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

    • Tim
      Participant
      Chirps: 3
      20200620_183657VideoCapture_20200626-200543
    • Tim
      Participant
      Chirps: 3
      20200616_091117 Hello I recently noticed a lot of birds of this sort in my backyard. Before getting the bird app and joining this course, I had gone to my hardware store and picked up a bird feeder. I already have a fountain and enjoyed seeing this little guys come around. This is the only pic so far, I feed enjoy watching all of them. I am mostly seeing: Anna's hummingbird American Crow House Sparrow House Finch Pigeons And I I believe the Bushtit as well.   Thank you for your work. I am enjoying learning more about birds and their lives.   Tim
    • Marilyn
      Participant
      Chirps: 1
      I'm pretty familiar with the birds that come to my feeder although there are fewer now that it is summer and they have lots of food options. So I really enjoyed watching the Cornell FeederWatch Cam as an alternative. Usually I find Merlin a really great help in identifying birds but it didn't seem to find one of the birds I saw today. It was about the size of a starling but shaped more like a woodpecker and having a long straight woodpecker-type of bill. It was a soft greyish/buff with some white under the chin - very non-descript coloring really but the wings lying against the back had lovely white edges on the feathers so that it showed a pattern in rows of scallops. It could have been a flicker except that it did not have the distinctive dark moon-shape on the chest. I wish I'd thought to take a screen shot. It's gone now. Any ideas from the description? It was fun to observe the differences between the Red-bellied Woodpecker and the Hairy Woodpecker both with their black and white bodies but in different patterns and the former with his full red cap while the other has just a bright red spot at the back of the head.
    • Michele
      Participant
      Chirps: 3
      Activity #2: I chose three birds that have the same shape and colors: Black Tailed Grackle, Common Raven and Brown-headed cowbirds. I used my Merlin app to figure out the differences between them. The Brown-Headed cowbird was easy to distinguish because of the brown head. The difference between the common raven and great tailed grackle was more difficult- but the tails were different and the Grackle has light eyes. I was surprised how much I am learning to pay attention to subtle differences in birds.   Activity #3: Searching for food: I watched hummingbirds in a local preserve. I think they were Anna's hummingbirds.  They were eating from bushes- I was surprised because they're were no flowers on the bushes- maybe they were finding small insects?? Also watched mallard ducks swimming and using their lower beaks as a shovel in the water- not sure what they were eating. Also back-necked stilts wading and dipping for small fish in a pond.   The Merlin app is helpful, especially when birds look alike.
    • Phil
      Participant
      Chirps: 2
      I love the Merlin app, been using it for a long time.  I have now used the photo option, and it works well. Telling the sparrows apart is always a challenge, and the combination of songs and pictures really helps.
    • Meghan
      Participant
      Chirps: 7
      For activity 1: I've been trying to identify the difference between a lesser and greater scaup. I think we have lesser scaups in the neighborhood lagoon because they don't have a noticeable feather bump on their heads. 3: Just this morning I saw a magpie try to beak my cherry tomato and starlings pecking for (aphids) on the grass underneath the birch tree. The chickadees and nuthatches prefer the feeder.
    • Liz
      Participant
      Chirps: 14
      My favourite bird is the red winged black bird. I am mostly surrounded by forest luckily this bird lives nearby in the open farm field which spread out behind the grassy bay, across the river we live on. Slightly smaller than a robin, mostly black with a bright red patch on their wings. They are very territorial at breeding time. I have seen them attack all sizes of bigger birds: crows, ravens, gulls, hawks and even eagles. They are fearless and fierce. If I try to get close enough to get a good picture they will attack me too!!!
    • Liz
      Participant
      Chirps: 14
      My birding friend came for a visit. Her binoculars always accompany her, since my home is surrounded by a variety of bird habitats: river, grassy bay, tall trees and bushes and some small open lawn area. My varied bird bird neighbours have inspired my to take this course. Usually the hairy and downy wood peckers visit the suet feeder here in the winter. DSC07593 But this summer day we noticed a different wood pecker who flitted about in the taller bare tree trunks. It seems most wood peckers are black and white with some red on their heads. How can we tell them apart? She searched with her binoculars and I hunted in my bird book. Although I know there are many hairy woodpeckers in this area all year round, this one had a black bib so we concluded it must be the yellow bellied sap sucker who is my summer visitor. But he left before I could get a picture.
