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The HubPages Birdwatcher's Club: Watching the Birds

Updated on December 9, 2012
Map of Boomer Lake in Stillwater, OK
Map of Boomer Lake in Stillwater, OK | Source

Surprisingly, the average person that isn’t at all interested in birds can recognize many of them. There are gulls, cardinals, blue jays, hawks, eagles, crows, herons, gold finches, pigeons, owls, swans, ducks, vultures, robins, chickadees, parrots, and canaries. When it comes right down to it, those are quite a few birds for people that don’t even care to learn more.

With a little reading, coaching and memorizing pictures, one could learn about even more amazing birds. If you make an effort to learn more than the 17 birds that I already mentioned, you open up an entirely new world out there. It isn’t just a list of birds any more, it becomes akin to the wonders of nature, a balance to our lives, and the mystery of nature begins to open even wider.

Birdwatching is a sport, yes, a SPORT, and it is for everyone. It can be as simple as tossing out a few breadcrumbs, or as complex as trotting all over the globe to make that Life List. Most of us are in between those two extremes, and we call ourselves birdwatchers.

To get started in this wonderful sport of bird watching, we need a couple of necessary things. The first is a good bird guide, and might I suggest the Peterson’s series, for those books are excellent. National Geographic and the Audubon Society also have good field guides.

Mute Swan
Mute Swan | Source

Once you have these two items you can get down and serious about your birds. Read your field guides and get familiar with some of your local birds. These guides have maps of the US, so you can see what will be local to your area. Learn the basic characteristics of the bird families. Take a look at the Anatidae, the waterfowl. They all have webs between the front three toes, and somewhat broad, flattened bills. Waterfowl nest in fresh water, but many will move to salt water in the non-breeding season. All North American members of this family molt their flight feathers and become flightless for about a month at the end of breeding season. These are your swans, geese, and ducks.

Canada Goslings
Canada Goslings | Source

Within each family of birds are the species, to which there are several. To determine a bird species, the identifying characteristics are known as field marks. Sometimes one characteristic is sufficient for a proper identification, but more often, it requires quite a combination.

Now to complicate things a little, male, female, and juvenile birds have different plumage, and it could even change during summer and winter.

Other identifying features that are important include size, flight characteristics, shape, and posture.

Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher
Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher | Source

The “jizz” is overall impression of birds, which include a combination of field marks, shape, behavior, and just that special “feeling.” Jizz includes the long, shovel shaped bill on the Northern Shoveler. This is how we recognize certain birds at a brief, and casual glance. Jizz will give you the product of experience. Give it a little time.

Bird sounds are also very important, and I feel that the best thing for this, is to hear them out in the field while you observe them. If you want a head start in the winter, go to the Cornell Ornithological site, and listen to pre-recorded sounds.

Don’t try to memorize every bird in the field guide. Start off with the birds in your area, then build from there as you gain experience. This is meant to be fun, but like anything else, it will take a little work. But since you have an interest in birds, anyway, it won’t be a lot of work, it will be pleasurable. If you are planning a trip somewhere in a couple of months, do a little research on what birds are in that area, and where. If you are going to the coast, look up the birds on that particular coast and study them.

Double-Crested Cormorants "Koffee Klatch Klub"
Double-Crested Cormorants "Koffee Klatch Klub" | Source

Now, migration time is a different story. Expect to see anything out there, but it will help if you happen to be with an experienced birder to help you learn. It is very easy to become overwhelmed during this period. It might be nice to have a camera along, too, so you can document what you have seen. Believe me, it is easy to forget details when you are seeing new birds for the first time, and that could be a good number of them, too.

If you have a birding organization in your state, like the National Audubon Society, they provide nature walks and field trips. If you go this route, you can learn where certain birds tend to hide. It is very beneficial if you know this first.

I do believe that this is enough information to ingest for the time being. Until next time, try to practice what I have mentioned here. This will help you get into the “swing of things,” so to speak. Above all, enjoy yourself. If you have any questions, or comments, please don’t hesitate to ask.

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    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Keep up the good work, Jackie. And let me see a picture or two...

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 5 years ago from The Beautiful South

      I have bird watched probably all my life but only since seeing your hubs have I taken a real interest in photographing them. You do have a special touch.

