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

    • Sophia
      Participant
      Chirps: 3
      9EA9F110-A785-4AEF-8ECA-13424A7AEDDB_1_105_cC2CC6579-FF2D-4963-856C-C3432FE6F587_1_105_cI looked around my house and was able to take photos of and ID a Northern Cardinal and American Robin.  I used my camera because I don't have binoculars yet––and I learned how much of a challenge bird photography is!  I'd love to get better at it.  I used the Merlin app to identify them by color (both have red and black) but I think the app distinguished them based on behavior.  The robin was on the ground while the cardinal was on a branch.
    • Terri
      Participant
      Chirps: 1
      i used Merlin yesterday to identify a bird i had never seen in my yard before.  It was a ground feeder , black and gray and i identified it as a gray catbird.  exciting
    • Madge
      Participant
      Chirps: 1
      I googled live bird cams in my area. Who knew??  The live eagle cam captured an anhinga (water fowl) in the water below the nest.
    • Marcia
      Participant
      Chirps: 7
      Activity #1: I'm not very good  identifying birds by shape, but even I can tell a Northern Cardinal from a Robin based on shape! Activity #2: For the colour activity, I chose three birds that we see in our backyard that each have some red on them. Male Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers have red on their forehead and throat. Female Northern Cardinals have red on their beak, crest, wings and tail. And male Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks have red on their throat and neck. fullsizeoutput_23deP1030217fullsizeoutput_2524 Activity #3: Today I watched a Nuthatch feed by going headfirst down a trunk. A Goldfinch ate seed from our feeder. And a Robin pulled a worm from the ground. Activity #4: I took a walk this morning through a large town-owned field that has nesting boxes for Tree Swallows. These beautiful birds are about the size of a sparrow. They have stunning iridescent blue backs, while their underparts are white and their wings look black. They are very fast and agile flyers, swooping to feed on flying insects. To me, their song is a very high-pitched chirp that reminds of a piccolo.
    • Luis
      Participant
      Chirps: 29
      Activity 4: Harlequin Duck (Histrionicus histrionicus) - Smaller than a Mallard but larger than a Bufflehead - Diving duck -  Both male and female have a small white dot well behind the eye as well as a large white spot that extends down were the eye is until the base of the bill - Males are mottled with orange, blue, and white -Females are mainly a dull light brown IMG_9454IMG_9319
    • Theresa
      Participant
      Chirps: 6
      Activity 1: birds I can ID by their shape.  Mourning doves have a distinctive shape especially when compared to the many finches and sparrows commonly seen in my neighborhood; their long tails and small heads are their most recognizable features.  On the other hand, a robin is much more proportionate; its tail is neither long nor stumpy, and its head looks like the right size for its body. Activity 4: describing a favorite bird using mulitple strategies.  A red-winged blackbird looks like what it's called: solid glossy black overall, with a squarish patch of red on its "shoulder" or the top of its wing.  I always think of it as an epaulet.  :)  It's around the size of a robin.  I see and hear them in areas where different habitats come together, for instance on the edges of a field or meadow that's bordered by trees, or in the tall grass in and around ponds or wetlands.  The males are often out and about while the females stay undercover.  It took me forever to figure out that the small brown birds darting through the high grass around the pond in a favorite local park are not sparrows but female redwinged blackbirds.  Their song is somehow both shrill and guttural, and I've seen it phoneticized in field guides as "kon-ka-REE," but recently I realized it also sounds uncomfortably like "quart-an-TINE," lol.  My favorite thing about their song is when I can hear multiple birds calling and responding to one another, for instance when I'm walking down a long straight path and I can hear them "telegraphing" to one another up and down the path.
    • Terry
      Participant
      Chirps: 8
      Activity 4.  My favorite bird.  Probably the cardinal!  Size smaller than robin but larger than a sparrow, red and black markings, wonderful whistle calls, to name one, and suburban habitat..