    • Audrey Sue
      Participant
      Chirps: 5
      C0D9D6CA-A6E5-418A-9C99-29B10467F104Here is a gold finch at our upcycled bird feeder we mainly get song sparrows at this feeder and I love their little stripey/specled pattern of their feathers. We also get a lot of cardinals and American robins in our back yard and the occasional common grackle. Also squires and chipmunks love the seeds that fall out of the feeder. For the bird differentiating activity from a distance the male grackle and crow have similar colours but the grackle is smaller and in the sun the male grackle’s head is iridescent with beautiful blue green colour. We have also identified a downy woodpecker in the near by forest and it has similar coloration as the hairy woodpecker. for my favourite bird in the back yard I would go with “the loud one” as my 3 year old calls him. A male cardinal with beautiful red feathers with a  rear of red feathers black markings on his face and bright orange beak that is quite short and thick looking perfect for breaking into seeds which he adores to eat at our feeders. He loves purching  on the top of trees Singing his loud distinctive song (this his name) he is occasionally seen accompanied by  a female who has a paler more orange colour and the distinctive crest.
    • Hey there! Up in Toronto and went to do all the activities in the Leslie Spit which is great for birding! Here's what I found! Activity 1: To distinguish shape I was able to spot Caspian Terns and  Common Terns literally beside each other, so I could determine both birds easily! The Caspian Tern was much larger. I would say twice the size of the common Tern. Same shape but different sizes. Activity 2: For this activity I saw a lot of Killdeer, American Robins and one American Widgen. Each had black, white and orangish brown colours. The Killdeer had an orange rump black neck bands and white belly and neck. The Robin has an orange chest, white eye ring and blackish head and the Wigeon had a white forehead, black rump and an orangish back maybe not quite the colour of the robin and killdeer, but i had trouble with this one. most birds have flown through al ready. Activity 3: Was able to watch a Yellow Warbler pick a spider out of a spider web and i also saw one eating a grub. I watched a Ring-billed Gull eating a fish and Mallards eating with there tails up. Also a lot of Double-Crested Cormorants diving for fish here! its a breeding ground. Activity 4: Favourite bird is the Northern Flicker. Saw two today. Just a bit bigger than a robin, but smaller than a crow. colour pattern was buff/brown with black spots and a red patch at the back of the crown. Both were hanging around the big ponds and the wet wooded areas. perched in trees.
    • Julie
      Participant
      Chirps: 3
      although here for the birds...particularly fond of the gluttonous squirrel just laying in the seed. gluttonous squirrel at feeder
      • Audrey Sue
        Participant
        Chirps: 5
        Beautiful variety of birds in your picture I also love the squirrel
    • Julie
      Participant
      Chirps: 3
      Activity 1:  used the cornell feeder webcam in seersucker woods.  saw the red bellied wood pecker and i think the blue jay, but Merlin keeps giving me ducks to choose from when i put in the search criteria (and i am not choosing duck size, or even those colors).  But loving the webcam!
    • Aidan
      Participant
      Chirps: 6
      Activity 4: One of my favorites, Snowy Egret: Size & Shape: This is fairly important, especially if your sighting is through flight. At a glimpse, they can look very similar to gulls, as they don't have any extreme patterns or colorings to distinguish them at a distance. With a closer look, however, the shape is drastically different. Their folded neck makes the appearance of a large lump behind & below the head, and the wingspan is much greater proportionally, with wingspan superseding their size far more than any gull.  On the more obvious side of things, they are also larger than any gull or other seabird. Their dagger-like bill is also an easily distinguishable aspect to them. Color & Patterns: Snowy Egrets are pure white, with no patterns to be seen. While this can be seen as a bad thing to have a lack of field marks, there are few other birds to compare it to that have the same completely pure white, and all of them are drastically different in size & shape. Range: Snowy Egrets are only ever seen in the lower half of North America, and drift down to almost purely Mexico & surrounding areas in non-breeding seasons.
