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Start Birding Today: What Kind of Bird is This? (by Lee Dusing)

Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) by Daves BirdingPix
Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) by Daves BirdingPix 

What kind of birds is this? Are you kidding, Stephen, that is a wide open question? If you have been following this “Start Birding Today” series you know that Stephen, our Assistant to the Pastor, asked me to do some new articles about birding for our church blog, The Fountain. He came up with the titles and I am writing the articles. This one can go so many directions and involves more effort than our previous blogs, for me and the readers. Now we are getting into the “heart” of birding or birdwatching.

I have been encouraging you to become aware of the birds around you and to take notes about them. This is where all birders begin to learn about the birds. When you go out birdwatching it is nice to go with someone who has been birding for awhile. They can tell you the bird’s name and something about it. Even those of us who have been doing it awhile don’t know every bird. Being by yourself or just seeing one out your window brings you to this question, “What kind of bird is this? So, what do you do?

Sandhill Cranes – Adult and Juvenile in yard 8/27/10


Then God said, “Let the waters abound with an abundance of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the face of the firmament of the heavens.” So God created great sea creatures and every living thing that moves, with which the waters abounded, according to their kind, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” So the evening and the morning were the fifth day. (Genesis 1:20-23 NKJV)

This is where Bird Guides come in handy, but here in America there are over 900 species. Now begins the process of elimination. When the Lord created the birds, He did not put name tags on them, but in a way, He did. You will discover that each family of birds differs from other families, yet within families, there are different colors, markings, and subtle differences. If your bird is small and you have seen our local Sandhill Cranes, you can eliminate that whole Crane family. Most have seen a sparrow at one time. Was your bird about that size? Now you can eliminate almost the front half of your Guide. In other words, size is very important as a clue.

Blue Jay at Bok Tower by Dan's Pix
Blue Jay II at Bok Tower by Dan’s Pix

What color was it? Another clue. Most guides don’t list the birds by color, but there are some that do (The Easy Bird Guide), also on the Internet, there are places to find the bird by color. WhatBird is a great example of this. If you go to the Attributes Page you will see what are the main things to ask about the bird. Notice the list of birds above the buttons, it starts with all 924 birds. As you make selections, the number decreases and you eventually end up with just a few choices to make your selection from.

Location – Where did you see it? Florida, Georgia, etc.
Shape – Chicken like, Duck, Gull, Hawk, Hummingbird, etc.
Size – Very small, small, medium, large, very large
ColorPrimary and Secondary colors
Habitat – Was it at the coast, mountains, desert, lake, etc.
Bill Shape – All purpose, cone, curved, dagger, etc.
Bill Length – Same as head, longer or shorter than head
Wing Shape – Broad, long, pointed, rounded, tapered, very long
Backyard Feeder – Frequently or rare
Others – Order, Family, Song pattern or call.

I think for now, that is enough. We will need to cover more in another article. I have put several photos on the page which you probably already know. Try using the What Bird tools and see if you can get to the right bird. Start with the Northern Cardinal. Put in Florida for Location (924 to 362), Shape=Perching-like (362 to 165), Color Primary=Red  (165 to 8), Bill Shape=Cone (8 to 4). You now only have 4 choices to look at. Try it. As you click on the name you will see lots of information about that bird.

Links:
What Bird Tools
How to ID Birds – All About Birds
How to Identify Birds – Audubon
Bird Identification Tips – About.Com Birding/Wild Birds
How-to Videos:
How to Identify Birds
Topography (Parts of the Bird)

Other Posts in our Start Birding today Series:


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