    • Terry
      Participant
      Chirps: 8
      .  Activity #1.  Telling two birds apart by shape. Woodpecker... downy vs hairy... a brief visit at the feeder today included a slightly larger woodpecker... Definitely a male hairy. His size was considerably smaller than a downy but nowhere near pileated or red bellied.  We’ve had downys off and on, but this gentleman was larger.   activity 2. Food finding behaviors. Watched the male goldfinches vie for a rug on the feeder.  So interesting to watch them push each other away.  A couple of females behaved similarly...waiting on top of the feeder pole for one to leave the wrung hummingbird passed by the nectar feeder for a go at a pink and red potted plant!   crows... are there grubs in the lawn?
    • Laurie
      Participant
      Chirps: 5
      For activity #1, I decided on the California Scrub Jay and the Black Phoebe.  I could tell them apart because the Scrub Jay had a long body and a thick, long bill, and the Phoebe had a small body and short bill.  For activity #2 I chose the House Finch, Acorn Woodpecker, and the Spotted Towhee.  The House Finch has red on its breast, and sometimes on its head.  The Acorn Woodpecker has red on its cap, and the Spotted Towhee has red on its wings.  The Spotted Towhee's coloring is more orange than red, but I will still include it in my list.  For activity #3 I chose the Oak Titmouse, the Mourning Dove, and the Common Raven.  The Oak Titmouse will peck at wood with an uneven tapping, the Mourning Dove will peck at the ground for food, and the Common Raven will hunt for food.  For activity #4 I chose the Oak Titmouse.  The Oak Titmouse pecks for food on tree branches, is small and has a brownish-gray crest, and is brown, gray, and white.  These tools have helped me so much on my birding journey and I notice them more and more every time I see a bird.  Thank you for this course!
    • Catherine
      Participant
      Chirps: 17
      The Joy of birdwatching!! I just connected with the Sapsucker Woods birdcam for the first time, and have immediately become addicted... :) When we see birds, it is usually flying overhead, or flitting through tree branches, or landing on the ground and taking off again. Seeing groups of them do this, and repeatedly.... is wonderful and very helpful in identification and behaviour observation. So I also did it.... repeatedly.... about five minutes per observation. And most of the birds were the same every time, but very varied: starlings, grackles, red-winged blacbirds, a blue jay, a mourning dove and various types of woodpeckers. I thought my biggest identification difficulties were with sparrows (I'd just about given up...) but now I realize how many similar but different types of woodpeckers there are. I think I saw three types: a hairy(?) and-or a downy(?), and possibly a red-bellied.  The other thing that surprised me was how civilly they got on together when there were many different species, and how argumentative they became when it was just the blackbirds. I wonder whether that is because they are aware that they are similar species (are they?) and see each other as rivals, but know that a mourning dove or a woodpecker is not. I took a screen shot and will try to append it... Now back to the webcam live.... :) Screenshot (139)
    • Mara
      Participant
      Chirps: 2
      American Robins have a pretty distinctive silhouette, as do Northern Cardinals. Two very similar birds I see often in my yard are European Starlings and Grackles. Both are medium-sized birds with irridescent black feathers. However, Starlings have yellow beaks and legs, while Grackles are dark all over.