    • Entrapta
      Participant
      Chirps: 2
      Activity 2 (if a little incomplete)— lately, I’ve been in Utah enjoying the swallows and swifts from my window. I’m seeing a lot of violet green swallows and white throated swifts. Their darting around makes it hard to differentiate sometimes, but on the swift, there seems to be a band of white on the side against blotches of dark on the belly. Violet green swallows feature a much more clean break between the dark backside and the white belly.
    • Daniel
      Participant
      Chirps: 5
      Activity 1: Two species I commonly get on my feeder are Black-Capped Chickadees and White-Breasted Nuthatches. They have similar colorings, but you can tell them apart because the Nuthatches are larger and more slender, and also behave differently. Chickadees tend to perch, while Nuthatches will climb up and down the side of trees or our suet feeder. Activity 2: Downy Woodpeckers, Red-Bellied Woodpeckers, and Pileated Woodpeckers all have Black, White, and Red, but they can easily be told apart. First because of the size (Downy is smaller then Red-Bellied is smaller than Pileated), and the Pileated has a crest while the others do not. However, the color patterns are also different. Downys have only a small patch of red, white on the stomach and on spots on the wings and a white stripe on the back, and the rest is black. Red-Bellieds have red across the entire head and a ladder-like pattern of black and white on the back, also white on the stomach. Finally, Pileated have a red crest and are mostly black otherwise save for white patches on the neck and head. Activity 3: A Downy Woodpecker visited my suit feeder. Woodpeckers in general seem to really like the suet, whereas I rarely see them on the seeds. A Tufted Titmouse is now visiting my sunflower seed feeder, and they rarely visit the suet. However, we also get White-Breasted Nuthatches, which like both the seeds and the suet. Other birds, particularly Chipping Sparrows and Mourning Doves like the seeds, but tend to pick seeds from the ground that were dropped by other birds. As for birds that are looking for food on their own, we get American Robins and recently a recurring singular Wild Turkey that forage through the grass looking for worms and other insects. Activity 4: I can't pick a favorite bird, I love them all. But one bird I've been seeing alot lately is a House Wren, which has made a nest in our next box and spends alot of time on a tree outside my window. House Wrens are small bundles of energy, mostly buff colored but with some white on the stomach. They have short, upright tails and short beaks. This particular one likes to sing and is often close enough that I can see its mouth open and its throat moving.
    • Daniel
      Participant
      Chirps: 5
      I wrote a whole thing for this but then I lost it all because the site logged me out and it took like 15 minutes to write fix this site please.
      • Daniel
        Participant
        Chirps: 5
        Ok I finally retrieved it by hitting the back arrow enough, but this is still a major issue that could happen to other people, so please fix.
    • Sheilah
      Participant
      Chirps: 10
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    • Louisa
      Participant
      Chirps: 10
      Activity 4:  Earlier today I went birding at Centennial Marsh State Wildlife Management Area in Idaho.  While driving slowly along one of the perimeter roads, I was scanning the nearby vegetation.  I had moved from driving along a distinctly marshy area with patches of open water to a drier area that was slightly higher when I saw a tallish brown shape that did not look quite right for vegetation.  Looking thru my binoculars I saw an owl in the middle of the day.  The owl was rather slim and long appearing and dark mottled brown with yellow eyes framed in white feathers and two very short ear tufts.  It was one of 3 possible large or largish owls that reside in southern Idaho - great horned owl, long-eared owl, and short-eared owl.  This owl was slim so the shape eliminated great horned owl, as did it being active during the day and in short vegetation (shrub-steppe).  Long-eared owls are also slim but have long ear tufts and tend to roost in tall dense shrubs during the day.  I’m not aware of long-eared owls hunting during the day but knew short-eared owls do when the food demands of their owlets gets high enough.  Mid-June is about the right time of year for that at the elevation I was at.  My owl was indeed a short-eared owl.
      • Nan
        Participant
        Chirps: 4
        Great description of your thinking process.  I found it helpful.
