By Michael Russell
In this last article of our series on birds we’re going to cover something that most people find quite fascinating. How are bird watchers able to so quickly identify their feathered friends? With so many species of birds it can’t be that easy, or can it? In this article we’re going to go over some tips to make your bird identification a whole lot easier.
Just like recognizing certain characteristics and habits of people you can do the same with birds, which ultimately makes identifying them much easier. These characteristics are shape, size, color, flight pattern and where they’re seen, to name just a few.
The first thing you need to do when identifying birds is to learn how to recognise a certain group of birds like warblers, flycatchers, hawks, owls and wrens. These all share certain similarities. As you get better at this you will be able to distinguish a certain species from the group as a whole.
Once you’ve narrowed down the bird to a group, size can give you a very good clue as to the actual species, especially if the lighting is poor or you are at a great distance. Size comparisons are very easy when the bird you are trying to identify is next to a bird of the same group that is either much smaller or much larger. For example, a Pileated Woodpecker is much larger than a Downy Woodpecker. So if you see these two birds side by side it will be easy to pick out which is which.
Then there is the posture of a bird. Believe it or not, birds perch differently. For example, a Flycatcher perches vertically (straight up and down) when on a branch while a Vireo perches horizontally (almost lying down) when on the same branch. So if you were to see these two birds side by side you should be able to pick out which one is which.
Then there is the flight pattern of a bird. Birds do not all fly with the same motion. For example, while most birds fly in a straight line, finches and woodpeckers fly in sort of an up and down pattern. Even between the two there is a difference. Finches fly in a more exaggerated roller coaster pattern while woodpeckers fly in a more moderate rise and fall pattern. Then there are birds like Sharp-shinned Hawks, Cooper’s Hawks, and Northern Goshawks that make several wing flaps which are followed by a long glide, whereas a Red Tailed Hawk can usually be seen soaring.
Then if you are able to witness a head on flight profile of a bird there are differences here as well. A Bald Eagle will fly with its wings spread out straight across from each other or at a 180 degree angle while a Northern Harrier will fly with its wings slightly elevated into a V-shape.
Of course the above is rather simplified as identifying birds is a lot more involved. But these are the basics of where to begin. As you study more and more birds you will begin to develop a real knack for picking one out of a crowd, so to speak.
Your Independent guide to Birds
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