    • aviannovice profile image
      Author

      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      You know, gamby, I just couldn't resist calling it that, with the way those birds hang together.

    • gamby79 profile image

      gamby79 5 years ago

      Love the idea of the birdwatcher's club! Great information you have shared! NEVER in my life would I have ever thought I'd say I love the KKK but the Koffee Klatch Klub is a riot! Voted up on all!

    • aviannovice profile image
      Author

      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      My camera is just a step above a point-and-shoot, CC. You'll notice different birds and different calls while you are out and about. If you like birds, it will all come naturally to find the time.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Birds have different sounds for different things. I bet that if you listen more, you will hear an even larger vocabulary that you never noticed before.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks, Johan!

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      DC Cormorants can be rather entertaining. Glad you enjoyed that pic. It is one of my favorites.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      You're so right, pagesvoice. It's wonderful that you hae so many things to house your birds, plus feed them. Katedr I plan to give tips on what plants and shrubs to plant to attract them. They like running water, so if you can get a fountain or something to move the water that you do have.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks for the tip, Letitia! Had you not mentioned the European bird guide, I never would have known. Thank YOU! Sounds like you have many birds in your area. Definitely go to the Cornell Ornithology site and listen to the various bird calls on the specific birds. They will come second nature, so you won't even need to see there bird. Hearing it is half the game!

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks, moonlake. Many people that have contacted me are beginners and don't know where to turn. Hence, I began where I thought the beginning was, so let's see where that goes, unless people want me to take a different direction.

    • cclitgirl profile image

      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      Fun information! I've always wanted to get into bird watching more....but I can barely keep up with the hobbies I have. That's why I want to live 900 years because there are so many wonderful things to discover about this life for sure. :D Oh, and I think you have a secret item on your bird watching list: an awesome camera! Hehe.

    • shiningirisheyes profile image

      Shining Irish Eyes 5 years ago from Upstate, New York

      You made reference to bird sounds and that reminded me of a question I have. I notice there is a different sound the birds around my property make in the morning compared to the evening. Or is this just my imagination?

    • Johan Smulders profile image

      Johan Smulders 5 years ago from East London, South Africa

      Ecellent introduction to birding!

    • sallieannluvslife profile image

      sallieannluvslife 5 years ago from Eastern Shore

      Great tips, Deb...Thanks! I love the Koffee Klatch Klub! :)

    • pagesvoice profile image

      Dennis L. Page 5 years ago from New York/Pennsylvania border

      Voted up, awesome, useful and interesting. You put together a comprehensive article to coax the reader in the right direction regarding birds and bird watching. My property is filled with several birdhouses I have made and bird feeders. There is so much joy in listening to my feathered friends and watching their antics. I can't imagine someone not enjoying the beauty of birds in flight.

    • LetitiaFT profile image

      LetitiaFT 5 years ago from Paris via California

      I'm so glad you mentioned to start off with birds in your area. Opening a field guide for the first time can be daunting, but if you start with the birds around you, much less so. I'm amazed at what I can see on the noisy boulevard outside my window in the middle of the city (Paris). Rock doves (city pigeons) of course, but also woodpigeons that nest in the tree outside my window where carrion crows usually eat their eggs before they hatch. Then there are the sparrows, blue tits, magpies and jays. If I cross the bridge around the corner there are mallard ducks, wagtails and sometimes grey herons and cormorants on the river. The bridge leads to the Tuileries gardens with starlings, blackbirds and more discreet treecreepers. At the end of the park is the Louvre museum where swallows build nests under sculpted overhangs and kestrels nest high up in the hollows they find. I hear it's the same in New York city, so it must be all the more so outside the city! There's plenty of opportunity. Thanks for the encouragement to take advantage of it. If you've got tips on learning to recognize birds by their calls, I'm interested!

      P.S. My I suggest for your readers in Europe that you add Lars Jonsson's Birds of Europe to your list of field guides?

    • moonlake profile image

      moonlake 5 years ago from America

      Lots of good information for bird learning how to bird watch. I bought a bird guide long ago and I still use that book. Once in a while we see something we don't recognize or we just want to look up information on a bird that may hang out in our yard. Great hub. Voted up.