      • Theresa
        Participant
        Chirps: 6
        Took me forever to be able to tell starlings and grackles apart!  I usually look at their tails: STarlings have STumpy tails and GRackles have GRand tails.  :)
    • lisa
      Participant
      Chirps: 2
      Since it is pouring out my feeders and yard are really quiet, so I checked out the BirdCams. Ironically the feeder cam at Cornell was empty also despite their diverse food offerings, but it looked a bit stormy there too. So I went to a hummingbird feeder in west texas that was swarming with what appeared to be all one species hummingbirds. Using Merlin Bird ID the black-chinned hummingbird came right to the top of the list and was obviously the correct match. MAGIC! If anyone likes to offer advise, I could use help with some frustrating experiences trying to ID bird. For instance, yesterday in urban Seattle I got a long, clear look at a bird and heard it sing its song repeatedly but could not for the life of me find a match using Merlin or any of my 5 field guides. Granted it was a really nondescript bird: a bit smaller than a sparrow, fine-bodied like a warbler with a straight, medium-length tail and a fine bill. No wing bars or other distinctive markings other than a faint-line above the eye. Was perched in a dead tree about 20' up singing a 4-note, minor-key song with rhythmic spaces between. The bird that physically matched most closely was a warbling vireo, but the call was not even remotely close to that recorded for the WV. I've had these experiences a few times and get a bit frustrated. Mind you I could really use a better pair of binoculars and maybe a camera other that my iPhone 5 :  )
    • Sheilah
      Participant
      Chirps: 10
      Activity 1: I'm pretty sure we're getting both downy and hairy woodpeckers at our suet feeder. I'm basing this on size (hairy woodpeckers are larger than downys,) and the shape of the beak (hairy woodpeckers have a beak about as long as their heads, while downys have a shorter beak.) My Merline bird ID app helped me with this, although it says hairy woodpeckers are uncommon in my area (a semi-rural setting in Northern Virginia.) Downys are common here (habitat). I've also noticed some interesting behavior with the downy woodpeckers. A male and female have been coming to the suet feeder, and the male feeds the female. Does anyone know why they would do this?
    • Heather
      Participant
      Chirps: 1
      Activity #1  I looked at the Pileated Woodpecker cam. Saw both male and female feeding. Never saw them that closely before but now I see the red on the male's cheek clearly. Also saw what I think is probably a male Brewer's Blackbird flitting in and out. Pale yellow eye, iridescent plumage and rounded tail often diamond shaped. I've only seen them in winter plumage before with less iridescence.  Flocks of them used to land on my lawn in Powell River, BC, Canada mixed in with Red-winged and a lot of Starlings.  They came around Christmas Bird count time so we used to go looking for them to add to our count.  This year, I've seen lots of Starling flocks but very few Brewers with them and no Red-wings.  I wonder if both the Red-winged and Brewers numbers are down and why?
    • Sylvia
      Participant
      Chirps: 3
      Activity#1 - in our backyard I saw a robin and a hummingbird -  easy to tell apart. activity #2 - I saw 3 black birds outside - a grackle, a starling and a cowbird. Grackle has an iridescent hood, cowbird has a brown hood and the starling has speckles of yellow throughout its body.3875D80C-EFCA-4861-8824-BB627C112E4C activity # 3 - mourning doves search on the ground for food; hummingbirds feed at the nectar feeder; yellow finch feeds at seed feeder. Activity #4 - the goldfinch is a small bird, about the size of a sparrow. The male is bright yellow with black markings on its wings. When flying it dips and swoops, intermittently flapping its wings. phew! I think I covered all the activities!    
    • Kara
      Participant
      Chirps: 6
      I am enjoying these activities, as they have helped me think about identification strategies I'm not prone to using. For reference, I'm located in the suburbs of Philadelphia, near a river and small wooded areas, so most of my sightings and activities have been regarding birds typical of this area. Activity 1: Two birds I can easily tell apart by shape are blue jays and mourning doves. Activity 2: Three birds that share the same color on different parts of their bodies are cardinals, red-wing blackbirds, and red-bellied woodpeckers. Activity 3: Behaviors of 3 birds searching for food: white-breasted nuthatch climbing down a tree, robins grazing on the ground, and eastern peewee flying out and back from a branch. Activity 4: I saw a cedar waxwing this weekend and here's how I identified it: First, I noticed it was perched high in a treetop in a grove of old-growth trees (behavior, habitat), its yellow belly visible from below. I initially considered it may be a type of warbler, but it was roughly the size of a robin (size), and in particular the yellow tip of the tail gave it away (markings). The crest and black mask only served to confirm my ID. Later that day, I recognized the high-pitched whine (sound) while outside my house and saw that three cedar waxwings decided to visit a large oak in my yard!
