Friday, May 23, 2008

How to Identify Birds

Are you amazed at how quickly birders can identify birds? Actually, it's just like getting to know your human neighbors.

© 2008 Donna L. Watkins - Costa Rica - Blue & Gold Macaw
When you move into a new neighborhood everyone is a stranger, but soon you learn to tell people apart as you unconsciously catalog their characteristics. Their habits, shape, styles of walking, and "habitats" become familiar enough that you can recognize each neighbor immediately, even at a distance.

Paying attention to individual differences can help you identify birds, too. You can recognize many birds simply by noting their shapes, even if seen only in silhouette.

Other useful characteristics are a bird's posture, size (easiest to judge if you use familiar birds as a size reference), flight pattern and/or head-on flight profile, and the kind of habitat in which the bird was seen.

Start by learning to identify general groups of birds- warblers, flycatchers, hawks, owls, wrens- whose members all share certain similarities. As your observation skills improve, familiarize yourself with the field marks- colored or patterned areas on the bird's body, head, and wings- that help distinguish species.

Use the following features to help you:
Field marks
Flight pattern

This information comes from the web site of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Get details on these features at their All About Birds website.

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