It’s May, a crucial time for bird watching. Like most birdwatchers you’re probably carrying some handy binoculars and a writing pad down to your favorite park. All around you hear the sounds of birds and the moving of leaves, but you’re not exactly sure how to observe or classify birds in the wild. Even in a small area, a birder can become bewildered with the abundance of bird species, especially without knowing anything other than color to distinguish them. Part of understanding birds is not simply concentrating on exterior colors and shapes; it includes learning about habitat and behavior as well. In doing so, you’ll be able to spot more birds and keep track of them.
There are over 800 bird species in the U.S. and Canada. To a beginner, birds flying over quickly can appear to look the same on the surface. In New York alone, there are 253 species, including the Blue Jay, Northern Cardinal, Eastern Bluebird, Black-Capped Chickadee, Downy Woodpecker, American Robin, Song Sparrow, and Mourning Dove amongst the most commonly seen birds. While it’s a good idea to supply yourself with a proper field guide, one can also find birding videos, podcasts and apps. The idea is to learn as you go, but also to get out there and turn a birding day into an adventure. Birding should be primarily simple observation–not tedious memorization.
When starting out, use four key visual categories to identify birds: size/ shape, color pattern, behavior, and habitat. One must also be aware of bird types most likely to roam in a particular location, and at what time of year. Noticing field marks, such as wingbars and eyerings for example, requires careful observation and should be learned after the four visual keys.
Here are a few sites where you can freely pick up new birding skills or sharpen your already learned ones.
Inside Birding, a videos series, from the The Cornell Lab Of Ornithology provides helpful tips and techniques for beginners and intermediates to improve visual identification of birds using the four visual keys. Hosted by two birding experts, the series shows their vast knowledge on the subject through clear and informative explanations. If you weren’t already passionate and excited about birding, they’ll surely make it so.
For shorter explanations, Howcast’s birdwatching videos provides a quick way of identifying birds in four steps, similar to the above, though condensed in a minute-long video. These basic videos are great for those not wanting elaborate explanations, but a quick run-down including samples of bird calls.For something a little more thorough and advanced, listen to free podcasts and tutorials from Peterson Field Guide to Birds, which can be downloaded or found on YouTube. The podcast Family Overviews covers birds of the same family group and the characteristics they share. Species Profiles explains the 4 visual keys along with glimpses into migration, distribution and adaptation of popular bird species.
If you’re at the level, where you can’t satisfy your need for birding knowledge, Bird Watchers Digest is seriously the place. They have three podcast shows, The Birding Life, The Author’s Spotlight, and Ray’s Talkin Birds–each holding an endless amount of free episodes with such titles as The Snowy Owl Invasion, The Singing Life of Birds, Finding Rare Birds and The Bird Call Lady. And just when you thought birding could not hit closer to reality, an episode called Nature in Iraq comes along.
For something portable, birders can use birding apps as field guides. Pocket Ranger’s Official New York® offers detailed information on New York bird species. The app provides descriptions, distribution area and habitat information along with features like GPS mapping, a built-in compass and distance indicator to help plan your next birding adventure. Pocket Ranger® Fish and Wildlife Apps are also available in Alabama, Wisconsin, Georgia, Nebraska, New Jersey.
Nature is ever so far on this Monday, so we now leave you with a live broadcasting of an Osprey in Maine. Enjoy!