The Cornell Lab Bird Academy Discussion Groups Joy of Birdwatching Activities: Bird ID Practice

    • Tricia
      Participant
      Chirps: 6
      Activity 1:  Australian Raven and Pied Currawong are similar in size and colouring.  The major difference in shape is that the Raven has a shaggy bunch of feathers at the front of its throat. Activity 2:  Australian Magpie, Magpie Lark and Pied Currawong are all black and white birds.  The Magpie has white on its nape, shoulder, and rump, with a band on its wing.  The Magpie Lark has a white belly and a white stripe down the side of its head as well as a band on its wing.  The Pied Currawong just has a white stripe on its wings and white underneath its tail. Activity 3: On my walk tis morning I saw a Little Black Cormorant diving for food in a small lake, an Australian Magpie sitting on the ground sing its beak to explore its surroundings looking for food, and a Red Wattlebird in a shrub looking for nectar. Activity 4: One of my favourites, and a regular visitor to my garden is the Galah.  They are parrots, larger than a crow, but smaller than a goose.  The have grey wing and back, with a pink body, neck and face.  They also have a crest, which is a paler shade of pink.  They are common throughout Australia, all year round.  Their voice is a very harsh screech (although not as harsh as the Sulphur Crested Cockatoo!)
    • Joseph
      Participant
      Chirps: 4
      I went with American Goldfinch.
      • They're tiny little songbirds.
      • The male has a bunch of black-white zebra stripes on his wings.
      • The male also has a cheery little black cap on his head.
      • And, oddly enough, they like to be at the veeeeery top of tall trees, or at least on a jutting-out branch.
      (this was Activity 4)  
    • mei
      Participant
      Chirps: 2
      This is exercise 4.  One of my favorite birds is spotted towhee, the one of the first I learned to identify .  Its size is between a sparrow and a robin.  It has rust colored flank, white belly, black head/hood, black wings with white spots, and devilish looking red eyes.  It likes to forage in the low shrub and on the ground, but will perch at a higher branch to sing.  I don't know how to describe its sound other than to say that it is a very loud and distinctive trill.  It uses both feet to scratch away leaves or dirt to find its food.  So in an area with lots of dried leaves and other debris son the ground, between its song and its foraging technique, it's easy to "hear" and ID it even without being able to spot it right away. DSC_0401
    • susan
      Participant
      Chirps: 1
      671EAA97-332E-4EFD-AE1A-A1D4E83F623DE68712A0-6A63-45EF-88F7-0E455ECBC53FA spotted towhee in my yard.  We’ve never had this kind of bird before.
    • Meg
      Participant
      Chirps: 8
      I downloaded Merlin and used it to identify a barred owl and a gray catbird. The catbird was trickier because I was trying to identify it by size and color, and it didn't even come up as an option. I finally had to snap a photo of it, which quickly helped me identify it.  I've never heard of a gray catbird before, so I was happy to learn something new.
    • Eric
      Participant
      Chirps: 12
      ACTIVITY 2: The past July 14, 2020, I went to a natural reserve in Ponce, Puerto Rico because the previous day a man reports a Gull-billed Tern on eBird (rare in PR and a potential LIFER for me). Upon my arrival, I began to search for my Gull-billed Tern. Among a lot of birds, I was able to quickly identify Least Terns, Roseate Terns, Royal Terns, Sandwich Terns, Wilson's Plover, Ruddy Turnstone, Black-necked Stilt, White-cheeked Pintal, and other. Two terns caught my attention as they seemed to be the Gull-billed Tern. I took photos to ID the bird but, to my surprise, these two birds proved to be juveniles of Roseate Tern and Sandwich Tern. So, I lost my possibility to get a LIFER. No Gull-billed Tern for me for now. IMG_4228IMG_4250
    • Kathy
      Participant
      Chirps: 3
      Activity 1:   I went out for a walk and saw some birds  with forked tails.  I was able to find them in Merlin  as barn swallows. ( I had never noticed them before)   I also went to the park today and  saw a larger  bird flying above with reddish tail feathers and identified it as a red tail hawk.     I had never paid much attention to the shape of birds tails, body shape, and size before, so it has been good to be more observant of these things. There were many different birds at the park, but too far away or too fast to get a good photo to put into Merlin.   I took a photo of a large black bird on the top of a tall tree.  I thought it was probably a crow, but wanted to see what Merlin said- it said it was a wood duck, which I thought was funny, as there was no water around the park.