    • Cathy
      Participant
      Chirps: 45
      Activities 1-3:  During a walk last week, I noted around 4 grey-colored birds.  2 of them were mourning doves - which seem to be quite prevalent this Spring.  I already knew the shape/appearance of the morning dove.  But the other birds were very beautiful and I hadn't really noticed this type before (at least not close up).  Using the Merlin app, I discovered they were cat birds.  This was quite a surprise.  I didn't realize they were so beautiful. Regarding food foraging, on the same walk (if I recall correctly) I saw some robins in their typical worm retrieving behavior.  And I noticed quite a few house sparrows flittering in the grass and others just hanging out.  There were a mix of males and females - and although sparrows are quite common by my complex, the black bibs on these really stood out.  I went back to my field guide and identified them as house sparrows - which made me feel good because sparrow identification is definitely not my strong point (yet).  I realized I have much to learn about sparrow identification.   Recently, I was awoken by a very loud drumming of a woodpecker.     Although I did not see the bird, I imagined that perhaps this was the same pileated woodpecker who visited a month or so ago, just based on the loudness of the drilling.  But that is probably not alot to go on, as drilling even from a smaller one can be louder than expected.  We get alot of them in the trees by my apartment.
    • Stephen
      Participant
      Chirps: 6
      Apparently the system does not like the association of "e-r-e-c-t" and "stance" together that were used to describe the fact that the nuthatch does not have the same posture as other perching birds.
    • Stephen
      Participant
      Chirps: 6
      attempt #4 - the remainder of activity 2 which is now split into three responses; Activity 2 – White-breasted Nuthatch: “dark crown and nape; white face; gray back” [ca. 6”], narrow pointed beak, creeps down tree trunks, eats at feeders, tends to occur as one or two individuals, correct range.
    • Stephen
      Participant
      Chirps: 6
      Third attempt to get it all in: Activity 2 – three black and white birds: Chickadee: “black cap and bib; white cheeks, buff flanks” [ca. 5 ¼ “], foraging in trees or at feeders, “winter flock of 6-10 birds”, distinctive song, correct range.
    • Stephen
      Participant
      Chirps: 6
      this is part two - actually the first part of my response as I am trying to determine why the system gave me an error that I was using mature or inappropriate language? Activity 1 – distinguishing by size/shape/attitude/activity – From sightings on the Souris River at Wawanesa, Manitoba: Bufflehead & Double-crested Cormorant. Using Stokes Field Guide: Bufflehead, “small duck [ca. 14”] with a large rounded head.” Swimming in river, short neck, large white “wedge at back of dark head” range includes S. Manitoba; Cormorant, larger bird [ca. 33”] stands semi-upright on log or swims with body low in water, all black, long neck, long orange beak, range includes S. Manitoba.
    • Stephen
      Participant
      Chirps: 6
      Dark-eyed Junco: (slate coloured race), “pale bill; dark eye; whitish belly; tail dark with conspicuous white outer feathers”, [ca. 6”] , dark gray with white belly, small short heavier beak, correct range. Activity 3 – food finding behaviour: Robin – walking on ground listening probing ground; Chipping Sparrow – rapid movements along ground or in trees; House Sparrow – searching grass and leaf litter for food. Activity 4 – identify favourite bird: Raven – black, wedge shaped or rounded tail, moderate to large size, correct range, wide range of vocal croaks, squawks, mews and gargles, [you can tell when a hawk is around as there is a very rapid “Hawk, Hawk, Hawk”] spends time training up young with many lessons and determined weaning, loves to soar and play in the wind. Re: photo - We have had over 120 house sparrows at our feeder, porch and yard at one time under certain winter weather conditions. Particularly ca. -30 C., sunny, and north or northwest wind. birds Oct 15 2019 002
      • Catherine
        Participant
        Chirps: 17
        That is so lovely, Stephen!!! I'm jealous--since I join some others with the squirrel frustration. Here there are greys (majority), some with a reddish top on its back and tail, some blacks, and.... some whites. Others have said that even the so-called "squirrel-proof" bird-feeders are no match for this army. Do you not have that problem? Many of the classmates do a lot of bird-watching and identifying from their house, through their feeder: I would love to do that, too..... :(
    • Nonna
      Participant
      Chirps: 1
      It's disappointing that these discussion threads are not moderated.  Everyone posts a comment, but then there are very few to almost no responses and no responses from a moderator. This makes the discussion threads not very useful for learning -- there is no "discussion" that occurs.