    • clara
      Participant
      Chirps: 6
      Actividad 1 Las aves que encontre y pude distinguir por su forma fueron: Carpintero Andino (Colaptes Rupicola), y el Vencejo Andino (Aeronautes Andecolus), Actividad 2 Los tres pájaros que encontré que tiene el mismo color en diferentes partes del cuerpo son: Jilguero Vientre Amarillo (Spinus xanthogastrus) que tiene Capucha oscura, pecho amarillo, y alas con parches amarillos Jilguero (Spinus Atratus) que tiene pecho y capucha oscuro, alas oscuras con parches amarillos, cola interna amarilla Jilguero Lomo amarillo (Spinus Uropygialis)  que tiene capucha oscura, pecho amarillo alas oscuras con amarillo Actividad 3 Los tres pájaros que encontré buscando comida son: Pichitanka (Zonotrichia Capensis), que busca su comida en el suelo ya que como granos Picaflor Verde (Colibri Curuscans), que busca su comida en las flores tubulares ya que se alimenta del néctar de las mismas Vencejo Andino (Aeronautes Andecolus) que busca su comida volando ya que se alimenta de pequeños insectos. Actividad 4 Picaflor Cometa (Sappho Sparganura), Tamaño y forma:  de tamaño pequeño, tiene la cola mucho mas grande que los demás picaflores y el pico es más pequeño que el del Picaflor Verde (Colibri Curuscans) Patrón de color y marcas: Mascara oscura, pecho verde, cola larga con color tornazolado naranja, rojo y puntas de las plumas de la cola oscura Comportamiento:  Volando cerca a flores tubulares y posándose en los arboles cercanos a estas flores para cuidar su territorio, generalmente percha y se alimenta solo. Se alimenta del néctar de las flores, aleteo rápido.
    • Debi
      Participant
      Chirps: 1
      Activity 1:  Definitely a Robin has a different size shape from a Blue Jay. Activity 2:  I saw three different woodpeckers at my feeder-the red headed woodpecker, the red bellied woodpecker and the downy woodpecker.  And I thought a woodpecker was a woodpecker! Activity 3: Most of the birds I am watching--cardinals, finches, sparrows, blue jays, woodpeckers, wrens and thrashers-- are eating from my feeder--eating me out of house and home!  But robins definitely like the worms in the yard and the little humming bird is enjoying my hummingbird feeder. Activity 4:  I think my favorite bird is the robin because I had the opportunity to watch the couple build their next on our gutter downspouts, take turns caring for their nest and feeding their babies--they definitely were a team!  Unfortunately something got to the nest before the babies could fly. :-( But I've learned they will rebuild their nests and try again!  My second favorite is the cardinal because it is so beautiful--red is my favorite color--and they have a nice sound.
    • Hannah
      Participant
      Chirps: 8
      Activity 1: On the Cornell FeederWatch Cam, I identified a Red-winged Blackbird and a Mourning Dove, which are easily distinguishable because of their different shapes. The Red-winged Blackbird has a short neck, a slender body, short legs, and a medium beak that is straight. The Mourning Dove has a short neck, short legs, and a medium beak; however, it has a rather chunky body and it’s beak curves slightly downward. Activity 2: Three birds I have seen that have black as a part of their colour pattern are the Black-capped Chickadee, the Bluejay, and the Northern Cardinal (all males). The Black-capped Chickadee has a black crown, a black throat, a black beak, and some black in the primary feathers of the wings. The Bluejay has a black beak, a black necklace, a black eyeline, and black wing-bars. The Northern Cardinal has a black circle surrounding its beak and extending to the throat slightly. It also has a hint of black in its wing feathers. Activity 3: On the Cornell FeederWatch Cam, I observed three different birds eating from the feeders. The Common Grackle stood on the edge of the feeding trough, horizontally, and swiftly dipped its beak down to retrieve some seed, repeatedly. The Red-bellied Woodpecker also ate from the trough. It kept its beak close to the surface of the trough, pecking at the food with its beak several times before lifting its head. The Mourning Dove sat in the trough and rapidly swivelled its head up and down as it ate. Activity 4: My favourite bird lately is the Ruby-throated Hummingbird. I am trying to attract one to my backyard with a hummingbird feeder I bought, but so far I have had no such luck. It is a very small bird; smaller than a finch. It has a long, thin beak that is about twice the width of its head. Its legs are so short that they can hardly be seen. It has a ruby red throat, a green cap, and a white chest. According to my Birds of Ontario field guide, it is present in my area as a breeder from May to August and as a migrant from mid-August to mid-September.
