memorize everything in your bird guide. The best introduction you can have is to follow a seasonned birder along on a walk, not only are they overflowing with fascinating knowledge but they will also transmit their passion for birds. Beware, it's contagious.

If you're in the New York area, look up the Birdwatchers of Central Park called the Early Birders, they offer morning walks around the park. There is also the New York City Audubon Society
and the New York Companion Bird Club. If that doesn't work for you,  walking around Central Park with Binoculars, you will undoubtedly bump into another birdwatcher willing to point out great things. You can pick up a checklist of the birds you are most likely to encounter in Central Park, for free, at the Castle, the Dairy, and the Dana Center - just ask around.

Similar organizations exist all over the world, most of them have websites or you can find pamphlets at information kiosks.

Have a great weekend!
Take care!

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