ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Birding Identification 101

Updated on December 27, 2013

Some South African Kingfishers

The easily identified largest Kingfisher-Giant Kingfisher
The easily identified largest Kingfisher-Giant Kingfisher | Source
The Pygmy Kingfisher-notice the blue crown does not reach the eye line
The Pygmy Kingfisher-notice the blue crown does not reach the eye line | Source
Brown-hooded Kingfisher, often seen in our garden.
Brown-hooded Kingfisher, often seen in our garden. | Source
Malachite Kingfisher- notice the blue crown extends to the eye line
Malachite Kingfisher- notice the blue crown extends to the eye line | Source
Woodland Kingfisher- not found in our area.
Woodland Kingfisher- not found in our area. | Source

The first thing that you need to know is that identifying the many different birds in an area is a very difficult project to undertake. There are certain birds that are easy to recognize because you have seen them so often and you know them by name and sight. In birding terms you are familiar with their “jizz”. This word is taken from the acronym GISS used in the war to identify planes in the sky and stood for “general information about size and shape .Today birders have adapted that acronym to JIZZ and is stands for”general size, shape and appearance”. The Cape Wagtail that regularly looks for grubs and worms on your lawn is probably known by everyone in the family as a “Waggie” because of its unique behaviour of wagging its tail as it walks.

The bird that nests under the eve of your house is obviously a Swallow because of its swallow shape, size, kind of nest and behaviour. What kind of Swallow it is however becomes more of a challenge. In our area there are several different species of Swallow that arrive as summer visitors from the north.

If we look carefully at the two small Kingfishers in this area there are two ways of deciding if it is Malachite or a Pygmy Kingfisher. Habitat will be the first indicator. If the Kingfisher is perched or flying over water it is probably Malachite because this species feeds on fish and other aquatic food. The Pygmy is found in wooded areas or gardens because it feeds on insects and grubs. The other indicator is the size of the blue crown and how far it extends next to the eye. Otherwise the coloring and size of the two smallest kingfishers is very similar.

There are a few essential pieces of equipment needed by anyone wanting to become a more serious birder; a pair of binoculars is essential in order to see the bird more clearly and a field guide to find the bird’s actual name. Many different field guides are available at the local bookshop and here personal preference needs to dictate which one you choose. Buy the best field glasses you can afford and ones marked 40x10 or 35x8 are the most popular.

A small notebook and pencil/pen is important to take notes and many birders now days also carry a digital camera to record an image of a bird that they cannot easily identify in the field, for later research. If you can afford it then a smart phone or tablet with a copy of your local bird field guide is very helpful. Some South African Birders have the latest Roberts at their finger tips giving them a lot of information on birds/calls/distribution and everything else you may need in the field.

The first question that comes into the picture when you spot a particular bird is what general kind of bird is it? Here size and what it is doing becomes important. General features like shape of bill and colours then assist with further identification. In the Southern African area most field guides group the 930 plus birds into about 25 general groups that would include water birds, raptors, sunbirds, waders, doves, sea birds, cisticolas,warblers, etc. Some of these groups are large (raptors) and some are small (kingfishers). The larger groups are then further divided into subgroups. The raptors for example are divided into vultures, eagles, buzzards, Hawks, Kites, etc.

Once you have established what kind of bird it is you then move on to a more specific diagnosis. If it is a Swallow, which of the swallows in your area is it? Using your field glasses note as many specific characteristics as you can. Often birds do not hang around for a long time and so note down what you see, either in your mind or preferably in your note book. A sketch is very useful showing any markings that you notice. Two of the local Swallows have a striped belly and so this is important to note. Are the markings well defined or not? That will tell you if it is a Lesser Striped Swallow or a Greater Striped Swallow. Be careful however! The name Lesser Striped or Greater Striped refers to the size of the Swallow and not how distinct its stripes are. In fact the more clearly marked one is the Lesser Striped Swallow.

As you become more skilled you will also know what birds are likely to be found in your area. What the bird is doing and what the habitat is that it is found in are further clues in identifying it. Some bird species are so close in appearance that it is only by identifying the call that they can be told apart.

The more you look at birds through your field glasses, the more you note distinctive features and the more that you then check those features in the field guide the more skilled you will become. Many birders keep a life list of birds that they see. Lists for specific areas and trips can also be fun. Others simply like watching birds and their behaviour. The beauty of being a birder is that you can practice the hobby at many different levels.

It is very helpful to join your local Bird Club and go on organized outings with more experienced birders who are usually very helpful towards newcomers. Good luck as you join the many people all over the world who are taking up this fascinating and challenging pastime.

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • Johan Smulders profile imageAUTHOR

      Johan Smulders 

      4 years ago from East London, South Africa

      Glad you enjoyed it, thanks for commenting!

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Very nicely done, Johan! I liked the fact that you used you varied kingfishers as an example here. Splendid work.

    • Johan Smulders profile imageAUTHOR

      Johan Smulders 

      4 years ago from East London, South Africa

      Thanks for your kind comment and I am glad it was useful.

    • Genna East profile image

      Genna East 

      4 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      I’ve sometimes wondered how bird identification is actually accomplished. Thank you for this knowledgeable and common sense approach. And your photos are simply beautiful!

    • Johan Smulders profile imageAUTHOR

      Johan Smulders 

      4 years ago from East London, South Africa

      Thanks for your kind comments Faith Reaper. God Bless!

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 

      4 years ago from southern USA

      Fascinating hub on bird identification! Thank you for your informative hub and beautiful photos!

      Enjoyed the read.

      Up and more and sharing

      Blessings, Faith Reaper

    • Johan Smulders profile imageAUTHOR

      Johan Smulders 

      4 years ago from East London, South Africa

      Thanks for the comment.

    • The Examiner-1 profile image

      The Examiner-1 

      4 years ago

      This was very informative Johan. It reminded me of when I was learning about the birds when I started in my backyard years ago. Those were beautiful photos and shots. This definitely gets a 'thumbs up'!

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)