    • Carolyn
      Participant
      Chirps: 9
      # 1.  My larger garden and bird feeders are on the east side of my house.  Looking east in the early morning or a bright overcast day it's often hard to see colors so I am forced to pay careful attention to silhouettes which is a real challenge with finches except for the Pine Sisken which is the smallest and often likes to feed upside down.  The Northern flicker and Downy woodpecker are easy because they are the largest and smallest of the woodpeckers.  (The Pileated is larger but has a shape all its own.)  I've learned to recognize the Downy by the size of its bill in relationship to the diameter of the head, almost more easily done when it's a silhouette.   #4. One of my favorite birds is the Chickadee of which I have two types:  Black capped and Chesnut backed.  Both have black caps and chin patches under their beaks.  A white V area spreads from the beak to the back of the cheek, only I've notieced that a few have a curved line on the top side of the "V".  By reading up on them for this assignment I learned that that is an Eastern trait as is  buffy yellowish undersides as opposed to the brownish undersides of the western Black caps so our area in the Pacific Northwest has a mixture of Blackcaps. The Chesnut backed look like they're wearing a rust colored vest.  Both tend to flit and fly fairly rapidly from branch to feeder and back around the branches (not on the ground). They only take one seed at a time and then peck at it daintily on their perch.
      • Catherine
        Participant
        Chirps: 17
        Regarding your woodpecker comment, Carolyn, I found the exercise in this lesson *very* useful: identify the woodpecker, in ten tries. It helped me "identify" the marks I needed to look at in order to identify the bird. That was the visual part--I'm going to have to go through the sound part again, am finding that more difficult for some reason: love to hear them all the time, but I guess I hear it as a concert--now I'l have to work on the solos...
    • Lara
      Participant
      Chirps: 7
      Today I took a walk and brought my binoculars, which I have recently learned how to use thanks to this course! I live on a country road in rural Massachusetts, with both wooded and meadow areas. Lots of birds and bird songs today! The first thing that happened was I heard a song that was unfamiliar to me. I stood still and looked for the bird, and then kept my eyes on it as I brought the binoculars up. But I didn't really need to look through them to know it was a Baltimore Oriole! Beautiful. It stayed with me as I walked, and kept singing that same song of an upward note and then a downward note. I started trying to copy it, and it seemed to be answering me! I also saw what I knew was a woodpecker from the coloring of black with bright red, and also because it was walking up the trunk of a tree. I was assuming it was either a downy or hairy woodpecker, and was focusing on the beak to see if I could figure out which one, and had settled on hairy. But the thing was that it seemed too big. I knew it wasn't big enough to be a pileated, but it had a red crown like the pileated. I checked Merlin, which suggested Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker. Ooo maybe! Reading about it in my book, I think that's what I saw. I learned about a new bird today. I also think that might be the drumming we hear in the evening, because the book says they are territorial and drum loudly. I also saw an Indigo Bunting today! I have caught sight of some beautiful blue birds flying in front of my car on occasion, and today I saw one through my binoculars, and got a much better look at it. I'm much more sure that it is an Indigo Bunting that I have been seeing.