    • Mary G
      Participant
      Chirps: 2
      Activity #1.  I don't have a comparison by shape, but I've been noticing shapes of Phoebes and Sparrows in my yard.  I watch the Phoebe's tail for "wagging " when it lights, which it often does on the lamp post or a branch.  The round little Sparrow hops around on my driveway.  It's either a Song or Chipping, not sure which.  I can't see it all that well. Activity #2.  I compared the Sparrows and the House Wren, both mostly brown.  I've only seen the wren once, though I've heard it quite a few times.  The Sparrows have black and white stripes on their heads and wings, and I noticed a bright almost orange cap on the head (chipping?).  The wren is brown all over. Activity #3.  Within the last few days I've seen the Robin walking around on the driveway pecking at this and that.  The Sparrow hops and does quick pecks.  the Phoebe flies around and I don't know how it gets it's food.  It's a flycatcher, so there you go. Activity #4.  Today my favorite is the Red Eyed Vireo.  I was hiking, and I kept hearing its cheery song above me.  I've been hearing it a lot on my hikes.  I finally spotted one without binoculars.  It was 20-30 feet up in the understory of hardwood trees, occasionally hopping from branch to branch.  It's a bit smaller than a Robin.  It seemed cheerful, and it moved around quite a bit.   It was white below with some yellow on the sides of the belly.  It had a grey cap and a black eye stripe bisecting white stripes.  The back is yellow mixed with gray.   (I didn't see all that without binoculars!). Red-eyed vireos winter in South America, and spend the breeding season much of th eastern US and some of Canada.
    • Heather
      Participant
      Chirps: 2
      I have found paying attention to shape to be helpful to distinguish between white-breasted nuthatches and mountain chickadees in my backyard. While there are definitely distinct differences in markings and behavior, the coloring is similar enough and the birds in my backyard seem to be moving all the time making it harder to catch those differences! One thing I noticed that was really helpful to distinguish between them quickly, even in movement, was the shape of their bill. The chickadees have a much smaller bill than the nuthatches. It has really helped with split second identification!
    • Margaret
      Participant
      Chirps: 13
      4. A favorite bird, perhaps partly because we can see it easily in this season in southeast Michigan, is the Tree Swallow. It has an extensive summer range in North America but migrates south for the winter. The Tree Swallow seems to be mainly an aerial forager, and it flies (with a glide) over meadows and fields to catch insects. It has very distinctive color markings, including a blue iridescent back and a clean white front and a black mask around its eyes. This bird (a male) is atop a nesting box at about 9 am, June 7, at Matthaei Botanical Gardens (University of Michigan).     treeswallow6.7.2
    • Jennifer
      Participant
      Chirps: 8
      Activity 1: We've had a lot of European Starlings, Red-winged Blackbirds, and Grackles around here. From a distance they just look black, so I go by the overall shape, specifically tail length compared to body. Activity 3: Recently I've seen the feeding habits of American Robins, Northern Flickers and White-breasted Nuthatches. The first two were ground feeders, while the nuthatch did its feeding on a tree. As an aside, several weeks ago I saw a Belted Kingfisher at a nearby pond doing it's thing. Not the quietest at the buffet line. Activity 4: White-Breasted Nuthatch: Small (and I always find a bit rotund), distinctive band across the head (not quite a full cap), and a distinctive tree climbing behavior.
      • Margaret
        Participant
        Chirps: 13
        I have been wrestling with the differences among these dark/black birds, too, especially the distinction between the Starling and Grackle.  From what I can see a Grackle has a tapered gray bill, fairly long legs, and a long black tail, with a bright yellow eye. Its feathers are dark blue in the neck and head region, and its feathers are iridescent—blue and bronzy. The European Starling has a long yellow bill, speckled brown feathers, a brown tail shorter than that of a grackle, reddish legs shorter than that of a grackle, and a duller eye. (Male) Red-winged Blackbirds, very common here in southeast Michigan near bodies of water, are black, with red shoulder patches with a yellow line and a medium-sized grayish bill. I think I found a Grackle and a Starling at the Sapsucker Woods feeder. Corrections welcome. gracklestarlingedited