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

    • Rod
      Participant
      Chirps: 5
      In our location (Northern Illinois),we enjoy all our backyard visitors and those we can find in our trips to local wetlands and nature preserves ! As far as those with distinct shapes to note , we have sizes and shapes  from the finches all the way up to mallards and the migratory egrets and herons and also predators that frequently raid the feeders, mainly red tailed hawks, and sharp shinned hawks.   When we are fortunate to have the waterfowl here, the size and shape come into play with the Great Egrets , and herons , as long with the hawks to help decipher them apart. As our Winter leaves us, we see groups of somewhat similar sized dark colored birds.... Grackles, Blackbirds, Cow Birds ,,,,feeding mostly on the ground under feeders.  The distinctive  red bands ease to ID of the redwinged blackbirds, the brown head/crown helps spot the cowbirds, and the iridescent blue head and crown aid in the ID of the Grackles. Feeding helps spot our woodpeckers, downy and hairy, at our peanut stations, our Northern Cardinals at our platform feeders going after striped , golden sunflower and safflower , and at this time of our early spring, both Baltimore Orioles, and Orchard Orioles at our fruit/nectar stations mainly oranges and grape jelly . Have many favorites, but must say I really enjoy the Nuthatches, both the Red Breasted and White Breasted. Love to see them visiting our feeders, taking their seed and heading to our trees and going down the trunk upside down. Also love to hear their chattering and calls when I'm out restocking the feeders !!! Wish we saw them more often !!089  
    • Allan Wilson
      Participant
      Chirps: 1
      As a backyard birder I am familiar with a dozen or so regulars, and half a dozen spring migrants who drop in for a day or days.  Some of the birds are in pairs, and so we get to know them individually (downey and hairy woodpeckers, cardinals, orioles, robins) while others form flocks (goldfinches (spring), house sparrows (by spring, 15 to 20, by fall, 40+).  Close knowledge of a limited set of birds provides a good measuring stick when observing birds in parks, on the waterfront, and so on.  The house and barn swallows in the waterfront parks, for example, are bigger than goldfinches, infinitely elegant flyers, easily identified by their forked tails and differentiated by breast colours.  I find binoculars are mostly unnecessary - the home birds are close, the park birds fly close if you stay still long enough.  Not particularly interested in lists, either.  Just find birds endlessly interesting.
    • Trevor
      Participant
      Chirps: 8
      A question as I progress through this section: Why is it that some birds can have size and color difference and still be considered the same species while others can have size and color differences but are considered separate species? For example, a song sparrow from Arizona is more lightly colored than one from British Colombia (or so I read in a Sibley book) but they are the same species whereas American Crows and fish Crows are nearly identical but are considered different species whereas eastern and western meadowlark have slightly different plumages but are consider different species. Or, another example, rock pigeons have dark and tan and white morphs but are all specifically rock pigeons. Are the species differentiated by actual DNA or genetical differences? For species who are so similar, using the song sparrow example again, are they genetically identical and simply have the slight color or feature size variations because of their local environment? As for species such as the rock pigeon where all of the variations can be seen in the same location, why are they so different assuming they are the same species?
    • Alistair
      Participant
      Chirps: 3
      1. Duck and cormorant. Cormorant, - upright posture when on land. Longer neck and longer thin bill. Smaller head. 2. Song sparrow, field sparrow and house sparrow. I find the sparrows hard to identify but the app made it much easier plus having photos to refer to. _DSC9334_DSC9239_DSC9288 3. Red-winged blackbird, - foraging on the ground. Mallard duck feeding in water. Tree swallow feeding in flight. 4. Red-tailed hawk. Large, rounded wings and tail. Red tail. Gliding, soaring in circles. Common in Toronto and resident all year.
    • Jo Anne
      Participant
      Chirps: 4
      Activity 1:  The Canada Goose is a large bird with a long neck, relatively short legs, and big feet.  The Ruby-throated Hummingbird is very small with wings moving in a blur and a very long thin bill that iBird describes as needle shape.   Activity 2:  I got lucky. Usually, I see only Robins and Cardinals wearing red. Today I also saw a Scarlet Tanager and a hummingbird. I knew their common names already, but I was surprised how easy it was to find them using Merlin. I have now learned their full names. The American Robin has an orange chest and underparts according to Merlin and rich red-brown breast according to iBird Pro. The Northern Cardinal is solid red except for its black mask and throat. Scarlet Tanager is described as being a brilliant red except for its black wings and tail. The Ruby-throated Hummingbird has a bright red throat.   Activity 4:  My favorite bird is the Common Loon. It is a large bird that spends its life in the water except when it makes a nest close to the water. It has a black bill and white breast and black and white patterns on the rest of its body. It has a striking white and black neckband, which we call a necklace. It feeds by diving underwater and can stay down for a long time. It has a number of calls, such as an eery wail, several varieties of a tremolo, and a hoot. It spends the summer primarily along the northern border of the US, and Alaska and Canada. In the winter, it migrates to the Atlantic or Pacific coast and southeastern US. In the winter, it turns mostly gray, including it’s bill, with a dull white underparts.