    • rita
      Participant
      Chirps: 15
      My favorite bird is the American Goldfinch. It is a bright yellow bird with black and white marking on its wings, white coloring on the underside of its wing, a black patch on its forehead that comes down to the top of its beak and extends up to the crown of its head. The black patch also extends horizontally to the eyes and the top of the cheeks. It is a small bird with a cheerful chipping sort of sound and it loves thistle and coneflower seeds and really seeds of all kinds. It will perch on various flowers it is so light. It's feet are a pale orange and it's beak is a slightly brighter orange. Its tail is a medium length, about half the length of its body, and the beak is short, pointed, but with a wider base- a typical finch beak. The female is less brightly colored, but is still a softer yellow, a sort of wash of color. There is a light brown coloring mixed with the pale yellow, and the female doesn't have a black head marking, and there is less black in the wing. According to Audubon, the goldfinch will also drink maple sap and eats some insects, but mostly seeds.
    • E halg.
      Participant
      Chirps: 3
      barn owl medium buff wings and back with white front black,gray speckles, night carnivore
    • Kimberly
      Participant
      Chirps: 9
      A bird I really like- we had a Junco fly into our kitchen yesterday through an open window. He actually let my husband gently catch him to set him free outside. Small bird with a long tail. His beak is small and pointy. Dark grey color with a white belly. We are on a small island in Maine with forest and meadow habitat. I believe this bird is a seed eater. Beautiful. A Dark Eyed Junco.
    • Kimberly
      Participant
      Chirps: 9
      I also heard an Alder Flycatcher... Cool!
    • Kimberly
      Participant
      Chirps: 9
      2823779E-96A3-4F0C-96A3-4CE2A41AA486Activity 1- This Ring Necked Pheasant was in my yard this morning. Also observed a flying medium sized bird with a longish tail and dark color. It was either a brown headed cowbird or a starling.
    • Dory
      Participant
      Chirps: 3
      Activity 3 (Observe birds searching for food) House finches: Visiting the hanging feeders, usually in groups of two to five at a time. They are always up on the feeder, never on the ground. They usually want the seed and fruit mix, sometimes thistle, not suet cakes. Chipping sparrows: Usually on the ground, they did visit the feeder a time or two for the seed and fruit mix. On the ground they forage under the feeder and also on the paved driveway and in shallow grass and weeds. They seem to be eating both seeds and insects. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds: The hummers were at the feeders drinking sugar syrup and at the hostas and cardinal flowers, but I saw something else today that surprised me. In an azalea bush near to where I was sitting was a spider web. A hummingbird approached the web and picked three little insects out of the web! Poor spider did all the work, only to have her dinner snatched from her plate! American Robin: The robins were foraging on the ground in a shady lawn area. I saw one take something wriggly (a grub, maybe?) from the ground and then perch on a tree branch to eat it. Robin 04
    • DeAnn
      Participant
      Chirps: 1
      I’ve been using the Merlin app for about four months and it’s what ultimately lead me to this course. I’ve found the app quite helpful and fun to explore the birds, even to help learn the different songs. Great course so far!
    • Haruko
      Participant
      Chirps: 2
      Activity 2:  interesting to identify house wren and Carolina wren.  I can tell them apart if the lighting is good, but it's difficult in poor lighting.  Read the description of both birds on Merlin - it says the tail of Carolina wren is as long as the body, while the tail of house wren is shorter.  Nice tool for ID'ing!
