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The HubPages Birdwatcher's Club: Watching the Birds
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Cornell Lab of Ornithology, We use science to understand the world, to find new ways to make conservation work, and to involve people who share our passion. We offer help for birders through All About Birds website on all bird info, questions, etc.
And For Our European Birders...
- Amazon.com: Birds of Europe (Helm Field Guides) (9780713652581): Lars Jonsson: Books
Birds of Europe (Helm Field Guides) [Lars Jonsson] on Amazon.com. *FREE* super saver shipping on qualifying offers. A highly illustrated guide covering all but a few of the Western Paleactic's breeding birds, and includes information on all regularly