    • Margaret
      Participant
      Chirps: 3
      PyrrhuloxiaphainopeplaNorthern Cardinal I recently saw a pyrrhuloxia in a Sonoran desert community. It clearly had the shape and size of a Northern Cardinal but very different markings with a short yellow bill and red face and some dusty red on its wings. We also have what we call a "black cardinal" which are pretty abundant and its very distinctive- all shiny black witha red eye. So three different cardinals in the desert!
      • Aaron
        Participant
        Chirps: 16
        What you call a "black cardinal" is actually named a Phainopepla. Hope this helps!
    • Evelyn
      Participant
      Chirps: 4
      1. I had 2 different doves at my feeder same color and similar actions. One was a Mourning Dove the other was a Eurasian Collard Dove. The Mourning Dove was petite and the Eurasian Collard Dove had a larger Chunkier body and a collar around it's neck. 2. I used the Cornell web-cam at Sapsucker Woods and spotted a Red Winged Blackbird, A Red Bellied Woodpecker and a Rose-breasted Grosbeak. (Bottom right corner) I believe I got this right. This one looks like it has a more red breast than the one on the Merlin ID app. If I am wrong can someone let me know, thanks. Screen Shot 2020-05-13 at 8.06.55 AM 3. I saw a Chipping Sparrow on the ground beneath the feeder. It hops and digs. It flew into the nearby bushes when startled. I saw a Robin in my hummingbird garden. She hopped, stopped tilted her head, stood still then repeated. She finally found a worm. I had a black-capped Chickadee eating seed from the feeder. Although when the feeder holes were full he went to the ground to eat. 4. My favorite bird is a Bald Eagle. They are large brownish black with a white head and tail. They usually live near bodies of water. We have a pair at Stanley Lake in Westminster, Colorado. They soar with wings flat and head far out in front of them. They are majestic. To see one takes your breath away. I follow several different Eagle cams and enjoy watching th young hatch and grow to maturity.
      • Teresa
        Participant
        Chirps: 1
        Hi Evelyn, I do not think that the one in the bottom right is a rose breasted grosbeak.  I am pretty sure that this is actually a Baltimore Oriole.  It's a little hard to tell, but I think the breast is actually orange not red.  I know that the beak is too thin for a grosbeak.  (gross means large is German, so I think that is something to keep in mind).  Also, I was also watching the Live Cam the other day, as saw quite a few of the Orioles, so that is my best guess  I hope this helps.  If someone else disagrees, please let me know.  We are all still learning! Thanks, Terri
    • Eileen
      Participant
      Chirps: 2
      Activity #4 - I have two favorite birds:  hummingbird and catbird.  Unfortunately, I never see hummingbirds where I live.  I live on a barrier island in New Jersey and we don't have enough vegetation to sustain them.  They are very abundant if you go onshore though. My new favorite is the catbird.  I think they have the loveliest sound and we do have quite a few of them around my house.  They love the red berries on a neighbor's Aucuba.  They pick them off of the bush, and take them to the cement sidewalk where they eat them and leave the pits.
    • Andres
      Participant
      Chirps: 6
      3. The only birds I´ve seen finding food are the yellow finches that go to the gound to pick between leaves with some other brownish birds that I havent paid much attention yet. The kiskadees como frequently to the pool border to drink, standing on the edge with confidence. 4. The bird I´ll try to describe is a Black and Red one. It is smaller than a Robin, has very bright red chest, black head and wings, I´ve seen both with black bill only, and one with some part of the bill white as well (the lower part). I´ve seen it flying, and on trees, but not in very visible branches, rather in the inside of the tree (compared with the (as yet unidentified yellow, bronwn and gray bird from activitie 1) that always seem to be showing off in very visible and open tip branches). Some of them seem brigther than others (I´m guessing male-female), but really still not sure. What I noticed was the tail opening in a fan like fashion while perching or drinking water by the edge of the pool. I´ve been relying on Merlin (phone) as I has not yet get any field guide, but I´m guessing is a Crimson-Backed Tanager. I share some (regular) pictures hoping for any help to pinpointing all of the birds mentioned. L1020307 L1020345 Cheers.