    • rita
      Participant
      Chirps: 15
      Activity #2- red-winged blackbird, robin, downy woodpecker, all have red markings on different parts of their body. The red-winged blackbird has a red band on its wing, the robin a red chest, and the downy woodpecker has a red cap. Activity #3- birds looking for food. Not all of these were today. In the spring after the wrens hatch there is always a time when I am keeping an eye out for crows, as they steal and eat the young. This year, a pair of robins nested in the euonymous along my back fence, and the male was continually chasing out predators, and I am afraid the crows may have gotten their first clutch at least. I never saw any fledglings. And one crow captured a baby rabbit and flew away with it. The crows are very devious, and once they know where a nest is, or for that matter a group of baby rabbits, they will be back for another meal. Last fall there were various kinds of woodpeckers all over the yard looking for insects. They even tried to get insects out of old garden stakes that were still up.  Lately there have been many goldfinches lighting on the Black-eyed Susans in my rain garden looking for seeds, and an unknown brown bird has been foraging for insects or seeds in the ground. I thought that I saw one of them fly away with a big worm in its mouth this morning, but was not sure. Previously I had thought that they were seed gatherers. I haven't been able to I.D. this bird. It is not new to the area- I have had them follow me around as I weed in the garden or even follow me around as I use the trimmer to trim the weeds. I think that they may be  juveniles, as they are very drab in their coloring, and I cannot find them in any book. I have a Rufus hummingbird that I see almost daily feeding on various flowers around the garden- Another yearly occurrence is something I refer to as a sort of sparrow party. When the seeds from the goatsbeard are ripe, the sparrows form a group around the plants and hop upwards to grab at the seedheads. They also will do this with millet. It is quite a lovely sight to see-  And of course, after I water the vegetables in the morning, the robins come out to look for worms. I may take a hike and redo this activity in an outdoor space less familiar to me. I will likely have a very different set of birds.
    • rita
      Participant
      Chirps: 15
      Activity #1 finding birds either outside or on bird cams and distinguishing them by their shapes only. Hairy Woodpecker, Cardinal, Common Grackle, and mourning dove on the Cornell Feeder Webcam. All have very different shapes- shapes and lengths of beaks, amount of tail feathers and lengths of tails, length of necks, roundness of heads, and overall size. Hairy woodpeckers and Cardinals are rather medium sized. I also saw a hummingbird- very tiny with long bill and short tail. Mourning doves and grackles may be nearer in size, but the roundness of the dove's body and the length of its neck, which is on the longer side of medium, and the roundness of its head, not to mention the type of beak of each are all distinguishing features. The dove's head is strikingly small in comparison to its body, and quite spherical. Although grackles have a medium sized beak it is broader and more aggressively used than the dove's, which is thin and long. The grackle body is oval, their heads are prominent, with very little neck, and their tails are medium length. The cardinal has a tuft on its head and a short, pointed but wider beak. The hairy woodpecker has a longer and pointier beak, a medium body size with a short neck, and a short tail.  Also a smallish oval head.
    • David
      Participant
      Chirps: 1
      I'm from Melbourne Australia, and enjoying the course so far; I hope Merlin works for Australia as it appears very useful for the beginner like me!
    • Sarah
      Participant
      Chirps: 1
      We recently had our backyard bulldozed for a redo of the yard. Left standing is a large old olive tree and a couple of other trees. The olive has a bee hive in a cavity in one of the trunks. I have been seeing a couple of crows flying into the yard and tiptoeing around the base of the tree. I wonder if they like honey? They move around to the back of the tree where I lose sight of them and then I see them quickly fly away and land on a utility wire nearby. I’m curious about what they might be doing. Is it the honey, the bees, or something else they’re after? I live in Redlands, CA 80 miles east of Los Angeles. Sarah
    • Eva
      Participant
      Chirps: 9
      Activity 4: A bird I really liked was the blue-crowned Motmot:DSCN1487 The Motmot is between the size of a sparrow and the size of a crow; it is around a foot tall. It has distinctive blue tail feathers, which end with feathers that seem almost separated from the actual tail feathers. We saw the Motmot in Carara National Park in Puntarenas, Costa Rica.
    • Shauna
      Participant
      Chirps: 3
      Activity 1: I often distinguish bushtits from chickadees - they flock together - by their shape. The bushtit is somewhat smaller and has a long tail for its body. Chickadees are a big stouter. Activity 2: Robins and their close relative the varied thrush have such similar colours, but in different places. Robin red breast is a good way to tell them apart. But it's hard for me not to factor in other clues like their sound and habitat. Varied thrushes are so shy - they rarely leave the forest and they have this high, reedy call which sends shivers down my spine. I love them! Activity 3: Look for three different birds that are searching for food today. Well, it's always fund to watch crows on the seaside. They'll pick up shells and drop them, to get at their innards. And you can often find an oyster catcher - not only by their bright orange beaks but by the crows congregating around them looking for a free meal. Seagulls also scavenge and use similar tactics. They'll even eat starfish. It takes them hours to swallow one and I couldn't believe it when I first spotted a seagull with starfish legs spilling out of its beak - hilarious. Towhees are adorable - you'll hear one before you see it, because they like to thrash around in leaf litter, looking for critters. Activity 4: I guess a favorite bird would be the harlequin duck. It is smaller and sleeker than a mallard - more like a wood duck in size and shape. The male's markings are so distinctive (white spots and stripes as well as the chestnut sides), which is why they're named after clowns. They nest inshore during the summer so living on the coast as I do, I only see them between October and May/June. I look forward to their return and know exactly where to find them, in a sheltered bay. They are not wimps however. If the seas are raging, they're gamely out there surfing the waves; they plough right through them. They tend to dive repeatedly, a pattern you can see from afar, as they flip their tails up before heading down. They don't make much sound - occasionally, I will hear a high-pitched squeak. That seems to be true of the ocean-going ducks overall. While it's hard to have a favorite, I adore these guys.chickadeedownload (1)download (2)
    • Lisa
      Participant
      Chirps: 15
      My new favorite bird is the Black Phoebe. We only noticed it here recently, perched in the distance. At first it seemed to be just grey and we could not figure out what it was. After looking for a few days we determined it was sized between a sparrow and a crow, had a blacker head and white on it’s belly. The tail was narrow and also black. Merlin helped us make the positive ID. It will perch for a while then swoop down. There seem to be two. We are still watching to learn more about this bird.
    • Activity 1: Look for two birds (either outside or on Bird Cams) that you can tell apart just by shape. Try to identify them using Merlin or a field guide. Share your findings in the discussion. My two birds were a rock pigeon and a Glaucous-winged Gull, which I've always known as a seagull.  The shapes are actually soemwhat  similar between the two birds. Though the Gull is larger than the pigeon, both have large bodies and smaller heads. The gull has a long beak  that is about the same size as its head. The pigeon has a short beak, smaller than its head. The gull has long legs and the pigeon short legs. Activity 4: Pick your favorite bird, and see if you can describe it using at least three of the bird ID strategies (size and shape, color pattern and markings, behavior, habitat and range, and sounds). Share your description in the discussion.   My favorite bird at the moment is the red winged blackbird. This bird has a really lovely song that captured my attention. The bird is smaller than a crow and larger than a sparrow. It has a roundish body and no discernible neck. it has a short, stout beak. The ones I see on my daily walks are solid black with a red cap on its upper wings, trimmed with yellow.  The two I regularly see are in the same bushes every day. Each bush is growing over the water on a lake. I've only seen them flying or perched in the bushes.
    • Ken
      Participant
      Chirps: 3
      20180505_150518A I want to give a shout out to one of my favorites, the mourning dove.  They are just so chill!  Love to watch them strut around our deck gobbling up the millet and such that other birds drop from our hopper feeder.  Or they'll just sit on the rail taking in all the flurry of action at the feeders.  Nothing fazes them (except maybe another mourning dove that tries to grab their seed).  And then they'll go back to the woods and start cooing away.  Love their round gray medium sized bodies with the black spots (including the big round dark eyes), their big feet and stubby little legs. Btw, CLO has a neat online page called "What Bird are you Most Like" https://cornelllabpgstore.com/what-bird-are-you-most-like-all-outcomes/.   I was a great horned owl and my wife was the mourning dove, so there you go! Very much enjoying the course that my son (with two degrees from Cornell!) got me for my birthday.
      • Shauna
        Participant
        Chirps: 3
        Oh thank you - I love them too! Their haunting sound is beautiful - when I hear the song of a ring-collared dove (our local guy), I instantly think back to amazing times in the American southwest and the lovely mourning doves.
    • Janita
      Participant
      Chirps: 3
      B151CB90-9ED6-4156-B363-98E36BB92A749C22512F-3543-4C93-8F3A-62ECB69386F90FAEBE34-16F4-42FA-BADD-CEB2B871636DActivity 2.  1 is a white-breasted nuthatch, 2. Catbird. 3.  Mockingbird