      • Evelyn
        Participant
        Chirps: 4
        I think that maybe the same bird I saw on the bird cam. I am not sure what it is. If you find out please let me know.
    • Andres
      Participant
      Chirps: 6
      1. Just by shape I could recognize both a Woodpecker (sound helped) and a Parrot (sound helped also). After using Merlin I guess that they were a Red Crowned Woodpecker and a Spectacled Parrotlet (plenty of them). L1020019   2. I,ve seen  various yellow (more or less) birds and had a hard time IDing them. One of them mostly yellow and easier, I found was a Zafron Finch, the other two were trickier. Both had yellow chest,vwhite throat and brown wings. Their diferences were mostly in the head, one being a kind of Kiskadee (there are many and still not sure between them) with its black/white head -I would say black mask over white head (?)-, the other one with a gray/silvered head that I haven´t been able to ID with Merlin. I share some pictures, so any info would be very nice. L1020100 (1) L1020075
      • Andres
        Participant
        Chirps: 6
        By using Merlin in my computer rather than the phone I was able to now ID this bird as a Tropical Kingbird. Nice. Im going to rely even more on the main page rather tahan the mobile app to see if I can get those birds that havent been showing on the app.
    • Brian
      Participant
      Chirps: 2
      Activity 1:  I have seen birds of approximately the same size but silhouetted by the sun and can't see their colours.  The Grackle is much slimmer with a thinner profile than the American robin.
    • Reminder: Please only post photos that you took. Copyright restrictions prohibit the posting of images taken by other people. Thanks so much.
      • Margaret
        Participant
        Chirps: 3
        Sorry about that- just saw this notice and won't do it again!
    • Jill
      Participant
      Chirps: 6
      Activity 4: My new favorite bird is the Yellow-rumped Warbler. It is about the same size and shape as a sparrow. The Yellow-Rumped Warbler has a bright yellow rump, a yellow patch under its wings, a black mask, white belly, and black and gray markings. It flits quickly about in trees and bushes, perching briefly before flying off again.
    • Jill
      Participant
      Chirps: 6
      Activity 3: I observed several birds searching for food in different ways. All images from allaboutbirds.org. The Barn Swallow skimmed across Irondequoit Bay, eating insects. The Downy Woodpecker pecks in dead tree trunks to find insects.   The Bufflehead dives underwater to eat aquatic creatures.  
    • Jill
      Participant
      Chirps: 6
      Activity 1: Two birds I can tell apart just by shape are the Mallard duck and the Mute Swan. While both are waterfowl, the swan is a larger bird with a longer neck. Activity 2: I was quite proud to use my newly-acquired binocular skills to identify three similarly-colored birds by their patterns and markings. While these three birds share the same colors (yellow, black, and white), their markings helped me identify them using my Paterson field guide. The Yellow Warbler is almost entirely yellow with some gray and black colorings on its back and wings. The Yellow-Rumped Warbler has a bright yellow rump, a yellow patch under its wings, a black mask, white belly, and black and gray markings.  The American Goldfinch is bright yellow with black forehead and wings. (Images from allaboutbird.org) Yellow Warbler Yellow-rumped Warbler American Goldfinch
    • Gerald
      Participant
      Chirps: 3
      in answer to activity 1.  Yesterday I observed several double crested cormorants and a few mallards in a nearby bay.  The cormorant has the long slender neck and sits much lower in the water than the duck like appearance of the mallard. activity 2.   The ring necked duck, the lesser scaup and the common goldeneye all have various amounts of white and black.  It always takes me a while to see the difference.  The common goldeneye has the white patch on its face, the ring necked duck has more black feathers on its back and the female lesser scaup has a white ring behind its bill.  I find I have to get fairly close to make a positive id.  They all like to share the same bay. activity 3.  Yesterday I saw a pileated woodpecker looking for a meal in a huge poplar tree. On the same hike an ovenbird was on the trail looking for something to eat and several chickadees were also on the hunt for bugs. activity 4.  My favourite bird is the hooded merganser.  It is duck like in appearance. It has a large white crest on its head and is often found in smaller ponds or lakes.
    • Linda
      Participant
      Chirps: 4
      For activity B:  three birds that have black would be : red winged blackbird, Canadian goose, and American crow
    • Diane
      Participant
      Chirps: 4
      We have great egrets and snowy egrets in our area.  Never could tell the difference, now I know the snowy has yellow feet! And the great egret has a kink in its neck.  (I feel that way often!)IMG_3383DSC02296
    • Sarah
      Participant
      Chirps: 3
      North suburbs of Chicago. Over the last few years I've taken to scanning the tree-tops when in the car - both as passenger and driver. This week I saw a MASSIVE bird sitting alone at the top of a pine tree in a normal suburban neighborhood next to the road. Copper/Brown in color. It took my breath away. I turned around at the next opportunity to drive by for a second look. By then it was in flight. Pretty confident it's a red-tailed hawk. Just downloaded the Merlin app, will be enjoying that too. Thanks!
      • Mark
        Participant
        Chirps: 2
        So many red tailed hawks here in the Jersey burbs.   Such a magnificent looking bird to watch either flying or up on a tree branch.   One time it just remained there not at all unnerved with my family active below.  He seemed to like the attention
    • susan
      Participant
      Chirps: 7
      Very active morning. In addition to the regulars I have in the yard, cardinals, finches, sparrows, doves, robins, I had a male and female rose-breasted grosbeak, a hooded warbler, a common yellow throat and 3 male Baltimore orioles.  Very fun to watch.
    • Ann
      Participant
      Chirps: 16
      I wish I had taken a picture.  I have an update for Activity 3: Look for three different birds that are searching for food today. What are their food-finding behaviors?  I always though cactus wrens just ate insects and seeds but I watch one killing and eating a small lizard.  I verified with my Audubon ap that this is known - not common but occasionally.  I can't find habits in Merlin .. although Merlin is great for ID.
    • Janice
      Participant
      Chirps: 1
      IMG_3834 My favorite bird lately is the pileated woodpecker.  I often see one on my daily walk on a nature trail near my home in south central Pennsylvania.  While their cackling, laughing call deep in the woods lets me know they're in the vicinity, I  have also learned to tune my ears to listen to the solid thumping sound they make when digging into dead trees.  The one pictured here was tearing this tree apart while enjoying his breakfast.  As he turned towards the sun, I saw his red mustache, identifying the bird as a male.  I had to marvel at those neck muscles which bounce back and forth like they're on a spring.
      • Chuck D
        Participant
        Chirps: 2
        Very cool Janice, I too am a big fan of the PWP.  I wish I could see them more often but don't see too many here on Cape Cod.  Enjoy!
    • Deanna
      Participant
      Chirps: 2
      Canada geese are common here and easy to identify by shape, so are robins
    • Richard
      Participant
      Chirps: 20
      Activity 4  Favorite bird features: My great white egret is identified positively by its combination of a bright yellow beak and all black feet and legs. I am proud of this picture as I got the swing of the camera correct in order to capture the bird as it flew from the pond behind my house to the salt marsh 0.1 mi away behind the beach (Good Harbor) in Gloucester MA. great egret flight In Florida there are more snowy egrets who are almost the same size but have  a black beak and yellow feet.  The first one below I original thought was a grgreat snowy egret on beach white egret but think it might be a female.  As with most wading birds, their feet are often hidden in the sand or water.snowy egret The second snowy egret picture is much more identifiable.  He was waiting at a fish cleaning table for some free handouts. I am pretty sure he was showing his flume to impress a nearby great blue heron and a bunch of pelicans that he should be given more respect and maybe to the captain and mate that he should be given more fish scraps.
      • Mark
        Participant
        Chirps: 2
        Sensational pictures Richard.
    • Richard
      Participant
      Chirps: 20
      I found three species all feeding together at a park near the Estero River behind my condo.  I had often seen 2 together feeding on the same seeds but was surprised by the addition of a woodpecker which I had only seen in the trees before.  Reading other peoples posts it seems they do frequent bird feeders and Merlin helped quell my previous prejudice that they were predominantly insect eaters.  I am pretty sure that the prejudice developed because 95% of the time I see a woodpecker is because I hear it pecking at a tree and follow the noise.  Sometimes he is making a hole for a nest but mostly digging in the tree bark or a dead tree for insects. The cardinal and blue jay are amongst the full time residents of both of my snowbird locations (northeast Massachusetts-Gloucester and SouthWest Florida (Estero)  Looking at the woodpecker pictures more closely I can see the large pit of a small fruit or olive tree that is nearby.  cadinals and woodpecker grassblue jay grass side